Tuesday, September 28, 2010


Stays - Olympe's Test Stays Complete

I've learned SO much while working on these stays, and much shall change in the final pattern.  They're to be mailed off to Olympe today, for a fitting, and we'll go from there.

Of course, they don't fit me (as you can see in the photos), but I want to do a pair that does, which should be a simple matter of scaling up the waist measurement when the final pattern is done.

These stays, once fully completed, will be sold in the American Duchess shop on Etsy.  They're a prototype, so will be a reduced price of $150.  I'll post about it when the time comes.

In the meantime, I'm feeling quite accomplished and proud of myself.  /pats self on back.

Now for a couple polls.  I'm looking for the average measurements of readers of the blog, so that I may fashion clothing for you guys in the future:

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Monday, September 27, 2010

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Costume Analytics: Marie Antoinette's Dove Grey Riding Habit

Welcome to "Costume Analytics," where we take a close look (or as close as possible) at scintillating costume pieces from portraits, movies, and museums, and break down what they're made of, how they're made, and how you and I can make them ourselves.

First in this series is the dove grey traveling costume from Marie Antoinette (movie).  This ensemble appears at the very beginning of the film, as Marie Antoinette leaves Austria to travel to France.

Fabric and Trims
The jacket is made of velvet with a low nap, possibly velveteen, and very likely cotton velveteen.  I might go as far to say that a medium-weight upholstery velvet would work well for this jacket.  The lining looks like to be silk, possibly taffeta, and the same material as the skirt.

The trimmings on the jacket are metallic braid, with self-covered velvet buttons down the right front edge.  The metallic braid trims around the high neck, down the front edges, and around the skirt of the jacket.  The cuffs are also trimmed at just the hem, and very likely feature velvet buttons as well.

The skirt is the same color, and quilted from about the knees down, but appears to be a lighter fabric with some sheen, silk or taffeta.  Here is a similar one from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston:

The jacket is closet to a riding habit, with the high neckline and long sleeves.  The skirt is all of a piece with the bodice panels.  There are no seams at the front of the bodice, and it appears only side-back seams and side seams, from which the inverted box pleats of the skirt emerge, at the waist.  The front does not close with buttons, but with hooks and eyes.    It resembles these extant garments from the V&A and Met:

From the V&A
From the Met
From the Met
Janet Arnold also shows a riding habit very similar to our Dove Grey, and Reconstructing History also has a pattern for a riding habit.

Janet Arnold's riding habit, from her book Patterns of Fashion 1: 1660-1860
Reconstructing History's pattern from their website. 
The skirt is worn over panniers and a petticoat, which are conveniently shown as Marie Antoinette dresses for her journey.  The skirt likely ties at the sides with tapes, and is pleated with large-ish knife pleats, although any pleating style would work well for this.  It is a walking-length skirt, and ends about the ankles instead of sweeping the floor.

Our heroine wears a lightweight shirt with a frilly collar, not unlike a jabot, at the neck.  Her hair is loose and tied with a bow (is this historically accurate?).  She wears brocade-covered shoes with a louie heel, and don't forget her most important accessory: Mops the dog.

Suggestions on Making This Costume:

  • Look for cotton velveteen in a pastel color.
  • The skirt does not need to match the jacket.  Synthetic taffeta or a silk with a dull sheen would be well-suited.
  • For a little puff to the quilting on the skirt, back it with a layer of thin batting, or fleece, and quilt with either machine or by hand.
  • Don't forget to fit the jacket and the skirt over your full underpinnings -pocket hoops, a petticoat, and stays.
  • Look for metallic braid or trims that are not too shiny.  If you can't find any, consider spray-painting a trim with silver paint (works wonders).
  • For a different look, overlap the front edges and close with the velvet buttons.
  • For a fuller skirt, double or triple the inverted box pleats at the back.
  • Don't forget the dog!
  • Don't forget your references: Patterns of Fashion 1: 1660-1860Marie AntoinetteFashion: The Collection of the Kyoto Costume Institute
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Sunday, September 26, 2010


Cranach and Holbein and Durer, Oh My...

"Judith Victorious" Cranach, c 1530
Something I'm thinking about, but I'm not *sure* about right now.

I've had an itch, a tiny only mildly itchy itch, for some years now, that I would like to make a 16th c. German noblewoman's gown.  I mean the full on goodness here, not a Kampfrau ensemble, not a Flemish ensemble, we're talkin' gold embroidery, beads and bits, velvet, piping, slashings, feathers.

