Thursday, January 30, 2020


The 1630s Dutch Thang - Badonk-a-donk, Petticoat, and Starting the Bodies

Just playing around with pinning things on my dress form
Now into the making up! I've been stitching on my big 1630 project and quite enjoying the process. There's enough weirdness here to keep my interest (and hopefully yours too as I document the project here).

I started with the petticoat, since it affects the waist length of the bodice, especially with this gnarly silhouette. Though there isn't much information available on 1630s garments specifically, not a whole lot changed between the end of the 16th century and this far into the 17th. I'm using a very large bum pad made from The Tudor Tailor for the back ba-donk paired with one of my smaller, general purpose 18th century bum pillows for the front belly.

Booty-and-belly padding to achieve the early 17th century silhouette. (Please ignore that pad under the arm - it is irrelevant, just hangin' out there so I don't lose it).
It's quite a weird silhouette and not one costumers gravitate towards today. French farthingales scare us. We don't find the preggo look flattering these days, though there are at least three periods in history where belly pads were all the rage. This is one of them - I am unafraid! (I'm a little afraid).

The petticoat is made of two panels of 60" wide silk taffeta, totally about 118" at the hem, right in the range the Tudor Tailors recommend. Just like measuring for 18th century panniers, I measured the center back, center front, and side to the floor, then shaped the top edge of the petticoat and left the hem on the straight, which helped me later on in applying the three bands of velvet trim on the straight. The top of the petticoat is pleated in pretty large knife pleats, and I've left the sides open like an 18th century petticoat. The waistband is shaped a bit at the front and interfaced, again recommended by the Tudor Tailors.

Three bands of velvet ribbon applied to the petticoat panels. This was tedious to sew on - I used the machine for the sake of sanity, though I knew I would be sacrificing perfect tension.
The petticoat is leveled from the top and the hem is on the straight, making applying these bands much easier.

I did a fairly wide, interfaced, shaped waistband for the petticoat, recommended by the Tudor Tailor for late 16th century.
With the petticoat done, I couldn't help but jump into the bodice. I draped a pattern awhile back using just any-ole-petticoat on the dress form, and a pair of very old generic Renaissance bodies to assist in shaping the bust to where I wanted it to be once the lobster bod was complete. The fronts of these bodices are heavily boned with an "S" curved center front seam/edge/overlap, while the backs have no boning at all but do have eyelets for a center back closure. The basic bodice pattern was quite simple - just two pieces, no darts.

My pattern. I originally tried to scale up the gridded pattern in Patterns of Fashion 5 but I had a lot of trouble with the grid scale, and the original bodice itself is super-duper-tiny. Having failed in that, I draped the pattern instead and referenced the patterns in both books for the shapes and grain lines.
Interestingly, the German book hypothesizes that these types of bodices were worn with another set of bodies/stays beneath. The reasoning for this is that there is no boning in the back of the originals, not even on the center back edges that lace closed, and there is no evidence of pulling or stress in the eyelets. Patterns of Fashion 5 doesn't make any mention of another pair of stays being worn underneath, but does make a point of calling these bodices "smooth covered stays."

The primary foundation layer is two layers of stiff linen with rather robust baleen strips in the front only. I'm using heavy duty zip ties. The distinct "S" curve is achieved by the "S" shaped front overlap and a fair amount of steaming.
It doesn't make sense to me to wear a heavily-boned pair of bodies beneath another heavily-boned garment, so here's where the experiential archaeology comes in (MY FAVORITE PART!). The question is the bodice laced tight enough at the back to keep the boning close-fitting to the body without stressing and pulling the eyelets out of shape at the back?

And the answer lies in the S-shaped center front seam and the properties of baleen. I am not using baleen in this project, just plain ole plastic zip ties, but both materials shape to the body by heat/steam. In just playing around with some boning in the channels, blasting some steam on the area, and lining up the center front S-shaped edges, the bodice front keeps an incredible complex S shape on its own. It doesn't lay flat, just like the originals in the photos, which means that tight lacing at the bodice back isn't necessary.

