At the start of the second year i emailed various local theatres and production groups to offer forth my skills as a volunteer helping in the costumes, props and set department. For a long time i didn’t hear anything back and then this week i received an email from Julie Hanns from the Little Theatre who said:
A little while ago you offered to make costumes for The Dunstable Rep Theatre. At the moment we are rehearsing a play called Sleep No More and it seems likely that we may need to have a costume made for one of our children. It would need to be a basic 1940’s style dress in a plain, pale cotton. Would you be able to help us with this?
I look forward to hearing from you.
Sleep no more is a rendition of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, set in an abandoned haunted hotel in the 1940’s with the addition of ghosts, its quite a creepy play and i will be creating a costume for the main ghost, a little girl.
I am to be compensated for this by the little theatre by them paying for the material costs, which i don’t mind at all because if i complete this task for them on a volunteer basis and do well i might be asked to do other costumes for which i can charge.
I was happy to take on this task as it helps build my experience and will be good for the Work Based Learning unit, i asked her for some reference images of what sort of dress she would like and for the measurements of the child. After which i began sketching some quick plans of the pattern pieces i would need to make. This was my first time making a pattern from scratch and it took 3 days worth of planning and making a prototype for the top half of the dress for me to get the measurements exact and all of the seams matching up.
the dress from these images and from Julies specifications needs to be- plain cotton, in a light colour, with puff sleeves, gathered at the waist, high waisted and have a high neckline.
below is my plan for the dress:
i sketched out rough pattern piece shapes, and then i proceeded to use the measurements to create pattern pieces on wallpaper (largest paper i had at home) it was challenging and i ended up making 2 sets of pattern pieces, because the first didn’t enough seam allowance and my prototype top half of the dress was too small.
i used a selection of tools to create my pattern pieces, i used a bowl to create the neckline and arm shapes where the sleeves go, this ensured they were equal curves. What i have learnt so far from this task is that you must be as exact as you can when creating something to fit another person, it takes alot of working out and tested my maths skills.
To create this dress i made:
2 x top front sections, so that it can be lined
4x back sections, also lined
1x skirt section- gathered using elastic and what i call the “drawstring bag” method of gathering
2 x puff sleeves, by gathering a piece of curved fabric cut to match the size of the arm holes
2 x cuffs for the sleeves
My materials for this task included:
2.5m of thick off white cotton
2cm thick elastic
Cotton thread the same colour as the fabric
6 buttons in cream
6 medium sized poppers for the fastening
2 larger poppers for the sleeves ( so that the wearer can adjust the tightness depending on how comfortable she feels)
Gathering using elastic
pleats (on the sleeves)
Step by Step plan of making:
- cut pattern pieces
- cut fabric pieces
- stitch together top front lining and outer piece
- stitch together back lining and back pieces
- stitch front and back pieces together
- stitch skirt sides together
- gather skirt
- stitch top and bottom together
- create sleeves
- pleat sleeves
- attach sleeves to top
- add cuffs
- add poppers and buttons to dress
- hem dress ( after a fitting at the theatre to ensure its the right length)
- finishing touches, removing stray threads etc
- deliver to theatre at 7pm Monday 5th March for dress rehearsal
Below are progress images of creating the dress:
creating pattern pieces, this was a trial and error process but i learnt alot about how to create my own patterns 🙂 equipment used in the process
once i had cut all the pieces i began stitching, i kept up correspondence with Julie during this task, to ask for extra measurements and update her on progress. It’s important to keep the client in the loop and ensure they feel you are devoting the necessary time to their task.
this is the final top half of the dress, the original top half ( pictured on my niece below) was too small, this one came out much neater and more refined, as well as the right size, i think its helped me to practice first before making the final dress and thankfully i had enough material so that i could do so.
i added poppers as the fastening onto the dress, this was ensure if Jodie ( the little girl) had a costume change, it could be achieved quickly and easily and she could get out of the costume herself. i attached buttons over the outside of the poppers to give it an authentic victorian look.
i tried the original top half on my niece who is 6 , ( Jodie is 10 so a bit bigger) to get an idea for size, i knew when it fit my niece that it would be too small across the shoulders for Jodie.
here is the top and skirt pinned together, i went on to stitch it together and add the sleeves, i used a sleeve pattern from this tutorial :
I was really happy with how the sleeves turned out, i created 8 pleats on each sleeve and stitched it to the dress with 5 on the front and 3 on the back, i then went on to add cuffs and poppers so that the sleeve size becomes adjustable depending on how comfortable Jodie finds it, this may not have been necessary but its important when making a costume for theatre that its comfortable and easy for the actor to move around freely. Below is my image of the finished dress, i am currently awaiting images from the show of the dress in action.
The task set to me by the client Julie Hanns of the Little Theatre, was to create a costume for 10 year old Jodie, who is playing a main character, a young ghost of a child in a play called “Sleep no more” which is an interpretation of the Shakespeare story of Macbeth, but set in a haunted hotel in the 1940’s. The conditions of the commission is that i have the dress ready for dress rehearsal on the 5th May, it must be a plain cotton 1940’s style dress with a high neck and waist, puff sleeves and a gathered skirt. I will be reimbursed for the costs of the materials and i am required to create my own pattern for the dress.
This work based learning task was a great challenge because i have not before made my own pattern from scratch, therefore i learnt new skills in pattern making and taking accurate measurements which will benefit me if i continue down this path of work in the future. I was assisted in this by looking at an online tutorial for puffed sleeves and making a prototype of the top half of the dress. It took 6 days to make this dress in total, and was quite a laborious task but i enjoy sewing and it helped me to hone skills i hadn’t used in a long time. I took the dress for a fitting on the 2nd of May, and to my delight it fit well and was the right length, i had to put poppers on the sleeves to make them a little tighter but that was a simple adjustment. I then took it home to hem by hand and add the poppers and i returned it on the 5th of May. The performance runs from the 7th of May to the 17th, and i have requested some photographs from the production to show the dress in action which will be nice and i was reimbursed for the cost of the materials which came to £21.00. I have now formed a good link with the theatre who were pleased with the result of the costume and hopefully will consider me when they next need help with a costume, and hopefully will be inclined to pay for my time as well as the materials. If i were to do the task again, i would take measurements earlier on to give me more time to work on the dress, but i certainly enjoyed this task. I would consider a career move into costume design, if i could undertake more complex training but i still hold interest in other areas of theatre design and would like to explore stage and set design, as well as props.