Corset in a Day (and Other Adventures at the USITT Annual Conference)

Cal Shakes Costume Director Naomi Arnst blogs from this year’s USITT (United States Institute for Theatre Technology) Annual Conference & Stage Expo in Milwaukee.

Monday 3/18: Monday was a travel day, and I got stuck in Chicago O’Hare Airport for an extra three hours—snow everywhere. But I made it to Milwaukee with minutes to spare before watching Zendaya knock her dance out of the park on Dancing with the Stars.

Tuesday 3/19: Professional Development Workshop

The corset-in-a-day project in process.

The corset-in-a-day project in process.

I rose early the next morning to find the weather at 16 degrees. We took a school bus from the Milwaukee Convention Center to the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee Costume Shop where 25 of us set about the challenge of making an 1890s corset in a day. We cut out our coutile (underlining) pieces, picked our fashion fabric, and cut that out. We sewed the backs, put the ¼-inch bones and grommets in, and then learned a new technique to conceal the seams while sewing it. These concealed seams also turned into boning channels, making it much faster to construct.

Onto the front of the corset, and time to get the center front ready to put in the busk: the center front closure that has hooks and eyes embedded in the ½-inch boning. After intricate sewing and awls to push the hooks through (this was not so easy) it was time to sew the side front seams.

The corset-in-a-day project, a little further along.

The corset-in-a-day project, a little further along.

We had lunch, and then got back to it. Unfortunately it was about this time that the power went out at all of UWM, creating an even bigger challenge. And the emergency lights didn’t work either! So we used our iPhones to safely reach the windowed front hall of the Theater building, all were a bit sad since we were so close to finishing our corsets. Now it was all very uncertain. But with warning sirens and constant beeping, we decided this would be a good time to do fittings and final lectures! After about a half-hour the sirens stopped and 90 or so minutes after the initial power outage, the power came back. We ran downstairs to try and finish our corsets.  With a few more hours of super fast-paced sewing and bone setting, I almost finished! (I just need to finish some of the binding, sew the side seams, and place the bones and boning tape in the side seams. This will be finished when I get back to Cal Shakes next week, so stay tuned!)

From there we were off to the Convention Center with a nice bumpy school bus ride along Lake Michigan.

Stay tuned for more recollections of technical theater convention fun.

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