Friday, July 31, 2009

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Event: Egyptianesque Returns

Another appearance of the Egyptian-themed late 18th c. wrap-front voile dress, worn to Le Societe De Pique-Nique's "Sphinx N' Drinks" picnic, last Sunday.

Egyptianesque accessories included a lovely gold and black African beaded collar, a gold ribbon at the empire waist, metallic copper slippers, and a scarf printed with heiroglphics, tied around my *real* hair.

It's lovely to have a "go to" dress that can work for both day occassions and evening events. With different colored ribbons, scarves, and shoes, this gown can be easily accessorized to fit many themes.

There it is again, the camera-in-the-lap...I should start a collection, add it to this other photo...
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Tuesday, July 28, 2009


1790s Jacket: A Bit O' Progress

The bulk of the project mostly pinned together, to get an idea how it will all look when completed.

I started putting together this jacket last night, using a flatlining technique new to me. I thought it would be grand to interface (yes, I said interface) the thin cotton, to give it some thickness, but that turned out to be a mightily bad idea, and I ended up peeling it off the side back pieces (to make a looooong story very short).

Tonight I continued stitching together each piece, first machine stitching the outer fabric, then hand-stitching the lining down flat. It has created such a lovely, perfectly fitting lining, I could not be happier! I am also amazed at how close to done I am, using the flatlining-as-you-go method. Instead of making up the whole outer shell, then the lining, then sewing them together, it all goes together at once and then all of the sudden you're at the bias taping step (for me, anyhow, who adores bias tape like it is my own child), and then done!

A fitting, pinned onto the stays, with the placket pinned over the top - no boning at this point.

Of course, it's a totally different order of operations that I'm not used to, and I've had to really think through every step before jumping in. There is no cruise control on this project, though I expect this method will become second nature down the line, when I've worked with it more.

A view of the back, mocked up, for an idea how the collar will lay.

So, I stopped tonight with the body of the bodice together, awaiting some bones and eyelets to lace together to front. I stitched together one sleeve, which you see in the photo, not turned right-side-out, as it requires some seam finishing still.

I've chosen to use the "wrong" side of the cotton fashion fabric. The "right" side, as beautiful as it is, seemed too bright and saturate to emulate 18th c. vegetable dyes. The reverse side of the fabric shows the grain and is a lot less saturate, though it does give a greater casual appearance, more like seersucker. From a short distance, it is not noticeable at all.

This jacket should be done rather quickly, barring any major setbacks. It's nice to have a short-term, "simple" project to occupy me and give me a break from the larger, scarier projects.
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Monday, July 27, 2009


1790s Striped Jacket - progress!

Oh hey, look what I found...

I walked into my local Hancock Fabrics this past Saturday, pleased with the huge "50% OFF!" banner hung on the outside of the building, and there, right in the door, right in front of my eyes, laughing at my face, was this fantastic red and white striped cotton. Well, that was it, I was done.

So I picked up the cotton, and 8 (4 packs) of wooden buttons. There was a poor selection of non-modern-looking silver buttons, so I've decided to faux finish these basic wood ones with a little silver paint.

Depressionista Tally:

- 2.25 yds. fabric $10.11
- 4 packages of buttons - $8.00

$18.11 is not bad at all for a jacket! I would say that yes, that is well under the $50 budget for this project!

Another technical decision that deviates from the inspiration garment: a side front seam, one of which the front placket is stitched in to, the other of which it meets when buttoned.

So of course I rushed home, finished my 18th c. stays, and bounced right into patterning this jacket, using a couple techniques I've picked up from other fabulous online costumers, and one or two I've devised for myself.

All hail the sharpie marker.

The pattern went together quite well, and even the sleeves are going to work this time (shocking, I know!). I used a two-part sleeve pattern from a Simplicity Victorian dress pattern I made a couple years ago. The sleeve is curved and slim-fitting, so quite correct for this jacket, and I got very lucky in that it fit my draped armscye exactly. Pure luck.

A rough estimate of the collar.

For accurate fit, I used a combination of both my dress forms, and my own body as well. I have found that my Not-So-Uniquely Me dress form ("Jane") doesn't squeeze down and reshape as much as I need her to. On the other hand, my Dritz Double ("Millie") is also not quite the same size as me, and doesn't reshape at all, but dials down to specific measurements. However, going back and forth between Jane and Millie somehow results in a pattern that fits quite accurately, and perfectly once double-checked on my own body-in-stays.

I decided to not include the point in the back, to help the back lay better, and because it compliments the squared-off bodice front.

