Another installment in the interview series, this time with Claire Fleming, a 2012 graduate of our program and cutter at the NYC-based costume production house, Eric Winterling Inc.
It's funny, this series has become sort of a survey of our graduates, but they all have gone on to such cool jobs in the field, i hope it's not only useful for people who might be researching our graduate program but in general for those wanting to know about all the different jobs there are out there in the field of professional costume production.
My questions are in italics, and Claire's answers follow. Plus, bonus closeup of one of the finale costumes from the recently opened Broadway musical Kinky Boots
, designed by Gregg Barnes!
For a bit of background for the readers, would you describe the shop or studio space at Eric Winterling's--how many employees, what different positions there entail, specialty equipment the shop owns, etc?
Personnel-wise, we have three draping teams and a tailoring team. Each draping team has one or two cutters/first hands and at least three stitchers. The Tailoring team has one cutter and then specific people who make coats, pants, shirts, and vests. There are several stitchers in the shop who float between the dressmaking teams and the tailoring team. We have one hand finisher who does the majority of our hand work. We also have one cutter who does all of our beading work. The workroom supervisor is in charge of managing the workflow through the different teams and moving the stitchers around if needed. We also having a shopping department of two people, a dyer, and a business manager. Depending on the week, we have somewhere between 30 and 40 people in the shop.
Eric Winterling's has twp offices that designers can rent. We have a small and a large fitting room, and a dye room. The work room is set up so that each draper and their cutters/first hands have their own work table. There are also two tables available for the stitchers to work at and a hand-sewing table for the hand finisher. There are three separate ironing stations plus a specific "press and roll" ironing table. Every stitcher has their own industrial machine and there is a bank of four Bernina domestic machines set up all the time. There are a few Bernina machines that are the machines sent down when doing a large delivery. We have two industrial sergers, a pearl edge industrial machine, an industrial buttonholer, and a picot machine. We have two heat presses and at least three hot plates for all of the hot-fixing that we do.
What is your background in the area of costume production?
I knew how to sew before I became involved in costume production but it was on a very basic level. My undergraduate program at Furman University was a general Theatre Arts degree, which means that we had to study all aspects of theater. After I took the Intro to Costume Technology class, I worked in the costume shop and asked for costume-related show assignments whenever possible. During the summer I went and worked in costume shops so that I could learn more about that specific field. After I graduated I worked in different shops and learned more advanced techniques. I really wanted to learn patterning, but it was something that was hard to learn on the job because there never seemed to be time for someone to teach me. That is when I decided to go to graduate school. I attended UNC-Chapel Hill and now I work in NYC!
I find sometimes there's confusion about the job titles of first hand vs cutter--sometimes they are used interchangeably, sometimes there is a stark differentiation. What are your thoughts on this?
I have found that the title depends on where you work and even who you work for within that company. At Eric Winterling's the two terms are interchangeable. In my opinion the difference is this: a first hand is a draper's assistant and a cutter is strictly someone who is handed the patterns and cuts out the fabrics. A first hand may be asked to make small pattern alterations, to be in fittings, to run the team while the draper is gone, and to know how the garments are going to be constructed. A cutter is not given those responsibilities. I feel that a true use of a cutter is more of a factory-style shop. Although there are some drapers who do not want a first hand, they just want a cutter, this does not seem to be the norm within the costume shops in New York.
Can you talk about one of the projects you have worked on recently that was particularly memorable/exciting/challenging?
One of the first projects I worked on was Kinky Boots. The show just opened on Broadway but we did the costumes several months ago because it had a run in Chicago first. The costumes we made were for the drag queens in the show so it was a challenge in the sense of making women's clothes for men. And of course none of the costumes were straightforward in any way. Every one of them had an interesting feature that was a problem to solve. The costume I did the most work on is in the finale of the show. It is a corset with the British flag on it and a giant cockade on the back. The fabrics were all stretch fabrics that we didn't want to stretch, so we had to fuse all of the fabrics to prevent them from stretching. The designer, Gregg Barnes, really liked the colors and the sheen of the fabrics. I got to see the show during previews in New York and it was exciting to see something I had worked really hard on get so much applause. Kinky Boots is one of a few shows where the costumes get applause.
Rear view of finale costume described above.
What advice would you give to readers who aspire to work as a cutter in a NYC costume shop (special skills to focus on, what to expect, etc)?
Speed and accuracy. I had all of the skills to do the job when I showed up but I was slow at first. The deadlines can change, particularly when working on a film, and you need to be flexible and able to quickly get something cut so that it can get under the machine. It was also a change for me to think of things in terms of what I can do that creates work for other people as opposed to the order it made sense for me to cut things. For example: I like to cut everything from one fabric before I move onto the next but the needs of the workroom may require me to cut everything for the bodice before I can cut the skirt. This means having to lay out fabric multiple times but it keeps your stitchers busy.
Does Winterling's have any internship or overhire opportunities and if so, can you talk a bit about what it involves and how readers might apply?
I know that there have been interns previously at Eric Winterling's and we do call in overhire from time to time. The best way to find out about the needs of the shop and what opportunities there are at the moment is to contact them through email. The contact info is on the website: http://ericwinterlinginc.com. Eric is willing to work with someone on tailoring an internship to their needs. You will be more successful if you have a clear idea of what you want to learn while there. Do you want to shop, cut, stitch, tailor, or learn some of the business side of things? Are you particularly interested in how a bid is set up, what sources we use locally vs. mail order? Having an idea of what you want to do will help you make a case for being an intern.
What is your favorite tool or piece of equipment that you use in your job?
I'm not sure if this counts, but I love the resources available to us in the city. We needed 6600 3/4" circles cut and we were able to send it to a place that does covered buttons for us. It saved us a lot of time and hassle. I also really want to learn how to use the industrial buttonholer.
Thank you, Claire, for sharing this great interview with the readership!