Since 1967 Leeds Carnival has grown into a bank holiday staple in the city’s calendar.  Awash with great music, soulful food and joyous dancing, for many the highlight of the day comes from the visual delights of the dramatic outfits.
We spoke to costume designer and member of the Leeds Carnival Board, Sheila Howarth about how these glorious outfits are created.

If you’re one of the 100,000 visitors that the carnival now attracts, you will know just how amazingly flamboyant the carnival outfits can be, something which Sheila informed us doesn’t happen overnight:

“[We work] about 12 hours a day, 7 days a week! This year we are designing and producing up to 20 costumes, including the prince and princess, king and queen and part of the troop.”
With so much man power needed, suiting and booting the carnival isn’t something which Sheila could manage on her own.  This year the event has had six dedicated interns who’ve been working for the last three weeks covering all areas.  As well as interns Sheila has had help from her nearest and dearest:
“It’s a family affair working with my brother Raymond and daughter Claire, like we’ve done so many times before. We’re at home this year but previously I’ve worked up the costumes in schools in the community.”

Every year the costumes take inspiration from a different theme depending on what takes Sheila’s fancy at the time: “It’s different each year and this year. I’ve been inspired by the changing weather, snow and ice, thunder and lightning, clouds and sunshine . It’s big and dramatic!”

Although contrary to what you might believe bigger isn’t always seen as better: “Sometimes it is better to be more intricate. The devil’s in the detail.”

Making sure that the carnival will continue to have glorious garments for years to come, costume making skills are passed down from generation to generation, all of whom get immense joy from seeing their creations brought to life on the day.