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Behind-the-scenes: Customizing a mannequin, from legs to limbs, to display a World War I uniform

Presenting a costume or historical clothing on a mannequin may seem deceptively simple at first glance. Yet there is rarely an instance of a mannequin, standardized or made-to-measure, that is ready to use “out-of-the-box.” Each area of the body—shoulders, torso, arms, legs, and feet—must be customized and often requires several fittings with the garment. This is similar to the process of fitting a made-to-order garment to a human body, although in this case the process is reversed as the mannequin must be shaped and conform to the garment.

 

A World War I uniform, from the collection of the Texas Military Forces Museum and currently on display in The World at War, 1914–1918, presented us with a particular challenge. The physique of most modern, full-body mannequins is too tall, muscular, and athletic for early twentieth-century clothing and footwear. The size of the mannequin must always be smaller than the measurements of the costume to allow for supportive padding and to prevent any stress or strain on the costume when dressing or on display. We made the decision to pad up an adolescent/teenage dress form that was already in our inventory and to construct realistic-looking legs, a crucial element in presenting the ensemble successfully.

 

This was our first time to use Fosshape, a polyester polymer material often used for theater costume design or millinery. Textile conservators have recently explored and used Fosshape for museum display, and we decided to use this flexible, adaptable material to construct the legs. An approximate tapered “leg” shape was cut, sewn, and placed over the calves and ankles of a full-body mannequin to get a realistic leg shape. When steam heat is applied to the Fosshape, it reacts, shrinks, and hardens to the shape of the mold beneath.

 

Because the leg dimensions of this particular mannequin were too large to safely fit through the narrow hem of the uniform jodhpurs, we had to “take in” the legs to a smaller circumference, while still retaining an accurate calf and knee shape. Because the definition was lessened somewhat, we made “knee” and “calf” pads to help support and define the shape of these areas. Additional Fosshape pieces were created and steamed to provide more structure and interior support.

 

The legs were adjusted accordingly and covered with a smooth polyester fabric to aid with dressing, and pieces of velcro were sewn to the inside of the Fosshape legs and the exterior of the mannequin legs for easy attachment.

 

Arm patterns, taken from an excellent resource on mannequin creation and modification, A Practical Guide to Costume Mounting by Lara Flecker, were modified to fit the length and curvature of the jacket’s arms. Once sewn, the arms were filled with soft polyester batting and sewn to the mannequin’s shoulders. The chest and back were padded out where needed, and a flesh-colored finishing fabric was cut, sewn, and secured to the mannequin’s neck.

 

The final crucial details were aligning and orienting two twin silver mannequin stands so that they would reflect a natural body stance once the legs and boots were placed. Additionally, the stands were covered with a matte black fabric, so the high shine of the silver bases would not distract from the uniform. Once the stand was correctly aligned and covered, dressing the mannequin could begin.

 

Constructing, modifying, or dressing a mannequin is never a solitary endeavor. This entire process was a collaboration between the curator of costumes and personal effects and conservation and exhibitions staff. Colleagues Mary Baughman, Ken Grant, Apryl Voskamp, and John Wright were invaluable with their help and expertise.

 

Top image: World War I uniform on display in Ransom Center’s exhibition The World at War, 1914-1918. Photo by Pete Smith. Please click on thumbnails below to view larger images.

 

Photo Friday

Each Friday, the Ransom Center shares photos from throughout the week that highlight a range of activities and collection holdings. We hope you enjoy these photos that reveal some of the everyday happenings at the Center.

Ken Grant, Exhibition Conservator and Head of Exhibition Services, and John Wright, Chief Preparator, adjust lighting for the "Arnold Newman: Masterclass" exhibition, which opened on Tuesday. Photo by Edgar Walters.
Ken Grant, Exhibition Conservator and Head of Exhibition Services, and John Wright, Chief Preparator, adjust lighting for the "Arnold Newman: Masterclass" exhibition, which opened on Tuesday. Photo by Edgar Walters.
Lindsay Hutchens, shop manager at the Lomography Gallery Store, tests shots in the photo booth area before the “Face to Face” opening event. The Lomography Gallery Store will have an analog photo booth inspired by an Arnold Newman photograph set up at the event tonight. Photo by Alicia Dietrich.
Lindsay Hutchens, shop manager at the Lomography Gallery Store, tests shots in the photo booth area before the “Face to Face” opening event. The Lomography Gallery Store will have an analog photo booth inspired by an Arnold Newman photograph set up at the event tonight. Photo by Alicia Dietrich.
Project Archivist Savannah Gignac inventories personal effects from the Arnold Newman collection, including four pairs of his glasses and a stand he used for retouching photographs. Photo by Edgar Walters.
Project Archivist Savannah Gignac inventories personal effects from the Arnold Newman collection, including four pairs of his glasses and a stand he used for retouching photographs. Photo by Edgar Walters.

