Thursday, June 27, 2019

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The Isabella Mactavish Fraser Project - Prep Work!

Working on our mockup dress in wool flannel, carefully studying photos of the original 1785 Isabella gown.
Today Abby and I are in Scotland! We've come halfway across the world to work on the Isabella Mactavish Fraser wedding gown project, and though our recreation will be done in two days time, we've been preparing for these two days for nearly all of June.



Our preparation has included some very careful study and cataloging of techniques from what we could see in photos of the original dress taken by a few of the other team members earlier this year. This is always a challenge because dark lighting and short timeframe don't always result in photos of everything that's needed. Additional questions often come up too, and with this particular dress the construction is so atypical that we've both been begging the universe for one more photo of this or that.

Of course, the best way to figure something out is to try to recreate it, so off to Mill End Fabric we went to pick up a dress length of wool flannel for a test dress. Now, the test dress is made on a bodice draped on me, and I'm quite a bit bigger than Isabella was, but for the sake of figuring out the hows and whys of the back pleats, bodice fronts, lacing strips, sleeves and cuffs, and fascinating skirt construction, it works a treat...plus it'll be a wearable garment in the future.

The bodice fronts of our Isabella mockup dress. This bodice was draped to fit me, so is inevitably different than the original gown, but we also discovered some particular points we need to keep in mind when cutting the bodice on Georgia for the final project.
We spent a long time trying to work out the back pleats and ran into challenges with not having the actual reproduction tartan here to work with (which ironically arrived in the mail literally the next day). To get a rough understanding of how the back pleats were done, I mocked up the tartan in Photoshop based on observation of the original in photos and Peter MacDonald's 2014 paper on the textile, which gave me vital information about the fabric width and set repeat. In the end I didn't get it exactly right, but it was close enough for paper-folding experiments.

Before the test chunk of fabric arrived we tried to work out the pleats on paper and got a little bit befuddled.
We spent a lot of time folding and stapling and taping the plaid-printed paper together. I won't call it a waste of time, but let's just say...when the sample piece of reproduction tartan did arrive the next day, it was all a heck of a lot easier than we thought. Thank goodness for that, at least!

Once the test piece of reproduction tartan arrived, we were able to work out the back pleats quickly (thank goodness!). The large tartan was a huge help.
As for the rest of the test dress, it went together fairly well despite thinking we'd have some issues with how the original was constructed. The blue wool is now currently here in Scotland with us and is in a half-finished state so the rest of the team can check out the insides to see how it was put together.

Working on the solid blue wool for the test dress was in many ways more challenging that recreating our tartan dress will be. We didn't have the large tartan pattern to guide us. For working out the how's and why's of the skirt seaming, the sleeve construction, and other oddities in the original gown, though, it has been invaluable. #mockupsbeforefockups !
Truth be told, I'm quite terrible at making mockups, but in a case like this it's been pretty vital. We're confident that the final 1785 tartan gown recreation will come together smoothly and with very close construction to the original. I want to reveal all its secrets to you now, but can't! So stay tuned for behind-the-scenes videos, photos, and our official documentary about the dress and project coming later this year. <3
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Monday, June 24, 2019

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#ADBeauty - 18th Century Hats, Caps, Bonnets, and Accessories

Jasmine wearing her Therese hood, a very simple early 1780s accessory
It is my belief that one can never have too many 18th century accessories. Hats and caps are essential to getting the period look right, plus they all serve their own functions (even if sometimes it's just *fashion*).

In our new book "The American Duchess Guide to 18th Century Beauty," which I've been going on and on about for weeks now, every hairstyle tutorial/chapter also comes with instructions for making at least one, but more often two, accurate pieces of headgear with which to decorate your coiffure.

