Life as the textile expert at a regional history museum

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Goodbye To Weird Limbs

It is done. This week I finished switching all the outfits on the mannequins at the museum, which included removing the weird paper heads and limbs. Besides what I felt was a serious creep factor, the extra parts made these twice-yearly dressings a lot more difficult. I understand why we decided to use them initially, and I gave them a good two-year try. But the heads and limbs were very hard to work with and added an element of uncertainty that ate up a lot of time. 

For example, last time I switched out the 1950s mannequin I had to contend with this:

This is actually one of my favorite little suits in the collection: It is beautifully cut, has an elegant drape of fabric on the back, and was sold by John Doyle Bishop. But on display it looked dour and awkward. After dressing it the first day I had to buy some additional accessories to try to cheer it up, but it still basically looked like this in the case.

This time, we had pre-padded the 1950s mannequin and so at the museum it took only a few minutes to dress and we knew exactly what it was going to look like. I forgot to take a picture of it in the case, but this is the basic idea:

So simple, so elegant! You notice the dress first and not the face! 

I also was able to add artifact shoes to the cases for the first time ever. The old mannequin limbs had feet that were large and stiff. I only used prop shoes because getting something on those feet involved a lot of frustrated stretching and shoving. But now, since we weren't trying to create the illusion of a body, I could just set a pair of artifact shoes on the case floor next to the dress. These are the totally cute shoes I picked:

So now the limbs are all resting peacefully in a strange jumble on a supply shelf. 

The only part that gives me a little pang of sadness is the paper hair for the 1850s woman (at the center of the picture). I think the volunteer and I who worked on it did an awesome job. The 1920s hair turned out pretty nice as well. Creating the paper hair for the mannequins was a particularly fun part of the prep for the new museum, and it is a skill I wouldn't mind developing further. 

There is actually one head n' limbs mannequin still on display. Just around the corner from the 1850s pioneer woman we have the 1860s "Mercer Girl" who is not in a case and is wearing a reproduction dress that we commissioned for the exhibit. Since it is a reproduction, the dress doesn't get changed like the others. It makes sense for her to be more lifelike because the mannequin isn't showing off an artifact, it is representing the idea of a person starting her new life in Seattle. I'm the most proud of the 1850s hair, but I really like the little 1860s snood we gave this one. 

Sorry the photo is so washed out. My camera also really hates those mannequin parts. 


  1. EEk! I want to un-see that 50's mannequin! Did you have to see her every day at the museum? Nightmarish.

  2. I don't walk through the galleries every day, so fortunately it was not a daily nightmare experience!