In May, I did some volunteer work on the Newport Historical Society and Audrain Auto Museum‘s co-curated exhibitions “The World in Motion, Fashion and Modernity 1885-1945“/”Women Take the Wheel: Fashion, Modernity and the Automobile: 1900-1945.” This was under the supervision of my professor, Rebecca Kelly, who was curating, conserving, and mounting the fashion objects. It was my first time assisting with mounting an exhibition and I am grateful to my professor and colleagues on this exhibition for their patient mentoring.
Please note…volunteering is a privilege. I have seldom had the resources to volunteer, in place of paid work, so I acknowledge and am fully aware of my privilege when I have been able to do so. I also understand how subsidizing an institution in this way generally contributes to gatekeeping in the museum and theater fields in which I work. When I do choose to volunteer, I try to be very selective and deliberate in doing it.
Mount 1: Mannequin for Chauffeur’s Coat
My first project was covering a dressform to use for displaying a chauffeur’s coat, but it ended up being a little more involved than just sewing a cover. Apparently this dressform might have been an early 20th century, personalized men’s dressform for someone in the Vanderbilt family, so that was quite interesting to think about while working on it. If anyone knows of resources for dating dressforms I’d love to know about them!
First, the tattered monk’s cloth fabric which was only partially covering the neck needed to be removed.
Then I roughed out a pattern for a cover of stretchy black material, and cut and sewed it. I believe there are more precise methods for this laid out in A Practical Guide to Costume Mounting and The Care and Display of Historic Clothing but I didn’t have either on hand, and as most of it wouldn’t be seen, a rough one was all that was needed.
Because of the angle of the neck, and the dressform being a hardshell type, the neck area looked too wrinkly at first. This was the only area of the mount that might be seen, so I improved it by padding the neck with batting and giving the cover two little “niptucks” on the chest to get it to lay more smoothly.
Since the chauffeur’s coat was extremely heavy, Rebecca advised me to add a tulle and muslin skirt to the cover to prevent the lower part of the coat from collapsing in on itself. The sleeves were also stuffed at some point, but that was done by one of the other conservators.
The final look!
Mount 2: Chauffeur’s Mannequin Torso and Halo Support for Chauffeur’s Outfit and Cap
My second mount project was building up a women’s mannequin torso to fit a man’s coat, making a halo support for his cap, and altering the neck block to properly hold the halo support.
Here is the mannequin torso as it started. I covered it with a pair of upside-down pantyhose, cutting the crotch to accomodate the neck. If we needed, we could use the pantyhose legs as arms by stuffing them too.
To achieve the desired shape, I padded around the breasts, built up the ribcage and shoulders, and filled in the back curve.
The coat had a smock-type silhouette, so I exaggerated the shoulders somewhat. I also was responsible for stuffing the jodphurs. This was not because they would be seen, as the coat covers them anyways, but to help fill out the coat a bit.
Next it was time to make the halo mount and neck block for the cap. I calculated the length of the armature wire I would need, cut three pieces and braided them together (see left in below photo). Starting it was the hardest, and it is not a task that is easy on the hands!
I then twisted the braided wire in to a circle with a stem, and wrapped it in batting. Using a stretchy black fabric, I covered the wire and hand-stitched it. With all the pins, it was a lot like doing millinery.
I added a foam block to the wooden neck cap so that when the halo mount was inserted into the neck block it would be stable. I also later added thin foam strips around the wooden part because it wasn’t snug enough to support the weight of the cap without tipping.
The finished look!