Monday, August 31, 2009

Introducing The KCI Jacket & Gilet (J&G) Project

There is an ensemble it seems all lady costumers smitten with the 18th c truly covet. It is a work of art in textile, construction, and design, and also an enigma. It taunts us from the pages of both the Big and Lil' Kyoto Costume Institute "FASHION" books, mocking us, saying "draft me if you dare, drape me if you can!" It has appeared in numerous period movies, each time reincarnated a little differently from the last, and yet this mysterious garment remains nebulous in description and form.

It is none other than the smokey aqua blue, delicately embroidered 1790 Jacket and Gilet, a fatally fabulous two-piece combination of late 18th century glory. Ladies, I have undertaken to pattern this beast, but not merely for my own amusement: I will be patterning and grading the jacket and gilet for small, medium, and large sizes, for both modern and costume wear, and with at least two options for the back of the jacket, as this seems to be a point of contention as to its actual make-up.

I have minor experience with grading, typically sizing up teeny-tiny vintage and historic patterns, but I welcome the practice in properly grading a pattern both up and down in size, and making each set a properly fitted garment, not just using the computer to scale the measurements. Understandably, this will take quite a long time, as the pattern sets must all be perfect, easily constructed, and understandable.

By the end of this project, I will have the 1790 Jacket and Gilet pattern completed, a costume sample as well as a modern wear one.

It all begins with a scrap of old muslin, however, and my dress forms. I will be recording my progress, trials, tribulations, pitfalls and epiphanies throughout this perilous quest, so be sure to check back in every now and then for highly dramatic tales of Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of THAT PATTERN!
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Wednesday, August 26, 2009


Time Travel: Dickens Dress A Go-Go

Well, there goes another one! The Middle Class Elizabethan gown I wrote about not two days ago just sold from Etsy this evening, woohoo! So now it's time to list another!

This time it's a costume very dear to my heart, my first really *good* costume, the Christmas plaid Dickens Fair dress.

I made this costume in four days, in the middle of finals, because I had nothing to wear to Dickens and I was working the fair that year, in the Dickens Family Parlour.

The fabric, which I'm still in love with, is a plaid jacquard I picked up for $3/yd at a discount upholstery store, and the pattern was a new Simplicity pattern that year, and I waited WEEKS for it to go on sale!

Here are a couple pictures of me wearing the gown. I made a matching bonnet and fur-trimmed half-cape to go with it, and I felt oh-so-pretty mincing around Dickens Fair :-)

It's time for it to go, though. After four years of wearing this same gown, it's time for something new! I'll be sorry to see it off, but I know it will be going to a good home, and will be well-loved!

Listed on Etsy: click here
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Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Awards: The Dreamstress Gives A Stylish Nod to Lil' Duchie!

American Duchess t-shirt bran has been honored with the "Stylish Blog Award" by The Dreamstress!

I've confused my own self, LOL, but head on over to that other blog with the same name and have a looksey :-) You can still read these incredibly mundane 10 things about me, though...

10 Things About Lil' Duchie:

1. When I was in High School I dressed like a boy and wore a lot of necklaces
2. I've been competition-level horseback riding since about age 12, but have never owned or even leased a horse.
3. I have no particular favorite color - it changes, like my mood :-)
4. I survived a rigorous Illustration program at University, and am a professional artist.
5. I'm utterly and completely in love with my Taiwan dog "Avi."
6. I started costuming in 2003-ish - me, the girl who swore she'd never wear a dress, not even to her own wedding!
7. I have incredible anxiety about social events
8. I once took an independent study class in biology, and self-taught my own self ornithological taxidermy.
9. I often think in an English accent - too much BBC for me (can never get enough!)
10. Julie Andrews is my all-time favorite cinema heroine.
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Monday, August 24, 2009


Time Travel : Goodbye Old Friend

Ladies and Gentlemen (of which there are likely very few)...