So the fabric is in the wash, and I'm ready to start on this project tonight! More progress updates to come...
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Thursday, July 23, 2009


18th c. Wigs of Glory: Addition and Subtraction

It has taken me way too many days of experimentation, failing, purchasing, more experimenting, and attempting to film it all, to get this wig together and in a state of glory.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I feel I have finally achieved a proper Wig of Great Enormity. I was not all that happy with the first and second versions of this wig, so I embarked yet again on a journey of addition and subtraction - adding hair extensions, subtracting more of original wig's length. After hours of shaping, pinning, pushing, pulling, stitching, bitching, boiling, and even powdering, I've come up with THIS.

Some of you may know that I am working on a how-to video for this wig. In my support of the free-flow of costume knowledge, I've video-documented how I did all this madness, and will be posting it here and on YouTube at some point in the near future.

The mask in the picture is a paper mache blank I picked up and plan to reshape. It's way too wide for my face right now, but the temptation to hide my tired, un-made-up face was too great! Oh, and feathers make everything better :-)
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Wednesday, July 22, 2009

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Measure Twice: Preparing For Costume Creation

One day you're surfing the internet, enjoying your favorite dress diaries, when BAM! it hits you. There on your screen is an image of a dress, a jacket, a bodice, that makes your salivatory glands gush with joy. Your heart flutters and you're overcome with the overwhelming feelings of Costume Lust. You must have *insert garment here.* You MUST!

I was overcome by this phenomenon yesterday, as I mused about creating something new for an upcoming picnic in August. A quick assessment of my multi-century hot-weather day dress collection revealed that I am sorely lacking, and the idea that I could or would ever wear the same regency gown all summer long (and for a good portion of evening dance events) is simply dellusional.

My saliva-inducing garment was this 1790s jacket from the Kyoto Costume Institute (pictured above). It appeals in so many ways, from its red & white stripes, to the oversized pinked collar, to its appearance of casuality, which seems perfect for a summer Sunday picnic. Better yet, the jacket can be worn for Fall events as well, which sealed the deal in deciding to create it.

So what's next? What exactly happens between the time you decide to make something and when you slice into the fashion fabric?

For me, it always begins with a sketch. This is not a perfectly rendered masterpiece, but a working drawing of how the garment will be constructed. Where are the seams? What will the pattern pieces look like? What is the overall shape, and where is the neckline and waistline? If I am confused about how to pattern, I turn to primary and secondary sources to see how other seamstresses have done similiar garments.

Once I've worked out exactly what I want, I get down to business - money and materials, that is. Fabric - rough yardage? what kind of materials (silk, cotton, linen, etc.)? where to get it, and how much will it cost? Notions - what are they (boning, grommets, buttons, etc.)? How much will they cost? And how many of these materials are already in my stash?

I make a list of absolutely everything I need for the entire ensemble, not just the jacket, and check off things I already have. Then I decide a dollar amount for each needed item, and note that down as well. For all you Depressionistas, this is a step not to be missed. For this ensemble, which includes the hat, skirt, and accessories, I've decided on a budget of $50.

At this point, it would be good to start patterning, or shopping for your patterns. I insist on doing my own patterning to save money, so I will be draping this jacket in the near future, and finalizing a paper pattern. At that point I'll know exactly how much yardage I need.

In the meantime, I've been shopping fabrics all over the internet. Strangely enough, red and white striped cotton seems in short supply, so I've really had to look hard for the proper weight, stripe, and an acceptable price. So far I've found a nice-looking option at Fashion Fabrics club, for really not so much money. I know that this pattern will not require much yardage, so the $6.95 (+tax/shipping) doesn't scare me. Before ordering, though, I plan to check my local fabric shops to see if any quilters cottons or half-off 4th of July prints pop out at me.

This jacket is my "I need a break from the owl" project. I only had two more costumes on the books for the rest of 2009, so I don't feel I'm overloading myself, and it'll be a nice addition to the wardrobe. Look for future posts!

Edit: Thanks to Leimomi, I didn't order COMPLETELY WRONG FABRIC. I double-checked the description on the striped fabric I showed above, and the stripes are almost 2" wide! OUCH! So the search continues....
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Friday, July 17, 2009

Depressionistas: Costume Incarnations

What is one way to save literally barrels full of cash on your out-of-control costuming habit? Remodel, revamp, reuse, recycle, and refurbish your old gowns into brand new ones!

Remodeling gowns is extremely historic. Many sources mention the re-cutting of bodices, or construction of news ones by taking fabric from the skirt. There are also extant period garments that are documented to have been made from much older fabric, such as this one from the Kyoto Costume Institute:

So why not do it ourselves? Surely there are items in your closet that are just taking up space. Understandably, many seamstresses form attachments to their garments, after toiling to create them, and find it difficult to even contemplate the idea of cutting them up. However, if you are one of these, ask yourself these questions:

1. When is the last time I wore this costume?
2. Does it still fit me?
3. Does this costume accurately represent my sewing prowess?

