The Weekly Ringer

The University of Mary Washington Student Newspaper

She's Sew Cool

4 min read


It is two days before the opening night of “Far Away” and UMW Junior Gina Carey is sitting at a sewing machine in the basement of DuPont, sewing wig bags – literally bags to store wigs in.

Though the cast and crew are still in middle of production of the theatre department’s latest production, “Far Away,” Carey, as wardrobe supervisor, has finished the costumes for the play and has time to work on other small projects until the show starts.

That is, until someone in need of repairs comes in to halt her work.
“Some kid from the Nest came in today because he had ripped his pants at work,” the Columbia, Md. native said with a laugh. “I fixed them.”

Carey, who is an employee in the theatre department costume shop and was the wardrobe supervisor for “Far Away,” says she frequently gets asked to do alterations for her friends and family, who have learned of her talent with a needle and thread.

The psychology major works at least 10 hours a week in the costume shop, which limits the time she has to sew for other people and for herself. The first six weeks of the semester she spent her hours in the costume shop, often up to 20 a week, exclusively on the fictional coming of age story, “Far Away.”

In the dark and thought provoking one-act play, “Far Away,” a young girl uncovers secrets about her surroundings that parallel the chaos of a fictional hat shop. The workers in the shop make the hats that prisoners wear as they march to their death.

Ten students in the costume shop had to make the hats, in addition to altering costumes and rehearsing quick backstage costume changes down to the second.

What now is a job for Carey started out as a hobby over eight years ago.  In middle school, she taught herself to sew and in seventh grade her mom gave her a sewing machine for Christmas.

“I mostly learned the basics myself,” she said. “I learned to sew properly after taking Professor McCluskey’s Costume Construction class in fall 2006.”

According to associate professor of theatre and costume designer of “Far Away,” Kevin McCluskey, 26 of the 60 hats in the play were constructed by students.

“This show was easy to design,” McCluskey said. “What was challenging was the creation of the hats.”

Since Carey and the other students had never made hats before, the process was challenging.

“We had no clue how to do it and it seemed impossible,” Carey said. “But once we got started it wasn’t so bad.”

The hat Carey built waited with the other hats in a locked room in DuPont Hall, all waiting for their onstage debut at Klein Theatre on Valentine’s Day.  Carey’s deep purple stovepipe hat with a wide brim and a big orange flower was intermingled with those made by UMW students and those rented from productions in New York.

One hat was made in the shape of a lampshade, while another had google eyes all over it. Several were reminiscent of something worn in a Mardi Gras parade, covered in sequins and beads with conspicuous dyed feathers.

In the middle of the play, prisoners in a parade march dejectedly across the stage, the hats they are wearing catching the light and standing in stark contrast to their plain jumpsuits.

As the costume supervisor for the play, Carey worked behind the stage doing the quick changes of the hats during the performances. She also was responsible for making sure all of the outfits for the 34 cast members were ready.

In addition to the difficulties of having a large cast, Carey had to deal with unexpected problems that arose.

According to Carey, during one performance, two of the actors were sick and couldn’t perform.  Because the role of the prisoners didn’t have speaking parts, the stage manager was able to pull theatre majors from the audience that happened to fit into the costumes.
“One girl didn’t know she was going to be in the play until five minutes before,” Carey said. “We were all joking backstage that eventually all of us were going to end up as prisoners.”

Looking back on her backstage debut as wardrobe supervisor, Carey admits that “Far Away” was a learning experience since she was doing more than simply sewing.

“I learned how time consuming the theatre department is,” Carey said.

Over 50 hours of work, two weekends of overtime, and several burned fingers went into the 26 hats that she and several others made for “Far Away.”

“It is probably the most time intensive student aid job on campus,” McCluskey said, in reference to the costume shop job. “It is serious work and a huge commitment.”

Despite the long hours and hazards, Carey couldn’t be happier with her work.

“It’s such a fun environment,” Carey said. “I’ve had four other paycheck jobs and this is the only job where I’ve liked everyone I work with.  This semester, it’s the highlight of my day.”

Carey and the other costume shop employees have already started working on costumes for April’s production, “She Stoops to Conquer.”

In addition to sewing for the theatre department, Carey likes when she has the opportunity and the time to make things for herself.
She is currently working on a dress from a 1926 dress pattern for a friend’s theme party.

Although she has been working on the dress for some time now, her experience in the costume shop has taught her the reality of sewing on a deadline.

“I’ve figured out that it’s possible to finish something in one whole day, from start to finish,” Carey said. “If you don’t eat dinner.”