Thursday, May 21, 2020

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

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1765 Robe a la Bon Bon Sacque - Simplicity 8578 - Construction Complete!

Trying on the new sacque - it's always nice to have something, y'know, fit at its first real try-on.
Next time I say something like, "oh I'll just throw this sacque together real won't take too long to finish this," please just shoot me.

I started this gown in February of 2018 shortly after the Simplicity 8578 Robe a la Francaise gown pattern came out. I wanted to do my own version and also blog along my progress with the Simplicity pattern to document how that went together and help anybody else making the pattern.

Ah, the best laid plans o' mice and historical costumers...

I got as far as pleating the back, sewing the lining and bodice fronts, and even joining fronts to backs at the side seams. I felt *accomplished* but then, for whatever reason, I abandoned the project. Life got in the way. The sacque landed in the UFO pile.

Picking up where I left off two years ago - the sacque pulled out, ironed, and put on the dress form to be assessed.
Fastforward two years to a pandemic and the shutting down of basically the entire world, and I decided to spend some of my at-home time finishing old projects. I repaired and completed a couple vintage dresses so I was feeling super fly and ready to take on a bigger project. "How about that sacque?" said I, "there's not much left in it...I bet I could have that finished up pretty quickly. It's half-done already."



With the half-assembled Francaise ironed and put on the dress form, I first needed to correct any mistakes, and there were meaty some. Primarily my side skirt gores and front skirt panels were too short. I learned that the Simplicity pattern skirt length was sized for someone between 5'3" and 5'4". I'm 5'6" without shoes and with 2.5" Pompadour heels on that made the skirt about 5" - 6" too short. To correct this I carefully pieced in fabric to each panel, matching the stripes. I did not add to the gown back panels since they were at the floor already, but this means I ended up without a train, which is kindof sad really. :-(

The front and side skirts needed to be lengthened by about 6 inches to meet the floor + add a little for hem.

I picked out the mantua-makers seams a little, then carefully matched the stripes for piecing in length to the hem.
The next major operation was to set the front skirt panels. What was easy in the book for some reason was tricky this time, and I now believe it was because one of my skirt panels was slightly off-grain. I struggled to get them attached at the waist and must've torn out and redone these three or four times. In the end, one of my skirt panels still rumpled down the turned-back front edge and I ended up just taking a sly tuck a few inches below the waist seam and covering that little sin with trim.

My first go at setting the front skirt panels. I'd turned back too much of the skirt front edges and didn't have enough volume up top to gracefully go over the hoops, so they look like they're kindof "tight" here. I ripped this out and did it again..and again...

That rumple on the right side just would NOT play nicely and it's because this panel was actually off-grain. Usually you can cut and tear panels of silk taffeta and if it's really good stuff it's on grain and dead straight. Sometimes, though, if the fabric is slightly offgrain, it doesn't tear straight, and then manifests later with problems like this one.

Pretty good try on and Chris did really well setting the sleeves. They're not perfectly smooth, but they're on and good enough. Also you can see where I took a little tuck on the skirt panel.
The greater challenge was the sleeves, mostly because I knew I wasn't going to be able to fit them on myself and 18th century sleeves somewhat require a body fitting. I needed to shorten my sleeves quite a bit and adjust where the arm crook curve was. I still didn't get it right and next time I do mid-18th-century sleeves I'm going to just wack 'em off straight at the bottom like so many original sacques do. Luckily, and once again, I covered the wonky curves with the sleeves ruffles.

Then it was on to the fitting. I enlisted Mr. Chris to perform this tricky operation and he did SO well! Fitting 18th century sleeves is challenging even for experiences mantua-makers so I have to hand it to him.

Sleeves set - the parts sticking up at the top got gathered and sewn down to the shoulder strap lining, then the whole thing covered with the fashion fabric.
With the sleeves on and a separate stomacher made, the gown was basically constructed. I hemmed the blasted thing with the 6" wide hem facing (wow, that took forever), and patted myself on the back for completing the construction of this fancy-ass frock.

But I congratulated myself *too soon.* *TOO SOON*

Stay tuned for trimming this beast, coming up in the next post...

