DC PR Anniversary Weekend: Tour of Arena Stage Costume Shop

For Pattern Review's anniversary weekend, SewDC arranged for Joe Salasovich, Arena Stage's Costume Director, to give us a tour.  What a treat!  Joe was incredibly generous with his time and vast store of knowledge.  We toured not only the costume shop but the entire backstage area, including the craft shop (where dyeing, millinery, and other non-sewing costume work is done), wardrobe storage, hat storage(!!!), the wardrobing room, the hair salon (who knew?), and the scene shop. 
Padded Out Dress Form

We started in the costume shop, which is full of beautiful dress forms.  This padded out form was incredible!  Seeing that it is possible to make the form fit any size was inspiring to work with what I have (though my problem is the shoulders are too wide on all commercial dress forms and the bust too large).

Vintage Garment Inspiration

 Joe shared their process for making costumes.  They often start with vintage garments as inspiration, many of which come from his personal collection.  They study the garment and carefully examine the design lines as well as the construction techniques.

Muslin and Finished Jacket

When a design has been decided upon, everything is muslined and sometimes more than once.  If you look carefully at the muslin on the left you can see the safety pins that were used for fitting.  The final coat is on the right.  (Also notice the gorgeous roll of silk on the lower right!)

Brown Paper Patterns

Once perfect, patterns are traced onto brown paper and hung on hooks for future use and reference.

Costume Shop

Here's a panoramic view of the costume shop.  They have a mix of industrial and home machines.  Obscured by the table in the right is the Merrow industrial serger.  Gorgeous!  The boxes are for storage of notions, trims, decorations, and other miscellany like handkerchiefs.

The irons are industrial steam presses, and they use ironing tables rather than ironing boards, with hams and sleeve boards for shaping.  I was quite jealous of the ironing table.

Crafty Ryan Gosling

I was amused by the "Hey Girl" memes on one of the cutting tables.  They love Ryan Gosling at Arena Stage...

Plaid Matching OMG

One of the questions we had for Joe was whether the clothes were made to look good from the stage or up close.  He told us that all the clothes were movie ready.  When we passed this jacket hanging in the hallway, I knew he was telling the truth.  That level of plaid matching blows my mind.

Rusty Nails for "Printing"

The shop encourages creative solutions.  When they wanted to create sort of rough and worn looking garments with a print, they used rusty nails to imprint a pattern onto the hem of a dress.  Genius!


I would have loved to have spent a couple hours in the hat storage room with a mirror!  There were shelves and shelves of hats arranged by color.  They do some of their millinery in-house; I was drooling at their hat blocks and head forms.


Arena is celebrating Italian Culture this year and when we visited was in the process of setting up an exhibit of Italian couture (these enticing shipping crates were in the freight elevator).

Group Photo

It was a wonderful tour.  Inevitably for someone who sews, I worked in the costume shop at my college.  It was actually a great shop and the theater program at my tiny college is surprisingly professional, but this was definitely a whole new level.  Thanks so much to SewDC for organizing and Joe for the tour and the group photo!

All photos are here.


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