Wednesday, May 27, 2015

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The Midnight Chemise a la Reine

As happens with all big costume events or trips, it gets to be about a week out and I decide I *NEED* such-and-such new gown, and that surely it will be quick and easy to put together.

Which it never is.

Except this one might really be.

1780s Countess of Derby - via
The Princess de Lamballe, by Elisabeth Vigee-Lebrun, 1782 - via
Emilie Seriziat, Jacques Louis David, 1795
The idea for a Chemise a la Reine came when considering the weather in Williamsburg next week - warm and rainy. Steamy. When considering my 18th century gowns, I found myself at a disadvantage with my silk gowns AND my faux silk gowns, leaving me with precious few options.

And that just won't do.

So what will withstand both heat and moisture? Cotton voile! I happened to have just enough for a full and fluffy Chemise a la Reine, so I studied the diagrams in The Cut of Women's Clothes: 1600-1930 , and on Fresh Frippery's blog, and set to it at 10:30 pm last night.

Here's what it looked like before the waistline was gathered - a huge tent!
It really is easy. I used one huge width of cotton 165" wide (in hindsight, this is more circumference than you need, but makes for a very full and fluffy gown. The Cut of Women's Clothes: 1600-1930 pattern has about a 138" width. If you're using anything heavier than voile, reduce your overall width, otherwise your bodice will be too bulky), made three gathering channels along the top according to Fresh Frip's diagram, and gathered it all up on my dress form. Initially I stitched in a channel 9 inches below the top edge, but found it too short in the back when I gathered it, so had to rip out most of that and re-stitch it according to my markings at the waist while on the dress form.

Now it's starting to look like a dress
The back pinned to the underbodice structure.
What's left?

  • Cut and stitch in the sleeves - the trickiest part. I will be using slim, two piece sleeves.
  • Sew the straps - I made a quick cotton foundation bodice that pins closed at front, under the gathers. The straps are part of it, so I just need to do the finishing "cover" with the voile on the outside.
  • Level the hem - it's longer in front than back.
  • Possibly add a neck ruffle - many gowns had them, so I may add one depending on time.

And that will be it! YAY!

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Friday, May 22, 2015

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18th Century BigAss Caps

...one final push for Williamsburg!

With The Creature wrapping up (and boy does that feel good!), I have just enough time and plenty of organza left to make a BigAss Cap.

And I want it to be biiiiiiiiig. Fluffy. Ridiculous. I want it to eat my head.

So here's my inspiration:

Two Nerdy History Girls - Abby, Milliner's Apprentice at Williamsburg, wearing a big fluffy gauze (organza) cap
Lady Wearing a Large White Cap, c. 1780 - National Gallery of Art
Francis Alleyne, 1780 -85

French School, 1772-85 - Bowes Museum
The back of Samantha's cap - The Couture Courtesan
1777 French Fashion Plate, noting the cap design in the upper right - via
I don't have a pattern, but there are some resources online here:
Luckily caps aren't so very hard to figure out. I have this diagram from Art, Beauty, and Well-Ordered Chaos to go from, and tweak for proportion:

Click through for instruction
I best get on with it!
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Wednesday, May 20, 2015

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Progress on Le Polonaise AKA The Creature

Trimming the bodice - the left side was done with the roll hem foot and it really "ate" the fabric - the right with a different method. I will need to remove the left side and re-do it.
Slowly but surely (she keeps saying), I've been trimming Le Polonaise, now semi-affectionately dubbed The Creature.

The Creature requires much time, much fiddling, much hand work. I've finally worked out a good way to hem the organza on the machine, but it's still hours of tearing, trimming, folding, stitching, pleating, pinning, tacking, and pressing.

Thankfully it's also rewarding!

Knife pleats on the skirt. These are tighter than I ended up doing overall.
I'm really pleased with how Le Polonaise is turning out. It's been a journey, one that would have gone much more quickly had I more time to devote. It's really my own fault that my trip to Colonial Williamsburg is now two weeks away and I only have one new gown only partially complete.

But what a gown it will be!

As you can see, compared to the last post, both sleeves are on, and I've added an extension with more organza to one so far. The petticoat has been pleated and trimmed, but I have yet to do the waistband and ties. Then it was on to the trim - many strips of organza hemmed on both sides, then knife pleated and loosely stitched to the bodice and skirt.

American Duchess 18th century 1770s Polonaise skirt effect
Polonaise effect - Left is down; middle is drawn up with interior tapes; right is drawn up with exterior tapes, and is the method I will be using.
Once the trim went on, it's been quite fiddly to get the poofs right. There are two ways to pull up the skirts - interior tapes looped through a ribbon tie or button on the inside, pulling the skirt up from within; or exterior cords which loop from the interior waist down and up on the *outside* of the skirts, hooking to buttons on the outer waist, usually at the side back seams. These two methods produce very different effects.

I usually prefer the interior tapes, to create the "butterfly" effect, but to achieve that 1770s Polonaise poofery I admire on fashion plates of the era, I have to use the exterior tapes. I better go find some pretty cord. :-)

Skirts drawn up with exterior tapes - this creates the distinct three sections the style was named for, plus that quite large poof extending out the back. The interior tapes create a totally different silhouette.
Now back to work!!
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Monday, May 18, 2015

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A Basic 1920s Frock

Lace Collar on a 1920s Frock - American Duchess Blog

"Frock" is exactly what I should call this dress, even though I don't really like the word.