Photo Friday

Each Friday, the Ransom Center shares photos from throughout the week that highlight a range of activities and collection holdings. We hope you enjoy these photos that reveal some of the everyday happenings at the Center.

Book Conservator Mary Baughman teaches intern Hsiang-Shun Huang how to build a housing that will keep shelved books safe. Photo by Kelsey McKinney.
Book Conservator Mary Baughman teaches intern Hsiang-Shun Huang how to build a housing that will keep shelved books safe. Photo by Kelsey McKinney.
Sonja Reid, Registrar with the Ransom Center’s exhibition services, adjusts the humidity of the case holding the Gutenberg Bible. Photo by Kelsey McKinney.
Sonja Reid, Registrar with the Ransom Center’s exhibition services, adjusts the humidity of the case holding the Gutenberg Bible. Photo by Kelsey McKinney.
Ransom Center staff oversee the installation of vinyl text for the exhibition “The King James Bible: Its History and Influence,” which opens Tuesday. Photo by Kelsey McKinney.
Ransom Center staff oversee the installation of vinyl text for the exhibition “The King James Bible: Its History and Influence,” which opens Tuesday. Photo by Kelsey McKinney.
Linda Hohneke, conservator at the Folger Shakespeare Library, installs an item on loan from the Folger for the exhibition "The King James Bible: Its History and Influence." Photo by Alicia Dietrich.
Linda Hohneke, conservator at the Folger Shakespeare Library, installs an item on loan from the Folger for the exhibition "The King James Bible: Its History and Influence." Photo by Alicia Dietrich.
Sonja Reid, registrar with the Ransom Center's exhibition services, and Linda Hohneke, conservator at the Folger Shakespeare Library, install a bible that belonged to Queen Elizabeth I. The item, on loan from the Folger, will be on display when "The King James Bible: Its History and Influence" opens Tuesday. Photo by Alicia Dietrich.
Sonja Reid, registrar with the Ransom Center's exhibition services, and Linda Hohneke, conservator at the Folger Shakespeare Library, install a bible that belonged to Queen Elizabeth I. The item, on loan from the Folger, will be on display when "The King James Bible: Its History and Influence" opens Tuesday. Photo by Alicia Dietrich.

Photo Friday

Each Friday, the Ransom Center shares photos from throughout the week that highlight a range of activities and collection holdings. We hope you enjoy these photos that reveal some of the everyday happenings at the Center.

Pete Smith, Supervisor of Photography at the Ransom Center, delicately moves the Coronelli terrestrial globe for an interactive multimedia project. Photo by Kelsey McKinney.
Pete Smith, Supervisor of Photography at the Ransom Center, delicately moves the Coronelli terrestrial globe for an interactive multimedia project. Photo by Kelsey McKinney.
The Coronelli terrestrial globe, commissioned in 1681 by  French King Louis XIV, waits to be photographed for an interactive online project. Photo by Pete Smith.
The Coronelli terrestrial globe, commissioned in 1681 by French King Louis XIV, waits to be photographed for an interactive online project. Photo by Pete Smith.
John Wright, Chief Preparator at the Ransom Center, packs a painting for shipment.  Photo by Pete Smith.
John Wright, Chief Preparator at the Ransom Center, packs a painting for shipment. Photo by Pete Smith.

Photo Friday

Each Friday, the Ransom Center shares photos from throughout the week that highlight a range of activities and collection holdings. We hope you enjoy these photos that reveal some of the everyday happenings at the Center.

Sonja Reid, registrar with the Ransom Center's exhibition services, works to de-install the exhibition 'Discovering the Language of Photography: The Gernsheim Collection.' Photo by Pete Smith.
Sonja Reid, registrar with the Ransom Center's exhibition services, works to de-install the exhibition 'Discovering the Language of Photography: The Gernsheim Collection.' Photo by Pete Smith.
Wyndell Faulk, preparator with the Ransom Center's exhibition services, works to de-install the exhibition 'Discovering the Language of Photography: The Gernsheim Collection.'  Photo by Pete Smith.
Wyndell Faulk, preparator with the Ransom Center's exhibition services, works to de-install the exhibition 'Discovering the Language of Photography: The Gernsheim Collection.' Photo by Pete Smith.
John Wright, chief preparator with the Ransom Center's exhibition services, works to de-install the exhibition 'Discovering the Language of Photography: The Gernsheim Collection.' Photo by Pete Smith.
John Wright, chief preparator with the Ransom Center's exhibition services, works to de-install the exhibition 'Discovering the Language of Photography: The Gernsheim Collection.' Photo by Pete Smith.