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Issue: Tuesday 12 September 2017


Royal Shakespeare Company launches public fundraising campaign to support the redevelopment of its Costume Workshop

The Royal Shakespeare’s Company’s (RSC) Costume Workshop is the focus of a fundraising campaign launched today. Stitch In Time aims to raise £3 million towards the cost of restoring and redeveloping the Costume Workshop, at the Company’s Stratford-upon-Avon home. The RSC has the largest in-house costume-making department of any British theatre

The project has already secured £2.1 million of funding from Arts Council England, and the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) announces today that the RSC has secured initial support* for a £950,000k National Lottery grant.  This will be the first time that both Lottery bodies have supported an RSC project.

The redevelopment will:


  • create the best facilities for costume-making
  • care for the heritage Grade II listed buildings
  • provide training and apprenticeship opportunities
  • open the workshop to visitors for the first time


Gregory Doran, RSC Artistic Director, said:


“We hope people will support this fantastic project, by contributing to all the different elements of our costume-making, from shoes and underwear to armour and jewellery.  Costumes are essential for us to create the best theatre experience for our audiences.  They 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 create, repair and recycle hundreds of costume pieces each year for our productions, all made in our Stratford workshop. The jumbled rabbit warren of rooms is filled with hidden treasures used every day by 30 talented craftspeople, who work with our designers and actors to create costumes from all periods of time, and which are seen by audiences all over the world. 


It’s special to think that costumes have been made on this site continuously, since at least the 1940s. However, the workshop is now bursting at the seams as our costume making requirements and skills have developed over the years.  It’s in urgent need of attention, and our Stitch In Time campaign will help us to create modern-day costume-making facilities and secure the legacy of that craftsmanship and the heritage buildings that house it.

The Costume Workshop is located opposite the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in an assortment of buildings, hidden behind the Grade II-listed 1887 former scene dock constructed for the original Shakespeare Memorial Theatre.  Costume making on the site dates back to this time, with the current workshop being here since the 1950s.  Key issues to be addressed through the National Lottery funded project include:


  • Poor lighting
  • Uneven floor and ceiling levels
  • Access difficulties, including no lift facilities
  • Lack of space for today’s costume-making requirements
  • Inadequate layout and temperature control
  • Leaking roofs

The workshop has its own on-site armoury, where breastplates, fake weapons, belts and gauntlets are made.  Other specialist skills and crafts include men’s and ladies’ costume-making, millinery, dyeing and printing (see facts and stats at the end of the release). The stock room and workshop contain fabrics, braids, buttons, bows and sequins, which help to make the hundreds of costumes created each year.  The workshop also includes facilities for fitting actors into their costumes, and ensuring their maintenance during the long life of a show, sometimes through years of performances.  This makes the workshop’s proximity to the theatres essential.  


The redevelopment and restoration of the Costume Workshop will create improved facilities for costume making and care for the heritage Grade II listed buildings.  The project will increase floor space by 70%, allowing us to create new training and apprenticeship opportunities to secure the future of costume-making in Stratford-upon-Avon, and for the first time, visitors will be able to experience the RSC’s world-class costume workshop for themselves on tours and online. 


People can discover more on the Stitch In Time website ( about the skills and processes behind the RSC’s costume craft, including a chance to support different areas of costume making such as underwear, armour, shoes, costume effects, jewellery and millinery, plus men’s and ladies’ costume-making.  There is also an opportunity to join the Costume Circle, with a chance to get a deeper understanding of RSC costume-making and meet our designers.


Stitch In Time is supported by the RSC’s Costume Workshop Council, which includes: Emma Bridgewater CBE, Noma Dumezweni, Lord Digby Jones, Anne Luetcke, Dame Hilary Mantel DBE, Emma Marsh, Jane Pragnell, Matthew Rice, Sir Antony Sher, Josette Simon OBE, Sir Patrick Stewart OBE, and Dame Harriet Walter DBE.


