Slings and Arrows: Safe Costume Transport

Mary C. Baughman

ABSTRACT - A transport or storage system for costumes is described. This system features a cloth or a Tyvek sling with cover flaps that secure the costume in place. The sling is attached to a lightweight support box. Costumes remain suspended in the slings during transport. The costumes can be packed and unpacked quickly. The sling system is designed for use inside of a durable packing crate.

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Fig. 1 The "Portiers or Curtain dress" is seen in a sling that is attached to a foam core board box that is inside a wooden packing case. The thin cotton bodice of the dress is folded under a cover flap. A box with a sling that holds the jacket with the short shoulder cape is shown in the fore ground.

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Fig.2 The blue velvet wrapper with fur trim in the sling. Note that this sling extends the entire length of the box. The cloth straps on the outside of the foam core box are used to remove the box from the packing crate.


This paper outlines the construction techniques of a sling system and boxes that were created to ship reproduction costumes (figs.1, 2). The sling system replaced the use of packing tissue in the shipping boxes. The shapes of 19th Century garments for a woman inspired the sling design, but this system can be modified to suit other types of garments and objects. Though it was designed for temporary use, and made with inexpensive material, the sling design is appropriate for long term storage if archival materials are used to make it.

The Gone With the Wind Costumes

In 1984 the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center in Austin, Texas acquired five costumes worn by Vivien Leigh in the 1939 movie, "Gone with the Wind". Exhibited by the Ransom Center only once for a brief period of time, their fragile condition precluded further display though there was intense public interest in the costumes. A decision to make reproductions proved to be the most effective option to protect the original costumes, and to satisfy the public.

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Fig. 3 The reproduction blue velvet wrapper is shown on a mannequin.

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Fig. 4 The reproduction burgundy velvet strapless dress with ostrich feathers and glass stud decoration is shown on a mannequin.

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Fig. 5 The reproduction "Portiers or Curtain dress" is shown on a mannequin.

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Fig. 6 The reproduction wedding dress is shown on a mannequin.

The five original costumes were placed in storage and four reproduction costumes were created by the Fashion Design Department at Incarnate Word College in San Antonio, Texas in the fall of 1986 (figs. 3, 4, 5, 6). For the next sixteen years, when the costume reproductions traveled, traditional tissue paper based packing methods that did not always protect them from damage were used. In 2002, a sling support system was made for each of the reproduction costumes. This system replaced the tissue paper, simplified packing procedures, and kept the costumes safe during transport. The slings also permit the easy inspection of these costumes, which are vulnerable to insect attack. A synthetic cloth sling support is less likely to attract and conceal insects than is crumpled tissue paper.

1. Sling and Box Planning

1.1 Determine the Needs of the Costume

Become familiar with the shape and evaluate the physical condition of the costume and any accessories. Identify fragile areas that may require additional support or restraint. Consider the overall weight of the costume as well as any particularly heavy areas or components likely to cause creases and wrinkles when the costume is laying flat.

Interior measurements for the bust, neck to waist, waist, waist to hem, and circumference of the hem are used for the construction of interior supports. To determine the size of the box it is necessary to measure the overall depth, width and thickness of the outside of the costume with the supports in place. For instance, if the skirt is folded and the folds are supported, a measurement of the circumference of the folded and supported skirt around the hem, at two or three other points around the skirt, and at the waist are needed. If a pillow is used to support a bodice, the overall dimensions of the costume and pillow support must be measured or at least estimated and included in the measurements for the box.

1.2 Determine the Dimensions of the Box

The size, weight, and physical condition of the costume and supports to be stored or shipped are key considerations, but additional factors are used to determine the size of the box. The dimensions of any doorways and elevators the box will need to pass through and shelving where the box will be stored must be evaluated before determining the box dimensions. Shipping companies may also have restrictions on size and weight.

1.3 Choose Materials for the Box

The decision of whether the box will be used for temporary transport and storage only, or whether the box will be used for permanent storage will guide the selection of materials to make the box. Foam board, archival corrugated boards of varying wall thicknesses or corrugated plastic board such as Coroplast may be used for constructing the box. Publications about box construction are cited in the "Further Reading" section of this paper. These sources discuss the pros and cons of various materials and show how to make boxes.

