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6 12, 2016

That not all sewing is equal…

By |December 6th, 2016|Authors, Company, Projects|1 Comment

That not all sewing is equal – and knowing how to sew doesn’t mean you can sew everything.

Over the years I admit to having taken on sewing projects that, on the surface seemed completely feasible – but then once I got further into the task at hand it became apparent while I knew well enough how to sew, that I couldn’t in fact “sew that.”

Fun to look back and reflect on the challenges that I conquered – and those that are now just stitch-in-time memories.

Well, there were those Power Ranger costumes back in the very early ‘90s.’ An entire set of three in fact for a family that was really feeling the Halloween spirit.  These were the formative years in terms of sewing.  91-92-93.  Everything was new.  Nothing had been tried before. All fabrics were approached is if they were equal. This required that I seek out stretch fabrics in bright costume colors and then with the aid of a store bought costume pattern I had to figure out how to “resize” to fit all.  No – one size does not fit all.  And adding an inch here – well let’s just say I did not get all the inches in all the right places.  I made my Halloween deadline – and I think I also made about .40c per hour by the time all was said and done.  But I did learn some stretch fabric sewing skills, as well as some pattern theory lessons. I concluded that “clothes weren’t really my thing” and moved quickly onto coffins. (This is where the company name comes from – as upon request to line some coffins I asked … “You want me to sew what??????”.


Jump forward a year – these coffins took a different type of approach.  Sewing, yes.  Fabric, yes. Foam and padding, yes. Staples, ouch yes. Glue, indeed very messy.  And voila – there I was, now an upholsterer! Not so many curves here – straight lines, pinch pleats, padding and figuring out how to get it to all stay in place in a durable way.  Not so durable that a body would go in there….. no, these were for Halloween Candy and Novelty displays.  I sat in, on, under and on many occasion, was heard dropping some choice words as the challenge of using glue and staples proved to be messier and harder that I had thought it might be.  Heavy velvets and dupioni silks, woven brocades and pattern matching to boot.  10 coffins, $100 dollars apiece, less supplies.  Good news, it wasn’t a loss so at the very least I was finally moving in the right direction.  Each coffin taking an 8 hour day I was happy to step away feeling like I had some confidence in these heavier household materials than I had with the garment materials just a year earlier.


Word spread (slowly) that I could sew.  Soon it was some stage skirting for riser decks, followed by some window drapes, and a set of baby crib bumpers and duvet to boot.   Some big mistakes were made in this learning time phase – such as trying my hand (again) at some garments and also making residential style window dressings – let me tell you THAT was a bad move.

After we incorporated the business, we grew in the direction of the sewing skills that I had which I was most likely “not” to make mistakes on.  All the while trying our hand where risk permitted at some new and unique items.  Table Linens, Party Chair Covers, Cloth Napkins, Barricade Covers, Costumes for Cruise Ships, Residential Window Coverings, Load Bearing Truck Tarps, Antimicrobial Shower Curtains in ridiculous volumes……… are all items that we have tried our hand at and graciously stepped away from after learning our lesson….  “not our sewing skills”.


So, after 20 years I did recently circle back and decide to try my hand at making some garments, and it has been fun to see that while it still isn’t my strong point, that I have come a long way in all these years and those sewing lessons learned allowed me to at the very least make some items that I am prepared to wear in public. Proudly I present some leather biker pants a la rock star style…. I loved it that I was able to wear something that I made when performing this past summer at the Redondo Beach Lobster Festival.


At any rate – Custom Backdrops, Cycs, Scrims, Main Stage Theater Drapes, Borders, Teasers, Legs and Tormentors, Masking Curtains ……….  That is a sewing list that that will induce the “Sew This!”

19 04, 2016

Meet the Sew What? and Rent What? Staff, Part 18: Marilyn

By |April 19th, 2016|Authors, Rent What Team, Sew What Team|2 Comments

Next in our “Meet the SW? Staff” blog series, I am thrilled to be able to introduce you to one of the most earnest, hard-working, and humorous staff members to ever join the “Whatters” family—Marilyn Moss! With many years in this industry, she offers a unique point of view regarding all things related to theatrical soft goods. Her sincere enthusiasm for her job, her infectious energy, and her willingness to learn as much as possible, have all made her one of our company’s most impassioned employees. Please take a moment to learn a little bit about this funny, creative, and genuine person by reading, in her own words, what excites her about working here at Sew What? Inc.!


When did you first start at Sew What? What were you originally hired to do, and how have your duties changed since working here?

I started the end of May 2015. I had applied for the purchasing position, and was absolutely stoked to be offered a position in sales and rentals. I was thrilled to be given an opportunity with this company— plus this also gave me a great reason to move out of the (San Fernando) Valley!  ;-).

