Monday, January 31, 2011

18th c. Shoes: The Evolution of Our Heels

I have been itching to update you with how things are going on the prototyping of the new American Duchess 18th century shoes.  I haven't done so because there has been a lot of back and forth with revisions and design changes, getting things just right, and I do not want any of you to be confused about the final design and quality of our shoes.  (Please note that these images are photos sent from the manufacturer of the shoe in progress)

However, I do want to show you a little of the prototyping process, so here's a look at the evolution of our heels.

Originally, the manufacturer sent me a photo of a "sortof right" shaped heel that surprisingly tied in with historically accurate heel shapes of the 1770s, but strayed too far away from the more iconic Louie heel shape we associate with the 18th century.
Heel sample #1 - Not Quite Right
With the input of Mrs.C and a number of others who commented, and a stroke of luck, however, I was able to negotiate a more appetizing price on the development of the Louie heel shape, exclusively made for these shoes. One problem, though.  This is the next photo I received:

Heel #2 - DEFINITELY NOT RIGHT!
That doesn't look like a Louie heel!  And why is the company logo stamped on it?  There was some miscommunication about the logo, and also those who developed the heel were unsure of the exaggerated shape and so were conservative with the design.

I asked for a revision to the heel, supported by more reference images, and here is the most recent heel:

Heel #3 - Ah, there we go!
Isn't it cute!?  I look at this heel and see the perfect blend of style and daintiness.  It is not too chunky or overly flared, nor is it too modern and thin.  The curve at the back is very period, and the flare is subtle but definitely present.  Most importantly, the heel is placed in the center of your heel bone, not at the back, which will provide balance and comfort all day long.

As you see, I've gone through three heel shapes, and two entire shoe prototypes, and although I am finally happy with the shape of the heel, there were other parts of the shoe that I was not pleased with.  We are now working on a third prototype, but due to overseas holidays, I will not have this new sample until mid-February.  This means that, provided Sample #3 is absolutely correct, the date for pre-ordering your shoes has been pushed back to early March.
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Friday, January 28, 2011

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My First Pet ... en l'Air - Toiling Around.

For some reason I decided a little while ago that I actually like Pet en l'Air jackets.  I never cared much for them before, but I suppose that little green and orange cutie from the Kyoto Costume Institute caught my eye and changed my mind.

Like a fool I set to draping, and discovered that despite the pattern pieces being very simple, the whole pleaty-pulling in-drapey-foldy thing made my brain hurt and it took me literally hours to get the pattern working, even with the aid of Janet Arnold.

Once I was happy with the drape, I traced the pattern onto paper, made my adjustments, and cut out a toile.  I was pleased to find it actually fit (wasn't at all expecting that), although there are some tweaks I need to make, as you see:

*NOTE - I just happen to be wearing a tshirt the same exact color of my toile fabric, under my stays.  Don't mind it!  It is not actually a short-sleeved, high-necked pet en l'air, I promise!
Front - don't mind those wrinkles, it'll have boning in the final.
The back.  The pleats need some work, and the shoulders
I think part of the problem with the back pleats is that I did not press them accurately - I did it after the fact and I can see that there will be much basting and pressing before lacing in the side pieces.  Inside there are two lacing strips that pull the bodice taught through the back.  This happens under the back pleats, and it creates an excess of fabric sortof squeezed out where it's been laced together.  Pressing and strategically tacking will help with this, or so I hope.


I have some excess going on at the top, right at the top of the pleats.  I think some of this will be taken care of by pulling in the fabric underneath the pleats and tacking it in place, and the rest of that tailoring accomplished by taking in the shoulder straps.

That excess at the top bugs me, but I do like the look of that side seam and the pleats.
Otherwise I'm quite happy with it so far.  It actually fits, mostly!  I'm going to make the fit adjustments and also shorten the back - it drapes lower than I expected.  The bodice closes by way of false front (comperes), fastening with buttons.  Yay! I love front-closing, easy to fasten, easy to wear items.

This is the fabric it'll be made up in - a medium-weight woven cream ground with golden starry-stripeys.  I'll pair it with a cream colored taffeta, and dress it up with gold bows and buttons.  I'm thinking gold shoes too :-)
Sleeves...later.  They're my great downfall and I always leave them for last, and I'm determined to get them absolutely right this time.  As for trims, something simple, probably boxy-pleaty down the front edges, and the cuffs.

If you have any help for me, please don't be shy!!
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Wednesday, January 26, 2011

18th c. Shoes: Why Silk Fabric and not Leather?