Canadian Conservation Institute Technical Bulletin #14 (Schlicting 1994) explains techniques for constructing fluted plastic sheet (Coroplast) boxes.

Plan the Costume Supports

2. Costume Supports

Interior supports help a costume to maintain its shape during transport or storage. The costume's dimensions will determine the size and type of the interior supports. The weight of the costume will determine the choice of filling.

Tissue supports are inexpensive, simple and quick to make, but they may not maintain the desired shape over time. If a costume travels, tissue supports can be accidentally unrolled or discarded when the costume is unpacked.

Constructing fitted pillow supports using polyester batting covered with fabric is time consuming, but the pillows maintain the desired shape longer. Supports can be engineered to help hold the costume in a sling. If the costume is to be stored permanently, or is traveling without a conservator, pillows are likely to be the safest method of support.

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Fig.7 The reproduction burgundy velvet dress bodice is shown secured in the sling by the bodice support, which is tied to the sling. The tie for one end of the large pillow that covers the dress and secures it to the sling in lieu of cover flaps is also shown.

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Fig. 8 Two bodice support pillows are shown. One has only the polyester batting, the other has the final covering of polyester fabric.

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Fig. 9 The sling and box for the Portiers dress are shown. The sling for the jacket is barely visible at the top of the box. The skirt support for this dress is shown to the left of the conservator. The skirt support is made with pieces of foam core board that are covered with stockinet.

2.1 Bodice Support

A bodice pillow support for a strapless gown can be modified by making the shoulder area of the pillow overly large. Twill tape ties that are sewn to this shoulder area of the pillow can be attached to ties on either the sling or the box to prevent the bust pillow, hence the costume, from moving around in the box (fig. 7). Color-coded ties, or labeled ties will promote repeated use. Costumes travel with their fasteners (such as buttons, snaps, and hooks and eyes) closed. This helps to keep the interior supports in place.

2.2 Skirt Supports

A costume with a long full skirt will likely require folding. Tube, sausage, or triangular shaped pillow supports will best support the folds. The number of folds will determine the number of supports. The waist of the costume may also require support. The costume's dimensions and construction will determine the appropriate shape of the pillow. A skirt pillow can be made so that it attachs to the sling with ties, thus holding the costume in place in the sling.

Some costumes may require an alternative support system using rigid lightweight boards such as foam board to maintain the desired shape (fig.8). The boards can be cut to size and padded using polyester batting and stockinet. Covering the stockinet with fabric will reduce abrasion, and allow safe insertion and removal of these supports.

3. The Sling

3.1 The Parts of the Sling


Fig. 10 The Parts of a Sling
(Most of the tabs on the left side have been omitted.)

A Sling End Piece
B Sling
C Cover flap with twill tape ties
D Tab with a Loop

3.2 Choose the Sling Material

The type of cloth used to make the costume dictates the choice of material used to construct an appropriate and supportive sling shape. A costume made of slippery cloth may travel better in a sling made with a cloth such as flannel that provides a little friction. A Tyvek or slippery polyester cloth sling is appropriate for costumes with materials such as sequins or feathers that might snag.


Fig 11 A Sling with a Trough and a Bulge

(Tabs on the right side have been omitted.)
A Sling End Piece
B Sling
C Cover flap
D Tab with a Loop
E Trough for a Train
F Bulge for a Bustle

3.3 Determine the Size and Shape of the Sling

The sling can be made in a variety of shapes. It can be a simple cone for a bell shaped skirt. The large end of the cone must be closed with a half moon or circle shaped end piece to keep the skirt from sliding out there (fig. 10). The cone shaped sling can have additional channels or bulges added to accommodate the train or bustle of a skirt (fig. 11). A sling can be shaped like one half of a barrel to hold a bodice. Both ends of the barrel shape are closed with end pieces to keep the bodice in the sling.

