Wednesday, June 24, 2015

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"Mistress Firebrand" 18th Century Shoes GIVEAWAY!


My hasn't it been a long time since we've done a giveaway! This time we've teamed up with Donna Thorland, esteemed author of Mistress Firebrand, a tale of an American actress caught up in the American Revolution, and Kimberley Alexander, historian and blogger at Silk Damask.

Donna wanted to inspire readers with a bold pair of 18th century shoes that the heroine, Jenny Leighton, might have worn with her striking yellow gown. The original pair date from 1760-1780, and are made of brocaded silk, laced in silver ribbon, and bound in yellow grosgrain.

Shoes, 1760-80, The Met

For our pair, we started with "Georgiana" 18th century dyeable sateen shoes, dyed them grey and painted on the leaf motif in red and yellow fabric paint. We laced the vamps with metallic silver trim and bound the edges in bright yellow petersham ribbon.



The best part is that this kind of decoration is *easy* to do! So to celebrate Donna's novel "Mistress Firebrand," and encourage you to get creative with your own 18th century footwear, we're giving away a gift certificate for the value ($135) of a pair of "Georgiana" Dyeable 18th Century Shoes from our shop.


Daunted by the idea of dyeing, painting, lacing, and binding your own shoes? Don't be! I'll share a step-by-step tutorial on how we made these from a basic white pair of "Georgianas," using fabric dye, fabric paint, spray-painted lace, and petersham ribbon. The possibilities are endless!




p.s. The winner of the giveaway will receive a gift certificate in the amount of $135, the value of one pair of white "Georgiana" dyeable 18th century shoes. Dyes, paints, buckles, and additional materials are not included.

The actual pair of shoes shown in this post are not being given away, but may be auctioned or sold at a later date.

The winner is not restricted to a pair of "Georgiana" 18th century shoes, and may spend the gift certificate on any item at www.AmericanDuchess.com. The gift certificate must be used all at once and may not be split into separate transactions.

The giveaway is hosted by Donna Thorland. Orders, returns, and exchanges will be handled by AmericanDuchess.com.
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Monday, June 22, 2015

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Playing With Sailors at l'Hermione, and more Williamsburg Shenanigans

Lauren M, Adam the Sailor, and me at l'Hermione a second day
After our initial visit to The Hermione, we returned a second day at Adam's request, to pose for a few recreations of satirical 18th century prints.

These prints depict sailors and ladies in various situations. We did our best to act them out, and I'm quite happy with the results:

The description of this print reads "A Man of War, towing a Frigate into Harbour." Her skirt supports aren't THAT big!
This one's description is cut off, but something rather untoward is about the happen....
This one is "The Sailor's Pleasure"
We returned to Williamsburg later in the day and enjoyed a few house and trade tours, viewing the cabinetmakers, the Randolph House, and the coffee house, which we had to ourselves.  I was quite charmed with the coffee house, as it was just the sort of place I would like to spend my coffeemornings nowadays, and served then relatively the same purpose as coffee shops do today - a place to get together, chat, enjoy caffeinated beverages, and reflect. Of course, Charlton's coffee house did not admit women then, which the rather perturbed lawyer we met inside reenacted quite convincingly.

Lauren M observing the map in the courthouse
Enjoying a sampling of chocolate for me and tea for the Lady of Portland House
It was a beautiful day. A bit toasty with a random half-hour thunderstorm in the afternoon, but we survived.

Surprise! It's raining in Williamsburg!
I wore my 1785 pierrot jacket with the green silk petticoat, tamboured apron, and black silk bonnet, all entirely hand-sewn. I must remark again on the efficiency of the black bonnet - you'll see in the earlier photos that our eyeballs were quite distressed by the sun. I regretted greatly not taking the bonnet to l'Hermione with me that morning, so the first thing I did when we got back to Williamsburg was put it on. Ah, relief!

Chintz! Chintz everywhere! Don't "chuck it out," make clothes out of it!
My outfit for the day - yes, that's a Hermione flag in my hat. A nice French man gave it to me in Yorktown, and I felt obliged to wear it upon my head all day.
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Wednesday, June 17, 2015

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A Visit to l'Hermione at Yorktown

Ladies visiting l'Hermione tall ship in Yorktown

The third day in Williamsburg we actually spent in Yorktown, on account of the tall ship l'Hermione having put in there the night before, and it being an event not to be missed.

I'm bad. I didn't know what the Hermione was when Maggie and Sammy suggested we go see it. I had to look it up...and once I did, I got very VERY excited.

The Hermione is a reconstruction of the French frigate that delivered General Lafayette to the freshly penned United States in 1780. The original ship was wrecked in 1793, but the reconstruction began in 1997 and set sail this year from Rochefort, France, across the Atlantic to Yorktown, its first port of call. She continues up the East Coast through Annapolis, Philadelphia, New York, and Boston, to name just a few stops. You can read all about the project and journey here.

