Jilene Modlin and Her Seamstress Endeavors

By Matthias Armstrong

The Charter News – 4/10/19

Her days of sewing zippers in Campfire Girls are over, but she still finds happiness and passion in her hobby of being a seamstress for a ballet studio.

Jilene Modlin is an ES here and a parent of two ACA students. She has been with ACA since before the beginning, and for many years taught sign language. Hobbies are a big part of her life and one of the many is her side-carrier in seamstressing for the Classical Ballet Academy.

Mother Ginger was her largest costume by volume of fabric and size. The character is usually played by a male and there are dozens of young ballerinas under the dress ready to run out and perform.

Modlin started when she was a child and her family life had a great influence in her sewing. Both sides of her families had accomplished seamstresses, and she herself had to sew to repair and make clothes, drapes, and other fabric house-ware.

This newly made grandmother costume was made when a performer cast for the role couldn’t fit the older costume, so Modlin had to remake and re-imagine the costume and ended up making a costume with very little material look like a full costume.

She took a ten year break from sewing out of high school and at the time she didn’t enjoy sewing, but when a family member needed new clothes for her kindergarten age children, Modlin began sewing again. This sparked a new love for the craft and she began to slowly get into costume design.

Three hundred and fourteen feet of material was used in the Mother Ginger costume.

After her children began ballet, Modlin was asked to help out with making few costumes for shows. Sooner or later as the ballet studio expanded, her scope of costume making also expanded and she was starting to make costumes for bigger and bigger shows. So far, she has been making costumes for the Classical Ballet Academy for seventeen years and has made hundreds of costumes from a set of small soldier outfits to a two person horse costume. She has also worked with the Clackamas repertory theatre, which is the professional ballet studio run out of Clackamas Community College.

“It’s probably one of my most creative things that’s totally unplanned or timed.” The process of designing a new costume is an intricate one and Mrs. Modlin spends a lot of her time sketching, getting measurements, and playing with the details in her head until suddenly the whole picture comes together.

One of her biggest stipulations, however, is that she rarely, if ever, sews clothes for herself because of her critical eye on her own work.

A memorable piece she got to work on was a wolf costume supposed to be made for a dancer who was self conscious about how she looked in a majority of costumes. She describes how it was a lot of fun working with the dancer to make something that not only fit the costume design requirements but enabled the dancer to really get into character and forget about feeling any self doubt.

“We had to make a wolf costume that made her feel elegant and allowed her to dance with the strength that she had,” elaborates Modlin.

She speaks about what her favorite part of making a costume is, “I can do it, but my fun stuff is when I get to be creative with it.”

“It’s kind of fun to sit back and nobody knows that you do it and just hear somebody complimenting a costume and knowing that you did that,” Modlin remarks on what she gets out of doing this hobby.

Her hobby of making costumes for ballet are coming to an end and she believes that once her daughter leaves ballet she will no longer continue working there, but she hopes to continue her craft by doing projects such as making clothes for babies in hospitals or by making clothes for young children.