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'Costume & Beyond' | UT costume designers display pandemic work in downtown gallery

In order to keep his costume construction skills sharp during the pandemic, Kyle Schellinger started making anything he could in half the scale of his usual sizes.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Ornate fabrics, hand-beaded detailing and period-specific designs all in miniature — that's what people can see at UT's Downtown Gallery in a new exhibit. It's called 'Costume and Beyond.'

"All of like the little sleeves and the little arm holes, everything had to be sewn by hand," said Kyle Schellinger, the staff cutter and draper for UT's Clarence Brown Theater. "A draper is the person who works closely with the costume designer to bring their two-dimensional costume drawing, their rendering, into three dimensions."

It's a skill that takes constant practice.

"When the pandemic started, we didn't know when we were going to be able to come back to do theater again," said Schellinger. "And I knew that if I didn't do something that utilized my skills — if you don't use it, you lose it. So I brought home a half-scale dress form from UT from our teaching lab and I just started making things."

Schellinger started exploring old European fashion, often inspired by the shows he was binging and books he was reading while stuck at home.

"This is kind of based on a TV show called The Borgias and it's an Italian Renaissance gown that would have been worn sometime in the 1470s to 1490s," he said of a teal and gold gown.

Credit: WBIR
A gown designed and handsewn by Kyle Schellinger.

His work is paired with that of UT's former head of design Marianne Custer. All her masks and headpieces are made entirely of leather.

"So she heats it up in water and folds it and shapes it and pins it in place and then it hardens and stiffens as it dries," said Schellinger.

Credit: WBIR
Masks designed and made by Marianne Custer.

Schellinger hopes when people look at the costumes, they see how wearable art tells a story.

"Fashion and the art of creating clothing is legitimate," he said. "And I really hope that people look at these things and see the details and see the way people used to dress."

Even though you can see his work onstage in productions at the Clarence Brown Theatre, Schellinger said there's something different about seeing all the tiny details up close.

The UT Downtown Gallery is located at 106 South Gay Street.

'Costume and Beyond' will be on display through January 8.

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