Tuesday, September 29, 2009


The Pretty Picture: Blogging For Costumers

Anyone who has turned to the vast power of the interwebs has learned that there are myriad Dress Diaries, Journals, and Costuming Blogs out there ready to help you learn what to do and what to avoid on your current or future projects. We turn to these diaries and blogs to help us understand things, to learn tips, or even to just see what other people have done. In fact, almost everyone reading this right now has their own blog!

Not all costume blogs are created equal, however. There are good journals, and then there are better ones, ones that are eye-opening, informative, and make the rest of us go "Oooo!" These types of blogs are fun to visit, easy to read, and very useful.

So how do we improve our costume-oriented blog posts? Well here are some
Costume Blogging tips:

1. Include at least one picture. Even better, illustrate each heading, subject, or step with a picture – these can be photos you take yourself or images you pull from inter-space.

2. Write for people who are not costumers. This will draw new costumers, novice seamsters, or just people looking about in web-space. Limit the jargon and hard-core stitchery unless your blog is geared towards advanced sewing.

3. Write it as a tutorial. Try to use your experiences as a teaching tool so others can learn.

4. Show the bigger picture – don’t just show close-up detail shots of pins holding fabric together unless you are explaining a specific technique. People like to see the whole of what you're working on, and how it progresses.

5. Start strong, end strong – show a before and after, or a beginning and finish. Show the whole dress or garment, front and back. Show it on a body if possible.

6. Include a concept image to remind your readers, even in multiple posts. It's nice to have an idea of what a finished costume will *hopefully* look like, and fun to see how it progresses and turns out.

7. Respond to your comments, and even better, go to your reader’s blogs and leave them comments on their posts.

8. Tag your posts so readers can easily find articles on specific subjects.

9. Link – to your friends, your suppliers, your research sites. This makes the post interactive and quite useful.

10. Tell a story with your images – many people don’t read the text in a post, but just look at the pictures, so tell the story in pictures.

11. Show some personality – readers like to know there is a real person behind that fancy blog layout. Let your quirky sense of self seep through.

12. Ask your readers questions, what they think, and to leave comments. Get your readers involved by holding contests (if you like). If you're looking for feedback, just ask!

13. Follow Up - your readers want to see the finish costume on a person. Shoot some nice photos and post them!

Faithful readers, what are some other tips you'd add to this list?

And lastly, if you would like, join the American Duchess Facebook Group (click!). or use the fan-box at left.

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Tuesday, September 22, 2009


All Tied Up: Surviving The Day in a Corset

We in this modern age, this 21st century, are witness to a strange and fascinating phenomenon - women having the desire to wear hot, heavy, and restrictive clothing outside, in the ridiculously hot American Summer, for entire days, weekends...sometimes even longer. Why do we do this?

I have often been asked this question, whilst teetering somewhat uncomfortably in full Elizabethan regalia, fanning myself weakly, and shying away from the sweltering California sun as if it were the Black Plague. I must say that I do not have an answer, at least not one that seems at all logical or rational. Usually it's something along the lines of "look pretty," "want to wear costume," "pretty pretty princess..." So since I can't come up with an acceptable answer for why we do these crazy crazy things, I will instead give tips on HOW to do these things.

As a female, you will almost always wear a tight-fitting bodice no matter what period you are playing in, be it at the Renaissance Faire or an Edwardian picnic. Depending on your character's station, you may also be wearing a corset (also called "stays" and "bodies"). Generally speaking, the higher the station, the more underwear you wear, and this can get really quite uncomfortable. Here are some tips for cross-era survival in stays:

1. Make Your Corset Breathable. Construct it from non-synthetic materials, such as cotton and linen. (I would not recommend silk for hot weather because sweating may soften and ruin the fabric.) Use only the necessary boning, and if at all possible use boning that is also breathable, such as hemp cord or reed.

2. Wear something under your corset. You do not want a sweaty, dirty corset, and you need a layer to wick away moisture from your body. A soggy corset is...well that's just plain gross. Make sure you don't have any bunched up fabric or shirt side-seams pulled in funny positions, as this will be uncomfortable later, when you're laced in.

