The costumes for Scottish Ballet's new production of Sleeping Beauty

-- premiered tonight -- reflect the inspiration of designer Jasper

Conran (left) and sewing skills of scores of volunteer seamstresses.

LIFE at Scottish Ballet is, these days, very sew-sew. Push open the

doors of their Glasgow headquarters and you will find even the

receptionist has got the needle . . . and is resolutely threading it. In

attics and basements, on trains, and in odd moments between cooking and

cleaning, the followers of Scottish Ballet have answered the clarion

call of the bugle bead.

Where Jasper Conran has said ''Let there be light-catching

decoration'' they have applied themselves -- and thousands of

teensy-weensy sparkling vermicelli -- to acres of net and velvet and

silk. No one who looks on this Sleeping Beauty will be able to say

Scottish Ballet didn't keep her nice!

Day after day for weeks now, scores of volunteer seam-

stresses have been popping in and out of the company's wardrobe

department. Their willing fingers have made jewelled leaves sprout on

waiting bodices. Waistcoats have gained glittering class, skirts have

flounced with an added spingle-spangle allure.

''You just wouldn't get this with the Royal Ballet. I mean, it's the

most amazing response.'' Jasper Conran -- world renowned fashion

designer and award-winning costume designer -- is looking at the latest

crop of handiwork from the outworker team.

Word of mouth, spread among the Friends of Scottish Ballet, among

staff and their immediate circles, has brought all hands to the tutu.

For an incomer, this kind of active local commitment is impressive.

And in a way, it reinforces what Conran sees as the hands-on

challenge, fascination, and personal fulfilment of costume design. ''It

is couture work, ballet. Really, it is that vanishing thing, couture. It

is the four fittings. The precise detail, the crafted detail. And it is

what I know. It's my background knowledge. My knowledge of how to fit

cloth to a body. How to structure something. Ballet also allows me

something lavish. A bit of frivolity that can't quite fit in elsewhere.

''I design 10 collections a year. But I do have a very puritan . . . a

very pointed simplicity in my clothing. I couldn't possibly have a frill

in my clothing. In theatre it's demanded. Absolutely, positively,


By now the demands of Sleeping Beauty are the stuff of legend. No way

was this to be an off-the-shelf project. Barring the pink-pointe shoes

everything has been conceived afresh. And so, materials have been

specially dyed, specially printed. Acids have eaten out carefully

designed patterns on velvets -- ''It's an old twenties technique called

devore,'' Conran explains. ''It gives a much better result than applique

which is really costly, messy, and difficult.''

For the wardrobe staff simply co-ordinating all the various stages,

the various workers, has been like planning a battle campaign. There

have been glitches -- the timescale lurched alarmingly when various

materials had to reordered: the designated colours didn't correspond

with the master shade card. And since Conran's concept for the ballet

is, literally, a tone poem colour is a very emotive thing.

Time was, or so I gather from Morag McKerrell in wardrobe, that

formaldehyde was crucial to tutus -- manufacturers used it to stiffen

the netting. But now no more. EU regulations have designated it a

pollutant and new solutions have had to be found to keep those

powder-puff skirts up to scratch. Which is what they do -- scratch.

At the end of a day's tutu-making, the costumier's hands are often a

mesh of little cuts -- ''Only you don't notice,'' said Morag, ''until

you go to do the washing up and find your hands are stinging.'' Ah, the

hidden costs of art.

Caro Harkness, from amidst a rainbow scatter of organdy points out the

true economy of buying the best. It lasts. As head of wardrobe she has

seen some productions come and go, others -- like Swan Lake -- have gone

on and on since the seventies in their original plumage. ''It really

works out very cheaply in the end,'' she said with a twinkle. ''By the

time a #600 tutu has been on stage up to 100 times, it's giving you the

effect for pennies, really.''

Costumes past are almost as much on her mind as the present ones for

this new production of Sleeping Beauty. Later this year -- in

celebration of Scottish Ballet's silver jubilee -- there's to be a major

exhibition of props and costumes drawn from the company's 25 years of

dance. Whether the Conran contribution will be on show is yet to be