December 15, 2017
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  • Christy Stouffer (right) is part of a year-round sewing group that creates renaissance and fantasy garb.
    Christy Stouffer (right) is part of a year-round sewing group that creates renaissance and fantasy garb.
  • Christy Stouffer is part of a year-round sewing group that creates renaissance and fantasy garb.
    Christy Stouffer is part of a year-round sewing group that creates renaissance and fantasy garb.
  • Christy Stouffer is part of a year-round sewing group that creates renaissance and fantasy garb.
    Christy Stouffer is part of a year-round sewing group that creates renaissance and fantasy garb.
  • Christy Stouffer is part of a year-round sewing group that creates renaissance and fantasy garb.
    Christy Stouffer is part of a year-round sewing group that creates renaissance and fantasy garb.

Local Garb Seamstresses Adorn Maryland Renaissance Festival

Judy Tacyn
Judy Tacyn's picture
View Bio
October 4, 2017

Few words strike fear in a parent’s heart like the following scenario: It’s 8:30pm on a Friday and a child proudly announces, “Monday is International Day! I need to dress up as…”

Renaissance garb creator Christy Stouffer said her costume-making came out of that necessity. “When my daughters were young, they would greet me when I came home from work with, ‘Tomorrow is Japan Day at school, I need a kimono,’ or ‘Tomorrow is Future Day. I need a futuristic costume to wear.’”

Stouffer started sewing as a child but only when she or her children needed something specific. “I always enjoyed creating costumes and special event clothing more than everyday clothes,” said Stouffer.

That’s when her sewing went from necessity to full-time job. Stouffer then helped costume some theater productions, so Renaissance garb was a natural extension.

Meeting new friends at a karaoke bar is common, but finding a sewing group? That’s exactly how Stouffer met Kathy Pettigrew 15 years ago, when she joined Pettigrew’s Thursday night sewing group.

“I met a group of women at a local karaoke bar and found out they were into the Renaissance Festival and sewed together,” said Stouffer. “Besides sewing, we all sing and drink wine. We’ve become very good friends.”

Pettigrew explained that members work on individual projects but have group consultations when they need help putting colors together or determining what trims to use.

“Each member has his or her strengths, and we use them to help each other,” Pettigrew said. “One is great with colors, another can whip up a court dress with minimal fabric, another is a master at deciphering indecipherable pattern directions, another drafts awesome patterns of her own.”

Juliet Murphy met the sewing group at karaoke seven years ago and has come to love the group for their friendship and support.

“Sewing has supported me occasionally over the years. When I lived on the Gulf Coast, I made and sold sheer skirts and dresses,” she explained. “When I was in Nashville, I sold funky little dresses and skirts and upcycled means to a boutique in West Nashville. More recently, I’ve been selling Renaissance and faerie festival costumes, hats and accessories.”

The Thursday group will work on mostly Renaissance and fantasy garb. “A few members work on ‘muggle’ clothes, but that’s not our focus,” said Stouffer. “We sew year-round, primarily for the Maryland Renaissance Festival season.”

Kay Carnell started sewing eight or nine years ago when Pettigrew offered to make her a gown if she would cut out patterns for her. One thing led to another and she was hooked.

“I don’t do the very elaborate gowns like some of the others,” said Carnell. “My forte is in tailoring, finishing and hand-sewing. I particularly like to know that the inside of my garments are as neat as the outside.”

Carnell’s daughter Randi Lewallen is a relative newcomer to the group with two years of sewing experience. “I got started making Renaissance clothing because I wanted all the beautiful costumes and couldn’t afford the prices,” said Lewallen. “Plus, mom was making costumes for herself, me and my two other sisters, so I wanted to help.”

Through the Thursday sewing group and karaoke, Stouffer realized that a growing group of people were making their own garb and sewing together, so she started a Facebook group where members could share things online.

“I expected to have 30 to 50 members at most,” said Stouffer, but she was surprised that the group quickly expanded worldwide. “We grew from a small local group to a group of more than 700 on Facebook. We are adding around 15 to 20 members a week on average.”

The group now has members from European countries, South America, Canada and all parts of the U.S. “Who knew this kind of historical and fantasy sewing was so popular?” Stouffer quipped.

The Facebook group shares sources for fabrics, trims and supplies; hints and tips on construction; advice for new garb makers; pattern suggestions; and tutorials.

“It’s a purely social group, with women and men who range from expert to beginner,” said Stouffer. “We love sharing photos of our creations and works in progress, and inspiring each other.”

For her Renaissance garb, Stouffer said she uses commercial patterns but will mix and match pieces. She also drafts her own patterns. Depending on the garment, Renaissance garb might be completed in a weekend or even weeks.

Those who have attended the Maryland Renaissance Festival know the garb looks warm and heavy; that’s because the pieces are constructed out of upholstery fabric, brocades, linen and a lot of silk.

“I basically build a corset into the bodices of my court gowns, with steel boning and multiple layers of fabric, and use a lot of trim, so they can get pretty heavy,” said Stouffer. “I try to balance out the weight by using lighter-weight fabrics like silk.”

Sewing heavy fabrics and leather requires special equipment. “I have five sewing machines, three sergers, an embroidery machine and a heavy-duty machine. A few are ‘travel’ machines, so I can sew with my friends or while on vacation.”

In addition to the Maryland Renaissance Festival, Stouffer’s work can be seen at other Renaissance festivals, and pirate and faerie festivals.

“I am also currently costuming a production of ‘How the Grinch Stole Christmas’ for Pasadena Theatre Company,” she added, “which opens on December 2 at Anne Arundel Community College.”

Stouffer said she and friends try to make at least one trip a year to the fashion district in New York City to buy fabrics. “Finding the right trim and the right fabric is almost a separate hobby from the design and sewing of these gowns, and I enjoy the hunt,” she said.

To join the Facebook group, search for “Sewing for Renaissance Festivals.”


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