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Alberta film workers making hospital gowns for COVID-19 outbreak, asking for fabric donations


Alberta film workers who have outfitted some of film and television’s biggest stars are now turning their talents to supplying frontline workers and the general public with protective garb during the COVID-19 outbreak.

In the short term, members of the IATSE 212’s wardrobe division — who have worked on everything from blockbusters such as The Revenant to TV’s Heartland,  Fargo and Wynonna Earp — are joining forces with Calgary’s Costume Alchemy to create an army of at-home sewers to produce 150 hospital gowns for the Calgary Drop-In Centre . But they need help from the public.

“We are doing this based on requests from the community based on their specific needs they’ve identified,” says Deborah Day, Wardrobe Caucus Chair for IATSE 212.

Locally, there are roughly 80 members in IATSE 212’s wardrobe division, although some have relocated to British Columbia in recent years. A number have already answered the call for volunteers.

IATSE is teaming with Costume Alchemy, a business that offers workshops for costumers from all disciplines, to activate an army of sewers to fill the immediate needs of the Calgary Drop-In Centre. But to do that, the project requires supplies. Each hospital gown requires 3.5 metres of fabric, which means more than 500 metres would be required to complete the order. Specifically, there is a need for cotton, polyester or cotton-polyester, which would allow the gowns to be washed repeatedly in high temperatures. Also required are Jersey knit (T-shirt fabric) for the cuffs, thread and twill tapes for straps. Costume Alchemy will be accepting the donations and packaging them up with patterns to send out to stitchers working from home.

“We are hoping to start sewing (on Tuesday),” says Day. “It’s so organic and there are so many moving parts because of the safety issues. Something that seems quite simple can become quite complicated.”

Day says the project may also shift to making face masks for the general public, something that union members had already started before the call was made for the gowns.

“As long as we can keep a steady donation of fabrics moving, we can generate a fair bit and get it out to the general public and groups, for example truckers or seniors who are going out shopping for groceries,” says Day about the masks. “Everyone was just so anxious to get going and start sewing, the masks got made before we knew where we can direct them to.”

The project follows a broader campaign kickstarted by IATSE film workers throughout North America to create specific articles to help with the COVID-19 outbreak. Members of IATSE’s wardrobe division were among the first to be put to work. They are largely made up of sewers and seamstresses who create the clothing dreamed up by costume designers for specific projects.

“Our responsibilities are to work from a design concept that is provided to the designer to recreate all of the clothing that is the vision of the production, whether it’s the day-to-day clothes or whether it’s sci-fi or whether it’s a period piece,” Day says.

She says dozens of local film workers have already answered the call, which has had a snowball effect through word-of-mouth.

“There are some who are close to retiring and have been doing less work but have been coming out for support,” she says. “Every person out there has a network. As they put this out there, someone else will say ‘I have this or can provide that or you need to contact this person who can do this.’ So it has been growing exponentially, day by day. We’re constantly pulling in all of that information and seeing how we can use it and pull it in logistically and keep it running. We’re taking advantage of as many skills as we can. No one really knows where this will go. We really don’t know how big this could get. We want to make sure we have that network identified.”

Those wishing to donate are asked to contact Kim Lennox and Gina Bennett from Costume Alchemy, at costume.alchemy.yyc@gmail.com or by calling 403-455-8705.

Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2020

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