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Bags Bring Smiles to Young Cancer Patients

April 10, 2006

Arthur Nead

Student designers at Tulane University are using newly learned skills to bring smiles to cancer patients at Children's Hospital in New Orleans. The youthful patients have been receiving unique tote bags designed and sewn by the students in a costume lab offered by the theater and dance department.


Sophomore B. J. Treitler, above, works with fabric in the costume lab, while Elsa Dimitriadis, at left below, costume shop supervisor for theater and dance, looks over completed tote bags with Marlena Feehery, a junior theater major.

"Making the tote bags is the final project in the entry-level costume lab," says Elsa Dimitriadis, costume shop supervisor for the department.

Dimitriadis teaches all of the department's costume design and construction courses and labs. In addition, she supervises the work of several graduate students and a number of work-study students in the costume shop. Students interested in exploring costume design generally come in unskilled, according to Dimitriadis.

"I teach them a lab that begins at the very beginning with hand sewing, then progresses through machine sewing and finally industrial techniques," she says. "We learn basic dying and distressing skills to make clothes that look as if they've been worn. We'll do different dye techniques, depending on whether the designer wants something particular, a design or pattern or that sort of thing."

As part of their coursework, students in the classes design and sew the costumes used for all theater and dance department performances and plays.

041006_totebags2_1"I work with the designers and make sure the shop builds exactly what they need," says Dimitriadis. At the end of the entry-level costume labs, Dimitriadis ordinarily assigns students a final project, usually designing and sewing a personal item. "Then I thought, why not have them build something that uses the skills they have accrued in the lab, but that will ultimately go to a good cause?" says Dimitriadis.

She inquired at Children's Hospital to find out what sort of things they would want. "Apparently babies get a lot of the attention," says Dimitriadis. "People make blankets and baby booties and things like that, but they don't always think of the older children. So we're making tote bags for them, and we're making them in a variety of styles, both for boys and girls."

The students have a lot of fun with their designs, according to Dimitriadis.

"The students choose their own fabric and trim, and they build it from scratch," she says. "The tote bags are lined, and they have pockets. That way the children can put various things that they have collected at the hospital in them."
"The students personalize their work with a label inside that says 'Hand sewn by ...' so the child knows that somebody spent some time thinking about them," says Dimitriadis. "It's wonderful to see the thought and the care the students put into the project, because they know it's going to somebody who will really appreciate it."

Tulane University, New Orleans, LA 70118 504-865-5000