Friday, February 25, 2011

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1780s Half-Boned Stays

Finished - they close edge-to-edge across my bust, but I also like them open like this - more thrust!  See the difference in shape between these and Olympe's?
In my recent obsession with stays, I decided to branch out and try my hand at some different shapes and boning patterns, particularly from the 1780s.  I love the bow-front shape with the tiny waist, and the very elegant line of the front, created by the curved front side seams.

This design presented some challenges.  Thanks to this post on Diary of a Mantua Maker, I was able to wrap my head around the idea of vertical and horizontal bones crossing one another, and also how to get that great "thrust" shape we all love.

Here's the trick...well, two tricks, actually.  #1 is to curve the side front seam (this is on the front piece) rather dramatically, but set it against a straight seam for the side front piece.  This causes the front to pull in tightly, particularly across the stomacher, so that in profile, your front is now curved inward rather than board-straight, like we see on earlier stays and those of previous centuries.

A close up of "the pocket"
The pocket sewn inside - another layer of lining goes over this.
Boning channels sewn through the front - I did this for the look, but I don't think I'd do it like this again.
Trick #2 involves the horizontal boning across the front.  I created "pockets" that I then sewed onto the front (you can also sew them to the lining, it's easier).  The channels for the horizontal bones were slightly curved, which causes the boning to bow out.  I have a broken front on mine so I could get into them myself, but a full span of curved channels across the front would cause quite a rigid, ice-cream-cone-like structure.  Fun! (and I'll try it, for sure).

See the curved front seam?
 Aside from those two things, it was business as usual.  These are "half-boned," but don't let that fool you into thinking they are less work!  I used 1/4" ties for the majority of the structure, and 1/2" monstro-ties for the horizontals across the front.

These stays are constructed of jacquard and muslin - the front pieces have the outer layer, then four layers of muslin across the bust, while the rest of the stays have just the outer layer and the one lining layer.  The edges are bound in boring ole twill bias, and the lacing is satin ribbon through grommets - yes, grommets, I know, I'm SO BAD! lol.

If you are interested in these, they are for sale on Etsy, or if you would like a pair similar, please e-mail me and we can chat :-).
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Costume Modeling with Ron, a Photo Shoot for Future Paintings

Last weekend I had the pleasure of pulling *almost* every costume I still have out of my closet and modeling them for an outstanding illustrator, Ron Spears, who wanted to take reference photos for future paintings.  This is the same wonderful painter who did this portrait at the Nevada Museum of Art many moons ago.  We did a little "history lesson," starting in the 16th century and going right the way through to the 19th...then Steampunk, teehee!  Here are a few of my favorites from the photos he took (all (c)Ron Spears):

1580s Elizabethan doublet.  Remember when I made this?
 I'd forgotten how much I liked it, despite the weird fit issues.
Last year's Elizabethans...well, sortof.  It's about 1590-1610,
a waistcoat of mostly inappropriate fabric but I still love it, lol
Please pay no attention to that wig, omg.  I had a hair emergency -
 no proper hair for the 1660s, so just pretend I'm still getting dressed for the ball...
Bye-Bye little red stripey jacket.  This is the last occasion I wore this (and the second occasion), only to discover that it is indeed too short waisted for my long torso, so it's been sold off to a lovely lady in California. 
The pet en l'air, and the BigAss Cap.
I like this photo because it shows all the lights and fiddling things, like that duct tape on the floor, lol.  This is the late 1840s into 1850s daydress that needs SO much work it's not even funny.
Late 1870s.  Meh.
Steampunk!  Ron is doing a series of Steampunk portraits, so I pulled out all the weird stuff I have - bird wings, tiny top hats, Mad Scientist glasses.  The ship's wheel was Ron's, of course, lol.
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Thursday, February 24, 2011

Monday, February 21, 2011

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Olympe's Stays - Complete! Finito! Done!

I finally finished Olympe's lovely cream, goldenrod, and powder blue stays.  Finally.  FINALLY.  It's only taken me FOREVER.

They are too small for the smallest setting on my dress form, so just imagine a teeny-tiny waist and the tabs fanning properly around to the back.  And, of course, they are shown here over the petticoats just for display purposes...they should be under, naturally.

I'm very proud of these stays.  They were the first stays commission I took, and I learned SO much both in the pink prototype, and then on the final pair here.  They're off to Olympe in the mail now!
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Thursday, February 17, 2011


Late 18th Century Skirt Supports - The Unorthodox Edition

I have received some questions from you guys asking what I wear under my petticoats to give that super-poof shape. ain't pretty.  I don't have picture-perfect panniers, or layers and layers of ruffled, pintucked, or embroidered petticoats.  While I would like to, in the end i'm kindof lazy when it comes to the under things - I go for the overall look and tend to use whatever means possible to achieve that.  Here we go:

Layer 1 - Bumpad.
This goes on first (over chemise, stays, anything else closest to the skin).  It's a crescent shape with three partitions, and ties around the waist.

