Wednesday, October 28, 2009

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Ladies and Gentlemen, The 1795 Barn Owl Robe

The moment at least a handful of you have been waiting for!

Last weekend I wore The Owl to Gaskells. I had been planning, crafting, stitching, and wrangling my way toward this one night for the greater part of 2009.

It started with feverishly finishing the thing. I had gotten pretty darn sick of it, but I was rescued by my fantastically crafty mother, who swooped in and went to work stitching on feathers and making necessary tucks and tacks.

My crafty mother, at about 10 pm, "fixing" things.
With the thing somehow complete, we scurried down to San Jose for a dual-purpose weekend: packing my entire apartment for The Move, and also donning this costume for Gaskells on Saturday evening.

I started the makeup somewhere around 4:30, beginning with these insane feather eyelashes I'd picked up at a Halloween store, on a whim. They took some fenagling, but I got them to stick, then started on the feather "mask". This involved painting on a dab of liquid latex, then sticking the feather into it and holding it in place. I used real barn owl feathers for this (courtesy of The Dreamstress), and layered them on up around the arch of my eyebrows, and under my cheekbones. After the latex was dry, I smeared on foundation to blend it, then some black eyeshadow on my eyelids, and that was it!

Feather face makeup, in progress - and the wig cap of awesome.
With all of it put together, it looked really quite cool! Nevermind those packing boxes in the background...

The dance was lovely. The Owl and the Fox were well-received, we had no major problems with dancing, tripping, or molting. I did lose one clump of feathers, but I count myself lucky, and there was no visible hole. I did have some trouble with the weight of the gown causing my shoulders to hurt. I found this to be true of this pattern despite the feathers, as there is no weight distribution throughout - it hangs off the shoulders, so all the weight is there.

Lovely photos by Justin Oliphant and others
At the end of the night, I had the joy of peeling latex off my face, which was akin to ripping band-aids off. Luckily, I didn't wake anyone with my squeeks of pain, and there was no irritation from the latex, yay!

Jenny of Button N' Bows, in her GORGEOUS "Mask of Zorro" gown.
The owl gown will not be worn again. It will be repaired, cleaned, and auctioned on eBay. More information on that later. Don't cry, it's o

And that's it! A year's worth of costuming done, worn, loved. Now on to other projects (all under $75 of course), and the continued pursuit of good craftsmanship, design, and beauty through clothing :-)
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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Costume Queen Gives "Kreativ Blogger" Nod to American Duchess

This portrait by Allan Ramsay has absolutely nothing to do with the article you're about to read.

Tonight I have reason to celebrate! American Duchess has received the "Kreativ Blogger" award from Costume Queen, of the delightful blog "Aria of an Amateur." American Duchess has also earned 60 followers tonight! Woo! Time for a party! (or something!)

Rules of The Kreativ Blogger Award:
1. Copy the Kreativ Blogger picture and post it on your page
2. Thank the person who gave it to you and link back to their blog
3. Write seven things about you that we don't know
4. Choose seven other bloggers that you would like to give the award to
5. Link to the bloggers that you choose
6. Let the winners know that they have the lovely award.

OK, 7 Things You Don't Know About Me:
1. I made a pact with my parents, when I was about 9, to never have to eat another bite of squash again. I have since broken that pact.
2. I have never been seriously injured, despite all the physical activities and stupid things I do and have done. (knock on wood)
3. I was the drum major in my high school marching band.
4. I really wish I knew another language, a beautiful language like French or Gaelic...instead, I learned (or rather spent time NOT learning) Spanish in high school, from an overly tanned hippie named Ms. Jacox.
5. Top Gear is my favorite show in the whole world. And I have a huge crush on Richard Hammond. And that makes me a statistic.
6. Fall is my favorite season; October my favorite month; and October 23rd my favorite day.
7. If I ever have children, I hope they're boys. Since I'll more likely have just dogs, I hope they're girls.