I'm jumping ahead here (don't worry, I'll write about what's inbetween the last photo and this one), but just to show the steaming and how the curves are holding with one side boned, covered, and just pinned onto the dress form.
Another theory (my own crackpot theory) is that these bodices were not worn often. The German book notes several times that this very stiff, ornate, formal, and somewhat fossilized style of dress was a wedding garment. I am not sure yet if I 100% agree with that (more research, woo!), but the evidence suggests at the very least they were for formal wear. If bodies like these were worn infrequently, maybe only a couple times, and were not tightly laced in back, would there be significant stress/pulling/wearing of the eyelets?

There is more to be discovered!

My progress so far. I did that "dangerous" thing where you go zooming ahead on one side of the bodice without catching up the other side. Now I have the entire other side to do and I know how time consuming it is, lol. But it's looking *COOL* so far!

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Thursday, January 23, 2020


The 1630 Dutch *Thang* - Beginnings

A still from "Tulip Fever" (2017) - outstanding costuming by Michael O'Connor.
As so often happens, after a no-sew period of downtime and feeling phlegmatic about costuming, I was struck by a small bolt of inspiration and have jumped into a new project.

It's often nice to stick with the familiar...or I should say it's "easy," rather. Sewing another 18th century Italian gown is easy. Sewing another vintage dress is easy. But sometimes you just want to get stuck in to the nitty gritty of a totally alien time and place. My alien planet this time is the Netherlands in the early 1630s.

Though this image is a little earlier than my 1630 date, it shows details of the "vlieger" costume in detail. This costume did not change much (the sleeves are a little different), from the earlier 17th century onwards. Dirck Hals, Jacob Matham, 1619 - 1623 Rijksmuseum
I'm saying the Netherlands because that is where, generally, this style of dress comes from...but the surviving garments I'm referencing are all from Cologne, Germany. Cologne is quite close to the Netherlands and was heavily influenced by Dutch fashion in this period through trade and immigration. There is a very clear link between the styles in a variety of primary sources - portraiture, inventories, and other records - and several of my secondary references connect these two, so while I'm calling this my Dutch Thang, I reserve the right to call it my Cologne Thang in the future if I find there is actually too much differentiation.

One of several of these bodices in the Darmstadt collection, featured in "Kölner Patrizier".
Mooooving on.
I first came into contact with these eye-popping basque bodices in "Tulip Fever," a film I've written about here before. The costumes in this film are outstanding, and as with anything weird and brightly colored, I was drawn to the "lobster bod" like a magpie. It wasn't until Patterns of Fashion 5 came out, though, that making one of these ensembles was a "must do," for in that incredible book there are two such bodices from the Darmstadt collection. Supplied with the drug of gridded patterns and detailed notes on all the layers and padding, the Thang started to make much more sense.

I draped my pattern over a pair of hemp-boned bodies, comparing it to the pattern shapes in Patterns of Fashion 5.
Plus my bestie gave me a length of searingly-bright imperial yellow silk for Christmas.

Down the research rabbithole I went, and took the pains* (yes, pains) to import "Kölner Patrizier- und Bürgerkleidung des 17. Jahrhunderts Die Kostümsammlung Hüpsch im Hessischen Landesmuseum Darmstadt" (Cologne patrician and civic clothing of the 17th century: The Hüpsch costume collection in the Hessian State Museum in Darmstadt) on the recommendation of Angela Mombers.

This book, though written in German, comes with an English translation of the first three chapters, which discusses each of the garments in the catalog in detail, including construction notes, as well as the tailor's trade and sumptuary laws in Cologne in the early 17th century. There are excellent photos of men's and women's 17th century garments, including several basque bodices and women's upper garments, complete with pattern diagrams and photos of details and interiors.

The German book works brilliantly with Patterns of Fashion 5, which features the same photographs (licensed from the Darmstadt collection, I assume) but with significantly more information on the pattern and construction from a maker's perspective.

So to get down to brass tacks, here are the pieces of this ensemble:
  • Shift/Shirt - linen, high necked, simple.
  • Skirt Supports - I'm using a ginormous Elizabethan style bum pad for the back and a smaller bum pad for the belly
  • Petticoat - referencing Tudor Tailor
  • Lobster Bodice - the coup de grace!
  • Vlieger/Surcoat Robe - referencing Janet Arnold, Norah Waugh, and portraiture
  • Sleeves - made separately and tied onto the vlieger
  • Millstone Ruff - dear lord save me
  • Rabato/Ruff Support - referencing Janet Arnold
  • Cap
  • Cuffs

My goal/deadline is Costume College in late July 2020. Wish me luck!

