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"Greeks" to "Grease," costume shop has it all

By Jane Ver Steeg

Sue Blom earned an ACTF award for the costumes she designed for

Sue Blom earned an ACTF award for the costumes she designed for "The Greeks," the first show she worked on as costume designer at Dordt College.

Need a costume? Sue Blom can probably find it for you. And if she doesn’t have it, she knows how to make it.

As costume shop supervisor and seamstress for the Dordt College theater department, Blom is in charge of a vast warehouse of costumes acquired over the past forty years by her predecessors Shirley Matheis and Esther Van Eek. Authentic clothing from the early 1900s shares storage space with award-winning Greek costuming sewn by Blom last spring. There are ’50s poodle skirts, ’60s flower children garb and ’70s leisure suits. In the past year alone, three entire estates of vintage clothing have been donated to the mix. And since no costume is complete without the right accessories, shoes, hats, wigs, jewelry and purses are also available at the shop.

Last year the Dordt College costume shop served nine area high schools, numerous churches in need of nativity or Holy Week costumes, and assisted with about 800 other costume rentals.

“This is quite a service to the area, and a wonderful resource that Dordt College offers to people,” commented Blom, who began working as seamstress/costume shop supervisor in July 2003.

Costumes sewn by Blom for her very first Dordt show, The Greeks: The Murders, were among only thirteen production designs (from about 200 productions) invited to compete at the Region 5 American College Theatre Festival in January. At St. Louis, the Dordt designer was presented a meritorious achievement award following the popular costume parade competition.

Blom said she researched Greek theater and costumes and studied the most used book for costume design instruction, The Magic Garment, to prepare for this production. After completing her research, she drew renderings of costumes for each character in the play. Each design was based on the social status of the character, where they were from, and their family relationships.

When the sketches were completed, Blom and the show’s director, April Hubbard, collaborated to see if they captured the director’s vision for the characters in the play. “Theater faculty members have been so helpful and wonderful to work with,” says Blom, who needed to make only a few minor changes before taking the sketches from paper to the sewing machine.

From her hand-drawn renderings, Blom created a pattern for each costume, drawn to fit each character’s measurements. After cutting the pieces, seven theater work study students helped sew garments and produce jewelry, headgear, and footwear. The production was completed and staged in April of last year.

Blom said she has been sewing since the age or six or seven. “I can remember the first clothes that I sewed for money were cheerleading outfits for my seventh grade class, in 1967. I have never stopped sewing for others since.” Over the years Blom has also done alterations for retail stores and freelanced from her home.

Blom has another passion too: she has a degree in music and is a church organist, high school contest accompanist, and a member of the NISO bassoon section. As a musical performer, she’s seen many theater productions from the viewpoint of the orchestra pit and she’s even been known to alter or fix costumes between musical numbers while sitting in the pit.