For those of you following along with the American Duchess 18th c. shoes that are currently being developed, you may be wondering why I've decided to make them out of silk instead of leather.  Here I shall try to answer everyone's questions:

The majority of you voted for a fabric shoe.
In the 18th c. shoes survey I asked you all to take a little while ago, 64% of you requested a shoe made from fabric, while 30% wished for smooth leather.  While the majority of the 64% wanted a light-colored fabric, I decided to accommodate everyone by making the shoe fabric dyable to any color, including black.

Fabric shoes are historically accurate.
I chose 100% silk for the uppers, and 100% leather for the interior and the sole, but my reasons for doing this are summed up in this passage from Seventeeth and Eighteenth Century Fashion in Detail (Avril Hart and Susan North, V&A Publishing, as found on page 218):

"For most of the 18th century, leather was reserved for boots, while silk, wool and linen formed the principle fabrics for women's footwear."

It was not until the 1780s that leather began to be used for women's shoes, and this was due to improved dye technologies that allowed ladies' shoes to be more exciting colors than black.  In all my research, looking through hundreds of museum images, I only found one single pair of 1750s-80s women's shoes that were constructed of leather.

This, of course, only pertains to shoes of the upper middle class, the gentry, the aristocracy, and royalty.  Working women likely had little use for pretty silk shoes.

Fabric shoes are most appropriate for fancy clothes.
Another reason for choosing a silk shoe over leather is that they are appropriate to wear with your fancy clothing.  This ties in with the historical accuracy - women of the upper classes did not want to wear the same footwear as those of the working classes.  While leather is practical, it's not particularly pretty (at least not until the 1780s.)  Just as you will note that wearing delicate silk shoes to your re-enactment camps is highly impractical, it is equally as inappropriate to wear your black leather working woman's shoes with your silk robe a l'Anglaise, or the taffeta robe a la Francaise you spent a year sewing.

Giving you a choice in period footwear.
When the idea to make 18th c. shoes first dawned on me, I went on a quest to find any other companies that offered the kind of historically accurate, pretty, and versatile footwear that I myself wanted.  I was tired and annoyed at having no other affordable choice besides black leather, and no affordable choice at all in fabric.

I find that in many eras of costume we can get away with wearing "sortof" shoes.  Most of the time they're not seen, right?  Unfortunately for 18th c. dress, your shoes are almost always seen, particularly if wearing walking length skirts, and there are no "almost" shoes (believe me, I've looked!).

Shoes in the 18th c., for ladies of rank, were just as important as any other part of the costume.  They were jewels to be loved and admired.  They were meant to be seen.  With all the other work put into a costume, getting the hats and gloves and petticoats and wigs and makeup perfect, why then be forced to wear basic, boring, inappropriate shoes?

I do also understand, however, that while most of you will love to have fabric shoes for special occasions, there is also a great need for well-designed and comfortable leather shoes as well.  Depending on the success of the first release (silk), I WILL be then releasing the same design in leather, which will come with all the same ability to be customized as you like, but hard-wearing for stomping through fields and dirt roads.  However, do not forgo the silk shoes and wait for the leather!  If we do not sell enough pretty silk shoes, I will not be able to put the order through, and there will be no shoes for anybody!


As always, your comments, input, and suggestions are welcome.  Because of your wonderful input, I have made changes to the design to make the shoes more historically accurate (no velcro anywhere!), and with the proper shaped Louie heel.  Keep talking, and together we'll make a truly beautiful line of shoes!
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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

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Regency Wardrobe Planning for the Jane Austen Festival, July 2011

My but don't I have a lot of work to do.  My best friend Maggie moved to Tennessee this past December, and has already been enjoying the wonderful Regency era re-enactments and events that take place in that part of the country.  I am due her a visit, and as we love ever so to dress up and look pretty together, we thought to combine this visit with the Jane Austen Festival at Locust Grove, in July of this year.  And, of course, I haven't a thing to wear.

Well, I do have ONE thing, my stays+petticoat, so at least the foundation is taken care of.  As for the rest, here's my list, (some things I already have or can buy):


  • Day Dresses x 2
  • Evening Gown
  • Bonnet/Hat x 2
  • Evening Headgear (a turban or beret of some sort)
  • Shawl/Pashmina
  • Shoes (2 pairs of flats, one for day, one for evening, or a single pair if I can find them to work for both)
  • Stockings
  • Long Gloves
  • Fichu (opt)
  • Reticule

It will be July in a high-humidity environment (which I'm not used to), so I will be costuming for heat, and taking into account sweat (ew), ventilation, but also the possibility of cooler evenings.  I will not be making any spencers, riding habits, pelisses, or robes, though, and will rely on shawls.