The German book and Patterns of Fashion 5 cross-referencing each other, and the smooth cover of my basque with the trim lines drawn out.

*This book is only available in Germany and at the time of my ordering it could only be paid for by wire transfer. While this method of payment is common in Germany, it is abnormal, inconvenient, and expensive in the US. The book is large and comes with an invaluable English translation of the first three chapters, but be prepared to pay close to or upwards of $100 USD for it.
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Monday, December 23, 2019

18th Century Printed Cotton Do’s & Don’t’s

A beautiful printed cotton gown, 1785-95. The Met.
A very condensed version of this essay, without pictures, appears in The American Duchess Guide to 18th Century Dressmaking. Because there is *so much more* to be said about 18th century printed cottons, we're publishing the original version of this essay by Abby here. Enjoy!

A beautiful cotton printed with flowers is one of the most beloved and recognizable aesthetics of the 18th century. It’s during this century when the imported Indian fabric blows up the Georgian fashion industry. These fabrics are so popular that they come in and out of fashion even today. While this popularity of printed floral cottons can be a blessing, when pursuing an accurate 18th century look, it can be a murky swamp of confusion.

Cotton with a woven stripe and overprint - 1796 - The Met.
Not all modern floral cottons are created equal. The vast majority of printed cottons available in big box fabric stores are totally wrong for this period. It takes a careful, trained eye to spot a printed cotton appropriate for an 18th century gown. To make it even trickier, new original prints and designs are being discovered every day! To start training your eye for printed cottons the best thing to do is carefully study original gowns and fabrics in museums and pay very close attention to how they have dated the textile and the function of the textile.

Trying to create guidelines and rules for period correct printed cottons is tricky. The study of printed cottons, their design, manufacture and appearance, is complex, and as with most things historical, there are always oddities and exceptions to “the rules.” While we strongly recommend that you go down the textile rabbit hole yourself, here is a rough guide to get you started.


Today, we are so used to cotton being a cheap utilitarian fabric that it’s difficult to understand just how expensive an 18th century printed cotton could be. The more colors in a printed cotton, the more expensive it would have been. Each dye/color required a different mordant and a special application that ended with the customer shelling out serious cash for enough yardage for a gown. Keep in mind that it was not uncommon for a multicolored printed cotton to cost more than a medium-grade silk taffeta. In today’s costuming world, just because it’s cotton doesn’t mean it’s “cheap” by 18th century standards!

Examples of expensive vs. cheap printed cotton.
However, there were also cheap cottons. Fashion was big business and the lower classes also wanted to look fashionable. If you want a ‘cheap’ printed cotton for your lower class gown, look for a single or two color design with inconsistent or offset printing.


The available technology, or lack thereof, had a strong effect on printed cotton designs in the 18th century. Floral printed cottons originated in India in the 17th century and quickly became some of the most popular clothing fabrics. To create the designs, artisans would use carved wooden blocks brushed with mordant to make the dye adhere to the fabric, stamp the design on the fabric, dye the whole piece of fabric, rinsing it to reveal the stamped design, and repeat this process as needed to create their beautiful fabrics. Dyes were natural in the 18th century, primarily coming from vegetables and plants. Different dyestuffs need different mordants to fix the color onto the fabric, and so this printing method could be repeated a number of times to achieve the desired outcome.

A carved wooden block for fabric printing.
If the design contained a lot of delicate flowers, artisans would hand paint in each flower to achieve the color desired. This is why multicolored printed cottons were so incredibly expensive in the 18th century, and why the amount of color in a printed cotton correlates with its expense.

Copper plate printing, which is the method used to create the “toile” prints we are familiar with today, was developed in Ireland in the early 1750s. Though you could get incredibly detailed designs, you were restricted on single color printing with the plates, which could be hand painted in later with different colors. Roller printing was invented even later in England, in the 1790s. As an improvement on the copperplate method, roller printing helps bring the cost of printed cottons way down at the end of the 18th and early 19th century.

