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Costume Shop FAQ
2003 Edition


Welcome to the ART Costume Shop!  Shop facilities are available to student use while the ART staff is not using the shop.  Even if you already know how to sew with an industrial machine, chances are you'll have some questions during the course of your work. This FAQ will address some common problems that students working here have had. 

Who are you people?

            We're the staff of the American Repertory Theater Costume Shop.  We build and alter costumes for the ART shows, maintain the shop itself, and support the designers for these shows. 

Jeannette Hawley, Shop Manager Hilary Hacker, Assistant Shop Manager Karen Eister, Head Draper Suzy Kadiff, Costume Rental Manager
David Reynoso, Crafts Artisan LaRisa Allen, Crafts Assistant Tova Moreno, Stitcher Carmel Dundon, Draper

For most of us, the shop itself is our "office". Please treat it with the same courtesy and care that you would treat anyone's workspace.

You can contact us at x8856 for the main shop, x8857 for the office, x8868 for the craft room, or x8876 for costume rentals.

When can we use the shops?

Whenever we aren't.  The ART Costume Shop operating hours are 7:30am to 6:00pm, Monday through Friday.  During our peak times, we might extend evening hours to 9:30pm, or work on a Saturday.  For the 2002-03 season, peak times are November 23-December 4, December 30-January 8, January 25-February 5, February 22-Mar 5, and May 3-28.  Depending on the amount of work we have, it may be possible for you to work while we're in the shop; just ask.  

The Craft Shop equipment is only available by special permission from Jeannette.

When can we rent costumes?

Suzy Kadiff handles rentals from Loeb Costume Stock. Her hours are 3:30pm to 8pm Tuesday and Thursday, 9am to 1pm Friday.  She can be reached at x8876, and appointments may be arranged for other times. For more information, see "Rentals".

The Costume Shop

If you wish to use the Costume Shop, you must attend an orientation with Jeannette Hawley, the Shop Manager.  She can be reached at extension 8857.  This FAQ is not intended to replace that orientation.



1.    Fitting Room: We try to keep this area as neat as possible for the actors' fittings.  Please don't store costumes or props here.

2.    Office: You can usually find Jeannette or Hilary here. Closed while the staff is absent.

3.    Draper's Table: These tables are used for cutting fabric, pinning large pieces, drafting patterns, and so on.  If there are fabrics, papers, or pattern pieces on the table, please leave them alone; otherwise, you may use the table space freely.  Any items under the table or on the shelves near the tables should be left alone. We will make an effort to leave our tables clear at the end of the day so that you will have space to work.

4.    Industrial Sewing Machine

5.    Industrial Zigzag Machine (Do Not Use!)

6.    White Supply Cabinet: The top drawer, labeled "Student Sewing Supplies", is always unlocked. It should contain scissors, needles, fabric pencils, seam rippers, pins, laundry markers, thread, and measuring tapes.  Lower drawers are ART supplies and will be locked while the staff is out.  The larger white cabinet contains ART supplies as well.  In the open space of the larger cabinet, there are small drawers with hooks, eyes, loops, and snaps.  A box of industrial machine needles is kept here.

7.    Thread Board: The thread on the wall is available for student use. Hy-Mark thread, used for stitching on buttons and fasteners, is kept on the left of the thread board.  Thread that is kept in cabinets or drawers under draper's tables is for use on a specific garment and therefore not available.

8.    Ironing Board and Irons: The steam box iron, which has cords leading to the metal box on the right side of the ironing board, is not for student use.  Students can use the gravity-feed iron on the left side of the ironing board.

9.    ART Supply Cabinets: The two cabinets labeled "Basics" and the higher of the two stacked cabinets are reserved for ART use.

10. HRDC/Institute Cabinet: The lower of the two stacked cabinets is free for storing projects, materials, costume pieces, or the like.

11. Millinery Table: This table is usually free for student use.  If the domestic machine is not out on top, it's in the right-hand white cabinet supporting the table.

12. Rentable Accessories: Ties, cravats, sashes, suspenders, epaulets, hankies, etc. All are labeled "For Student Use".

13. ART Accessories: The bras, stockings, shoulder pads, etc., that are stored above the millinery table are not for rent.

14. Serger

15. Domestic Sewing Machine

16. First Aid Kit: In the yellow box, on the bottom shelf of the phone stand.

Where's the first aid kit?

In the yellow box, on the bottom shelf of the phone stand.  If we are low on any supplies, please leave a note on the phone stand.

What can we use? 

Generally, students can use ART space and machines, but not materials or tools. 

When borrowing, pull only from boxes marked "For Student Use". If you have a question about a specific item, ask Jeannette.



