As we close the doors of our Costume Workshop in Waterside, Stratford-upon-Avon, which has been in service since the 1940s, we reveal some of the items the teams are taking with them.

We have the largest in-house costume-making department of any British theatre, employing 30 award-winning craftspeople, who have all moved out to a new temporary workshop while work to restore and redevelop the heritage Grade II listed building takes place.

The Armoury

The last department to move out of the building was Costume Props, Footwear and Armoury, which makes the armour, leatherwork and footwear for our shows, headed up by Alan Smith.

He’s taking with him this leather breastplate, made for the actor Josh O’Connor playing Rowland Lacey in The Shoemaker’s Holiday (2014). It’s made from moulded plastic, covered in cowhide, with each detail tooled by hand (by Alan).

We’re also moving an anvil from the early 1950s and a treadle sewing machine, as well as several hand tools from the 1970s and earlier, to the new temporary workshop.

Man standing with a leather breastplate in an empty room
Head of Armoury Alan Smith with the leather breastplate he's taking with him, standing in the now empty Costume Workshop.
Photo by Sam Allard © RSC Browse and license our images

Men’s Costume

For decades, the costumes worn by all the leading men in our shows have been made in this room, which has plants growing through the roof windows and often lets in water overnight.

Men’s Costumier, Karen Smales said: “It will be sad to leave the building, because it’s got a lot of history. But the work desperately needs doing.”

The Men’s Costume team are taking Howard the Mannequin to their new temporary workshop.

The workshops always place costumes on tailor’s dummies while they work on them. Mannequins are used by shops to display clothes. Howard started his life in a high street store, but when he was no longer required was adopted by Men’s Costume, where he is put to work as an occasional costume model.

an old wardrobe covered in paint, an anvil and a mannequin
The breaking-down cupboard, 1950s anvil and Howard the Mannequin

Costume Painting and Dyeing

This is believed to be the first ever dedicated theatre dyeing department, set up when the RSC was first formed. The department is made up of a wet room with the dyeing vats, which started life in an outside shed, and a print room where the team adds effects to the costumes.

Head of Costume Painting and Dyeing, Helen Hughes is taking with her a 1920s wardrobe, used as the ‘breaking down cupboard’ which houses the tools used for making costumes look distressed and worn. The paint-spattered antique has been in the workshops as long as the RSC has existed. It moves with the team to the temporary workshops. But will finally be retired from the company when they return to Waterside with new purpose-built storage units.

Our Costume Makers have moved out of the old building, but we still have £1.3 million left to raise towards the £8.7 million project, which will help us continue to create stunning costumes for you and audiences to enjoy. Find out more about how we will create the best facilities for costume-making, in a working environment fit for the 21st century, and make a donation at our Stitch In Time website. 

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