Entwined In The Fabric

Exploring the processes and techniques of costume designers and makers behind the scenes

Best Costume Goes To... Exhibition (2020)The Hunt Museum

Entwined in the Fabric is an online exhibition from The Hunt Museum. It uses the images and the costumes from Best Costume Goes To... a collaborative exhibition with the Irish Costume Association Project (ICAP), whose collection is represented here. Clicking on the images takes you through to the full credits.

Best Costume Goes To... Exhibition (2020)The Hunt Museum

The techniques used by costume designers and makers are inventive and varied. From research on the period, to the sourcing of materials and the aging or enhancing of a costume, costume design is much more than the copy of a picture in a history book.

The actor uses the costume to become the character, so the costume has to embody that character.

Room - Costume worn by Jacob Tremblay as Jack (2015) by Designer: Lea CarlsonThe Hunt Museum

The costume team can make new clothes look old by dying and breakdown techniques. Costumes can be ripped, bloodied, dirtied or painted to transform them into the perfect costume for the actor playing the character.

A costume has to follow the path of the film. A costume, in the course of the film may be destroyed, discarded, changed. This can mean multiple, exact copies to cope with filming takes.

Best Costume Goes To... Exhibition (2020)The Hunt Museum

Entwined in the Fabric highlights the different processes and techniques of the costume department, using many of the Irish Costume Archive Project (ICAP) costumes exhibited in ‘Best Costume Goes To…’ staged at the Hunt Museum.

Vikings Season 2 - Costume worn by Katheryn Winnick as Lagertha (detail) by Designer: Joan BerginThe Hunt Museum

The costume designer

Costume Designers, and all those involved in a movie production, work from the script. The director and production designer work with the costume department.  The costume designer's knowledge and expertise influences and helps materialise the director's vision.  They research the setting, portray a character's personality and visually bring it to life through costume. The designer needs to get inside the head of the character. 

Calvary - Costume worn by Brendan Gleeson as Father James (2014) by Designer: Eimer Ní MhaoldomhnaighThe Hunt Museum

Brendan Gleeson describes how the costume of the clerical robe impacted his performance on Calvary (2014),





‘I felt like I was suiting up for war and that whatever I feel to be truthful and kind was now under my protection’ (Best Costume Goes To…, 2020).

Vikings - Costume worn by Ben Robson as Kalf (detail) by Designer: Joan BerginThe Hunt Museum

The costume designer has a team of costume makers to make the designs they have created, including makers with skills in ageing, knitting, embroidery, leather work and other techniques.



‘One of my favourite things in the workshop which went from Tudors to Vikings was the fact that I had a superb leather master’. Vikings, Costume Designer Joan Bergin

Nightflyers - costume worn by Zoë Tapper as Joy D'Branin (2018) by Magali GuidasciThe Hunt Museum

Designer Magali Guidasci approached knitwear fashion designers Giordana Giache and Miia Satama for the costumes she was creating for Nightflyers (2018) .


’She pretty much contacted me and asked me to bring in textiles and textures and kind of embroidery or whatever I was doing’. Nightflyers, Giordana Giache

My Left Foot - ResearchThe Hunt Museum

Research and interpretation

Costume design does more than recreate stitch by stitch an era. It tells a story.

Greta - costume worn by Isabel Huppert as Greta (2018) by Designer: Joan BerginThe Hunt Museum

The costume designer through their research will know the characters and the influences on them as much as any other member of the crew.

The costume designer’s research begins with the characters, their lives and the story to tell. This research tells the designer what clothes will convey the interplay between character and story line. Both the historical character and the feeling of a period has to be taken on board.


An understanding of social history is also important. Knowing how people lived; where they shopped; whether they made their own clothes; are their clothes new or second-hand; all contribute to being able to represent a period. Not everyone will have worn the Chanel suits of Isabelle Huppert as Greta, although some may relate to the second hand clothes worn by Brie Larson's Ma in Room.

The Queen - Costume Worn by Helen Mirren as The Queen (2006) by Designer: Consolata BoyleThe Hunt Museum

‘Contemporary [costume] is full of traps, [it is] much more than something that can be conceived of as being in the past’ The Queen , Consolata Boyle .


Overly focusing on the interpretation of the costume as a piece of everyday clothing, rather than on how well it fits to the character and setting, can be a pitfall.

Breakfast On Pluto - Costume Worn by Cillian Murphy as Patrick 'Kitten' Braden (2005) by Designer: Eimer Ní MhaoldomhnaighThe Hunt Museum

Breakfast On Pluto’ (2005) is a fictitious plot with the political backdrop of the 1970's troubles in Northern Ireland.


The film starts with a strong sense of the traditional clothing of the time. Later in the film, the move of the character of Patrick or ‘Kitten’ to London, needed another body of research to understand the difference in style from Northern Ireland.

