Monday, May 21, 2018

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How to Fit 18th Century Shoe Buckles


You've just got yourself a fine new pair of American Duchess 18th century shoes and you ordered some sparkly 18th century shoe buckles to go with them. Now what?

Fitting shoe buckles is an archaic skill that disappeared when shoe buckles fell out of fashion. It can be mind boggling trying to figure out how the chape and tongue and frame all work on those weird double straps. But don't worry! While it can be utterly terrifying to think of poking holes in your new shoes, we're here to help! We made a video!


Pretty cool, right? Once you go through this method the first time you'll never forget it. Then you'll be installing the shoe buckles easily on all of your 18th century shoes and probably your friends shoes too.

If you don't have a pair of 18th century shoes yet, check out the 18th Century section of AmericanDuchess.com. Also have a gander at all the 18th century shoe buckles in our Accessories section, plus enjoy a little discount when you buy shoes and buckles together.
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Thursday, May 17, 2018

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An 1880s Bodice Plastron - Refit

Me and Abby in our bustle gowns - totally different styles but we actually used the same pattern for the apron.
Do you ever pop into your Costume Closet to decide what to wear for an upcoming event only to find out nothing fits anymore? Then the slight-panic of "what can I refit? what can I let the darts out on? can I re-pleat that petticoat or move the closure?" sets in and you're left reeling with plausible-and-achievable options in what might be a short time frame.

Lucky for us, ladies in the past also went through these moments of fashion terror, and they've left us some pretty good records of how they solved the problems. It's well known that 18th century women would have gowns re-made, re-trimmed, re-fit quite often. Victorian women also had their ways and means, letting out darts, piecing in, and extending bodices in various ways.

One of my favorite methods, and the subject of this post, is the underrated plastron A plastron is defined as an ornamental front to a bodice decorated in contrasting fabrics and trims. I'll contest that solely "ornamental" definition, for plastrons are epic at extending a bodice that's become a little too small.

In my case, I have both gained weight and changed the corset I wear for late 19th century, resulting in a different body shape than the one I originally made the dress for. I had about a 2 - 3 inch gap where the bodice front edges wouldn't meet, so instead of trying to adjust the darts, I pieced in an extension.

Shirring the linen with a gazillion lines of gathering stitches.
My plastron was very simple to make - a base shape of muslin covered in white tissue-weight linen shirred below the bust and left in looser gathers over it. I simply serged the sides and turned under the top and bottom edges, then stitched it to the inside of the bodice on the button-side.

All stitched down - not perfect but good enough. The edges were serged (omg, best thing ever) and the bottom and top edges turned under and hem stitched.
I added matching buttons to the plastron ,which then buttoned through the original buttonholes on the bodice. The last addition, just because it looked a little plain and open at the top, was a very simple jabot made with the linen and a re-purposed 18th century sleeve ruffle. The jabot is a separate collar that hooks in the back.

Stitching buttons - I actually did two whole steps I didn't need to in re-stitching on the buttons. I didn't think it all through well enough - don't be like me!

The separate jabot collar, just a quick throw-together with a big impact. I made a band with linen gathered onto it, then whipped on an 18th century sleeve ruffle I wasn't using. Worked a treat!
I wore the re-fit-re-fashioned 1880s bustle gown to a local museum tour at the University of Nevada. Abby and I were bustle sisters, although she was so springy and fun and nautical in her *incredible* new bustle gown that I had all the envy! I think this means a new Summer bustle gown is in my future. <3

Because it wouldn't be me and Abby if there weren't shenanigans ;-)
For those wondering -



*There are affiliate links in this blog post - just a heads up!
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Friday, May 11, 2018

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I'm Going "Durrells" For the Summer


Or forever.

Fans Addicts of British television will be familiar with the wonderful series "The Durrells" (or "The Durrells in Corfu" if you're here in the US where for some reason we have to rename UK shows :::cough::: Great British Baking Show, what even...). This delightful series, now in its third season, follows an expat family in 1930s Greece, their adventures, relationships, and exploits....and their wardrobes.


We're all particularly enamored with the wardrobe, the work of costumer designer Charlotte Holdich, who uses a blend of new-made pieces and true vintage to give the show a particularly authentic look. Oh, the original 1930s chiffony sundresses I've lusted after....and the leghorn straw hats, and the wide-legged trousers, and the relaxed-looking blouses with gathered yokes and slightly puffed sleeves.

Yes please, this coming Summer I'll have me some of that.


As much as I would love to make a whole Durrells-inspired wardrobe, I find less and less time to sew lately, especially basic wardrobe pieces, which you think would be easy and quick but I still can't put together a "simple" '30s style blouse in one day. So I've been lurking the internet for off-the-rack pieces. I even went *actual shopping* recently...in actual stores...which was a mix of therapeutic and horrifying, unfortunately weight more to the latter.