I'm having trouble wrapping my head around this because of a couple things.  One is that the beautiful "Cranach Gowns" we love so very much are all around the 1530s, which makes them quite a bit too early for most Renaissance Faires in my area, which all feature a c. 1570s Queen Elizabeth.  St. Maximillian, the German Landsknescht (sp?) guild, dresses in 1530s, however, and nobody seems to be the wiser of it.  It works for the Henrician Fairs (of which there is one), but not for Elizabethan.  Then again, as a good Landsknescht friend of mine put it - "If you want to make it, do it regardless."

Here are the sources for the "correct" time period, mid-16th century:

I absolutely ADORE this ensemble...but it looks really quite English does it?  What's the point of doing a German gown if you're going to look English?
They look kindof boring, wouldn't you say?  I would say, especially compared to THESE, from the 1530s and 1540s:

What do you think?

I have a lot of blue velvet, but it doesn't look like blue is very represented, or at all represented, in these gowns.  Looks like red and black, even forest green, are the ways to go, and add to that pretty contrasting brocade.

I haven't much of a clue on how to start.  I need to research more of course, but a good place to start I suppose it with the chemise, which is high-necked, of very thin materials, and very tightly gathered at the neck.  I see portraits without the high-necked chemise, so I may go with a low-necked one with massive sleeves, to puff out through the slashings.

So much to think about!  And more on this later...it's percolating :-)
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Saturday, September 25, 2010


Staycation - More Progress on Olympe's Test Stays

The tabs on the right are bound, but not on the left.  Also to come - eyelets, bindings, and ribbons for the straps.
Some more progress on the test stays for Olympe.  I'm really happy with how these are coming out, especially after lacing them to proper measurements on this pillow, and seeing that things are lining up as planned.  I also mocked up the stomacher and everything is working fine there, except I may want to revisit the boning pattern.  The stomacher has horizontal "struts" that curve with the bust, but below that they are vertical and the whole thing was quite tricky to assemble.

I still can't get over these measurements - 22.5" waist, 33.5" bust!  There are some other changes to add to my list - one is to leave off the grommets below the waist on the back: they're not necessary (thanks Isis!).  I also need to widen the gap in the back.  It's nearly touching now at the proper measurements, and I want to give Olympe more adjust-ability than that, so another two inches or so.

P.S. This pillow has *terrible* posture!  Can't wait to see this laced onto a real body.
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Thursday, September 23, 2010


Staying Put - Olympe's Test Stays, and Moving

More work on the test garment that will help me fit Olympe's stays.  I've installed all the boning as well as the grommets (to be covered in threads in the future).  I've discovered that the stays will need to be bound for trying on, as bits of boning stick out from the tabs, and I don't want anything falling out.  This goes fairly quickly with certain Jane Austen movies playing in the background :-).

I ran into a little problem: the length of the back is longer than the length of the 1/4" zipties I am using.  I've come up with three solutions:

  • Use "monster" zipties, those incredibly long 1/2" wide giants you find in the hardware store.  This is a good solution because it provides the most support and stiffness, particular useful on edges where lacings cross.
  • Use thick hemp cord.  Provides moderate shaping, is flexible and comfortable.
  • Double up the 1/4" zipties, threading one in from the top and one in from the bottom.  This is still in "testing" as I do not want them to migrate to the middle.  The stiffness seems good, but they need to stay extended from top to bottom.

So far so good with these test stays, but I am anticipating a couple things:

  • The tabs on the side and back will probably be fine, but the front cut for the front tabs is too high.  They should start at or just barely below the waist, so this will need some adjustment.
  • The stays may be a little short-waisted overall, but this is an easy fix.
  • Underarms might need to be trimmed down a bit for comfort.
  • I'm thinking of shrinking the little tabs that stick up on the front of the stays, and extending the removable straps down to meet them, so that when the stays are worn without straps, the little tabs won't be as sticky-uppy.
  • I will have a better idea of the exact sizing when Olympe tries these stays on.  The gap in front or in back (or both) may need to be widened or shrunk.
Lacing the back, using zig-zag lacings and nice wide ribbon.

In other news, I've moved the lot of my sewing room from my apartment to Mr C's house, which is now my house too :-).  I have the loft space at the top of the stairs for my little nook.  It's my favorite place in the house, has lovely light (for good photos!), one whole wall of shelves and then some, a little closet, a perfect space for my table and sewing machine, and also the Coolest Couch in the World.  I'm vowing to keep the space clean, to not ever pile anything on the couch (must remain pristine!), and keep all my notions, patterns, and bits organized on the plentiful shelves.

