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  • Costume makers return to historic site – the largest in-house costume-making workshop in British theatre
  • 30,000 people from around the world supported the fundraising campaign
  • Costume Workshop will open to the public for the first time in 2022
  • New apprenticeships to be created to learn specialist costume-making skills
  • Weird and wonderful items created include dogs’ tails, snake puppets, pigs’ heads, breastplates, gauntlets, and weaponry

The restoration and redevelopment of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s (RSC) Costume Workshop has been completed in the Company’s Stratford-upon-Avon hometown. The RSC has the largest in-house costume-making department of any British theatre and the future of costume making on the historical site has been secured through a mix of public and private support.

Over 30,000 people from around the world supported the Stitch In Time fundraising campaign, alongside 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.  With gifts from other trusts, foundations, companies and individuals, £8.7 million was raised for the Costume Workshop restoration and redevelopment.

The 30-strong team of costume makers have moved back into the new workshop which has some of the best facilities for costume-making.  The redeveloped building, which includes more space and daylight, is now fit to provide training and apprenticeship opportunities to retain the costume-making skills and crafts locally. For the first time the Costume Workshop will be open to visitors where they will get a glimpse at the skills used every day to create RSC costumes, and to see the restored Grade II listed buildings that now sit alongside newly created spaces. Guided tours are expected to start in 2022.

The Costume Workshop team had to relocate for two years whilst the restoration and redevelopment took place.  This involved packing and moving:

  • Over 1714 reels of thread 
  • 7885m of stock fabric
  • 3500 pairs of shoes 
  • 1131 magnets
  • one pricing gun
  • 126 paintbrushes
  • 5 Sheila’s Maids
  • 115kg salt
  • 97 hat blocks
  • 2 hat stretchers
  • 27 fob watches
  • one Sonic Jewellery Cleaner
  • one swivel knife
  • one power file
  • one anvil pre-1950s
  • 36 Mannequins
  • 45 Sewing machines
  • 862 square feet of stock leather
  • one manual treadle machine from the 1920’s
  • 7 tailor’s hams
  • 8 velvet boards

All items are now in the new Costume Workshop which is home to many specialist skills, and crafts including men’s and women’s costume-making, millinery and jewellery, dyeing and costume painting, costume props and footwear (see facts at the end of the release). The workshop sits opposite the Royal Shakespeare and Swan Theatres on the site of the 1887 Memorial Theatre Scene Dock, which is now the new entrance to the building. 

Gregory Doran, RSC Artistic Director said:

“Thank you to all who have supported the restoration and redevelopment of our Costume Workshop. The team create amazing costumes every year but were doing so in conditions that were not fit for purpose.  Costumes are integral to an actor’s performance and to them becoming the character they are to play.  As Judi Dench said, ‘no matter how much rehearsal time you have, you cannot get fully into the part until you are in costume’.

“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.”

Harriet Walter, RSC Associate Artist said:

“Much as I loved visiting the rabbit warren where costumes and armour and everything else was made in the old days, I realise it was pretty much a Dickensian sweatshop and it was more fun to visit rarely than to work in permanently.

“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”.

As part of the National Lottery Heritage Fund support for the project, Threads is a programme of engagement activity that will celebrate the opening of the Costume Workshop and run until the end of 2021.  The aim is to share the heritage of the building, the technology and the people involved in costume-making in Stratford-upon-Avon through a series of family events, community projects, exhibition, and educational activity.

The Threads Costume Day on Friday 20 August will celebrate RSC costume-making heritage through a series of free pop-up performances, workshops and family-friendly activities taking place across Stratford-upon-Avon.  Full details to be announced.

Anne Jenkins, Director England, Midlands and East, National Lottery Heritage Fund said:

“It is wonderful that thanks to National Lottery players, we have been able to support Threads and the costume workshop restoration to ensure that these amazing services and unique skills are preserved for years to come, meaning that local people and visitors will be able to learn more about the RSC’s rich heritage on and off stage.”

Helen Peters, Board Director and Chair of the CWLEP’s culture and tourism business group, added:

“The £1 million awarded from the Local Growth Fund will enable the public to access the costume workshop for the first time which will be a major boost to tourism in the town as we all recover from the pandemic.

“The CWLEP Strategic Reset Framework is focused on encouraging enterprise and innovation to drive forward the economy and this is a perfect example of collaborative working which will give the RSC the opportunity to train the next generation of costume makers as well as encouraging more people to visit Stratford-upon-Avon.”

