For our 2nd Year project we researched and designed for an operatic version of Shakespeare’s ‘A Midsummer Nights Dream’. We were asked to focus on 6 characters, making sure we studied a range of classes and a mix of fairies and humans. I chose Oberon and Tytania (the Fairy King and Queen), Theseus and Hippolyta (the Count and Countess of the human world), Puck (Oberon’s goblin right-hand man) and Snug (one of the amateur dramatics who perform for the Court). I then went through our design process creating mood boards, rough designing, then polishing them into design developments and finally into the final designs (combining the characters in a cast line up in order see what the production would look like on stage).
Taking the designs into our chosen textile area, which was embroidery in my case, I developed individual textiles and colour palettes for each character; for example, I used red for Tytania (the fiery, passionate Queen), blue for her husband (because he is mysterious and ambiguous), green for his henchman Puck (as he comes from the forest and is a bit of an outcast), orange and brown for Snug (because he plays the lion in the play and is such a gentle character), I also used light pink and blue for Hippolyta and Theseus (because they are muted tones of the colours seen on the Fairy King and Queen – I felt this reflected their characters well. The humans are confused and selfish, not looking where they tread in life and hurting the people they care about; they, like their colours, are washed out and boring!
Finally, we got to actually make one of the costumes we had designed! This is what I had been waiting for since first year! I chose to make Oberon’s because I have never really made anything for a man before and thought it would be fun to have a go at tailoring.
I found a model, Alex Brown, and started making toiles of all the pieces of his costume – loose undershirt, traditional fall front breeches, a cropped waistcoat and a long, heavy jacket. Whilst doing this, in textiles I made larger samples of the character’s patterns and textures in order to see how they would work on the actual costume. So lots to do but slowly the whole thing started to come together.
It was amazing to experience the complete construction process – once I had made the toiles for each item of the costume I organised a fitting with Alex to see how it fitted him and where the shape needed editing and altering. It was so exciting to see the calico come to life when put on! Once I had made the alterations and documented the changes on the patterns, I could move on to the main fabric which had to be dyed and embroidered with my designs and chosen colours. The most tricky aspect was dying 3 meters of white cotton drill to the shade of dirt blue which I wanted – I spent a lot of time in the dye lab and had to leave the fabric in the tub for ages to get the deep blue – in the end it did not matter as much as I had first thought because I used heat sublimation to transfer one of my drawings onto the fabric which actually made the fabric darker so I finally got the shade I desired by accident!
Once I had this top fabric I could start making the textures and embroidery which would really bring the costume to life…
I tried to keep the fabric consistent throughout my costume and use as many different techniques and shapes as possible so that the end product would look interesting and textural. The progress really made the garments come to live.
Another addition was that of breaking down the items to make them look old and worn, exactly what I needed for a fairy who has been roaming through the woods – I had never done it before so it was a bit of a learning curve to have taken so much time over making the construction neat and then to go at the seams with a teasel brush, a cheese grater and sandpaper was sad at first, but then I got into it and I feel the effect over the costume was one of age and wear – perfect!
We also had the opportunity to make accessories for our characters, even if we didn’t design them our tutors thought it would be nice for the models to have something to use in the photo-shoot – so, since my character was a fairy who did not need shoes or a hat, I found a large stick and added stripes of fabric which had been used on the costume to it and carved a similar design as on his waistcoat around the bottom – I thought the actor could use it, as Alex has done in the photos, to alter his movement in order to make him look stranger and mysterious! Also, when banged on the floor, the stick adds a sense of foreboding hen the character enters and exits the scenes.
The Photo-shoot was in a floor of a local warehouse with a white screen for us to bring to life our costumes with our models – I did the make up for Alex as I knew exactly how I wanted Oberon to look, dark and mysterious, which I think I managed to achieve with eyeshadow and eye liner. It was amazing to see the whole costume together and moving – I was honestly astonished at how good it all look and how well it fitted Alex.
Alex Beldea was the photographer our tutors brought in to take these fantastic professional photographs which he kindly edited and sent back to us! It gave us all a polished end product along with the opportunity to experience what our final year will be like.