4. Does the style, decoration, cut, period, etc. still appeal to me?

Be honest with yourself. It may be time to remodel the dress. It could be a matter of remaking the same gown but *better* or it could be crying out to be made into something completely new!

Sometimes a length of fabric will go through many incarnations until there is literally nothing left. Maggie of Serendipitous Stitchery believes in this practice to a high degree: one set of old sheets has been made into two 18th c. gowns, a Victorian corset, and the linings for who knows what else!

Check out these other recycled gowns from my own costume closet:

The Dickens Disaster Turned Robe a L'Anglaise
What It Was: Originally 5 yards of upholstery taffeta, I threw together in a few days the worst costume in the history of the Dickens Fair. It consisted of a modern blazer with badly altered sleeves, and an enormous skirt gathered on a drawstring and tied around my waist. I topped it off with Vatican-sized gold bonnet. The worst part is that someone working in one of the shops complimented me, asking if I'd made the ensemble myself. I now know she and her friend had a good laugh after I'd left.
What It Became: An 18th c. Robe a L'Anglaise, of which I am mildly proud.

The Not-Quite Flemish Peasant Turned English Middle Class
What It Was: A quick costume put together for reenactment with my first guild at Renaissance Faire. The overgown was navy blue tweedy-something, lined with and ochre linen blend. The kirtle was some kind of weird linsey-woolsey. The kirtle was made once, then remade the next week after the Snark at Costume Check snarked about the neckline. At the time, I was quite proud of this costume, and wore it many times.
What It Became: This is a case of the costume no longer representing my sewing skill. After scrapping the light blue kirtle, I separated the MASSIVE lengths of ochre and blue, making the former into a skirt, and the latter into a new gown to wear over. This gown is actually reversible, and I love this costume to pieces.

The Gold Venetian Turned Elizabethan Bodice
What It Was: Seven yards of gold jacquard bought on sale and years later made up into a sortof-kindof 1490s Venetian gown. I had a tiny bit of the fabric left, so technically I didn't cut this gown up, but...
What It Became: An Elizabethan doublet with black velvet trim. Currently this doublet is worn with a black skirt, but if I ever decide to construct on overskirt for the costume, that old Venetian is on the chopping block!

Other examples are made from bits of this, pieces of that, but those morsels will be kept for another entry!

So how much yardage do you have sitting in your closet? It is not a crime to make your old costumes into new ones. It will save you money in the end, and you will have a brand new costume to wear in a fabric you love! Post links to your costume remodels in the comments section!
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Thursday, July 16, 2009


Festival of Feathers: Let the Madness Begin

Good thing I put that linen toile together for this robe, otherwise I'd be 100% lost. Instead, I'm only 60% lost!

Every tiny thing is a challenge. I realized, once I started working with it, that the taffeta I got was really REALLY stiff, and while it was convenient to be able to fold and crease the pleats, it wasn't so nice to have the fabric not drape, uh, at all. It was so bizarre that I didn't even post photos the first night of work because I didn't want you all to lose faith in me! Luckily I have a base/lining layer of cotton broadcloth to stitch down every little pleats to, and that in combination with the weight of the feathers will pull the taffeta into shape. I not, I'll weight it!!

Tonight, my second night of work, I cut off some of the taffeta and stitched as much to the lining as possible. I have a LOT of hand sewing, tacking, and securing ahead of me. Much of the success of this gown depends on my patience with this. You can see that the poof is still on the sides, but greatly reduced, thanks to the steam function on my iron. I pinned the pleats down loosely and fired steam at them, smoothing the pleats down with my hand after each blast. I will probably have to do this a couple more time to "train" them to take this shape.

I added the hem guard of rich brown taffeta, leftover from another project, to added visual weight to the robe, mark the starting point of the feathers (and keep them off the floor), and to extend the skirt just a little bit.

And lastly, just for pictures tonight, and to get an idea of how it will all go together, I pinned a couple rows of feathers on the bottom, and stuck a few of the bleached goose feathers into the box pleats. This last bit has gotten me very excited to start the final process of sewing on row after row of feathers, and blending them into the pleats...but I have the bodice to finish first!

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The Directoire Depressionista: Costuming & the Economy

The Guilt of the Feathers
Sitting amidst my piles of rooster feathers, I come to realize that I feel guilty about the purchase of them. The desire to create the most fantastic over-the-top costume I could imagine outweighed the need to save money and spend thriftily. It had to be real feathers, and by the bucket-loads, for I convinced myself that nothing less would do, and that I deserved to have the best and most fitting of materials.

