Adventures in MA Costume Design

Costume Construction, RWCMD

ID photoI probably should have mentioned earlier, but this year I’m undertaking in MA in Theatre Design at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama in Cardiff. I had my interview back in May, and while I had a great time talking about my work, I walked out thinking there was no way they’d take me. My lack of formal art training seemed to be a real sticking point at the time – I guess it didn’t bother them too much since I received an unconditional offer about a month later. I didn’t ask many questions at the interview (thinking there was no point as I wasn’t getting in), so I’d basically been sh*tting bricks all summer with no idea of what to expect. I thought I’d be completely out of my depth, and the email from our Head of Design saying “the College has a discreet counselling service which is available at all times for your consultation.  This may be of particular use in the first weeks, as the change of location and a new working environment can sometimes prove unsettling” didn’t help matters much either. I got the message loud and clear: THIS COURSE IS INTENSE. WE WILL BREAK YOU.

And guess what? It’s been four days, and I’m not broken. Far from it. Hurrah!

Within the Theatre Design course there are a number of pathways: performance design (set and costume together), set design, set construction, costume design, costume construction, lighting design, and puppetry. I’m on the costume design pathway (0bvs) and was nervous about meeting the other costume designers. Would they intimidate me? Compete with me? Make me feel like a talentless hack? The answer is D, none of the above, because it turns out I’m the only one on the costume design pathway! There are 11 of us on the course, most of whom I haven’t seen much this week. There’s a lovely girl called Dot who’s a fellow costume MA, but her pathway is construction.

So! What have I been doing this week? Well, I’ll try to be brief…

Monday (in three parts)

Principal’s welcome – in which we are told in no uncertain terms that although we all may feel like “the mistake” who slipped through the cracks, we are all in fact meant to be here. Phew!

Registration – in which we queue up for ages so we can have our passports, academic qualifications, and finances checked before being given our student IDs.

Year meeting – in which we finally get to size up the other MA Theatre Designers, meet the tutors, and get timetables according to our specialist pathway. I discover to my great relief that I do not, in fact, need to take part in the paper sculptures project, and have five weeks of costume construction instead. Huzzah!


Tuesday – Wardrobe skills with Dot and five of the BA year 2 students. Alterations and mending: darning, patching, zippers, labels, and embroidery. Though they’re mostly things I’ve done before my samples are far from impressive – fortunately we’re not being assessed on them as Jill (Salen, our construction tutor and legend) just wants us to experience different techniques so they’ll feel familiar if/when we come across them in future.

Wednesday – Crochet and smocking. Jill very nearly strangles me when I fail to understand how to make a granny square. Just about got the hang of it in the end, but I don’t think I’ll be picking up a crochet hook anytime soon…

Thursday – Accessing patterns from Janet Arnold’s Patterns of Fashion books and making a bodice toile; I chose to “explode” (i.e. scale up) a pattern for a late 18th century polonaise. We used the same method I had used at NCC, except this time it was on giant graph paper which was obnoxious at first because the grid was distracting and made my eyes go funny. I soon got used to it though – having exact inch squares on the paper is really helpful! Now I fear I can never go back to scaling up on plain paper…

Tomorrow (Friday) is knitting, cartridge pleating, and finishing our toiles. We’re in every day 9am-6pm with an hour for lunch and breaks throughout the day, so it’s really not so different from being at NCC. In fact, it’s way easier – I only have a ten minute walk to the college in the mornings and I don’t have a job to go to on Sundays.

I feel I should also mention that I get along really well with all of my flatmates, AND I actually got my Career & Professional Development loan on the first day of term, something else I had been flapping about all summer. So really, when everyone I spoke to about my fears and stresses told me not to worry, that it’d all be fine, that I’d love it – I should have listened.

Sure, it’s only been four days and it could all go to pot, but for now I’m confident it’s going to be a great year. Stay tuned!

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