Jewellery and Millinery

Out of the Spotlight #1

Our team of artisans in Jewellery and Millinery produce all kinds of accessories, from masks and headdresses to jewellery and ornate crowns.

They work in minute detail to make the shows as realistic as possible, spiralling straw, moulding felt and working metals to build fantastic shapes from anything and everything. They often use buckram - a stiff cloth made of cotton - and wire structures with fabric to form the pieces, adding embellishments of feather plumes, silk flowers, bows, beads and jewels.

They talked to us about some of their favourite costumes to design and those that were the trickiest to make.

The biggest challenge

Former Head of Jewellery and Millinery, Kate, recalls: "The Vestal Virgin headdresses for Imperium were a big challenge. The designer asked for them to be 30-40cm high, to stay still and not move when the actors moved, and to be on stage with fire but not react to the heat. At that height, there was the chance they would not stay in place or they would slump, so we built wire frames dressed in cloth. The eight headdresses used a total of 150 metres of wire."

A ceremonial scene with people in robes and woman covered head to toe in white
Imperium Part One: Conspirator in the Swan Theatre, 2017. Designed by Anthony Ward.
Photo by Ikin Yum © RSC Browse and license our images

Making multiple crowns

During our recent Tamburlaine, 17 crowns were worn on stage at different times. As well as providing these, the Millinery department had to make an extra five crowns for the actors who were understudying roles, so they had crowns that would fit them if they were called onstage.

Tamburlaine holds his golden crown on the end of his sword.
Jude Owusu as Tamburlaine in 2018, with just one of the 17 crowns that appeared onstage.
Photo by Ellie Kurttz © RSC Browse and license our images

Bottle top crowns

Our 2016 Hamlet called for a very different style of crown. The Player King and Queen in this vibrant production designed by Paul Wills were played by Kevin N Golding and Doreene Blackstock, wearing crowns fashioned from drinks cans and bottle tops.

There was only one thing for it - to collect the materials they required, the team visited pubs in the area to collect a range of bottle caps and cans. They had all the materials they needed to make the crowns, but tin cans have sharp edges, so they had to carefully plan how to make the crowns safe for the actors to wear and for the wardrobe staff to handle.

The Player King and Queen in their brightly patterned outfits and crowns.
The Player King and Queen from Hamlet.
Photo by Manuel Harlan © RSC Browse and license our images

Getting creative

The designs by Angela Davies for The Mouse and His Child (2012) were based on things being made from leftover rubbish in a tip: hats were made to look like the skeleton of a fish, a toy monkey hat featured a working propeller, and a hat for the seal contained a spinning ball, which had to be able to be removed and thrown across the stage.

A Soldier in Every Son: The Rise of the Aztecs gave the team further chance to innovate that year. The show's Designer, Eloise Kazan, was really enthusiastic, asking for fantastic costumes, colourful items, with feather-covered headdresses and stunning jewellery.

Man wearing a brown Aztec-style costume with a feathered headdress
A feathered headdress worn by Andres Weiss as Tayatzin in A Soldier in Every Son (2012).
Photo by Ellie Kurttz © RSC Browse and license our images

Built to last

Hats have to be made to last the run of a show, so although some of the pieces might look delicate they are made to go on stage hundreds of times, to be taken on and off, and to remain attached to actors' heads until they need to be removed. 

For Wolf Hall (2013) the hats had to have a particularly long shelf life as the production played in Stratford-upon-Avon, transferred to London and then onto New York.

The team's top tip for budding milliners is to use the best quality wire you can get: "It'll help the hat last longer and keep its shape."

hands in a workshop making a crown

Out of the spotlight

Out of the Spotlight gives a voice to the people who work behind the scenes to make our onstage magic happen. From costumiers to carpenters our skilled teams of people are working in our Stratford-upon-Avon workshops to create and build costumes, props and sets that help bring our shows to life. We share the challenges and triumphs that take place away from the spotlight.

Stitch In Time

Our Jewellery and Millinery team works in our Costume Workshop, Stratford-upon-Avon. We are restoring and redeveloping our workshops to give our skilled costume makers 21st century facilities to help them continue to create stunning costumes for you and audiences around the world to enjoy.

Support Stitch In Time

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