A coat of many colors is exactly what was used in Woods Memorial Presbyterian Church’s production of “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” from October 3-6.
The coat contained an array of colors and patterns, and caught the attention of many of the show’s patrons.
When the artistic team at Woods decided to put on a production of “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,” they asked member Phyllis Hatcher to design the coat. A quilt appraiser and a costume veteran, Hatcher knew her way around a sewing machine. But when she started the project, she had no idea just how intricate and elegant the coat would be.
Hatcher started the project by closely examining a song from the production titled “Joseph’s Coat.” In the song, the coat is described as long and elegant, with long sleeves. After looking to the song for inspiration, Hatcher watched live versions of the show online. Finally, she sat down with the show’s director, David Merrill; the head of costumes for the show, Susan Bohlman; and the actor who played Joseph, Drew Sharp, to hear their ideas for the coat.
“There are women in our church who went on an African mission to Malawi and they deliberately brought back the fabrics from Malawi to use in the coat,” Hatcher said.
Bohlman was one of those women, and she passed the fabric to Hatcher, along with her ideas of what the coat should be.
Hatcher also received inspiration for the design from Merrill’s vision for the show and Sharp’s knowledge of both the Broadway and London versions of the play.
At first, Hatcher was worried that the coat wouldn’t be enough and wouldn’t make sense for the story.
“The brothers are so jealous, you don’t want the guy to come out in something that’s tacky and dull,” Hatcher said.
But when the design came together, her granddaughter had worried it might be too much.
“My youngest granddaughter said, ‘Grandma, I just want to say – with all those colors – there’s a 40 to 50% chance it could be tacky,’” Hatcher said.
This thought stuck in her mind as she went along, but she soon realized it wouldn’t be tacky at all. Hatcher started the design with a 90-inch tablecloth and a giant cardboard triangle for pattern. She then cut large triangles in fabrics of each color of the rainbow. The finished tablecloth looked like a brilliant color wheel. Hatcher then lined each fabric triangle with different panels of the African fabric. Finally, to finish it off, she cut a hole for the waist, and suddenly the tablecloth became the skirt of a dream coat. The torso was a tan-colored fabric, with the African fabric lining a strip of downward-facing arrows on each arm, also in the color wheel pattern.
“These triangles are a quilting technique,” Hatcher said. “You actually sew them on paper … at the end, you sew all the papers together, and then rip all the papers off.”
While making the coat, Hatcher worried about ruining the fabric from Malawi. Hatcher described the fabrics as waxy, and she was worried they would shrivel under heat, so she had to be extra careful.
On the back of the coat sits the Woods Presbyterian cross. Hatcher printed the cross onto the fabric using an inkjet printer. She then framed it using a blue African fabric and piping around the edges to give it an almost three-dimensional quality.
She finished the coat with a silky, golden lining, a detail she picked from another of the show’s songs. For this element, Hatcher used the remnants of an old skirt. The skirt had pockets that she was able to use and make a feature on the inside of the coat.
Hatcher also included some surprise features, such as a patch of African fabric displaying a giraffe hiding just under each arm, and a ribbon of yellow fabric across the bottom of the inside of the skirt that looked like a streamer when Sharp would twirl it around.
In total, the coat took two weeks to design and six weeks to sew.
“The first time I saw [Sharp] spin in [the coat] … I was sitting in the audience and my jaw was dropping,” Hatcher said. “I never made [a costume] that did something … what he did in it is a whole other thing.”
Hatcher was worried about having to make major repairs to the coat, but it held through countless dress rehearsals and five performances with only a few threads out of place.
Hatcher said that the coat has been recognized by many people, putting her in the spotlight for what she calls her “15 minutes of fame.”
“People will see me and go, ‘You made the coat,’” Hatcher said with a laugh. “Yes, thank you very much.”