A good choice for all of the second half of the 18th century, a straw hat lined in silk and trimmed in silk ribbons is a go-to for sunny event days.
Here's what you'll learn to make:

  • 1750s "Coeffure de Dentelles" (Lace Head) cap
  • Lace lappets
  • Late 1760s "Proto-Pouf"
  • 1760s-1770s silk-lined and be-ribboned Bergere straw hat
  • 1770s French Night Cap (the mother of all giant caps)
  • 1770s Calash Bonnet (omg it's huge)
  • 1770s Pouf (read: it's not the hairstyle)
  • Ostrich Plumes
  • Early 1780s Toque
  • 1780s Therese hood
  • Early 1780s "Bonnet a la Jeannot" cap (my fave)
  • 1780s Black Silk Bonnet
  • Mid-1780s "Bonnet a la Meduse" be-ribboned cap
  • 1780s Gainsborough Straw Hat
  • 1790s Chiffonet

Some of the accessory projects, like the Therese and the Toque, are so quick and easy that you'll have them done in an afternoon. Others take more time, like the Calash Bonnet and the Proto-Prouf, but they're all worth spending the effort to make because when event day arrives and you're wondering what the heck to wear on your head, you'll be spoiled for choice!

The fashionable black silk bonnet is perfect for the 1780s. Nicole wears hers over her crape'd hair.
Some more perks of headgear include:

  • Hairstyle not really working out? Put on a cap and cover a multitude of sins!
  • Sun in your eyes? Black silk bonnet to the rescue!
  • Coiffure looking a little boring or, dare we say, too short? Add a pouf!
  • Attendees not paying much attention to your presentation? Calash bonnet!
  • Don't want to talk to anybody? Therese hood!

Now, as always, the accessories we make in each chapter are specifically designed to go with that hairstyle from that set of years. If you want to make something for a different shaped hairstyle, or an earlier or later time frame, you will need to adjust the pattern shapes and sizes. For instance, the Calash and the French Night Cap are very tall, designed to go over very tall hair. They'll need scaling down and shortening up to work with 1780s hairstyles. Luckily this is very easy to do!

The 1770s calash bonnet is a real showstopper - learn to make one step-by-step!
So there we go! We've covered the cosmetics, hairstyles, and accessories in "The American Duchess Guide to 18th Century Beauty." We hope you enjoy our second book!

"The American Duchess Guide to 18th Century Beauty"
comes out July 9, 2019 and is available on
and other major booksellers.
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Thursday, June 20, 2019

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1780 - 1781 Glasgow Polonaise Sacque Jacket Progress

1780 - 1781 Polonaise sacque jacket almost done! I love the back, even if it has double the fabric in it that it really needs.
Alllmmmooosssttt doooonnnneeeee!

This project has been one of much doing and re-doing, but I've learned a lot along the way. I'm thankful to say that as of this post my new sacque-back jacket is wearable!

Even though I had to re-do the sideback seams in situ, it gave me a chance to do a much better job on the trick back skirt pleats where they nip in under the sacque pleats.
The sleeves gave me the most trouble of anything on the gown. The original garment has these massive turn-back cuffs that are pleated into the sleeve and fold back nicely for a dramatic effect. Unfortunately my version didn't play so nicely and my cuffs were far too large and didn't lay nicely, so I reduced them. They look better now, but they're not true to the original and I'm not in love with them. They cause the sleeve to ruck up a bit, and I'm just way more into other cuff styles so I doubt I'll do the all-in-one-turn-back cuffs again in the future.

Grumble.  Turns out there is too much of a good thing...
Once the sleeves were constructed, Nicole helped me fit the shoulder strap seams and then the sleeves. I like to do this in one fitting, though it means putting the garment on, taking it off, putting it on again, taking it off again. The result is an almost-finished garment!

For a little bonus, here's a video I put together on how to do the convertible pinning trick we talk about in the book, since it's confusing in photos:



With the cuffs greatly reduced and the sleeves set on.
 With shoulder straps sewn, underarms of the sleeves securely back-stitched, and the tops firmly basted, I took the jacket home and applied the printed cotton shoulder straps over top to finish the whole thing off. I also made an extra little tuck along the flyaway bodice front for a more fitted look, and I'm calling it done.

The nearly-completed jacket. Sleeves set on and partially sewn. Front flyaway pinned into a more flattering position. You can see on the left sleeve here how the cuffs cause some issue.
I'm glad this project is complete. The Ikea duvet cover cotton, despite being so pretty, was a right royal PITA to sew because it's woven very tightly. Great for a bedspread, not so great for handsewing.

