Friday, December 31, 2010

Shoe-Loving Ladies, Please Take This Poll...(thank you!)

American Duchess shoes will be offered in size 6, 6.5, 7, 7.5, 8, 8.5, 9, 9.5, 10, 10.5 , and possibly 11 if there is enough demand for it.*

** The purpose of this poll is to gauge the demand for shoe sizes larger than 10.5. I have asked the manufacturer to make the shoes in sizes 6 through 10.5, but I am receiving many requests for larger sizes. If there is a high demand, I will add size 11 to the range.*

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Thursday, December 30, 2010


American Duchess' New Year's Resolution: 18th c. SHOES

I'm going to skip through all the fluffy "as 2010 draws to a close" stuff and just cut to the chase.  I have several costuming-related resolutions, but one major big honkin' elephant of a Resolution (with a capital R), and that's SHOES.

18th century shoes to be exact.  I've been stepping around this now for a couple months or so - asked you all the answer some questions about shoes, posted many fine images of beautiful shoes, but here's the bottom line:

In 2011, American Duchess will be introducing the first style in a line of period-accurate shoes, focusing on styles of the 18th century.  These will be *real* shoes, not costume facsimiles, so that means good design, craftsmanship, and comfort.

The drawing provided to the manufacturer, based on 1770s styles, primarily from The Met
The first style of shoe is representative of European heels c. 1750 to 1780.  They will be made of dye-able satin (like wedding/prom shoes) that can be custom dyed to any color you prefer - this means you can match them exactly to your pink Robe a la Francaise, and have a second pair to go with your teal Robe a l'Anglaise.  

The soles will be smooth leather (good for dancing).  The shoes close by latchets across the tongue, which can fasten with buckles, or be looped back for ribbons and bows.  With a 2" heel, they won't kill your feet after all-day fairs, and will still look cute with your 18th century ball gown.

This image from The Met was sent with the drawing as a reference for how the shoes should look, in shape, heel, and construction.
Another example from The Met, from the 1760s

Another beautiful, similar style from The Met.  All of these examples form the basis for the American Duchess design going into prototyping next week.
I cannot tell you how excited I am about these, and I am absolutely determined to make them happen!  They will be beautiful, and also affordable, customizable, and period accurate.  I have solidified plans with my manufacturer today and we will be starting the prototyping process very soon, which means I'll have "in-progress" photos to show you as we go along.

Until then, Happy New Year everybody!!!!
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Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Christmas Gifties of the Historical Variety

It was such a lovely Christmas this year.  I spent time with my family, Mr. C, and gave some lovely gifties as well as received some too.  Here are the "historical" gifties I got - that is, things for that girl in your life who is obsessed with old clothes:
Two fantastic books - "100 Dresses" from the Met, and "Corsets," a book full of  patterns taken from historical examples, including several 18th c., Regency.  Both of these books are fabulous, and I highly recommend them!

This is a fascinating little pamphlet sent to me by my Scottish friend FJ <3

Boots!  Fabulous Victorian boots!  You all know how important I think footwear is...and how few pairs of "proper" footwear I have!  Now I have straight up proper Victorian boots and nobody at costume check can ever tell me otherwise again, mwahahahaha!
Another view of the boots.  Oh so lovely! And comfy!  These were from Mom, who has a pair for herself, in light tawny brown.
Marie Antoinette, by Lenox.  I grew up with these amazing porcelain Lenox dolls that belonged to my grandmother.  She had quite a few of them - a "princess" collection that included Cinderella, Snow White, an Ice Queen, Juliet, others I don't remember now.  My mom has them all packed away safely, and gave me this one for Christmas this year.  She's so exquisite!
(Don't mind the background, pls!).  Lenox Marie Antoinette is wearing a polonaise, but the designers at Lenox kindof  mixed some styles with the sleeves and the panniers.  She's still fantastic, though.
Here's the back of her.  Her hands, fan, and feathers are sooo delicate.
Here are the books on Amazon:

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Sunday, December 26, 2010


It's A Mad Mad Mad Mad Christmas!

Myself and Mom, in front of the family Christmas Tree.
Before I post about the fantabulous costume-related gifts the wonderful people in my life got me for Christmas, I will report on That Mad Christmas Dress.