Last weekend I sold a costume I'd made for Halloween some years ago. I had listed it on Etsy and managed to sell it, about which I am very happy! This success spurred me to finally finish up the refurbishments to My Very First Costume, and to list it on Etsy this evening, August 24, 2009, 7:15 pm.
This gown is what started it all. It was made from the Simplicity "Shakespeare in Love" pattern, which I had altered to be more historically accurate (removed the curved bust seams). It was constructed from brown/gold curtain panels I bought at Savers, which in the end turned out to be just as expensive as buying new fabric, and twice as hard to match with complimentary fabrics for the forepart.

I worked very hard and very diligently to render this monster wearable for one of my first faires, up in Novato. I hand-bound the eyelets (well, over a grommet, but they sure look nice still!), made some sleeves (from polyester), even made my own hoopskirt (with the circumferance of the Earth). Here are some extremely frightening photographs of me wearing it, sans Earth-sized farthingale:

It was 115 degrees in Novato this day. Even now I wonder how I remained alive.
The last time I wore it, to Valhalla three years ago. I felt so perdy...then I met the women of Royal White Eagle, and felt pretty no more!
And proudly did I wear it...that is, until nearly passing out from heat exhaustion! I wore this gown once or twice more, but it soon fell into obsolenscence, as my sewing skill improved. When I pulled it out of my skeleton closet a couple months ago, I cringed. Oh, what a piece of crap!

So I undertook to improve it by cutting the bodice point anew, rebinding the edges and making pretty tapes on the interior. I deconstructed the skirt and knife-pleated it back into the waistband, set in a way that allows for the skirt to be worn open or closed. Sitting on the dressform tonight, all pretty and poofed up over my mass o' petticoats, it actually looked quite nice, and I almost felt a desire to wear it again.

Then again, maybe not. It's time for Ole' Bess to GO, and so she, in her much improved state, is up for sale on Etsy. Hopefully someone will buy her, wear her, and love her!
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Sunday, August 23, 2009

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1790s Jacket: Finished, Worn, Loved

That's right, I actually managed to put off finishing my 1790s jacket until the very last possible day, and then completed it just in time, along with an all-purpose quilted petticoat for general skirt support.

The jacket wore extremely well. The armholes were somehow comfortable this time, and there were no major, or even really minor, problems in wearing the ensemble.

Well, the wig and hat, as usual, were and will always be problematic!

I have these ridiculously large red and white sunglasses that just seemed perfectly anachronistic, so I had to wear them for a bit. The shoes, on the other hand, not so great - need to get some proper 18th c. shoes!

The silver buttons were painted, and the paint did not stick so well to them. I may need to sand the wood a bit to get the paint to stick, and then seal them with gloss medium or crystal clear spray.

My first attempt at 18th c. makeup - all-over foundation, strong blush, understated eyeshadow, a slightly pink lip, and a beauty mark...that is actually a mole on my face, just "enhanced," lol!

The corset was rather comfortable - the tabs at the waist did their job in keeping it from digging in, and every body part was up, in, and where it was supposed to be.

Now for the skirt supports:

The quilted petticoat was made with the idea that it could be a cross-era skirt support. I used a length of pre-quilted fabric I picked up at Hancock's (the cheap stuff, that's right!), and gathered it to a rectangular length of yellow broadcloth I had sitting around. This piece was then pleated into the waistband. The ruffle is six yards (double the circumference of the quilting) of red broadcloth, about 9" deep, gathered and stitched to the mid-section. I chose red because Elizabethan and Tudor petticoats were commonly red, and I wanted to provide the illusion of this, for when I wear it under my 16th c. skirts.

The colors of the quilted petticoat showed through the off-white skirt I was wearing for the outer garment, so I layered on a partially corded batiste petticoat, which worked perfectly in evening out the color. All the skirts were worn over a half-moon shaped bum pad.

There will be more photos to follow, but these are what I have for now! I'm very proud of this ensemble - the fit, the cost, the wear, the look - and am very glad I went for it! Every project is an opportunity to learn better patterning, better construction techniques, better craftsmanship, and I welcome the challenge and enjoy every step of the way :-)

If you are interested in Le Societe de Pique-Nique's monthly events, follow the blog at :
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Sunday, August 16, 2009

Amadeus Award: Five 18th c. Blogs I Can't Live Without

Time for me to pass on this wonderful award that was given to me a little while ago by Mrs. Woffington. So here goes...

