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Lori Hartenhoff of Northern Illinois University demonstrates a Shibori dying technique as part of the 2008 USITT Costume Symposium at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. Participants had an intensive three-day experience working with fabrics.

Photos/ Susan Kiesau


Symposium Brims with Fabric Techniques, Tours

Donna Meester
Costume Design & Technology Commission

Chapel Hill, North Carolina was the site July 30 through August 2 for the 2008 USITT Costume Symposium. Participants enjoyed the beautiful surroundings and learned various fabric modification techniques. The days were chock full of interesting and informative workshops, as well as a jam packed field trip day. Participants included freelance costume designers, technicians, and academicians from across the country (and Canada).

Colleen Muscha helped kick off the event with a presentation of the travel group she organized and led through England, France, and Italy. The symposium participants were then divided into small groups or what would be their "family" for the next few days and were led on a tour of the facility. All were promised they would not be quizzed; it didn't matter, many managed to continually get lost anyway. This was true of the tours around campus, as well.

Joshua Bond, costume technician at the University of Virginia, set the tone by saying, "These types of master classes are so wonderful. In just a couple of days you not only see the techniques and come away with beautiful samples, but gain an insight to what is being taught at other universities. I think that this is vitally important to us as theater artists not only to learn new skills but to connect with the research and researchers so that we do not have to reinvent the wheel every time."

The workshops began Thursday morning. Jeff Lieder introduced a new technique of doing silk screen. On this first day, participants found images to print and prepared the screens. While the first group was "screening," Lori Hartenhoff explained the various ways of doing Shibori dyeing before guiding another group through the preparation of Shibori silk scarves. Colleen Muscha taught her group how to prepare and begin processing the Devoree (burn-out) technique, while Janet Bloor entertained and enlightened her first group with her own personal style of "Rubberama" or "Fun with Bathtub Caulking." Each group spent two hours with an instructor before rotating to the next.

While the projects from day one were processing, hosts Judy Adamson and Bobbi Owen played tour guides to the group. The day began with a bus ride to Cary, North Carolina where participants toured the facilities of TC2. This company is known for its innovative ways to streamline the production process in the clothing industry. The group was then treated to an exciting tour of Cotton, Inc. Participants were led through the entire process of developing a cotton garment -- from receiving the bale of cotton to designing and creating the fabric. The field trip day concluded with a jaunt to Raleigh to visit the North Carolina State College of Textiles.

Saturday was the day of truth! The silk screens were ready to print, the Shibori scarves were ready to reveal themselves, the Devoree was developed, and the rubber was now more than bathtub caulking. Perhaps Claudia Stephens, costume designer at SMU, summed up this learning experience best. "The teaching style of this group of professionals was specific in regards to materials, processes and end results; however, they also created a freeing atmosphere of creativity, encouraging experimentation and failure. The result was fun yet demanding, precise but creative." Giva Taylo, costume shop supervisor at SMU, concurred, adding, "I have come back to SMU and told everyone how wonderful the USITT Symposium was. I show our samples to everyone whose arm I can twist for a minute. I left feeling refreshed and invigorated."

"What can I say? We laughed, we cried, we dyed. I guess in hindsight, it was a complete learning experience, from the dorms (I learned I never want to stay in one again.) to the master teachers, who all had the patience of Job. Oh, and my suitcase still smells a little like caulk!" Ginny West (costume design at Franklin and Marshall) declared.

What seemed like summer camp concluded with everyone sharing their projects and discoveries and saying "Goodbye, see you in Cincinnati!" Thanks to hosts Ms. Adamson and Ms. Owen, along with other members of the University of North Carolina faculty. Great appreciation goes to session assistants Randy Handley, Amy Page, Jade Bettin, and Edith Carnley as well as Jan Chambers, who made sure everyone was fed well.

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