A copper roller printing press in Le Musee de l'Impression sur Etoffes, Mulhouse, France. 
The restrictions the artisans faced when creating their printed cottons is why it is important to view historic cotton designs and colors independently from silks and wool. Silk and wool take dye differently than cotton, resulting in a wide assortment of hues and saturation that are not achievable with cotton. Designs that could be painted or woven in silk, cannot always be recreated in cotton, and it is important to keep this in mind when you’re buying your next floral cotton fabric. Was this design achievable with 18th century technology? Am I using a painted or brocaded silk as my inspiration? Does it look like natural dye colors? Etc.

When looking at dress inspiration, be mindful of what the fabric actually is. Is the design brocaded silk, hand-painted silk, embroidery, printed cotton? Look closely and read the descriptions on museum listings. All of these are from The Met.
Scale & Density

Printed cottons were manufactured with their use in mind. The scale and density of the print played a role, with larger, sometimes denser prints often used in furnishings or surviving from earlier in the 18th century.

First, let’s talk about bed curtains or furnishing prints used for gown fabrics. Yes, gowns made out of old bed curtains do exist in museums today, but ask yourself, “is that actually commonplace and something I should do?” If your goal is to be fashionably dressed for the 1780s, the answer is probably no. Bed curtains were a luxury item unto themselves, the scale and density of the print quite larger to balance the print in correlation to the size of the bed. For most gowns the scale and density of a bed hanging is just too visually overwhelming for a body to carry off.

Notice the difference in scale between the print on the bed curtains and coverlet and the Colonial Williamsburg reproduction dress print on Lauren's jacket.
This also applies to what we call “toile” today. While there are a very small selection of original toile printed gown that survive in collections, it does not mean that you should be making a gown out of it, tempting though it may be.

This incredibly rare and unique gown is held in the Snowshill collection. It is copper-printed toile, and appears to be the only toile-printed gown of its kind known today. We don't know the context of this gown - why it was made and who wore it - but toile is most definitely NOT a common textile for clothing in the 18th century.
Another issue of scale is a matter of dating. Printed floral designs changed constantly and were subject to trends just like everything else. Typically, the bigger the print the older it is. Since older style gowns were just, well, wider all over -wide sleeves, wide hoops, robings that can make a broad-shouldered lady look like a linebacker - it makes sense that the cotton prints of that time were bigger. However, smaller scale prints with open grounds coincide with the narrower silhouette of the later 1770s, 80s, and 90s.

Thie poor sacque gown has obviously been remade and Victorian-ized, but the scale of the print would indicate that the textile is likely from the first half of the 18th century. Whitacker Auction, c. 1750-1775.
A much smaller and denser print on this 1796 gown. The Met, C.I.55.50.4

The color of the ground and flowers are other factors in selecting a printed cotton. Pay particular attention to what colors appear where on original textiles. While white grounds were arguably the most common for printed cottons, you do see that  dark brown, Turkey red, and blue were used for colorful grounds.

A dark brown ground on this c. 1774 printed cotton English gown. The Met, 26.38a

Pastel grounds, however, don't seem to exist at this time. Avoid that yellow and blue floral cotton in your local fabric store, along with pink, powder blue, or mint green. Nope. No Ma’am. Almost every printed floral cotton in your big box fabric store is going to be wrong for the 18th century.

Look closely - this is not a solid pink ground, but very dense dots (vermicelli). Manchester Art Gallery c. 1774 
Consider instead this documented reproduction from Colonial Williamsburg - a white ground with polychrome printing.
A white ground with colored flowers is the ‘safest’ choice for an 18th century gown. Shades of red, pink, blue, purple and yellow were used for flowers, while green, black, and brown were used for the vines and stems. When looking at original fabric samples in museum collections, consider as well that historic dyes were often unstable  - that brown flower was probably purple when the fabric was new.
Another good print from Colonial Williamsburg, but notice the brown flowers - the original this design was taken from probably had purple flowers.
Final thoughts

A few more thoughts on printed cottons to keep in mind when you’re going fabric shopping.