Industrial sewing machines

Industrial machines in the Craft Room


Domestic sewing machine

Industrial zigzag machin

HRDC cabinet

ART cabinets

Draper tables

Any items on or under draper tables

Student tools in white cabinet

Other tools in white cabinet

Millinery table

Items in the millinery table, except for the domestic sewing machine


Dress forms not in  use

(do not remove padding)

Dress forms with items pinned to them or draped on them

Fitting room, outside of staff hours and for costume fittings only

Fitting room, during staff hours or for any costume construction

Bankers' Boxes with or without cast labels

Jewelry rented through Suzy Kadiff

Grey jewelry cabinet

   When can we use the shop?

Whenever we aren't.  The ART Costume Shop operating hours are 7:30am to 6:00pm, Monday through Friday.  During our peak times, we may extend evening hours to 9:30pm, or work on a Saturday.  For the 2002-03 season, peak times are November 23-December 4, December 30-January 8, January 25-February 5, February 22-Mar 5, and May 3-28.  Depending on the amount of work we have and the number of people working, it may be possible for you to use a machine or table space while we're in the shop. Ask Jeannette, Viola, or Karen.

Where can we put our work?

The HRDC cabinet is located opposite the middle table.  If it doesn't fit in there, and there's no way it can go in the HRDC office, please label it and tuck it out of the way (say, under the millinery table).  If we don't know what something is, we're liable to move it around (and therefore lose it), or worse, assume that it's trash and dispose of it.

Could we borrow a (dress form, pair of scissors, etc.) to use as a prop?

No.  Sorry, but most things in the shop are needed daily, and during tech weeks we cannot predict which items will be needed immediately onstage.  Many of these tools are personal property. Others will be needed over the course of construction, and would be badly missed. If you need props, contact Suzy Kadiff (see Rentals).

I need to hot-glue, paint, use an exacto knife, or do something else equally messy.  Where's the best place for me to do so?

The millinery table is the best spot. If you're using anything messy, please don't use the sewing machines or the draper tables without putting down some kind of cover- paper, muslin, a dropcloth, etc.  Because we sometimes work with very delicate materials, it's important to have clean machines and work surfaces. For painting and other messy work, you can also use the shop downstairs. Ask Michael Griggs if you have questions about the scene shop.

 Which iron can I use?

Only one of the irons is available for student use. This is the gravity feed iron, in which the steam is generated from a water supply tank suspended above the ironing board. The other iron, the steam box iron, on the side of the table closest to the Ex entrance, is connected by a red cord to the steam box by the window. If, for some reason, the steam box iron is on while you work, please turn it off when you leave by turning the dial on the side of the box to 0 and unplugging the box. Don’t move any of the valves on the steam box! There's a great deal of steam under pressure inside, and adjusting the valves could cause a painful steam burn.


How do I turn the gravity feed iron on?

1.    First, plug in the power strip that's suspended over the ironing table. The cord for this should be below the window on the left side of the ironing table. 

2.    Next, flip the switch on the side of the iron. The red light on the switch should turn on. (It won’t stay on, since it just indicates warming.)

3.    Turn the heat dial on the back of the iron to 4. 

4.    Wait a few minutes while the iron heats up.  When it's hot, turn the dial on the water jug counterclockwise to open the water valve. If this valve is turned before the iron is hot, you won't get steam, you'll just get water (and possibly rust) dripping from the iron.

How do I use it?

Always leave the iron on the orange rubber pad, plate down. Never rest the iron on its back side (like a domestic iron).  When you want steam, click the button on the handle once.  Don't hold the button down- this will make the iron drip water on your project.

I was ironing something and it melted!

The gravity feed iron is much hotter than a normal domestic iron; as a result, it sometimes melts nylon or other synthetics.  Try putting a piece of muslin between the iron and your fabric.  You'll also need to clean the iron if any of the material has stuck to it.

I want to use an iron-on patch or a piece of fusible interfacing.

Lay the fabric on the ironing board. Place the patch or interfacing on top. Make sure the adhesive side is against the fabric!  Lay a piece of muslin on top of both pieces and iron the muslin. Instead of moving the iron around, hold it in place atop the patch and count to five, then move it slightly and count to five, until the whole patch has been covered. Remove the iron and wait for the fabric to cool. The patch should be attached to the fabric, and the muslin should prevent any adhesive from getting on the iron.

There's black gunk on the iron plate, and it's coming off on my fabric.

You need to clean the iron.

