theater

SPARKED: Ellen Bredehoft, Head of Costume Technology

Costume design faculty Ellen Bredehoft has worked as a costume shop manager for Glimmerglass Festival in Cooperstown, NY, and for Barrington Stage Company in Massachusetts. As an independent contractor, she has draped and built for several companies including the Norwegian National Opera and Ballet, Manhattan School of Music, Gotham Chamber Opera, George Street Playhouse, and The Curtis Institute of Music. Here, she discusses the elements that fuel her work.

World Cultures and Dress

As a costume historian, I was trained in identifying and constructing western clothing, but after a while I began looking at how other cultures and tribes clothe and adorn themselves. I especially love the traditional dress of Norway – called the bunad - where my husband’s family is from. Asian dress is also of particular interest to me, from the traditional robes of China to the hanbok of Korea, and the kimono of Japan. It is not only the beauty of these garments that inspires me, but also how the costume is reflective of the culture and the people.

Traditional Crafts

There has been a recent revival of crafts traditionally, known as “women’s work.” When looking at quilts that were constructed by our ancestors, they have a story that is told much like reading a book. Is it a story of celebration such as a wedding or birth, or is it a story of hardship? The same is true with embroidery, lace, crochet, and other decorative arts. I love looking at these and using them to create my own stories through these traditional crafts.

Contemporary Crafts

Museums such as the Renwick in Washington, D.C., and fairs such as the Philadelphia Museum of Art Contemporary Craft Show provide endless inspiration for me. To see the amazing objects that are formed by the hands of artists—anything from furniture to wearable art to jewelry to ceramics—gives me new energy to create with my hands.

Nature

I grew up in rural Wyoming, surrounded by more animals than people. I have a strong need to surround myself with nature whenever possible. It helps me reset and gives me peace to find who I am. It is not just the landscapes that are inspirational, but also taking time to examine the myriad small elements that combine to form a landscape. Then, taking a moment to be still and allow the natural world to envelope me.

Historical Clothing

I can never spend too much time looking at historical garments and how they are constructed. Museums now have so many exhibits that showcase vintage costumes and the internet helps bring these exhibits into reach even if they are far away and impossible for me to see in person. My recent favorite are videos posted by the Museum of London fashion curator Timothy Long on social media where he takes the viewer on a “backstage” tour viewing historical clothing. Also, webzines like Foundations Revealed and Your Wardrobe Unlock’d connect me with other costume technicians around the world who share this passion.

Innovative Fashion Designers

Throughout the history of fashion, there have been designers that are the innovators. From Madeleine Vionnet, who is the master of the 1930s bias dress, to Charles James of the 1950s and his highly engineered gowns, to origami garments of Issey Miyake today, there is always a new way to interpret what we all put on ourselves every day.

 

Kaffe Fassett: “I create in palettes of color because that is my main obsession.”

A couple of years ago I saw an exhibit of the textile artist Kaffe Fassett. I find endless inspiration in how he uses color to tell a story. Often, he uses traditional arts such as quilting, needlepoint, and knitting to communicate his vision. I respond similarly to the work of knitters Arne and Carlos who also use color to create their knitted creations.