Kitten evolves from dressing in the norm of 1970’s Ireland in line with his starting character to become more confident, free and flamboyant.

The Costume Designer, Eimer Ni Mhaoldomhnaigh wanted to represent Kitten ‘at his most expressive and free!’ Hence the vibrant yellow fur jacket and matching yellow flared trousers.

The Tudors Season 3 - Costume Worn by Jonathan Rhys Meyers as Henry VIII (detail) (2009) by Designer: Joan BerginThe Hunt Museum

The Tudors, set during the reign of Henry VIII, required much of the costume to be historically accurate. However, to draw the attention of the viewer to a significant moment a cheat is sometimes deployed.

Such as this heavy embellishment of the embroidery and the collar detail created by the film's costume designer Joan Bergin, which she stated was ‘verging on Elizabethan’.

In the Name of the Father - Costume worn by Daniel Day Lewis as Gerry Conlon (detail) (1993) by Designer: Joan BerginThe Hunt Museum

Sourcing the perfect costume

To capture a level of authenticity for a costume, the designer will go far and wide to source it..  

Breakfast On Pluto - Costume Worn by Cillian Murphy as Patrick 'Kitten' Braden (2005) by Designer: Eimer Ní MhaoldomhnaighThe Hunt Museum

For ‘Breakfast on Pluto’, many of the costumes for extras and crowd scenes came from a storage house in London. But at the time of filming, all the 1970s costumes that they had there were being held for the Steven Spielberg film, Munich. Stuck for the right look, Eimer Ni Mhaoldomhnaigh, walking through Rome, spotted the iconic yellow jacket.

Room - Costume worn by Brie Larson as Ma (2015) by Designer: Lea CarlsonThe Hunt Museum

In Room (2015), the designer Lea Carlson also went in search of the costume rather than making it.

She wanted to reflect how some of the characters might have behaved. In the film, “Old Nick” keeps a woman and child captive. Lea thought that he would have bought the clothing somewhere no one would have noticed, like a charity shop or variety store

‘somewhere that wouldn’t have noticed a man buying clothing for a woman and child, or at least wouldn’t have cared’.

Vikings Season 5 - Costume worn by Katheryn Winnick as Lagertha (2014) by Designer: Joan BerginThe Hunt Museum

For Vikings, Bergin conducted extensive research, visiting museums in Stockholm and Norway, seeking advice from scholars and studying artefacts from the famous Viking site at Woodquay, Dublin.

What emerged from her research was a picture of a complex, democratic society that took great pride in their health and appearance, whose cloths were an astonishing combination of arts, crafts and skills.

Vikings Season 5 - Filmstill of Katheryn Winnick as Lagertha (2014) by Designer: Joan BerginThe Hunt Museum

Played by Katheryn Winnick, the legendary figure of Lagertha, fights alongside the men in shield walls. When realising Winnick's cosutmes, Joan Bergin used embroidery and Irish tweeds.

'The most surprising thing about Viking women was that they were skilled weavers and dyers. Some of their ceremonial dresses have all the artistry of a wall hanging."

The character of Lagertha, who was also a shield maiden, spent a lot of time during the shoot in battle ready attire.

The Commitments - Costume worn by Bronagh Gallagher as Bernie McGloughlin (1991) by Designer: Penny RoseThe Hunt Museum

With The Commitments (1991) designer Penny Rose looking for an authentic jacket, asked Bronagh Gallagher, after her audition for the part of Bernie Mc Gloughlin, if she might use the one she was wearing. It had been customised by Bronagh's mother.

Greta - costume worn by Isabel Huppert as Greta (2018) by Designer: Joan BerginThe Hunt Museum

For Greta (2018) Joan Bergin thought a Chanel suit would work perfectly for the restaurant scene played by Isabelle Huppert.

The actress knew Karl Lagaerfeld, the creative director of Chanel' so asked him for a loan of one for the shoot. She explained that it would be bloodied in action.


After reading the script he generously sent three. Being very petite, all three suits had to be re-cut to fit M. Huppert.

My Left Foot - Costume worn by Ruth McCabe as Mary (2018) by Designer: Joan BerginThe Hunt Museum

My Left Foot (1989), the life of Christy Brown, born in 1932. Irish and autobiographical, the film required true to life costumes.

The costume designer, Joan Bergin, sourced some of the costumes from London’s Portobello market and some closer to home. The grey two-piece worn by Rose McCabe originally belonged to Joan’s mother.

