Interview: Tricia Camacho of Creative Costume Academy

Main stage bird dancers at Las Vegas' Electric Daisy Carnival,
costumes made by Tricia Camacho/The Patterned Seamstress 

I've got a new interview to share with Tricia Camacho, a professional costume maker who has just launched online patternmaking classes under the name Creative Costume Academy.
I'm so excited for this post because Tricia has such a successful career in international live entertainment, and she also came to it on a path different from the one so many of my own students took. Tricia is proof that you don't need a BFA in theatre and an MFA in costume design/production in order to have a wildly successful career at the top level! And her online academy affords that opportunity to others who may not have the desire or the means for a long slog in academia.

In the interest of full disclosure though, Tricia IS a former student of mine--through the continuing education program at UNC-Chapel Hill, she audited my "Digital Technologies in Costume Production" class a couple of years ago, and she also took our "Couture Methods" class from former graduate costume production program head Judy Adamson. (Tricia heard about us from alumnus Randy Handley when they both worked together out in Las Vegas.) In addition to her new series of classes, she makes costumes for clients like Blue Man Group through her studio The Patterned Seamstress.

Here's our interview:

What is the Creative Costume Academy? 

     The Creative Costume Academy (CCA) is an online school for learning the principles of pattern making and more advanced sewing techniques.  We are still in the beginning stages of the school, but I do have ideas for expansion into more detailed pattern and sewing classes if there is a desire.

Who are your students? Meaning, how much knowledge about sewing do prospective students need, is there a minimum age, etc.

     CCA is for the stitcher, sewist, or maker who is ready to take their creativity to the next level by diving into understanding pattern manipulation or working with more complicated materials such as stretch fabrics and foam.  There is no minimum age, but the students that will get the most out of these classes will have at least a basic understanding of sewing and have some experience using purchased patterns.  These classes are to provide the tools and principles to enable the students to make their own designs and creations building from the basics. 

What can students expect from a CCA class? (Meaning, lecture videos vs written content, downloadable files, etc.)

     CCA classes are instructional videos with follow-along written content.  There are downloadable tools and a print out book with step-by-step instruction of how to do all of the exercises we will be doing together in the class.  I give away my resource and book lists for acquiring specialized tools and materials.  
     There is a complementary video for each exercise explaining how to lay out your new pattern, cut it out of fabric and how to sew it together.  I am available, as your instructor, to answer any questions via email or chat through the site.  There will also be periodic live Q & A sessions that all of the students will be invited to join to ask more direct questions.  Through these live sessions and being able to see what others may be struggling with, I believe we create a community where we can all inspire and help each other.

I find the whole concept of the CCA exciting, in that I've often wished I had a resource just like it to recommend to young people interested in this field, who have the (mistaken) impression that they must spend seven years in academia to get their MFA. Now, I can recommend they check out your class offerings!

What is the Patterned Seamstress, and how do you balance the work you do under that name with running the CCA?

     The Patterned Seamstress (TPS) is my costume build shop.  We build costumes for large theatrical productions (such as Cirque Du Soleil and Blue Man Group) in my home studio and ship out to my clients.  I also, at times, travel to help shows open for short term tours.  TPS has built the reputation to be able to handle very challenging builds and has the ability to solve problems quickly to help support the needs of a show opening where variables can be unknown.
     I can balance TPS work with CCA by the very nature of the industry.  We do have periods of insanely busy times with The Patterned Seamstress, but the beauty of the online element of the CCA classes, they can be taken when ever it is convenient for the student!  The class is completely self-paced.  I will offer live classes and bonuses when we are not in these busy times to get the most out of both with the flexible time lines.  
     The work I do with The Patterned Seamstress helps me to continue to learn tricks and tips that I can pass on to my students in CCA.  I feel like they really support each other.

How did you get your start in professional costume making?

     When I discovered costuming was the path I wanted to investigate as a career, I started by volunteering at local theaters and civic light operas to see what skills I needed to focus on to succeed in the business.  I got my first professional job when I was in my first few years of school at Knott's Berry Farm in California for the show Snoopy Rocks! on Ice. From there, I did a summer at The Utah Shakespeare Festival, in Cedar City Utah.  I met several friends that summer that quickly turned into more job opportunities.  I was on tour for 2 years before I landed in Las Vegas.  Living in Las Vegas for 11 years, I honed my skills for working with stretch fabrics for the purpose of acrobat and synchronized swimming performance.  I also had the opportunity to work with some talented people who shared their stretch pattern knowledge with me and I soaked up as much as I could!

