‘South Pacific’ Saint Mary Players

Construction, Volunteering

A few years ago I assisted backstage with the costumes for the St Mary Player’s production of ‘Sweeney Todd’ and had such an amazing time with the lovely cast, helpful crew and community atmosphere.

Because of this I got back in touch when I know I was going on Placement to offer my services if they needed me. This year the company are producing ‘South Pacific’ – a musical I had never heard of until now.

They are doing a mixture of making and hiring of costumes for this production as it is easier to alter things you have made, without the fear of damaging them and then having to pay for them – and it often works out cheaper.

However, for the uniforms, such as nurses, etc, they are hiring them in order to achieve the correct look for the chorus.

Leanda, one of the Players who has always had a hand at crafts and making clothes took on the job of sorting out all the costumes and has done an amazing jobs finding odds and ends to work together to create a spectacular set of costumes. However, because there are a few bits still to make, she has offered some costumes to make for her – thus taking some weight off her shoulders and getting my hand back in the costume world!

IMG_2108This is the pattern Leanda supplied me with for Liat (one of the main native girls and love interests in the musical) and wanted me to make two tops from the pattern and alter an old skirt, which was used in a production a few years ago, into a pair of trousers – since the actress has a lot of sitting and lying down scenes she thought it would be better to have trousers.

So I got started with the curtain material, which had been found at a charity shop and is a gorgeous pale pink with a floral brocade pattern – perfect for this kind of top.


Front, complete with button fastening.




And this is the outcome – I am very pleased with it! I have to confess that I do not usually use patterns so this task really tested my patience and ability to follow directions. However, now I know what I am doing with all the small pattern pieces the next one should be a lot easier.




Here are some photos of the second top for Liat in construction – see what I mean about all the little pieces, all the facings, the interfacing made it confusing but I muddled through and have to agree the facings make the whole garment a lot neater.

I feel in my gut that these two tops are slightly on the small side so I open out the side seams as much as possible and think I’ll wait till I have a fitting with the actress and if more space is needed the back seams can be opened.












Now, for the trousers I took out the side zip and stitched up the seam, making it a complete skirt which I could feed elastic through the waistband so that it will be more comfy for the actress and hopefully be used in future productions.

I then opened up the front and back seams, leaving about 6″ together.

IMG_2110I then used the pattern given to create small pattern pieces of my own for the part which fits through the legs and gets sewn to the opposite side of the skirt – if I did not include these pieces of fabric it would have made the trousers tighter around the crotch and uncomfortable.

Then I simply attached the new pieces inside the front and back seams so that I had essentially 4 sections of trouser legs hanging from a waistband.

IMG_2111I then stitched up the two legs and turned it inside out to attach the whole thing together – this proved the most fiddly and tricky part of the construction as I had to make sure that all the seams were caught at the top of the trousers and that no fabric was caught in the new crotch seam.

So…it worked! Phew – and here are the 3/4 length throusers, with enough bulk to make them look like skirt when standing or sitting.


I am currently working on a modern strap top to go with the trousers – Leanda provided me with a matching jacket as well as the skirt so hopefully I will have enough to complete the top out of the odds and ends from making the trousers.IMG_2159

It was a bit tricky to see how it would all work so I decided to take the safer options along the way to constructing the modern top. Therefore, I created a pattern using the New Look pattern to give the correct sizing (I chose to make a size 14 so there should be no concern about it fitting!) then made it up in calico so I could see how it all fitted and worked together; then cut off the neckline and armholes to create patterns for the facing needed – so I felt very clever!

IMG_2165 Due to the mish mash of fabric sections I had to separate the IMG_2167back panel and create an upper back panel  which could have fastening, akin to the Chinese style tops, with buttons and loops – so I made the best of a tricky situation and it worked in my favour.

Everything else went smoothly and it definitely helped using a IMG_2169pattern which I am now fIMG_2168amiliar with. There are a few odd seams from the original jacket but I think that adds more interest to a pretty basic garment.

The facing worked well and it was definitely worth while (it felt like I was on The Sewing Bee, top stitching the facing to make them lie flat inside the top).


I went over to Page Hall where the Player’s were conducting their rehearsals to show Leanda and Anne what I had made for them and they were very pleased – I was also able to see them on the actress playing Liat and it was quite a shock to see them actually being worn! They were very appreciative and I received a sweet card and a very thoughtful crafty book which I have already started taking inspiration from!

IMG_2229 IMG_2232


IMG_2233 IMG_2234

I’m really pleased with my efforts and the outcome of the 26 hours I put into the costumes; these were the first items made for a brief and I am so happy to be on the ladder of costume making and cannot wait to do it again!



Gifford Circus

Construction, Textile work, Volunteering

I have been to see Gifford Circus a few times now and love the traditional feel they have to their shows – it is like stepping back in time; with simple sets, gorgeous historical and colourful costumes, sweet animals, a live band and a proper story! A brilliant family day out and I would recommend it to everyone!

