By Linda Dillman
Artistry takes many forms including fabric, needle, and thread.
Karen Cook’s nimble fingers have created hundreds of Canal Winchester Middle School costumes by using fabric to breathe life into characters as well as to make a bride feel beautiful on her special day.
“I became interested in sewing when I used to sit on the treadle peddle of my Aunt Hazel’s sewing machine,” said Cook during a recent trip to the second floor education center classroom that now houses the costumes on which she spent countless hours. “I became a serious sewer after my first home economics teacher told me I had a talent. My parents were very supportive. They bought me my first sewing machine and I still have it.”
An oilcloth tote was the first “official” project that she made as a Brownie Scout. She followed that up with a high school project involving the construction of a fully lined suit, blouse, hat and gloves for Easter.
While she never entertained the notion of opening up her own business, Cook enjoys the challenge of making something out of nothing and tailoring a dress, blouse, pants or gown for friends and family.
Projects can involve deconstructing and then reconstructing an item according to individual needs or taking a flat piece of material and coaxing three-dimensional beauty out of its layers.
“Coming up with some of the costumes for the musicals was a challenge because several of them were made from what I saw in my mind. There were no patterns for them,” said Cook, who sewed her first costume, a curly brown bear outfit, for the 2008-09 production of “Schoolhouse Rock,” directed by Cindi Murphy. “The little girl who wore the bear costume didn’t want to take it off.”
If Cook could not find a commercial pattern that worked for a role, she developed the costume according to what the role required. She said the costume had to fit the needs of the character, not just cover the body of the actor.
Running the gamut from “Beauty and the Beast’s” Mrs. Pott’s teapot costume to Belle’s multi-layer yellow ball gown to a host of under the sea outfits for a production of “The Little Mermaid,” Cook always made the main and lead character costumes, many times without the benefit of a pattern.
Projects that give her the greatest pleasure are ones that put a smile on the recipient’s face.
“I will never forget the girl who turned around while I was doing a fitting and said, ‘I have never felt so pretty. Thank you, Ms. Karen.’ She melted my heart,” said Cook, who was a full-time volunteer for 10 years in the middle school music department after retiring from a career in real estate. “Overall, I’ve made hundreds of costumes for the musicals and show choirs, altered numerous others and spent several all-nighters.”
Cook recently finished altering a wedding gown for a friend, made the bridal veil from delicate lace and tulle and created two bridesmaid dresses. Although she no longer is responsible for constructing a cast of costumes for the musicals, she plans to continue sewing for neighbors and working on her own sewing projects.
“I may even give sewing lessons to a few people who’ve asked about them,” Cook said. “At this age, you need to stay busy and I always do.”
She said sewing is a fading art and will continue to fade as schools drop home economics and sewing classes because of budget and programming restraints. She advised people interested in learning the art of sewing to not be afraid of a new pursuit.
“Just do your best and don’t take on projects that are too far outside your wheelhouse,” she said.
Cook’s fabric artistry has touched the lives of hundreds of students and continues to enrich the
lives of those on the receiving end of her expertise with needle and thread.