1.    Get a large piece of muslin from the scrap boxes under the ironing table.

2.    Fold it several times until you have a pad several layers thick.

3.    Look on the top shelf of the ironing table for a tube of EZ-Off Iron Cleaner.  Squeeze some of the EZ-Off onto your muslin pad. 

4.    Now iron the pad, spreading the cleaner all over the plate in the process. Keep ironing until there's no more EZ-Off on either the pad or the iron plate.

5.    In some cases, this won't get the material off the iron plate. Don't try and scratch it off- this can damage the plate. Instead, turn the iron off and leave a note. Once the iron is cool, you may try to scrape off the material with a fingernail or something equally soft.

How do I turn the iron off?

1.    First, make sure the iron plate is clean. 

2.    Close the valve on the water jug by turning it clockwise.

3.    Hold down the steam button on the handle until no more steam comes out.

4.    Turn the dial on the back down to 0, and flip the on/off switch on the side.

5.    Unplug the power strip.

Do you have any fabric that we can use?

IIn an emergency, some of the pieces in the scrap boxes under the ironing table can be used. These are only small scraps, however. Please check with Jeannette before using any of these scraps.  You'll need to contact Suzy Kadiff, who has several boxes of fabric available for student use, for all your normal fabric needs.

What are all these different sewing machines?

Domestic sewing machine refers to a machine designed for home use. They're portable (relatively), fairly simple to use, slower and less powerful than industrials, and capable of zigzag stitching.

Industrial machines are attached to the tables. They are fast, powerful, and the most commonly used machines in the shop. 

The blue Singer (#5 on the shop diagram) is an industrial zigzag machine. Because it has several important differences from the normal industrials, the industrial zigzag machine is off limits to students, as are the industrial machines in the craft rooms.

The machines with three spools of thread leading to them are sergers, also called merrow or overlock machines. They wrap thread around the cut edge of a piece of fabric, preventing fraying.

Use a domestic for small projects, delicate fabrics or for sewing a zigzag line. 

Use industrials for heavier fabrics or seams that need to be done quickly.

Use the serger for making a quick finished edge, or serging already-stitched seams so that they won't fray and come undone over time.

How do I use the domestic machine?

The next five pages were copied directly from the Kenmore Sewing Machine Manual, which is kept in the drawer of the millinery table marked "Domestic Supplies". They should be helpful for threading the domestic machine.

To change stitch length:
On the stitch length control, turn only the outer rim until the desired length matches to the notch at the top of the control wheel. The higher the number, the longer the stitch.

To change stitch width (i.e. to switch from straight stitch to zigzag and back):
On the stitch width control, turn only the outer rim. If the red dot matches the notch at the top of the wheel, it is set to straight stitching. The higher the number, the wider the zigzag.

To change a needle:
Raise the needle bar to its highest position by turning the handwheel toward you. Loosen the needle clamp screw and remove the old needle. Holding the new needle with the flat side away from you, slip the needle into the needle bar. When it is in as far as it will go, tighten the needle clamp screw with a screwdriver.

For further advice and troubleshooting, consult The Reader's Digest Guide to Sewing, located on top of the white tool cabinet.

How do I use an industrial machine?

A.    Needle plate

B.    Sliding plate

C.   Presser foot

D.   Presser bar

E.    Needle bar

F.    Foot lifting bar

G.   Presser bar adjusting screw

H.   Take-up lever

I.      Thread guide

J.     Tension disc

K.    Flywheel

L.     Stitch length regulator

M.    Feed dogs

Threading diagram: begin with the thread guide at 1, end by threading the needle at 11

1.    Foot lifting lever
2.    Treadle
3.    Power switch
4.    Thread spindle

      Threading the machine

1.    Place spool of thread on thread spindle. If there is a nick on the spool, make sure it will not catch the thread as it is reeled off the spool.

2.    Take the thread from the spool and pass it through the thread guide on the top of the spindle stand.

3.    Pass the thread through the vertical thread guide on top of the machine, threading each hole from right to left.

4.    Bring the thread down through the horizontal thread guides, threading from top to bottom.

5.    Wrap the thread clockwise around the tension discs, taking care that it falls between the two discs.

6.    Pull the thread upward and let it go slack. This should catch it in the tension wire hook that extends out of the tension discs.

7.    The thread goes up through the smaller thread guides and through the hole in the take-up lever, threading right to left.

8.    Bring the thread down through the thread guides to the needle.

9.    Thread the needle from left to right. Pull at least 5" through.

10.  Remove the bobbin case from the machine by gently pulling on the tab on the outside of the case.

11. Place the bobbin in the bobbin case so that the thread comes off the bobbin counterclockwise.

12. Pull the bobbin thread through the thread guide on the bobbin case.

13.  Put the bobbin case back in the machine. It should slide on smoothly.

14. Holding the top thread, turn the flywheel until the needle is all the way down in the bobbin area.

15. Still holding thread and rotating the wheel, bring the needle up to its highest point. As the needle rises, a loop of bobbin thread will come with it. Pull on the top thread to bring up more bobbin thread.

