Friday, August 17, 2018

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Where to Find Great War Era Sweaters

Original advertisement for 1919 sweaters - image from Wearing History (click through to visit her blog post on these sweaters)
I don't know about you, but when I see September on the horizon, no matter how hot it is outside, I start thinking of Fall wardrobe. Autumn colors and cozy fabrics flood my imagination and I take to the internet seeking the ever elusive vintage-style knitwear.

This year I'm obsessed with Edwardian and Great War era sweaters. The knits of the World War I era were surprisingly modern - think hip-length cardigans with shawl collars and belted waists. This sounds like something you can surely buy today, but as with so many modern items there always seems to be something off about a design. Still, we are undeterred, so here are my tips and ideas for where to source your own WWI style sweater or cardigan this season.

1. The Thrift Store

"I wear my grandma's clothes; I look incredible." Don't I wish! The chances of finding an extant Great War era sweater...and then also wearing it...are slim to none. BUT! You might get lucky and find an early 2000s shawl-collar cardigan that either fits the bill or can be altered to the right look. Don't be afraid to look in the men's section as well. Double-breasted, shawl collar sweaters seem to have been relegated to menswear in recent decades.

An example of a thrift store found sweater. The collar never sat quite right on this garment, but it all had the right look when put together.
2. Amazon

It sounds crazy, but if you're good at keyword searching you might be able to suss out some good sweater juju on Amazon. Searching for things like "shawl collar sweater," "shawl collar sweater coat," "hip length cardigan," and so on. Again, don't be afraid of dipping into the gentleman's realm, but do double check the measurements, especially shoulder width. Prices and quality vary wildly on Amazon, so you may just want to nip to the other options below...

This men's sweater has some of the elements we're looking for - shawl collar, double-breasted front, although it has zip pockets and may be a tad short on the high hip.
3. Etsy

You have several options on the ever-popular vintage-and-handmade platform. For clarity's sake I'll list them individually...

A. Have something knitted for you. I found a few vendors on Etsy who will knit on demand for you, either by hand or machine. Some will knit from original vintage patterns (hallelujah because there are lots of those available!) while others offer pre-made designs that are pretty close. It may be possible to request alterations or customizations. Just contact the vendors you like to ask about custom designs. Prices on custom-knit garments vary, but be prepared to shell out a respectable amount for someone's literal handiwork.

This style from Woolen Fashion Shop is made-to-order for you in Latvia. They offer a variety of color choices and make to your measurements, if you don't mind the wait. This sweater is available in 100% lambswool but in speaking with the shop owner, she has said that is can also be made in merino wool.
Woolen Fashion Shop in Latvia machine knits what appear to be *gorgeous* sweaters (among other things) according to your measurements and in a wide variety of colors. This looks like a stunning deal at $95.00. Just be prepared to wait for any custom-made garment.

Kath's Knitwear currently shows sweaters made from later vintage patterns, but it appears that she is open to custom projects too. It is worth it to contact her to see about doing your own design from a photo or original pattern.

B. Seek a vintage/repro/thrift sweater in the right style, regardless of the age. This could mean something from last week, the 1980s, or the 1920s, etc. You're looking for the design elements - hip-length, shawl collar, belted waist. Be prepared to spend a long time searching, though, which can be an enjoyable Saturday afternoon or untold hours in an internet shopping vortex, depending on how you feel about buying clothes online.

This vintage sweater from Desert Moss on Etsy has the right details and is reasonably priced.
One thing to pay particular attention to is the fiber content. We love the 1970s and 80s for the Edwardian revival pieces, but we don't love the sticky acrylic and polyester that garments from these periods can be made in. Try for full or at least partial natural materials.

C. Find ye olde vintage knitting pattern. There are lots and lots of these on Etsy (and elsewhere on the internet). Download or purchase the pattern and fire it off to the custom knitting maven you found from method A or...