Now for the 7 Blogs of Awesome that shall receive The Kreativ Blogger Award:
1. In Pursuit of Glamour - just beautiful. I want to live in this blogger's house and sit on her furniture and be surrounded by her things. (ok, was that too creepy?)
2. A Dress A Day - it's not an easy feat to pull of such an acute blog as this one, and it's one thing to post pictures of vintage patterns and dresses, but something else entirely to write the extremely witty and entertaining commentary that Erin provides us with!
3. Wearing History - such cuteness! I can't get over vintage and retro clothing, it just makes me keel over with WANT TO WEAR syndrome. Wearing history offers insights as well as reproduction patterns of some serious cuteness.
4. Marie Antoinette's Gossip Guide - we love Marie as much as Georgiana. Both blogs are very stylishly designed, and offer a little Rococo goodness on, well, just about everything.
5. In The Long Run - this is a lovely little dress blog that single-handedly taught me the proper way to flatline. So worth the read, she makes such lovely things.
6. Serendipitous Stitchery - Maggie puts textures and colors together than I would never think to work, yet her costumes come out simply fantastically. She has also made something like 10,000 dresses this year (well, maybe I exaggerate a little, but it's a LOT)
7. Princess Lastertron - a fabulously inspiring blog! I've never seen anything like Princess' felt button-flower bouquets, and I'm truly inspired that she has made such a successful business out of her crafting love. Very cool. Very unique.
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Taking Stock: Project Updates and Plans

American Duchess has undergone a change in location: I have moved from California to Nevada, and all of my things (and I mean ALL) are currently stacked haphazardly in a storage shed, save my sewing machine, laptop, and a couple bags of clothing. Understandably, many projects and things on my to-do list have been postponed until I can end my nomadic tendencies, and set up "the castle" in a functioning manner. So as not to keep you in the dark, here is a run-down of, well, all the stuff I have planned:

The KCI Jacket & Gilet Project - unfortunately postponed until further notice. This requires some fierce patterning, draping, drafting madness, for which I will need space, both my dress forms, large pads of paper, rulers and slidey rule thingies, muslin, and on and on. Thus, until I have these things at my fingertips, it must be postponed.

Medivh World of Warcraft Man-Clothes - cancelled. The man for whom these man-clothes were being made is not longer in my life.

Dickens Christmas Ensemble - revised. I hadn't posted about this before, but I had originally planned to do a black velveteen jacket to go with a pink & cream striped skirt that I made for a ballgown earlier this year. I've decided instead to do a gathered/fan-front bodice and tiered skirt in some oh-so-sweet plaid, and base it loosely on this Simplicity pattern.

Mid 18th c Court Gothique Man-Clothes - a commission for a friend, who is looking for a full ensemble and has his materials all picked out. I plan to work with a pattern, probably JP Ryan. More to come on this project!

Top-Secret Elizabethan Project - you guessed it, I can't tell you anything about it, mwahahaha!

And that's what Duchie's got goin' on for the next several months, and on into 2010. Oh yes, and each completed costume, barring the commission, for under $75, of course!
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Tuesday, October 20, 2009

A Pogey Weekend

Two words best describe my adventures last Sunday: "Pogey" and "Bait."

If you are unfamiliar with Pogey Bait, please take a stroll over to the Dreamstress, and read about it. There are varying definitions, not all of them above-board, but I like this silly little name that has somehow come to perfectly describe what it is I was up to last Sunday.

Last weekend, my Lady Mother and I went down to Folsom (near Sacramento, CA), to visit the Folsom Renaissance Fair, our favorite fair of the season. We spent the day frolicking about, catching up with friends old and new.

While at fair, my dear friend Jenny (of Buttons & Bows) gifted to me this wonderful little stag pendant. It ended working really nicely with my fair clothes, so I wore it all day, and will wear it to future dances and with various other costumes. Thanks Jenny!

My Lady Mother and I decided not to do a second day at fair, and instead went to explore Old Folsom, a lovely little Foothills town "stuck in time," and ripe with cafes, boutiques, and antique shops.

I have decided to start a collection of porcelain figurines depicting pastoral 18th c ladies (and gentlemen I suppose). These little figurines were popular from at least the 19th century (if not earlier) up through the 1940s, the best examples being made in Germany, and later in Japan. They run the gamut in price, some being ridiculously expensive and others being quite moderate. I found this delightful porcelain pair for under $30. With no research into the marks, I do know that the figurine came from US occupied Germany (primarily Southern), which dates it to 1945-49.