If you could take a vacation to anywhere in the world, where would you go and why?

The world is so big with so many wonderful places to explore but there are two places I’d really like to go to. Having sold the “Queen’s hot sticky buns” at the Renaissance Faire and having studied their history – I’d really like to visit England. Rome is another place I’d like to go to. I am fascinated with their history and architecture. I would like to see and experience what I’ve read so much about.

What kind of work did you do before coming to Sew What?

Though I’ve been in “the business” for many years, I was actually working at a cemetery before coming here. I worked in the office doing data entry and assisting the owner manager, but I also helped people find family graves; people looking up family history. It was quite fascinating. Founded in the late 1800’s, the history of this particular cemetery was amazing. I really did learn lot! The main question I got from friends – “Isn’t it weird working there?” Not at all, actually! It was very …peaceful. Almost like working in a beautiful park.

Do you have a special talent?

I’m sure I have something…. (lol) Acting was once my passion and I hope to get back into it some day on a limited scale. Doing community theatre is so much fun. Dancing and writing especially. I also have a knack for organizing things, and am often found helping wayward friends and family with the organization of their closets, kitchens, anything!

What is your favorite memory/circumstance/event from being part of the Sew What? family?

I like the fun stuff we do together as a group – picnics, pot lucks and the pictures that get taken of everyone and posted online. I like the fun creations we make here, too. It’s amazing some of the things we’ve custom-built since I’ve been here. The sense that everything we do is a group effort; that everyone is important to each and every job on some level helps creates cohesiveness in the company. And I’m learning a lot! There is always something new to learn. (Oh, and I also just got a new SW? company shirt. Thanks!!)

What is your favorite sports team/TV Show/Book/Movie?

Favorite sport:  Formula one racing. The cars are amazing. To be able to go to Monte Carlo or Manza – what a thrill that would be! Can I add that to places I want to visit someday? 😉

Favorite movie: “It’s A Wonderful Life.” Is there anyone out there who hasn’t seen this movie? If you haven’t, I highly recommend it. It’s amazing how connected everyone truly is, and you never know what kind of an affect you can have on another person’s life.

What are some of your hobbies?

Writing is something I enjoy doing – Creating characters and stories – it must be the actor in me.

What project have you worked on recently that was interesting or challenging?

One of the projects I worked on where I felt a true sense of accomplishment was the job we did for J. Berry Nursery. Not only were we able to provide a printed drop with LED lights and keep it priced within their budget, but the customer also won for Best 10’ x 20’ Exhibitor using the drape that we were able to create for them from their own unique design vision. That was very exciting, and extremely satisfying!

Anything more about your time here at SW?

I know that I’ve already said this, but I’ve been in this business for many years and there’s always something new and different to learn about it, and I am so thrilled to be learning so much from my work here at Sew What? Inc.!

3 12, 2015

Hands On

By |December 3rd, 2015|Authors, Company, Sew What Team|3 Comments

Last weekend when enjoying tamales at the local Mexican restaurant, I spoke with other table guests about the hours of preparation, not to mention the skills required, to prepare and serve this delicious traditional dish.  In this very consumer centric society where everything is fast fast fast – now now now – and “I needed it yesterday,” it is almost that we are encouraged to “hide” the work that goes into what we do. Be it cooking a dish – or creating a backdrop. The appreciation isn’t in how long it took to create the product, but rather in whether or not it arrived on time. It seems that almost ALL the focus is simply on the end product and the moment of delivery.

I would like a dollar for every call that comes in to us here at Sew What? / Rent What? on a Friday at 3pm; and then the astonishment that ensues when we have to break the bad news that we can’t have a 40×40 sewn up before close of business that very same day.  I have even been asked – “can you get them to sew faster?” Answer.  NO!

But perhaps we are encouraging this type of mindset by not sharing all the layers of preparation and the man hours required to create our giant textile masterpieces. And so – here’s a nice little short video that Tom Underhill created for us.  It shows off the amazing and skilled sewing team doing what they do best.  Crafting and creating these often massive stage drapery set pieces.

I do hope you will enjoy a little of the “hands on” side of our company.  Please – may we introduce to you the sewing room?!

27 10, 2015

Debunking a Few Myths about Stage Drapery Fabrics, Lighting, and More

By |October 27th, 2015|Authors, Education|1 Comment

One of the greatest challenges I found in the development of our company and products was learning how to relate each particular fabric to how it would play under professional lighting.

Unlike the garment industry, where the cloth used for clothing will be seen under natural light – when it comes to theatrical drapery you might venture to say that the drapes are almost never (if albeit rarely) seen by an audience under sunlight or natural light.  The few exceptions are of course daytime festival events – or outdoor special events. Certainly not the bulk of scenarios that we are selling into.