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Tuesday, May 5, 2020

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Getting Dressed in 18th Century - 1780s - 1790 {Video}

Let's get dressed!
Hi Lovelies!

I made a short video showing the steps and pieces of getting dressed in a 1780s Italian gown or Robe a l'Anglaise. I know for new costumers all the layers and which order they go in can be a bit confusing.

(*I forgot my pocket in this video, like a chump! But for those curious, it ties on after the split rump)

I hope you enjoy! This is the yellow silk taffeta gown I've remade and restyled a bunch of times, and you can read more about it here.
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Friday, May 1, 2020

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Pattern Notes on Simplicity 8578 - Robe a la Francaise Dress Pattern

A couple years ago now we worked with Simplicity to create a Robe a la Francaise pattern (Simplicity 8578) based on Abby's sacque in The American Duchess Guide to 18th Century Dressmaking. When that pattern came out, I wanted to use it to make my own, but the gown got relegated to the UFO pile. Well, I've pulled it out again, determined to finish it, and while this post of notes and fixes is late in coming, I'm hoping it will help others who are making this pattern too. So here goes...

Differences Between the Book Gown & The Simplicity Pattern

Because Simplicity patterns have to be accessible for machine sewists and non-historical-costumers, we made some adjustments to Simplicity 8578. I knew that Simplicity would be writing the instructions and that things would have to be able to be put together with a sewing machine using modern methods such as bag lining. There was also a challenge with pattern tissue size - there is a set dimensions and restriction on the number of pieces of large tissue that could be included in the pattern. I tried to anticipate all of these issues.

Machine Sewing vs. Hand Sewing - The biggest difference, obviously, is the method by which the gown is sewn, and this is inextricable with the order of construction. The Simplicity pattern calls for bag lining and primarily machine stitching with a bit of hand sewing while the book gown is entirely hand sewn.

Stomacher - The Simplicity pattern calls for a comperes front stomacher that is stitched in at the sides of the gown and hooks at center front. This closure *is* historically correct (though you may wish to button or pin the center front), and it eliminates the tricky pinning at the sides. The book gown has a separate stomacher that pins in. It is completely up to you which method you choose - both are correct.

If you don't care for the sewn-in comperes stomacher on the Simplicity pattern, make a separate one easily! Then you can change out the look whenever you like.
Gown Skirt Side Gore - The Simplicity pattern combines the gown skirt front piece and the side gore into one piece, whereas the book gown keeps these pieces separate. The reason for this is that historic fabric widths for silk were only about 20 inches wide, so to get the width for the skirt hem, separate gores were cut and seamed. For the Simplicity pattern, and modern fabric widths, I combined the gore and the skirt front to simplify the construction process.

Gown Skirt Front Edges Turned Back - Simplicity unfortunately omitted the dotted line indicating where to turn back the skirt front edges for the lovely triangular shape showing the petticoat. There *are* extant gowns that have straight front edges, so it's not historically incorrect, but it is a difference between the Simplicity patterns and the book gown.

Sleeve Hems - Instead of using the straight-bottom sleeve like in the book, I drew in a curved sleeve hem to accommodate the crook of the arm. Both sleeve shapes are historically correct.

Known Issues & Fixes For Them

Too-Short Gown Skirt - Simplicity's standard model block/size has a height of about 5'4". No additional hem allowance was added to the gown skirt, so if you are over 5'4" the skirt front edges come up too short.

Easy Fix - Extend the hem of all of the gown skirt panels (front skirt, gown back) as long as necessary for your height, and then some, for turning up the hem. It's better to have it much too long than not long enough. You can determine the length needed easily by measuring from waist to floor over your pocket hoops, and adding a few inches for good measure.