Try an original knitting pattern from Wearing History

3. Knit That Thing Yourself

I personally do not have the prowess to knit anything, let alone a fully-formed sweater with a collar and sleeves and pockets and stuff. BUT! If you are a savvy knitter, bust out your needles and go for it. The next best thing to an authentic original is a newly made, one-of-a-kind sweater made from an authentic original pattern.

Those are the ideas I've come up with for sourcing your own WWI-era sweater, but if you've got any other secret sauce to spread atop this post, please let me know in the comments section!

p.s. This post is crammed full of affiliate links so I can afford my Starbucks addiction once in awhile Help a chai sister out. <3
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Wednesday, August 8, 2018

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The Green Goblin - 1790s Dress - For Real This Time

Nicole, me, and Samantha in our Regency gowns at Costume College 2018
I promised finished-dress-worn photos of this little devil of a 1790s project, so here goes...

I was quite pleased and surprised that this gown held together long enough to be worn at Costume College. I rinsed it out in the sink after JA Fest and the water turned green - always a bit terrifying - but the muddy hem washed out decently well and those shamelessly serged seam allowances kept the dress together through rinsing, mangling, drying, and ironing.

I don't hate it! I wore the dress with a ruffled shirt chemisette, little bow, a sash, and Lydia Fast bonnet - oh, please don't mind that long ribbon name tag badge thing. It's a Costume College thang.

Even though I had to cut the train off this gown, it drags just enough to be fun. I really like how the voile drapes, too, in those tiny tiny whipped gathers.
Friday at CoCo, during the day, seemed to be the unofficial Jane Austen Festival Survivor's day. A lot of beautiful 1790s and Regency gowns were walking around. I like to think of this period as "comfy historical."

Our Lydia Fast bonnet is a work of art. I don't think I will ever try to make a hat again, tbh - Lydia's work is just peak.
I wore the Lydia Fast 1790s bonnet made in emerald green silk and trimmed in pink, along with an emerald green sash Abby lent me. I liked the green-on-green tonal thing and wished I'd had more dark green accessories to play it up a bit more.

Abby ties good bows. We weren't sure this green would work with the light sage green dress but I really liked the multi-green tonal thing.
In the end, I quite like this gown. It's a good standby, very lightweight and easy to wear. I love the adjustability and options for changing up the look with accessories. I hope to wear it again soon!

Heeeeere's Abby!
I have *lots* more Costume College photos to share soon - stay tuned!
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Tuesday, July 24, 2018

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Jane Austen Festival, 2018

Maggie, Abby, and Nicole looking gorgeous at Jane Austen Festival, 2018
Jane Austen Festival in Louisville, Kentucky, marks the center point of the year. This event always takes place in mid-July at Locust Grove, a wonderful 1790s house in a beautiful setting, and while the event can be *hot,* the discomfort of Kentucky-in-July is usually overridden by the beauty of the place, the costumed attendees, the fun of shopping and socializing.

Enjoying some lunch in the HMS Acasta encampment, fanning furiously.
This year was a must-go, despite there being precious little time between JA Fest and Costume College, our other major annual event. This year, the festival hosted Zack Pinsent, Regency tailor extraordinaire. His presence, combined with so many other good friends and the opportunity to gather beautiful imagery for our upcoming men's collection meant that Abby and I simply *had* to go.

Zack Pinsent at Jane Austen Festival, 2018, photographed by Lauren Stowell, American Duchess
Can we just talk about this man for a moment? Zack Pinsent at Jane Austen Festival, 2018.

Every good photo shoot comes with a couple fluffers, even for men. We did our shoot with Zack on Friday evening.
While the event was oppressively hot, we donned our 1790s gowns and soldiered on. Zack looked exceedingly cool and comfortable in head-to-toe linen, but we still all needed the occasional break inside the visitor's center, where we found a convenient A/C vent.

Hair went alright on Saturday, despite how freakin' hot it was. I still have my 18th century mullet-ish haircut, which made the frizzing easier.

I wore Dashwood slippers in black this year - comfortable and cute.

