Lois Levenhagen didn’t know it when she hemmed that first pair of marching band pants, but she started a relationship with a band director and his students that has lasted decades.
Levenhagen’s daughter Kathy Kahl attended UW-Madison in the early 1990s and played with the band.
“The first year when she went to the university they were looking for someone to shorten and alter the band uniforms,” she said. “The kids actually marched all year with their pants hems inside pinned up with safety pins.”
The first year she was approached, Levenhagen was reluctant, but UW Band director Mike Leckrone hadn’t found anyone to do alterations for the next year, so she agreed to “give it a try.”
Levenhagen traveled to Madison and measured all of the students herself to make sure the pants would be the right length. Then she worked through approximately 40 pairs of pants in a week. She now also does all of the tuba covers for the band as well.
“They have to be 5 inches off the ground so you can see the spats,” she said. “The following spring he (Leckrone) comes and he says ‘You know we got this concert at the Kohl Center every year, and I need a new sequined vest.’”
Although she learned how to sew at a young age, Levenhagen had never worked with sequins before. Again, she said she’d “give it a try.” That was in spring of 1992.
“That’s how it got started, between the band uniforms and doing his outfits,” she said.
Levenhagen has created numerous outfits for Leckrone, which he wears during the spring performances where he enters the Kohl Center suspended on wires, flying toward the stage.
Anyone who has a few years under their belt in front of a sewing machine knows that working with sequins isn’t easy, especially when working with high-end, metal sequin fabric that costs $60 a yard. But Levenhagen has come up with her own way of applying embroidered designs onto sequins that will hold up to some serious wear.
“I have to make my designs like an appliqué,” she said. “There’s actually a stabilizer, a top and bottom and then I put two layers of this tulle, like you see in bridal veils.”
She’ll then take those appliqué and stitch them onto the piece she’s working on using a clear thread.
She’s had Leckrone’s measurements memorized for a while now, and each year she makes a new outfit. The design is kept a heavily guarded secret until the night of the show.
August is her busiest month because of incoming band members.
Levenhagen said she’s worked with the band for so many years and sleepless nights because the people are so great.
“The kids are great and Mike is really great to work with,” she said. “I just have fun working with them.”
This year, aside from Leckrone’s suit, Levenhagen will also have another piece of hers featured during the spring performance which got its start at Beaver Dam Area Community Theatre.
“I had done sewing a lot for the theater, ‘The King and I,’ ‘Annie’ and ‘Seven Brides for Seven Brothers,’” she said.
In 1995 the Beaver Dam Community Theatre put on a performance of “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.”
“They showed me the original video, but said they wanted something different and explosive, so they just let me play with it.” Levenhagen said.
This year, Joel Roberts, of Verona wore the coat during the UW Band’s spring show medley titled “Any Dream Will Do” on April 18,19 and 20. The band had a segment of the songs from the stage play “Joseph and the Technical Dream Coat” by Andrew Lloyd Weber.
“That coat has traveled all over,” she said.
The UW Varsity Band performance will be aired on Saturday from 7 to 9 p.m. on Wisconsin Public Television. To find out more about Levenhagen, visit www.loisstitchingstudio.com