If you, like me, have already cut your gown skirts and they are too short, piece in extensions to the hem. You'll need to unpick the bottom 6 inches or so of the skirt seams and add extra fabric on, then re-seam. I added 6 inches extra to the front and side of my gown skirts, which is more than I needed, but I wanted to have extra to work with just in case. I know this feels sucky but remember - "Piecing is Period, Period"

I am 5'6", and about 5'8" in my 18th century shoes, so I needed to add quite a bit to the bottom edges of my gown skirt. I should have measured before I cut, but I obviously didn't! If you're in the same boat, remember that it is totally fine to piece. SO many original gowns have piecing, and a finished gown of the right length will make you way happier than unfinished and too short!
Too-Long Petticoat - This isn't really an issue, but it's something to check. Don't rely on where the pattern tells you to turn up the hem - it's going to vary for each person. You want the petticoat to be somewhere around the top of your shoes.

Easy Fix - If you're quite tall, add extra to the petticoat hem before cutting out. For everyone, put the petticoat on over the pocket hoops and all underpinnings before hemming, and mark where the hem should be. You can do this on a dress form too.

The hem of the petticoat should end up between the top of your shoes and your ankle bones-ish.
Gown Skirt Turn Backs - As I mentioned above, there are no instructions for turning back the front edges of the gown. This is a personal choice, so you don't have to do it, but if you'd like more of the petticoat to show, it's an easy adjustment.

Easy Fix - put the underpinnings, petticoat, and gown on a dress form (or have a friend help you with this), *before* you trim the gown. Fold back the front edges of the gown skirt to the inside, less at the top and more at the bottom, until it's hanging nicely and showing as much of the petticoat as you like. There are instructions and photos for this in the American Duchess Guide book too.

Folding back the front edges of the gown skirt to show more of the petticoat.
Sleeve Length & Elbow Curves -  The curve of the sleeve hem, where it curves upward to allow for bending the arms without rucking up the sleeves, may not be in the right place for you (I struggled with this). Your sleeve may also be too long.

Easy Fix - These two aspects of 18th century sleeves are highly individualized, so *make a mockup* of the sleeve before you cut it out. The simplest solutions is to cut the bottom of the sleeve off straight like the pattern in the book, which fixes both issues - no need to re-draw the arm bend placement, and the sleeve is shortened to where it needs to be.

Option 2 - If you like the curve in the hem, pull the sleeve muslin on to your non-dominant hand side, make sure the shoulder point and underarm are in the right place, and then mark where the crook of your arm and elbow are. Rough in the new curve. Take the sleeve muslin off and redraw the new curve placement.

Stomacher/Stay Hooks - This one is actually just kindof funny. Simplicity misunderstood the purpose of the hooks on the stays and assumed the stomacher was meant to hook to them.

Easy Fix - Just omit those hooks. They serve no purpose.

I hope the above notes are helpful to you as you make the Robe a la Francaise of your dreams. Please feel free to share this with anyone else planning to use the pattern, too!


* Simplicity 8578 Sacque Gown + Petticoat works best and is intended to be worn with Simplicity 8579 Shift + Stays + Pocket Hoops. Both patterns work splendidly well with The American Duchess Guide to 18th Century Dressmaking for constructing with historically-accurate methods and hand stitching.

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Wednesday, April 29, 2020

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What Is a "Hedgehog" Hairstyle *Really*?

A lady sporting the hedgehog hairstyle - 1775-78. Gallerie des Modes, 44.1344
It is a truth universally acknowledged that all 18th century historic costumers, when we first start, quickly come into contact with the amusingly-named "hedgehog" hairstyle. And oh boy do we love our hedgehogs - the frizzed toupee and ponytail back are so easy to quickly create and embody the 1780s perfectly. I think we all love saying the name too...hedgehog. Hedgehog. It's just so darn whimsical.

But did you know the hedgehog, or "herisson," hairstyle, is older and more specific than just the frizzed 'do? There are distinct characteristics, so let's take a look at the ole primary sources...

The top two coiffures in this Gallerie des Modes plates are both "herisson" - note the ribbons and the spiky ends. 1776,, 44.1235 

In this 1776 plate the upper left is the hedgehog. Even more noticeable are the spiked-up end at the top, corralled by the ribbon. Gallerie des Modes,, 44.1243.

