Today's post is by our Study Collection Manager and expert mountmaker, Carolyn Jamerson. In a previous post, Carolyn described the process of making floating forms. In this post, Carolyn describes the unique challenges of making a custom mount for an 1870s cashmere dolman.
As part of the FABULOUS! exhibition, the FIDM Museum is displaying selected pieces from the Helen Larson Historic Fashion Collection, our current acquisition project. This rotation includes garments worn by royalty; anyone of lower rank than a queen isn’t making it in. One of the pieces displayed is a beautiful 1870’s cape-like dolman jacket worn by Queen Alexandra (1844-1925) of England when she was Princess of Wales.
Created by Dieulefait & E. Bouclier, it is masterfully embroidered with gold and silver metallic braids. As the 1870s is one of my favorite time periods and the craftsmanship of the unique embroidery pattern is so beautiful, I was instantly drawn to this piece.
In every batch of mounts that I create there is usually one that gives me problems. Little did I know that this would turn out to be the problem child! Correctly dressed for exhibition, the dolman is meant to float away from the mount and suggest that it is being worn over another garment. Because of its complex piecing, I had to make three different mount prototypes to get the desired look.
I started with the typical felt mount that I constructed for most of the FABULOUS! garments and then built an Ethafoam frame so that it would be structurally stable. A jersey lining in a complimentary color helps to visually blend the support at the opening of the garment. Due to the delicate nature of the objects, the mounts are almost entirely finished before the first fitting. If all goes well, and the pattern pieces are precise, only one fitting is necessary, minimizing the handling of the artifacts. Unfortunately, this garment did not cooperate.
For my second attempt, I went back to the mount system that I used for the High Style: Betsy Bloomingdale and the Haute Couture exhibition. The High Style mounts started with a clear plastic mannequin cut to size and then padded out to fit the desired garment shape. Using this technique, I made a mount for the dolman. After trying it on, the chest fit better, but the bottom of the dolman wasn’t supported in a manner that made it look like it was floating. So I came to the conclusion that it needed the bottom of the first mount and the top of the second mount. Mount number three is just that: the clear mannequin cut at the empire line and attached to the pattern-made felt mount that follows the hemline of the dolman. Trial and error is necessary when making custom mounts for unique garments. When crafted correctly, the historical artifact is fully supported and visually arresting when displayed.