It turned out great!  I made it in a total of about 3 afternoons, with some noodlings on the zipper, the hooks, and an interior tape.  It's made from a gold brocade with metallic threads woven in, lined in unbleached muslin, and worn over a short quilted petticoat (I didn't bother with the net this time).

"Mmmm, Sausage Rolls!"
The bodice fit like a glove through the waist, which proved to be pretty uncomfortable after sausage rolls, Scotch eggs, date bread, prime rib, green beans, ambrosia, one crescent roll, ham, potatoes, more green beans, carrots, and entirely too much New York cheesecake, plus a plethora of Christmas candies of various sorts.

I'm happy with this dress, though I did discover a mistake - when I transferred the draped muslin pieces to paper, I added seam allowance, mindlessly, to the center front, where I intended it to be cut on the fold, which added an additional 1" to the front, causing the shoulders to set further out than intended, and a little extra fabric to puff out near the armpits.  I've since cut that darn seam allowance off the pattern and will not have the same problem next time!

The back  - I love the deep "V" of early 60s cocktail dresses.  This photo was taken later-in-the-day.  Can you tell?  The hair came down, the shoes flattened, lol.
I do plan to make additional versions of this dress - one with a straight/pencil skirt, and a different shape to the back and maybe a higher neckline in front.  That's the glory of simple yet effective mid-century shapes!

I hope you all enjoyed your holiday and will have a great New Years too! Merry Christmas!! Happy Boxing Day!
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Thursday, December 23, 2010

Tuesday, December 21, 2010


Tiniest and Sneekiest Peek - 1960s Mad Christmas Dress

Okay, I was going to keep this secret until Christmas, but I'll give a peek.  It's not the best picture in the world - will have to wait for Christmas to take better ones :-).

Early 1960s gold brocade dress, with a tight-fitting bodice and pleated skirt.  It's a high-ish boat neck in front, a deep V in back, closing center back with a zipper.  The skirt is box pleated and worn over a modest poof of a petticoat.  It'll also have a belt and probably a rhinestone buckle, just because that's how I roll. :-)  I draped the pattern for the bodice, adjusting for my long-waist-edness - there are four darts in front, and two in back.

The brocades section at JoAnn's is my new favorite hangout - such perfect fabric for chic early '60s numbers.  I got two other brocades for future Mad Men inspired dresses too ... but those are for later. :-)
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Sunday, December 19, 2010

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Regency Christmas at Daughter's Cafe, Reno

First course - mushroom and leek soup, a cheese scone to accompany,
and currant juice.
This past Saturday evening members of the Great Basin Costume Society, and several new additions, gathered at historic Daughter's Cafe for a lovely Regency dinner party.  We enjoyed a period-accurate menu of mustard-crusted ham, fried potatoes, pickled vegetables, mushroom and leek soup with a cheese scone, and a number of yummy little desserts.  Everyone looked wonderful in their costumes, and I think we even had some "converts" at the end of the night, my dad among them, who has decided he would like to get into costuming and period events so long as he gets to buy and carry historic, original firearms! (that's my dad!)  Here are some photos from the evening, taken by the wonderful Mr. C:

Debbie, of Vintage Dancer, who organized the dinner.

Our happy table.  That's my mom on the left, and my dad on the right.
The ladies.
You can see the lovely decor at Daughter's Cafe.  It was
very intimate, cozy, and the chefs are wonderful.
Our desserts :-)
The green robe.  Well I will be the first to admit it's not splendid.  I ran into some trouble with the sleeves, and the straps, er, not fitting.  I spent all of Saturday, before the party, fiddling with them, setting and re-setting, and trying to get things to lay smoothly and fit.  I could not adjust the pleats on the shoulders because they were embroidered over, although lesson learned, now I know to perhaps do the sleeve first and then pleat the shoulder straps!
View from the back, with everything on for going outside - I
used an old Victorian bonnet I made years go, and wore it
high up on my head, so the crown stuck way up.  Seemed to
work quite well, though I felt naked at the neck, then, so
added the fichu.
From the front - I extended the voile gown underneath.  Man do
I need a new basic Regency gown!  You can also see how
off-the-shoulder the robe is.  (Pineapple by The Dreamstress.)
As a general verdict, though, I find the robe to be very pretty.  I love the fabric and the trained skirt, and I'm glad I went with the long sleeves, fasted with fabric-covered buttons at the wrists.  It's not an easy thing to wear, unfortunately, and my shoulders hurt mightily at the end of the night, but I did learn a lot from working on this piece, and I will wear it again for sure.
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Friday, December 17, 2010

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Upcoming Projects, Looming Deadlines!