Noma Dumezweni, RSC Governor and Associate Artist, said:

“One of my fondest memories from Stratford-upon-Avon were my visits to the Costume Workshop. As our costumes were being created, you could see how integral they were to how we presented and played our characters. The many tiny adjustments to the costumes that built up and the collaboration with the actor to create this stage presence, were truly wonderful.


“I always love meeting the maker of my costumes during the fitting process, and the teamwork between us to make my characters come alive on the stage. The talented fingers and hearts that create the costumes from the workshop are magical.


“When playing Ursula in Much Ado About Nothing, I remember being given a pair of shoes to wear that already had a label. I looked inside, and the label read: "Peggy Ashcroft". In the Costume Workshop and Stores, there is a tangible sense of the history of costume through the ages, which is both humbling and very exciting to become a part of.”


Vanessa Harbar, Head of HLF West Midlands, said:

“We’re delighted to support the RSC to work towards restoring and enhancing the Costume Workshop. With the help of money raised by National Lottery players, this project would preserve the heritage of costume-making in Stratford-Upon-Avon and make the workshop fit for purpose, whilst retaining its unique and historic character. We look forward to seeing the project progress.”


For more information, contact Liz Thompson, Director of Communications (, 07717 297181), or Jane Ellis, Head of Communications (, 07966 295032).


Notes to Editors


The restoration and redevelopment of the Costume Workshop is supported using public funding by the National Lottery through Arts Council England, with additional support from Lydia and Manfred Gorvy, The Bernard Sunley Charitable Foundation and other generous supporters.


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.
  • The RSC is one of the few theatres to have its own in-house armoury producing breastplates, gauntlets, belts and weaponry made from plastic, leather or metal, and unusual materials such as window blinds and table mats. The average leather breastplate takes 70 hours to make from start to finish.
  • Our specialist team make trick weapons such as blood knives, swords, daggers and shields, plus unusual items such as wings, dogs’ tails, snake puppets, pigs’ heads
  • During an average year, the Dye team uses over 60 kilos of dye powder, 800 kilos of salt and 1500 pairs of disposable gloves.
  • 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.

About Arts Council England

Arts Council England champions, develops and invests in artistic and cultural experiences that enrich people’s lives. We support a range of activities across the arts, museums and libraries – from theatre to digital 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 2015 and 2018, we plan to invest £1.1 billion of public money from government and an estimated £700 million from the National Lottery to help create these experiences for as many people as possible across the country.


About the Heritage Lottery Fund

Heritage Grants applications are assessed in two rounds.  A first-round pass is given when HLF has endorsed outline proposals and earmarked funding. A first-round pass may also include an immediate award to fund the development of the project. Detailed proposals are then considered by HLF at second-round and as long as plans have progressed satisfactorily and according to the original proposal, an award for the project is confirmed.


Thanks to National Lottery players, we invest money to help people across the UK explore, enjoy and protect the heritage they care about - from the archaeology under our feet to the historic parks and buildings we love, from precious memories and collections to rare wildlife. Follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and use #HLFsupported


About the Royal Shakespeare Company

The Royal Shakespeare Company creates theatre at its best, made in Stratford-upon-Avon and shared around the world. We produce an inspirational artistic programme each year, setting Shakespeare in context, alongside the work of his contemporaries and today’s writers.  


Everyone at the RSC - from actors to armourers, musicians to technicians - plays a part in creating the world you see on stage. All our productions begin life at our Stratford workshops and theatres and we bring them to the widest possible audience through our touring, residencies, live broadcasts and online activity. So wherever you experience the RSC, you experience work made in Shakespeare’s home town.  


We have trained generations of the very best theatre makers and we continue to nurture the talent of the future. We encourage everyone to enjoy a lifelong relationship with Shakespeare and live theatre. We reach 530,000 children and young people annually through our education work, transforming their experiences in the classroom, in performance and online. Registered charity no. 212481

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