The class Katherine La Pietra was teaching, costume design and creation on a shoestring budget, was held during Tradition Week I of Common Ground on the Hill, a two-week series of classes focusing on arts, music and culture held annually at McDaniel.

The hum of four sewing machines filled the bright, airy Art Studio of McDaniel College on Thursday afternoon. Or at least it did, until a needle came unthreaded or a bobbin got stuck. Then Katherine La Pietra would come to the rescue, fixing the finicky machine with patience and practiced expertise.

"I'm going to show you how to do this," she said to student Meredith Hughes, "but don't worry if you have to ask me to come do it every time."

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The class La Pietra was teaching, costume design and creation on a shoestring budget, was held during Tradition Week I of Common Ground on the Hill, a two-week series of classes focusing on arts, music and culture held annually at McDaniel.

Students in the class took thrift store items — everything from satin prom gowns to 1980s sack dresses to patterned table runners — and re-purposed them to create a Renaissance-style costume in five days. La Pietra said the cost of materials for each was less than $20.

"It's about re-imagining things," said Allison Sweeney, another student in the class. "At home, I have closets of stuff that I don't wear. That I could turn them into something else is really interesting." She said she hopes to wear her finished piece to a Renaissance fair.

La Pietra said she sourced the materials from thrift stores where she lives in Michigan because creating costumes with preexisting clothing items is faster and cheaper than starting from scratch with fabric.

On Thursday, Hughes turned a satin halter neck upside-down to make a decorative piece for the bodice of her dress, called a stomacher. She said she joined the class because she is an art teacher at Arundel Middle School in Odenton and is often tasked with creating costumes for school theater productions.

"We have limited storage, so you need to be able to reuse as much as you possibly can," she said. As a sewing beginner, she said La Pietra's teaching was helpful.

La Pietra has taught workshops at Common Ground for five years and came as a student before that. She said she usually teaches workshops on puppet-making and Common Ground regulars might know her as "the crazy puppet lady."

Costume designing, however, is not new to her.

"I've been in theater since I was knee-high to a grasshopper," she said. She got her start working in theater tech in high school and is now a professor of theatre at Ferris State University in Michigan.

Of the Common Ground festival, she said: "It's a fun group of people. Everyone does this because they love it."

Andrea White and her daughter, Anna, who took the class together, are also involved in theater costuming.

White said Anna hopes to pursue costume design after she graduates from Century High School, and that the costume from the class will be added to her portfolio for applying to costume design programs. Pulling together the project in such a short time was a challenge, White said.

"I feel like we're on' Project Runway,'" White said. The two took advantage of the fact that Common Ground allows students like Anna free admission to a class in exchange for volunteering to work at Common Ground for 12 hours.

Though her family members were not in the class with her, Carol Wiley, of Westminster, said she had set a goal to create Renaissance fair-worthy costumes for herself, her husband and their three children.

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"Tearing apart a piece of clothing to make something new is an interesting challenge," she said.

Her family has been coming to Common Ground for several years, first attending the festival, then joining Tradition Week classes. This year, she said one of her sons, now 15 years old, has been attending the artist lectures every night and is learning first-hand about the artistic process.

"[Common Ground] is a wonderful intro for kids to all kinds of music and art forms," she said.

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