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Finishing touches are put on a green leather jacket for the opera Carmen at the Santa Fe Opera.

Introduction

Popular culture tends to show two versions of making clothing: mass-production drudgery in sweatshops, or virtually instantaneous bursts of creative magic. The princess in Enchanted turns curtains overnight into an eye-catching floral dress (and also seems well rested); Catwoman makes a curve-hugging jumpsuit complete with stiletto-heeled boots out of a rain slicker. They don’t use patterns; they just cut shapes out of the fabric. Everything fits perfectly on the first try.

Making custom clothing for the stage can seem magical. It is just ...

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