I found out that they were looking for a team of art students to help them paint their set of this years circus and I applied straight away – it is not strictly costume but it is sort of theatre and, to be honest, I am just desperate to be a part of such an original and exciting project!

So, I pinged them an email before Christmas and am off for an informal interview on Friday 20th Feb!

I went for the quick informal meet at their new base in Stroud and was welcomed and given the opportunity to work with them! The lady I met also said that she would talk to the costume team to see if they need anymore help – I feel I would be more useful there, however, I just want to be a part of it!

I am off to camp at their farm just outside Stroud in mid April and am so excited about the prospect of getting stuck into the creativeness! I have been emailing Lousia and she has kindly offered for me to work between the costume department and the sets and props so I can get a feel for all the different processes and exciting things going on!

I do not want to be a one job kind of worker; I like the idea of being able to turn my hand to many different things, that way I can be more helpful and useful but also get the most out of my time there and learn as many different skills as possible!


Mid April came around very quickly and I enlisted my twin’s help in putting up my tent – Fennell’s Farm is a working farm but also the hubbub of the Gifford scene with building work, costume and rehearsals going on all the time. The Gifford’s were still settling in to their new home, so the farm is a work in progress but it is in a beautiful part of the world with amazing views, especially where we were camping.


This year the theme and title of the circus is ‘Moonsongs’ – an interesting idea, and completely open ended which gave the creative team plenty to research and develop. In the end they settled on the idea of replicating a Victorian circus or freak show feel…


Here is one of the key references we have been using to create our very own throwback theatre! Everything was to be glittery, sparkly, exciting, theatrical and eye-catching! Apparently this is the first year which set has been used so heavily, and I can see why, because the feel of that age old circus was all about the visually exciting and stimulating.


I felt very lucky to work with such a wide range of people, all doing amazing jobs, all different and all important – the acts were also around for the meal times and in rehearsals, so it was amazing brushing shoulders with the stars of the show!


A typical day at the circus:

7:30-8:30 – Breakfast (porridge with yummy toppings and tea)

9:00-1:00 – Work

1:00-2:00 – Lunch (varied a lot but often baguettes or jacket potatoes which we could fill to our own individual tastes!)

2:00-6:00 – Work

6:00-7:00 – Dinner (which was always different, I never had the same thing twice, plenty of it and the chefs catered for all dietary requirements!)

7:00-? – Down time (I spent a lot of it relaxing and chatting to the others, but once went to a gig outside Stroud!)

Towards the end of my month there it got a bit crazier, what with all the rehearsals and panic to get things finished for 15th May. Long days, but always different and exciting!


So, what kind of stuff did I get up to…?

One of the first things I had to do was to help one of the other girls finish up the seat ends for the walk ways into the circus ring, featuring characters and animals from this year’s show…


ThIMG_2346e wood was primIMG_2351ed, painted with this gorgeous turquoise blue, then the images glued on or designs painted and finally varnished three times! So, a long old process but I think you’ll agree that they look fabulous and they will hopefully last the multiple moves the circus does.

~ ~ ~ ~

Leather Roses….roses, roses, roses…


A new theme arose, which I do not think Nel, Louisa or Cal had any idea about but the more roses we made, the more they wanted on the set and in the costumes…and I do agree, it draws the whole production together nicely, gives it that handmade feel which Gifford is so renowned for…but my fingers are stiff, sore and tired from all that sewing! They were fairly easy to sew but just very time consuming and tough, since they were mad out of leather, some real and others fake. Notwithstanding this, they look fabulous – used for the first time we see the horses, attired like carousel horses!

IMG_2370 IMG_2355




To decorate the entrances of the circus and the audience blocks by grouping a few together with leaves and using them as the drape points on some swags which had a lovely effect as they were made out of similar colours. They spread across parts of the set too – which meant more work but, wow what an effect they had!


~ ~ ~ ~

I also helped out doing odd jobs, such as making curtains, adding Velcro to a dummy which needed to be decapitated and separated, adding embellishment to the swags, painting, sanding, priming wood, elongating the black out lining of the tent and other such random jobs which were fun to break up the day and helped me to get a feel of just how much work and prep has to go into each show they do!

IMG_2406In additionIMG_2405 to the velcro on the dummy, I was called upon to whip up some trousers for it’s replace costume of Jolly Jack’s (below) which was a fun and quick job, but gave me an injection of costume construction – it was a bit of shock to the system, having to think about how trousers are made after weeks of hand sewing and painting!


~ ~ ~ ~

I was also able to have a hand in the costume department as well – they also had roses to make but I was able to help with other alteration jobs as well which was right up my street! It was amazing how comfortable I felt back at a sewing machine with seams, needles and pins in front of me!

