How to create wearable design

Costume makers turn 2D into 3D in a career path that can combine performance, film and visual art.
How to create wearable design


From simulating authentic period fashion to creating a fantasy look for a fictional universe, costume makers require diverse skills. They need to understand textile arts (the intricate art of embellishing fabric to suit a certain period or look), work as buyers to source clothes and accessories, and find ways to turn a design brief into reality.

‘A costume designer doesn’t necessarily need technical skills in terms of pattern making or costume construction. More likely, they create and design the overview look of the costumes, whereas a costume maker needs to be able to understand and digest the designer’s brief, and then make it a reality,’ said costume maker Leah Giblin. 


Start your career as a costume maker at NIDA

‘A costume maker takes a sketch or reference from the designer and decides how to create it three-dimensionally. This is exactly what the course I did at NIDA teaches people – how a costume is created.’

Giblin completed the Production Craft–Costume course, which is now the Bachelor of Fine Arts (Costume), at NIDA to learn costume construction and management. Since graduating she has worked as a costume maker across various theatre and film productions, including The Great Gatsby, Wolverine, and Mad Max: Fury Road.


‘I’m just finishing up a stint with Bell Shakespeare where we’ve done a version of Othello. For this production, I was working as a buyer and also as an assistant to the designer Michael Hankin. Michael and I actually went to NIDA together, he did the design course and I did the costume construction course, and we’ve ended up working together a lot since then.’

Read: So you want to be a designer?

The Costume course at NIDA also prepared Giblin to work as a buyer.

‘Many costume graduates solely work as buyers. Buyers usually have a good eye and a comprehensive understand of the overall look and feel of a production, as you have to be the eye of the designer because they can’t be out there making every decision at every shop.

‘A costume maker also gets to collaborate with various artists on different projects,’ Giblin added. At the recent Biennale of Sydney, she collaborated with artist Justene Williams on the Sydney Chamber Opera’s, Victory Over the Sun, and also worked on the materials for artist Lauren Brincat’s work, Salt Lines: Play It As It Sounds, that was housed at Carriageworks.

‘During my career to date I have worked on such a diverse range of projects, and that is one of the main benefits of the NIDA Costume course – it prepares you for any projects that come your way.’

Costume-making studies at NIDA

But for Giblin, her student placement on the film The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader in Queensland instilled an early love for working in film.

‘I remember being so shocked by the amount of detail and effort that went into making everything, like having the buttons hand carved and cast in brass. Everything was very bespoke,’ said Giblin.

‘The NIDA course includes a fantastic four-week placement towards the end of the third year, and for mine, I remember saying to my supervisor that I was happy to work on any production, in any department. Fortunately I ended up in the Textile Art Department on The Chronicles of Narnia film, which I fell in love with, and it ended up turning into a job! After my four-week placement, I came back to Sydney to finish the course, and then returned to the Textile Art Department, where I worked until the film was completed.’

‘Everyone I met in that job has ended up being a contact throughout my career, and I am still working with many of them today.’

That’s one piece of advice Giblin offers people who want to work in her industry: ‘Everyone you meet along the way is a potential future contact so always be aware of that. Everyone knows everyone, and everyone is potentially your next boss.’

To learn more about the Bachelor of Fine Arts (Costume) at NIDA visit

Brooke Boland

Monday 11 July, 2016

About the author

Brooke Boland is a freelance writer based on the South Coast of NSW.