Abby in her stunning Lydia Fast bonnet with antique veil.
On Saturday evening I had the opportunity to photograph Captain Remy and Lord Fitzroy of HMS Acasta. it's always a wonder to me how the gentlemen can appear still so put together after boiling in uniform all day long. I had stripped down to my Regency undies, my hair was an utter disaster, and I couldn't form coherent sentences by 7 pm on Saturday, but these two fellows still managed to look like *this* in front of the lens...

Lord Fitzroy and Captain Remy - HMS Acasta. Look for these gentlemen on soon ;-)
Sunday we had cooler weather but only because it was raining. The drizzle put the kibosh on the fabulous hats we all planned to wear, though Nicole persevered, and fashionably, with her super-big-and-bodacious-bowed Lydia Fast straw draped casually in a kerchief to protect it. I didn't get a chance to wear my Lydia Fast green satin bonnet - it remained wrapped in plastic and stowed safely in a tent. :-(

Nicole fashionably draped to protect her Lydia Fast hat in the rain.

Silliness on Sunday in the rain. We were all a little sad not to be able to display our magnificent bonnetry for more than a few minutes.
I didn't really get much for photos in-dress, but I'm planning to wear The Green Goblin to Costume College in a few days, so I'll report back on this gown later on, along with other Costume College goodness. For now, I better get my hemming done for the gala!

Droopy AF - after half a day of rain and mud, the deshabille was a bit much. Please excuse the droop! These were the only photos I got of my dress, but I'll take better ones to share in a later post soon.

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Friday, July 13, 2018


A Little History of "Sophie" 18th Century Mules

The Laundress, 1761, by Greuze
Mules! (AKA Slippers!) Did you know that mules were incredibly common in the 18th century?

Women of all social classes wore them in various materials (silk, wool, leather), both as indoor and outdoor wear, and it's easy to see why. Mules easily slipped on and off the feet without having to bend over to do up buckles or ties. Even working class women are depicted wearing mules, and many beautiful examples survive in museums.

A pair of plain slippers - 1750 - 1800, Rijksmuseum
La Mauvaise Novelle, 1740, by Jean Baptiste Marie Pierre
A beautiful pair of green Moroccan leather mules (now missing their binding) from Kerry Taylor Auctions (link no longer active)

The Complain of the Watch, 1770s, by Greuze

Velvet mules with brown leather heels, 1775 - 1800, MFA
Our new "Sophie" mules are a great representation of slippers from the last half of the 18th century. We have balanced beauty, practicality, and comfort with the Sophies, hearing your requests for a low-heeled leather mule that can be worn all the time.

Sophie Mules in red leather with white heels.

Sophie Mules in green leather with white heels. 

Sophie Mules in black leather trimmed in black - classic.
The Sophies come in three very Georgian colorways - black, red/white, and green/white. We've done a pebbled leather on the red, meant to mimic Moroccan leather, and both the red and green are trimmed in white with white heels, oh-so-18th-century.

Here's a bit more about the mules from our livecast...

You may be worried about using your mules outside, but please allow me to assuage your fears. I've worn mules outdoors many times and never had an issue with dirt (leather just wipes clean, afterall). They are also very easy to keep on the feet because of the real leather lining, which kind of "sticks" to the foot (yes, it's weird, but it's true). If you're marching with a unit or doing heavy work in a muddy camp, we understand your choice of a rougher shoe, but if you're just popping down Duke of Gloucester Street to meet friends or promenading around Versailles, the Sophie Mules will serve you very well.

Sophie Mules are on pre-order for $130 ($150) through July 20th. They come in sizes 5 - 11 (including all half sizes) and both B and C width.

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Monday, July 9, 2018

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The Green Goblin: A 1790s Round Gown

The remainder....
It's a few days before Jane Austen Festival in Louisville, Kentucky, and I've stitched the last stitch of a new gown for this year's event.

And what a horror it is.

