The way a costume fits the actor is just as essential to the impact of the costume design as is the style of the design.

A professional costume maker is a master artisan who uses a complex combination of artistic decisions in relation to construction methodologies, textile media and fit and then implements them to realize a costume designer's 2 dimensional sketch into a flexible, moving 3 dimensional reality. Every costume maker is as much an individual interpretative artist as is a violinist or an opera singer.

Back in my student days, I was constantly being told that, if I took my costume design to 3 different costume shops in New York City to be constructed, that I would get 3 very different looking costumes. The point that this statement was trying to make was singular and multiple at the same time.

The primarily point was that the costume pattern maker (the "cutter/pattern maker" [live performance] or the "cutter/fitter" [film/video]), who determines the architectural structure of the garment and the choice of methods of construction, has a wide range of variables in methodology available, each of which could produce a garment that resembles the sketch.

Without direct guidance from the costume designer as to specific methods to be used, each individual "cutter" makes these choices based on their own artistic interpretation of the costume sketch, much the same way a musician does when they play a piece of music. These choices have a direct impact on the style and fit of the finished costume.


  • The difference of effect between a "2 to 1" and a "3 to 1" ruffle.
  • The difference structural shape "gathering" and "cartridge pleating" .
  • The difference of silhouette between a bias and a square-cut sheath.

The secondary point is more subtle because it deals with the area of "fit". It is almost impossible to separate fit from style, but fit is a phenomenon that is essential to a successful costume. It is, in many ways, the most sophisticated and complex skill practiced by the master costume artisan. Fit is created by the way the garment is cut and in choices made during a "fitting" on the actor. A gifted "cutter" understands the "characterization" the actor is creating in the specific production and is able to enhance it through fit.


  • A neckline sits higher than normal on the neck in the back, lower than normal in the front. The shoulder seam shifts slightly forward from the normal. The shoulder width extended a bit wider than normal. The armhole curve sets in a bit in the front and out a bit in the back. You get the appearance of a stooped posture, even on an actor who naturally stands quite erect.

Using traditional patternmaking methods, these variables were arrived at through the combination of working on a "French form" and time consuming fittings on the actor.

It is possible to arrive at these same variables quite accurately, using flatpatterning, prior to a fitting. It does require, however, that you are working with very accurate measurements from the actor. I have been practicing this method successfully for approximately 30 years. However, having Custom Pattern Maker to use as a tool, has made my process much faster and easier to implement.



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