I've been a little nervous about the dress forms for the Great, Strange, and Rarely Seen exhibition ever since I worked on the pattern for the ca. 1837 dress, which was quite small, and I got even more nervous after working on the ca. 1867 pattern (the last one I took). The dress forms are modern (eight European size 8s, the smallest in the catalogue, and two of the larger children's forms), the dresses are historical - is this going to work out?
Yesterday, I started to dress the forms, beginning with the ca. 1800 gown as it was fairly simple. While the form was far too large, the adjustable nature of the dress meant that I could still make it look all right, even if the shoulders weren't quite in the right place. As I didn't have my pocket hoops with me, I decided to leave the ca. 1765 sacque for next week, and skipped ahead to the two 1920s evening dresses and the Lilly Pulitzer sheath; the former fit perfectly on the women's forms, and the latter on one of the child forms. Trying to get the ones that needed the least amount of under-structure done first, I went for the Natural Form walking dress and the chiné print lingerie dress next.
Oh dear. The walking dress would come nowhere near closed on either a woman form or the remaining child one, and the lingerie dress would close enough on the child one if it had its back to the wall, but all of them were to be placed in the center of the room. In a conference, I voiced my opinion that none of the dresses not already on forms were going to be able to be displayed.
But - all was not lost. I pointed out that the 1920s dresses had fit perfectly, and that there had been others that hadn't been quite good enough to be put in as the sole representatives of their decade, but which were certainly attractive. It seemed likely that they would fit. Why not change the section to focus on evening gowns of the 1920s?
And so now the main consideration is not "is this the most fantastic dress you've ever seen?" but "are the shoulders strong enough to take the weight, and will it fit on the dress forms?" (Though all of the dresses the AIHA has are beautiful enough to be displayed in their own right.) I think we may have tried nearly every 1920s dress in good enough shape to be displayed on the forms, and just an hour ago I finished dressing all ten forms.
It is still beautiful, and there are so many amazing things set up in the galleries, most of them from the 18th and 19th centuries (there are two portraits from the 17th!), and you should still come if you're anywhere near Albany - but you should know that there aren't any more 18th or 19th century women's garments on display. Hopefully they will be shown sometime in the future, when there's time to borrow some suitable mannequins from another museum.
I still fully intend to clean up and post the patterns of the five dresses I did have time to take, and if it's at all possible, I also intend to take many more patterns and publish a book of them. I don't see why I shouldn't! That walking dress that wouldn't fit on a form is magnificent.