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Five Questions: Costume student Edwina James

As Edwina approaches the end of her three years at NIDA, we caught up with her to talk all things Costume and what she plans to do next.  


As Edwina approaches the end of her three years at NIDA, we caught up with her to talk all things
Costume and what she plans to do next.

Tell us a bit about yourself and how you came to study at NIDA?

My first introduction to sewing was with my grandmother at the age of seven when visiting during the summer holidays at our family farm, where we would create toys and dolls clothes together. I remember finding it absolutely magical how she could transform metres of fabric and trim into beautiful dresses and garments. That process of creating something out of nothing I still find magical today. 

After years of self-taught dressmaking, I began a Bachelor of Visual Arts at Monash University, training in printmaking, painting, metalwork and glass. During this time, I became involved in a community run theatre group in Melbourne and was introduced to the world of costuming by volunteering as a maker and wardrobe assistant on one of the productions. Falling completely in love with the art of costuming, I deferred from Monash and spent the next six months putting a portfolio together for NIDA’s Bachelor of Fine Arts (Costume) and was then accepted into the course.

Have you enjoyed the course so far and why?

I have absolutely loved my studies here at NIDA. I have learnt and progressed my skills far more than I could possibly have imagined prior to commencing my course. Studying at NIDA has been one of the most challenging experiences I have encountered, but it has also been the most rewarding as my skills have improved through each new costume, which has been extremely fulfilling. The breadth of the course has introduced me to new skills such as corsetry, millinery, shoemaking, tailoring, expanding my dressmaking abilities enormously. 

Tell us about your two-month secondment in the UK.

My London secondment was with Universal Studios on a film called The Huntsman. As my first experience working on a film, it was really wonderful seeing how costumes were made for camera as compared to theatre. I was incredibly fortunate as one of my favourite costume heroes, Colleen Atwood was the costume designer for the film. Having the chance to work on some of the costumes there was a great privilege. The scale and magnitude of the costumes was phenomenal, with the most intense and elaborate detail I had ever seen. The experience made me fall completely in love with costuming for film, which is the avenue I am now keen to pursue once graduating. 

What is your favourite aspect of costume-making and your favourite project to date?

My true passion with costume-making lies in embroidery, as I love its intricate and fine work. And there are seemingly limitless embroidery techniques that are available to learn. 

While on secondment in London, I participated in a goldwork embroidery short course and was able to apply the skills and techniques learnt to my major research project this year, an 1863 Victorian riding habit. This would have to be my favourite costume I have worked on at NIDA. I have used goldwork and silk ribbon embroidery to depict Australian golden wattle to decorate a tailored jacket, skirt, waistcoat, riding hat and corset. This project was also an opportunity to refine my skills in corsetry, millinery and tailoring. 

What are your plans after graduation?

I will be returning to London for my final secondment after graduating. Having obtained a two-year work visa, I plan to remain in the UK after my work placement and look for work as a costume- maker in the film industry. I would also love to continue my training in different forms of embroidery through several short courses available in the UK and Paris.

And finally, after three years, I hope to find time to make a nice dress for myself!

Photography by Maja Baska. 

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