Friday, November 16, 2018

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Vlog: The 1830s Bustle!

Howdy! We're deep, deep down the #1830s rabbit hole, working diligently on our gowns with much haste in preparation for our trip to Dickens Fair in San Francisco on December 15th.

Abby has been very responsibly recording her progress for our new vlog #SewingIsHard . Here is the most recent video on the 1830s bustle (yes, bustle!) and how she made hers. Enjoy!

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Tuesday, November 13, 2018


Book Review: The Workwoman's Guide by A Lady, 1838

Hey there you lovely costuming creatures, you!

As many of you know, Lauren and I are currently up to our eyeballs in all things 1830s. Yep, we're both busy ladies trying to bust out entire 1830s ensembles for our little adventure out to San Francisco for the Dickens Faire in mid-December.

Me sporting my new "Bustle" that I made using the descriptions and guidelines from WWG (Plate 11)

While the 1830s is a relatively new time period for us (Lauren's made one other 1830s dress, and I've randomly done a lot of research into the 1830s over the years), figuring out construction techniques and pattern shapes has been relatively easy because of a little pink bible that has all the answers. Seriously. All. Of. Them.

The slightly obnoxious pink cover of the best book, ever. 

The Workwoman's Guide by A Lady (1838) is a primary source on all things sewing in the 1830s, and is easily accessible for us modern wannabes today. I was first introduced to the book a few years ago, during my time at Colonial Williamsburg. There, I was lucky enough to buy myself a hard copy in the museum book store, and it has become a well loved, highlighted, and dog ear'd addition to my costuming book collection.

While hard copies are a bit difficult to find (seems like the publisher went out of business?), you can easily look through WWG on Google Books (bonus: it's free!).

In the book you'll discover extensive information regarding everything from basic stitches, shopping practices, sleeve patterns, and bed hangings. While some of the information isn't all that helpful, (like I will never need to know how to make church seats.) the information on dressmaking and accessories is a damn gold mine!

Here's a quick breakdown on dressmaking and millinery items in the book -

1. Corsets and Bustles (Plate 11)
2. Caps, Bonnets, Hats (Plate 15, 19, 20)
3. Collars, Collarets, Pelerines (Plate 13)
4. Sleeves! (Plate 12)
5. Gowns (Plate 14)
The Workwoman's Guide, Google Books
Gown information from The Workwoman's Guide, Google Books.
With most of these plates there are follow up instructions on how to draft your own, except gowns, because, at this time, gowns were custom made to the person. However, while they don't give drafting instructions, they do provides directions on how to drapes or create the different bodice styles that you see in the plate (and yeah, it's basically every gown you've ever seen in a portrait or fashion plate), information on grain lines, design choices, trimmings, and construction. It's all there. And let me tell ya, all the information provided has been so incredibly useful on making our 1830s gowns. Who would have ever thought side pieces were such a big deal? Or how important grain is for the shoulders? (Spoiler Alert: Grain line is everything.)

Lauren's simple wrap-front bodice, based on instructions from Workwoman's Guide
There are a couple of drawbacks to the drafting instructions to be aware of:

1. They use nails, quarters, half yard, and yard measurements. It's not the biggest deals - so long as you know that 1 nail = 2.25 inches. Just keep your calculator at hand, cause you're gonna math all over this thing. The author addresses this in Chapter 2 of the book.

2. There can be patterning issues, I had some issues with one of the bonnets in the book, and while I take part of the blame (I have a big head) part of the issue was a 180 year old patterning mistake.

The good: The bonnet looked just the like one in the plate. The bad? It hurt my head and didn't really fit once it was made up in buckram and pasteboard. :/ 
The Workwoman's Guide  is an incredible historical resource for any historian or costumer, as the information is useful for time periods outside of the 1830s. Just reading the chapters on stitches, fabric, and shopping practices creates the sensation of time travel and secret knowledge that so many of us are hungry for.

So, if you're wanting to join us on our 1830s caravan of fluffy puff n stuffs, check out The Workwoman's Guide, and you'll be set to get started!

Until next time!
Abby (& Lauren) :)
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Thursday, November 1, 2018

Podcast Episode 24: Abby & Lauren's Top 5 Costuming Books

Hey Everyone!

We're back with a new quick little episode of the podcast, where Lauren and I chat about our top 5 costuming books. While it's difficult to pick favorites, we did our best (even though Lauren cheated a little bit...hahahahaha).

A small sample of Abby's book collection

Our Favorite Books (in no particular order):

1. Kyoto's Costume Book(s)
2. Norah Waugh's Cut of Women's Clothes
3. Nancy Bradfield's Costume in Detail
4. Norah Waugh's Corsets and Crinolines
5. Janet Arnold's Patterns of Fashion
6. Florence Montgomery's Textiles in America
7. Jean Hunnisett's Period Costume for Stage and Screen

If you want to see everything that is in Lauren's library click Here.