Another 1778 plate - the hedgehog is the lower left image - the hair is swept up and back and allowed to sortof fall over the back. It's kept in place by the ribbon, kindof like a headband that keeps the hair back. The hair would have to be cut to this specific length. Gallerie des Modes, 1778. 44.1249. 

The term "herisson" appears in Gallerie des Modes et Costumes Francaise between 1776 and 1785 and appears to be identified by the ends of the hair standing straight up atop the coiffure, encircled by a ribbon or band of some sort.

This combo appears on late 1770s very high sloped styles as well as 1780s frizzed or craped styles. The band is sometimes shown as a ribbon, but could also be pearls, or a string of flowers. For men no ribbon or band is worn, but the hair appears to be cut short-ish at the crown or toupee and creates the "spiky" appearance rather than being swept back smoothly into the chignon.

This lovely plate shows a couple Calches and Therese style hoods, and in the upper right the herisson hairstyle is mentioned. You can see the ribbon band, quite low on the coiffure, and indication of the end of the hair fuzzy at the top. Gallerie des Modes, 1776. 44.1265.

The lower right shows the hedgehog perfectly for 1776 - the hair sticks straight up on a donut-like cushion, and the ribbon is woven through it. Gallerie des Modes, 1776. 44.1291.

The upper right corner hedgehog style is banded with pearls and decorated with feathers and flowers in this 1776 plate. Gallerie des Modes,, 44.1292.  

One could even purchase a "bonnet a l'Herisson" to simply place atop one's hairstyle for added oomph. Literally a cap made of hair. WINNING! (this is my favorite thing ever I neeeeed to make one!)

Look at this madness! The lower left is titled "Bonnet a l'Herisson" - bonnet is the French word for cap. This is literally a hair cap. Just pop it on top and you instantly have a hedgehog! 1776, Gallerie des Modes. 44.1263
To achieve the "herisson" style today, it's so easy! Just pin a ribbon around the upper portion of your 1770s or 1780s hairstyle and let the ends be fluffy, even spiky uppy. Insta-hedgehog cuteness, and a fun little talking point for reenactments and presentations.

Here's a little live demo I did trying out a 1770s herisson hairstyle -

Hallmarks of the Hedgehog/Herisson Hairstyle -
  • c. 1776 - 1785
  • Some sort of ribbon or band tied around the hair
  • Ends sticking up or left fluffy - straight, curled, or craped.

As we turn the 1780s, the hairstyles are getting fluffier but still have the ski-slop shape. The hedgehog in this plate is in the upper right. Gallerie des Modes. 1780. 44.1459. 

Here is a later hedgehog from 1781 - the hairstyle is very craped and quite high. The ribbons still band around the top. Gallerie des Modes, 1781. 44.1510.
Here is the latest of the plates - 1785. The second from the left in the top row is labeled "Coeffure en Herisson" and has the ribbon ringing the top. It's fun to read the rest of the names of these hairstyles, too, because it shows the incredible diversity of romantic labels used for what we might assume is all the same hairstyle. Gallerie des Modes, 1785. 44.1609. 

It's easy to use the Gallerie des Modes plates because they are clearly labeled with names. We're not so lucky with portraits, of course, and often English fashion plates don't have names for things either. Now that you know the characteristic of the herisson/hedgehog hairstyle, though, you may start to identify it in portraits or prints. It's like a history treasure hunt!

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Thursday, April 23, 2020

Tuesday, April 21, 2020


Finished Vintage Dress UFO #2 - Simplicity 3280

Simplicity 3280 1939 dress in rayon faille
Two weekends, two finished vintage dress UFOs, and I have to say it feels *great* to pick up old projects and finish them! I hate waste, and I feel guilty abandoning things. I promised you two finished '30s dresses, so here's the second...

This is a modified princess-line dress. Those right angles on the bodice are tricky.

UFO #2 - Simplicity 3280 Original 1939 Pattern

This next frock started at least two years back firmly in that "quick, easy, satisfying" mindset, but I just lost steam on it and it lived in a plastic bag until last weekend. I am SO glad I pulled this rayon faille dress out and finished it, though, because I think it's my new favorite!

