Back in 2014 a friend told me about this fantasy series that was being produced via crowd-funding, and they were looking for all sorts of volunteers – including costume makers. Now, I had never had particular interest in fantasy per se, but I’d definitely always enjoyed fantasy costumes. Probably because they were such a breath of fresh air from the as-authentic-as-possible historical costumes I had been making for years. You see, I used to run a living history society, and as an academic I had the unfortunate tendency to become paralysed with worry that I was doing something wrong because I could not find evidence; wrong colour, cloth, cut, sewing technique, you name it I worried about it. What better alternative to that stifling dithering than making fantasy costumes?
I had by then put my re-enactment days behind me (partly because of said paralysing dither, and partly because I had moved 500 miles up north) and Ren: The Girl with the Mark sounded like a great adventure. Let’s not forget that I was also blown away by the sheer scope of the project and the team’s vision. Little did I know that while I set out to inspire and help create costumes to make that vision come alive, it would inspire me in return and change my life. Nope, that’s no hyperbole, I promise.
I drove down to Cambridge in August 2014 and spent a couple of weeks at the production site, happily sewing away amidst a slew of creative people. In that fabulous atmosphere of fun, work, ideas, creativity and amazing professionalism, I made the Kah’Nath Master’s costume consisting of black velvet waistcoat and embroidered long under-coat.
I quilted the waistcoat to give the garment more body, after all the Master was going to wear a mask and be suitably sinister and the costume was meant to be as severe and structured as the character. The coat had elongated sleeves to fall over the gloved hands, and was adorned with silk bands and hand embroidery in gold.
I can tell you, when I was running out of time because my holiday was up, I stitched like a dervish to finish the embroidery. Would have loved to do something more elaborate for potential close-ups (my second name is Over The Top), but the Ren team was happy, so I was, too.
Have you noticed the embroidery design, by the way? It’s part of the Kah’Nath symbol. You’ll see more of what that symbol inspired creatively in another post.
I wish I could have stayed longer and stitched some more, I had not felt so inspired in many years. In fact, so inspired that I applied for a part-time PhD in textiles and design beside my full-time job at uni, and in 2015 I started my practice-based research which includes the creation of costumes and a lot of gold embroidery. I am halfway through, enjoying myself immensely, and have learned so much in the process that this undoubtedly helped me get a new job at another uni a couple of years later.
There you have it: Ren: The Girl with the Mark, its costumes, and the fabulous people who are creating it, have changed my life for the better. And should my needle-wielding skills be needed again, I am ready and willing to be a volunteer once more. After all, joining the costuming crew was the best decision I’d made for a long time.