Life as the textile expert at a regional history museum

Sunday, May 19, 2013

The Great Mannequin Switcheroo

I can't believe it but it is almost June, which means it has been six months since Grand Opening, which means it is time to rotate all the mannequins. 

Textiles are particularly susceptible to damage from light and some can become weak from holding their own weight on a form for long periods of time (they weren't built to be on a body 24-7 for months on end). It is therefore a general museum standard that textile pieces should not be on permanent display, and instead be rotated out every 3-6 months. 

Dressing the mannequins for the new museum was a big part of my job last year, and so I think I'm sort of in denial that I'm going to be doing it all over again in just a few short weeks, squeaking it in in the middle of everything else. 

But I've actually rotated one item out already: the 1920s evening dress. I decided to put it on a 3 month rotation because evening dresses from that period are notorious for falling apart while on display. They tend to be made of light fabric and then beaded heavily, so you can imagine why that quickly turns in to a conservation nightmare. 

Anyway, let me take you on a magical, blurry iPhone photo journey through that process.

Ok, so here is how our speakeasy-sneaking couple looked at Grand Opening. I'm not going to deny that these mannequins are kind of weird looking. She has swimmer shoulders, and he can't stand up straight and so looks like he either shuffles around with back pain or is leaning down to slap her ass. Good times. Also, longtime readers may remember him and this same creepo

Here is what our lady looks like when undressed, unwigged, and de-armed. I think she looks kind of cool this way, like some sort of robot with fab shoes. 

Re-dressing this mannequin actually took two attempts. I have some extra mannequins, so for most of the costumes we can do the dressing off site and then just bring the new one to replace the old. But we only have one 1920s lady with the torso and the legs. So I have to bring a dress and do all the work on-site while the museum is closed. 

This photo is of the first attempt at re-dressing. We put this red dress on and then realized that it was a bad choice. It was gorgeous and eye-catching but the fit was way too tight and the fabric was much weaker than I realized. If we left this thing on display it was only going to get weaker and would probably start ripping. I took this photo before we reluctantly removed the dress from the mannequin, so the public never got to see it. 

A couple weeks later I came back with two options (in the meantime we put the dress from Grand Opening back on because it was actually holding up quite well). This one won both categories of the competition: fit and strength. It is an early 1920s pink figured velvet dress that is basically made of two big drapey rectangles held together at the top. Extra bonus: the cut of the dress hides her man-shoulders. 

1 comment:

  1. You really have the most delightful blog. And your mannequins are terrifying!