What sort of educational background do you have in costume production?  

     I have a unique education experience.  I am somewhat of an impatient person and I like to get right into applying what I am learning in the most practical sense.  I started with volunteering at the local theaters and worked with costume designers to see what I needed to focus on learning for my chosen profession.  I then found an excellent teacher at Fullerton Junior College where I completed a Costume Design Certificate program that focused solely on Fashion and Theatre classes.  It was at Fullerton, I realized my knack for and love of pattern making.  I loved all of the different methods that made creating my designs so much faster and more efficient.  My teacher suggested that I continue onto a Technical School to further my technical pattern knowledge.  After a summer in Utah, I completed a semester at LA Trade Technical College.  I had some intense pattern classes and really fine-tuned my pattern knowledge.  I left the 2 year program early when I was offered a show touring job, which was an opportunity I felt I could not pass up at the time.  It was my intention to go back to school, but when I landed in Las Vegas, my options were limited.  Still having the desire to continue my pattern learning, I studied books and methods on my own and spent time outside of working hours with our on-site pattern maker who shared with me her Belgian unitard drafts and other various pattern techniques.  
     One day, while scrolling online for some pattern inspiration, I stumbled across this amazing Japanese pattern genius, Shingo Sato, who developed his own beautifully intense pattern methods he named, Transformation Reconstruction.  I took an online class to learn his techniques where I pushed my pattern knowledge a little more into the fashion Avant-garde world of patterns and met talented fashion designers all over the world.  This was an intense, inspirational experience and really was what planted the seed for the option of teaching pattern techniques in the online space.  
     After moving to North Carolina in 2016, I took the advice of a friend to reach out to UNC Chapel Hill's MFA costume production program to audit their Costume Couture Methods and Digital Technologies in Costume Construction classes.  I learned so much from both classes and would love to learn more about their program.
     As you can see, there is no one program that I can contribute to my education, but I do have a strong thirst to learn about my favorite subject and don't think I will ever stop attempting to learn more about my craft.  

Tell us about a recent Patterned Seamstress project you enjoyed working on and if you can share a photo, please do!

     I do have one client we have worked with for several years that is always challenging, but a lot of fun.  For the last 4 years I have made costumes for the main stage dancers at Las Vegas' Electric Daisy Carnival by the company Insomniac.  This is a 3 day electronic dance festival that kicks off in Vegas then travels to cities around the world hosting similar events.  I usually work with the coordinator to come up with a design for her girls.  There is typically a theme or design proposal, then we dream up the details.  This last year, the theme was birds.  The challenge with these kinds of projects is to make something like a bird look sexy, colorful and fun to fit in with the atmosphere.  Because of the enormity of the stage and audience, there is always a focus on pushing the envelope and making them "larger than life".  The other challenge posed with this company is that the same six girls will not travel with the show to every city, so they have to be somewhat adjustable and also be easy to clean and travel.  For this particular bird look, we were not allowed to use real feathers.  We achieved the look using frayed chiffon of multiple colors and the bodies were made out of stretch fabrics with detachable parts.  It was a lot of work, but I was happy with the end result.  
bird dancers minus the birds
What advice do you have for someone in high school or college who wants to pursue a career in this industry?

     My best advice for a young person looking to pursue a career in this industry is to immerse yourself into this world as much as you possibly can.  Watch shows, go to events, volunteer your time, study on your own, and probably my best advice I can offer is to take every opportunity that is presented to learn about the things that interest you.  Work ethic, willingness to learn, and networking has helped me the most to succeed in my career. 

What is your favorite tool in your costume workroom and why?

     Oh!  What a hard question!  I have so many favorite tools!  I would have to say my most used tools and the things that I believe have helped me the most are my rotary cutter and full table cutting mats.  Being left handed, scissors were always a bit of a trick to get used to and be accurate when doing large amounts of cutting.  With the rotary and large mats, I can cut things out quickly and accurately.  Time is money and it is the number one thing that saves me time!
Tricia, thanks so much for your contribution to my interview series here on La Bricoleuse. I love sharing the stories of professionals in this field and the many paths we all can take to achieve success in professional costume production! 

Tricia's bird dancer costume onstage!


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