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Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Thursday, September 16, 2010


Olympe's Stays - Overnight Stay

The boning channels, stuffed.  I should have taken more care to cut the peach jacquard in a way more, well, thought through, but as a mock-up garment it was not the priority.  Next time!

Stays are not built overnight...but almost.  Amazing what one sleepless seamstress can accomplish in the dark hours.

I've sewn all the boning channels in the second side of the stays, and then set to "stuffing," using 1/4" zipties (my favorite!), and armoring this delicate piece of pretty peach frippery like Joan of Arc headed into battle.  I'll be out today to hunt down more zipties, and of the longest length I can find, for the back.

One side almost entirely boned, and pinned onto the non-squishy dress form.  The real test will be when the eyelets are in and it can be fully laced over a soft form, to test measurement.
What you see on my dress form does not reflect the fit of the final stays.  The waist will be pinched in considerably - we are doing a 2.5" reduction, and the difference between the bust and waist measurement will be  about 11" - and the stomacher will show in more of a triangular shape rather than rectangular.

More to come and quickly - I love how fast corsets and stays go together (at least until you get to the hand binding and eyelets!).
The left side is boned, the right side not.  What a difference!
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Wednesday, September 15, 2010


Olympe's Stays - Mock-Up Progress

The blue line at the waist indicates where an additional tab will be cut, after installing the bones.
Ah, lovely progress on Olympe's stays this evening - well, the mock-up in any case.  I've decided to do a full mock-up to test the pattern and fit.  This will be made out of my own materials, and be sent to Olympe before cutting into her pretty jacquard and linen.  This mock-up is two layers, whereas Olympe's will be three (interlined with canvas), and I am testing the boning layout, as well as the gaps in back and front, which make these stays mucho adjustable, yay!

Tonight's progress - linings and outer fabrics are cut, and sewn together, and one side of the stays has all the boning channels sewn.  Next step is to replicate all the boning channels on the opposite side, then "stuff" the stays, install the grommets, and finally the binding is last.  I will likely *not* bind the stays before sending to Olympe, as it's time consuming and not necessary for the fitting.

More blue lines indicating additional tabs to be cut.  The straps attach both front and back, allowing them to be completely removed.  The back of the stays has been cut low so as not to show above the neckline of gowns, but still high enough to offer support to posture.
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Friday, September 10, 2010

The Problem With Sewing for Other People

This is a blog, a place where I can post my dress progress, what's going on in my life, what I'm working on, places I'm going...and also a space in which I can try to tell my story.  So here's my story.

Sewing for other people is not an easy business, especially if they are far away.  However, at some point don't we all try to do this?  My first experience was with James and it all seemed to turn out fine.  However, my second experience, one I was very excited about, did not turn out so well.  Why?  Because some people cannot be pleased.  You cannot make them happy no matter what.  Mistakes will be made, yes.  Sewing is perhaps a lost craft, and in today's world of ready-made, machine-perfected clothing from an overseas factory, it's difficult for people to understand that a custom made, hand-made, historical garment is not an easy, or normal thing to make.  Sometimes things happen - buttons break, for instance - and all a seamstress can do is request the garment be sent back for repair.  Do you know anybody who does not make changes and repairs on their costume pieces?  This is part of the problem of sewing for other people.  The expectation.  Also the deadline.  Clothes are not made overnight, and hand-made clothes, even with the aid of a machine, take weeks, even months depending.

I don't even know where to start.  I want to post some e-mails I received from an unhappy Mary Spencer, but I feel they need explanation.  Mary has made my life miserable.  She freaked out and sent me e-mail after e-mail about in-progress photos I posted on my blog, complaining that the photos did not reflect what I said I was going to produce.  Obviously she missed the "in progress" text written all over the post.  She cried, yelled, and badgered me with e-mails every time something appeared to be amiss.  I spent as much time calming her down as I did sewing.  Mary also told me many stories of how they'd been screwed by other seamstresses, particularly Fugawee, Bonnie Miss Flora, and The Silly Sisters, well-known and respected companies and individuals.  She imparted to me that I was the only one who could make this garment, that it all depended on me.  I was confident I could do a good job, and that my years of experience working with clients in the graphic design business would help me handle this one.  I was quite wrong.

I received an e-mail from an acquaintance in the costuming community warning me about this client.  I did not heed the warning, but boy I should have.  When so many reputable seamstresses and established companies have so much trouble with one person, it's important to take a listen.  I can now add my recommendation to these companies: DO NOT WORK WITH MARY SPENCER.

