Sunday, December 27, 2009


Christmas Bait

Hooray for The Holidays! The Dreamstress posted about her lovely Christmas Bait (closely related to Pogey Bait), so I thought I'd post about mine as well. Amongst the cuddly flannel PJs, fluffy bathrobe, and fuzzy sox, I received for Christmas some fantastically 'Duchesque' items:

The Teacup
Another teacup, yes, but can a girl ever have too many? This teacup and saucer bears the mark "Crownford, Fine Bone China, Made in England." And to a girl like me, that's pure pogey gold. So far it's been a bit difficult to find much about Crownford, except that it hails from Staffordshire (yes, Mr. C, you are correct), and that there's quite a lot of it for sale across the webiverse, however, the company is no longer in existence - I believe it was acquired. Anybody know any better resources for identifying china?

The Bracelet
This bracelet was a gift from my grandmother-on-my-dad's-side, who has been a collector of funky things her entire life. Before there were hippies, she was a beatnik, and before there were beatniks, she was a bohemian. There's no telling where she got this bracelet (having lived in Berkeley much of her life), but we do know that is came from Indochina (it's stamped). Age? Not a clue, but it's really flippin' cool!!

The Book
There are some bound items that make my head spin - books on costume and books on art, specifically a handful of artists that make me salivate and shudder with glee. Primarily, I speak of Alphonse Mucha, who defines like none other the Art Nouveau movement at the turn of the 20th century. Mr. C must've seen me twitching when I saw this book at Barnes and Nobles :-) It's got a lot of Mucha's art and sketches that I haven't seen, and I must say that as a costumer as well as a rabid art historian, Mucha's gown and jewelry designs are incredible and inspiring. Thanks Mr. C! xoxo

And now off to the Nevada Museum of Art to drool over Rembrandt etchings and enjoy fine museum cuisine :-).
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Wednesday, December 23, 2009

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Early Christmas Gifts, Ubersexlich, All Manner of Update...

It's been a crazy mid-month, and here's hoping things calm down. Lots of happenings and announcements and other zaniness ahead...

First Up - Pogey Bait! Nicole, herself a fantastic seamstress and wonderful friend, got me an AMAZERING little teacup and saucer for Christmas, from Anthropologie. It's *divine!* So, so lovely, and I am drinking tea out of it right now. Thanks Nicole! This event of joy happened while visiting Cuthbert's Tea House at Dickens Fair in San Francisco, where I spent my weekend. Cuthbert's also sells sweet little tea accoutrements, and I found a delightful, classic, white porcelain teapot for a lovely little price (you see it in the picture behind the cup and saucer). There is something about white porcelain teapots, unadorned, and well-balanced, that I simply, a Christmas gift to myself, shhhhh!

Trim options for the suit - silver braid combos on
navy blue velveteen. On picture is with flash, one without.

Next- James' Ubersexlich 18th c. men's suit. I promise to inundate you with updates in the next month or so, but I just have to say that toiles and fittings are really not that interesting in the blog-iverse...that, and this particular fitting happened to take place in the men's room at Gaskells Victorian Ball. There were men. They were in their underwear. This is the reason for having no pictures. At any rate, the fitting went very well, with minor changes to the waistband, tightening up the legs, and making some aesthetic decisions concerning the back of the waistcoat. I can't wait to get started on the final version, and it better be quick - James wants the ensemble by early February (*ouch!*).

Want the pattern for this 1790s jacket?

More - an announcement. I'm going to work up a couple patterns for sale and place them on Etsy. No timeline as of yet, and I'll need to perfect them, but I'm thinking of the 1790s striped jacket, possibly the 1840s ballgown bodice, maybe some headgear (like a coif + embroidery pattern). I'll have to dig through my patterns...

And Finally - I spent the weekend in The Bay, at Dickens Fair and at Gaskells. Here's evidence of the latter - are you sick of this dress yet?
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Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Apocalyptic Costuming and Life

Sometimes things just don't work out. Sometimes NOTHING works out. This makes me very grumpy.

Dickens Day Dress? No.
New Car? No.
Sick dog? Yes.
Men's Breeches Toile for James' 18th c. suit? NO.