My Left Foot - Costume worn by Ruth McCabe as Mary (2018) by Designer: Joan BerginThe Hunt Museum

‘Portobello Road Market, one of London's notable street markets, known for its second-hand clothes and antiques’ Joan Bergin, My Left Foot

Michael Collins - Costume Worn by Liam Neeson as Michael Collins (1996) by Designer: Sandy PowellThe Hunt Museum

In Michael Collins (1996), Sandy Powell
and her team were very keen that this costume was accurate. Military uniforms require a huge amount of research and attention to detail.

This uniform, made by Angels Costumes in London, was subsequently altered and finished by Dublin's master costume tailor, Denis Darcy.

The Favourite - Costume Worn by Olivia Colman as Queen Anne (2018) by Designer: Sandy PowellThe Hunt Museum

Its all in the textile 

The choice of fabric is often the starting point for the costume. It is the building material with which the costume designer constructs the personality of the character, the medium through which the development of the character is portrayed. The choice of fabric, the weave, its composition, colour and the way in which it moves, all contribute to invoking the character.  

The choice of fabric may begin with the fibre from which the fabric is composed, its ability to reflect or absorb light, show movement or the way it falls.

The use of a particular fabric will be determined by the in-depth research the costume designer undertakes into the visual effect that is required. Its appropriateness to the time period and the development of the story or to the life that the character will live in the film.

The Tudors Season 3 - Costume worn by Annabelle Wallis as Jane Seymour (2009) by Designer: Joan BerginThe Hunt Museum

The use of a white wedding dress was introduced during the Elizabethan period which came after the Tudors. The modern viewer recognizes the white dress as a symbol of the bride.


The Tudors (2007-2010), a television series based on the reign of Henry VIII, has a scene featuring the wedding of Henry VIII and Jane Seymour.


The costume designer felt she needed to convey a sense of decadence and exuberance with the material in this costume and, as the scene was not an exact rendition, but a dramatization of the original event for entertainment, she took some artistic license.

The material used is ‘duchess satin’, sourced by Joan Bergin, from a seller in Los Angeles, who used to supply robes for the Vatican.

The Tudors Season 3 - Costume worn by Annabelle Wallis as Jane Seymour (2009) by Designer: Joan BerginThe Hunt Museum

‘if you felt this fabric it almost moved in your hand’ . Joan Bergin, The Tudors

In the Name of the Father - Costume worn by Daniel Day Lewis as Gerry Conlon (1993) by Designer: Joan BerginThe Hunt Museum

In creating the Afghan coat featured in 'In The Name of the Father' (1993) worn by Daniel Day Lewis, Joan Bergin wished to make the coat as genuine as possible. She therefore went as far as importing skins from Afghanistan. The coat was made by Donnelly Leather of Harcourt Street, Dublin.

The Queen - Filmstill of Helen Mirren as The Queen (2006) by Designer: Consolata BoyleThe Hunt Museum

Looking The Part

The development of the character and story line must be reflected in the progression of the costume.

Room - Costume worn by Brie Larson as Ma (2015) by Designer: Lea CarlsonThe Hunt Museum

Ageing and distressing 

The costume may have to show days or years of wear in the lifetime of a character.  Subconsciously conveying this lapse of time to the viewer without seeming obvious or fabricated. This ‘breakdown’ or ‘ageing’ of the costume is a skilled and precise  process achieved through different techniques depending on the fabric e.g. the ageing techniques required for leather will differ to those used for denim. A number of skilled crafts people such as an ager-dyer, costume breakdown artist and possibly a textile artist may be employed.  More discernible ageing may be achieved through torn clothing, blood staining or making clothes appear more ragged, some might require more subtle ageing through over-washing, dyeing and stressing of the fabric to illustrate the life lived by the character and the clothing. 

In Bruges - Costume worn by Colin Farrell as Ray (2008) by Designer: Jany TemimeThe Hunt Museum

A balance is required between appropriate ageing of the clothing to reflect the character and the story line and the necessity for the clothing to remain as a working piece of costume.

Specific techniques are employed to achieve different effects. Dye may be used to give the effect of dirt without compromising the costume itself. The ageing techniques will give the impression of wear but may not degrade the costume. This can be done through paint, dye, wax or glues to add texture.

This is one of the reasons multiples of the same costumes are made as movies are not usually recorded in chronological order, requiring a number of costumes with varying degrees of change or wear.

In Bruges - Costume worn by Colin Farrell as Ray (Front) by Designer: Jany TermineThe Hunt Museum

In Bruges (2008) is an extreme example of ageing a costume, designed by Jany Termine.

In the scene where Ray is shot three times, correlating holes had to be made in the front and back of both the jacket and shirt, and a large amount of fake blood used.

As the character does not change his clothes throughout the film, multiple versions of this costume were needed.

Nightflyers - costume worn by Zoë Tapper as Joy D'Branin (2018) by Designer: Magali GuidasciThe Hunt Museum

Other ways to age a costume include this knitwear piece used in the television series ‘Nightflyers’.