3.4 Construct the Sling, Starting With the Endpiece

The shape of the end piece will determine the size and shape of the sling. The shape dimensions, and construction of the end piece at the bottom or hem end of the sling are determined by the shape of the skirt and the thickness of the skirt fabric, by the shape and dimensions of the skirt support, and by the size of the box. Generally the end piece of the sling will be a half moon shape. For heavy garments, consider using two layers of cloth with a rigid interior support of foam core board or a stiff interfacing for the end piece of the sling.

The sling end piece should be made so that it will rest two inches above the floor of the box, two inches below the lid of the box, and one inch from each side of the box. Make a paper pattern for the sling end piece. Use this pattern to cut the cloth or Tyvek. Allow extra cloth for French seams if using polyester lining fabric. Tyvek can be left with raw edges.

3.5 Make the Sling

Measure the curved lower edge of the finished sling end piece in the area where the sling will be sewn to it to get the measurement for the hem end of the sling. A cloth tape measure is a good tool for this. Use bulldog clips to hold the sling end piece on the hem end of the box. Determine the length of the sides of the sling by measuring from the lowest edge of the end piece to the top of the box. Basically, for a cone shaped sling, this is measuring a diagonal line from the bottom to the top of the box, along the length of the box. A heavy-duty tape measure that will remain rigid is a good tool for this. Make additional diagonal measurements following along the curve of the end piece to the top of the box. Use measurements around the outside of the waist of the skirt to get a measurement for the top of the sling. Calculate the shape and dimensions of the cloth or Tyvek needed for the sling. Refer back to the observations and measurements made of the costume with supports. A paper pattern is used for construction of the sling end piece. A paper pattern for the sling may be helpful, but a large paper pattern can also be a bit unwieldy. Alternatively, the uncut cloth or Tyvek fabric that will be used for the sling can be pinned to the bottom end of the sling and draped over the edges of the box to assist in getting measurements for the sling. Use bulldog clips to hold the fabric in place. Measure, mark the fabric, and then cut the cloth or Tyvek fabric and sew it to the sling end piece. Check the fit of the sling with the attached end piece in the box. Mark locations for flaps and tabs on the sling fabric.

3.6 Make Cover Flaps and Attach Them to the Sling

Calculate the dimensions of the cloth or Tyvek needed for the cover flaps that will secure the costume in the sling. Cover flaps should be wide and strong enough to support the costume if the box is overturned in transport. The measurements taken of the costume with interior supports in place will be helpful in determining the sizes of the cover flaps. Cut the cloth and pin the cover flaps to the sling. Check the fit with bulldog clips holding the bottom and top part of the sling in place. Sew the cover flaps to the sling.

3.7 Make Tabs and Attach Them to the Sling

Calculate the dimensions of the cloth or Tyvek needed for the tabs that will hold the sling suspended in the box. Tabs are at least five inches wide. The length of the tab depends on where it is attached to the sling and how it attached to the box. Tabs at the hem end of a bell shaped skirt will be shorter than the tabs at the waist of the skirt. A generous length of cloth is needed.

3.8 Foamcore Board Box Tabs

The tabs may be attached to the box in various ways, depending on what materials are used to construct the box. The attachment method must be considered when making the tabs. Tabs for a foam core board box must have sufficient fabric to make a loop at the end that will be used to attach the tab to the box. The loop will hold a three to four inch wide piece of foam board. Sew the loop part of the tabs before the tabs are pinned to the sling.

3.9 Coroplast Box Tabs

Tabs for a Coroplast box must be long enough to feed out and back through slots in the box. Tyvek is an excellent material for this type of tab.

3.10 Finishing Cover Flaps and Cloth Or Tyvek Tabs

Tabs are cut and sewn longer than needed. Bulldog clips hold the tabs on the edges of the box so that the end of the tab that will be attached to the sling can be placed correctly and pinned. The sling is placed in the box and the tabs are pinned to it and adjustments are made to get the sling to hang properly in the box. Having the bust or skirt supports in the sling is helpful when pinning the tabs. The costume need not be used when pinning, just the interior supports. Pin tabs to the sling. Sew the tabs to the sling. Sew twill tape ties to the free ends of the cover flaps. Sew twill tape ties to the corresponding areas on the sling.

