Creep Show Couture

“Do you ladies sew?” asked Rae Lundquist, a five-foot, fifty-something with a confident manner and long, silvering brown hair falling past her waist. Lundquist serves as costume director of MarsCon, a sci-fi convention that celebrates its tenth anniversary this month. As part of her duties, she had organized an educational field trip for her fellow costumiers. Interested parties were instructed to gather at the top deck of the Bloomington Holiday Inn Select parking ramp on the Sunday morning following last November’s MarsCon Masquerade Ball. From there, Lundquist (a.k.a. The Dreamstitcher) would lead a caravan twenty-five miles north. “I’ll show you the real place to shop in the Twin Cities,” she continued, leaning into the assembled (one man, three women) with a map. “The Guthrie shops there; Theatre in the Round shops there … A few years ago we found some brick-red wool gabardine there—perfect for Starfleet costumes!”

A total of five cars set forth on the expedition. After navigating a maze of freeway, frontage road, and office complexes, everyone arrived safely at their destination: an ugly beige warehouse in Brooklyn Park with red block lettering that read: SR HAR IS (the sign was missing its second R). Arriving ten minutes in advance of the store’s noon opening, the costumiers joined a small crowd of mothers and young children who’d left the warmth of their minivans to wait near the front door. Lundquist, who’d shown up wearing black jeans, a floor-length denim trench coat, and a T-shirt advertising Serenity, the 2005 space-western flick, took the opportunity to socialize. Overhearing what a young mother had come in search of, she was her usual helpful self: “Corduroy—that’s aisles seventeen and eighteen.”

Once inside, Lundquist, obviously a regular, loitered near the cash registers for about twenty minutes. A young woman with long black hair and a powdered white face approached with her copy of Hellsing, a manga series concerning zombies, werewolves, and ghouls. Opening to a bookmarked page, she revealed her costume concept—a female character in a tight black bodysuit with all manner of bandaging (think fashionable straitjacket). The young woman indicated she was leaning toward pleather. Lundquist was quick to counter: “You’re going to die in pleather!” she said, and directed the woman to the store’s twill selection, in aisles nineteen and twenty.

Another costumier—a nice fellow with salt-and-pepper hair—said he planned to construct a Fellowship cloak, the costume popularized by Lord of the Rings. Lundquist suggested “a lightweight, almost see-through wool,” which, she said, might be found in or about aisle fifteen.

After a while, the crew ambled to a far, back corner of the store. Once there, Lundquist seized upon a bolt of wool/alpaca. “I can see hobbit cloaks out of that,” she offered, pinching the fabric and then rubbing it with her fingers. “But it’s still a little rough.”

As the party perused the floor-to-ceiling selection, Lundquist camped out near an end-cap and, from there, dispensed additional nuggets of wisdom: “You know what works well for armor slats?” she said, seemingly for the benefit of the male costumier. “Venetian blinds!” For the young woman, Lundquist had a suggestion for achieving that spiky, gravity-defying Pokémon-style hair: “Glue.”

On a typical Sunday morning, SR Harris offers outsiders a microcosmic peek inside the local rag trade: The theatrical costume designers have come to look for billowing satins and acetates, fashion designers for jersey, and Hmong families for bargain remnants. Lundquist ran into three women from the Northwest Company Fur Post in Pine City (she costumes historic reenactments on the side). Joy Teiken, the woman behind the Minneapolis-based Joynoëlle line of couture, gave a wink while strutting past. Later, when the high-fashion designer of custom menswear Russell Bourrienne was introduced to Lundquist, she responded with her usual zeal: “Oh, I should send my son your way! He’s hard to fit.”

Lundquist then proceeded to offer an impassioned discourse on the youngest generation of costumiers (usually anime enthusiasts) who have taken up sewing. Upon hearing this, Bourrienne’s eyes widened. “Yes, it’s very different,” he said nasally, in between titters.

As the costumiers finished their shopping, Lundquist killed time by sharing a series of observations on the more technical aspects of her job; for example: “Anime people love zippers” and “That’s the one thing I can’t stand about superheroes—they have no pockets!” Soon enough, the male costumier reappeared with that perfect bolt of translucent gray linen. The Goth woman checked back shortly thereafter. Her cart was heaped with notions and black fabric but, before she was through, she had one more important question. “Is this good thread?” she asked, proffering a spool. (After all, that labyrinthine costume of hers would require serious reinforcements.) Lundquist gave it a yank and then, handing it back, pronounced, “Yeah, that’s buttonhole thread.”