September 14, 2016
Life At WittStudent Life

One Stitch at a Time

Michelle Pettit '16 finds passion in costuming

Ever since second grade, Michelle Pettit, class of 2016 from Dublin, Ohio, had a dream of becoming a teacher. But like a garment that needs a few alterations, her dream didn't fit quite right.

Influenced by her "amazing" second-grade teacher, Pettit became an early childhood education and intervention specialist major. Having also enjoyed sewing costumes for her high school theatre productions, she decided to declare a minor in technical theatre as well.

"I knew I loved sewing," she said, "but I did not know that costuming and sewing could be a career." 

Pettit learned to sew at a young age, taught by three generations of her family - her mother, grandmother and great-grandmother. 

"Costuming runs in my family," she said.  "Growing up, we always had homemade Halloween costumes."  

Both her mother and grandmother sewed costumes for local school and theatre productions, and, over time, Pettit started doing the same. 

"By my senior year of high school, I had made many formal dresses and key costumes for my high school's shows, including Belle's yellow ball gown from Beauty and the Beast," she said.

At Wittenberg, she took a job in the costume shop, and from there, her talent and love for sewing grew even more. 

It wasn't until her Wittenberg professors noticed her passion and talent for costuming that Pettit considered turning her hobby into a career path. With the recommendation and full support of her professors, she switched her major from education to theatre halfway through her junior year.

Under the guidance of costume designer and costume shop manager Deborah Henderson, technical assistant for theatre and dance, Pettit honed her skills, enhanced her resume and built a portfolio.   

"From her trust and her ability to assign the right project and foster confidence, I have gone from a small, quiet freshman making Lady Bracknel's jacket [for The Importance of Being Earnest] to being a leader in the shop, making full Renaissance and Victorian outfits that shine in my portfolio," Pettit said. "Debbie Henderson has a way to make shop workers feel like they have ownership of full characters..Her wisdom on how to costume a play and how to work with people is something I am so glad that I got to observe and learn from." 

During her four years at Wittenberg, Pettit worked on costumes from a range of time periods and styles -- from Renaissance, Victorian and 17th century to the early 1900s, 1950s and modern day, including designing and fully constructing costumes for the characters of Rosa Bud from The Mystery of Edwin Drood and Beatrice and Senora Leonato from Much Ado about Nothing.

That range of experience gave Pettit an edge when applying to graduate schools. Accepted into three competitive programs, she is pursuing a Master of Fine Arts in costume technology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, which has offered her a full-tuition waiver and an assistantship. Before starting graduate school, she spent the summer as a stitcher apprentice at the Black Hills Playhouse in South Dakota. 

At Wittenberg, Pettit found a university and a learning community that fully embraces the importance of the arts as evidenced by her presentation at the fourth annual Liberal Arts in Action: A Celebration of Learning in April.   

"I got to show what I am capable of," she said. "I really enjoyed letting people know what goes into a pretty costume..I feel most people think theatre majors often struggle; I liked proving that a theatre major can have a positive future in that field, and I am very confident that Wittenberg has prepared me for success."

Debbie Ritter
Debbie Ritter
Writer and Content Editor

About Wittenberg

Wittenberg's curriculum has centered on the liberal arts as an education that develops the individual's capacity to think, read, and communicate with precision, understanding, and imagination. We are dedicated to active, engaged learning in the core disciplines of the arts and sciences and in pre-professional education grounded in the liberal arts. Known for the quality of our faculty and their teaching, Wittenberg has more Ohio Professors of the Year than any four-year institution in the state. The university has also been recognized nationally for excellence in community service, sustainability, and intercollegiate athletics. Located among the beautiful rolling hills and hollows of Springfield, Ohio, Wittenberg offers more than 100 majors, minors and special programs, enviable student-faculty research opportunities, a unique student success center, service and study options close to home and abroad, a stellar athletics tradition, and successful career preparation.

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