By Mellany Armstrong
It's crunch time for Amanda Kiesel ’18.
The Fashion Design alumna is one of the costume sewers for the Avalon String Band, so the feathers and sequins are flying under her fingertips in the upstairs room of the clubhouse on Second Street in South Philadelphia ahead of the group's appearance in the city's annual parade on New Year's Day.
The Mummers are in her blood: the South Philly native grew up on Second Street, and her grandfather, Fred Elling, was in the Fancy Brigades before she was born. When her father, Bob “Crazy Bob” Kiesel, got involved with the string band a few years ago, she tagged along. “I would go to the parties and different events to raise money,” she said. “Then, somehow, they found out I sewed and that was it.”
Her love for the sequined-and-feathered wonders didn’t come naturally, though.
“When I was little, I was afraid of the Mummers,” she said. “They were scary with all the makeup on and everything.”
FROM FASHION TO FEATHERS
As she was busy sewing sequins onto bridal gowns for her senior collection at Moore, she was also tacking them onto specialty suits for the string band’s 2018 “Figments of our Fabrication” show.
“There’s a difference between Mumm-sewing and what I do in school,” she said. “I got really fast at sewing, and I learned how to think really fast, because if something’s not working, you gotta fix it.”
Mumm-sewing also involves a lot of hot glue, which she wasn’t allowed to use in the garments she made at Moore.
Kiesel is one of three costumers for the Avalon String Band, and the only one who knows how to use the club’s recently purchased industrial sewing machine. Sewing goes on all year, as the band makes special appearances and performs in parades. She said the sewing ramps up in December, when just about every waking moment is spent creating, repairing and redoing the colorful costumes for the New Year’s Day parade.
Things got a little hairy when she had to complete some specialty sewing for the band’s 2017 “Mumberjacks” show.
“They had these three little sasquatch costumes, and actually, they weren’t little, they were huge,” she said. “I had to fit these suits over a sasquatch costume (expanding them by adding more material). Then we figured out how to add more hair to the sasquatch.”
A goal of hers is to outfit Eagles center Jason Kelce in a costume. Kelce wore a 2008 Avalon String Band costume during the Eagles Super Bowl parade. He was able to borrow the sparkly green, fuchsia and gold suit through his haircutter, whose husband is a band member. Kelce, who plays baritone saxophone, then joined the band.
“I would love to make a suit for him,” Kiesel said. “He’s a member, he pays his dues, so he’s entitled to a new suit.”
Kiesel would like to own her own bridal shop or costume shop one day.
“Eventually I want to do Mummers stuff all the time,” she said. “There are a lot of costumers who are older and they need a new generation.”
She’s looking forward to the start of 2019. “I don’t know how some people don’t do anything on New Year’s Day.”