I also got an early birthday present from My Lady Mother. This little figurine is from US Occupied Japan, which puts it at the same date as the German figurine, although I wonder, since it depicts a 1920s/30s styled lady, if it was not manufactured before the Occupation. Possible.

My last little trinkey was an impulse buy. It is a Pierrot bookend, and was on sale for $4. We think nobody wanted him because he did not have his Columbine. No marks or information on him, just love him for being so interesting and reminding me of a certain wooing contest earlier this year between a Yeoman, a farmer, and Pierrot the Clown (who won!).

I think I shall also like to begin compiling a mismatched tea service. Cute little teacups and matching saucers were everywhere, for around $10. For the future, when it's time for tea parties :-)
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Monday, October 19, 2009

Congratulations Avi, Cutest Crafting Pet!

Congratulations to Avi, Taiwan Dog Extraordinaire, who won The Dreamstress' "Cutest Crafting Pet Competition!"

Avi won a box full of all kinds of goodies - a bag of pineapple lumps (have since been eaten), the biggest chocolate bar I have ever seen (has since been eaten), some lovely postcards, and the most wonderful reticule on the face of the earth.

Hand made by the Dreamstress herself, this little reticule is a lovely silk rendition of a pineapple, which became all the rage around the turn of the 19th century. I cannot WAIT to carry this with me to various late 18th century, Regency, and Victorian events! I think this reticule is quite possibly the most lovely thing I've ever had!

Avi, well, she tolerated me tying it about her neck and snapping her photo, even after she was utterly shocked at Kanye West popping up in our living room... (thanks Madame Berg!)

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Friday, October 16, 2009


18th c Barn Owl Costume Madness : Progress at Last

Despite my unexpected interstate move from California to Nevada, I have managed to get a little work done on the barn owl costume that I am to wear in, oh, a week or so, to Halloween Gaskells in Oakland.

This is the "fun" part, which really means the most challenging and creative part: blending the golden goose feathers up into the pleats of the robe, and making it all somehow work.

I am happy to report the the back pleats, where the rooster feathers emerge, look fantastic, just as I had hoped. Now I am meticulously stitching in the goose feathers, which involves punching holes along the quill with a hammer and small nail, since they are so thick and tough that the needle doesn't want to go through.
The goose feathers blending into the pleats. This is unfinished, but you get the idea.
The goose feathers curve one way or the other depending on which wing they came from. Luckily I have enough of both left-curving and right-curving to make it work on both sides of the robe. The effect will hopefully be something like wings swooping back over the hips and down the back of the gown (depending on how many feathers I have and how patient I am with sewing them on).

The effect of the gold "wings" emerging from the pleats. More will cascade down from nearer the cross piece at the bust.
While some problems have been fixed - shortening the brown taffeta hem guard to remove the train - other problems have cropped up, such as my forgetting in California the extra cream taffeta to make the cap sleeves from. The robe will have to be sleeveless. Not the end of the world, but not exactly as I'd wanted it. I must then finish the armholes with bias some point here in the next two weeks!
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Tuesday, October 13, 2009


Cold-Weather Couture for the Chilly 18th c. Lady

Someone looks coooollldddd.

It's cold outside. Really cold. Really wet. Really windy.

It can safely be assumed that back in the 18th c it was also cold, wet, and windy, particularly in countries like England, which are known for this sort of charming weather.

There are some obvious 18th c cold-weather things, such as mittens (and aren't they cute!), shawls, muffs, and fur collars. However, the protection from the freeze also is in the makeup of the gowns themselves. Let's start from the inside out...

Dressing A Lady For Rain, Snow, Ice, and General Discomfort...

A lady wrapped in a cashmere shawl.

Underlayers - underneath it all, ladies would wear thigh-high stockings made of wool, to protect their legs. The upper half and the hips were warmed by a chemise, which was commonly made of linen or cotton (if you were rich), but could also be made of a very lightweight wool. Wool works in mysterious ways - as a natural fiber, it wicks away moisture from the body, is warm in the cold, and cool in the warm, and can be spun coarsely or finely.