We hope that you enjoy this episode, as we recorded it with new microphones and I battleaxed my way (more like stumbled) through Adobe hopefully the issues with sound have improved. I'm not a professional and I'm very much a beginner with this software, but I do hope it has helped!

Until next time!
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Monday, October 22, 2018


1790 Redingote Inspiration and Percolation

Redingote, c. 1790, LACMA M2009.120
Friends, I haven't wanted to sew for awhile. Burn-out is a real thing, especially failing miserably on the last two 18th century gowns I tried to make (the irony). So I'm giving myself a break (in France) and letting the inspiration rekindle whenever it likes.

That being said, while I don't want to touch a needle and thread right this moment, I am thinking of new garments I'd like to make for next year. We have two trips/events planned for next year that will need some 18th century clothes, and with a grand total of two ensembles that still fit me (and you're all sick of that yellow dress, I know), it's time for something new.

I have a lot of fabric I've been marinating. One is an olive and buff striped taffeta that feels like a striped redingote. I made a redingote for my wedding gown 5 years ago and have always loved the style, so perhaps it's time for another.

Bless you, LACMA, for the many high resolution photos of this dress! Redingote, c. 1790, LACMA, M.2009.120
My silk isn't as interesting and varied as that used for the LACMA redingote, but it's reminiscent.

Wouldn't we love to stumble upon a silk like this someday? For now I have much simpler striped taffeta that will have to suffice. Redingote, c. 1790, LACMA, M.2009.120
LACMA published a gridded pattern for this garment a few years ago here. There is a PDF download with notes as well as the grid, which will be hugely helpful in draping and patterning.

I'll be sure to post progress photos as I go along later this year. <3
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Friday, October 19, 2018

Podcast Episode 23: Cheyney McKnight on African Hair and Headwraps

Hi Everyone!

Abby here with another episode of Fashion History with American Duchess. This episode has been long overdue, and we're so incredibly excited to share it with you! Last spring, we met up with the lovely Cheyney McKnight of Not Your Mommas History to discuss African and African American Hair, Headwraps, etc. in the 18th and 19th centuries.

As always, Cheyney is a wealth of knowledge, and we were completely blown away by her story telling and information. Just a fair warning, I get really emotional at one particular part in this episode.

During the episode, you'll notice that Cheyney discusses quite a few images, and you'll find them below:

An Overseer doing his duty near Fredricksburg, Virginia by Benjamin Henry Latrobe. Ca. 1798, Maryland Historical Society 

The Old Plantation, John Rose, 1785, CWF, 1935.301.3

Free Women of Color with their Children and Servants in a Landscape, oil on canvas painting by Agostino Brunias, ca. 1764-1796,  Brooklyn Museum 
Free West Indian Dominicans, Agostino Brunais, c. 1770, Metropolitan Museum of Art
Marguerite-Urbane Deurbroucq by Pierre-Bernard Morlot, 1753, Musée de l’Histoire de Nantes

Miss Breme Jones, 1785-87, John Rose, 2008.300.1, CWF
Thank you so much for listening and we'll see you next time!

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Thursday, October 18, 2018

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Spring2019 - A New Pattern for Simplicity - 1790s Gown and Open Robe!

Ann Frankland Lewis - 1794. LACMA
I'm excited to officially announce that we've developed another new historical dress pattern for Simplicity!

Since first partnering with Simplicity several years ago I've learned so much about developing patterns for the commercial world. It's *so* different than making patterns for one's self or a niche group and trying to do historical dress patterns for mass printing has been a particularly big challenge.

We've had our ups and downs, certainly - all part of the learning experience. I'm pleased that, with this knowledge and experience, I can now work out the kinks more effectively and produce better patterns.

Emily Seriziat, 1795, Jacques Louis David.
This time around, with the growing interest in the 1790s, and the ongoing love affair with Jane Austen and the turn of the 19th century, I'm working on a late '90s round gown + open robe.

This pattern will be very easy for beginners and offer easy adjustments in its design. There is no tricky stayed-waist fitment, no confusing-and-required period construction, and the results should be flattering and elegant to everyone. As always, there will be machine-sewing instructions in the pattern envelope, but you can easily and quickly put together the garments using the hand-sewing techniques in "The American Duchess Guide."

Gown, French. 1795-1800. via
The pattern will be out in the Spring 2019 Simplicity pattern book, which gives plenty of time to make the gown and/or robe for Summer Jane Austen and late 18th century events. <3

If you'd like to see all the patterns we've done with Simplicity, visit the "Books & Patterns" section on our website.
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