Christmas at Northern Ballet

Costume Construction

Northern Ballet guest passBig news! I got my first paid gig with Northern Ballet in Leeds earlier this month. I checked their website on a whim, saw they were recruiting freelance costume makers for two weeks in December, sent an email, and lo and behold there I was the following Monday morning. Eeeeeee!!!The show was Cinderella, set in Imperial Russia, which meant lots of lush brocades and fur trim. As most of the costumes had been constructed at that point, I did lots of hand sewn finishing jobs like buttons on tutu waistbands, button elastic inside bodices, neatening armholes, and sewing in pit pads.

Pit pads are a fiddly job at first – you’ve got to work out which way round each one goes in (as the higher up crescent shape goes toward the back of the armhole so is different for right and left), sew on tiny poppers, and make sure the corresponding poppers get sewn into the bodice in the right place. Note the lovely fabric and real fur trim!

pit pad in bodice armhole

So that’s how the first few days went, with intermittent flat-tacking on pieces that had yet to be made. By day four I moved into the bigger room (there were so many freelancers and students working on the show that they’d turned the store closet into another work space) and actually had to use a machine (gasp!), which went alright for the most part, if we ignore the time I bust two needles on a domestic overlocker because I’d managed to loosen the metal foot plate (cringe).

Again, I didn’t make anything from scratch, but I did get to help finish off one of the step-sister’s bodices. I made up the peplum, made some alterations, overlocked the inside seam allowances to neaten them off (not without some trauma, see above), attached the collar, piped the armholes, and (eeeek!) topstitched the two pieces together at the centre front. Here is where I left it:

stepsister bodice

But because this was on Friday night and it was needed for Saturday night’s dress rehearsal, the costume cutter/maker (a lovely, patient girl called Carly) finished it off on Saturday afternoon. Here it is (photo courtesy of Northern Ballet’s Facebook page):

Stepsister costume

Even though I didn’t work on it start to finish, it’s still pretty gratifying to see a costume piece I helped make on stage!

The next week entailed more little jobs like making cuffs, flat-tacking, attaching bias binding, and making up a small extension on a jacket that came up too short on the dancer.

jacket cuffs

I made two pairs of cuffs in the end, and the second pair was an hour quicker than the first as I knew what I was doing by that time round (rather than doing it wrong and having to spend time unpicking and re-doing). I’m also now well-practiced and ziggering on braid – fairly straightforward on cuffs; on layers of velvet, interfacing, lining, and bulky fur trim, not so much.

By about the last day (I was there for seven-and-a-half days in all), I had relaxed enough to not feel certain I was going to ruin a costume at any given time. Despite a few hiccups (namely the overlocker situation), I didn’t do any damage and may even be called again!

Here’s hoping there’s more to follow in 2014. Happy New Year!

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