Take a virtual tour through our new Costume Workshop, which will open to the public for the first time next year.

Our 30-strong team of costume makers has moved into the restored and redeveloped Costume Workshop after two years of work.

We have the largest in-house costume-making department of any British theatre, and the facilities needed upgrading to allow them to continue producing the amazing items that we see on stage.

The redeveloped building sits on the site of the 1887 Memorial Theatre Scene Dock, opposite the Royal Shakespeare and Swan Theatres, and will be open to visitors from next year. Guided tours will give a glimpse into the everyday work that goes into creating our costumes, as well as the restored Grade II listed buildings that sit alongside the newly-created spaces.

The Costume Workshop has also been designed to host training and apprenticeship opportunities, allowing us to preserve and promote costume-making skills locally in the future.

Take a look around

Before the guided tours begin next year, have a virtual look around the building with this video, narrated by our Associate Artist Harriet Walter, with insights from our Head of Costume, Alistair McArthur.

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Harriet's memories

Although Harriet remembers the "rabbit warren" of the old Workshop fondly, she is excited to see what comes out of the new space: "The RSC costume laboratory has produced all kinds of magic and I can remember nearly every RSC costume I have worn on stage and many that I viewed from the auditorium. It is testament to the skill contained here that these costumes have endured and not fallen apart after all the wear and tear we have given them.

"Playing Cleopatra, I needed to be free to move around, to feel skittish and sexy and then transform into a grieving shadow and emerge from that grief with a final triumphant throned image. The costumes did most of that work for me."

Harriet Walter dressed as Cleopatra in 2006.
Harriet as Cleopatra in 2006's Antony and Cleopatra, wearing a costume designed by Kandis Cook.

A specialist workspace

Our Costume Workshop team had to relocate while the building work took place, packing up and moving all their equipment and materials, including:

  • 7,885m of stock fabric
  • 3,500 pairs of shoes
  • 45 sewing machines
  • 36 mannequins

All the items are now in their new home, which will be the base for a range of specialist costume-making skills, from millinery to footwear. Each costume made needs to be able to withstand dozens of on-stage performances, with over 50 measurements taken of each actor's body to ensure that the fit and look is just right.

Every item is labelled with the production, actor and character names, with an average 10,000 items labelled every year. Once a production finishes, most of the pieces end up in the Costume Store, where they can be re-used or even hired out for use in film and television. You can find out more about the department's work in our Out of the Spotlight blog series.

Thank you to all

Over 30,000 people from around the world supported our Stitch In Time fundraising campaign. We raised a total £8.7 million for the project through gifts from trusts, foundations, companies and individuals, including the National Lottery through Arts Council England, the National Lottery Heritage Fund and the government’s Local Growth Fund through the Coventry and Warwickshire Local Enterprise Partnership.

Our Artistic Director, Gregory Doran, said: "Thank you to all who have supported the restoration and redevelopment of our Costume Workshop. We make, repair and recycle hundreds of costume pieces each year, which are seen by audiences around the world. Costumes have been made on this site continuously since at least the 1940s, and the workshop now has the costume-making facilities to secure the legacy of our costume-making skills and the heritage buildings that house them."

Celebrate with us

Save the date for our Costume Day on Friday 20 August, when we will celebrate RSC costume-making heritage through free pop-up performances, workshops and family-friendly activities across Stratford-upon-Avon. Full details will be announced soon.

The event is just one of this year's Threads programme of activities to mark the opening of the Costume Workshop, as part of the National Lottery Heritage Fund support for the project.

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