Saturday, April 6, 2013

Gowns of Goodwood

Free at last, free at last!  O thank God, I'm free at last!

The Gowns of Goodwood exhibit has opened--and my job is done!

I've mentioned this from time to time.  It's a fundraiser for the Goodwood Museum and Gardens (a lovely place, I have to say).  They wanted to do a display of gowns from the 1840s to the 1930s (corresponding with the different owners of the plantation).  My department chair asked if I could help out.

"Helping out" turned out to be "responsible for the gown portion of the exhibit".  Others did stuff like the fundraising, advertising, putting out displays of accessories, writing up information panels.  I did gowns.  Problem is--it's not much of a display if you just stick a dress on a hanger and dangle it.  So I had to scrounge a dozen or so dress forms.  To keep things interesting, our staging area was upstairs in the house--and no elevator.  I started in February to have time to fit the dresses--or, to be more accurate, fit the forms to the dresses. 

So . . . dress forms out of the storage area, down the hall to the elevator, on and off the elevator, down the hall to the loading dock.  Into the car, out to Goodwood, carry around to the back of the house, up the porch steps, through the kitchen and dining room into the hall and up the 24 steps of the curved staircase and thence to the bedroom.  Repeat.  They weigh about 25 pounds.

The forms are measured, the dresses are measured, and matched up.  For a few it just wasn't going to happen--some of those clothes were *tiny* and I had a limited number of forms.  So we bought three size 2 forms--and they're styrofoam.  I love them.  They weigh about 4 pounds.  Lovely.

But they didn't quite work.  Human bodies can twist and wiggle to get dressed--forms can't.  And the current popular silhouette is square-shouldered.  Many past silhouettes have rounded or sloping shoulders.  So the forms came home with me to have some "shoulderectomies" done.   (Did I mention that I love the fact that they are styrofoam?)

You can see the modification here:

It didn't stop there.  To fit the civil war gown, I had to take the entire form down another 3 inches.  My room is still covered in styrofoam dust.  But the finished result was worth it.
Sometimes even that wasn't enough.  We had a girl's gown from the 1840's that was impossibly tiny.  So out came the poster board and duct tape.  What's underneath isn't important.  I love all the detailed pleating on this one.  The close-up picture is in my workroom--and shows that even on a form a dress still isn't quite ready for display.  We spent two days with tissue paper and netting to fill out sleeves and skirts, and many hours with steamers to smooth the fabrics (I don't care what the ads selling steamers stay--ironing is *much* faster and easier--but you don't iron 100-year-old fabrics).  The second picture has been fluffed and steamed.


A few posts ago I showed some of the repair work I did on the wedding gown.  Here's the result:
The trick to fluffing out the sleeves in lace is to use nylon net (tissue would show).
A few more:

What with all the gorgeous gowns, the one I was taken with is the rather plain little skirt-and-blouse combination on the right of the group of three.  Perhaps because it was possibly for a working girl--and I have certainly felt like a working girl on this exhibit.  So I used it as inspiration for my opening-night dress (and may my hair forgive me for the teasing and hairspray)
I've been on the radio, I've been on the television, I've made it into the paper.  I'm proud, I'm tired, and I'm glad it's finished  (well, until June, when it all comes down and those bleepin' forms have to be put away)

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