First, if it looks Victorian walk away. Saccharin cabbage roses have no place in the 18th century. Second, if the print looks like it is inspired by silk or wool damask or jacquard, leave it behind. What works for weaving, does not work for printed cottons.

It doesn't have to be complex - a simple floral or geometric design may also be very accurate. Bodice front panel of printed cotton, c. 1770-80 Platt Hall, Manchester Gallery.
Third, always exercise caution with a certain amount of forgiveness. That carefully reproduced printed cotton from a museum is a safe bet, but that does not mean they’re perfect. It is common for scale and color to be messed up in the reproduction process. Does that mean you shouldn’t use it? No, but it does mean that you should be prepared for inaccuracies that will happen. That perfect printed cotton is hard to find, and just like in the 18th century, sometimes you’re going to have to pay a lot more for it than you would for 100% silk taffeta. If you are overwhelmed by the idea of a printed cotton, but you want your gown to be made out of a cotton, remember that small stripes, polka dots, and some basic geometric shapes are totally accurate for the 18th century and are easily found in your local fabric stores!

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Monday, December 16, 2019

Holiday Shipping Deadlines, 2019

Here's just a quick reminder to get your American Duchess and Royal Vintage orders in by the following dates so we can ship them out and get them to you on time:

If you're outside the continental USA, please check out this page on the USPS website for specific shipping deadlines for your part of the world.

Happy Holidays!

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Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Historic & Retro Winter Shoes & Boots

Sleigh bells ring, are you listening? In the lane snow is glistening... <3

Here's our annual guide to this year's historic and retro winter shoes and boots from American Duchess and Royal Vintage. Now, before we start, please note that all American Duchess offerings and most of the Royal Vintage (except Alpen boots) have leather soles, which is the historically accurate material but is not the safest or most durable for winter wear. While our soles have a topical sealer applied to inhibit water and salt from soaking in too much, we highly recommend having your soles rubbered or half-rubbered at a shoe repair shop if you intend them for everyday wear in inclement weather.

So with that being said, here's what's on offer...

Londoner Edwardian Oxfords in Cherry - full-coverage, all-leather lace-up oxfords with 2 inch French heels. These shoes are solid, comfortable, and beautiful.

Vienna Victorian Booties - available in brown or black - pull-on congress gaiters with short 1.5 inch heels, all-leather construction, and adorable little bows on the softly-squared toes.

Renoir Victorian Button Boots - true side-buttoning boots with a scalloped edges, softly-squared toes, and short 1.5 inch heel. 

Camille Edwardian Boots - gorgeous leather and velveteen lace-up boots, available in black/black or burgundy/black.

Tavistock Button Boots - our classic true side-button boots with welted soles, 2 inch French heel, and pointed toes. 

Claire 1940s Oxfords - available in Army brown or black, these are a full-coverage, lace-up leather oxford with 1.6 inch heels and attractive perforation throughout.

Alpen Boots - our iconic, practical, comfortable winter booties are now avialable in brown velveteen and leather paired with natural sheepskin. RUBBER SOLES and 1.6 inch heels - warm, cozy, and cute!

Alpen Boots - RESTOCK in black/black! The original vintage winter boots in black velveteen, leather, and sheepskin. RUBBER SOLES and 1.6 inch, practical heels.

We hope you like these styles! Several of these are also available in other colors, so go have a peep at and to see our full ranges.
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Friday, December 6, 2019


The Countess of Melbury's Ball c. 1789 - Inspo!

The Met, 1780s Italian gown. Inspiration for my own gown for this event.
Next March, 2020, I am attending the Countess of Melbury's Ball in Walnut Grove, California.

The event is set in 1789, and I've already been patterning and cutting, and stitching a little bit on my dress. So far it's just a plain ole Italian gown, the basic cut and construction of which carries from the mid-1770s all the way to the mid-1790s.

I like having versatility in dress (and they did too, back then), so I'm looking for ways to tether my costume to 1789 a little more specifically. Enter the fashion plates...