Photograph of

Fig.12 Tab Attachment for Foam Core Board Crates – Detail

The sling is suspended from loops of cloth that are held by a strip of foam core board. Hot glue is used to attach the strips of board to the side of the box. A second strip of board supports the upper strip.

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Fig. 13 Plast Kut Tool

The Plast-Kut tool works well for cutting along the flutes of fluted plastic sheet. This tool can be used to cut just halfway or all the way through fluted plastic sheet.

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Fig. 14 Prototype Coroplast Collapsible Crate

Foam core board is not sturdy enough for the construction of collapsible boxes; fluted plastic sheet must be used. Fluted plastic sheet comes in varying densities. The sides of a large or long box will not be rigid if a low-density sheet is used for the construction of the box.

3.11 Attach the Tabs to the Box

If the box is made of foam core board, cut two strips of foam core board three to four inches wide. These strips will fit inside the loops at the ends of the tabs. The length of the foam board strips will be close to or equal to the length of the sling. Slip the tabs onto the foam board strips. Put the sling into the box and position the foam core board strips where they will be glued to the box. Hold them in place with bulldog clips until they are glued. Glue the foam board strips to the box in between the tabs. For this step it is essential to have at least two people working together. If the strips are glued on incorrectly, the sling will not work properly. Hold the strips with bulldog clips until the glue sets. For additional support, a second strip of foam core board can be glued just below the first (fig.12).

If the box is made of Coroplast, the tabs can be attached by making slits in the sides of the box to feed the tabs through or by inserting wires through pockets sewn to the ends of the tabs and poking the wires into the flutes of the Coroplast. Use bulldog clips to hold the tabs while the location for the slits or the holes in the box walls is determined.

4. Tips

To prevent the bulldog clips from marking the box, use a folded barrier of two-ply mat board between each clip and the box.

Handhold cutouts for carrying the box will require no adjustments for thickness, but handles will.

To design a box that collapses, make small models of paper or two-ply board. The width of the box must be more than the height of the box or it will not fold flat. The length of the box limits the number of slings.

Experimentation with small scraps of fluted plastic sheet reveals quirks associated with scoring and folding the sheets.

Though bubble wrap should not be considered for long-term use, it can be used to make a quick prototype bust pillow.

5. Adhesives

Regardless of the type of box construction material, whenever possible it is best to use mechanical means of joining box materials rather than using adhesives.

It is difficult to join pieces of fluted plastic sheet with adhesive. Rhoplex was used for one Ransom Center project over ten years ago and this adhesive is still holding up well. Rhoplex might not be appropriate because of the need to work quickly when constructing a large container. Hot glue worked successfully with the original sling crates because two people carefully coordinated the application of the glue and the positioning of the walls.

Hot melt adhesive such as 3M Jet melt can be used to make rivet like connections between sheets. The technique for this type of join is well illustrated in CCI Technical Bulletin #14.

For the prototype Coroplast collapsible box that I showed at the AIC meeting in Minneapolis I chose a 3M high tack adhesive tape to join sheets together. Strips of Tyvek cover the tape. Though advertised as being a stable adhesive, used for extremes of temperature and outdoors, it is now failing only five months after it was used for the box.

Hugh Phibbs suggested that I look into adhesives used for electrical components.

6. Notes on the Costumes and Their Slings

The costumes are a part of the David O. Selznick archive.

More information about this archive can be found at this web site:

Jan Hevenour and Carrie Harrell created the costume reproductions under the direction of Sister Mary Elizabeth Joyce. Construction techniques and fabrics identical to the originals were used for the construction of the reproductions.

Information about the project can be found at this web site:

Four boxes of equal outside dimensions were made to hold the Gone with the Wind costume reproductions during shipment to exhibits at other institutions. Two boxes fit into each shipping crate. Each box had features to suit each costume. The materials for each sling crate cost about $100. Each box measured 73.5" long, 25.5" tall, 23.5 " deep.

The reproduction blue velvet wrapper has heavy black wolf fur trim. This garment has only one fastener, a large hook and eye at the base of the fur collar. The wrapper has one long sling with a trough for the train and a bulge for the pouf on the back.