3.Lace Loosely. This seems like a no-brainer, but just like women of your chosen time period, we today like to be as skinny as possible too. However, it's just plain stupid. Lace your corset so it comfortably hugs your frame, smooths down any chemise, shift, or shirt you're wearing underneath, and supports your upper body. If you feel like you can't breath, for goodness sakes loosen it! Think of your corset as a smooth under-structure for your bodice to stretch over, not as a means of shrinking down two sizes.

4. Lace Wisely. How you lace your corset has a lot to do with how it feels to wear. With Victorian corsets that tighten and tie at the waist (instead of at the bottom or top), you want this point to be just below the bottom of your ribcage. Any higher and you will suffer lower back pain all day. Here is a lovely tutorial from Wasp Creations on how to properly lace a corset.

5. Don't Eat Too Much. Don't think of this as starving yourself - please DO eat, but eat just enough and eat the good stuff, not junk food. Because your stomach is constricted, you do not feel as hungry. Eating a large or even just normal-sized lunch could lead to some serious discomfort. This rule does not apply to water...drink LOTS of water.

6. Try Not To Slouch. For some of us, this is inevitable, but it puts a lot of strain on your back. If you feel your back aching, sit down and lean back if possible, or straighten up and try holding your shoulders back a bit.

7. UN-lace Wisely. At the end of the day, don't take your corset off too quickly, as this might cause you to faint and could even break the busk (in Victorian corsets). Instead, loosen the laces and breathe, loosen more, then take it completely off. You will feel like your torso is collapsing a little, so it is recommended you de-corset while sitting down.

As always, feel free to add your own tips, tricks, and advice in the comments below. I love getting comments from you guys and I read every single one!
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Thursday, September 17, 2009


1795 Barn Owl Costume: Feathers At Last!

The half-finished, un-feathered robe has been sitting on the dress form for months with so little love given to it...until TONIGHT. (ok, well technically last night, but y'know...)

The base gown is complete except for the addition of the cap sleeves, and some minor interior finishing. This wasn't enough to stop me from diving into the box-o-schlappen and begin sewing the rows of feathers on.

They are attached with a simple running stitch, as this worked best with how the feathers are already strung together. So while there are no problems with the feathers staying on the gown, the other problems began surfacing almost immediately.

I had noticed before that the strips of strung feathers varied in size within the strip, one end being long feathers, the opposite end being quite short. To solve this, for the first several rows (from the bottom), I cut the strips in half and used long ends all the way across. Then I started to, uh, run out of feathers.

I'm not sure if I miscalculated, since now it appears I will come out exactly on the feathered dot. It may have been more a hope to save some money, or just that the feathers were not uniform in width throughout the strip (that's my best guess). I managed to just barely squeek up to where the taffeta ends and the broadcloth begins, though I count myself lucky. Now for the tricky parts.
What to do with the feathers at the top of the gown, where they needs to "end" in the dress without a sharp, ugly line of quills. The plan is to taper them up into the pleats, using a mix of leftover rooster bits, bleached goosefeathers, and real owl feathers sent to me by The Dreamstress.
The front of the gown is another challenge - there are pleats here too, but smaller, and knife pleats. I may need to get creative and fade the smaller owl feathers out of these knife pleats and into the body of the plumage.

If all else fails, I can blend in some taffeta "feathers," cut from scraps, and hand sewn to the dress. I like the idea of this, and may use it anyway.

More to come!
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Monday, September 14, 2009

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Medivh: 18th c Men's Patterning Terror

I've been looking for patterns for the entire World of Warcraft 18th c. men's ensemble, but with very little luck. The costume is built on a basic men's mid-18th c. wardrobe - shirt, breeches, waistcoat, jacket - but I am having quite a lot of trouble finding all-inclusive patterns.

The catch here is that I only have $75 to spend on everything! This means I either find an all-inclusive pattern, or I draft each piece of this and hope it all comes out alright.

Men's 18th c. Wardrobe Patterns:
Simplicity - I am really leaning towards this one. Why? Because it has each piece of the puzzle, and to my eyeballs it looks shockingly accurate. With some alterations and additions, this could very easily become something awesome. Historical accuracy is always on my mind, but I do not feel that this particular costume needs to be 100% correct.

