How to restore a vintage mannequin - step by step restoration & repair guide

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Mannequins… we see them in every store, they help us visualize how a clothing item would look on us, but while they are resistant, they can also sustain damage. This can be due to various factors such as weather conditions (if it’s kept outside), scratches, being dropped or hit while dressing/undressing it, if it’s a vintage mannequin and time has left its mark on it and so on.

So what do we do when our favorite dummy needs a quick restoration?

We’re here to provide you with a step by step guide to restore your vintage mannequin to its former glory.

Step #1: First of all, disassemble

You don’t have to work on a mannequin with everything attached, especially if the damage is only on one body part. Just disassemble it (if possible) and take only the part you need repair.

Step #2: Take a moment to assess the damage

You should look closely at the part you want to work with to see if there is more damage than meets the eye. If there’s more than one scratch, if the paint chipped off, if and what has broken off.

Note: Before gluing anything you should reattach the broken limb, finger or whatever it is to see if it fits perfectly back on or not.

Step #3: Sand and clean

In order to repair a mannequin, especially a vintage one, you must first sand it down with some fine grade sand paper, until you obtain a smooth surface, no need to worry if you sand off more than the scratch or chip, you’ll have to repaint it afterwards.

Once you’re all done with the sanding part, the next step is to clean it.

What you need: a piece of cloth or rag, rubbing alcohol or just some soap and bit of water.

Rub the entire surface of the part or mannequin with the rubbing alcohol or with a cloth soaked in soapy water, to ensure that you remove any existing dust, oils, gunk, and dirt. Be sure to be gentle so as to not injure your mannequin even further.

After this you should leave the mannequin to dry or wipe it dry with a soft cloth.

Step #4: Tape, Glue, Epoxy, Spackling paste or Bondo

It’s pretty obvious that this step will cover what you should use to reattach the parts that have been broken off to your mannequin.

The tape we’re talking about here is not your regular duct tape, but a double sided foam tape, film tape or any fairly strong double sided tape, which will keep the part in place without causing an unaesthetic look.

Superglue can work just fine with reattaching broken fingers or feet. This is the option you want to consider if the pieces that are broken off won’t be covered by clothes or jewelry.

Epoxy is yet another alternative to making your vintage mannequin whole again, the mixture should be brushed on in thin layers and after drying up, you can sand down the excess

Spackling paste is the best when it comes to filling up cracks, dents and holes. You should consider finding a spackle knife size which will help you and not get in your way. You can use the paste to fill in the gaps left after gluing two pieces together that don’t fit perfectly with each other.

The last but not least useful option, Bondo. It’s a putty used by car repair shops, carpenters and many other people and industries that work with heavy materials, repair and restoration. It’s also perfect for your vintage mannequin. The thing that you absolutely should keep in mind is that it’s toxic and should be worked with only outside or in very well ventilated rooms. After applying and drying, you can use sand paper again to smoothen out the surface or any lumps.

If you use the sand paper, then wipe the mannequin clean again to remove any speck of dust, thus making it ready for the final step, painting.

Step #5: Painting

The body:

You can take a small part of your mannequin to a hardware store and get someone there to help you find the exact shade of paint your mannequin requires. If you're working on small areas, you should opt either for enamel paint or for acrylic ones, because they have the widest range of tones and shades. For large areas you can use spray paints or a roller brush. Remember to paint only in thin coats, one at a time, meaning that you have to wait for a layer to dry before applying another one.

Also after the paint has dried, you can use a satin sealant spray to give your vintage mannequin a realistic finish.

The face:

The face is probably the most complicated of all to restore so if you feel like you’re not up for the task then you should get some professional help.

If you do decide to paint the eyes, lips, eyebrows, cheeks, behind the ears and even the hair yourself, then we would recommend that you consult some tutorials.

The eyes should look realistic so you need to find a base color that resembles a real human eye (oyster color, greyish green). After that you can add lighter or darker colors to create the effect you want, or just keep it plain and simple. Paint a small circle in white which will serve as the iris, after which you can paint the pupil in black and keep a small white bit to complete the realistic effect. Don’t forget to attach some false eyelashes if you can.

For the eyebrows you can use a stencil (a preexisting shape, a cut out of cardboard so it doesn’t get messy), or draw on guides to help you design them. Use diagonal thin strokes of the brush to create a real hair effect, using what color you see fit, or a combination of hair like colors.

Lips on mannequins have a preexisting shape so all you have to do is contour them and fill them up with paint.

Behind the ears should be a darker tone of the skin color to create a shadow effect, you don’t need to insist too much on this. Just draw a thin line with the chosen paint and a thin brush and it’s all set.

To paint the cheeks, the ideal tool would be an airbrush, but since it’s rather expensive, you can try just a pinkish variation of the base coat paint of the mannequin, in a very thin coat. Or simply thin the chosen color of paint with water.

Finally, the hair which can be painted in one single color after you draw a contour of it, assuming of course that the mannequin was designed initially with hair. if not you can use a wig such as the ones we have available.

If by any chance you paint more then you should have, you can use a clean wet rag to wipe off the excess paint.

Consider painting or spraying on a glossy sealant coat over the eyes, lips and any other part you see fit, after everything has finished drying.

And voilà, after all this hard work and dedication, your mannequin has been restored to its beauty with your own two hands.

If you'd like to share your newly restored mannequins with us, just leave us a comment or post it on our Facebook page and we'll include it in the article (while mentioning you, of course).

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  • George Blitzer
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