LACMA, fashion plate, 1789
Magasin des Modes, January 1788 - sortof a zone front robe a la turque combo.
Magasin des Modes, February 1788 - the 1780s are a lawless wasteland.
Interestingly, while I was compiling my 1788-89 Pinterest board, I didn't find much in the way of depictions of ballgowns specifically. The way I would identify evening dress is: sumptuous fabric, low, exposed decolletage, dressed hair (no hat), short sleeves (3/4 or 5/8). And yet, 99% of extant images show kerchiefs or chemisettes, hats or caps, and a lawless wasteland of styling that - to be honest - is leaving me confused!

Magasin des Modes, March 1789 - what do you think? Is this evening attire?
Ann Frankland Lewis, 1789 - notes say "The Windsor Uniform - worn at the ball at Windsor given on the King's recovery 1789." So this is specifically noted a ballgown and she appears to be wearing a kerchief and event-specific cap.
La famille Gohin by Louis-Leopold Boilly, 1787. This French portrait shows the woman in white wearing what I would identify as something appropriate for evening. I see her gown skirt is tied back in a swag in a similar way as the Ann Frankland Lewis drawing above - maybe I'll try this.
I suspect the fashion choices, and the choices about what sort of garments were depicted in paintings and fashion plates, had to do with social and political sentiment and unrest around this period. Needless to say, there was a lot going on in 1789, and generally across the history of western dress we tend to see more extravagance/expression/outlandish modes during periods of uncertainty.

It might be 1788 if you've got spots, stripes, swags, fringe, lace, scallops, AND flowers. Journal des Luxus, 1788.
So then what does this mean for my sartorial plan for evening dress of 1789? Well, jury is still out on that one. I  may experiment with contrast cuffs and collar, spangles, and a very fine silk gauze kerchief. Maybe I'll pull one side of the gown skirt back with a tie, or perhaps wear a wide fringed sash around the waist. Just a few ideas.

In the meantime, I've got the gown to construct first!

More info:

The Countess of Melbury's Ball
March 14, 2020
Grand Island Mansion
Walnut Grove, California (outside Sacramento)

The evening will include dinner, dancing, gaming, and performances. Off-site accommodation and taxi service is available.

Also, to search 18th century fashion plates by year, I highly recommend Dames a la Mode Tumblr here.

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Monday, December 2, 2019


Book Review: Women of the 1920s: Style Glamour, & the Avante-Garde by Thomas Bleitner

Louise Brooks
On the eve of the 2020s, the spell of the exciting and revolutionary 1920s looms large. It was an unforgettable era with deep cultural shifts and powerful aesthetics. Women, in particular, sought new ways of expressing and defining themselves in all aspects of society. They present a fascinating topic, though the expansiveness of their experiences may prove a daunting subject to approach if you are unfamiliar with the influential names and their stories.

Here, Women of the 1920s: Style, Glamour, & the Avant-Garde provides a gateway to the world of notable women in the jazz age. In this visually fascinating book, Thomas Bleitner presents the stories of 17 women who were incredibly influential in their fields. The varying areas of culture are split into 5 chapters; Literature and Art, Society and Fashion, Photography and Film, Cabaret and Dance, and Adventure and Sports. Each section contains a brief introduction to that sphere of culture through establishing notable names, locations, and events before laying out short chapters on each woman. Infamous names, such as Zelda Fitzgerald, Josephine Baker, and Amelia Earhart are, of course, present. But for those less intimate with the period, a variety of less commonly known women such as Tamara de Lempicka, Lavinia Schulz, and Suzanne Lenglen are also included.

Tamara de Lempicka
Overall, the book is a concise 163 pages, sprinkled with photographs and art. The effectiveness of this book lies in the fact that it does not attempt to provide extensive biographies for these 17 women. There is just enough information to capture the reader's interest in the individual. At the end of the book are a few pages of recommended reading, not just on the subject of the 1920s, but on each woman. The next step in research is laid out for those that want more than an overview.

Edward Steichen for Vogue, 1928
As for the biographies, I was pleased to find that the content was filled with contemporary quotes, which helped to steer the discussion clear of the authors personal opinions and assessments. It speaks to their public impact and personal relationships in a way that a modern voice cannot. The academic in me would have preferred these quotes to be followed by citations, but I don’t feel that this book was intended for that purpose or audience. It is the perfect light read for someone who has always been curious about the era, these influential women, and their impact on a unique culture.

-- Nicole

*This post contains affiliate links.
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