The reproduction burgundy velvet strapless dress with ostrich feathers and glass stud decoration has one long sling with a trough for the train and a bulge for the pouf on the back. The bodice support holds the bodice in place at the top of the sling. Rather than use cover flaps, to prevent crushing the feather trim, the sling is covered with a pillow that extends the length of the sling. The pillow is stuffed with polyester batting and is attached along the edges of the sling with a series of ties. An overly large bust pillow secures the bodice and protects the feathers that extend onto the shoulders.

The box for the reproduction "Portiers or Curtain dress" has two slings, one for the dress and another for the jacket. Note the caped sleeve of the jacket and the heavy drapery cord belt. The belt is restrained in the sling with a pocket attached to a cover flap

The reproduction wedding dress has four pieces: a bodice, a skirt, a petticoat and hip panniers. The box for this costume has two slings, one for the bodice and one for the skirt. The underwear rests in boxes on ledges over the skirt and bodice. This permits the underwear to be unpacked first.

Materials and Tools


The 'Plast-Kut' tool can be ordered through

Plast-Kut, Inc.
2740, rue Harfang, Saint-Laurent, Québec, Canada H4R 2T6
Telephone(514) 333-5701
Fax(514) 333-5702


Jane Boyd, Beatrice Dodge, and Adrienne Pamp offered design assistance. Jane Boyd assisted in construction of the foam board boxes.

Barbara Brown, Elisabeth Carr, Erin Hammeke, Olivia Primanis, Lauren Telepak, Bunnie Twidwell, Tsung-Wei Kuo took digital photos and taught me Microsoft Power point.

Thanks to Eliza Gilligan, Beatrice Dodge, Kathleen Kiefer, and Melanie Sanford for advice and assistance on many textile projects.

Further Reading

Browning, E. 1993. "Checklist for planning the shipment of museum objects." Conserv O Gram, number 17/1, National Park Service.

Carlson, L., M. R. Brown. 1994. Boxes for the protection of rare books: their design and construction. Library of Congress, Washington, DC. For sale by the U.S.G.P.O., Supt. of Docs.

Harris, K. 1980. "Some Recent Advances in the Storage and Display of Costumes in the United States", Conservation and Restoration of Textiles, International Conference, Como, Italy, pp. 38-45

Hatchfield, P. 1994. "Choosing materials for museums storage", in Carolyn L. Rose and Catherine Hawks (eds.), Storage of Natural History Collections: Basic Concepts (Society for the Preservation of Natural History Collections, Pittsburg, PA.).

Isabelle, A., 1990. "Corrugated polypropylene containers," Textile Conservation Newsletter, number 18.

Knutson, T., 1993. "Handling and storage of textiles and costume artifacts," Art Conservation Center at the University of Denver.

Red Elk, E.M., L. Mellon, 1992, revised 1996."A textile mounting technique: an alternative to a traditional method," Art Conservation Center at the University of Denver.

Schlicting, C. 1986, "Coroplast box construction using hot-melt rivets," IIC-CG newsletter, Vol. 12 number.3, pp. 16–18.

Schlicting, C., 1994. "Working with polyethylene foam and fluted plastic sheet=Travail de polyethelene et des feuilles de plastique cannelees," (Technical Bulletin #14=Bulletin technique no. 14) , Ottawa: Canada, Department of Canadian Heritage. Canadian Conservation institute=Canada. Ministere du Patrimoine Canadiene. L'Institute Canadien de Conservation,

Zeier, F. 1990. Books, boxes, and portfolios: binding, construction, and design step-by-step. Design Press, New York, New York.

Mary C. Baughman has worked as a Book Conservator at the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center at the University of Texas at Austin since 1983. Her training has been on site and through workshops. She was awarded Kress and Kittredge Foundation fellowships in 1988 to study in Switzerland with master design binder Hugo Peller. Mary's articles on book conservation and integrated pest management can be found in publications of the AIC, IIC, and Conservation OnLine. Her newest venture is teaching book arts to children. Address: P.O. Box 7219, Austin, TX 78713-7219

E-mail: m.c.boffman[at]

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Timestamp: Monday, 11-Oct-2010 12:37:18 PDT
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