St Augustine’s Abbey – English Heritage

Create forty monks robes? No problem!

A fantastic project designing and making interactive Benedictine monks robes that could be worn by visitors when walking around the site, giving them a real flavour of life as a medieval monk.

The costumes needed to be able to fit over modern clothing, easily washable and super durable, whilst also being suitable to wear outdoors in potentially inclement weather.

A black poly-wool was chosen so individual costumes could be washed domestically when required. Lining the shoulders and the top of the back and front was a waterproof layer so rain could not penetrate through in the short term – long enough to dash back to the visitor centre for a warming cuppa!

These robes are from a religious order and are still worn, in a modern version, today. They are sacred to many people and through designing and creating these costumes to be worn by visitors we wanted to encourage a sense of enjoyment without undervaluing the importance of these garments. For me this meant making sure we kept all the various parts of the outfit including the hood, scapular (tabard) and robe, so as not to dilute any one parts symbolism. The only part we did not choose to include was the cincture (rope belt), as they would have easily got lost and knotted up over the long term.

In order to include all parts of the outfit I designed a way to join them all together, creating one garment, so items did not get mixed up or lost. The robe with hood was put on like a coat, with a tie at the neck. Then the scapular, which was attached at the shoulders at the back and one side attached at the shoulder at the front to keep it all together, was brought across the front of the body and tied at the shoulder with cotton ties. To easily find the right size, colour coded cotton loops were sewn inside ready for the costume to be hung back up on its corresponding coloured hook in the gallery.

Both the client and I were keen that nobody should be left out of such a fun activity, so a wheelchair friendly option was also designed and made for young and old alike. Looking exactly the same as the others from the from once on, instead of being put on like a coat, we cut out the whole of the back of the robe and scapular so the robe could be put on from the front, like an artists smock. Not wanting to loose the effect of the monks hood, this was attached onto a flap at the back that could be brought across and tied at the shoulder.

To finish the costumes the client supplied maps printed onto cotton which were stitched onto the botton of the scapulars so when lifted up, the visitor can follow the map around the site and there is no risk of them loosing it!