The Inspirations Behind My Costume Designs

My costume collections are based on the characters found in traditional folk and fairytales and nursery rhymes.

In this blog, I’ll chat about why I chose to start with fairytales and nursery rhymes and the inspirations behind my costume designs.

So,why did I start here? Well, these stories and songs are some of the first we come across as young children, both at home and school.

They are engaging, full of drama and mystery, adventure, silliness, humour and possibility.

The moment we hear the words, ‘Once upon a time…’, we are transported to imaginary places faraway. Think enchanted forests and magical kingdoms, where anything can happen. Our imaginations are fired up!

We also find comfort in the familiarity of the characters and stories we know well. And there’s never just one version of a traditional tale which means the storytelling possibilities are infinite.

2 children smiling together in front of an old caravan, wearing fairytale crowns, capes and tabards.


Another important reason for starting with traditional tales is that they are perfect for us to add our own twist on them.

They’re great for retelling in our own words, creating our own versions and developing wonderful storytelling skills.  We don’t feel constrained by a particular story.

Traditional tales also have a simplistic narrative with underdeveloped characters which provides us with gaps.

These gaps provide us with a wonderful opportunity to fill with our own thoughts and ideas.

The possibilities are endless. They give children carte blanche to conjure up all kinds of characters and adventures, from the familiar to the fantastical.

These elements particularly appealed to me. My aim was to design and create dressing up costumes which were versatile and could be used as a tool for a child’s imagination, rather than being restricted to a specific character.

I wanted my costumes to be beautifully designed in a simple way. I saw their simplicity as a strength, enabling children to fill in the ‘gaps’ with their own character.

Girl sitting in a caravan doorway with a bright yellow plastic toy teapot by her feet. She's wearing the reversible white & yellow cape, mob cap and pinafore dress

Costume Design Inspiration

I designed my costumes to have a slightly ‘other worldly’ quality and a sense of theatricality, without being too abstract or scary.

I knew I wanted to create timeless classics from a past age with a hint of whimsy and nostalgia. But above all, I wanted children to feel special and excited to wear them.

My two main sources of inspirations were naïve art and children’s book illustrations. These included those by Beatrix Potter, Cicely Mary Barker and Jill Barklem.

Girl smiling and peering through a giant pretzel wearing a red fairytale crown and turquoise royal fairytale dress

Naïve art

I have always liked naïve art. Naïve art is a term used to describe work which looks simple, childlike and flatly rendered rather than 3-dimensional. The artists use little or no perspective.

The works are often very detailed with a strong use of pattern and brilliant colour.  One of the most well known naïve artists is Henri Rousseau.

I love the childlike simplicity, playfulness, directness, use of pattern, bold colours and clear outlines, sense of freedom and instinctive approach of naïve art.

I wanted to incorporate the essence of naïve art as much as possible in my costume design as I think the above qualities are perfect for children!

The wonderful balance of the imaginary and the real is exciting and whimsical whilst remaining easy to interpret.

I choose a palette of bright and bold colours for my fabrics and trimmings. I used appliqué work to create shapes and motifs. You can see examples of this with the appliquéd feathers on the bird capes, patches on the troll tabard and markings on the goat tabard.

As well as using appliqué work for shape and motifs, I also used it to convey texture through line. This is seen in the fur of the black cat’s white bib and the grey wolf’s chest and tail.

I use trimmings, particularly ric rac braid to add colour and emphasis pattern and line. For me, ric rac braid ticks lots of important boxes. It’s playful, colourful, child-like and creates a bygone era feel!

2 images, one showing a child, sittng in a wheelchair, against a pattern fabric background, wearing the black cat hat and tabard. The other image show a child smiling against a yellow fabric background, wearing the grey wolf hat and tabard.

Children’s Book Illustrations

As a little girl (and adult!), I loved the world of Peter Rabbit, the Flower Fairies and Brambly Hedge where the illustrations have a wonderful combination of reality and fantasy.

With these illustrations, on one hand, the beautiful attention to accurate detail of the drawings of animals, children and nature grounds us in reality but at the same time, these ‘realistic’ animals wear clothing and talk and the little children wear petal hats and are not much bigger than blackberries or dandelions! So in our minds we also know that it’s not the real world.

I think what I also love about these illustrations besides the how they look, is how they made me feel. As a child, these worlds were a means of escapism, feeling both idyllic, safe and magical. As an adult, I feel a warm sense of nostalgia, and childhood innocence and security.

In fact, I read that Henri Rousseau, who I mentioned earlier, cited children’s books as one of his inspirations so I’m in good company!

This magical realism is perfect for children.

2 images, one showing a child wearing the tawny owl hat and bird cape, looking downwards against a yellow fabric backdrop. The other images shows a child standing against a yellow fabric backdrop wearing the brown horse hat and tabard.

Magical Realism

In order to achieve this balance of magical realism (which is most obvious with the animal characters), I needed to decide on which elements I would make realistic and which I would not.

I researched each animal and studied their fur colouring and texture, notable markings and their eye, nose and ear shapes.

I made the eyes and noses or beaks as realistic as possible, even down to the correct shape of their iris but you’ll notice other details, such as the wolf and bear ears are more abstract. They have patterns on them, reminiscent of folk art or woodcuts.

Other examples include the colours on the fox and horse tabard. The lower black section of the fox tabard represents the black fur which fox’s have on their legs.

The black and grey stripes on the horse tabard represent the grey hooves and black lower legs of the bay horse.

This isn’t designed to look realistic but rather replicate the overall colour of these animals.

This juxtaposition of enough realism and the abstract creates a lovely dynamic.

6 images showing applique detail on the wolf hat, goat hat, horse tabard, sheep hat, goat tabard and owl hat.

I really hope you enjoyed reading all about the inspirations behind my costume designs!

For more on fairytale magic, storytelling and imaginative play, have a look at my blogs about fairytale elements, the value of storytelling, and imaginative play.


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