From the age of 3 or 4, when my mum was ironing Celtic transfers onto fabric to hand-embroider later on my sister’s costume, I remember sitting on the couch with a blackboard and chalk drawing little pictures of Irish dance costumes. A year or two later, I had my own piece of fabric, hand-embroidering with a chain stitch while I watched my mum spend weeks at a time, painstakingly embroidering panel after panel and around the bottom of skirt which seemed to go on forever.
I had a very keen interest in Celtic art growing up and I spent many hours in the library with my dad, reading book after book, studying the designs and sketching my own. My pocket money was spent on paints, pastels and art books and when I wasn’t doing homework or practising dancing, I would be in my bedroom drawing designs for costumes, not realising where this would ever take me.
At the age of 11, when my mum had just started a business with another lady making costumes, I finally got the opportunity to design my first dress. A customer had come into their office asking for a design with a phoenix and flames, but there were none to be found in the many books they had so I spoke up and said “I could draw you one”. Obviously not amused, my mother tried to move me away, but the lady insisted that she would like to see what I could do. I sketched it out and she loved it! I often wish I could get my hands on that dress again. Unfortunately, things didn’t work out between my mum and her business partner and after a few years, my mum decided she would take a machine home and only work on embroidery. I began to not only do the designs on the costumes, but to cut appliqué and pick colours for the dresses too. At times it was a struggle trying to fit in the school work, the hours of dance practising and designing the costumes, but I loved it and thrived under the pressure.
At school, I decided to drop art and design and to concentrate on subjects that I thought I could make a career from. I began university studying mathematics, statistics and computing, but after a very short time I realised that I could not do this for the rest of my life. I bought a sewing machine with my student loan and began to make my own clothes in my student accommodation and while my mum was out at her day job, I secretly trained myself on her embroidery machine. A few months later I made a pattern for a skirt and made my first costume.
I’d now decided that I was going to change university courses, but I needed a few months to build a portfolio to get into art college. In the meantime, I knew I couldn’t tell my parents that I was dropping out of college to do nothing for the next nine months, so I decided to break the news by adding that I was going to make costumes while working on my portfolio. To say they were not amused was an understatement, with them asking what would I know about putting a dress together! I showed them the dress I had made and although they weren’t impressed at my decision, they supported me with my mum helping and working with me.
My little yellow dress was gone in three days and after that, I never looked back. To this day, my mum and dad still help out when things are busy and needless to say, I never made it to art college.
I feel very lucky to have made a career out of something that I love and feel so passionate about. I feel very proud every time I see one of my costumes go on stage but I feel even more excited when I see a dancer’s eyes light up and they smile at the sight of their new “Gavin”.
Gavin Doherty. A.D.C.R.G