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."

1) The Lady of Portland House - Lauren has a lot of other subjects on her blog, but her dedication to the costume of the 18th c., her amazing sewing skills, and her delightful-looking outings and picnics make this one of my go-to blogs for costume inspiration.

2) Costumes, Cats, And the 18thc. Century - Madame de Berg. We love her, particularly for creating our new beloved FORUM! She deserves the award for being a mover and shaker of internet costuming knowledge.

3) 18th Century Blog - this is an excellent source for SO MUCH information, from paintings and portraits, to exhibitions, costuming, everything! Plus Johanna has some MAD sewing skills, and is just

4) Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire - the blog. Almost certainly this one has been elected, but I'll do it again. I love this site because it's so accessible to people with varying interests in the 18th c. The articles are interesting, concise, and broad in subject matter.

5) Fuschia's 18th c. Dress - lots of great information, and detailed too. All kinds of things - videos, how to tie bows, making 18th c. shoes. Useful and lovely.
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Saturday, August 15, 2009


1790s Jacket Progress: So Near Yet So Far!

Here it is, the update on the 1790s stripey jacket, as promised!

There really wasn't and isn't much left to do on this piece. Tonight I set the sleeves, sewed some boning channels into the stomacher, stitched on the collar, and painted the wooden buttons silver.

Remaining is to sew all those buttonholes and install the buttons. Place the boning. Bind the bottom edge and cuffs. Interior finishing. Then voile!

No boning in the stomacher yet - it will be secured with large silver buttons.

I was pleased to see that the hat I made for the 1790s linen robe works just fine for this outfit too! It's not ideal, but it actually looks quite nice, and I like the contrast of the yellow with the green ribbon...very colorful :-)

I will have to do something about my skirt, like WASH it, to start, then create another petticoat to froof it out. This will possibly be quilted or a tiered ruffley one. Anything will help, as it's quite flat (and dirty!) currently.

There is one problem you can't see in the photos - the neckline of the jacket is way wide and the corset straps stick out right at the top of my shoulders. You can't see it because the mass of hair covers it, but I know it's there, so I'm thinking of some way to fix this - a fichu, perhaps, or loosen the straps and move them out to the shoulders a bit more...?

Once the bottom edge is turned up and the boning is in, the back should be nice and wrinkle-free.

Disclaimer for photos: Boyfriend took these!!! /sigh
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Rococo-Inspired Feather Headbands

Ok, I know. I've been REALLY bad about updating this blog, after you all came to read it. I promise, PROMISE you an updated TONIGHT on the red-striped jacket I've been neglecting right up until I have a mere week to finish it.

For right this very second, though, I have to write more about feathers. As you all know, I'm captivated by feathers, the same way other creatures are mesmerized by shiny objects. To me, there is possibly nothing more wonderful, delightful, and beautiful than a feather. That being said, I have been thrilled to see feathers working their way back into the mainstream with those lovely little feather headbands that are trendy right now. What a perfect retro, even "antique" touch to an outfit. It lends an air of sophistication to even just jeans and t-shirt.

But have you seen the PRICE on those things!? It's ridiculous! I do know that feathers are expensive, even wholesale, so I undertook to make a few prototypes of these headbands to see if it will be possible to make them (myself) to sell for a REASONABLE price through the new American Duchess clothing line.

I win. And here are those very same prototypes for you. I am not posting these in an effort to get you to buy them, since I know you all to be crafty girls and boys. I only want to show off my handiwork and pat myself on my feathered little back :-) I hope you enjoy these as much as I do!

And if, by chance, you DO want to purchase one, they're for sale in the American Duchess Etsy shop (click those colorful words!).

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Monday, August 10, 2009

Feathers: Look What I've Got!!!

The trip up to Reno this past weekend proved to be very fruitful indeed! I came back with more feathers! I acquired a bag full of beautiful, perfect, fanned out pheasant wings, as well as an enormous feathered wreath my mother was so sweet to purchase on my behalf.

