Howard schools accountant stitches Renaissance costumes

Every year, Terry Brukiewa transforms himself from the grant accountant for the Howard County Public School System to King Francis I of France for the last weekend of the Maryland Renaissance Festival in October.

"It entirely changes your attitude, the way you feel," Brukiewa said. "You're all blinged out, and everyone's there in their street attire. People in character bow to you. ... The details change you from being just someone in a costume to royalty."

Even more impressive is this: It's not just any regal costume Brukiewa wears. It's one he sewed himself.

Brukiewa, of Glen Burnie, started sewing Renaissance costumes six years ago, when his 11-year-old niece reminded him he'd promised to make her a costume to wear to the Maryland Renaissance Festival, held in Annapolis at the end of every summer.

He made her a simple peasant outfit, then one for his sister, and then one for himself, so they could all match.

"It just kept growing from there," Brukiewa said.

Since then, he's made more than 30 costumes, and "got really fancy" when he started making several "royalty piece" — outfits worn by kings and queens. Now, he and his sister wear their royalty pieces on the last weekend of the festival — he as Francis I and she as Queen Claude, French royals in the early 16th century — and people recognize them.

Brukiewa's favorite thing about Renaissance costumes is how elaborate they are, he said.

"There's nothing out there today like them," he said. "The details, the fabrics. I just like doing it, too, even though I never thought I'd get into doing something like this. I like being creative."

A costume starts with a piece of fabric, literally and figuratively, Brukiewa said. He'll find something he likes and build an entire ensemble around it, including hand-beading and hot-fixing rhinestones by the thousands onto the clothing. When a person walks into the sun with 1,200 rhinestones on their gown, Brukiewa said, the effect is "Bam!"

Everything Brukiewa makes is almost completely historically accurate, he said — no zippers, for example. But he finds ways to cut corners, like attaching sleeves to outer garments so the person wearing the costume doesn't have to deal with heavy layers in the summer heat.

On a trip to New York City, Brukiewa found a theater-themed bookstore, where he found Janet Arnold's "Pattern of Fashion," a book that included photos of exhumed corpses from Renaissance Europe, the clothes they were buried in and patterns for the outfits. He buys most of his fabric from wholesalers in New York City, as well as his trim — which led to one of the most rewarding experiences for Brukiewa and his costumes.

Trying to find trim for one of his royal costumes at MJ Trimming in New York City, Brukiewa attracted the attention of a group of shoppers who began to admire his work. It created a small scene, which attracted the attention of another customer.

That other customer turned out to be Tim Gunn — a fashion consultant on the popular Bravo show "Project Runway," known for his phrase "make it work."

"He called it 'stunning,'" Brukiewa said. "He said, 'You will make it work.'"

Brukiewa's work has been showcased — and won ribbons — at the Maryland State Fair and the Anne Arundel County Fair, and two dresses were auctioned as part of the school system's arts and crafts exhibition.

But Brukiewa has sold only one costume. He just sews because he likes it.

"I just enjoy doing this," he said. "I like paying attention to the little details, thinking about how it all fits together."

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