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‘Shucked’ ~ Around The Frame

Back in January, on Friday the 13th I was doing a final proof of my Waynedale News article “The hired man’s quilt.” Re-reading it, I thought it needed a final statement so I added “It will be interesting to see what its future owner will make of it.”

As I sent it and the photo to Publisher, Alex Cornwell, I received a pop-up message that I had made an Etsy shop sale. I opened my shop to discover I had just sold my hired man’s quilt top to someone in Astoria, New York. The name of the buyer was “Tilly, and I was to send it to “Caitlin”. In this circumstance I contact the buyer to determine whether they are one and the same, or if Caitlin was a relative or friend so I would know if should write a thank you note or a “On behalf of Tilly, I hope you enjoy your birthday gift” type of note. I could not have expected a more surprising response. “Not to be terribly confusing, I’m Caity, (short for Caitlin), Associate to Costume Designer Tilly Grimes. We’re working on a New Broadway Musical called SHUCKED shuckedmusical.com. We’re not sure how we’ll utilize the quilt yet, but it will continue to live on! Thanks! Caity M”

WOW! My lowly quilt top meant for a hired man will appear on Broadway this spring! SHUCKED puts “culture” back in “agriculture.” It is about a small town that depends on its annual corn crop for survival. Lately something has happened that has caused the corn to die, and the farmers don’t have a clue as to what’s causing it. Maizy is charged to go to the big city to find a corn doctor and returns with a podiatrist! Part “Oklahoma” Maizy and her beau can’t get married until the town is saved, and part Music Man” (a con man is involved), this corny musical is fun for the entire family!

I wanted to learn more about Costume Designer Tilly and what exactly a Costume Associate does. On her website, I learned Tilly is a British costume designer for theatre, opera, and film. She works between London, Dublin, and New York. She has shared her passion as a guest artist / guest designer at The Juilliard School, New York University, Fordham University, University of Rochester, The Curtis Institute, and Trinity College Dublin. She has been nominated for a Lucille Lortel Award and a Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Costume Design. The Lortel Award is given for excellence in costume design for off-Broadway shows.

Caity Mulkearms wrote me what she does as Associate Costume Designer: “I do a lot of functional jobs in the process of getting theater done. To put it simply, Tilly is the one who designs and has ideas. I’m the one who executes the vision. The best way I know how to describe it is through the process.

On a Broadway or a built show, there’s a lot of prep work in the beginning that I am responsible for. Tilly works to get designs approved, then I take those designs and make “bid sheets” or “pieces lists” out of them. A bid sheet breaks down the items in the sketches (i.e. oversized raglan sleeve shirt with band collar) and I send that information to costume shops. The costume shops then bid / tell me how much they would charge me for certain projects. What can be $300 at one shop can sometimes be closer to $1400 at another – but certain shops specialize in different things. So, we have a hat maker, a shirt maker, a show maker, a dyer & printer, painters, etc. It’s a lot of wrangling! Luckily for us, the costume shop community came together during COVID to form the Costume Industry Coalition (You can look them up!) So, everyone knows each other and has working relationships.

Once I receive bids, I go over them with Tilly and then we make a budget plan to get approved by producers. We don’t always go with the lowest priced shops on projects but we lump them together so that they make sense. We try to keep a character in one shop as much as possible so it’s less to coordinate when it comes to making sure everything is ready for fittings.

For this show we are a team of one designer, one associate, one 2nd assistant, and three assistants. There are tiers of pay and responsibilities, and as the associate I am kind of the captain of the ship. I have a hand in the artistic conversation, but I am also responsible for managing the workflow of our team, the budget, and expectations of the shops building for us. For example, if Tilly wants to add or change something that creates an added cost, I would approve it or we discuss where she can save in other ways to prioritize what’s the most important. For us, a $300 pair of pants is way too much money for an ensemble person, but I could argue that cost is sometimes worth it for a leading character. It all depends. Theater is the art of storytelling. So often we find ourselves asking what helps communicate the story and the intention the most. I feel like I could go on and on about what I do, but to sum it up, I am an ‘artistic project manager’.”
Anxiously awaiting to hear how exactly the lowly quilt top was to be used and my deadline looming, Caity sent me this update during the show’s hectic “Tech Week.”

“For the quilt, we utilized it in one of our printed fabrics. We didn’t want to cut into such a wonderful piece and the yardage wouldn’t have been enough for us. With eight shows a week we often have multiples of garments. This way we can have a two shows a day before any laundry is needed and the actors aren’t wearing sweaty clothes! Instead, we worked with DYENAMIX which is a textile company here in NYC. They scanned the quilt and used it to create artwork and printed it on fabric! Our Ensemble B Track wears a long sleeve shirt that is from a printed quilt. We are still in process on the shirt, but I’ll try to send an image of it finished.

So, there we have it. The quilt top will not be on Broadway, but its image will be on an actor’s shirt. This seems like the best of both worlds: The quilt top remains intact, but it is the inspiration for a Shucked shirt!

The SHUCKED book is by Tony Award® winner Robert Horn (Tootsie), a score by the Grammy® Award-winning songwriting team of Brandy Clark and Shane McAnally and directed by Tony Award® winner Jack O’Brien (Hairspray). Clark and McAnally have written songs for Reba McEntire, Sheryl Crow, Miranda Lambert, LeAnn Rhimes, and Kelly Clarkson.

To view a portfolio of Tilly Grimes costume designs, go to: tillygrimes.com

Lois Levihn is the owner of Born Again Quilts Restoration Studio and Vintage Fabrics. If you have a textile you’d like featured in an upcoming issue, contact her at 260-515-9446 or bornagainquilts.com

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Lois Levihn

She is the author of the "Around the Frame" quilting column. She is a graduate of Wayne HS. Quilts have always been important to her, she loves the stories surrounding them, the techniques used in making them, & restoring them. > Read Full Biography > More Articles Written By This Writer