Head of Costume, Scottish Opera, Lorna Price. Credit: Antonia Bain.
Head of Costume, Scottish Opera, Lorna Price. Credit: Antonia Bain.

Life With Scottish Opera: ‘I have been working in costume design for 37 years, no two days are the same’

Scottish Opera’s Head of Costume, Lorna Price, on falling in love with her Grandmother’s Victorian sewing machine, using swimming to help her switch off and getting ready for a production of La Traviata.


I start work around 9.30am, reading morning emails. I am not very good at eating lunch so it is straight through regardless of activity. If it is a technical rehearsal day, the days lengthen and I am often one of the last to leave the theatre at around 11pm. During these weeks, it is often back to work the next morning for 8.30am. There is no typical day. Depending on where we are during the production build period, it might be a design meeting day, a fabric shopping day, a costume fittings day, or a budgeting day. They are all different and they all differ with each production – there is certainly no getting bored. The one thing they have in common is that they are always busy and there is very little time sitting behind a desk. 

We are getting ready for our production of La Traviata which starts in May. It’s beautiful. Originally built and staged by Scottish Opera in 2008, it was directed by Sir David McVicar and designed by Tanya McCallin. It has been a very successful production and has toured many countries in the last 16 years. The job in 2024 is really about maintaining the original design concept and renovating, sometimes remaking, the original costumes. A costume will have a natural life expectancy. Fabric only lasts a certain amount of time before it starts to become ripe and thread bare in areas of strain, around hemlines, armpits, pockets. 

‘I started sewing and making my own clothes at the age of nine’

The costumes will also have been fitted to many different body  shapes throughout their lives, they will have been adapted and altered, stitched and unpicked, often repaired in the semi dark at the side of a stage, they soon become tired and out of shape. Our job is to fit the costumes in the new cast and chorus and make them once again stage worthy and beautiful. Anything that has gone too far must be re-made but the originals are not discarded! We are a naturally thrifty department, so buttons, usable trim and  fabrics are harvested for future patching and repairs. Finding new fabrics for any re-makes can also be challenging when a production is 16 years old.  

Lorna has been making her own clothes since she was nine-years-old. Credit: Antonia Bain

I have been working in and around the costume industry for around 37 years and began working for Scottish Opera in 2015. I started sewing and making my own clothes at the age of nine as I had a fascination with the beautiful Victorian sewing machine that lived in the corner of my Grandma’s parlour. At the age of 14, I discovered a wardrobe full of my mothers old clothes from the 1950s  and from that point on contemporary fashion was out of the window. I was hooked on the vintage look and my lifelong passion for the History of Clothing had begun. 

Initially I trained for a career in the wigs and make-up department. I knew that I wanted to work in the theatre industry and had taken Theatre Studies as one of my A-level options. But this was an era when working in any area of the theatre was discouraged, fashion was suggested but I was headstrong and determined; it had to be the theatre or nothing. During the wigs training I was fortunate to be given the opportunity to work as a casual wigs dresser on an opera production that was touring through my local theatre, and I fell in love with being backstage. The whole world of historical costume opened up to me and I realised that I could combine my creative needs and sewing skills with my love of history – and actually be paid for it. I was also proving to be dreadful at cutting hair so it was a win win situation all round. 

‘It is increasingly more difficult to bring a production in on budget’

I love that my job is constantly changing with every project. Every day is a school day even after 37 years. There is still so much to learn and discover. What you see on stage is the result of weeks of collaboration, discussion and many peoples expertise. It is teamwork at its best. 

But ever decreasing time schedules and budgets can be challenging. Cloth that may originally have cost £35 per meter is often now around £100 plus per meter. Prices have rocketed, and in the past few years, availability and choice have become more limited. It is increasingly more difficult to bring a production in on budget, which adds an additional layer of  stress on an already demanding role. 

Lorna trained in costume and wigs before moving to costume design. Credit: Antonia Bain.

Most days, when not in the theatre, I finish up in the office at around 6pm. For anyone considering either costume design or costume production as a career, be warned. They are all consuming, they take over your life. Even if it is only ideas in your head you can be working through the night and into your sleep. I keep a notebook at the side of my bed for just such moments when I wake up with the answer to a  problem that I have been trying to solve. Switching off is not really an option. To keep sane, I have my lovely husband and my naughty cat Hamish – James (aka Pussycat Price.) I enjoy cooking, reading and I love to swim. Concentrating on my stroke and breathing just helps me to reset.

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