Digital patterns and 3D printing are revolutionizing wardrobe design.
Costume-making for theatre hasn’t changed much since electric sewing machines were invented over 100 years ago. Patterns are drafted on flat surfaces or using mannequins and then sewn and adjusted for fit and finish, a time-consuming and expensive process.
But tech-savvy designers in Metropolitan State University of Denver’s Department of Theatre and Dance are among those ushering in a new age of theatrical fashion-making using 3D printers, modeling software and other digital tools to create costumes more efficiently.
“These new 3D costume-modeling programs allow us to try different designs and fabrics without having to build them out,” said Alyssa Ridder, MFA, professor of costume design and technology at MSU Denver. “The program simulates exactly how a material will move and look on the actors. Think HGTV and simulated home remodels — it’s the same concept. Once finalized, the patterns can be projected directly on the material and cut out for sewing.”
Ridder specializes in patterning programs such as CLO3D, software that allows designers to create 3D garment visualizations. She has led workshops using CLO3D at the U.S. Institute for Theatre Technology, where she will present again this year.
Connor Sullivan, costume-shop manager at MSU Denver who holds a master’s degree in costume-making from the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts, has created period jewelry, tiaras and theatre masks for various productions using 3D printing.
“You can conceptualize anything and get a pretty close approximation to actual pieces without the expertise and expense that was previously required to create authentic-looking period pieces,” he said. “And 3D printing is much more accessible now than it was even 10 years ago. You can now get a decent-quality 3D printer for under $500.”
To date, 3D printing has primarily been used in industrial applications, Sullivan added. Though the technology most often works with plastics, Sullivan believes printing with more flexible textiles could be possible in the near future.
“We may actually print costumes one day,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Department of Theatre and Dance at MSU Denver produces at least six performances per year, most of which benefit from the new technology. Whether they’re re-creating 18th-century garments or designing futuristic props, costume designers can use 3D modeling to help them get the look they want in a fraction of the time it took before.
“(MSU Denver) is very unique in that we have two people in the department who specialize in exactly this kind of work,” Ridder said. “It’s so cool that we’re a resource for the students who want to do this kind of work. The possibilities are endless.”