Butterick - I'm less convinced with this all-inclusive pattern. It looks too costumey, and the back views are not right at all. That being said, it might be easier to add in the swinging pleats to this coat than to the Simplicity one...

Tailor's Patterns and Generally Terrifying Diagrams:

A series of images found throughout the webiverse, mostly on The Costumer's Manifesto, of cutting diagrams. I could scale and pattern from these, at least the coat or the waistcoat, but then I think of the time involved, the time left before deadline, and all the other things I need to do. I could use these diagrams as reference for altering the commercial patterns, which may indeed be the way to go. Some of these images look rather simple, while others look...not simple.

Opinions, suggestions, warning? Has anybody worked with the commercial patterns?
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Friday, September 11, 2009

CONTEST! What Should Avi Be For Halloween?

For those of you who follow my other blogs, you will know all about my dog Avi. She is my sewing "helper" and an all-around awesome critter. Since everyone ELSE is getting an awesome Halloween costume, Avi should have one too! And in the spirit of awesomeness, and inspired by The Dreamstress too, I've decided to have a CONTEST!!

What should Avi be for Halloween!?

To Enter:
Create an image (draw it, color it, compile it in some way) of a costume for Avi. Keep in mind her size and body type, and that she is a very active pup. The costume doesn't have to be historical, although that would be quite awesome. For pictures of Avi, join the Avi Fan Club on Facebook.
Upload your costume idea to an image host like Photobucket, Flickr, or even your own blog, and then leave a link to your image in the comments section of this post.

There will only be one winner, and the winner will receive an Avi t-shirt or product of their choice from Avi's shop, and will see his or her costume concept created and modelled by the famous "blog dog" herself!

Contest END OCTOBER 1st, 2009: HURRY!!

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Thursday, September 10, 2009

Monday, September 7, 2009

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Time Travel: A Weekend of Ridiculous Costume Fun!

Ah, the fruits of our labors. Do we not agree that after working so hard on our historic dresses and hats and whatnots, it is the best reward to be able to wear them and be admired? I will admit how vain I am - I like to have my picture taken, although it is more a picture of the costume and the character it creates.

Maggie (left) and Jenny (right)

Saturday, Glorious Magglar of Serendipitous Stitchery, and I skipped over to Old Sacramento for Gold Rush Days. What an amazing place! I had been to Old Sac one other time, but it was nothing like this visit - they had brought in tons of dirt to cover the roads, and had horse-drawn carriages, stagecoaches, Pony Express riders, and cavalry soldiers cruisin' around all day on horseback. The cavalry were always doing something, maneouvers, or hauling about canon with eight-in-hand. There was even an antique water-wagon rollin' around keeping the dust down.

"One of these things is not like the other ones..."

The sidewalks in Old Sac are all boardwalks, and they front a myriad of awesome little stores, from the Dry Goods shop, selling all kinds of Victorian costume accoutrements, to the six or seven ccandy shoppes, to a store that sells just socks, and a surprising number of tattoo parlours. There were some people in costume, there with the show, but mostly it was packed with families and on-lookers, absolutely PACKED. Maggie, myself, and our awesome new friend Jenny (Buttons & Bows) walked around attempting to shop, but were stopped every 10 feet or so for photos. I didn't mind, although sometimes we were stuck somewhere for several minutes while many MORE people snapped pictures of us. It was like papparazzi!!!! eeek!

I was not all that happy with the whole costume put together, but better luck next time!

Eventually we hope some of those photos end up somewhere in the webiverse, but for now, here are a couple I snapped of the day.

My new clothes rack, which fell apart three times trying to get from the car to the park.

Sunday was another day in front of the camera. I was invited to model some costumes for the awesome photographer David Yu, a regular at Golden Gate Renaissance Fair, and other San Francisco street events. We shot at History Park in San Jose, and I wore a couple Victorian things, and some very NON-period hair and makeup. It got rather hot later in the day, so I only did three costume changes, although now I would love to go back and take pictures of some of the others. At any rate, here, in all my vanity, are a selection of those photos:

A bustle gown from Truly Victorian patterns, made from burnt orange and black striped taffetta.

