By Guy Carpenter
After spending a few minutes watching and listening about the process of making suitable mannequins for displaying uniforms in the Green Howards Museum in Richmond, one thing is very clear: running any kind of museum is quite a lot of work.
As you might expect, the mannequins used by Next and Topshop to display their wares aren’t suitable for museum pieces, for a variety of reasons. Firstly, body sizes and shapes have changed over the centuries: for example, quite a lot of the older military coats need a mannequin which is quite small by modern standards, but with quite a pronounced “pigeon chest”. Secondly, the materials used in conservation mannequins need to be nonreactive, so that pieces can stay on them for long periods of time without the risk of the materials reacting with the clothing and causing damage.
Volunteers (Jade Ward, Sue Gibbons, Christine Hepworth, Yvonne Kriwacek) and Green Howards staff (Lynda Powell, Museum Director, and Zoe Utley, Collections Assistant) were helping Gesa Werner with the process. Gesa is a textiles specialist, and has worked for the Victoria & Albert museum, producing mannequins for their pieces, and freelances for many other heritage organisations.
The mannequins being worked on are papier-mâché, with a fabric covering. This was the base that they were working on, building up the correct shape for the uniform being fitted with a combination of dense foam cut to shape, and padding, which then had a textile covering created to be placed over the top.
The museum has a lot of knowledge about their pieces. For example, the long red coat was owned by an officer called Samuel Townsend in the 18th century, and I was shown a painting of him (wearing a different coat). It is quite remarkable to see an image of somebody long dead, but have his coat right in front of you, looking as smart as it did nearly three hundred years ago.