Having no “formal” training in lighting design – it was often hard for me to relate to the output variance between, say, an LED light source and an incandescent light source.

Also – discovering that certain fabrics will absorb light – versus others such as polyester or nylon based cloth that will in fact react to and reflect light.  These small tips and tricks were often close to deal breakers in the beginning.

Hard to put all the rules of thumb into a few short paragraphs – but I did think it might be useful to some for me to pen a brief summary. With so many new players entering the softgoods construction marketplace – it might be helpful for some clients to know what they want to ask for.  Why not take advantage of what has been done wrong before you!

I’ll present as myths and facts – hopefully that works!

MYTH – you need to use white poly silk to do a backlight silhouette effect.

FACT – you can in fact use ANY color poly silk to do a backlighting silhouette effect.  Some of the most unexpected and dramatic silhouette reveals have been done with black silk in fact.  With a focusable light source behind the drape and the right amount of throw between the light / object / drape, you will get an amazing silhouette effect.  If you want a light colored drape – then go for medium grey silk rather than white – as it will show less dirt if you are planning on touring the piece. For the best effect, select from the “wide” silk color palette – the less seams in the drape, the cleaner the gag will be.

MYTH – you can’t kabuki anything but silk or ripstop.

FACT – honestly this isn’t so.  I have seen anything and everything dropped from kabuki solenoids – up to and including a full blown Austrian style drape.  It IS a fact that the cloth decision will somewhat affect the amount of flutter you get when the solenoids fire…….. however, in many cases a kabuki is in fact dropped or released when the stage lights are out.  In which case a silky cloth is irrelevant.  If you are touring – choose a durable cloth. Once the drape hits the ground (ever so gracefully), it will then be manually dragged off the stage (not so gracefully) by some Doc Marten-clad stagehand and shoved (more often than not) into a travel hamper.  If you plan to do this night after night, you might decide to go with a poly muslin over a poly silk.  Or a rip stop for durability.   Watch a “white poly muslin kabuki drop” hit the stage deck in this short video. ( )


MYTH – you can sniff or reverse kabuki any size drape

FACT – a reverse kabuki – or a sniffer as many in our industry call it – is in fact quite an elaborate piece of stage drapery motion control. You have both the functionality of a kabuki drop – as well as that of a drum motor. So it IS a science.  It’s certainly not a good plan to fail to calculate the weights, strength, durability and size of the drape as it relates to the system.  I always advise clients to get the drape from the company that is supplying the motion control.  That way you won’t have any issues.  They will calculate what drape will work and supply the motion control to give the desired effect.  If you need a referral for a motion control company in the LA area that offers Reverse Kabuki systems, let us know.  We will be happy to offer some local recommended vendors. Want to see a reverse kabuki in action? Check out our logo emblazoned sniffer drapes here in this short video showing the opening of the Foo Fighters tour. ( )

MYTH – using a stretch fabric for a roof treatment means that you can “pull it out tighter” and get a flatter ceiling installation.

FACT – this is about as far from the truth as we have ever found – unless the ceiling piece is “very” small.  For large fabric installations where you are looking to get a large surface area to stretch out tight…….. you want to select a material with the least amount of stretch possible.  That way you can “crank” it out into place.  But remember – you are only as strong as the weakest link…………… and that means that if you over stretch against your sewing lines you may well split the seams.  Our advice usually includes – stick with non-stretch fabrics.  Flat-fell seams when possible for added strength. Add some pick points for the inevitable spans of aircraft cable that may be needed to support extremely long runs.  AND – don’t forget to bear in mind the environmental factors such as: cotton will stain if it gets moist up in the ceiling of a tent overnight…………… vinyl will billow and eventually tear if water collects on top of it because you didn’t factor some method of runoff in case of rain………… no tent EVER seems to be the exact measurement that the plans said it would be.  When it comes time to install a ceiling, you will want to have factored in some “variance” opportunity to ensure that you can install onsite without having to have a seamstress to cut and sew.

MYTH – if you have a flame cert you won’t have a problem at the venue.

FACT – it’s a good start to have your flame certs – and we don’t suggest that ANY client ever hit a stage or venue without their certs and burn samples.  But just know – that when in Rome you will be obligated to do as the Romans do.  A fire marshal can legally demand a burn test – they don’t have to accept your certs if they don’t want to. They can demand a re-spray of your drapes, at your cost, if they feel it necessary or appropriate. Beyond that – there is no such thing as a certificate that fits ALL FR standards.  Every country has different requirements, as well as some states in the USA having their own standards beyond the national standard.  Basically – always go prepared and try to plan ahead with each venue so that you know their needs ahead of time.  MOST problems exist when arriving at a venue without the appropriate documentation.  A call in advance could be the difference between a show with, or without, drape. Learn more by reviewing our white paper section on fabric flammability and flame retardancy ( )

MYTH – that you can create a portal style entry for your artists when you rent a traditional Austrian style drape.

