Thursday, November 22, 2012

I made this

Dorking Museum has undergone a process of renovation after a long hiatus and was reopened on the 26th October 2012.   For the new displays, I was tasked with mounting an agricultural smock from the mid C19th.  Only those who know me well can understand how rare the bird that began to flutter in my ribcage at this opportunity.  I never mounted an historical garment before.

The garment in question was heavy, waxed and designed for a burly farmer.  The only mannequin that we had useable in the allotted time frame was a female, tiny, tiny dancer. Armed with conservator Julie Goodliffe's notes and Lara Flecker's invaluable tome A Practical Guide to Costume Mounting and (apologies for the images) an iphone, I set to work.

The form was kindly cleaned and checked.  The first layer went on, a jersey vest pinned to the form.  This formed a base that I would be able to sew onto.

Julie made sure that any materials being used in the mount would be of conservation grade to avoid the danger of anything degrading and 'off gassing' over time, avoiding potential damage to the garment.  We decided, based on the weight of the fabric involved, to go with polyester wadding and acid free card for support. 
I decided to go offroad next.  This isn't in the book.  I required a wider jersey torso base than the female form had so I filled the space beyond the side seams I had made in the vest's arms with wadding. These were herringbone stitched in place against the sides of the body and the whole thing turned right side out to create a wider upper torso base from which I would be able to extend up and out using constructed shoulder extensions.

The shoulder extensions required museum board, calico and maths.   The resultant epaulette was placed as a false shoulder above the mannequin's shoulder line, herringbone stitched in place and the void then filled filled with wadding.

I had lingered over the idea of how the bust was to be obscured - imagining adroit fingers nimbly constructing concentric hills of wadding then sculpting and chiselling away...
In reality, with one eye on the clock and a bad shoulder from holding my arms up in the air sewing for seven hours, I used Spidey Sense.  Here is the work at the beginning of the progress.

All I can see is the lack of focus and composition in that photo.  Tch, tch, tch.
Whilst you would think there was a huge degree of tolerance in an agricultural smock looking authentic once mounted, it was in fact very hard to see where the natural line was.  I completely understand now how the  Horniman Museum's walrus was stuffed out to the much space it's hard to know when to stop.  A simple yoke cover was then cut from a rectangle, with enough excess seam for it to be pinned and pulled in tight, keeping the wadding in place.

The female form's arms had been removed on the basis that it would be easier to create ones from scratch that were the right size.  These were such a satisfying thing to make, not sure why, but they were very pleasing.  I should probably ask myself some questions.  I used a scaled down sleeve pattern in Lara Flecker's book, and a great tutorial (weirdly soothing to watch..) from Ralph Pink which helps you scale up in photoshop using scans taken from books.  Which I find hugely exciting as it opens up all sorts of vintage patterns for the taking - all created to custom size.

The next step was to support the folds of the body of the smock once it was on.  So, for ease and speed we decided to use plastic air bags.  I created a pillow case from calico and museum board padded out with bags and then herringbone stitched it onto the yoke, hanging free from the front and back so that it just touched the folds of the smock.
The smock also had gaiters that needed displaying - luckily these buttoned up and so I was able to get round the display's stand support of an iron bar leading into the lower leg.  To support the gaiters, padding was sewn onto calico and then fitted to the mannequin, tight around the calves then bagged out above the knee to create facsimile breeches.  The tops of the breeches were then slipstitched to the airbag panels supporting the smock.  I am certain this could have been done much more prettily but time was not on my side at this point.

A calico scarf, as a nod towards the red scarf that was ubiquitous of the time and here is the finished article.

 I am going to quietly point out that at some point early on in the process it became apparent that the owner of the smock had tiny arms and wrists...probably a boy.  Which negated the whole process as it will need redoing to the right size.  But then, that's the best part of it all for me - the idea that secrets are released as the garment is reanimated through mounting.
Do let me reassure those of you worried that it is being compromised on the wrong mannequin.  Not at all, there is a lot of room for play within the garment, all is supported as it should be.

If you are in Dorking I urge you to stop by the museum as the team behind its revamp have done a brilliant job.  I'd like to say a big, big thank you to Julie Goodliffe for her knowledge, support and  giving me the opportunity to take on this project. 

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