The Hermione tall ship in Yorktown

The ship was full of dashing French sailors.
Left to right - Maggie, Lauren M, Sammy, me, Angela, and Nicole
Boarding the ship was difficult to say the least, but not as terrifying as disembarking - steep, slipper steps!
So of course we went to see her. I've never seen a tall ship, so it was a real treat, and we even got a special behind-the-scenes tour from Adam, one of the only American sailors on the ship who also happened to do the entire journey in period clothing. Not even kidding.

The ladies turned out in force. In our cavalcade that afternoon was The Couture Courtesan, Diary of a Mantua Maker, The Lady of Portland House, Undressing the Historical Lady, Burnley & Trowbridge, and yours truly. We were primped and poofed and it was fabulous!


Maggie looking incredible in a chintz gown and black market hat
Sammy and Lauren M turned out in military-inspired dress, very appropriate
Shoe circle!
Nicole and Maggie looked splendid
I wore The Creature for the first time and was very happy with how comfortable it was (yay, got the armscyes right!). I paired the gown with my tall 1770s wig and The Bonnet (yup, again!), and felt like a creampuff all day. I can't wait to wear this gown again!

Besties at the boat! Maggie and I in matching black bonnets
I am so happy with this dress!
In wearing this type of gown I discovered that you really need a fluffer - as soon as you sit down you crush the puffy effect of the the skirts. Ladies must have been fluffing themselves all day long in the 1770s!

Needless to say, it was a fabulous, very special day. :-)
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Monday, June 15, 2015

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In Defense of Faux Silk - The Revolution Dress in Colonial Williamsburg

Day two in Colonial Williamsburg - it was pouring down rain all day.
This post will probably ruffle some feathers, but I feel compelled to report on my experience concerning faux silk - yup, polyester, the fake stuff - and the day I was never so happy to have a polyester dress in my life.

I have been to Colonial Williamsburg three times now, three different times of year, and each time it has rained.

I hate the rain, but my silk gowns hate the rain even more. I will survive, but silk taffeta dresses will not. So what's a pretty pretty princess to do? I wasn't about to sit home and mope - I flew all the way across the country to play dress-up in Williamsburg, and by golly, I wasn't going to let a little rain stop me!

Except it did stop me. I was freaking miserable. My feet were wet, my epic silk bonnet was soaked, my cotton petticoat was sagging, but what still looked great?

...my faux silk dress.

This dress is completely soaked - you can see it's a little darker where it is most wet, but it still retained its puff in the skirt
Now, not all polyester taffeta is created equal. There is a lot of poor-quality faux silks out there, fabrics that look as fake as they are, that are difficult to sew, that have poor hand and no crush factor. These, I implore you, are to be avoided.

But there are *good* faux silks out there too. Really good. Can-hardly-tell-the-difference good. Easy to sew, easy to press, correct sheen. These polyesters are fantastic fabrics to use for wet-weather costuming.

Polyester is an interesting fabric. It's hydrophobic, which means that moisture is dispersed evenly through the fibers. So when the rain attacked me in my red dress, I was wet through, but you couldn't tell by looking at me. The faux silk did not keep me dry, but the fit, shape, and puff of the gown were unaffected. Most importantly, I did not worry about the dress, whereas if I had chosen to wear The Creature that day, it would have been utterly, permanently melted within minutes.

We're smiling, somehow. I was happy to be inside.
The argument, of course, is to wear natural, historical fibers like linen, cotton, and wool. Fair enough, and I agree, but there are also times when you just want to be a princess. There are times when your treasury may not allow for a real silk gown. There are times when it's going to rain on your holiday, but you're still going to get dressed and go out. Those are the times for a good faux silk gown.

There are times not for a good faux silk gown, too. Skip the faux silk when it's going to be hot. Skip it when you're attending an event where you may be scrutinized for historical accuracy. Avoid faux silks if you are going to be interacting with fire, open flame, ovens, etc. If you feel uncomfortable for any reason in choosing a faux silk over a real one or another fiber, skip it.

How to choose a good faux silk?  The best way is to take a piece of real silk taffeta with you when you visit the fabric store. Be very diligent in comparing the real and the faux:

  • look at the sheen - avoid shot (iridescent) poly taffetas
  • avoid anything that looks or feels like plastic
  • compare the fabric weights and hands (drape)
  • crumple the fabric in your fist and see how it reacts when released. You want it to "crush," not spring back to its original shape right away.
  • try the upholstery section rather than the fashion fabrics


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Friday, June 12, 2015

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The Midnight Chemise a la Reine in Colonial Williamsburg

Carriage Ride in Colonial Williamsburg - American Duchess

I have gobs and gobs of photos to show you, and stories to tell, from my recent trip to Colonial Williamsburg. Where do I start? How shall I structure these posts!? Eeek! How about one dress at a time? Although I made the Chemise gown last, I wore it first, so let's start there!