Petticoats and Stays - next come the foundation layers. Forget one petticoat, in the winter ladies wore MANY. This was as much to keep the legs insulated as to create the fashionable poof of the skirts. When women were still wearing panniers, at least one modesty petticoat would be worn under the pannier, then one or more over the panniers. Stays could be made of silk, another natural magical fiber, and interlined with wool flannel for warmth and stability.

A quilted skirt and caraco jacket with a hood - genius

Gowns and Skirts- next came the gown, starting with the skirt. Often the skirts were quilted, which created a lovely texture and pattern, but was also incredibly warm. The quilting was (and still is) created by sandwiching a layer of batting (of some fiber, likely wool fleecing) between two layers of fabric, and stitching the design through all layers, creating pockets of puffs to catch and keep the warmth. If the skirt was silk, it was doubly effective in keeping the lady warm.

Depending on the fashion of the time, ladies would then wear a gown over their skirt - such as a Robe a la Francaise, or a Robe a l'Anglaise - providing another layer for the lower regions, and the bodice layer for the upper. Earlier in the century, three-quartered sleeves were en vogue, so women would don gloves or mittens to keep their forearms and hands warm. Around the neck and exposed bosom, ladies wore a fichu, something like a modern-day scarf, that could be made of hankerchief linen or something heavier, like wool, for winter.

Jackets and Redingotes - Later in the century, jackets became the popular garment. These were long-sleeved, sometimes quilted, and often had a peplum or skirting. Fichus and shawls were worn to protect the neck and chest if the jacket were cut low, though many ladies' jackets began to mirror men's fashion, and covered the chest area. Women took to wearing cravats and neck wraps.

For quite cold weather, the redingote, a jacket-skirt combo that took its styling cues from working men's greatcoats, came into fashion. Redingotes could be opened or closed skirt, were long-sleeves, fastened up to the neck, could be double or single breasted, and often featured tiered capelets over the shoulders, which were utilitarian for keeping the shoulders warm. Made from wool or heavy silk, redingotes were particularly effective in keeping a lady warm while travelling or riding.

Accessories - Just like today, women wore gloves, mittens, used muffs, shawls, and scarves, and relied on hats, wigs (not-so-much like today), capes, and hoods to keep warm. Mitts were wool or silk, the former version being woven or knitted, the latter often embroidered or quilted. Muffs were fur of course, as were some collars and neck wraps. Shawls, particularly towards the turn of the century, were cashmere, a particularly warm, beautiful, and exotic wool that was very thin but very cozy. Capes were often lined in fur, and some jackets featured quilted and lined hoods.

A great example of long mittens, from the Silly Sisters

Today, at least in The American West, it seems we are disconnected from wearing cold-weather gear. Most of our costume events happen either in the Summer months, or inside. Occassionally there will be a late-season fair that will be rained or snowed upon, or the weather may be very crisp. It pays, then, to have a few cold-weather accoutrement with you, such as a wool cape or shawl, gloves, or a fur muff...or the more modern long-johns and knee-high socks!

I look forward to these could-be-cold-ish events as a chance to make costuming accessories that are new, interesting, and seldom produced. There's something exhilirating about bundling up and snuggling into what seems to me a more period version of clothing. That being said, don't do it just to do it! Keep the special items for those rare, wintry occassions.

Who's been out in the cold in-costume? Post links to your photos, or tell us some stories, in the COMMENTS section below!
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Sunday, October 11, 2009

ATTN: Northern Nevada Costumers

I'm not sure how many of you lovely ladies who follow AmDuch are anywhere even remotely close to Reno, but who knows! If you are one of those elusive Reno costumers, this post is for YOU:

Announcing The Great Basin Costume Society!

Instead of telling you all about it HERE, though, I will direct you to the brand-spankin' new, shiny and glitzy (just like Reno) Great Basin Costume blog.

You can also join the Facebook group and Twit-Follow (click those links!)