I want to explore the changes to dress in this time period by doing one day gown from the 1790s, and the other from a later period, perhaps the 1810s.  No thoughts on the evening gown yet, although a vague idea of wanting it to be goldy shiny sparkly, like this one:

1820, LACMA
I've saved a few fashion references, but to be honest Regency isn't my forte, and the items I do love dearly are all for cold-weather wear, /sadface.  So I will have to be crafty.


Mid to late 1790s
1790s - like the full skirts, and their straw hats
This is an evening gown, but I like the interesting asymmetrical drapey thingy, although it's probably too much for hot summer days.
Simple, but with a cool hat and jacket.
Her jacket looks almost 19teens ish.  These fashion plates aren't necessarily what I plan to recreate.  I'm getting a feel for the different sort of things in the Regency, to try to veer away from the everyday normal expected stuff.
I did go lurking about for fabric tonight and was out-of-my-mind gleeful to have discovered a large variety of voile (my favorite fabric!) on massive sale, under $3/yard!, on Fabric.com, and even better, dotted swiss voile (my even favoriter most favorite fabric ever!) for that price too....so...naturally...ordered quite a lot of that. :-).  So having the fabric is at least a start, right?
Striped voile, OMG OMG OMG - I'm seeing 1790s for this, and I got enough to probably make a petticoat for a 1770s/80s costume too.
Dotted swiss voile, white w/ pale yellow dotties.
Dotted swiss white on white.  I love this fabric so much because of the wonderful texture it gives to a normally "just white" gown.  It's subtle.
As I am making two day dresses, I wanted one that would be mostly white, but then the other one to be a print.  This is voile (yay!), and maybe the print is too big?  We shall see, but I think it may be quite lovely.  If it doesn't work it shall just have to be made into a summer dress of a more modern variety :-)
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Monday, January 24, 2011

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Extant 18th c. Stays from the Marjorie Russell Clothing and Textile Museum, Nevada

A little while ago I attended a fascinating lecture on underwear through the ages, presented by Jan the Costume Anthropologist at the Marjorie Russell Clothing and Textile Research Center.  While this small and exclusive branch of the Nevada State Museum collects and preserves primarily clothing of the 19th century, they do have a few extremely rare items from before that time - that is, Nevada did not see its influx of settlers until around 1850, and so items from before this period were carried along with these pioneers, as family treasures.

What caught my interest was the first item we looked at, a pair of 18th c. stays belonging to the Billinghurst family, a prominent name in Northern Nevada (or at least a local middle school is named for them).  The museum had them dated quite early - 1760s - but I question that (I know, how dare I!) because of the shortness of waist (which you can't see in the photos, but these stays were TINY, almost child-sized), and the boning pattern, which is interesting.  I would put them more at late 1780s - what do you think?

(Click Photos for Larger Sizes)
They're not pretty - the outer fabric is pretty basic heavy linen, and the sandwich layer is a pretty coarse linen.  The lining would have been tacked in and then removable to be cleaned or replaced.  This image shows the outside, the wearer's left side.  Check out those gnarly boning channels all crossing each other.
Here's the wearer's right side.  The stays lace in front and have no lacings in the back.  You can see on this side there is an addition up on the strap tab, perhaps a repair?  It's not obvious from these exterior pictures how the straps attached, but a look at the interior photo shows that they were sewn in on the inside, but then perhaps cut off at a later date to be made adjustable.  There aren't any holes, however, that indicate how they were attached after being cut off.
Here's the inside.  You can see the rough quality of the fabric.  This was a stability layer and the lining would have been layed over this and tacked in place.  
The back view (my apologies for not getting it all in the frame!)   You can see that the boning pattern on the back is pretty simple, straight-forward verticals.  The straps are set at a wide angle, so they would have been pretty far out on the shoulders.
These, believe it or not, are the first pair of 18th c. stays I have ever seen in person.  They were TINY, and ugly!  Still, a fascinating bit of reference, particularly for that boning pattern.  It shows that there was no hard-and-fast rules on how to make these things.  We see similarities in shape and pattern, but also a lot of creativity in the way things were put together.  I would love to see these on a body to see how the funky boning pattern effected the shape of the wearer.