My mind is already racing with the possibilities for the wings. They're very large, and I can imagine them fanning out from my Halloween headdress, or forming the fantastic monument of some ridiculously large hat I will someday concoct.

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Thursday, August 6, 2009

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Time Travel: Edwardian Picnic

Last Saturday I attended the PEERS "River City Picnic" up in beautiful and much-missed Alameda. In preparing for this day, I realized I had absolutely no passable Edwardian costume, and I lacked the motivation to throw one together at the last minute (like SOME brilliant person I know!!).

Instead, I took a look at what I had in my closet already, then called upon the limitless power of my amazing mother to see what she had in hers. Together we created something quite period, albeit far from River City.

The look combined...
- a1980s khaki Banana Republic skirt, the construction and length of which resembled an Edwardian walking skirt to a "T."
- a prairie shirt with some embroidery and beading (also from the 80s)
- one brown corduroy swiss waist I made sometime last year
- a wide-brimmed hat from Sheplers, ordered online for small amounts of dollars
- my mother's fabulous blue silk wildrag (or neckerchief as you may know it better)
- and my actual, well-worn and beloved riding boots and spurs.

Maggie, Jeff of Military Brilliance, and Me

I was inspired by a book my brilliant mother gave me a few years back, titled "Cowgirls: Women of the Wild West." Some images from that book (and some not from the book) are below (and above)...

I found this book to be incredibly useful for western costume from the Victorian through the 1960s - Highly Recommended!

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Sunday, August 2, 2009

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Scratch Hats: How To Make Structured Period Hats From Craft Store Goodies

No period costume is complete without a hat. The proper hat can make a costume really stand out, and the absence of one can break it (and sunburn your head.). Up until the 1960s, and especially before the turn of the 20th c., hats were worn every time one left the house, and to be seen without one would be most improper. Not only useful as sun protection and head-warmers, hats were a fantastic fashion statement and accessory to one's dress, so why, oh why, would you ever want to go bare-up-there?

There are, of course, myriad varieties of hat. We've talked about a few here on American Duchess, and where to find them, but we only scratched the surface. Primarily this blog has been dealing with straw hats, with the onset of Summer, but what about hats for winter, or hats made from other materials, like velvet or silk? What about hats that require...ENGINEERING!?
If you have failed in all your searches for the proper hat blank, or desire a hat that is uncommon, you may find that making the hat yourself, from scratch (yes, I said from *scratch*) may be the best option. To start, I would recommend redirecting your search towards hat patterns. It is always better to start with as much information as possible, and learn from someone else's mistakes and experience, than to flounder through the thing yourself. Here are some fabulous sites and companies that sell hat patterns:

If you're like me, though, you're fairly convinced that you can figure this business out by yourself. After all, how hard can it be? Well, if this is indeed the case, then here is some information that you don't have to order or pay for, that might be helpful to you in your millinery adventures....

How To Make Structured Hats
For this exercise, I am making an Elizabethan "tall hat." I know, it's not 18th c., but the principles remain the same!

What you will need:
- needlepoint canvas, heavy. (NOT needlepoint plastic)
- stiff felt - two large sheets (11x17)
- soft felt - several sheets (8.5 x 11 usually) for thin fabrics such as silk.
- heavy upholstry-weight thread
- your outer fabric, whatever that may be.
- 1/2" (or greater) double fold bias tape in a color you want to match or contrast with your hat
- medium-gauge wire - strong enough to hold the hat brim in place, soft enough to bend with the help of a gorilla.

All of these materials were available at Michael's Craft Store with the exception of the outer fabric, which I hope you already have, and the bias tape. Michael's also has lovely trims, feathers, and brooches for later decoration.