I'm glad to be done. This gown started out so well (don't they all) but ended up being a real pain in the false rump, calling into question my judgement, basic reasoning, and -honestly- my desire to continuing sewing at all. Yup, it was *that* bad! So I named her the Green Goblin. It seemed fitting, even if nothing else about the dress was.

I started this project with way too little fabric, but it was such a pretty textile that I dearly wanted to make it work. The fabric is cotton voile, maybe closer to gauze, and is yellow shot with turquoise, resulting in a lovely soft celadon green, one of my favorite colors. I mathed shit up and determined that if I was very very careful and made no mistakes then I could get a long-sleeved, trained round gown out of the minimal yardage.

"...if I was very very careful and made no mistakes." LOL.

Getting in there with the *planned* piecing. This is when the bodice and skirt were still one....
It was going well until I got to the sleeves. I tried to fit them on myself and got the placement wrong, which ended up with reconstructing the sleeve head and underarm from tiny scraps of fabric so I could set it in again the right way. I wasn't pleased about the obvious piecing on the sleeve head on just one sleeve, but it was what it was....and it was only going to get worse, truly.


And everything went downhill fast from here...piecing the top of the sleeve head in a very obvious spot.
Thanks to Abby, we got the sleeves on correctly and I was feeling very pleased. I was done! Wait...why is the side of the skirt so short and the front so long? Uh oh...

I had patterned the front bodice and skirt all in one, using an angled seam to make the drawstring channel for the empire waist. Seems clever, right? What I didn't realize was that this caused a droop in the center front at the hem. The quickest solution seems like it would be to just level the hem from the bottom, and there *is* a period example of this in "An Agreeable Tyrant," but the overwhelming majority of gowns show a dead level hem on the straight and the shaping done elsewhere, usually in a seam between the bodice and the top of the skirt.

I was already way too short on the sides of the gown anyway (did I grow several inches or something?), so instead of just shortening the CF, I removed the entire front panel, cut the bodice and skirt apart, corrected it so the hem was on the straight of grain, and then set to work extending the hem of the gown wherever needed to reach the top of my feet instead of somewhere above my ankles.

After cutting off the train, extending the skirts, piecing all over the place.
I didn't have much fabric left. I hacked off the train and used what I could from it, but I was still very short on cabbage. My last ditch effort was to sheer off 2.5" on either side of the skirt front panel, turn them horizontally, and piece in to the top of the skirt. Looking back, I should've pieced onto the bottom of the skirt to make it less obvious. Even though the material is cotton voile, the shot fabric does show a little differently on the length-wise grain. Bugger.

I'm a stubborn one. Instead of wearing what I made last year, I pressed on trying to fix this damn goblin gown. In the end it's wearable, though Abby and I are taking bets on if it's going to survive one whole day at JA Fest, let alone the whole weekend, or even live until Costume College. The fabric is so finely and loosely woven that the seams are already pulling here and there. I've reinforced the sleeve seems and armscyes with top stitching, but even that is pulling. I won't be surprised if it just disintegrates off my body by the end of Saturday. Last year's Ikea gown is going as a backup...

Put enough millinery with something and you can "distract" from the horrors....I hope!
I was hoping this was going to be the "pick-me-up-project," a simple, easy 1790s round gown. I've had very little success with new gowns for myself since doing The Book. It's like I used my entire year's worth of sewing mojo on those projects and have nothing left. It's a discouraging feeling.

The good news, though, is that I made all the mistakes of this 90s gown on my own version and the second version for Amanda to wear to the event came out just fine. I guess this proves, once again...make a mockup!

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Thursday, July 5, 2018

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The 7 Stages of Piecing

There are very few historical projects I've made over the years that have gone totally smoothly. In fact, I can think of one. Every other gown I've made, and a heck of a lot of everyday-vintagey-clothes too, have had their individual struggles.

The truth is...sewing is hard. It's not a skill we're born with, and many of us are self-taught. Even the mantua-makers of the past had trouble sometimes! In my case, I perpetually make the same bad choices (isn't this the definition of insanity?). It goes something like this:

Lauren: I only have 3 yards of fabric.

