Professional costumers Kim Lennox and Gina Bennett banded together to start Costume Alchemy in 2019. The project was meant to be a place where professional costumers could gather to swap skills and embrace their creativity. A workshop officially opened in early 2020 before fate — aka the COVID-19 pandemic — decided to intervene.
“We opened up our doors on Friday, February 1, and then on March 16 we closed them,” says Lennox with a laugh.
Instead of giving up, Lennox and Bennett decided to do something with their skills and considerable workshop space. After IATSE 212, Southern Alberta’s stage and screen union, shared an expression of need for hospital gowns from the Calgary Drop-In Centre (the D.I.), the pair knew they could be of service.
“We had this space that was now vacant with big cutting tables and a really nice big window up front for drop-off and delivery,” says Lennox. “I said, ‘this would be a great place to have a hub and we can organize it all from here.'”
On March 28, Costume Alchemy shared an Instagram post to its 300-some followers requesting volunteer sewers and 525 metres of fabric donations to make 150 durable hospital gowns and, following an article on this by the Calgary Herald, they received an explosion of interest.
By the time we spoke on April 6, Costume Alchemy had 20 high-output sewers working from home (out of around 100 total volunteers) on around 1,200 metres of fabric — more than doubling its goal for fabric in less than two weeks. Donors include costumers for Theatre Calgary and the University of Calgary drama department, commercial operators like Robert Sweep and Fabric Depot, and many others.
Thanks to this, Costume Alchemy will collect more than the desired 150 gowns from sewers and deliver them to the D.I. where they will be washed in a medical-grade laundry facility before use. The reason durable gowns are so important is because they act as a critical barrier between staff and patients and must be washed frequently so as not to spread any traces of disease.
The Costume Alchemy team is already thinking about how they can help further. For the gowns, they could only use certain materials donated in certain sizes. Fabric donations that weren’t the right size have been diverted to MaskMakersYYC and non-applicable types of fabric — like upholstery and fleece — are being considered for bedding and/or luggage projects for hospitals and people facing housing insecurity during the pandemic.
The best way to keep in touch about what Costume Alchemy is up to and how you can help is to follow them on Instagram at @Costume.Alchemy.