Tuesday, April 17, 2018

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The Creature Reborn - Retrimming the Pink Polonaise

Once upon a time I made a pink taffeta polonaise and trimmed it in organza, a very 1770s thing to do. At the time, I tried hand roll hemming and found it tedious, incredibly time consuming, and even painful, so I sinfully machine hemmed all the edges of the *miles* of organza that went onto a gown I started calling "The Creature."

I wore The Creature to a day at l'Hermione and Costume College and really quite loved all the floof. This was several years ago now and I was unashamed of my very poor machine hemmed gauze. It was more important to me then to have a finished dress I felt pretty wearing rather than a dress made with historical techniques.

The first time I wore the polonaise in Virginia, visiting the Hermione. It doesn't look bad from a few feet away but the edges of that organza trim were *JANK*

Fast forward to 2018 and my how things change! Over the past couple years, and especially since writing The American Duchess Guide, I've learned so much about construction and technique; my personal goals for each gown I make have changed. Other things have changed too, most notably my measurements, so the selection of wearable 18th century gowns in my closet has, well, shrunk. :-(

With a book-signing event this month at Lacis in Berkeley, I wanted something to wear besides the same yellow Italian gown I've been sporting since August. I'm a big fan of re-wearing gowns, so in the spirit of the Georgian milliner, I pulled out The Creature.

What I like about the polonaise is that it's very adjustable. It was easy to pick out the false waistcoat and re-position it for my current size. The bigger challenge was pulling off all the organza and re-working it.

Now one of the nice things was that I used *way* more organza the first time around that I would need to hem in the re-trimming. I used a modern 1:3 gather/pleat ratio, but for most 18th century trim a 1:1.5 ratio or a 1:2 works just fine. (I deviate from this on the deep petticoat ruffle where I used a 1:2.6 gathering ratio because I wanted a very full look to cover the pink cotton extension). It took me several days to hem the organza but I used a roll hemming technique that made it loads easier and quicker than what I tried before. I've very happy with the result.

The hand rolling technique I used handled angled edges just fine and the resulting hem is quite fine. It was fast and easy, which made the project considerably less daunting.

The resulting hand-hemmed organza, gathered instead of pleated, has a much lighter, airy feel and gives a very different look to the gown.
I've also made some design changes. The biggest is changing the knife pleats to gathers on the front edges of the gown. I also switched the stacked cuffs to one big sabot cuff, which - not gonna lie - took *forever* to get on the sleeves. What a pain! I love this cuff style by my goodness they are fussy!

Sabot cuffs - they're fun once finished, but it took an age to get them on the sleeves. I'd like to try sabot cuffs again with a different shirring design for other effects.
Lastly, I tacked the front edges of the gown to the stomacher so there's less of an open cutaway look and more of a structured zone front. That and a waist tie from the center back help hold the back of the gown in position.

Getting dressed for our Q&A at Lacis this past weekend
Signing books at Lacis this past weekend - we were so honored to be invited to speak here!
Although this re-trim project took a long time, I'm most pleased that the result is a gown I loved before and can wear again with pride instead of apologies. Re-trimming an old gown was such an 18th century thing to do...consider it Georgian upcycling. I encourage you all to think like a milliner and see if you can update an older gown with new trims - it's a very satisfying feeling!
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Friday, April 13, 2018

Podcast Episode 17: Embracing Your Eccentric Historical Self with Zack Pinsent, Historic Tailor

Hey Everybody!

Woohoo! We have a new episode of Fashion History with American Duchess to share with you today! Earlier this year, we managed to get our favorite English [historic] tailor, Zack Pinsent, to sit his bum down for a fun skype session/interview.

Zack Pinsent via Instagram
If you don't know Zack, well, you should. He's a bright young thing in our historic costuming world (literally, he's 23) and is totally making a wonderful name for himself as a historic tailor. Self taught, hungry for information, and incredibly talented, Zack usually leaves us drooling onto our smart phones while lurking through his Instagram.

As with most of our interviews, what begins as an interview about how Zack became what he is, and learned what he knows, we found ourselves discussing eccentricity, masculinity & fashion, and embracing the real version of you. Something that all of us need reminding of every now and then.

There was also a funny screenshot of him drinking wine, because, being in England, it was the evening for him (and just the beginning of the work day for us!)

Wine, Headphones, and Banyan for Mr. Pinsent. Abby is giggling. 

Here is the tartan that Zack mentions in the episode. Via Instagram

If you want to get to know Zack better (and, trust us, you do.) head on over to his Facebook Page, Instagram, or Website.

He's also a special guest at this year's Jane Austen Festival at Locust Grove in Louisville, Kentucky! (Abby and Lauren will be there, too...)