~ ~ ~ ~

Another skill I have learnt from Gifford was how to make curtains…sounds silly but I have never had cause to construct any before so took on the challenge willingly yet confusedly!


This fortune tellIMG_2397er booth needeIMG_2396d a curtain all the way round the left hand side, mad out of gorgeous velvet…which I was very proud of when I had finished them, I had a bit of help with the tricks of the trade from one of the other art interns so I got it right! And the booth on the right needed magnetic curtains as they have to be ripped off dramatically at the start of the show; so that was fun to do as well! And to see them used in the performances! There is also a simple black divider curtain between the two booths…so a lot of sewing but I really enjoyed doing it! Oh and the little blue flounce around the bottom of the platform which the booth it stood on….I did them too!

~ ~ ~ ~

All in all, it was a fab experience and I really feel I have grown in confidence – I always tried my best to do the things they asked of me, if I didn’t understand, I asked and learnt from them. I enjoyed meeting all the amazingly talented people behind the scenes and on the stage, spending time with them and being part of the creative for behind this year’s ‘Moon Songs’…!

Here are some sneaky pics to wet your appetite! If you have never been…what are you waiting for? And if you are a regular…what are you waiting for?

See you in the ring!










Beauty and the Beast @ Oxford PlayHouse

Construction, Volunteering

When I first knew that I would be going to Oxford to assist on ‘Beauty and the Beast’ at the Playhouse I starting researching on SpareRooms and GumTree to see if anything was available but to no real avail. I was advised by Amanda Hambleton to have a look at some of the youth hostels around, so I rang around a few days before to check the availability, got on the train on Sunday then went straight to the YHA which was handily situated next to the train station and got myself booked in – it felt very spontaneous and exciting! IMG_1860The YHA is clean, tidy and well kept, even though the bathroom in my shared room smells – but that is the only negative aspect so far! The beds are comfy and the room is warm! I have been lucky this week with my room mates so far, they are al very pleasant and friendly so I feel very safe in our little room.

I took the opportunity of a later start for me in the morning of the 24th by having a wonder through Oxford and getting a feel for the place; it was lovely to get the chance to appreciate the beauty of this ancient city! I grabbed some breakfast then headed to the theatre.

I was introduced to all the costume crew then set to work! Most of the costumes have been hired or have come from the store of costumes so we were able to alter them to fit  properly. So most of the alterations are for wear and tear, making sure they are in good quality for the shows. Other forms took the shape of embellishing; so for example we had a plain red coat with black collar and cuffs which needed jazzing up a bit with some gold cord.

Then came some fittings with the ensemble and the group I was in focussed on the two women who had around 5 outfits to try on in 45 mins! So it was tight but exiting and there were only a few things which needed taking in or letting out – but these needed to be done by the next day as the main cast had a photo shoot sceduled in their opening costumes – therefore we starting on those alterations first – for example, taking in some bodices, reducing straps to fit flat on the shoulders and sorting out embellishment to cover gaps in fastenings. It was all very exciting and a fab first day!

The second day was more of the same – altering clothes to fit the dancers and to make sure that they can move easily. I think that was one of the main points I have had to focus on so far, making sure the costumes allow movement and freedom especially because many of the dancers are performing circus skills! We had to get all the opening outfits altered for 2pm for the photos so we wanted to use it as a second fitting for these and I’m glad we did because we had to take in a few of the female dancers bodice and change one of the men’s throusers because the director did not like the colour. Next we had to quickly get them all changed and back to rehersals in time and clear the way for the children to come and have their fittings – overall we had 8 boys and 12 girls to fit, they were paired up for each costume as not one child can do all the shows on every day, so one costume has to fit two different children! Tricky but we think we have cracked it and we only came out of it with some minor alterations to perform – I think this will end up being my job as the other girls have alterations on their own costumes they have made to sort out. IMG_1870 IMG_1868 IMG_1869It was a later night than we expected but a lot of fun and it means we hopefully have a complete list of everything which needs doing! We wrote out every little thing we had to do and took great delight in striking them off with a red Sharpie!

IMG_1865Over the rest of the week I learnt how to insert dress shields (small circles of fabric, folded in half over the underarm seam, which are poppered down so they can be taken out wash and replaced easily) and I was also given the job of making ‘fake’ saris – we needed a way of wearing a sari which would be quick and easy to put on over the final costumes and then removed just before the bowing. Therefore, we decided to gather the unembellished top edge of the sari to the length of the stretch of an elastic waistband, then machine the gathered sari onto it. IMG_1866 IMG_1867Sew down the length of the sari creating the skirt, now we have an embellished length which can be arranged on the actors, to hide their outfits with poppers and hook and bars for quick changes.This technique of stretching elastic and sewing lengths of fabric or even clothing on to it was a new technique for me but one which was used throughout the production as a quick fix for the problem of looseness and one which will be useful for me to remember!

