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Dreaming of Broadway: A Costume Designer's Story

Posted by Deborah Nelson on Sun, Mar 15, 2020 @ 06:03 AM

I bet you weren’t aware that I, Fashion/Costume Designer, Deborah J Nelson am not just a ‘pretty face’…a Mom who made cute little costumes for her kids? I am a bona-fide fashion/costume designer with a background and passion in the performance arts, along with the technical and artistic expertise for creating fabulous show choir costuming!

Back ‘in the day’, I enjoyed all the artistic and performance opportunities afforded me at my small, country junior high and high school, in North Branch, Minnesota. I sang soprano in my High School Glee Club and Varsity Choir. I played the trombone all during junior high and high school, participating in our Jazz, Concert and Marching Bands. I also chose to play in the Orchestra for all of our high school musical productions, after being a ‘page turner’ for our pianist (one of my best friends) when I was in junior high.

Even with severe stage freight, I landed major roles in our Junior and Senior Class Plays. Was I fabulous? No, I was ‘average’ but soon realized that fashion and costume design was my passion, and realized that I could be a part of performances by costuming the actors/performers!

Deborah Nelson of Satin StitchesDuring college, while attaining my BFA degree in Fashion Design at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, I outfitted my sister who played Agnes Gooch in her High School’s production of “Mame”. I also designed and created all the costumes for my old NBHS’s musical production of “Fiddler on the Roof”. I bought all the fabrics, made all the patterns and cut all the costumes and distributed these for ‘Moms’ to sew for the chorus members. I personally did all the sewing for the speaking characters. I attended rehearsals and silently sang along.                 

When my high school approached me with a bigger fabric budget and asked If I would design and create all the costumes for “Kiss Me, Kate” I agreed, putting in hundreds of hours to design, source, pattern, cut and sew ALL the costumes for the lead characters AND the chorus.

1974 NWBank Event futuristic costume by Deborah Nelson of Satin StitchesI created many solo, trio and group costumes for local Minneapolis entertainers of all types, including for Rock Groups, Polka Bands, Elvis impersonators, Banjo players, and night club singing groups. Many of these were before Satin Stitches, or during our ‘formative’ years. We continue to create performance costuming for individuals and small groups, here at Satin Stitches, and I continue to mentor our design staff.

As a popular insurance company commercial states…’we know a thing or two because we’ve seen a thing or two’…. at Satin Stitches and before, I have seen a thing or two and have created costumes for all types of performing venues, including on real stages.

Wisconsin Singers program

From the summer of 2000 through the 2005-2006 season, I worked hand in hand with Robin Whitty-Novotny at U-W Madison, with creating costuming for the Wisconsin Singers. I was listed in their programs and online, as Costume Designer for the group.

Additionally, my personal thirst for viewing Broadway Musicals, either on Broadway or other venues, continues. How many costumed Broadway musicals have I attended? Hundreds. And I have the Playbills and programs to prove it!

Fashion Book collection of Deborah Nelson - Satin StitchesI also have a large collection of actual costumed movie versions of musicals and hundreds of historic costume and fashion books that span from ’20,000 Years of Fashion’ to ‘Broadway: The American Musical’ to my signed copy of ‘Unmistakably Mackie’. I am an expert on historical eras in costuming and continue to stay abreast of current costumes.

So what do I (and Satin Stitches) bring to the table in the world of Show Choir costuming experience? I offer my expertise to all of our clients. And I offer my expertise to anyone who asks.

I offer my vast background knowledge of historical costumes along with the technical expertise of what can work, in costume construction to create your ‘looks’ and what fabrics etc. can work better than others, on your stage. I, along with my design staff, can guide your decisions with designs, transition-construction considerations, the best fabric and color options etc.

Tags: Quality in Costumes, Custom Performance Costumes

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