One of my favorite long term gigs has been working on Nickelodeon's Bella and the Bulldogs, a show about a teen girl in Texas who becomes the star quarterback on her school’s football team. Bella and her friends get into all kinds of wacky situations and it made for some great custom costumes. I also fit and altered the teen stars and adult co-stars clothing for every episode. It could get pretty crazy on big shoot days! In this example of a week on set, I’ll walk you through making a custom piece for the main actor Brec Bassinger aka “Bella Dawson.”
I receive a script before each episode. Reading the episode is very important as it gives hints about the costumes for the week before I speak with the costume designer. For this episode “Glitz and Grit,” it reads that Bella is going to be in a beauty pageant. Frilly dresses and crazy costumes? Check! When I meet with my costume designer, Dahlia Foroutan, all is confirmed. Dahlia and I go over the dress sketches and make the appropriate changes. Next, I compile a shopping list so a costumer can gather supplies while I drape the pattern.
I can get right to work pattern making in my shop, because I already have a set of measurements for our star Brec. With the help of a dress form and a lot of pins, I’ve created a basic pattern in a few hours and am ready to mock it up. A “mock up,” also known as a “toile,” is a test copy—a way to check the pattern and fit of the garment, made out of an inexpensive fabric—usually muslin. Creating a mock up is also a great chance for the designer to make any last minute changes to the design and get feedback from the actor or director. Because it’s just a test, you can draw right on the fabric and cut skirt hems and sleeves while the actor is wearing it. This dress has a surprise element to it, so special attention had to be paid in the fitting.
Once the fitting is over, I rush to my workroom, alter the pattern and cut the dress in the real fabric. This is always a little nerve racking! I normally leave lots of seam allowance, because the fit of the the final fabric is never exactly the same as the mock up. When I have the dress 80% completed, I re-fit with the actress and have the designer make any final design changes. Then I proceed to the last phase. With this dress, there ended up being two rather complicated versions. Both were fully boned with spiral corset boning, lined and heavily embellished. I stayed late one night with a helper heat setting and hand sewing trim on, so it would be ready for filming the next morning. Thankfully, everything was finished in the short timeframe and ready for the camera to roll the next day. Making two copies of the dress and the accompanying under blouse took a full week and four fittings with not an hour to spare. It was worth all the hard work to see the dress glittering on the set.
I hope you all enjoyed my first behind the scenes post- what would you like to see next dear readers? A studio lot tour, costume house, designer interview or tutorial? Leave a comment below and let me know!