I have one or two more millinery details to add - a silk ribbon tucker around the neckline (I never skip this, even if I'm planning to wear a kerchief), and I *might* do some cord loops with buttons on the cuffs to help shape them.

I look forward to wearing this pretty jacket in Edinburgh at the end of June for the Isabella Mactavish Fraser Wedding Gown recreation project. We'll be sure to get pictures!


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Monday, June 17, 2019

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#ADBeauty - 8 Authentic 18th Century Hairstyles!

Big Hair? Yes you can!
Possibly the post you've been truly waiting for, today I'm going to give you some previews of the hairstyles in our next book "The American Duchess Guide to 18th Century Beauty" coming out July 9th and available to order now.

Before we get into the hairstyles specifically, we give tutorials for making hair pieces - a toupee (the middle portion of the hair), the chignon (the long back hank of the hair), and buckles (the large curls). These extensions are historically accurate and a godsend when it comes to doing any of these styles, especially the 1780s and early '90s fashions.
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We started our hairstyling adventure in c. 1750 with a very typical French style. The reason we chose 1750 as our origin point is because hair styling for the first 50 or so years of the 18th century wasn't all that different decade-to-decade. We wanted to show what came before the 'rise' of tall hair, so to speak.

Abby in the 1750s-1770s Coiffure Francaise.
Abby kicks off the book hairstyles with the Coiffure Francaise, which was was done entirely with her own shoulder-length hair. It's an easy one to do, despite its sculptural effect!
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Once we get into the mid 1760s, the hairstyles start to ascend and become more intricate. We worked with Cynthia and her massive amounts of natural red hair to create what we call the Coiffure Banane (banana hair style), which follows the taste and teaching of Legros de Rumigny.

Cynthia wearing the 1765 - 1772 Coiffure - all her own hair!
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Just a few years later, by 1772, hair is *big*, built up on large cushions. Laurie's long hair was perfect for this enormous style, which we call the Coiffure Beignet (donut hairstyle). It's actually one of the easiest styles in the book and is open to lots of variation. This is one of the styles that is perfect for long, and even very long hair.

Laurie Tavan modeling the 1772 - 1775 giant donut hairstyle with all her own hair!
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Next comes the 1776 Coiffure Ski Alpin (ski-slope hairstyle), the fashionable silhouette for the Revolutionary War period. We named this style for the very interesting cushion shape (pattern in the book!), which is higher in the back than the front, creating a lovely platform for the display of your pouf. Jenny is our model and we give advice for working with Asian hair, which can be applied to other styles in the book.

Jenny rocks the 1776-1779 hairstyle built on the "ski slope" hair cushion.
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Once we hit the 1780s, the hair silhouette begins to morph from tall to wide. The early 1780s Coiffure Chenille (caterpillar hairstyle) uses the "grub" hair cushion to give oomph in the front, with a cascade of buckles and the chignon in back. We worked with Jasmine, using her natural hair texture, and give tips for working with 3C and 4C hair types.

Jasmine displays the early 1780s hairstyle with the "grub" hair cushion, done with all her own hair.
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Also in the early 1780s we present the Coiffure Friseur (frizzed hairstyle), which uses a popular and common 18th century technique called crapeing to semi-perm straight hair into tight, frizzy curls. In this chapter, Cheyney McKnight discusses the cultural appropriation of African hair texture, and we demonstrate how to crape and then create this fascinating style with Nicole's chin-length bob.

Nicole shows the 1780 - 1783 Coiffure Friseur.
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By the mid 1780s, cloud-like hair is still in fashion. In this chapter we discuss the 18th century mullet haircut and demonstrate another method of curling and coiffing this style on me, using my own hair and the chignon hair extensions created earlier in the book.

Lauren models the 1785 - 1790 curly hairstyle with buckles and long chignon hair (a hair piece!)
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The last style is the Coiffure Revolution from the early 1790s. This bevvy of curls is more relaxed and natural. We worked with Zyna, an Asian Pacific Islander, and her thick, shoulder-length hair. This is a very easy style to do!

