My name is Deborah Wingfield, I am 40 years old, I studied Costume Construction at University Centre South Essex from 2018 until 2021 and this is my story.
I am a mum of four children and I was taking on the odd alteration job here and there whilst running my family. Sewing is a life-long skill I have had since I was eight years old!
I did a fashion design course when I left school. I had many jobs before having children but none were what I really wanted to do. Although I had my family to raise and this was a full-time job for a period of my life, I managed to make time to be creative and was inspired by children’s costumes. I made costumes for my children and created a side-line of little tutus.
I came across the course by chance at a time when I wasn’t even thinking about returning to study. I discovered that the course was located only 12 minutes from my house and was in collaboration with the Royal Opera House. I was immediately excited as I could really see myself doing it but I was so nervous.
I attended the open day and then applied for the foundation pathway course. The course was a challenge to manage around running my family but as it was so near and lots of the elements were practical, I managed to make it work.
I learned historical pattern design and construction, classical tutu making taught by the Royal Opera House makers, conservation techniques, research skills, drawing skills, how to design professionally - making sure to include all relevant information within a presentation. How to work within a group, time management, improved writing skills, how to invoice for the appropriate industries and I even learned how to build a website for my portfolio of work which proved valuable when applying for work.
During the course I managed to set up an alterations business. I found this a good way to learn how things are put together by taking them apart and putting them back together again. My aim was to finish the course not just with a qualification but with real first-hand experience.
Having a business and qualifications really did help with finding jobs in the costume Industry. Being a qualified experienced seamstress people seem to trust your knowledge and skills. Having an eye-catching portfolio and website really helped sell my skills. I have designed for the Digby Fairweather’s Jazz centre in Southend for their ‘How Fashion shaped Jazz’ project whilst being on the course and the project is now a feature on their website. Also for one of our last university projects our costumes were entered in to a design challenge competition with The Royal Opera House. This meant that all work up to a high standard could be entered and would be displayed at the theatre in Covent Garden and would be displayed on the ROH website.
Since completing my course I have continued to work within my own bridal alterations business.
I have worked for Sevenoaks Panto for just over a month as wardrobe supervisor. I was running costumes for a total cast of 20 people, this included four band members, eight dancers and eight principles. I spent the first week arranging fittings with the cast and adapting/altering their costumes. When the show began I was managing the maintenance and up keep of the costumes. I had also created a costume track/plot and was responsible for overseeing back stage quick change/dressing roles. This was my biggest achievement yet as the show continued to go on during a risky time as covid19 was a big threat and other theatres were closing.
I took on some work experience with Britain’s Got Talent’s La Voix (a contact made through the course) on her UK tour. I gained experience in assistant stage management duties as well as learning a dressing track and how to prepare for a show and relevant technical information.
My current position is one of four designers for a low budget film. I was quite nervous about the interview as I aimed for the highest position. But once I had showcased my previous designs and explained my journey so far – my experience in different areas of costume, how I had managed to run my business between jobs and that now I would really like get my teeth into designing professionally, this really helped with my confidence.
If it wasn’t for this course, I wouldn’t have come so far as I have today and hope to keep growing with experience and gaining work in future productions. I gained so much confidence in my work and developed my skill set with professional industry guidance. In the future I would like to design/make for TV and film.
The best thing about doing further or higher education is reaching the finish line and having a huge sense of achievement and being able to own having completed a degree programme and that is yours forever.
The staff at University Centre South Essex were very supportive especially through the pandemic. It’s a great place to study with everything you need to help you progress through the course.
My time at the University Centre help me with professionalism- how to write, email and speak more professionally in presentations and interviews. I suffer with on-going anxiety so these skills are just as highly valuable as my practical skills also built on throughout the course. I have been able to turn a hobby into a successful profession.