If you are NOT from Reno, Nevada, or the United States, we would still love to have you take a look, comment, and lend your costume expertise. All are welcome!
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Thursday, October 8, 2009

John Galliano's 18th Century Pannier Revival

Someone's been in the 18th century bubbly...with a side of pierogi. It's John Galliano, one of the leading high fashion designers in the world.
His Spring 2009 collection blended heavy embroideries, fur, pom-poms, and extravagant Mucha-esque headdresses, with the single most identifiable fashion trend of the 18th century, the pannier. Do panniers work in our modern mode of dress? Do they work on the runway even, that fantasy land of frivolity?
There is no question that what Galliano and other designers, such as Alexander McQueen, have done is not ready-to-wear, but that was never quite the point. What these designers do for their runway shows is create three dimensional textile art that rides about on a tall, size 2 canvas. Just like a painting, a sketch, even a poem, there exists in high fashion an inspiration, a composition, and a blending of senses. There is a motivation, a message (not always one of beauty), often an irony, or a juxtaposition of interest. Galliano has blended historical inspirations from two worlds: that of the Russian peasant, and that of the 18th century European aristocrat.

This is not the first time Galliano has looked to the 18th century for inspiration. His breakout collection in 1984 was inspired by The French Revolution, and entitled Les Incroyables, harkening back to a then-current fashion trend among the young French revolutionaries.

In fact, fashion in the 18th century was nearly as outlandish as runway looks are today. Fashion plates of the time often depict highly unwearable gowns on fantastically thin models, and ladies of various courts were always designing new court gowns to be the most eye-catching and avante garde, so as to attract attention...just like fashion designers today. Look out our beloved Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, who was known for her outlandish fashion sense and coiffure. Appearing one night with a four-foot-high tower of hair and ostrich plumes, she would be on to the next trend while the rest of high society were merely just beginning to order their wigs and feathers. All this being said, I cannot disagree or dislike what Galliano has done with his panners and Russian babushka looks. They're interesting, and they're new, however unwearable. I believe giving a nod to the past (and I don't mean the 1950s!) is a wonderful thing, and will eventually siphon down in some form to everyday clothing that you and I can both enjoy.

The revival of the pannier, though? I think not...
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Monday, October 5, 2009


The Language of the Fan

It might very well be impossible to be a costumer and not have heard of "The Language of the Fan." It's like Latin - we all know it existed, but few of us actually know how to speak it today. Even better, our missiles of fan-based communication don't seem to hit the intended targets: men, who are definitely NOT "bi-lingual."

Yet we still carry fans. We carry them for practical reasons, to fan ourselves furiously to keep from passing out in the Hot Hot Heat (technical term). Yet who KNOWS what we are saying as we rapidly attempt to reduce our body temperatures, or as we indulge our oral fixations and nibble on the corners of the fan, or as the lack of oxygen being afforded our corseted bodies causes us to yawn...politely behind our fans. Well, I'm here to tell you.

Ladies, I give your your first foreign language lesson, that of The Fan:

Hiding Your Eyes Behind an Open Fan - "I love you, I want your babies"
Shutting an Open Fan Slowly - "I promise to marry you, if you just hurry up and ask already!"
Touching the Tip of the Fan - "Get over here, I want to talk to you"
Dropping The Fan - "We will be friends, just friends, so don't try anything, Mr."
Fanning Slowly - "I am married, and sooo bored, see how slowly I'm fanning myself?"
Fanning Quickly - "I am engaged, wheeee!!!"
Placing the Handle of the Fan to Your Lips - "Kiss me, or I'll eat this fan"
Drawing the Fan Across the Forehead - "You have changed...not sure if I like it or not yet"
Twirling the Fan In The Left Hand - "We Are being Watched, and I'm fully ready to deploy my ninja skills"
Twirling the Fan in the Right Hand - "I love someone else, and I'm fully ready to deploy my ninja skills"
Quickly Closing the Fan With Some Force - "I am jealous, and I'm fully ready to deploy my ninja skills"
Placing The Fan Near Your Heart - "You have won my love. Baby, baby, can't you see my heart beat?"

This is just a smattering of the many things you can say with your fan. According to this, I've told many lies! Of course, I believe that The Fan merely gave ladies something to do with their hands while, just like today, the heavy-duty work of flirtation was done with the eyes. The Fan merely provided a stage and a prop by which to feature the eyes (and lips too). allowing ladies to hide their faces or show them, fidget nervously with something, and also tell all to their crushes without actually telling anything. Sound familiar? Not much has changed!

What are you saying (or NOT saying) with YOUR fan? What are some other "fan phrases" you know of? Please leave comments!

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