I didn’t expect it, but when I came to view the university, it was almost like something out of a film. I turned the corner onto the main campus, and the sun started shining, there was music playing across the courtyard, and everyone just seemed excited to be there. When I got home, I retracted all my other offers. I knew that I didn’t want to do my degree anywhere else.
My year group was one deeply affected by COVID-19. We were a few weeks into our second-year spring project when we were told to go home. The campus would be open for select students the following day to collect any work they needed to complete the project, and then we didn’t come back until September. As it was for everyone, the following few months were unprecedented. Sewing machines were being posted out to students who didn’t have one at home; tutors were recording a whole term’s worth of lectures and demonstrations. The switch to online was drastic but efficient, with military-like turnaround. The staff offered themselves up wholly to the students who were struggling, being available 24/7. While everyone was isolated, it somehow brought us all together, and the sense of community strengthened even more.
Everything had mostly settled down by my final year, and I managed to focus on the projects that mattered most to me. I had wanted to revisit tailoring techniques from the disrupted spring term, and created a three-piece Victorian suit for AUB's production of Hard Times. This was the turning point in my costume career, where I decided that I wanted to specialise in tailoring. I loved the precision and the details that were required to make a suit look so effortlessly beautiful. Whereas a perfectly embellished dress displays its beauty to everyone, the worth of a brilliantly tailored garment comes from the inside, with layers of canvas and padding, only to be seen by the maker. Tailoring, for me, had presented itself as an engineering process, to fit and sculpt the figure in such a way that the result is unnoticeable. A silent perfect fit.
From here, I spent my final project exploring female tailoring, and in the summer of 2021, I graduated with a first-class degree.
By this point, I felt like I had just scratched the surface of my understanding of tailoring and knew that it was something that I needed to explore more. I made the decision to start my Master’s in Historical Costume over the summer, with the goal to provide me the space and guidance to research further into tailoring practices. I wanted to focus on making for the non-standard body, to provide a different perspective on traditional tailoring techniques.
My first term was all research-based. I investigated the history of tailoring, the development of pattern drafting and why we make the way that we do. I began with the intention of creating a ‘catch-all’ formula to draft for non-standard body shapes, but soon realised that this, in itself, was standardising what wasn’t standard, and so I changed my outlook to create solutions once the draft was finished. I looked into fittings and common problems surrounding fit, and created a detailed guide to how to rectify such problems.
Over the next two terms, I was putting what I’d learnt into practice. I experimented with couture tailoring techniques, recreating a 1947 Dior-inspired coat for a plus-size body (which just happened to be my own, because who wouldn’t want a Dior coat?) The biggest challenge was getting a modern body to fit into the Dior silhouette without all the under-structures he used. The coat was also made with no darts or seams at the waist, and so all the flare of the skirt had to be cut into the panels from shoulder to hem. This then needed to be supported at the waist, with short bones in the seams and a waist tape. The result was very successful, and I’d recreated the Dior silhouette on a plus-size, modern body.
For my final term, I then moved under the umbrella of historical tailoring techniques and recreated an 18th Century men’s court suit, inspired by an item in the Salisbury Museum collection. This provided new challenges, and heavily focused on research and looking at extant garments. This was something I was particularly excited about, as the MA had given me a new appreciation for historical garments. The stories that you can tell from these were so much more detailed than what you’d expect, and structurally these garments informed a lot of my decisions. Now, my first port of call is to look at historical items before any make.
I finished my Master’s in February, achieving a Distinction and being over the moon. Two weeks after, I started my new job working at AUB. I’m now a Technician Demonstrator, working with the staff and students to help manage the studios and share my knowledge. It’s of course a bit of a shock to the system to now be a colleague among my tutors, but I’ve embraced the change and they’ve all helped me to realise what I can offer to others. One of my main responsibilities is overseeing our on-site archive, looking after those historical garments that I loved so dearly, helping to source even more and teaching students how to handle and respect such fragile pieces of history.
This new role has allowed me to stay in Bournemouth while I develop my career and explore the more academic side of costume as a creative practice and a means for historical understanding. I now get to help students and truly put to work my appreciation and love of costumes, sharing with them our joint passions in this incredibly creative community, and I hope over time that I can start to give back to students everything I've gained.