The only zipper I had of the right length and a not-white color was red,...but then I forgot how to put a lapped zip in! So there's a little peak of dark red on the side and to be honest, I don't hate it.
The original 1939 pattern was tricky with the right angles on the bodice. I won't say this is particularly well-made (don't look too closely), but it fits well and is quite flattering. I *love* original vintage patterns because they go together superbly well, are very easy to fit (this one had 3/4 inch seam allowance on the side seams - THANK YOU!), and somehow always, regardless of size, end up looking like the dress on the envelope.

Those right-angled princess seams are also on the back of the dress. One of the reasons I chose this dress to make way back when was because there isn't a waist seam. I have a long waist and at the time I didn't want to bother with adjusting and fitting the waist.
My favorite thing about this green dress is how versatile it is. Accessories can really change the look. I took the time to make a matching belt and finish all the little details I normally ignore or put off 'til never, like making the little loop and button for the neckline. These give options - open neck/closed neck, belt/no belt - and I do love having options.

I love how versatile this dress is. Here it is without the belt, no neck tie, and with matching shoes and a different style hat.

The dress is made in a wonderful pine green rayon faille. I had not-quite-enough to do this project, so there is some piecing on the front and skirt, but I don't even notice anymore. I appreciate the very simple but effective self-fabric decoration for the false pocket flaps. They're just square of fabric folded in half, offset, and stitched through the center. The '30s were so clever with economic trims.

Ironically, here at the outset of Spring and Summer, this is really more of a Fall dress, but that just means it's ready to go when we do get to my favorite season in a few months. :-)

I do love options!

Dress - Simplicity 3280 made by me
Shoes - "Maria" 1930s pumps in red and green from
Hats, Purse, Gloves - vintage
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Friday, April 17, 2020


Finished Vintage Dress UFO #1 - Simplicity 8248

Simplicity 8248 1930s day dress with alterations.
Reader, I must admit I am *terrible* at finishing UFOs - "unfinished objects." I have two sewing mindsets: I want something quick, easy, and satisfying -or- I want to nestle in to a long-term, complicated, hand-sewn project.

Unfortunately for the former, almost no make is as quick and easy as I want it to be when I start it, and they often end up in the UFO pile...a collection of bags full of pattern pieces, scraps, sometimes notions, shoved into every crevice of my sewing room.

And they almost never see the light of day again..........almost.

Since we're all tucked away at home these days, I wanted to do something along the "make do and mend" line, which translated nicely into stashbusting and UFO-finishing. I had two guilt-inducing 1930s dresses that immediately came to mind, which I'll share here and in the next post.

I quite like this pattern with the changed made. The fabric is plain weave rayon, which is very drapey and light. The patterning in the fabric hides the details in the dress pattern, though, like the gathered high bust and the pockets.
UFO #1 - Simplicity 8248 Modern Repro Vintage Pattern

I made this repro Simplicity pattern three years ago and actually finished it, but I never felt like it fit me well. True to all modern Simplicity patterns, a stupid amount of ease was added to this vintage repro and I made the wrong size (the size it said to on the envelope rather than on the usual), so it was quite a bit too big. I also have very narrow shoulders, so the puff sleeves were falling off the shoulder and looked sloppy, and I felt a bit too 1990s-grandma in this frock.

I took it apart three years ago to shorten the shoulder seams and re-set the sleeve, shorten the waist, do something about the unflattering collar, and shorten the hem. Then, of course, it sat around in pieces for the remainder of the 20-teens.

he sleeves of this dress are very gathered, with sewn-in puff supports, very essential to the look. To be honest, the sleeves could come even further in on the shoulders.
I picked it up again a few weeks ago and made all the changes. The dress had to come almost completely apart, too, because I made it before I had a serger and the seam allowances were so frayed the thing was barely staying together.

After stabilizing all of the seam allowances, I removed the collar and replaced it with a V neck with a facing. I brought the sleeves in much higher onto the shoulders and shortened the hem. The re-finished dress is still a bit granny, but I feel much better wearing it now.

