Interview – Sean Patton (Costume Designer)

Sean Patton is a part-time costume designer based out of Atlanta, GA. Sean has designed and crafted two incredible costumes for me.  I’m very honored to feature him on this blog because I’ve always wanted to hear his tips and suggestions for costuming.

Q. How did you get into costuming?
A. I started getting into theater in middle school and I always kept involved in community theater.  At college in Winthrope, SC, I became a theater major.  During my time there, I kept working in the costume shop.  Most of what I know today, I gained from largely from experience working with patterns in that shop.

Q. Do you have any formal training?
A. I’m part formally trained, part own experience. When I first started out, I worked in ATL Costume… first in retail then in costume rental.  While in costume rental, doing tons of alterations, I got really familiar with the way patterns are shaped and how they come together.  Formal training covers you for technique but costuming is an art not a science.  It evolves the more you do it.

Q. A lot of our readers are building costumes from scratch.  They’re taking a piece of art and turning it into something wearable.  What advice/tips about making costumes from scratch do you have?
There are a couple things I can offer,
1. MOCK EVERYTHING UP – you may have to go through several iterations of your costume before you come down to something that really works
2. Use inexpensive things (fabrics, material, etc) to work with, try one-off fabrics, try Muslin, Dry Cloth, and Drapery.  These are the best for helping you understanding weight.  Truthfully, you will need to make your costume more than once to see what works, buy the cheap stuff and try it before you cut the serious stuff.  Make dummies, use t-shirts and duct tape, mannequins.

Q. What can you advice about making a costume plan?
A. Patterns are tough for a first timer.  Find textbooks about Design, Theater, Fashion, Tailoring.  You will find in these books a general sense of how certain shapes are made.  If you can, buy patterns for sweaters or even something like a  princess costume, just to understand how curves of the body are translated into fabric.

Q. Some of the costumes our readers will be making are elaborate enough to need foam, any suggestions?
A. Same thing I said earlier. Mock it up! Try posterboard or fun foam first, then move on to plastic coatings.

Q. It happens to all of us.  We order the fabric online and it looks nothing what we want.  Any advice of handling dyes or treating colors?
A. If you’re thinking about custom dying, this always depends on the fabric.  For example, cotton and linen will take dye, silk won’t hold dye very well.  Super-saturated colors are hard and polyester doesn’t take dye very well.  One of the resources I’ve turned to is Dharma trading dyes.  If you’re worried about the color matching, here’s a tip: Pick the closest color but always pick lighter color.  It’s always easier to make colors darker than lighter (just like painting).

Q. How do I get known as a costumer?
A. Use the web, differentiate yourself though.  One of the big problems is that everyone is using it to get noticed.  Best thing to do is follow the classic marketing strategy.  Know your audience, know what they want to see, give it to them. What has generally most helpful to me is Word of Mouth.  When you get to the stage where you want to start doing work for people, prepare business cards.  Go to cons and do a little advertising.  Get your clients to wear your costumes and ask them to tell people where they got the costume.

Q. Any final thoughts on a career in costuming or costuming in general?
A. Doing is best way to learn.  Learning the best cuts takes practice.  Follow my suggestions: Process, draw, mock up.  Try to figure out the seam lines.  Know the basics and then explore.  And another thing, always pre-treat your fabrics (wash, dry, or dry-clean).  Do that before you do any cutting or sewing.  Finally, only pick projects that you’re excited about.  This will impact your portfolio.

Big thanks to Sean for taking the time for this interview.  I’ve included some photos of his work below.  If you want to find out more about his work or see some other great costumes he’s made, check out SMPdesigns.com

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