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Monday, April 9, 2018

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1765 Robe a la Bon Bon - Progress on the Gown

The sacque back is looking swell
I've been sewing on-and-off on my new sacque for a few weeks now. I only have the weekends to fiddle these days, but luckily progress happens in big leaps and bounds on sacques, which is something I particularly love about them.

I'm using Simplicity 8578 for the pattern pieces and pleat markings in back, but I am assembling the gown by hand going by The American Duchess Guide book. I've pleated the back of the gown up according to the pattern and it worked a treat. I got the bodice fronts and the back all seamed together, and then moved on to what I think is the trickiest part of the gown - the front skirts.

Assembling the bodice - the linen lining is all stitched together and the bodice front pieces of silk applied.

I used Simplicity 8578 to mark the pleats for the back of the gown

All pleated up - we include the hidden third pleat in Simplicity 8578, which makes for those nice, crisp, beautiful back pleats.

A bit of a trick part - stitching the pleated back to the bodice lining, then turning the side back edges of the fashion fabric and prick stitching down, but not all the way - I still have to access the seam at the waistline.
For the skirt fronts I have deviated a little from the Simplicity pattern. I cut and seamed the gore at the sides, like we do in the book, and plan to fold back the front edges of the skirt pieces to stabilize the front edges and form that inverted 'V' opening that's so attractive on sacques.

For those of you working with the Simplicity pattern tissue, I combined the gore and the front skirt panel into one piece for ease of use and pattern tissue space. This means that the width needed at the hem to get around the pocket hoops is still there, you're just relieved of that extra mantua-maker's seam. What's *not* on the Simplicity pattern piece is the fold-back on the front edges. This is because how much you fold back (or if you do at all - both ways are correct) is up to you.

From "The American Duchess Guide" - since I don't have a photo of folding back the gown skirt on my own dress (yet), this is what I'm talking about, shown on the 1768 sacque from our book.
Some of you were asking about the gore (if you decide to cut it, like in the book) and if it works with directional fabrics. I made a little video talking about it. I hope it helps you guys as you make your sacques:

I talk about this in the video, but here's the illustration  too - the gores on the skirt front panels - do they work with directional fabrics? The quick answer is "no."
I have quite a long way left to go. I decided not to finish the sacque for this weekends' trip to Lacis in Berkeley, but instead to re-trim an older gown (although tbh with the amount of time I've put in roll-hemming organza by hand I could've been done with the sacque!), but that's another blog post for another day...
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Monday, April 2, 2018

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1760s Robe a la Bon Bon - The Petticoat

Finished sacque petticoat over pocket hoops
I've been steadily progressing on my new sacque, using the Simplicity 8578 Robe a la Francaise pattern we released December 2017.

Since I already had pocket hoops from way back, conveniently the same dimensions as those from Simplicity 8579 and The American Duchess Guide, I could set right to work on the petticoat.

I used two panels of 60" wide taffeta. I marked the top curve from the Simplicity pattern and pleated up the back, finishing the top edge with a tape.

The trim applied to the front panel of the petticoat before pleating the top edge.
I trimmed the front of the petticoat before I pleated the top, which made it loads easier to deal with. The Simplicity pattern has trim placement markings on it, and while I chose my own trim style, I did use the width from the tissue to determine how wide I wanted my trim.

Trimming is the fun part! I used the scalloped trim templates cut out from posterboard, traced onto the silk with a heat-erase pen, and then set to cutting each scallop with my scalloped pinking shears, which makes a wonderful, very Georgian pinked edge. It's a little tedious, but the trick is to fold up the fabric double or triple, pin it to hold everything secure, and then cut.

The taffeta is folded up and pinned, then the trim template is traced over the part of the stripe that I liked

Cutting scallops with scalloped pinking shears - originally these would have been punched with a scalloped tool, but I can never get mine sharp enough so I use the scissors and that's just fine.

Whip gathering the edge of the trim pieces
I strategically cut my pinked strips from different parts of the stripe in my fabric, to make different color effects. I whip-gathered the different pieces, working two widths together for the deep ruffle and top trim. The bottom-most trim is a single piece but I did two rows of whip gathers simultaneously.

A whip-gathered double ruffle for the petticoat - I gathered the narrow and wide pieces together,then pressed open with the iron.
Once all the trim was on it was just a matter of pleating the top, binding it, and finishing the petticoat hem. I did run into a little trouble here - I forgot that Simplicity added a deeper hem to the petticoat, so mine has come out a little too long. I could take the trim off the front, raise it all, and then re-hem the petticoat, but what I'm going to try first is actually just rolling over the top edges to raise the entire hem.

The top edge of the petticoat pleated then bound with cotton tape.
So now with the petticoat done (pending raising that hem), I've moved on to the gown, but that is another blog post for another day. <3 
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Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Book Review: Torn by Rowenna Miller

Hi All!