Another version of what I wore to Gold Rush Days, with less historical accuracy, but more pizzaz! And a really big feather!

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Saturday, September 5, 2009

Thursday, September 3, 2009


The KCI J&G Project: Reference and Mysterious Mysteries

The main question on my mind as of late has been "What does the jacket do in the back?" Obviously there is an extant, existing garment, yet no one except the lucky people at the Kyoto Costume Institute, seem to know or are willing to share what EXACTLY happens back there. A peplum? A tail? A frilly something-or-other? Pleats? Kicks? A point? Nothing at all!?

So I've gone off on a mini-trek to take a look at similar garments, and to determine for myself an answer or two. Here is what I've found:

In the movies:

The Affair of the Necklace

The character Marie Antoinette wears a re-creation of this jacket, done up quite beautifully. The costume director chose a peplum with three box pleats, that fans out over the back of the skirt.

I think this look is absolutely smashing.

Jefferson in Paris

I have not seen this film, but it looks to be awesome in terms of costume and HAIR (zomg!)

From the photo here, it looks like the jacket was done up in linen instead of silk, and they've done a long tail down the back.

I know this tail thing to be period, but this looks too Victorian to me. It is difficult to tell from the picture, but it looks like the tail comes to something of a point, and it box pleated at the center, with two self-covered buttons to "hold it closed" as decoration.

The Aristocrats

Another one I haven't seen, but from this picture it appears to be a ruffled peplum at back, with the self-covered, embroidered buttons carrying all the way around.
There is a seam at the waist, and there does not appear to be a point at center back.
Thus far I like this option the least.

Fashion Plates:

Though almost always exaggerated, fashion plates do reflect the fashion and ideals of a time period - if not more ideals than actual fashion. They are excellent sources, since you get the whole length of the costume.

These two show 1790s jackets, both with tails/peplums/kicks at the back, which leads me to believe that there is indeed something at the back of the KCI jacket, not just a point or a straight edge.

The first of these two, though difficult to see, looks to me that the curved bottom edge swoops back into a double or triple box pleat at center back.

The black and white sketch looks more like a zone-front bodice than a jacket, but still exhibits a tail that looks to be gathered into a very ruffly ruffle.

I think this black and white gown is on the more fantastical edge of fashion...then again, there were some pretty bizarre and amazing things going on in fabric in the late 18th c.

Actual Garments:

Neither of these examples are from the 1790s, but I believe that it is important to know what came before in order to solve the mystery.

This first jacket dates 1775-1785, and features a long point in back. The two tabs on the side back are split from the middle piece, and flare out over the skirt quite nicely.

This 1785 jacket features a peplum with an attached ruffle trim. This is very similar to what we saw with "The Aristocrats," although this peplum is all one piece with the bodice back and side back.

So you can see we have some options!! And a LOT of work to do...
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Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The CraftFail Verdict

The truth about those scissors I posted about earlier today: no, they don't cut fabric. My world is shattered.

My portrait boxes are coming out mega fail. No, you don't get pictures!

I'm afraid to try'n sew anything right now.

And with that, I'm going to light candles, take a bath, and feel sorry for myself.

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1795 Barn Owl Costume: Don't Think I've Forgotten

I'll admit I've been distracted. The half-finished taffeta/broadcloth base of the robe has been sitting on my dress form for weeks, untouched, unloved, but not forgotten. It is the start of September, which means I have two months to complete the robe and the mask.

I am one of those seamsters who suffer from CADD (Costume ADD), but also get my best work done on a tight deadline. I am not sure why this happens, but if I start and finish a costume long before its debut event, I become bored with it in some small way, and it seems less special when the time comes to wear it. There is a rush to finishing something just in the nick of time, with only enough time left to fix any major issues, or jerry-rig yourself into the thing.

So as excited as I am about the KCI J&G Project, it's going to be a long-term goal, and take the backseat to the Owl Gown until October.

In other more frivolous news, I got a new toy! I saw these scalloped sheers at the craft store last night, sitting innocently in the scrapbooking section, and just HAD to have them. Scalloped pinking sheers!!! My tool set as an 18th Centurion now feels complete!

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