16.  Release the top thread, then pull on the loop of bobbin thread to bring up the free end. Bring both threads to one side of the foot.

      Winding a bobbin

Bobbins are kept in the drawer beside each machine, along with that machine's screwdriver. If you're lucky, there will already be one in the proper color. If not, here's how you wind one.

Software: Microsoft Office

1. Bobbin winder spindle

2. Bobbin winder wheel

3. Bobbin tension disc

4. Flywheel

5. Thread guide

1.    Slide the bobbin onto the bobbin winder spindle.

2.    Run thread from a spool on the thread spindle up through the spindle's thread guides, around the bobbin tension disc and through its thread guide.

3.    Bring the thread to the bobbin and wind it around the center of the bobbin a few times.

4.    Push the bobbin winder spindle tab towards the flywheel. This should click the bobbin winder wheel into place, against the flywheel's rubber belt. The tab should be resting in the center of the bobbin.

5.    Remove the needle and lift the presser foot with the foot lifting lever.

6.    Turn the machine on and gently press on the treadle. The machine will run, the spindle will spin, and the thread should start winding around the bobbin.

7.    Keep running the machine until you think you have enough thread or until the bobbin wheel clicks away from the flywheel.

8.    Replace the needle, making certain that the groove in the needle faces left.

It's possible to wind a bobbin while stitching. Unless you are stitching at the same time, you should not wind a bobbin with the needle in the machine or with the presser foot down.  The needle could break, and the presser foot can wear down the feed dogs.  Remove the needle and lift the foot while threading the bobbin.


To sew a seam, place the right sides of the fabric together, facing each other. Pin in place, perpendicular to the stitch line. Place the fabric under the presser foot and lower the foot, either with the foot lever or with the hip control underneath the machine. Hold the top thread and the bobbin thread securely to one side. Turn the machine on and gently press on the treadle. You can let go of the threads after the first few stitches.  You can go over pins that are at right angles to the seam line; however, you will get a better seam and run less risk of breaking your needle if you remove pins right as the machine foot nears them.

Adjusting stitch length

To change stitch length on the industrial machines, press down on the stitch length regulator button. Turn the flywheel toward you until the button clicks and presses all the way down; this is the current stitch length setting. For a shorter stitch, hold the button down and move the wheel away from you. For a longer stitch, hold the button down and move the wheel toward you. 

Some machines denote stitch length numerically: 12 stitches per inch versus 6 stitches per inch. Others mark it alphabetically: A is a longer stitch than F.

In either case, do not move the wheel very far while changing stitch length. This can cause the entire flywheel to jam, and the machine will be unusable.

  I broke a needle! How do I replace it?

1.    Loosen the needle clamp screw on the side of the needle bar. Remove the old needle and throw it away.

2.    Choose a new needle from the machine's drawer. Use a size 14 for most fabrics, and a size 12 for delicate fabrics.

3.    With the groove in the needle facing to your left, insert the top of the needle into the needle bar as far as it will go. Tighten the needle clamp screw.

Before you start stitching again, try to find what caused the needle to break.

Did you hit a pin? Take out your pins as you approach the presser foot.

Is the machine threaded correctly? Thread pulled in the wrong direction or improper bobbin insertion can snap needles.

Did you hit a bone or piece of plastic in the fabric? Pin a new stitching line that does not travel close to the bone.

 Were you stitching a particularly heavy seam? Use a stronger needle, size 14 or 16, and go as slowly as possible over the seam.

For further advice and troubleshooting, consult The Reader's Digest Guide to Sewing, located on top of the white tool cabinet.

The Serger

How do I use the serger?

First, NEVER put anything through the serger that has pins in it. The serger chops off part of the fabric in order to get a clean edge to overlock, and it will attempt to chop the pins as well. This will blunt the blade, snap the threads, and shatter the pin.

To use the serger, simply turn it on and slide a piece of fabric under the presser foot, then press the treadle to begin serging. The blade will cut off the fabric on the right-hand side, and the other threads will "knit" together to form an overlock over the edge of the fabric. The serger does stitch quite fast, so be careful about pressing too hard on the treadle.

Don't pull on the threads once you're done! Keep serging for a couple of inches past the end of the fabric, and snip the threads off. Pulling on the threads will likely break them inside the machine.

