Costume designers creating protective gowns for frontline workers

Alberta Film and theatre industry costume crews are busy creating protective clothing for frontline workers during the COVID-19 pandemic after most productions have ceased.

Designers in the film and theatre community have joined forces to create the clothing

Kim Lennox, right, and Gina Bennett are the owners of Costume Alchemy, where sewing kits are being assembled. (Kim Lennox/Costume Alchemy)

The same hands that have designed costumes for films, movies and theatrical productions in Alberta are now hard at work making protective clothing for frontline workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

It's a project in Calgary being led by the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) Local 212.

Alberta film and theatre employees were eager to help, especially considering the fact that filming on shows like Wynonna Earp and Black Summer are on hiatus due to provincial shutdowns.

"Our union builds everything. From modern-day clothing of every description you could imagine, to sci-fi, to period historical costuming … anything that a designer requires us to make," said Deborah Day with IATSE Local 212 in an interview with the Calgary Eyeopener.

Deborah Day combs through the supply bins outside of Costume Alchemy. Alberta film and theatre employees are lending a helping hand during the COVID-19 outbreak by creating protective gowns for frontline workers. (Kim Lennox/Costume Alchemy)

And now, they're sewing protective gear based off of requests within Calgary.

Led by the IATSE Local 212, organizers are collaborating with Costume Alchemy, a studio that offers workshops for a range of skills related to costume design, working out of that building as a base.

The actual designers come from within the union and beyond. Social media posts have brought attention to the project, which has drawn in more workers.

The goal is to make 150 gowns for employees and volunteers at the Calgary Drop-In Centre, following a request for the gowns to be used at their donation location.

Though the effort is local, there are similar efforts by IATSE groups across North America to create items needed during the COVID-19 pandemic, such as masks.

Gown breakdown

Day said the group has been working non-stop to organize the effort.

There was a list of designers to organize, a pattern for the gown to finalize and fabric to acquire.

The protective gowns are designed to be worn over clothing, providing another washable layer of protection for employees and volunteers.

"They're classified as a protective gown. They're a long-sleeved, cuffed gown so that gloves can be pulled up overtop of the cuffing. And they tie at the neck and they tie in the back [and] there's a double layer that wraps in the front," Day said.

"They're pretty easy to replicate. I just took it apart and sent it to a cutter to create the first pattern."

The Costume Alchemy whiteboard lists all the designers who are involved in the project. (Kim Lennox/Costume Alchemy)

Kits of the pattern, fabric and other trimmings needed to get started on sewing are being assembled at the Costume Alchemy workshop. To date, 111 kits have already been sent out and are in the midst of creation.

The project members are still looking for more fabric, as each gown takes about 3.5 metres of fabric to make.

And it can't just be any fabric — it must be a wearable cotton, polyester or poly-cotton blend, Day said. It must be capable of being washed in very hot water with strong chemicals.

The fabric the group is currently working with has come from union members' personal stores and donations from the public. Several bolts of fabric have also been donated by the Fabric Depot.

While the project has been underway, Day said their union has received another request from a local women's charity for a number of gowns, which means they will need even more fabric to continue sewing.

Day said people with suitable fabric can drop it off in a bin outside of Costume Alchemy.


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