Zyna shows the 1790 - 1794 curly and loose hairstyle tied with a chiffonet.
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It's a wild, hairy ride, but we try to explain and demonstrate each of these styles to make them as accessible as possible to all sorts of hair types, lengths, and textures. We encourage everyone to experiment and adjust as desired to create the height, width, and effects most flattering to your faces, using the historical tools, products, and accessories we give in each chapter.

"The American Duchess Guide to 18th Century Beauty" comes out July 9, 2019 and is available to order on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, AmericanDuchess.com, and all other major booksellers.

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Thursday, June 13, 2019

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Resplendent in 1835 - A Photoshoot

Nicole Rudolph in her c. 1835 ensemble.
OK, so it's pretty obvious I'm obsessed with the 1830s now (though I will never stop loving the 18th century deeply). I've made two gowns and I'm just itching to make more, plus the wacky accessories that go with them. The fact that "Gentleman Jack" is costumed so fantastically is only fuel to this fire.
So when Nicole came to visit last December, joining us on our 1830s excursion (invasion? infestation?) to Dickens Fair in San Francisco, we did a little pre-game photoshoot with her in her tomato red silk gown.

The full look - Nicole's sleeves made her a full yard wide
And I nearly died over the beauty of it. Nicole's skill is just incredible. The fit and execution on this gown was just stunning.

Nicole's gown is circa 1835-ish and she was sporting the HOOJEST sleeves of us all, with sleeve plumpers a good third or more larger than mine.

Amongst the massive sleeves you can see the checkered ribbon belt with original 1830s belt buckle. The delicate chain draped across the shoulders was another '30s trend.
The cleverly cut and pieced net pelerine gave an ethereal quality and allowed the details of the bodice underneath to peek through.

Nicole Rudolph in her c. 1835 ensemble.
Nicole paired the lustrous red silk with turquoise and gold accents in the checkered ribbon belt and fantastic hat with egret feathers.


For the photoshoot, we paired the ensemble with Eliza Early Victorian Slippers in black and grey houndstooth wool and black leather. The adorable little square-toed, split-vamp oxfords are true reproductions of original 1830s shoes and looked wonderful with the costume.

Eliza Early Victorian Shoes in grey/black were just the ticket.
You can follow Nicole on Instagram - @silk_and_buckram
Also on Facebook - Diary of a Mantua Maker
Shot on location at Rancho San Rafael Park, Reno, Nevada
Gown & Millinery - Nicole Rudolph
Shoes - "Eliza" Early Victorian Shoes (1830s - 1860s)


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Monday, June 10, 2019

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#ADBeauty - 18th Century Cosmetics and Hair Care Products

Cynthia applied 18th century rouge in The American Duchess Guide to 18th Century Beauty.

"The American Duchess Guide to 18th Century Beauty" is a how-to book broken into what could be considered three sections - cosmetics, hairstyles, and accessories.


The first chunk of book deals with the cosmetics and hair care products because you need these to accurately do all of the styles that come after this chapter. The pomade and powder are the foundation of understanding how hair was cleaned and styled in the 18th century, so we spend quite a few pages explaining what these items are, how and why they were used, and then the fun part...making your own!

A sample page from the AD Beauty book showing the step-by-step for making Mareschal Pomatum.
The recipes in the book come from primary sources like Toilet De Flora (1772) and Plocacosmos (1782), among others. These books have multiple recipes for various types of pomades, powders, rouges, paints, perfumes, and dyes, some of which contain ingredients that are not available today. We went with the simplest and most accessible recipes, all with natural and safe ingredients easily obtained.

Hair powder, the original dry shampoo - learn how to make this very easy recipe and never run out of hair powder again.
It's important to note that while we use safe, natural, and easily sourced ingredients in all of the recipes of this book, we do not compromise on the historical accuracy and efficacy of these products. We make very few substitutions and the ones we did make were either cited in other primary sources as alternatives (example: coco butter in place of mutton tallow for lip salve) or were the closest we could get to the original ingredient no longer available in the quality it was back then (example: corn starch in place of wheat starch). Most recipes contain no substitutions at all, such as the pomatum and rouge, which are made with animal fats and brandy, respectively.