If you do break the threads, leave a note. Re-threading the serger is an arduous task, and I think it's too much to explain easily.  If you 'd like to learn, stop by the costume shop during a non-peak week and ask Jeannette.

Always remember to put away or label your projects! If a project is left out when someone else comes to work in the shop, it will be moved and may be lost or damaged as a result.

The Craft Room

The Craft Room may be used only with special permission from Jeannette Hawley or Rachel Pollock.

What's in here?

The Craft Room is used for construction of all costume pieces that require more than a sewing machine. Belts, hats, and shoes are made or altered here, and dyeing, painting, distressing, and other techniques are used on existing pieces. The Craft Room contains a dye room, washer/dryer, worktables, and storage for ART-only accessories.

I was told to use "the Josie". Is this the same place?

Yes. The Craft Room is called the Josie after a patron who donated a large amount of costumes early in the ART's existence. The room used to house that costumes, but kept the name after storage was moved.

What can we use?

Because many of the tools and materials in the Craft Shop can cause severe injury if used incorrectly, most of the shop is off limits to students.  The dye area and the washer/dryer unit are available for use with Rachel's permission. The worktables are also available, provided that all student projects are removed before the workday begins.

Many of the Craft Shop's tools are the personal property of Rachel or LaRisa. Please do not use them without express permission.

There is a box of Student Craft Supplies located outside the Craft Room, atop the flammables cabinet. Please ask Suzy Kadiff for access to these supplies.

Where are the first aid kit and other safety devices?

The first aid kit is kept on the bookshelf above the sewing machine in the back corner. There is also an eyewash bottle kept over the sink, and a fire extinguisher by the door.

Washer and Dryer Use

Dye Room Use

Again, most of the tools and materials here can be extremely harmful- from poisonous aniline dyes to fire hazards. If you are at all uncertain about a procedure, please contact Rachel Pollock and LaRisa Allen and learn the proper precautions from them.


How do we rent a costume piece?

You need to contact Suzy Kadiff, Costume Stock Manager, at x8876. Depending on what organization you belong to, there may be other procedures for rentals. Check the Costume Rental Guidelines.

Where's Suzy?

Since Suzy manages both the costume stock and small props, she is often all over the building. If you can't find her, first check to see that she is in fact working today. Her hours are 3:30pm-8pm Tuesday and Thursday, 9am-1pm Friday. Next, look in Costume Storage, which is in the basement of the Loeb Drama Center, to your right as you come down the east stairs.  Next, try Small Props storage, which is also in the basement: turn left as you come down the east stairs, and follow the hallway to your left. There is a message board on the Small Props door if you want to leave her a note. Check the upstairs hallway by the Craft Room with the black cabinets to see if she is restocking or assisting in a rental. Finally, if she is at none of these locations, ask to have her paged at the reception desk.

Can we borrow items in the costume shop?

The only items available for student use are those specifically labeled "For Student Use" and those in the cabinets in the hallway by the Craft Room. The boxes on the shelves at the end of the shop closest to the HRDC office have sashes, ties, handkerchiefs and the like for student use. Everything else is unavailable for rent.

Can we rent from the ART Warehouse?

The main warehouse is reserved for ART productions and a very few limited rentals.

We will be scheduling rental visits on Mondays only, 10:00 am to 5:00 pm. To make an appointment, call the shop at x8857. Raul Lapa handles such rentals, but permission from Jeannette must be obtained first.


So you've been searching the rental stock looking for that perfect shirt, and nothing's caught your eye. Or perhaps you need fifteen yards of purple satin, and Suzy doesn't have any in stock.   Here are a few places that might be helpful.

For Costume Pieces

Goodwill Stores. 1010 Harrison Ave, Boston, 617-541-1270; 520 Mass Ave, Cambridge, 617-868-6330; 708 Centre St., Jamaica Plain, 617-983-5354; 230 Elm St, Somerville, 617-628-3618 

Urban Renewals. 122 Brighton Ave, Allston. 617-783-8387

Amvets Thrift Store. 80 Brighton Ave, Allston. 617-562-0720

Oona's Experienced Clothing. 1210 Mass Ave, Cambridge. 617-491-2654

Great Eastern Trading Company. 49 River Street, Cambridge. 617-354-5279

Salvation Army. 26 West Street, Boston, 617-695-0512; 328 Mass Ave, Cambridge, 617-354-9159

Boomerangs, 716 Centre Street, Jamaica Plain. 617-723-2666.

Keezers (Men's suits). 140 River St., Cambridge. 617-547-2455.


For Fabric

For Trim, Craft Supplies, Fabric Paint, etc.