Costumes and corsets come alive at D&P alumna’s Redthreaded company

“Theatrical. Historical. Original.” The Instagram bio for Design & Production alumna Cynthia Settje’s Redthreaded is accurate without being ostentatious. However, her historical costume and corset company in Boulder, Colorado, has attracted an impressive following of more than 52,000 Instagram users. Through Redthreaded, which first set up shop on Etsy in 2009, Settje has crafted pieces for Broadway shows, television, regional theatres and universities—including her alma mater. 

What first drew you to costuming?

It was a combination of things. As a child, I was interested in historical fiction like “Little House on the Prairie.” Then I was also very into crafts and art, including sewing (thanks for teaching me, mom!). I realized that costuming was an actual career while watching a behind the scenes interview with the costume designer of the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy—and I never looked back. 

What stood out to you about UNCSA when you first applied to the school?

I applied and was accepted to several schools, but what stood out to me about UNCSA (NCSA at the time) was the ability to choose focused majors and the specific skill development from year one, even for undergraduates. I had known what I wanted to do since I was fourteen and I wanted to get on with it! The costume shop was brand new at the time, and the facilities, faculty and small class sizes were huge selling points as well.

You graduated from the Costume Design and Technology program in 2010. What was your time as a student like?

One of the things I miss about that time in my life is the camaraderie and intense energy you get when you put a bunch of very young, driven, creative people into a small space with too much work and not quite enough time. Those late nights in the design studio, backstage, and in the costume shop solidified lifelong friendships.

How did the faculty at UNCSA help you to prepare for your career?

I thought I was going to college to learn how to make costumes for theater. And I learned that, certainly. But the other skills the faculty focused on were just as—if not more—important: how to manage time effectively, how to move on from a failure, how to work with others, how to take criticism, how to take risks, how to present and speak about ones work. These are all so important for running a business.

One faculty mentor once told me that 'the person who can push you the furthest is you.' That echoes in my mind any time I want to back away from a scary opportunity, to avoid a risk, to choose the easy, safe route.

Cynthia Settje 

One faculty mentor once told me that “the person who can push you the furthest is you.” That echoes in my mind any time I want to back away from a scary opportunity, to avoid a risk, to choose the easy, safe route. She probably doesnt even remember saying it, but that concept has had a profound effect on my life. 

How did you grow Redthreaded following graduation?

I graduated in the worst part of the recession. I remember looking around at my classmates on the Stevens Center stage at graduation and I think only about a quarter of them had industry jobs (I was not one of them). We had the training, résumés, and portfolios. The problem was that no one was hiring in entertainment. Costume shops and theaters were closing. Frankly, it was a scary time.

I had already begun selling off my personal costume collection online under the brand name Redthreaded. With few options, I took the business full time, with a weekend serving job to help make ends meet. It took a few months to gain momentum, but I was soon getting enough costume work for a modest full-time income. Ive taken short term theater contracts from time to time to change things up, but the business has been my core income and focus since graduation.

Redthreaded has grown every year. We now focus primarily on retail historical corsetry and regional and Broadway theatre contracts. I'm proud to provide jobs in an industry that wasn't hiring me seven years ago. I enjoy being a small business owner but I dont think I would have discovered that about myself if not for the recession.

What are some of the most exciting projects you’ve completed?

Perhaps the most “high profile” one so far was a 2015 Tony Awards corset for Kristin Chenoweth, designed by Gregg Barnes. Its quite something to see your work on TV with millions of other viewers. We had something like three days to make the corset and get it to NYC.

Redthreaded built a custom corset that Kristen Chenoweth wore during a performance at the 2015 Tony Awards. / Photo: Heather WinesAnya, the title character in "Anastasia" on Broadway, sports a coat built by Redthreaded and designed by Linda Cho. / Photo: Matthew Murray

Recently, we have been pleased to work on the ongoing project of “Anastasia” on Broadway, designed by Linda Cho. Its a gorgeous show with a lot of texture and detail, and it has an exciting future. 

What’s your favorite costume you’ve ever designed or built?

I set myself a personal challenge to re-create the famous “ironwork gown” by The House of Worth. This was a huge undertaking that even required learning a new computer program. To date, this is the most complex and challenging single costume I have ever made, but the results were rewarding both creatively and professionally. It also brought a lot of attention and awareness to my work and to Redthreaded. 

Cynthia Settje recreated the iconic House of Worth "ironwork gown" in 2016. / Photo: Jennifer KoskinenThe original House of Worth ironwork evening dress (1898-1900) is on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

What are some of your UNCSA collaborations?

“Oklahoma!” was one of the projects I took shortly after graduation to fill in while Redthreaded got off the ground. It was a privilege to work in the UNCSA Dance Costume Shop. I was also building bonnets and hats for the show after regular work hours, so it was a crazy few weeks. We were also honored to make the Chancellor’s robes from Bill Brewer’s design. The students completed them with custom emblems. 

For “The Drowsy Chaperone,” I was actually able to do in-person fittings at UNCSA.  I was very impressed with the student designer for that project (Jen Gillette ’16). It's encouraging to see the new talent coming out of the school. 

Redthreaded built two beaded costumes for "The Drowsy Chaperone" in 2015. / Photo: Peter MuellerRedthreaded built two beaded costumes for "The Drowsy Chaperone" in 2015. / Photo: Peter MuellerCynthia Settje returned to UNCSA in 2011 to assist the UNCSA Dance Costume Shop in preparing costumes for the all-school musical, "Oklahoma!" / Photo: Donald DietzCynthia Settje returned to UNCSA in 2011 to assist the UNCSA Dance Costume Shop in preparing costumes for the all-school musical, "Oklahoma!" / Photo: Donald DietzChancellor Bierman's robes were designed by D&P faculty member Bill Brewer and built by Redthreaded. / Photo: G. Allen Aycock

Why do you love what you do?

I love that I get to work creatively with my hands, and that I can mix technical skill, artistry, historical research, storytelling, sales and collaboration into one weird, unusual job. I get to work with amazing, passionate people, and I get to make clients and performers feel gorgeous. Because of the internet (and FedEx!) I can do this from a gorgeous part of the country. Im totally gaming the system.

See Cynthia's work with Redthreaded.

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January 23, 2018