So why did I?  I wanted to expand my costuming portfolio.  I wanted to make beautiful garments.  I needed the money.  What I learned is that sewing for money is not well-paid.  The hours and hard work you put in do not match what you make on the garment, and if you ask the price you know it should actually be, people flip out.  So working for pennies, it only makes it that much more enjoyable when your client harps at you.

The mistakes I made:

  • I sewed a collar on not to regular liking.  To the client, it was upside down, with the finished edge (the hem) showing, not turned under.  That was a mistake, I was wrong.
  • I used inferior self-cover button kits to make the buttons.  I tugged and pulled on the shanks to test them, but when they arrived to the client, many or all came apart.  I offered to replace them, but the client refused and made the new buttons and sewed them on instead.

I could have handled things differently, but when someone calls you in the evening and unexpectedly screams at you about something well beyond your control, after months of being pushed and having to "handle" this person...well, there is a breaking point.  I defended myself because the complaint was on a garment that this client had accepted, paid for, and had in their possession for more than a month, and only then decided it was incorrect.  I offered to correct the mistake three times, each time they refused, and only continued to yell at me.  So at that point, what is the conversation for?

I decided, based on my experience, the unsolicited warning e-mail, and being screamed at on the phone, not to work with this person anymore.  We were just about to begin a new project, one I had received materials and a downpayment for.  I made this known, without emotion, in an e-mail, at which point I began to receive e-mails from the Mary's husband Adam (not the client at all!) about how I became "enraged," and that everything I said was a lie, and that I am extremely unprofessional and like to a twelve year old girl.  Of course, I was unable to complete any sentences at all on the phone, as I was talked over and berated - I had no ability to explain anything...and, of course, the client's partner was listening in on the other line, without my knowledge, a violation of New Hampshire law.

I responded to the vicious e-mail by telling this person's partner that if they continued to harass me (after I've ended business with them and returned their materials and deposit for the next project) I would make it known to everyone I possibly could my experience with this Mary.  I received yet another aggressive e-mail this morning, and so I am following through on my promise.  I would also like to add that since ending business with Mary and Adam Spencer, they have filed blackening reports with RipOffReport.com, the BBB, and their local police, all because the mailman wasn't carrying their materials and full refund fast enough.  I've received countless harassing e-mails threatening legal action, and Mary continues to slam me on her "An Historical Lady" blog, complete with made-up conspiracy theories and paranoid accusations.

This is a warning.  Do NOT try to work with this person.  It will lead to frustrations, battles, and heartache you cannot even imagine.  It will lead to false reports filed with the BBB, RipOffReport.com, the police, and constant threats of litigation.  It comes with defamation of character, direct abuse, sincere attempts to destroy one's business, and all kinds of stories that get more and more colorful as time passes.  It is not worth the money.  It takes a force of nature to deter me from working with clients, and I can safely call Mary Spencer person a force of nature.

So there it is.  You may judge me as you like.  If you think this was an unprofessional thing to post on my blog, then know that it is out of self-defense as well as in an effort to warn the historical costuming community against this person and others like them.  Thank you for reading this.
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Monday, September 6, 2010

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The Stays That Bind: Olympe's 18th c. Stays

Starting a new project, a pair of stays, a commission for Olympe.

Olympe's materials - cream jacquard, yellow linen, and the stays shall be interlined in canvas
They will lace at the front over a stomacher, and with a pretty light blue ribbon.  The body of the stays is a cream jacquard and the stomacher and bias binding will be this lovely yellow linen.

Reference images:
Reference for boning.  I'm thinking a combo of hemp (for curves) and zip ties (my favorite) for straights
An example of front closing stays.  No laces shown here, oddly enough.
Front closing stays with wide-set shoulder straps.  Olympe's won't be so wide, and her straps will be detachable.  I love the long tail on the back of these, though.
A few ideas in terms of pattern:
One of those standard reference images for stays you see everywhere.  Where did I even get this?
A free pattern I found on the web.  Half boned stays, but could be fully boned easily enough.
Butterick's stays pattern.  I may use this for basic pattern pieces to then alter.

She has asked for wide-ish tabs (and I agree), and straps that can be removed.  They straps will have a wide set so as to be worn fairly far out on the shoulder, if attached.

My preliminary sketches for the stays, just exploring pattern, where the seams will be how the bones will work.  Brainstorming.
Olympe is teeny tiny!  She has asked for a 2.5" reduction, and this takes the measurements well under the size of my dress forms, so I will have to employ my skills of maths to figure out the pattern, eek!
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