FACT – you cannot effectively create an artist’s entry with a standard sewn Austrian.  If you want to lift the lines of a drape at different heights and or at different speeds to create a unique silhouette at the hem line you will need to order a CONTOUR style drape.  Be sure to know what it is you want the drape to do before you invest in such an elaborate drapery piece.  With so many different names to often describe the same thing it can get very confusing. We have lots of information that relates to Austrian/Pouff drapes and how they operate versus Venetian/Contour/Waterfall drapery styles on our website. Check out our Drape Descriptions page (

MYTH – outdoor vinyl coated mesh isn’t see thru.

FACT – outdoor vinyl coated mesh – whether traditional solid color direct from the mill OR digitally printed with a custom graphic – will indeed be see thru if you have a lot of light behind.  Just be sure that you are selecting a blow thru product for use in the right places and for the right reasons.  Blow thru 73% vinyl coated mesh is great for outdoor use, where there is a concern regarding wind load (73% textile and 27% open space to let air pass thru).  This also means that it will only grab three quarters of the lighting that you throw at it – and that it will be significantly transparent.  It really doesn’t light that well in an indoor environment and is kind of glossy looking.  Stay clear of vinyl products unless you have a specific need for their weather resistance and or blow thru capability.  Here are some close up shots of some name brand coated mesh products – check them out (

Just a few – plenty more where they came from but as Rome wasn’t built in a day, I shan’t share all the findings in a single blog post!

Contact us for more information – or join us on one of our many social networks to participate in the conversation.







29 09, 2015

Killer Shows Don’t Come From Catalogs!

By |September 29th, 2015|Authors, Company, Products|1 Comment

At Sew What? Inc., we have always approached the entertainment industry’s textile needs as being unique and custom. As yet we haven’t found a “one size fits all” solution that really works for ‘every’ unique textile design need.  So you won’t be seeing glossy covered catalogs coming out of our offices any time soon.

Rather than a catalog – we like to think that we offer “a cornucopia of products and some mad sewing skills”……. all to be picked when ripe and added to the textile recipe as taste so desires. At Sew What? we consider what we do to be TEXTILE ARTS at its finest.  And thanks to a team of diversely skilled and extremely creative staff, we are able to keep a broad variety of product lines available for our concert and event designer clients to choose from.

DIGITAL PRINTING is done in house – on our own Vutek UV Curable printer. DIGITAL scenic BACKDROPS and  MURALS can be printed on a wide variety of  background materials. Our printing team brings to the table years of experience in image and file manipulation, as well as thousands of yards of experience in grand format direct-to-textile printing. We have road-worthy substrates on hand to create durable backdrops, and only offer those materials that will pass the (ever more) stringent Flame Retardancy requirements at venues across the country (and sometimes even internationally). Straight up backdrops – or more complex mixed media fabric collages – are all within our capabilities.  Printing team – sewing team – sales team – quality control team. Reminds me of an old cartoon I used to watch – “Wonder Twins ………Activate!”  The skills of many bring out the best in our products.


Straight up TRADITIONAL THEATRICAL DRAPERY SEWING is of course our “plato principal” (main course) here at Sew What? Inc. We typically run 3 teams at the sewing tables – each a team of 5 people.

Pinning, seaming, pleating and finishing are all team-oriented tasks that turn rolls of raw cloth into gorgeous main stage drapery and theatrical masking drapes.

Theaters across the country have drapes with our “yellow sewing labels” stitched to them as part of their house drapery kits. I recently visited a venue that had a sewing label in their drape that was not only hand written by me – but was dated 1996! That was our very first year in business – and so pleased to see our product holding up so well 18 years later.


MIXED MEDIA and APPLIQUE backdrops are of course all the rage – and this is really where our staff gets to shine. …….  We have been going crazy lately filling up UNIQUE BACKDROP IMAGE GALLERIES on Flickr.  Have you seen them? If not, I encourage you to check out these inspiration images if you are in the market for a unique backdrop.  Be prepared to see textiles, LED lighting, UV painting, digital printing, pattern making, textural and dimensional elements along with the occasional “bling” all collide!  Backdrop madness, I tell you.  And we just love it!


We are many – but many make for light work, AND bigger parties! If you are ever in the neighborhood, why not drop us a line and come for a 10 cent tour of What?-Ville?  You just never know what you might see coming off the sewing tables or thru the print rollers…..