One of my favorite things about "living" in costume for a week is discovering the how and why of clothing through first-hand experience. Williamsburg is located in tidewater Virginia, which is basically Hell. It's hot and raining, or cold and raining, or just hot, or freezing cold, humid all the time, then raining. UGH! But boy does all that shape the choices women made about their attire.

We were really happy to be there, and really happy it wasn't 100 degrees!
That being said, I am 1000% glad I made the Chemise a la Reine. Of all the gowns I took with me, this one performed the best in the rain, heat, and various combinations thereof. Lauren M, The Lady of Portland House, and I both wore cotton voile Chemise gowns, about 10 years apart, and both experienced comfort (yay!)

People kept commenting on Lauren M's dirty hem, but of all the materials to make gowns out of, this one is one of the easiest to clean. Plus, "patina" is what makes an item of clothing look lived in - I guarantee the ladies of Williamsburg experienced this very thing! 
So so so happy with this gown. I made mine short enough that it didn't suffer from mud-creep, but I still ended up with splatters on the back, just from walking and sitting.
The cotton voile was unaffected by the misty rain on our first day, and the filth I collected from walking the muddy paths of history easily washed out. This dress also dried out quickly, and when the sun reappeared, I was kept cool and protected from sunburn by the long sleeves and kerchief (also cotton voile). No wonder ladies all over the Western world took to wearing this style of gown in the 1780s and 90s!

I paired the Chemise with a black sash, black corsage, black Dunmore shoes, and my *huge* black silk market hat, along with Thomas Jefferson around my neck. The black accents against the white gown looked sharp, but I love that I can pair this gown with any other color or mix of accessories for a totally different look.

To say I was really excited about this hat is an understatement. You'll be sick of it by the end of all my CW posts, because I wore it every day!
A couple of drawbacks with how I constructed this dress - the first is that it has no pocket slits, so to get to my pockets I had to pull the front edge of the gown away from the under petticoat, which was annoying. The second is that front edges of the gown fly open when you walk. I was wearing an ivory cotton petticoat beneath, which was never meant to be seen. For those making this type of dress, I recommend either a petticoat in the same fabric (or a contrasting, pretty fabric if you want it to be seen), or pinning the edges in some way.


Hooray for the Chemise, then! I wore it two days and fussed neither of those days, which I cannot say about the other outfits. As far as recommendations go for what kind of dress to take to a place like Williamsburg in the Spring and Summer, I wholeheartedly say the Chemise a la Reine. It's easy to make, easy to wear, looks great, and is fantastic in warm and wet weather.




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Friday, June 5, 2015

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The Versatile 18th Century Market Hat

On my trip to Colonial Williamsburg this week, I decided to be bold and attempt to underpack. The idea of wearing a different or new dress every day is a modern one, a difficult one to break, but is it really so "bad" to wear the same gown more than once?

As it stands, I have five outfits for five days, but depending on the weather I may be wearing the Chemise or the cotton jacket more than once. I like contingency, but I hate heavy luggage.

One thing that will be consistent, though, is my headgear.

Enter the Market Hat.

Screencap from Sew 18th Century, item is from Colonial Williamsburg, accession number 1993-335
Market hats, or bonnets, were worn for the last thirty years of the 18th c., and well into the Regency period, changing little in design due to sheer practicality. They could be worn over high hair, wide hair, or just a cap, and were excellent sun protection, the black fabric shielding the eyes from glare.

I have one waiting for me as a gift (made from this pattern), and I'm super excited! It somehow pairs perfectly with everything I'm taking for outfits, and also matches all of my accessories.

Here are some primary source examples:

Museum of London - 1773 - a very interesting bonnet design in the lower right

1775 - 12 fashionable head dresses - lower right corner has an examples of a bonnet with a fairly slim profile
Museum of London - 1780 - a fluffy market bonnet in the middle right

The British Museum, 1782
Magasin des Modes, December 1789 - Dames a la Mode 
Chemise Grecque - October 1789, from the Journal des Luxus und der Moden
Journal de la Mode et du Gout, April 1790 - Dames a la Mode
Many more prints and examples can be seen on Maggie's Pinterest board here.

A few excellent modern recreations:

Maggie's black market hat - Undressing the Historical Lady 
The Couture Courtesan

black silk bonnet, 1770-1790
A Fashionable Frolic - instructions and helpful hints (click through)
Bonnets Ready-Made to Purchase:
Fashions Revisited - three market hat styles for the 1770s-80s and 90s. $85-$95
Arachneattire on Etsy - 18th century and Regency bonnets in a variety of colors. $70-$80

Available Patterns:
Undressing the Historical Lady on Etsy - $20 - instant download
At the Sign of the Golden Scissors - $15
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