I found this -frock- on Etsy for an excellent price, and was so pleased to find it in amazing condition when it arrived. It's wool and neither has moth holes nor stinks of mothballs! The interior is unlabeled, with hand-overcast raw edges, some french seams, and clever use of selvedge. It retains some basting stitches, and even has a quick nip in on the side seams to slim it a bit through the waist (which I have totally done on my 1920s projects!).

Original 1920s navy wool and lace dress - American Duchess Blog
Some interesting and typical seaming on the skirt makes this more than just a sack.
This -frock- is just so...straightforward. It reminds me of the dress Roxy Hart wears to court in "Chicago." And I love it! Even though it's a little scratchy to wear, and is basically a lace-trimmed sack, I LOVE it! There's something so satisfying about an original 1920s -frock- in that it's unquestionable. Yup, that's the silhouette alright. No question there. It's huge and waistless and quite long and scratchy and demure and utterly correct.

Look for this one in a future Royal Vintage photo shoot. :)

1920s navy blue wool dress with lace collar - American Duchess Blog

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Wednesday, May 13, 2015

"Kensington" 18th Century Shoes in Red are Back!

American Duchess Kensington 18th century shoes in Oxblood

And it's about time!

It's been several years since we've had red Kensingtons available in the shop, but they're finally on their way now, and you can pre-order them to reserve your pair!

We've made some improvements to the original red Kensies:


  • Darker red color (oxblood) inspired by original 18th c. Moroccan leather shoes
  • Premium quality, hand-finished calf leather upper
  • Leather lining
  • Thick and sturdy leather soling
  • Functional and accurate latchet closure fastens with 18th century shoe buckles
  • Our signature 1.75 inch French heels - stylish and comfortable.


American Duchess Kensington 18th century shoes in Oxblood Red

Don't miss your opportunity to wear a pair of the new Kensingtons in Oxblood Red. Red shoes are surprisingly versatile, so don't be afraid to add a little party to your peds, like it's 1776.

Pre-Order Freebies!
Choose a free pair of stockings, free pair of buckles, or a $10 discount when you pre-order (limited time).  Enjoy the sale at
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Monday, May 11, 2015

"Is This The Real Life? Is This Just Fantasy?" - The Myth of Perfection

This past Saturday, Lauren M. of Wearing History posted a fantastic, soul-bearing article on Social Media and the Myth of Perfection. She urged us all to consider the real lives behind the shiny pictures posted by your favorite bloggers, and realize they are just as messy, painful, and complicated as anyone else's.

She challenged us all to post what was *really* going on behind those pretty pictures we all curate and publish.

So here's mine, starting with the most recent:


Attending a "Time Traveller's Ball" on Saturday night - 30 minutes after this photo was taken, I t-boned a car that had run a red light. Thankfully nobody was hurt, but both cars were totaled. The other driver was a college girl who now has a massive ticket, a spike in her insurance, and is taking her finals today. So while I feel sorry for myself, I feel even sorrier for her.

Photo by Lauren Marks
Last year in Colonial Williamsburg, attending the Millinery Conference. My dog (who was the closest thing I'll ever have to a child) was killed the week before. I cried myself to sleep every night of this trip.


On a cruise with Lady Carolyn in 2012 - I was sea sick *the entire time.*


Way way back (to when I started this blog!) - I was going through the worst breakup of my life. The morning after this ball, I packed up my entire apartment and left while my ex was out of town. It was terrifying.
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We all curate and share what we want people to see and know. I tend not to share negative things. I don't want to dwell on them myself, let alone be a bummer to my friends. Even accepting Wearing History's challenge has been difficult because I don't want to remember these things and feel them again.

I don't really have a way to sum this up except to throw my support behind what Lauren M. is saying. Be compassionate. We are all human.
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Thursday, May 7, 2015

17th Century Inspiration Strikes Again!

I have only made one 17th century gown and I loved it. It was polyester satin and featured spray-painted lace, but I adored that gown. Somebody else is adoring it now, and it's time to make a new one.

I recently acquired an enormous amount of brown-black silk taffeta, one of those mismarked super-bargains you come by every once in a great while. I also recently found a new AD model who looks straight out of a Vermeer painting, and combining that with having recently watched "Rembrandt and I" (highly recommended!), everything has fallen in place for a whoppin' great big Dutch 17th century gown.

Naturally, here's some inspiration:

Portrait of a Married Couple in the Park - 1662 - Gonzales Coques
Merja of Before the Automobile - I saw this dress in person and it was *stunning*
Portrait of Lady - 1667 - Gabriel Metsu
I will probably focus on the 1660s, with the wide scooped neckline, restricted shoulders, and full cartridge-pleated sleeves, but I'm intrigued by the other decades of the 17th c too. Luckily there is quite a lot of support for patterns, research, and dress diaries, to help me through. My gown will probably be quite plain, but feature some pretty bodacious lace.

Diary of a Mantua Maker - Nicole's gown is 1670s, a little later, but is also plain in its trimmings.
Woman playing the viola de gamba - 1663 - Gabriel Metsu
Detail from The Glass of Wine - 1661 - Vermeer
Books to reference:

Now just have to finish, y'know, all the other projects that are in-progress. :-)
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