Throughout the chapters on cosmetics we try to bust some common myths. You've probably heard or seen some of these before, like...
  • They must have smelled bad.
  • Their hair was full of rats, lice, and vermin.
  • They wore white face paint and all looked like clowns.
  • Everyone's hair was powdered white or they all wore white wigs.
  • Hair powder was made of flour and that's why the French Revolution happened.

Spoiler Alert: None of these things are true.

Applying white hair powder to Abby's 1750 style, a popular trend in the mid-18th century.
We hope you enjoy the essays, recipes, and resulting hair care products. You'll love the deep conditioning of the pomatum, the volume-boosting power of the hair powder (the original dry shampoo), and the natural rosy flush of the lip salve and rouge.

"The American Duchess Guide to 18th Century Beauty" comes out July 9, 2019. It's available to order on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, AmericanDuchess.com (for signed copies), and all major booksellers.



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Thursday, June 6, 2019

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#SewingIsHard - 1830s Bodice Video


It's time for another episode of #SewingIsHard ! This time we're covering 1830s bodices, with some behind-the-scenes tips, tricks, and discoveries to help you in your own 1830s project. Enjoy!



Next up we'll be discussing 1830s sleeves. We've talked a bit about 1830s sleeve shapes and patterns before, but in our next video you'll get to see the final result. Stay tuned!
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Monday, June 3, 2019

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Introducing "The American Duchess Guide to 18th Century Beauty"


We're official one month away from the release of our second book, "The American Duchess Guide to 18th Century Beauty" !

This time last year we were sewing, styling, and photographing with alacrity on new projects for a companion volume to our first book, "The American Duchess Guide to 18th Century Dressmaking."

The new book includes new patterns and instructions for caps, like this organza 1785 "jellyfish" cap.
We wanted to do this second book focused on 18th century cosmetics, hairstyles, and accessories (moar accessories!) because these things are particularly important to getting your Georgian look right, but they're not easy to figure out!

Big Hair, Don't Care - Laurie Tavan rocks the super-tall "donut" hairstyle from the 1770s. Learn how it was done the original way....
Hair styling 250 years ago was a world away from how we care for and style our hair today. How did women achieve those really high styles without the aid of hairspray? With Abby's extensive study and experience into 18th century hygiene, cosmetics, and techniques, we set out to answer this question and many more.

For instance...

Did women wear wigs? Did rats live in their hair? Did they all wear white lead makeup?

How were the frizzy hairstyles done? How long was tall hair actually in fashion? What is a pouf and a hedgehog really?

What is pomade, how was it made, and how was it used? Original recipes, instructions, and tutorials for 18th century pomades, powders, rouge, and lip salve are all included.
The result is something Abby and I are very proud of. "The American Duchess Guide to 18th Century Beauty" is a step-by-step how-to guide for everything from the shoulders up. We cover:


  • Recipes and directions for making original 18th century hair products
  • How to pomade and powder, crape, and papillote curl the hair
  • Patterns and tutorials for making cushions for the tall and wide styles
  • Step-by-step chapters for styling 8 historically correct hairstyles from 1750 - 1795, using original methods.
  • Patterns and directions for creating caps, hats, bonnets, lappets, and poufs for each specific time period.
  • Instructions for making hair pieces - the chignon, toupee, and buckles.
  • Tutorials, tips, and tricks for working with different hair types.
  • A boatload of research, footnotes, and fascinating tidbits.


Additionally, we worked with Cheyney McKnight to discuss African hair care and styling and how it related to 18th Century Western fashion.

We work with different hair types and textures, and address ethnicity and cultural appropriation in the 18th century.
There is a lot to be found in this book - something for everyone of every level. In the coming weeks I'll share more about specific 'chunks' of the books - the cosmetics and hair care products, the hairstyles themselves, and the accessories.

"The American Duchess Guide to 18th Century Beauty" is available to order now from any major bookseller. Release/shipping date is July 9, 2019!

Order on Amazon
Order from AmericanDuchess.com for signed copies.
Order from Barnes & Noble
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