Ladies, let me forewarn you about JP Ryan's breeches pattern. She does some forewarning herself, right there on the pattern in fact, but stupid seamsters like me disregard that and go full-steam-ahead in confidence. In this particular case, though, I have nothing good to say. The pattern is very difficult to understand, and does not seem to follow any kind of logical construction or method. The directions are confusing, the little pictures quite cryptic, and you're just not sure if you've done it right or not until you've got the thing on a body. In this case it was my own body. Now, you can imagine that my 26-year-old girl-body is not at all like my gentleman client's man-body, yet the breeches fit me rather tightly through the legs (too tightly for James, I think), and the rear end, which I knew was going to be baggy, was more like an adult diaper. It was phenomenally, ridiculously baggy! I do understand the purpose of the diaper-butt, but with our modern sensibilities, despite all our desires to be historically accurate, I could not with any kind of confidence present a diaper-butted pair of too-tight breeches to my client and hope he went for them!

Despair set in, then panic, then a plan. Simplicity happens to make a fairly decent 18th c. men's ensemble pattern - the Pirates of the Caribbean pattern - that has a rather nice pair of drop-front breeches included. These are what I'm going for, with some alterations to the cuffs, for instance, to make them more "Versailles," less "PIRATE." The toile should be fairly straight-forward to put together, it being Simplicity, and then puppies will be happy again and all will be well. Let's hope.

As for the rest of it...the car, particularly. Well, sometimes things just don't work out and one realizes it would be best to wait. It's best to wait, in this case. I'm sad, but it's the practical thing to do. I have an evil empire to build...then I can get my Bat-Mobile.
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Sunday, December 13, 2009

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The Great 1840s Combustion...

...on Hold.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I am very sorry to announce that the 1840s day dress for this year's Dickens Christmas on hold until next year.

Why, you whimper? On account of this...

And this (emotion included)...

And a million other things, including James' :ubersexlich 18th c. men's suit toiles, a couple top-secret Dickens-related art projects, and, oh one other thing...CHRISTMAS.

Sad, but true. This dress, this 1840s plaid bonanza, does want to be made, and would have been, if not for the flurry of other wonderful things that have fallen upon me like this winter's early, fatty, freezing snowfalls. And so, my dear readers, I am sorry to disappoint...I have failed...but...I'm getting a damn sexy car!!!!
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Friday, December 11, 2009


The Lady of Portland House made me smile with this little Q&A (I refuse to call it a meme, I don't even know what that is really!), so I've done it for myself. So while I furiously sew on my 1840s Dickens Fair Wear, and snap photos for soon-to-be updates, read this...

1. Eggnog
or hot chocolate? ZOMG, BOTH. Even mix them together. I'm an addict of both

2. Does Santa wrap presents or just sit them under the tree? sometimes he wraps them, but most of the time he sets them under the tree in appealing ways.

3. Colored lights on the tree/house or white? white lights. someday, when I'm feeling retro-vintagey, I might do coloured lights, but there's something so classic and appealing about white lights and white snow. I'm always going more for classic than kitsch.

4. Do you hang mistletoe? naw. If it's there, though, I'm aware of it...and depending on who else is there, I'll either avoid the doorway like the plague or plant myself under it for the duration, hahaha.

5. When do you put your Christmas decorations up? it never happens right after Thanksgiving...I guess sometime around December 10th to the 15th ish? This year I'm getting my very first my-own Christmas tree, and that is happening on the 15th.

6. Favorite holiday dish? sausages wrapped in puff pastry. We eat them for breakfast on Christmas morning, with delicious gourmet mustard. Oh geez, what am I going to do this year without sausage rolls!? /ring ring...Mom, I need that recipe...

7. Favorite holiday memory as a child? this is tough. Hrm, I think it's running around outside, with my brother, trying to make ourselves "tired" so we could go to sleep earlier. Never worked. Not once. As an adult, it's sitting in the living room just looking at the tree, with classical christmas music drifting off in the background.

8. When did you learn the truth about Santa? I don't remember. Maybe it's the year (whenever this was) that my mother proclaimed we weren't doing stockings. What do you mean WE? Doesn't SANTA do the stockings? and won't he be kindof jolly-pissed that we didn't hang them up? ...waaaaaait a second....

9. Do you open a gift on Christmas Eve? No. Some of my friends did this when I was a kid, and we tried like crazy to convince our parents that this was a viable Christmas holiday tradition, but it never took. Must wait until The Morning.

10. How do you decorate a tree? Every year since being born, my brother and I have received ornaments - he gets soldiers, and I get angels - to hang on the tree for that year. So far he's got, what, at least 30 of them, and I've got over 26 (sometimes I'll get two per year, one from mom, one from grandmama). So the family tree always looks the same - angels, soldiers, white lights, filler globes/balls. The idea with the angels is that when I get married, and have a tree of my own, I will receive all the angels and have ornaments to put on the tree. This, understandably, will leave my parent's tree very bald, so some years ago I started getting ornaments for my mother - usually really classic, traditional glass ones.