Abby here with something a bit different for you today. A few weeks ago we were contacted by a publisher regarding fellow blogger, historic costumer, and reenactor - Rowenna Miller's new book, Torn which is the first in a historical/fantasy series inspired by the events of the French Revolution. As a newly published author, Hoosier, and supporter of Rowenna (and a fan of historical fiction - fantasy or not!) -- I was happy to receive an early copy of the book to read and review for the blog-o-sphere.

Here's the cover of Rowenna's first book - Torn. 

The book focuses on milliner/mantua-maker/seamstress Sophie Balstrade who lives in the capital city of Galitha. She's worked her rump off making a career for herself despite unfavorable odds of being of Pellian descent (a minority group that have immigrated to the country of Galitha and also have their own decently sized immigrant quarter in Galitha City) and her relationship with her brother, a right proper Enjolras from Les Miserable, named Kristos.

While dealing with the constant revolutionary discussions that occur between Sophie's brother and his friends, she's busy trying to grow her business and expand into the much desired nobility customer base. Her reputation gets her an 'in' with the pseudo Elisabeth Vigée Le Brun character (that's how I envisioned her anyways), that is incredibly warm and hospitable to our protagonist in a way that is a bit jarring. From there, Sophie's life just becomes a fabric filled cluster of super highs and super lows, all while trying to navigate what is an incredibly stressful and delicate situation. Where does her loyalty lie? How can she protect her business, her life, and the livelihood of her employees? Why is her brother so damn confusing?

Enjolras/Kristos getting their revolution on....

Obviously, I don't want to give away the plot, but give a review instead. First, I want to say that I am incredibly proud and excited for Rowenna's first publication, not just as a fellow Hoosier, but because she is a blogger and reenactor, too. She's a part of this wonderful community that has developed on line, and Lauren and I strongly believe in supporting our peers in their endeavors.

To get to the point - I am looking forward to reading the second book in the series, but I can't say that this first book was the quickest of reads. It did take a while for me to really grow attached to the characters, and I felt like the book was repetitive and slow moving through a good chunk of the 436 pages. Since we were sent advance copies, I am unsure if there was more editing to be done, or other changes, because there was a note in the book about how some of the material may not appear in the finished book, so my critique could be null and void now with the finished version out. Once we were able to get some good plot & character development going, the last part of the book was really quite enjoyable, suspenseful, and exciting - which is why I'm looking forward to seeing what happens in the next book.

The other little issue, that is probably entirely my own since I'm well versed in 18th century history, is that I spent wayyyyy too much time figuring out who Rowenna based her characters off of from historical record. Knowing that book takes some inspiration from the French Revolution, every new character (especially the nobility) that was introduced resulted in me comparing them to their potential historical counterparts - which really affected my ability to enjoy the story for what it is. Again - I think that might be entirely my own issue - but if you're inclined to do this too, I would strongly suggest that you stop yourself. 😂

Self-Portrait with Cerise Ribbons, Elisabeth VigĂ©e  Le Brun, 1782, Kimball Art Museum (Texas) ACK 1949.02
Finally, I just want to reiterate how excited I am for Rowenna for this massive accomplishment - writing a book is extremely hard work, and to get one book published is an incredible accomplishment - let alone an entire series planned out! So, a HUGE HUGE congratulations to Rowenna for the publication of her first novel! It was a fun read & I'm looking forward to the next installment (...and I'm grateful that it wont take as long a certain George R.R. Martin is taking with his next book...ahem ahem ahem...)

If you would like to read Torn by Rowenna Miller - you can get yours on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and probably any local bookstore.

If you want to visit Rowenna's author page click Here and her blog is Hyaline Prosaic.


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Friday, March 9, 2018

Podcast Episode 16 - Corsets, Broadway, and Owning Your Own Costuming Business with Cynthia Settje of RedThreaded

Hi All!

We're so excited about today's episode of Fashion History with American Duchess, because we finally got to sit down with Cynthia of RedThreaded to pick her brain about patterning corsets, working for Broadway productions, and starting/running her own business!

Cynthia's story is one that we both find incredibly inspiring and a testament to how wonderful the costuming community is, women run businesses, and how us 'wee' millennials were able to take a terrible situation and make the best of it.

Cynthia in her jaw dropping Worth reproduction dress. Photo by Merritt Portrait Studio. 

If you are a young person who is getting ready to graduate from school and trying to figure out what to do next, or you're looking for a career change, want to go into business for yourself, etc., this is a great episode for you!

We hope you enjoy this episode, and we cannot wait to collaborate with Cynthia in the future (hint) - and we'll be posting our reviews of our Redthreaded Atelier corsets very soon (spoiler: we love them!)

Follow the links if you want to follow RedThreaded on Instagram or Facebook!

Thanks for listening! :D

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