Riveting Rivets


Textile Conservation
February 5, 2016

A good blog should be a riveting read, but this is a blog about riveting…

Left to right: rivet, rivet plate, riveter
Left to right: rivet, rivet plate, riveter © V&A

Over the last week this fanciful tool has become a trusted friend as I face the challenge of ensuring our mannequins are going to keep their bits together for the Undressed exhibition and subsequent tour.

Forget the saucy underwear – this is what gets me going nowadays.

With interest from venues from Russia to the USA, these treasured and historic garments can expect to stay on their mounts and travel for up to three years! The V&A preference is to transport costumes on their mannequins, rather than dressing and undressing at each venue, in order to reduce the amount of handling and potential damage.

In my last blog we looked at the extreme alterations and padding needed to create a period corset shape on a traditional ‘workroom’ figure made of papier mâché and calico – these are naturally very robust and well suited for travelling. However, these are not the only kind of mannequins we use – about half of the objects will go on fibreglass figures complete with limbs and dynamic knee-tilting poses.

Fibreglass figure doing the twist
Fibreglass figure doing the twist © V&A

In order to be able to dress the figures they must have removable body parts, which then have to be fully secured to prevent any movement that may cause damage to the object.

And this is where the riveter becomes a hero!

Safe and secure thanks to a lovely rivet
Safe and secure thanks to a lovely rivet © V&A

But I’m not the first to extoll the virtues of the rivet – ‘Rosie the Riveter’ was a famous female icon of the US war effort in the 1940s, and I like to think of her as being an essential part of the daily battles that face the Undressed Costume Mounting Team. You might recognise this famous image of ‘Rosie the Riveter’!

This famous image is actually of 'Rosie the Riveter'! Poster by J. Howard Miller, artist employed by Westinghouse, poster used by the War Production Co-ordinating Committee - From scan of copy belonging to the National Museum of American History,
Poster by J. Howard Miller, artist employed by Westinghouse, poster used by the War Production Co-ordinating Committee – From scan of copy belonging to the National Museum of American History,

And this less famous one…

Lilia as Rosie the Riveter
Health and Safety first! © V&A

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There’s even a song…

The extra conundrum with a show like Undressed is that quite a number of these items are made of fragile, sheer or transparent fabrics where the whole point is to be able to glimpse the figure beneath the costume.

As people are not usually bolted together (not obviously, at least) we face the challenge of how to attach rivets that are as discreet as possible, and also have no sharp edges that may catch or snag on the delicate fabric.

First attempts with needle felt covered with silk were unsatisfactory (although they will do for this delightful 1950s nightdress with its forgiving folds).

Prototype rivet covering with needle felt and silk
Prototype rivet covering with needle felt and silk © V&A
spot the rivet!
Spot the rivet! © V&A

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The answer? Bias-binding! I can’t tell you the peculiar form of job satisfaction that comes when you discover a rivet plate slips perfectly inside a piece of bias-binding.

My beautiful rivet
My beautiful rivet © V&A

Unfortunately I couldn’t find a song linking bias-binding to the war effort though…

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