Your comments (and corrections) are welcome!  Please use these images any way you like, and if you fancy, please link back to me if you do.  So what do you think of these, ladies?
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Saturday, January 22, 2011

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Porcelain Dogs, Silver Pheasants, Salt & Peppers - Vintage Lovelies New in the Boutique

I went antiquing today, and came back with a few lovely things I'd like to share with you.  These are all listed in the American Duchess Boutique on Etsy (click here).



My "find of the day."  These are two silver plated golden pheasant salt and pepper shakers, made by W.B. Mfg. Co, the same makers of the little silver sparrows from back in November.  They are Art Nouveau, dating from the very early 20th c.  There are a few examples I've found of a similar design showing a different head style, but I haven't found any of the golden pheasants.
A close up - see how nicely they're carved.  I just love them!  With how quickly the last silver birds sold, I expect these to sell soon, so if you love them, buy them quickly!  Click either photo for the Etsy listing.
Hans the German Shepherd.  He's a porcelain figurine, extremely well done, with exquisite craftsmanship and glazing.  No damage at all, and he's really quite regal, don't you think?  Click the photo for the listing.
A couple silver s&p's.  I liked the look of them, thought they would add some vintage loveliness to the table, for tea or a fancy dinner.  I can see these on the table at Downton Abbey :-).  Click the photo.
This is Charles the Boxer.  He's so ugly he's cute.  How could I resist him, he just looked at me and wheedled his way into my mind so that I had to go back and get him.  Click either photo to buy him.
He looks better from the back, huh?  Haha, I just love his ugly little face!
American Duchess blog readers get an extra 15% off anything in the store when you enter the coupon code "CUPCAKES" at checkout!

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Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

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Magazine Treasures of 1916

Recently I lucked into the acquisition of real honest-to-goodness primary source material, courtesy of an old friend of mine from high school, Corinne.  Her dear mother was getting rid of a large stack of old papers, mostly magazine ads and that sort, and before pitching them asked if I'd like to have them.  'Course I was all over that like a costumer in the LA garment district, so I went to collect them, had a look through the papers, and about died for how awesome this stuff truly is.

For the most part, the stack contained one mostly in-tact magazine magazine called "The Pictorial Review," from 1916, in addition to a "Ladies Home Journal" from 1898, and several pages from a mid-1920s magazine (loose pages).
Of all the beautiful artwork on the inside, they put THIS on the cover.  Does anybody know who this lady is?
Flipping through the pages ever so carefully, I was awe-struck by this time capsule of information.  The advertisements on the sidebars of the articles were as fascinating as the editorial pieces, the fictional stories, and the fashion illustrations.  I had never seen a ladies magazine of the past, but had been curious for so long.  The real importance of these papers is the context they maintain.  When we look at source material from, say, the Sears Catalogs, often they have been taken out-of-context and are showing only one aspect, but we miss all those little nuances that attest to the life of these people in addition to their clothing.

That being said, let's look at some of the pages!  These are selections I chose - mostly fashion drawings, some interesting ads.  Please use these images any way you like! (click the images for larger versions)  I have watermarked them, but you are welcome to re-post them on your blogs, but please send a link back to me!

This is an illustration from a story called "Debutanting"
I'm totally in love with this gown.  Must make it!

Here's a full page.  Beautiful illustrations, but look at that wall of text!  Can you imagine a modern day Cosmo or Glamour looking like this?
Nighties.  And also check out the ads on the side.

I dig the nurse's dress on the left.

Ice skating and winter sports for ladies!  What a delightful illustration!  And all those fur muffs.  Oh so cute!
Isn't she charming?  And she's in her underwear!  Looks like a modern summer dress, right?
Skirts of 1916
Cool hats and fluffy muffler for winter 1916.  The other looks like she's out for a lawn party, though :-)
So here is my prediction:  I think "Downton Abbey" has put the costuming world into a frenzy.  I know I'm much more interested in 19Teens clothing now that I've watched the series, and I'm itching to make something slinky yet demure, glittering, and Japanese-inspired.    If I was waffling about it before (which I wasn't, but let's just say) then these 1916 magazine pages were the nails in my proverbial costume coffin, and now I'm OBSESSED.

Would you like to see more?  I have more!  These are advertisements that may be of interest to you:

From the 1916 magazine - I just love her dress as well as the corset underneath.

This one is from the 1898 Ladies Home Journal.  Interesting shape, right?  
Not sure what this product is, but it's a charming drawing.
This is First Lady McKinley on the cover of the 1898 Ladies Home Journal.  I love her dress, and wasn't she pretty!

An appropriate way to end this post.  Ever feel this way?  Yes I think so, hahaha!
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