I'm very happy with how the dress came out the second time. I might add a line of white trim around the neckline, but otherwise it's done and wearable once more.
All-in-all, the remake took one weekend. Three years on the hanger, two days to finish! Isn't that always the way?

Dress - Simplicity 8248 with alterations, made by me
Shoes - "Maria" in Red from
Gloves, Purse, Hat - original vintage 

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Friday, April 10, 2020

Coming Up: LIVE Youtube Q&A with Lauren - Covid-19 and Small Business

Hi everyone,

I will be going live on Youtube on **Monday, April 13th at 10 am PDT** to talk about Covid-19, small business, and how we've been affected.

You can follow us on Youtube HERE.

I'll be sharing how we've been doing and the impact the shutdown has had on our small niche business, reliant on events and performances now cancelled.

I will be taking questions live in the comments box during the session, but I will also try to answer questions posted here in comments. The video will remain on our channel as a recording and additional questions can be posted in the comments there too.

I hope to see you there.

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Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Spring Cleaning 2020 SALE!

It's that time of year again...Spring Cleaning!

In the midst of all the madness you may be sewing up a storm. Even though all the events and shows are cancelled, don't miss the opportunity to grab the shoes you want for those future reschedules. We have *lots* on sale for *crazy* prices, and MORE than just what is pictured here. Check it out!

First, help yourself to any of the beautiful theatrical shoes - Bernhardt, Follies, or Garricks. These are great for quick on-and-off, dancing and performance. They're wonderfully styled with great accessibility:

Bernhardt Theatrical Boots in black leather with side zips, elastic laces, and sueded soles.

Follies 1920s character t-straps with flex soles. These come in black and tan.

Garrick 18th century theatrical shoes - flex soles with hidden elastic insets, velcro latchets, and faux buckles. Fantastic, easy on-and-off. Garricks come in both black and ivory.

Next, all of the Royal Vintage styles are now on American Duchess! That being said, we have quite a few of the old rubber-soled styles left and so we're offering them at a big discount to make room for new, fabulous, leather-soled vintage styles. Help yourself to these beauties...

Ginger 1930s sandals - all leather with perforated vamp. Available in blue/white and red/white.

Greta 1930s/40s side-button oxfords in suede and leather - garnet and black are on sale.

Alice 1940s oxforsd with sweet cutouts on the vamp - Carnelian, Nutmeg, and Black are all on sale.

Rita 1940s true reproduction platform slingback cutout peep toe oxford. Like a 1940s buffet of style - availabe in tan and black.

Zella 1940s evening shoes - luminous satin with a double strap over a d'orsay peep toe. These are splendid and come in black or cranberry.
You'll also find a few other American Duchess styles - Viennas, Tissots, Mansfield, and more...

Mansfield 1790s Regency boots - available in green or black.

Tissot 1860s-1880s slippers with large removable/clip-on rosettes. The last of these are available in ivory or black.
Lastly, we have a handful of Imperfects! A few dings, scratches, and other cosmetic flaws mean massive markdowns for otherwise lovely shoes. Find them in the Sale section as well.

Spring Cleaning Sale
April 8 - April 24, 2020
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Tuesday, April 7, 2020


#ADCapeCult - Free 1910s Cape PDF Pattern!

Free 1910s Cape Pattern - click here!
Hi! If you've been following us on Instagram you may have seen the explosion of capes. We've released a free PDF gridded pattern for a fabulous 1910s cape. It's very easy to make and is a quick weekend project.

If you'd like to download this pattern, please visit our Patreon post here.

Nicole modeling the 1910s wrap cape. It also have a distinctly vintage vibe to it - works wonderfully here for 1930s!
We release PDF patterns to our Patreon "Milliners" tier on a regular basis. You can see a list of all the patterns so far in this post, and if you sign up for the Milliners tier you can download all of these, plus any new ones we release coming up (and we do have lots of great ideas...and time on our hands).

The pattern is based on this original 1910s cape. Appears to have been sold by Martini Consignment.

We hope you enjoy the cape pattern! We'd love to see your makes too - tag us @americanduchess on Instagram or Facebook and use the hashtag #ADCapeCult .
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