This wire and textile figure is inspired by the novel “The Woman in White” by Wilkie Collins. Published in 1860 the novel is a mystery with secrets, hidden identites, gloomy country houses, graveyard meetings and escapes from the asylum. The novel has different narrators and has many memorable characters.
I was interested in creating a strange and ghostly figure. And my woman in white is based on the description of Walter Hartwright’s chilling and dramatic meeting with a mysterious young woman late at night near Hamstead Heath.
“In one moment every drop of blood in my body was bought to a stop by the touch of a hand laid lightly and suddenly on my shoulder from behind me.” ……….”There as if it had that moment sprung out of the ground or dropped from the heaven- stood the solitary fwoman, dressed from head to foot in white garments”
She is described as wearing a bonnet, shawl and gown and holding a small bag. Her “colourless” clothes “not composed of fine or expensive materials” but “not wild or immodest”
The woman is a mystery, Walter cannot guess how she came to be there alone at one in the morning. She will not say her name or where she is going. Walter is “startled” by the “extraordinay apparition.” She becomes “a ghostly figure” “a shadow” who haunts both Walter and the novel.
My idea was to make a 2D figure with 3D details using just wire and fine transparent muslin fabric. However I abandoned my idea of making a wire frame from scratch when I saw these two headless mannequins on ebay. A bargain at £5.61!
The lower bar was removed and the whole frame painted white and later bound with white cotton tape .
Arms with hand and thumb were made with 1mm wire used 6 thick and bound with white electrical tape to hold together. ends of the wire attached the arms to the frame. The fabric hands were attached with electrical tape.
For the head, two ovals were made in the same way as the arms. These were later bound together with cotton tape to support the hat.
The white cotton tape over the whole frame and figure hid wire where the arms and head were fixed on and also enabled the gown to be sewn onto the figure. I used 6 packs of cotton bias binding ironed flat before binding around the figure.
I wanted the gown to look ghostly so designed the gown using only the fine muslin, and making it as transparent as possible. A ghostly look was more important than historical accuracy although I still wanted the dress to look Victorian. The vintage thread buttons were another ebay find. The book I found most useful was the “V&A Nineteenth-century fashion in detail.
The hat and bag were made from Butterick sewing patterns using only the very fine muslin and again trying to give a tranparent ghostly effect.