IMG_1871I also got to know the other girls working for Amanda quite well – a few final year students from Bournemouth, who had deigned and made costumes for some of the principle characters, and the two older girls who were employed for the whole run through! So we had a really lovely team around us which made the work a lot nicer and the days go a lot quicker – we even socialized outside the theatre with a movie on Orange Wednesdays and an evening out in Oxford which was brilliant!

Week 2

I experienced the ‘get in’ process which was tiring and busy but good fun! We had to pack up all the costumes and equipment, put them on a truck and unload them at the theatre and get settled into the wardrobe room – we were able to spread into the children’s dressing room to give us all more space; with windows and free tea or coffee! So perfect working conditions! We stayed late working through our copious lists and we were able to move onto the children’s alterations which was a huge weight off our minds!

As we moved on through our to do’s we came across obsticles like running out of hook and bars and having to make do with hooks and hand made bars which was a new skill for me and one which will be very useful in the future! By sewing a few lines of thread over each other and going over them with button hole stitch to strengthen them!

We had to label all the children’s clothing because two were sharing one set of costumes and if anything got mislaid we needed to know who it was fitted to – so that was a job and a half but since there were 3 of, the task went smoothly.

I also experienced quick fixes in tea breaks, so if anything needed taking in, letting out, or buttons needed sewing back on and the costume was needed again it would be all hands on deck to get through it!

I also brushed up on my herring bone stitch to secure hemsIMG_1863, something which I had not really used very often but now I feel well versed in hand sewing because we could not make any permanent alterations to the hired costumes, and herring bone is a quick stitch to unpick, although time consuming to create.

I have had such a lovely time working with Amanda and her team; I feel I have learnt a lot about the way theatre costumes are made and fixed, that time is precious and preciousness is not helpful. I have met some amazing people and it was a shame I could not stay for the opening night or for the rehearsals but I was off to Pippa’s wedding with her jacket…!

Cabasa Carnival Arts

Textile work, Volunteering

I volunteered for a few weeks with the Cabasa Carnival Arts company, based in Mossley, Greater Manchester, on their Manchester Day Parade project. They certainly needed as many hands as possible and one by one more and more of my fellow students joined in – so there as a lovely friendly crowd of us all working together on huge butterfly wings which would be mounted onto backpacks for us to wear on the day!

Silk wings drying after a 3rd coat.

Silk wings drying after a 3rd coat.

Adding lots of different colours to these wings was tricky and slow but well worth it!

Adding lots of different colours to these wings was tricky and slow but well worth it!

The infamous peacock wings which stood out from the rest with their colourful eyes, painstakingly painted by Stephen Finn.

The infamous peacock wings which stood out from the rest with their colourful eyes.


Last year I did a few days with them on a different project which involved huge puppets and lovely dresses but it was nice to see the project all the way through the designs being drawn up, the wax painted on top, painting the dyes on (often redoing these stages at intervals so no bleeding occurred), inserting wires and fitting the backpacks – this was what I was involved with, there was so much more going on that us volunteers had no notion of – we would just turn up and help, where as Emily Wood and her brilliant team planned, funded and sourced and oversaw all of it! These butterflies were also used in the RHS Tatton Flower Show along with even more costumes! Fantastic effort and skill on their part with outstanding results  – it was a pleasure to be involved and to learn from their wide knowledge!

Can’t wait for the next one!

Brilliant official photo from the Manchester Day Parade -http://www.cabasacarnivalarts.com/left-navigation/projects/rhs-tatton-flower-show.aspx

Brilliant official photo from the Manchester Day Parade – http://www.cabasacarnivalarts.com/left-navigation/projects/rhs-tatton-flower-show.aspx

Amanda Hambleton

Construction, Film work, Volunteering

Around this time last year I was fortunate enough to be given a list of contacts from a family friend and Amanda‘s was one of them – I spent a week and a bit with her working on a design she had been sent for a film being made in Wales, about a mining town which gets a visit from a travelling circus. And she very kindly let me help her with the construction on a costume for a trapeze artist – therefore it was important to get the fit right, no straps slipping off shoulders, etc, no thank you!

The inside of the bodice.

The inside of the bodice.

But to also make sure that the actor could move and perform comfortably which was a bit of a challenge as the dress, a period costume, was supposed to be quite fitted around the bodice and shoulders, so there was a bit of fiddling needed to get the shoulders sitting comfortably but that is all part of construction; nothing is always straightforward and problem solving is a good skill to rely on!

I feel I grew in confidence after my sessions with Amanda because the way she worked and went throughout the construction process was almost identical to the way we were being taught in 1st year – I learnt different techniques and tricks of the trade and experienced what it would be like to be a freelance costume maker/designer; and I have to say I loved every minute of it!

The finished costume!

The finished costume!