Wisconsin seamstress lends skills to youth theater troupe

Elaine Hilmer, who has been designing costumes for Kids Fun and Drama for nearly 30 years, sews on March 23 in Beloit. She's now a member of the youth theater troupe's board, and loves to support the organization however she can. 

Erica Pennington, Beloit Daily News

BELOIT— It’s been 29 years since Elaine Hilmer first started to lend her creativity and talent for sewing for Beloit’s Kids Fun and Drama.

The youth theater troupe, then still in its infancy, really needed a costume designer. After answering the call for help, Hilmer was hooked.

“I’ve been sewing since I was around 10 years old because my mom and aunt were both sewers,” Hilmer said. “I started by making Barbie clothes.”

Later, Hilmer would find all the practice paid off. She raised her children and by operating her own sewing business in her home, which she still runs.

“For a while I’d just worked on wedding dresses, but over time I transitioned to making costumes of all types,” Hilmer said. “I’ve always enjoyed it.”

It was at Beloit’s Joann Fabrics, which Hilmer lovingly refers to as her “second home,” that a partnership began with KFAD Founder Marge Austin.

The dedicated duo found they had a great chemistry in selecting fabrics and brainstorming ideas for the children’s shows. They still have fun doing it.

“Once we get the cast list, we make a whole day of shopping for fabrics and go out for lunch,” Hilmer said. “We’ve really developed a friendship.”

Enjoyable challenges

Hilmer said that each KFAD show presents its own challenges. The youth theater group is for children as young as second graders, all the way to high school.

She will regularly make anywhere from a dozen costumes to over 40, depending on the show. The internet is a big help for finding ideas and doing research.

“The next show, ‘Peter Pan Jr.,’ is coming up soon and it will be my 37th show with KFAD,” Hilmer said. “Right now I’m currently working on Wendy’s costume.”

Although KFAD now has quite the costume closet established, Hilmer does alterations or makes custom designs to fit each of the kids and make them feel special.

The process of getting all of the costumes made, fitted (and sometimes re-fitted if needed) spans several months throughout the spring and also the fall.

“Sometimes it can be a little overwhelming to get it all done, but it’s so fun to see the costumes on stage. ... It’s kind of a little rush,” she said.

Hilmer added that while she sometimes will put in 80-plus hours a week and pull all-nighters to get costumes ready, the children’s reactions make it worth it.

“The kids are always so excited and appreciative to get their costumes and try them on,” she said. “I’m so happy to put together whatever it is KFAD needs.”

“Sometimes it can be a little overwhelming to get it all done, but it’s so fun to see the costumes on stage. ... It’s kind of a little rush.” Elaine Hilmer,
youth theater costume designer
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