Meet Our Neighbors: Christine Toye, Costume Designer for Odd Squad

Just in time for Halloween, meet Christine Toye, the Emmy-winning costume designer behind Odd Squad, our live-action series on PBS KIDS.

How did you become a costume designer?

I became a costume designer by happenstance! I wanted to be a sound engineer, but out of college the only positions available in theater were in costuming. I’d always sewn, having been taught by my mother, and was interested in fashion and design, so working with costume and design just came naturally. I was always putting together wild outfits as a kid/teen, ah who am I kidding, as an adult as well. I taught myself to sketch and express my ideas, and I was already a fabulous shopper as evident by my vast personal wardrobe, so it all came together along with hard work and learning from other costumers with more experience.

What was your favorite television show when you were growing up?

I had a few – during the daytime I’d watch Days of our Lives (my mother used to joke she thought I would become a dramatic actress). At night, I was a HUGE fan of The X-Files, Unsolved Mysteries and Star Trek: The Next Generation. I have always had a fascination with drama and fantasy looks.

What are the steps that go into making a costume?

Lots of steps go into the making of a costume, and it usually repeats the same format every time. I start with cues from the character descriptions and actions in the script. I then interpret what I’ve read and present a design through sketches, reference images and fabric swatches.

After executives and directors approve the looks, there are two paths – one down the route of building it from scratch, which would then be taken on by my cutter, who creates the patterns for the garments from my sketches. We measure the actor, buy the fabrics and notions. Sometimes we make a mock up – this is a way to figure out fit, drape and overall look of the costume using muslin (an inexpensive cotton), as the “real” fabrics tend to be pricier and we don’t want to be wasteful. After a fitting or two, the garments (if required) get broken down before the final product makes it to camera.

If it’s not a build, then it’s a store purchase, and I’ll set out shopping. Sometimes, we have to alter a purchased garment so that it fits within the overall design of the show. We might tea dye it, or remove pockets or make it look worn using paint.

What is your favorite costume that you’ve made for Odd Squad?

A favorite Odd Squad costume, isn’t that like asking who your favorite child is!? Lady Bread was one of my favorites because the only direction I was given was, “she has bread for hands”. Using the inspiration of Marie Antoinette, I set out to create a regal bread basket look. Around the corner from our studio was a fabulous bakery, where I purchased $35 of fresh bread to make her look. I cut the slices in half, dried and lacquered them, and then applied them to the crinoline base. Big loaves were hollowed out to make room for the actor's hands. Over twelve yards of fabric are in her skirt, which was in line with the excessively elaborate nature of the 18th century way of dressing royalty.

What are you going to be for Halloween?

I’ll be honest with you – everyday is basically Halloween, so I usually don’t dress up myself. I love to see what the everyday person comes up with using cardboard, paint, found objects and balloons. One year, someone covered themselves in balloons to make up the chemical compound of the influenza! Another year, I saw a group of people as Mario Kart characters with cardboard cars and balloons hanging above them, representing their lives! It’s a day of the year for the general population to express themselves creatively through costume, whereas I am so fortunate to be able to call that my day job.