But I have found some things ready-made to buy. Other items are still on the make-it-myself list. Here is what I've come up with for my Durrells Summer Wardrobe:

Tops

Louisa Durrell wears a lot of fairly loose-fitting pastel-colored linen or cotton collared blouses with short cuffed or puffed sleeves. These can be pretty hard to find off-the-rack, but sometimes you get lucky with J Crew Factory store, Old Navy, Unique VintageModcloth. Emmy DesignFreddies of PinewoodHouse of Foxy, and Vecona Vintage have some good repro options as well. The key is the fibre - linen or cotton, or rayon for fancier get-togethers.

Wearing History "Smooth Sailing" Sporting Togs pattern - has the trousers, the blouse with the puff sleeves, and an option for shorts too.
Most of my blouses I've made either from scratch or upcycling a thrift-store shirt. My favorite patterns for blouses of this style are Wearing History "Smooth Sailing" and Simplicity 8243 but there are also loads of original vintage patterns available too.

The Greta blouse from Vecona Vintage
Another good option for casual tops is a nautical knit shirt or light sweater. Old Navy and Target almost always have striped knit shirts.

Bottoms

My favorite outfits the Durrells women wear of course involve trousers - high waists and wide legs - but they also wear a lot of lovely '30s skirts too.

Lucky for us modern lovers of vintage, high waisted pants are getting easier to find now. My favorite brands are Emmy Design, Vecona Vintage, and Vivien of Holloway, but I've also found great options from eShakti, Unique Vintage, and even Forever 21 with a surprising selection of linen and cotton beach pajama and paper-bag waist bottoms this season.

Emmy Design "Seaside Palazzo" pants - these come in a bunch of colors and even prints and have very '30s seaming on the yoke.
Skirts with the right cut and length are harder to lay hands on, but check out the House of Foxy "Flutter Skirt," Emmy Design "Art Deco Dream Skirt," or consider making your own. 1930s skirts are very quick and easy to put together. I like Decades of Style #3004,

The House of Foxy makes great '30s separates.
Accessories

Broad-brimmed straw hats, '30s brimmed cloches, and Panama hats take center stage in the show, but none of the hats feel out-of-reach for a DIY project.

A casual cloche with a clever use of extra straw braid and petersham ribbon to decorate the crown.
One of my favorite weekend projects is to re-shape real straw hats and re-trim them just with steam and some spare trims like petersham ribbon or bits of extra straw braid. I highly recommend hitting up the local thrift shop to look for real, cheap straw hats to play with.
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Monday, May 7, 2018

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What Are Those Knobbles on 1790s Stays?

From "Corsets and Crinolines" by Norah Waugh - see those nobbles? What are those nobbles for? Read on... 
Have you ever wondered about those weird round knobbles and pads on late 1780s-1790s stays?

What are they for?

I have a theory...

The first thought is that these pads are there to hold the skirts out. The size, shape, and various placements of the pads do indicate that purpose, but I think there is another function too. I believe the pads also keep the sash in place.

Whitaker Auction - silk corset, probably spanish, third quarter of the 18th c.
If you've worn any kind of empire waist gown - 1790s, 1800s, or even modern - and tried to tie a sash around that high waist, you'll be very familiar with chronic sash-slip.

Sash-slip is the bane of all Directoire historic costumers. So how do you solve it...and how did they solve it? I think the pads on the stays stopped those sashes from sliding down, especially with the transitional gowns between the late 1780s and mid-1790s where the waist was rising gradually but wasn't up to the under-bust yet. Keeping a trendy sash tied in place around your rib cage, well, easier painted than lived.

Victoria & Albert Museum, stays, c. 1790. T.237-1983
The next step is to do a little experimental archaeology...let's see how well the dood-dads work!
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Friday, April 20, 2018

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Book Signing Soiree at Lacis Museum of Lace & Textiles


This past weekend we popped over The Hill down to Berkeley to visit on of our favorite shops *ever* - Lacis Museum of Lace and Textiles. We were honored to be invited to do a Q&A and book signing, and had a great time gabbing about historic dress, hair, shoes, and meeting so many wonderful historic costumers.

Abby signing books and chatting about 1790s dress
Lacis is an interesting place. It is both a museum with changing exhibits and a store where you can buy the most drool-worthy ribbons, laces, vintage and antique garments, millinery supplies, sewing notions, and books.


 For our presentation, Abby and I preferred to do a Q&A rather than a lecture. We had two of the American Duchess Guide gowns on display and Abby wore the 1790s round gown. We answered Qs about printed cottons, Simplicity patterns, upcoming footwear designs, and what's going to be in our second book on Georgian hair, makeup, and accessories. Lacis did a livecast on their Facebook page, which you can see here.

Q-ing and A-ing at Lacis, April 2018
It was so wonderful to meet so many historic costumers at Lacis - there were many names I recognized from over the years and was so happy to meet in person. I hope those of you who were able to attend enjoyed our talk and the museum.

The American Duchess Guide to 18th Century Dressmaking
Thank you again to Lacis and everyone who came to the event. Happy sewing!
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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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