Lauren's Evil Sewing Demon: I bet you can get a whole 1790s gown out of that, with long sleeves and a train and everything!

Lauren: No way is that enough fabric. I should choose something else to make or use a different fabric for this design.

Lauren's Evil Sewing Demon: But you know you want to make that dress in that fabric. C'mon. Do it. Dooooo iiiittttt.......

Lauren: OK I'll do it!

And then what happens? Exactly what you would expect. I don't have enough fabric and I have to piece the snot out of it to make it even close to wearable. Having pieced the snot out of many gowns at this point, I've noticed a consistent series of emotions that come when something goes way off the rails.

Piecing the back of The Creature 1770s poloniase petticoat. Half of the back of this petticoat is pink cotton, and the rest is made up in about 15 chunks of silk.
Perhaps you too have passed through these stages...

1. Confusion and/or Denial - "Wait, what....why is this hem so damn short? WTF happened here!? Aw CRAP!" This is the first stage of realizing there's a major issue in your gown and you have to fix it. This first stage may also come with denial (mine usually does) and trying to "make it work" without actually fixing it properly.

2. Rage - "How could I be so stupid! Omg I'm so mad at myself. I *knew* I didn't have enough fabric. Why did I think this would work?" This stage comes quickly on the heels of confusion and denial and can come out as anger at yourself. This is the pillow-punching, cursing, and Starbucks-binging part of the experience.

3. Panic - "Fix it fix it fix it! What are my options? Omg I have nothing but 2 inch scraps left." This is the dangerous stage of piecing, where we often make rash decisions. It's important to take a step back, breath, maybe take a break overnight and come back to it in the morning. It also helps to make a list of possible fixes and ruminate on the options for awhile.

4. Defeat - "I suck. Everyone will see this disaster. I am a sorry excuse for a seamstress and I should never sew again." We all feel like this at some point. This is the stage where you're ready to either start over on a new costume completely or fix the one that's gone south. For many of us, there isn't enough time or available fabric to start over, so we've got to Tim Gunn up and make it work.

The Met, 1775-1785. 2009.300.1340 - next time you're feeling crappy about having to piece stuff in a place that will be obvious, just remember this gown.
----------- At this point you implement the fix on your costume, possibly hating and cursing every minute of doing it, but you get it done and back together. You stand back from the dress form or mirror and squint, trying to deduce just how visible your piecing is. ---------------

5. Acceptance - "It'll never be noticed on a galloping horse." I can't tell you how many times this platitude from my mom has gotten me through a project. At this point in the stages, the gown is fixed, it's wearable, and with all the millinery and accessories on, that bad...maybe. You made it work and you're going to wear it, gosh darnit.

6. Pride - "Yeah, I had to piece the heck out of this but I'm really glad I did. I made it work in the end." You wear the costume to the event. Nobody notices or mentions the madness that is your 7 piece hem or your T-seamed sleeve head. You realize "piecing is period, period," and remember the many janky-ass gowns you saw in costume books. Abby Cox tells you 18th century dressmakers and patrons didn't give a hoot and pieced stuff all the time, and you start to feel pretty darn good about all of it.

7. Love - "I feel so beautiful and I love this dress, even though it was such a struggle. I'm glad I soldiered on and wore it to the event." A weird phenomenon sometimes happens with pieced garments - we end up loving them more than the perfect gowns. A pieced garment is individual as well as historical. It tells the story of the journey of making and connects us with the mantua-makers of the past, who gleefully dipped into their cabbage patches to make it work, sometimes even using scraps of different fabric, and then sold it to the customer who also gave no F's.


The Met, 1760. C162.28ab. Look at this jank-a-rific hem. I see at least two weird-ass extensions and no effort to match the pattern.
So next time you biff up your project, it's OK. You'll go through these phases, but don't quit - stick with it and come out at "Pride" or "Love" at the end. It'll all be worth it. <3
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