Bumpad (this is showing the side back)
Layer 2 - The Puffer.  (technical term)
This ugly thing works wonders.  Seriously, it makes all the difference.  It's cheap pre-quilted fabric gathered into a waistband and tied around the waist.  It's a short length for no particular reason (could be longer, could have a massive ruffle attached), and it *really* adds the volume to the upper part of the skirt, to give that nice full shape.  I also wear this over my hoop skirt for mid-Victorian, to help achieve the bell shape of that period.

The Ugly Puffer, but this thing WORKS
Layer 3 - Petticoat.
This is a basic muslin petticoat, made just like the one in this tutorial.  It's floor-length, although I do pin it up sometimes if I'm wearing a walking-length skirt.  I wear this petticoat with pretty much everything, including over my mid-Victorian hoop skirts.

Pretty basic - ties on front and back with shoe laces
Layer 4, 5, 6, 7 - More Petticoats, if I had them.
I love the massively puffy skirts of the 18th c., so when I get off my lazy bum and make another petticoat, I will pile that one on as well.  Stack on the the ruffles, the cording, the pleats!

Top Layer - Your Skirt(s).
The last layer is what shows on the outside.  I almost always wear taffeta for 18th c. (or cotton), and this material also adds fullness to the overall look.  If you are wearing heavier materials, I recommend more petticoats or underlayer supports so that heavier skirt doesn't smoosh down your poof.

The taffeta skirt - might be a petticoat itself, for an open-front gown, or might pair it with a jacket.
And that's it.  It's about as paired down as it can be, and even when I look at photos now I think "I need to make more petticoats!"  Don't be afraid of the super-poof, ladies, it only makes your waists look smaller!  I hope this has been of some help, and as always, comments are welcome :-)
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Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Sunday, February 13, 2011

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The Pet at the "Winter Whites" Exhibition, Nevada Historical Society

This past Friday a contingent of costumed ladies and one whole gentleman attended the Nevada Historical Society's "Winter Whites" exhibition, a small display of gowns ranging from the 1890s through the 1960s, all in white, creme, and ecru.
This c. 1900 gown is made of pineapple fiber fabric, just like the stuff you can buy at Dharma  Trading Co.  Okay, maybe not JUST like, but very similar, including the lovely stripe.
A detail of the pineapple fiber gown.  Gorgeous!
1921 Graduation (high school) dress.  Lovely voile with lots of rufflies.
A detail of the 1921 gown.  It had quite a few snap closures and the construction was very much like older examples from the 19teens, with various under layers closing in various ways.
Impressive lacy 1900-1910s gown.
This was the stunner of the event - a 1962 "Supreme Queen of the Nile" gown.  I can see Audrey Hepburn mincing around in this.  The beadwork was out of this world.
I wore the pet en l'air, along with the taffeta petticoat, one big-ass cap, and in attendance was also the famous Pineapple Reticule (made by The Dreamstress).  The costume wore very well, no real problems except the ribbons in back might have been tied a little tighter.   ... oh, and my shoes were entirely inappropriate because my proper 18th c. shoes aren't here yet :-(.

I stuffed some tulle into the cap - too much?  Hahaha, that's quite a ridiculous profile!

BIG-ASS CAP!  I know this cap isn't quite appropriate for the "class" of cosutme I'm wearing, but it's the first cap I made and I ran out of time to make another.  I plan a cap in dotted swiss voile, and one in just regular ole plain voile, for the upper class clothing, but I still like this linen one very much.
Special thanks to the Nevada Historical Society and the Marjorie Russel Textile Museum, for putting on the exhibition and letting us espy (and photograph) more of their wonderful clothing collection.
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Friday, February 11, 2011

18th c. Shoes: Design Your Own

Time to be creative!  While we wait for updates to the new American Duchess 18th c. Shoes, I thought it'd be fun to draw up a little template that you guys can download and draw all over, to have some fun dreaming about colors, cockades, buckles, you name it.  Get your design just right and ready to go for when your shoes arrive!

It's analogue-style for now - markers, colored pencils, or a paint program on your computer (I use Adobe Photoshop).  Here's what it looks like blank:

Have fun!!
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Thursday, February 10, 2011

How To Make An 18th Century Petticoat

/Update: This tutorial is getting quite old! While it's still a goodie, for a more in-depth look at how to make an 18th century petticoat stitch-by-stitch in the historically accurate 18th century manner, please check out The American Duchess Guide to 18th Century Dressmaking./
The cool thing about 18th c. petticoats is that they have a special and awesome way of being both adjustable to the wearer, and including secret pocket-slits so you can access your secret hanging pockets.  Petticoats can be worn as underskirts, just on their own, or you can pile them up to create extra-huge puffy skirts.  They can also be worn for other big-skirted centuries.  So here's how to make one:

*NOTE: This tutorial is for petticoats worn over basic "round" skirt supports.  Panniers and pocket hoops call for a bit trickier construction.

