Multiples for RAGTIME at PlayMakers Repertory Company

A fresh take on the musical Ragtime is opening this Saturday at PlayMakers Repertory Company, so I thought a post on some of the craftwork might be fun! The show, written to be set in 1906, has historically been produced with opulent period costumes for its wealthy/celebrity characters and historically appropriate workwear for its lower-income characters. So, when the season was announced, I thought I'd be making a bunch of elaborate hats and doing a lot of distressing and aging of clothes. Boy, was I mistaken!

Costume designer Lux Haac has envisioned a contemporary urban landscape in terms of the clothes--all up-to-the-minute 2019 fashions from trendy retailers like Urban Outfitters. I found myself blocking a couple of Brooklyn-hipster fedoras (one velour felt, one raffia straw), but mostly my labor went towards two big projects: the branded Ford hats for Henry Ford's ominously-rousing number, and a whole host of highly-specific t-shirt graphics in transfer vinyl. 

Let's start by talking about the Ford hats:

Ray Dooley as Henry Ford with ensemble

Lux wanted the twelve-person chorus to have a fantastical version of factory-worker hats--denim ball caps adorned with sequins, Swarovski crystals, and ostrich feather plumes. The majority of the show is played very realistically, so when theatrical moments happen, there's some sort of absurdity in the look of the clothes to clue the audience into the presence of falsehood, fantasy, and subtext.

The silver sequin schlung is machined along the seamlines of the caps and hand-stitched (not glued!) along the visor for security during the choreography. The image above shows the first batch of caps set up for hand sewing of that visor trim.

The Ford logo requires 51 hand-placed Swarovski crystals. Due to size variation, some needed 52 or 53! That's over 600 crystals just in the logo alone for this number. The pompons on top of each hat are curly ostrich with thin streamers of silver braid integrated in. 

And then there's the bandleader's hat with its lurex/chandelle plumage on top!

I made this whole number worth of hats with the help of three undergraduate assistants.

The tee shirt graphics were created with the help of the technicians at the UNC campus makerspace and the digital vinyl cutter. We had to bring our own heat-transfer vinyl and our own vector file, and the graphics got cut in an afternoon. Lux created the design she wanted in Adobe Illustrator and we converted them to an .svg file for running the cuts.

This was the simplest cut, both in terms of the time it took for the machine (seconds) and the time it took for someone to weed out the negative space before heat-pressing onto the shirt.

We had six firemen shirts to make, with this FIRE logo on both the front pocket and huge across the back. Because the cut was to be done in white vinyl, Lux performed some Illustrator Tetris to lay them out in tandem with another white vinyl cut...

...the letters on this memorial jacket-back design. This was a team effort with Lux herself--I created the photo transfer on inkjet transfer paper, then Lux airbrushed the flowers and cameo design, then I applied the heat-set vinyl cuts. BIG SPOILER: Coalhouse wears this tribute to Sarah after her death.

The vinyl cutter tech at the makerspace said this complex file was the longest cut he'd run--it took almost 15 minutes! Then it took almost an hour for one of our graduate students to weed the negative space before applying to the shirt.

Ragtime opens this Saturday and runs for the next two weeks, Tuesday through Sunday.


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