Carnival costume workshop teaches design skills

Learn how to make elaborate carnival costumes at the West Indian American Day Carnival Associations costume construction and wire bending workshop starting Nov. 4 to Dec. 16.
Associated Press / The Canadian Press, Victor Biro

It’s a crash course on carnival design.

A new workshop is going to teach classes on constructing carnival costumes this weekend. The Carnival Costume Construction and Master Wire Bending workshop starting on Nov. 4, is hoping to show those interested on how carnival’s biggest attraction is created. The West Indian American Day Carnival Association (WIADCA) tapped veteran master of mas, Kenneth Antoine of Antoine International, to head the classes that will help teach the talent. With over 30 years in the business, he says the organization chose him because he is an expert at his craft, and wants to revive the art form on the decline, he said.

“I regularly teach wire bending classes and they know the work that I do and what I’m capable of, so when they asked me to host this class, I agreed because it is a skill that is dying,” said Antoine.

Over the years some bands have resorted to buying the looks and putting them together, but that also reduced the number of original creators who miss out on learning other key elements of costume design, added Antoine.

“The reason it is dying is because anybody can cut a piece of fabric and stick braids and beads on it and call it a costume — but what about the headpiece, what about the backpack, and the foot piece?,” he said.

Designing carnival-wear requires a skill that includes the understanding of wires and how they fit into constructing a main factor in the elaborate gear that is seen on Eastern Parkway on Labor Day.

“If you’re thinking about adding flowers to create birds, you can’t expect to walk in it if you have no bones in the body. The wire is the bone of the costume,” he said.

The six-week workshop is open to adults 18 and up and is intending to teach long-term skills where students are going to learn how to make curves and shapes with wiring before attaching the fabric. And by the end of the course, they can expect to be experts at basic carnival costume design.

“All of these skills are necessary to design and construct the costume,” said Antoine. “Whatever students learn or show in class, they will be able to go home and produce some things and present the designs at the next class.”

Antoine says that knowing the ins and outs of the craftsmanship is also a cheaper alternative, and bands can get satisfactory costume results if they learned how to do it on their own, because they’d save money and be able to pass on the teachings.

“If I’m a section leaders and I have to do 40 costumes for my section, I have to get 40 backpacks and each might cost $25. Then I need tiaras that might cost $15, and together that can get very expensive,” said Antoine. “Learning this is cost effective to a point, but having the knowledge is important because it is a skill that you can show to someone else.”

“Carnival Costume Construction and Master Wire Bending Workshop” [245 E. 34th St. between Church and Snyder avenues in East Flatbush, (718) 467-1797,]. Every Saturday, Nov. 4–Dec. 16, 11am–1 pm. Free with registration.

Reach reporter Alexandra Simon at (718) 260–8310 or e-mail her at asimo[email protected]

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