Creating costumes for ‘The Hessian Officer in America’

Posted Sept. 13, 2011, at 5:41 p.m.

Most of the characters in “The Hessian Officer in America,” a play written in German in 1783, discovered in the New York Public Library and translated to English by Annette Rodrigues of Bangor as part of her work toward a master’s degree several years ago, will be dressed in authentic reproductions of uniforms lent for the occasion by Joseph Mailt of New Jersey.

Sherry Davis of Bucksport, however, has taken on the task of creating costumes for the play’s female characters. To dress the characters of lady and servant girl, Davis, a volunteer 18th century reenactor for Leonard’s Mills in Bradley, consulted several books core to her sewing library — “17th and 18th Century Fashion in Detail” by Avril Hart and Susan North, “Every Day Dress of Rural America, 1783-1880” by Merideth Wright, and “Fitting and Proper” by Sharon Ann Burnston.

For the actress who will play the double role of lady and servant girl, Davis will fashion petticoats — or skirts — caps, a cape and a muff. “I will make my own patterns,” she said. Purchased patterns intended for reenactors, she said, can be difficult to use, and commercial costumes found at fabric stores don’t fit well and call for zippers. She will stitch the costumes’ seams on a sewing machine since stage costumes don’t need a level of authenticity requiring hand-sewing.

Finding fabrics for the costumes, Davis said, is the fun part. “I think outside the box in terms of fabric.” She has found 100 percent linen cloth at Marden’s. She also likes to troll through thrift shops and yard sales where she snaps up clothing to cut up and turn into material for her vintage period creations. In general, for the play’s costumes, she will look for striped, plain, plaid or checked cloth.

Davis, who once worked in a fabric store, also likes to look for drapery fabrics, which often sport reproduction prints from the Colonial era.

“It takes time to find these gems,” she said.

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