There's just WAY too much on the to-do list, and it gets worse every time I post a "costume analytics," but here's what in the immediate-right-now future:

1795 Open Robe
1795 Janet Arnold Open Robe, made up in green
taffeta, long sleeves, long train, worn over a simple
white voile empire-waist gown.
DEADLINE: Saturday, December 18th
1880s Victorian Corset - Debbie

1880s-ish Victorian corset (Laughing Moon pattern)
for Debbie's wedding.  Made up in subtle patterned
white cotton, and with lavender pretties.
DEADLINE: Early 2011.
18th c. Stays - Olympe

Olympe's Stays - front lacing, back lacing, with a stomacher.
They're prettier than this!  Done in creme jacquard, yellow linen,
and with light blue ribbons.
1750s Riding Habit
Riding habit - inspired by Marie Antoinette's dove grey travelling
costume, patterned from Janet Arnold's Snowshill Manor
riding jacket.  Done in powder blue velvet, matching
taffeta for the skirt, and silver trims.
DEADLINE: Before it stops snowing, pls.
1780s-90s Zone-Front Pierrot

Zone-front pierrot jacket from the Kyoto Costume Institute,
my version to be done in slightly stripey upholstery something-or-other,
plus the fringe too.
DEADLINE: Whenever, really. ... after all this other stuff!
So these are the things in my immediate future.  Of course, there's also the redingote, the winter-white caraco, the voile gaulle, a new pair of stays for myself..../sigh.  I best be sewing then!!

Reference Books and Whatnots of Note (affiliate links):

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Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Costume Modeling with Ron: A Good Send-Off to an OLD dress

Ron's painting, and yours truly.  Photo by Ron Spears
This past weekend I did some more costume modeling for Ron and company, this time wearing an original silk dress from we think c. 1919.

The story of this dress is fantastic.  Several years ago my mom and I attended a Gatsby Picnic sale, where we shopped various vendors for dresses, patterns, table settings, picnic baskets, etc., to prepare for the famous Gatsby Picnic in Oakland, CA, in September.  Somehow my mother found, crumpled in the bottom of a paper bag, this wad of mint green silk.  The wad had interesting trim, and the vendor thought it could be salvaged, so sold the wad to Mom for $10.

What it turned out to be was an incredible soft green, very early 20s or teens dress, made of creamy silk charmeusse (that's a guess on my part), and silk chiffon.  The sleeves were shredded and appeared to have already been altered at some point, and the entire thing was absolutely filthy.  Mom gave it a good cleaning, and removed the sleeves.  She stabilized some of the silk on the inside, where it was beginning to shatter, and took the stress off the shoulders by pinning ribbons to the staybelt (yes, it has a staybelt!).

Here's the dress, worn by Mom (right), to the Gatsby 2005.
Mom wore the dress to the Gatsby back in 2005, but never after that.  It's just too fragile, and the silk is in a really precarious state.  She gave the dress to me, and I plan on studying it and taking a pattern off it to make a reproduction, but after that, we don't really know what to do with it.  That being said, Mom and I both thought that it would be a wonderful thing to "memorialize" this 1919 gown in a painting, and so I wore it to my 6 hour sitting with Ron Spears and two other artists.  Here are a few photos from the day - these were taken by Ron.
The dress fits Mom much better than me.
Ron's painting in-progress

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Monday, December 13, 2010

Costume Analytics: Emilie Seriziat's White Muslin Gaulle, 1795.

Welcome back to Costume Analytics.  This week we'll be looking at a beautiful example of a 1795 transitional garment known as a "gaulle," painted by Jacques Louis David, worn by Emilie Seriziat.  The gaulle is an interesting garment because it takes its cues from the Chemise a la Reine, a flowy "peasant" gown popularized by Marie Antoinette.  Where the gaulle differs, though, is that it is fitted through the back, often has fitted, shaped sleeves, but retains the gathers in the front, and the full skirt.  This garment set the stage for the ubiquitous bib-front or drop-front gown we know from the Regency.  Let's take a look:

The gaulle appears to be a simple garment, but it has its fair share of engineering.  At first we see a gathered front, but fitted shoulders, fitted two-piece sleeves, and a full skirt.  However, the gathered front is a "false" front, and beneath it is an under-bodice that laces (most likely) tightly closed across the front of Emilie's stays.  The gathered front of the bodice is attached at the waist, and when pulled up over the front of the chest, is secured to the shoulder straps, either with pins, hooks, or buttons.

