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So, What If It Doesn’t Fit?

You customize, of course.

Material World, the latest exhibition in the Paul Textile and Fashion Arts Galleries, is comprised of tantalizing objects from around the world, each with its own set of installation needs. From court dresses to Imperial robes to ceremonial dance ensembles, the size and weight of the objects, vulnerability of materials, and the support needed vary from object to object. Some pieces demand heads for accompanying headdresses, while others require specific stances, or modified mounts.

Custom mount for woman’s belt.

Installed, the ring supports the belt allowing long fringe to hang freely.

In some instances, dresses slipped on mannequins with little adjustment, but in other cases the silhouette of the garment or weight and texture of the fabric prohibited the use of conventional dress forms. One example is a Chinese Palace Guard uniform worn by a sentinel in the Imperial army during the Qing Dynasty. The ensemble consists of eight pieces: an oversized coat, over-trousers split in the center covered with an embroidered panel, two shoulder ornaments made of heavy gilt bronze, and patches buttoning onto the jacket. The striking ensemble is made of heavy brocaded satin cloth with gold metallic threads enhanced by the addition of hundreds of bronze studs covering the surface of the fabric. Due to the weight of the fabric and size of the coat, the piece could not be exhibited on a mannequin in a pose with arms at the side. In addition, we had to account for the heavy epaulets on either shoulder, to ensure that each are supported without placing any strain on the fabric. Therefore, we enlisted the help of the IMA’s mount maker, Brose Partington. Brose removed the mannequin’s arms and created customized armatures that lock on.

The result is impressive. Not only does the pose alleviate strain on the fabric (had the arms been used, the sleeves would have bunched and crushed under the arms on either side) but the domineering uniform can now be viewed in its entirety.

Modified male mannequin in mount room.

On view in Material World.

Another case – a true labor of love, – was a customized mount made to scale for an Ethiopian cape and matching crown.  The cape and crown, composed predominately of lions’ skin and manes, were components of a warrior’s formal attire, most likely worn by a military or civilian official.  I liken this project to a quilt, completed in a quilting bee, where several sets of hands work on one piece. The design and pattern for the mount was created by Kathleen Kiefer; the IMA’s Senior Textile Conservator, while the ethafoam pieces were cut out, shaped and adhered by me. The padding, layered to mimic the shape of a man’s chest, was applied by Kathleen and our intern, while Paul Siebenthal (the IMA’s new mount maker) designed a base. Here is the breakdown of the process step by step.

Step 1) Pattern traced onto ethafoam sheets:

Step 2) Cutting the pieces out:

Step 3) Gluing the two forms together:

 Step 4 & 5) Padding and sculpting the torso with polyester needle punched batting:

Step 6) Lopping off the chin of a pre-made ethafoam head & shaving it down with sand paper – the chin was too pointy:

Step 7 & 8 ) Covering the torso and head with black cotton knit:

Voila! On view in Material World:

The armatures for the male mannequin will be removed after the exhibition closes (February 6, 2012) so the mannequin can be reused, while the mount created from ethafoam will be stored and used when the cape and crown are exhibited again.  To see all this handiwork in person, be sure to visit Material World soon!

Filed under: Art, Textile & Fashion, The Collection

One Response to “So, What If It Doesn’t Fit?”

  • avatar
    Tim Says:

    Wow…That’s a lot of detailed effort to go through to get these items hung up! I run a picture framing–and everything hanging–business in Atlanta, and I have hung several wedding dresses and Japanese wedding kimonos over the years. And I did have to use the “pole through the shoulders and sleeves” method with the kimonos as you showed in your article.

    And they are HEAVY. I was married to a Japanese woman, which took place in Osaka, and the weight of the garments was substantial. The biggest piece was her headdress, essentially a wig and lots of ornaments on a ceramic and metal base, all sitting atop my wife’s head. I’m told they always have neck problems afterward!

    Haven’t yet had the pleasure of working with an Ethiopian leader’s outfit…maybe someday!

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