11. Snow! Love it or dread it? LOVE it. Hate rain. LOVE snow.

12. Can you ice skate? Yep. When I was little I took ice skating lessons for my childhood dream of being Kristie Yamaguchi. That dream didn't last long, and I stopped skating, but I can still get around backwards and forwards.

13. Do you remember your favorite gift? Hrm...does a "most useful, still use it" gift count? I don't want to say - it was brown, black, and goes BOOM.

14. What is the most important thing about the holidays to you? That warm and fuzzy feeling you get when you've done something lovely for someone else. I'm not religious, so I've never gone to church on Christmas - not that I don't know the stories and appreciate them.

15. What is your favorite holiday dessert? Pumpkin pie, duh.

16. What is your favorite holiday tradition? I'm not sure we have or had traditions. It's pretty basic - decorate tree, shop like mad, wrap like crazy, open, eat, sleep. Hrm...

17. What tops your tree? That's a mystery I'm going to have to solve this year...

18. Which do you prefer-Giving or Receiving? Giving of course!

19. Favorite Christmas song? Carol of the Bells, and Masters in the Hall (by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir), and Bing's White Christmas

20. Candy Canes-Yuck or Yum? eh. not a huge fan.

21. Favorite Christmas show? We watch "Chevy Chase's Christmas Vacation" EVERY year. Sometimes we watch "The Santa Clause" too.

22. Saddest Christmas song? "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" by Judy Garland.

Copy and paste it to your blog, then leave me a comment so I can go and read yours!

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Thursday, December 10, 2009

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The Great 1840s Madness, and Some 18th c. Toile-ing

It feels fantastic to be sewing again, and to be sewing on a tight deadline. I believe in the power of tight deadlines to keep us excited about a project, make us (or at least me) do some of our best work, and to benefit from the full effect of finishing something and getting to wear it with pride immediately. I find that if a project is finished and sits on the dress form for too long, it gets stale, and my mind goes off to other things before I've had a chance to wear my *new* creation.

All that being said, it's been a flurry of stitching excitement over here. I've cut James' :ubersexlich patterns and have done toiles for two of the three pieces - the waistcoat and the frock coat. In the world of blogging, this is really not that exciting - we want to see colors and trims and pretty stitching! - but I'm VERY pleased with how the suit is coming along! It's impossible to tell anything about it on my boob-tastic dress form. James is obviously not shaped this way. I'm looking forward to the fitting in about a week, though I have a couple other things to do before then - one is finding silver trim-of-win, the other is toile-ing the breeches, which will take quite a bit more time than both the frock coat and the waistcoat.

I'm happy to say, however, that everything is coming off quickly and in good measure. I leapt into the 1840s day bodice, and am pleased to report a garment that FITS, despite its "organic" creation. Instead of doing a gathered front, I went with pleats - the gathered front looked wonky and would have required quite a lot of hand-tacking to keep everything in place for what would essentially be a frumptastic bodice. The pleats worked really well to "take up the slack," and now I get to do fun things with buttons, yay!

I dug out these taffetta covered buttons from The Stash, but I think they are a bit oversized. What say you, o' women of the web? I have 14 uncovered "wedding sized" buttons that I think will work much better, and I plan to carry them up the center front and on the sides, but not past the bust. We'll see how that looks...
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Tuesday, December 8, 2009

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The Great 1840s Digression

Today I went to the fabric store for one thing and one thing only: muslin, primarily for the purpose of mocking up James' 18th c. men's suit (more on this later).

What I came away with: 10 yards of muslin, yes, but also... 7.5 yards of "homespun" cream-green-brown plaid, 7 yards of brown velvet ribbon, two packets of self-cover buttons, two packets of brown piping, and a spool of brown thread.

I had reconciled myself to not making a new dress for The Great Dickens Christmas Fair, this year, and to wearing the same old one I've been donning for 5-or-so seasons. Sometimes, however, fabric yells at your from the bolt, screaming, "Lauren, BUY ME, I want to be a dress! I don't care if you have only two weeks and a whole mess of other sewing to do by then, you WILL buy me, and you WILL make me into a new dress!" When this voice beckons, there is no arguing.