Peter Knott, Midlands Area Director for Arts Council England said:

“We’re proud to invest in the RSC and delighted to hear its long-awaited costume workshop is now complete. Theatre is about so much more than just the final performance, so I hope this new space will not only give the costume department the resources they need but give visitors from around the world a rare insight into the intricate and inspiring work that goes on behind the scenes of this world class theatre company.”


Notes to Editors

For more information, please contact 07920 244 434.

Facts and stats about the Costume Workshop

  • An RSC costume can be on stage for well over 100 performances.They need to be made to withstand the rigours of the stage.
  • Over 50 detailed measurements are taken of each actor’s body to make each bespoke pattern and costume.
  • Half of the costumes are ‘broken down’ to look worn. Common tools used include a cheese grater, sandpaper, Stanley Knife, blow-torch, emulsion-based paints and fabric paints.All costumes must still stand up to the maintenance and washing over a long period.
  • Every single item of costume, from hats to socks and underwear, is labelled with the name of the production, character and actor’s name.In an average year 10,000 items are labelled.
  • Our Costume Props team produce breastplates, gauntlets, belts and weaponry made from plastic, leather or metal, and unusual materials. The average leather breastplate takes 70 hours to make from start to finish.
  • The Costume Props team also make unusual items such as wings, dogs’ tails, snake puppets, pigs’ heads.
  • The RSC is one of the few theatres to have its own in-house Armoury and as well as supplying swords, daggers and shields, they also make trick weapons such as blood knives.
  • During an average year, the Dye team uses over 60 kilos of dye powder, 800 kilos of salt.
  • Costumes from previous RSC productions have been hired out from the Company’s Costume Store, appearing in films and television programmes including Shakespeare in Love, Gladiator, Braveheart, Merlin, Dr Who, Don’t Tell The Bride, and A Little Chaos with Kate Winslet and Alan Rickman.
  • The Costume Store, where most costume items go after a production ends, contains over 30,000 pieces.The costumes are re-used by the Costume Workshop, and most are available for hire externally including for film and television.

With thanks

The RSC is supported using public funding by Arts Council England

The restoration and redevelopment of the Costume Workshop is supported using public funding by 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, with additional support from the Garfield Weston Foundation, Lydia and Manfred Gorvy, The Foyle Foundation, Coats, The Wolfson Foundation and other generous supporters.

Costume Day is part of Threads, a programme of events supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund

 About Arts Council England

Arts Council England is the national development body for arts and culture across England, working to enrich people’s lives. We support a range of activities across the arts, museums and libraries – from theatre to visual art, reading to dance, music to literature, and crafts to collections. Great art and culture inspires us, brings us together and teaches us about ourselves and the world around us. In short, it makes life better. Between 2018 and 2022, we will invest £1.45 billion of public money from government and an estimated £860 million from the National Lottery to help create these experiences for as many people as possible across the country.

About The National Lottery Heritage Fund

Using money raised by the National Lottery, we Inspire, lead and resource the UK’s heritage to create positive and lasting change for people and communities, now and in the future. For further information log on to Follow @HeritageFundUK on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and use #NationalLotteryHeritageFund

 About the Royal Shakespeare Company

The Royal Shakespeare Company creates world class theatre, made in Stratford-upon-Avon and shared around the world, performing plays by Shakespeare and his contemporaries, as well as commissioning an exceptionally wide range of original work from contemporary writers. Our purpose is to ensure that Shakespeare is for everyone, and we do that by unlocking the power of his plays and of live performance, throughout the UK and across the world.

We believe everybody’s life is enriched by culture and creativity. We have trained generations of the very best theatre makers and we continue to nurture the talent of the future. Our transformative learning programmes reach over half a million young people and adults each year, and through our Placemaking and Public Programme we create projects with and for communities who have not historically engaged with our work. We are a leader in creative immersive technologies and digital development.

We have a proud record of innovation, diversity and excellence on stage and are determined to grasp the opportunity to become an even more inclusive, progressive, relevant and ambitious organisation.

We recognise the climate emergency and work hard to embed environmental sustainability into our operations, creative work and business practice, making a commitment to continually reduce our carbon footprint. Registered charity no. 212481

About Coats

Coats is the world’s leading industrial thread company.  At home in some 50 countries, Coats has a workforce of 18,000 people across six continents. 

Coats’ pioneering history and innovative culture ensure the company leads the way around the world.  It provides complementary and value added products, services and software solutions to the apparel and footwear industries.  It applies innovative techniques to develop high technology Performance Materials threads, yarns and fabrics in areas such as automotive, composites, fibre optics and Oil & Gas.

Headquartered in the UK, Coats is a FTSE 250 company and a constituent of the FTSE4Good UK Index. 



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