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Docklander - Nov 2017

06 Nov 2017

Docklander - Nov 2017 Image

Melbourne’s history through costumes

By David Amaya

Helen Ebsworthy has dedicated seven years of voluntary work into her passion for costume design.

“I was sailing in the schooner Enterprize and someone asked me: ‘could you make some clothes for us?’ Then, everything started,” she said.

Actually, her community contribution extends beyond the Enterprize. Helen has designed more than 700 hundred costumes for major Melbourne events and, regardless of the hours she spends, she just charges a few cups of coffee.

Her studio is located on North Wharf Rd, in the same building where Customs once operated an office.

The structure was built about 30 or 40 years ago but, through Helen’s work, it contains more than a century of Melbourne’s history.

She designs all of the costumes for Melbourne Day which celebrates the foundation of the city; the dresses for the Melbourne Colonial Dancers who represent 19th century dancing; and the dresses for Marching Australia, a traditional event that has come to life after a number of decades.

“The Melbourne foundation celebration is my favourite because this is one of the few cities in the world that can say the day and the time it was found – 30th of August of 1835,” Helen said.

Helen is the kind of person who was born to serve the community. She is also a nurse and every May 12 she goes to work playing the role of Florence Nightingale, the woman who established modern nursing for women.

“I make Florence’s costumes for me and for my colleagues to celebrate the birth of the woman who revolutionised nursing in the 19th century,” she said.

She also serves as a guide for costume design students at one of the city’s universities. The students go to Helen’s studio to experience real work in the industry.

“They learn every phase of costuming and also how to use industrial machines, work safety and how to work as a team,” Helen said.

In her studio there is always a new project. At the moment, she is working on the costumes for an artistic group called Spontaneous Shakespeare, for which she has to replicate traditional dresses from the 16th century.

“I feel good working in this project because there are many professional actresses and high level of performance,” she said. Helen is designing 26 costumes for men and women.

She said she was very selective with her projects and everything had to be community focused. Despite every costume potentially costing hundreds of dollars, Helen’s motivation doesn’t come from money.

She will continue designing for those who come to her studio with an artistic project. The only requirements she will ask for are creativity and a few cups of coffee.

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