So...what I've started with is this out-of-print pattern from Simplicity (4551), which looks lovely on the outside but is a Hot Damn Mess once you cut into it. I knew I didn't want to use it as-is, so I used the existing pieces as a base and began slicing and dicing from there. After two muslins and a serious extension to my actual waist, I've got a nicely working pattern that is more like these dresses:

I like the gathered front bodices of the 1840s and early 50s. I'm not entirely sure how they close, but I imagine either edge-to-edge in the front, or with a hidden placket of some kind. I toyed with the idea of buttons, but none of my reference dresses show buttons as a center front closure.

So the final dress will be something like the incredibly rough doodle at the top.

I plan to use the brown piping as contrast on the bodice edge, as well as the little winglets at the shoulders. The velvet trim may go on the winglets as well, if I have any left after trimming the skirt.

I had wanted to do a tiered skirt, but there was not nearly enough fabric on the bolt, nor dollars in my budget. Instead, it will have to be a single-layered skirt, probably 5 yards worth, knife-pleated into a waistband. And speaking of budget, having to come in under $75, so far my tally is at $41.71

And finally, do I have time to whip together an evening bodice? I'm not sure it's appropriate fabric for evening, but I'd like to transition from the day at Dickens to the evening at Gaskells easily, without having to take an entire other gown. We shall see...perhaps I have enough to do with pulling a brown tafetta bonnet out of thin air and somehow conjuring a shawl...
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Sunday, December 6, 2009


The Importance of Sewing Space

I've been so bad at updating, and this is because my brain has been a frazzled mess of goo due to the lack of organization and functionality of my sewing space. That is, there WAS no sewing space, just piles of clothes, fabrics, random pieces of wood, pattern pieces strewn about, a plethora of homeless hats.

Sewing space is important, not only for working, but for peace of mind and maximizing your workflow. Okay, that sounded awfully corporate, but consider - when you've got your space set up the way you like, with an ironing board on one side, your cutting table on the other, your well-oiled-and-beloved machine at front, things just go so much more smoothly.

Not perfect, but it's a start.
I'm desperately in need of shelving, hooks,
and a different table for my machine

So today I organized, cleaned, put things away, and rearranged as much as I could, to get a place to at least set up my sewing machine, and start on James' Ubersexlich 18th c. suit. I've got my JP Ryan patterns all ready to be cut out and mocked up, and a nice space on the floor to lay it all out.
And, as seems to be a reoccurring theme here on American breakfast, complete with honeybear:

Chai in the pot, and panattone
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Wednesday, November 25, 2009

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James' :Ubersexlich 18th c. Men's Suit: Sketches

The time has come to begin sketching and designing for James' 18th c. suit. The nice thing about men's fashion in the 18th c. is that while it was flamboyant, yes, the shapes stayed generally the same, with only moderate differences in length of frock coats, style of waistcoats, etc., up until everything went berzerk in the 1790s.

I'm partial to the later, shorter version of the waistcoat, and the lovely cut-away style of frock coat. Of course, this sketch will have to pass James' test of ":ubersexlich," that being some strange made-up German James-ism for "super hot," and what I am to achieve with this project. (lol!)

I'll be sourcing some broad metallic silver braid-trim-something for the front edges of the frock coat, and a thinner version for the waistcoat. The buttons will be self-covered navy blue velveteen with some hand embroidery in silver -- I'm thinking a starburst kind of pattern.

Patterns will be ordered from JP Ryan tonight, yay!

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Wednesday, November 18, 2009

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James' Fantastic 18th Century Suit - Starting Line

Red wool suit with gold trimming, Kyoto Costume Institute, 1740s

It's about time I posted something, yeah? I have a good excuse: this little Duchie has finally found herself a new home, and this one with an entire room devoted to "work," half of that being graphic design/illustration, and the other half being costuming! However, this room is currently in utter chaos, complete with puppy. I'll be setting up this workspace to be full of win in the near future, but for now, here it is, in all its glory:

Now, to the good stuff. I've been commissioned to make a mid-18th century men's suit, from breeches, to waistcoat, to frock coat, to hat. James, the client, has done a wonderful job picking out his fabrics, a delicious navy blue velvet for the frock coat and breeches, and a fantastic metallic silver and black brocade for the waistcoat, very French. He is looking for a well-tailored look reminiscent of the trim ensembles in "Marie Antoinette." He'd also like a lot of trim work on the coat, which will likely involved metallic silver braids and trims, if not a little embroidery (I'm thinking about the buttons).