Step 1: Patterning The Crown
The easiest way to determine your crown is to curl a large piece of paper into a tube somewhere close to the right shape. It can be conical, straight, whatever you're after. Trim down the excess - the height, the overlapping edges- until the shape is just what you want it to be. For my example piece, I have a tall, tapered crown, oval in shape, with a curve on the bottom edge. Depending on the shape of the hat, you may or may not want to curve the bottom edges.
Step 2: Patterning The Top of the Crown

This piece is circular, or oval in shape. Lay your curled paper crown-tube from the last step on another sheet of paper, top side down, and trace around the inside. Remove the tube and add an allowance - 5/8" - 1" - to the circle or oval. When you attach the top to the crown, you will cut the allowance into tabs and fold down the edges.

Step 3: Patterning The Brim
Brims can be huge, or quite small. Start by laying your crown-tube, bottom side down, on a large piece of paper and tracing around the outside. Extend your brim from the drawn circle as far as you want, using a ruler to mark the measurement every few inches, around the entire circle. Then just connect-the-dots. Add an allowance to the interior circle.

Step 4: Cutting
Cut out all your materials.

For your crown and top, cut one layer of the needlepoint canvas, one layer of the stiff felt, and one layer of the soft felt (you may need to stitch two pieces of soft felt together to get enough length). Be sure to cut the seam allowances OFF the stiff and soft felts. Cut one layer of your outer fabric, leaving the seam allowances.

For your brim, cut one layer of canvas and stiff felt. Cut two layers of soft felt and outer fabric. Remove the seam allowance on the stiff and soft felts.

Step 5: Stitching Up
Start by sewing your needlepoint canvas and stiff felt together (wrong sides together), making stitching lines around the edges, and throughout the middle. I found it helpful to iron the stiff felt, pulling the felt out from under the edge of the iron to keep it from "breaking" funny, and to curve it slightly (for the crown). Join the felt and canvas for all the pieces.

Next, join the soft felt and the outer fabric. The soft felt does not have seam allowance, while the outer fabric does - center the felt and stitch around the outside edge narrowly.

Now join the stiff layers with the soft by laying them together and basting around the outside edges. For the brim, you have the stiff layer sandwiched between two layers of outer fabric. All edges are still raw.

Now for the tricky parts:

Step 6: Putting It All Together

First let's put the crown and top together. Fold over the edge of the outer fabric on the height portion of the crown and either stitch it or glue it down, to create a clean edge at the top. To do this, make cuts in the seam allowance, and pull and fold the fabric over the edge towards the inside. Glue.

Now make small cuts into the seam allowance all the way around the circular top and fold the tabs downward. Fit the top into the crown, adjusting the cuts of the tabs as needed, until the top sits properly in the crown, with the edges meeting. It might help to do this upside-down, with the top flat, and fitting the crown-tube down over the tabs. Joining the top to the crown can be achieved by whipstitching around the outer top seam, stitching the tabs on the inside, or calling on the power of the Glue of the Gods (hot glue!) to adhere the tabs to the interior of the crown. I recommend a combination of techniques.

Now for the brim. This is done in the same manner as the top - cut tabs on the inside circle of the brim, and fold them up. Turn under the outer fabric on the bottom edge of the crown and secure it, making a clean edge. Fit the crown over the brim tabs, and join in your preferred method. I recommend both Glue of the Gods and a stitch, which will be hidden under the hatband.

*If you would like to add a lining, now is the time to do it. Cut out one crown and one top piece and join them, right sides together (clip the seam allowance to get the circle to lay correctly). Turn under the bottom edge of the crown and press. Place the lining in the hat and either glue (yes) or stitch in place. The raw edges of the tabs will be covered now.

Step 7: Finishing the Brim

The hat is now completely constructed, and only the outer edge of the brim needs finishing. If you plan to wire the brim, cut the wire to the proper length, curve it around the edge of the brim, and whipstitched it roughly into place. Now bind the edge with bias tape, fitting it tightly over the wire (or edge if there is no wire), and either hand-stitch into place, or machine stitching with a heavy needle and a zipper foot.

Now your hat is finished! Trim it however you like - add a hatband, some ridiculously large plumage, a brooch, some decorative braid. Bend the edges of the brim to the shape and curve you want. Stick that thing on your head, and off you go.
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