However, here I sit with my piles, certainly excited for the outcome of the owl robe, but also equally excited for “the aftermath.” I have decided that 2010 will be the year of Extreme Budget Costuming.

Rococo Backlash and the French Revolution
While marked most prominently by the Guilt of the Feathers, I have also sensed an overall shift in my aesthetics, trickling through to all areas of my design life, from costuming to home décor to my occupation of product design. I am beginning to adhere to the concepts of simplicity and perfect design, as opposed to, well, Rococo.

This shift in aesthetic sensibilities is very reminiscent of the sudden change in the 1790s, between the explosively frou-frou styles of the earlier 18th century, and the “new” Classicism that took hold in response. During this period, France suffered not only conspicuously-consuming monarchs, but a food shortage caused by abnormally ill harvests. This resulted in the French Revolution, which demolished the French monarchy as well as aristocracy, and created a backlash against all things associated with the upper class, including clothing.

The 1790s were an odd and since unmatched period in clothing. Old and new styles, varying extremely in cut, fashion, and textile, could be seen walking down the street together. It was as fashionable to wear a tight-closing silk gown at the natural waist as it was to sport a thin muslin gown with a rising waistline, the precursor to the ubiquitous empire waist of the Regency. Soon, though, the thin cotton gowns, simple in cut, print, and trimming, were the mode, and any remnant of the Rococo was stamped out.

A Sense of Frugality
This bit of history is not unlike the situation in America today. A period of excessive, fatty spending has come crashing down, replaced by a far greater sense of frugality. A populace unhappy with its leader has replaced him with a more radical one in hopes that he will make sweeping changes. Consumers are spending their hard-earned dollars on quality, not quantity, if they are spending at all.

Undeniably this affects the historical costuming world. Stories of white silk Renaissance Faire gowns drug through the dirt, of a new gown for every monthly ball, of $75/yard cut velvets now seem ridiculous and appalling. Is it really so bad to use synthetic taffeta in place of silk, if it is only the look you are going for?

All this being said, I feel it is time to take a step back and reassess our costuming goals. It is my belief that fantastic, period-accurate (in cut, color, and composition), impressive, over-the-top, drool-worthy costumes can be achieved for teeny tiny prices. This involves hard shopping, waiting for sales, clipping coupons, and hunting down those foxy bargains. This involves learning to pattern, alter, and drape for yourself, to avoid buying patterns. This involves using up your stash, recycling old sheets for linings, remodeling costumes of former glory, making things by hand, and even cannibalizing old digs to recycle the hardware for new ones. Sacrifices and compromises will be made, but that is part of the challenge!

American Duchess’ 2010 Depressionista Challenge
The 2010 Costumer’s Challenge, should you choose to accept it, is to create your fantastic ensembles for under $75! There is no limit on the number of costumes you can create, only on what you can spend per outfit. Often the basics of an ensemble – bodice, skirt – are all we think about, and forget about how much we’re spending on the trims, underpinnings, hats, purses, gloves, feathers, beads, all those little extra items that finish off a look perfectly. Those count in your $75 too, so be sure to budget!

Look for future articles on how to recycle, refurbish, reuse, and SAVE on your costuming. Your comments and links are always appreciated, so please leave them in the comments section below!

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Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Wolfie and Woffington Give a Nod to Lil' Duchie

Finally I have returned from work-related duties in Atlanta, Georgia, and have been greeted by such a wonderful surprise! The Celebrated Mrs. Woffington, a wonderful 18th c. blog, has awarded me The Amadeus Award For Taste & Excellence!

This award, originally bestowed by Wolfgang Amade Mozart (the blog), has been gracing the web since 1998, and follows the fashion that it is to be given to 5 blogs "dedicated to the 18th century and which demonstrated through their content and appearance the style and grace of that period in history."

WOW! I shall have to in turn award this great honor to five of my favorite 18th c. blogs, but I will consider carefully! Duchie Awards have gone out to 5 of my favorites already, but since that time my "favorites" list has grown. Look for a future post!
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Wednesday, July 1, 2009

"Sewing Drought"

So happy was I to receive my feathers and fabrics this past weekend...until I remembered that I won't be able to work on the costume at all for the next two weeks!

That's right, my patient ladies and gents, I will be out-of-town and out-of-state from July 2nd to July 13th, which means no sewing for me. I've endeavored to take with me a bit of not-18th-century embroidery, but that's it. Feathers, taffeta, and madness will all have to wait.

Oddly enough, at this very same time, Maggie of Seren-Stitchery is also suffering a sewing drought: her machine was summoned back by its owner, and she is in the market for a new one.

So suffer we both shall, but you can count on a rush of updates and feverish construction upon my return!
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