• Ashley Webb

Antique gowns, mannequins, and sewing - oh my!




It seems time has really gotten away from me - the last time I posted we were on the cusp of an Indian summer, and now fall is about to come to a close. I can't help but compare this year to last, where everything seemed to be going wonderfully, and this year....not so much. Despite this though, I feel like in all of the forced downtime, I've come to realize the direction I want to take with my business, as well as the possible routes to get there. I hope you'll join me as I attempt to navigate these waters!

While I took an *unintentional* hiatus from my blog, some exciting things have been happening over at bustle. Here's what I've been up to:


Making mannequins for a local historical society

This is my second contract to create conservation friendly mannequins for historic dress this year, and boy was it a challenge! The first contract was for a manageable two mannequins, and this was for six!


For this project, the museum couldn't use store mannequins, as the dresses were from the late 19teens, and each had around 24 inch waists. Modern day mannequins are built for today's shape - a silhouette without constricting and shaping foundation garments; hence, the need for special mannequins. Additionally, the museum quality ones available are priced so high that museums on tight budgets cannot afford them. They end up using store bought mannequins and causing damage to their historic dresses by trying to make them fit.


Because I'm not a huge business, and like all body shapes, not all of my mannequins are perfect, I charge almost half of what a typical conservation form would cost brand new. I source all of my own materials, and hand make each one. I think they look classy, but some will probably prefer the standard brushed steel plates with aluminum poles that typically go with conservation mounts.


I wanted to try and push my boundaries with these babies, not only with carving each mannequin and creating the covers, but I wanted to try and make kinetic elbows for the arms.

That didn't happen, and turned out to be more of a sourcing problem than anything. I'm out of materials and short on funds at this time, or else I'd make more for my own use. I've become quite partial to all of the little intricacies that go into creating a mannequin from start to finish. But, despite all of the complications and the quick turn around time, I think the museum was very happy with how they turned out. Maybe sometime soon I'll write a post on how I made them.




Preserving two wedding dress


Much like creating mannequins from start to finish, I also enjoy creating and embroidering dust covers for personalized wedding dress preservations. While equally as frustrating because of my sewing machine's limitations, I've gotten so much better at sewing and actually using my machine since my very first dust cover over a year ago.


The first dress was an amazing combination of beaded taffeta and tulle - a gown fit for a modern day Cinderella!




The second I preserved was a beautiful vintage-inspired dress - all smooth lines and delicate beaded embroidery. The detail was absolutely insane! The preservation of this dress was a wedding gift from a friend - yes, bustle now does gift certificates!


Studying up on hand sewing techniques


I've been going down the rabbit hole of watching costube (Costume Youtube) videos, reading books on hand sewing, and even attempting to create a garment of my own over the past several weeks.




Costubers such as Bernadette Banner and Morgan Donner have been on repeat on my youtube recently, not only because they create such beautiful videos, but because they're so good at creating accurate representations of historic clothing using patterns from extant garments. While I'm not necessarily brave enough to create and then wear pieces of historic clothing in public, it's fun to dream of the possibilities of incorporating historic elements into modern styles.


Berndatte Banner does a lot of hand sewing, which prior to the mass marketing of the sewing machine in the early 1860s, was the only way to make clothing and household textiles. So, naturally, I've been curious about hand sewing in order to identify stitches in extant garments. Learning these techniques has been meditative in a way - giving me the ability to unwind and connect with the present moment and really focus on the task at hand. I'm still an extreme novice, but hopefully I'll have an easier time in identifying aspects in a surviving garment's construction.


I've even taken it a step further and attempted to make a tartan circle skirt. I've failed miserably in all aspects, and while it's no longer a simple circle skirt, it's become good practice in trial and error of pattern making, pattern modifying, hand sewing, and learning all about appreciation for those who came before us. I've also discovered patience is apparently a quality I'm lacking.


Buying way too many pretty old things


If you've been keeping up with my instagram or my facebook page, you'll have seen some very pretty new vintage purchases. That's only a very small portion of the items I've found and splurged on in the past several months! I may have a problem...but read on to see some of my ideas on how I'm planning on to incorporate these from just a collection to an active working study collection.




I'm definitely hoping to delve into some research on many of them soon, but first I need to inventory them all first!


Researching and brainstorming ideas for a potential Youtube channel


As I mentioned above, I've really gotten into watching beautiful videos by the wonderful Bernadette Banner, and while I don't necessarily sew, I think I could do "unboxing" videos of items in my own personal collection. Videography certainly isn't a strong suit of mine, but I think that it will help my creative outlet in doing the research on items in my collection while providing some sort of academic need as well. I also want to try and provide patterns for the pieces I showcase for all those looking to create accurate replicas!


I've got a few things up my sleeve for this, so hopefully by November or December (maybe I'll make it a New Years Resolution?) I'll have some videos in the works. Having a full time job is certainly going to complicate how many videos I can crank out, and I certainly don't want to overwhelm myself, which I have a tendency to do when I start on new projects. I go all in and get burnt out quickly!





Overall, it's been a busy two months. I just hope that I can maintain a high level of academia and content creation while keeping my sanity!





Roanoke, VA, USA

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