Above and below: Dez's love interest in her sweater hat. Photo credit: Costume Designer Nancy Butts Martin.

Dez's (purposely sabotaged) knitted shorts, a true feat for Martin's team of knitters. Photo credit: Martin.

“Austin & Ally”

August 22, 2014

A fun episode in the Disney Channel comedy series “Austin & Ally” had Costume Designer Nancy Butts Martin in stitches.

In the third-season episode, “Austin’s New Crush,” main character, Dez, is dating a girl who is learning how to knit.

“He is trying to impress her and be the best boyfriend he can by wearing everything she knits—but she’s a bad knitter. So we had to have made numerous, badly knitted costumes. It was hard because we had to find people who knitted, and then to do it badly, and then, I need it tomorrow.

“I didn’t want to just buy sweaters and hats and change them up. I thought this was a great opportunity to give some of our great knitting artisans around Los Angeles a challenge. I called other Costume Designer friends and got all of the names of their friends and contacts who were knitters, found out who was available and put them to work. I also used the Knitting House on Beverly Drive in Beverly Hills,” Martin said. The knitters worked overnight to meet the production deadlines.

The plot allowed for some very imaginative costumes—and an extra layer of challenge for Martin, who had to persuade the artisans to abandon their fine-gauge yarns and precise methods for skeins of chunky, colorful yarn that would show up on TV. Each item was a visual gag.

The girlfriend character wears a bulky, oversized hat that contains a surprise. “She lifts it up and says that it was supposed to be a shirt, and the ‘hat’ has sleeves,” said Martin, who joined the series in its second season.

Ever the good boyfriend, Dez wears each of his girlfriend’s creations, including a tube dress that’s actually a hugely oversized version of a tube sock. A garishly colored sweater is knitted with dropped stitches, exaggerated proportions—and one arm. The toughest piece to engineer was a pair of shorts that had to unravel as Dez walked across the scene—requiring multiples for each take.

“We couldn’t get [the knitter] to do the shorts multiples badly, so we did one bad panel of the shorts that we would stitch on one entire leg. We had to have her knit so that it would unravel back and forth so that it didn’t unwind around his leg so he couldn’t walk. After each take, we would sew on a new panel that could unravel,” Martin said.

“What I truly loved as a designer was communicating to wonderful knitters who love knitting that they had to do it badly—drop some stitches and throw some color in there,” Martin said.

Of course, the story ends well. A fashion designer discovers the girlfriend’s crazy outfits and uses them in a photo shoot. “Even though they were bad,” said Martin, “he thought they were so artistic that they were good.”

“Austin & Ally” airs on the Disney Channel throughout the day.

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