Custom Fabrics in Alias Grace

Designer Erin Reed on the Custom Fabrics in Alias Grace

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99.9% of the time, costume designers can find the fabric they are looking for out in the world. However, .1% of the time, the design requires something so specific that the pattern needs to be created by hand to achieve the desired effect.

In “Alias Grace,” the characters in Grace’s past needed to feel as faded as her memories of the events. To give them a ghostly, half-remembered feel, we wanted the patterns on their clothing to deteriorate, in the same way that the details of a memory fall away as time passes. To achieve that look, we decided to screen print yardage of fabric that would then be cut and sewn into the finished dresses.

Screen printing is a process that begins with turning your desired pattern into a screen. Screens are stretched on frames, and coated in a film. Through a burning process, holes in that film are created in the shape of the chosen pattern. This film prevents ink from going through the screen, so the pattern comes out sharp. These screens were made Classic Print Company here in Knoxville.

Then, the fabric is laid out as flat as possible and pinned to a soft-topped table to get a smooth print. Using thread and pins, we made a grid for each design that helped us keep the pattern lined up. From there, the actual act of printing is relatively simple. After placing the screen in the right spot, a thin layer of special fabric paint is applied on top of the screen and pushed through the openings in the screen with a large squeegee. The screen is then carefully removed, leaving a clear print underneath.