While James is drooling over his newly arrived 18th c costume books, I've done a little digging of my own, and here's what I've come up with for inspiration:

As for patterns, I've decided to go with JP Ryan. These patterns are reported to be accurate, nicely complex yet workable, and the go-to source for this century. I'll be working with these:

The last bit is the hat. I'll be creating the cockades and feather arrangements on a felt blank, like this one (which does come in navy, ooo!):

After I receive the patterns, I'll be mocking up each piece in muslin, and frolicking down to the Bay Area in later December, for a fitting. I'll then have until the end of January to finish it, as it's due for an early February costume ball.

This is American Duchess' FIRST commission, so let's make it a good one!!

(And if you are interested in commissioning a costume, or costume pieces, please e-mail me at [email protected])
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Friday, November 13, 2009


Birthday A La Francaise

Last weekend I celebrated my birthday by skipping down to Alameda for an evening of dancing with my favorite people.

When I returned on Sunday, my parents and I celebrated again, with pie, flowers, and a gift or two.

One of these gifts was CHEESE, and not just ANY cheese, but Le Delice de Bourgogne, the most brilliant creamy wonderful gooey tasty stinky cheese EVAR. Along with it were some beautiful pears and some sourdough bread, which made a delightful breakfast the next morning, along with a pot of tea. I felt so civilized :-)

Aside from the cheese, my non-edible gift was an antique Limoges teacup and saucer, date unknown as of yet, that has been in my family some very long time. Limoges porcelain goodies were produced in several factories in France from the late 18th century up through the 1930s. My guess is that my lil' teacup and saucer dates somewhere around the 1920s, given the sobre decoration and subtle design of the ware itself.

Limoges is a region in France, and Chambord a French commune.
I suspect that "Block" is one of the factories that held a Limoges license
and produced pieces with the "Limgoes" mark.

It's so lovely and delicate I'm afraid to use it, but what fun would that be? This is the perfect heirloom beginning to the mismatched tea service every modern 18th c. lady (read: addict) should have!
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Tuesday, November 10, 2009

70 Thank Yous to 70 Followers

Today I'm happy to celebrate 70 followers to this blog! Thank you to all my readers, and welcome to all the new readers!

2010 is fast approaching and I hope to fill it full of more helpful tutorials, articles, and dress diaries! As always, feel free to leave me comments (I do love your comments!), and suggestions.

I love you all, and thanks for making this blog a success! :-)
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Monday, November 9, 2009

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Time Travel: Le Bal Des Vampyres, 1840s

I promise you I have some delectable projects to begin updating about soon, including a fantastic 18th c. men's ensemble ripe with embroidery and velvet and goodies. However, I also need to report on recent Time Traveler activities!

Last weekend I celebrated my birthday by skipping down to my old, favorite "home town," Alameda, for the PEERS Bal Des Vampyres, the annual dance event full of Awesome and Win, held in the fantastic Edwardian Alameda Elk's Lodge (don't be fooled by the "lodge" part of that, it's a very elegant neo-classically influenced building).

After a wink of alterations, I wore the rose/cream striped 1840s ballgown. I'd forgotten how much I love this dress! The first time I wore it, back in the middle of the year, I had to be sewn into it because it was just WAY too big in the shoulders (that's what I get for using the Not-So-Uniquely me dress form without double checking on my Not-Quite-My-Double Dritz form). This time I took in the side seams a bit, which helped only marginally with the shoulder problem, but at least it wasn't falling off!

And, of course, the tall feather. I just can't go anywhere without tall feathers :-).

The lovely photos are by Neil Girling, a charming gentleman and pro-photographer I met at the dance. His website is
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Tuesday, November 3, 2009

American Duchess, Now Open For Business

American Duchess is now accepting costuming commissions, yay!

I am not solely an 18th century seamster - I also work in Elizabethan, Baroque, Regency, Victorian, Edwardian, and retro fashions from the 1920s-60s.

I am open to commissions from both ladies and gentlemen, and can provide a full wardrobe, from underpinnings to accessories. I am able to develop patterns through draping, drafting, or scaling historical examples (from Janet Arnold, for instance), as well as work with patterns you specify, such as Truly Victorian. I offer a full design service to help you visualize and develop your costume and character.

Costs will always depend on materials used and the complexity of your project. However, I always look for ways to reduce the cost of an ensemble, and make it a garment that is beautiful, wearable, and durable.  For custom creations, I only work with clients in my area, whom I can meet with in person, but do check in at the American Duchess Etsy shop for one-of-a-kind costume pieces that may be just right for you.

If you are interested in commissioning, please e-mail Lauren at [email protected]
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