It is 100% lambs wool. The piece was designed for the Captain’s wife and needed to look a little more lived in. The costume maker, Giordana Giache, created this effect by washing to shrink and matt the garment, more akin to an everyday piece of clothing.

Making the garment used a machine called a Shima Seiki. It works using a digital image of the garment, reads the program and knits it using a feeder and needles similar to a traditional knitting machine.

Room - Cosutme worn by Jacob Tremblay as Jack (detail) by Designer: Lea CarlsonThe Hunt Museum

In ‘Room’, Ma and Jack are held captive, and the costumes had to look as if they had been chosen by their captor. The inappropriateness of the choice of clothing, conveying the horror of their situation.

Part of the ageing of this costume came from the second hand sourcing of the clothes as well as distressing techniques.

Tools such as a comb like shredder are used to wear down the fibers of the fabric or airbrushing with paint to give the illusion of dirt and wear. And sandpaper was used to further wear the denim.

Vikings Season 5 - Costume worn by Katheryn Winnick as Lagertha (detail) by Designer: Susan O Connor CaveThe Hunt Museum

Embroidery & embellishment 

For big scenes, in both film and television, authenticity comes from exaggeration.  Costume designers and makers embellish costumes using a variety of processes to heighten the on screen effect.

Vikings - Costume worn by Ben Robson as Kalf (detail) by Designer: Joan BerginThe Hunt Museum

Leather armour worn by Ben Robson in the television series ‘Vikings’ (2013-) used the processes of stamping and moulding.

Vikings were known for the level of pattern and design on almost all of their armour, weapons and ships. Some of that detail went into this costume with embossed patterns and strips of leather laced through ridges going around the body horizontally.

‘Men and women of the Jarls were well groomed with neat hairstyles and expressed their wealth and status by wearing expensive clothes (often silk) and well crafted jewellery like brooches, belt buckles, necklaces and arm rings. Almost all of the jewellery was crafted in specific designs’ Joan Bergin. Vikings.

Best Costume Goes To... Exhibition (2020)The Hunt Museum

Chloe Sevigny as Alicia Johnson in Whit Stillman's adaptation of Jane Austen's comedy Love and Friendship is a society lady of leisure.

The silhouette and colour choices are bold and show us that the character has little else to do than strike a pose and find time to aid and abet her friend Lady Susan.

Lady Susan is a woman intent on presenting the right note at the right time. Whilst staying with the family in the country, she is happy to elicit sympathy, wearing her widow's black, but in London she strike out. This boldness, and quality of the femme fatale, are expressed through Lady Susan's colour choices, including the red satin dress.

The Quiet Man - Costume worn by John Wayne as Sean Thornton (1952) by Designer: Adele PalmerThe Hunt Museum

Ireland has been and is a driving force in costume design. The Quiet Man,
Michael Collins, Braveheart, Breakfast On Pluto, In Bruges have become iconic symbols of Irish film, with considerable impact on the industry worldwide.

Troy studios, Limerick, is the latest addition to a booming Irish film industry. This, in turn, has led to a growing costume design sector and a number of award winning designers.

Credits: Story

Designers/Makers

Sandy Powell
John Ford
Consolata Boyle
Sandy Powell
Joan Bergin
Penny Rose
Emer Ni Mhaoldomhnaigh
Leonie Prendergast
Charles Knode
Susan O Connor Cave
Louise Lawlor
Zoe Tapper
Jany Termime
Lea Carlson

Actors

Olivia Colman
John Wayne
Helen Mirren
Liam Neeson
Isabelle Huppert
Bronagh Gallagher
Daniel Day Lewis
Cillian Murphy
Charlene McKenna
Chloe Sevigny
Kate Beckinsale
Mel Gibson
Katheryn Winnick
Brendan Gleeson
Kelly Reilly
Jonathan Rhys Meyers
Annabelle Wallace
Brenda Fricker
Fiona Shaw
Ruth McCabe
Colin Farrell
Jacob Tremblay
Brie Larson
Blake Lively
Jude Law

Films

The Favourite 2018
The Quiet Man 1952
The Queen 2006
Michael Collins 1996
Greta 2018
The Commitments 1992
In The Name of the Father 1993
Breakfast on Pluto 2005
Ripper Street 2016
Love and Friendship 2016
Braveheart 1995
The Vikings 2014-2015
Nightflyers 2018
Calvary 2014
Tudors 2009
My Left Foot 1989
In Bruges 2008
Room 2015
The Rhythm Section 2020

Photography:

Brendan Walsh
Justin Gawke

Copyright: CC-BY-NC-SA

Irish Costume Archive Project and The Hunt Museum

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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