Let’s Cook: Casting a Stitch

Submitted Photo Scandinavian Almond Cake

Will you select the main floor seating? Or perhaps you are more of a balcony person — after all, the views are stunning. Whatever you choose, be assured your eyes and ears will be in for a feast as you enjoy the comic operetta “Die Fledermaus” (The Bat) by Johann Strauss as presented by the Western Plains Opera this weekend in Ann Nicole Nelson Hall at Minot State University.

Western Plains Opera has been cautious due to the pandemic, and this performance could not be more perfect to invite us back for an evening of laughter, dance, beautiful music, and stunning costumes. It is the costumes that will be mainly featured in this column. We might as well admit it, we tune into the Presidential Inauguration to mainly see what the First Lady is wearing! Granted, the orchestral music of Strauss under the direction of Maestro Efrain Amaya will be beyond wonderful. The singing, which features professionals from around the country, MSU Alumni, and current MSU students and faculty, is as golden and brilliant as the aspens of autumn. Adrenalizing and graceful are the steps and movements of Rinat Mouzafarov’s ballet dancers. You will see first-hand the artistry of the lighting professionals and the focused and sapphire dazzle of Stage Director Julie Wright Costa.

I stood entranced, as I watched the trio of DeVera Bowles, Laurel Livingston and Kaaren Stuck weave in and out of cast members as they helped them with ascots, shawls, gloves and more. Their allegro assistance was steady like that of ancient weaving techniques. It was easy to see that their intricate work pattern was steady like that of a weaver passing a shuttle back and forth between strands of warp.

DeVera was gracious to say yes to this interview and then to invite me to the costume shop. The room is a kaleidoscope with boxes of sorted pink fabric on the north, residing on the south wall more fabric in shades of midnight and soft blue, and up in the corner forget-me-not. There are cabinets labeled sparkly trims, feathers, rick rack, flat lace and bias tape. Colored pins are handy, resting in a magnet saucer as they wait to join the chorus line in a hem. There are two dress mannequin forms and one is sporting chevon ruffles in navy and white that will finish off a navy dress. Totes are neatly stacked and labeled which allows Laurel to quickly locate a stash of vintage lace pieces. She places the tote on the work table, and Kaaren says this is a treasure box. All three gather around and sort through the layers of vintage lace until they find the perfect pattern–one with a cutwork and flowers, perfect for the shawl.

DeVera is the Western Plains Opera co-general director but in this room, she is the costume designer. Laurel recalls when several vests for Western Plains Children Choir had to be reworked. It was DeVera who came to the rescue and figured out how to detail with triple layers of pattern. I guess even the bobbins took notice of this feat. DeVera mentioned that her mother, Betty Jane, enjoyed sewing and making clothes for DeVera. Her mother, however, disliked handwork, and this task became a favorite of DeVera. She lights up when discussing the intricate handwork on these costumes.

Each of these ladies know sewing machines like they know their own fingernails. Laurel works on a full skirt which features a combination of blue and clay — this stunning combination quickly flows under the needle of the machine. She mentions that her interest in sewing came when a girlfriend bought a sewing machine. This early introduction became a lifetime interest. She enjoys not only working on costumes, but assisting with accessories such as earrings, necklaces and bracelets. As a cast member came in, she produced a lovely cameo broach that had belonged to her mother. It finished off dress with elegance.

Kaaren, I believe, could pursue any career. I watched in amazement as she built a sleeve within minutes into a dress that had lovely rose braiding. DeVera had requested her to do this, and she took to this like a scientist figuring out a mathematical formula. Her problem-solving skills were A+. She mentioned that her mother, Donna Jean Stuck, who owned and operated the Bernina Stitch Niche along with Donna Jean’s sister, Judy Teets, taught her to sew.

Each of these ladies is an artisan of scraps, leftover yard goods, cast-off draperies and sheets. They have taken what has been donated and made something beautiful from it. Laurel gave me a tour of their organized store rooms. This tour allowed me to see the beautiful coat that had been first crafted from strips of fabric, then sewn to make Joseph’s coat for the production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. Another treat was an English men’s coat that Kaaren created from draperies and featured covered buttons from former stage curtains.

We are blessed to have the talents of DeVera, Laurel and Kaaren — gifted seamstresses. They make men look dashing and handsome. Their attention to the ladies’ garments is magic. We will see deep orchid dreams, satin louvers fluttering on bodices, beading that glitters, pearly little moon buttons, shimmering jewels on the back of sleeves, ivory ruffles that look like ribbon candy, soft folds of pink satin, skirts with navy and fuchsia. A stylish gold and jeweled belt that was DeVera’s mother will be the guest on honor on one of the costumes.

This evening is meant to be gloriously yours. The Magic City will be charmed not only by music and lights, but by the passion of the cast with movement and flow of the fabric on stage. As it swirls, may it remind us that snarls of the pandemic and its untangling is made easier with weaving shuttle of the arts here in Minot.

Scandinavian Almond Cake

This recipe never fails to please. I set a tray of this back stage for the cast to enjoy, and true to form, the tray was empty when it was time to go home.

1 egg

1 1/4 cup sugar

2/3 cup milk

½ teaspoon of baking powder

1 1/4 cup all purpose flour

1 stick of butter melted.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. This recipe works best if you use the almond cake pan which is available several places in Minot. Grease the pan well and set aside. In a medium bowl beat the egg well and add sugar and beat again. Add milk, baking powder and flour and blend until smooth. Stir in melted butter until blended. Pour into prepared pan and bake for 50-55 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clear when inserted. Cool well on a cooling rack before removing from pan.


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