The skirt appears to open at the sides, typical of 18th c. petticoats.  This would allow Emilie to get into the gown in the first place, but also wear pockets.  The mysterious part is the waist seam.  Examples of gaulles we find in films and museum often don't have a waist seam, and just cinch with the sash, so I suspect that this waist seam is false, and that the gown opens below the waist, then likely is secured at the waist with pins, hooks, or buttons, and again at the shoulders.

This kind of trickery can be seen in extant Regency garments:

From"Vintage Textiles" website
From "Vintage Textiles" website.
We also see it used for two film costumes, from "The Duchess" and "Marie Antoinette."

The Duchess de Polignac, "Marie Antoinette" 2007

From "The Duchess," a fine example in silk.
A good example from "The Duchess," showing the
fitted back of the gown
And for an in-depth look at how these gowns closed, take a gander at the gaulles made by Sarah of Mode Historique, and Jenny La Fleur's Summer Gaulle project.

* One more little mystery - what is going on up near the shoulder?  There appears to be a standing collar that drapes down over the back of Emilie's shoulder.  Could the drop-front possibly have tied around the back of the bodice, covered by some sort of shawl collar thing?  It's a design we don't commonly see on this kind of garment, but I wouldn't put it past those crazy Marveilleuses!

Fabric & Trims

This sort of gown was popular in muslin as well as silk.  Emilie's version appears to be a thin muslin, and would be very tightly gathered at the front, and through the skirt, for maximum fullness.  The gown would have been lined, probably in linen, and this lining separate at the front, where the placket laces.  A cotton voile or batiste would be perfect for this gown - just get A LOT of it.

Emilie's sash appears to be a pine green silk, possibly a taffeta, tied at the front.  This matches the ribbons on her bonnet, as well.  The only other decoration we see on the gown are the three self-covered buttons at the cuffs of the sleeves.  Other than that, the gaulle was never supposed to be an extravagant garment, but instead a reflection of classical ideals, simplicity, pastoralness, a departure from the rococo sensibilities we see earlier in the century, or even just ten years before.


Emilie wears a "statement bonnet," covered in large ribbons on both sides, and worn over a lacy mob cap.  It's an interesting juxtaposition given the simplicity of her gown.  The bonnet is off a style we begin to see more of later, in the Regency - it's straw, and a very open shape, with a deep crown.  It's tied loosely under her chin with a blue silk ribbon (interestingly enough this ribbon doesn't match the green, so perhaps she re-trimmed the hat to match her sash that day?).  For her hairstyle, Emilie wears a somewhat subdued hedgehog style with long tendrils hanging loose down her back.  This may very well have been her real hair, or at least some of it.

Emilie also wears a fichu tucked into the front of her gown.  This would have been a lightweight fabric - muslin, batiste, cotton voile.
Transitional Stay, 1790s.

Underpinnings - Emilie would have been wearing stays.  They might have been full-length, or they might have been transitional stays.  She also would have been wearing a chemise under her stays, and layers and layers of petticoats over them, to puff out her skirts.  Her shoes would have been slippers with a very low "kitten" heel (we call it), and a pointed toe.

From the Met, 1780-99
Tips on Making This Costume

Janet Arnold, Patterns of Fashion 1, bib-front Regency gown, pg 48

  • Unfortunately the gaulle is not a common pattern.  Try Fig Leaf's 1795 "work dress" pattern, or if you like the look, but are uncomfortable working off-pattern, try a Chemise a la Reine from Patterns of Time.
  • Try altering a bib-front Regency gown by lowering the waistline to the natural waist.  This will take some fitting and fiddling.  Try the Lewis & Clark Empire gown, or Janet Arnold's drop-front pattern from Patterns of Fashion 1, pg 48.
  • Go for voile or batiste cotton - it's cheap, it's pretty.  I recommend Dharma Trading Company.   They carry fantastic cotton voile as well as silk voile.  Get lots.
  • For the bonnet, get crafty with a basic straw hat from your local craft store, or try a straw bonnet or large-brimmed hat from  Dress in ribbons matching your sash.  Explore other hat styles of this period - there were many!      
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