Materials & Tools
  • 4+ yards of fabric - the more the merrier
  • measuring tape
  • needle & thread (of course)
  • iron
  • ties (ribbon, twill tape, shoe laces, etc.)
  • your dress form (if you do not have a dress form, you will need to have a friend help you)

Step One - Measure
Dress your form with all the underpinnings you plan to wear - bum pads, petticoats, all of it - and make sure the waist measurement on your dress form is set to your corseted waist measurement, and that the height of the dress form is your height + the shoes you plan to wear.

Hold the width of the fabric up to the waist, allowing it to fall naturally to the floor, over the skirt supports.  Allow about 1.5 - 2" extra past where you will hem, and make a cut length-wise.  With most fabrics (cotton, taffeta) you can then rip the fabric apart at that cut and be assured of a straight line along the grain.  For skirts will slight trains or that need extra length to fit over extra supports in back, you will want to do this cutting manually.

Step Two - Hem
Hem the entire length first, before you pleat.  At this point you still have one long piece of fabric.

Step Three - Section
An 18th c. petticoat has a front piece and a back piece, with seams at both sides.  Cut your fabric in half (fold edge-to-edge, find the center point, slice and rip.  You'll need to cut where you hemmed with scissors).  Now fold the halves in half again, find the center point, and mark each with a pin.  These will be the center of your back and the center of your front.

This is showing the finished petticoat, but you can see the open pocket slit
Step Four - Pocket Slits
At the top sides of each piece, double-turn a very narrow hem for a length of about 10" +.  Stitch.  These will form the openings for your pockets, and also allow you to get into the petticoat easily.

Step Five - Pleat
I like knife pleating, but box pleating is also a good method.  You are welcome to measure, do math, and mark where your pleats should go, but I do it more by feel.  If using knife pleats, pleat in the direction of the center mark, so you end up with a small inverted box pleat at the centers of your skirt front and back.

Quarter your waist measurement (waist/4).  This is the length each knife pleated section will need to be.  Mine came out to 6.5", so as I pleated towards the center, I measured and adjusted to 6.5".  In total, each side was 13".

Pin each pleat as you go, then run a basting stitch along the edge.  I also like to secure everything with a zig-zag stitch along the top edge.

Both sides pleated up - you can see the gap where the pocket slit is.
Step Six - Sew Up the Sides
Stitch up both sides of the petticoat, stopping where you've made the pocket slit edges (about 10"+ below the waist).  Reinforce this area.

Step Seven - Waistband
I like to create a waistband from a single piece, folded over the raw edge like bias tape - or just use double fold bias tape!  If you want it to match, though, cut a wide piece of your fabric, at least 3" or wider, and the length of your sections of the waist + seam allowance (so +1" if you are using 1/2" allowance).  I cut two strips 15" long, 2.5" wide.

Fold the strips in half length-wise, press, and then fold the edges in again and press.  This is just like double fold bias tape, but the waistband does not need to be cut on the bias.

With right sides together, match raw edges (so you are folding one edge out again) of the waistband strip to the pleated waist of the skirt.  Stitch, then turn the waistband up, along the center fold, over to the inside, and stitch on the inside.  I finish the inside by hand, for a nice clean edge on the outside, but you can also do it on the machine.

Before you stitch the ends of the waistband closed, you want to insert your ties.  I used ribbon, and wrapped a length around my waist, then cut that in half.  You want to be sure you have enough length of ribbon so that it can wrap to your back or front, and tie easily.   Insert the ties into the ends of your waistband and stitch closed.  Reinforce with a tight zig-zag stitch.

Getting Dressed
When you put on your new petticoat, first carry the ties from the back around to your front and tie.  Then, lap the front piece over the bow you just made, and tie in back.  You can leave the ties in back, or tuck them in.
*Note: tying in front and back like this makes the waist fit perfectly, whereas tying the ribbons together on the sides will limit how tightly the waist can be closed.

Tie in front first
Tie in back
Now you have a fresh new petticoat!  This is the basic method, and you can add ruffles, flounces, cut the length shorter, just be creative with future petticoats.  Remember, with 18th c. skirts it's all about the volume, so pile on the petties!
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Wednesday, February 9, 2011


New American Duchess Designs on

Hi all!  I'm happy to report that the "October Foxhunt" jacket I designed and uploaded to has sold out!  Yay!  Of course, I'd love to have another design produced by them, this time in USA-friendly sizing.  I've uploaded a couple lately - a Summer dress inspired by the 19teens, and a new Fall/Winter coat with 1930s Dieselpunk influences.  If you like these designs, please click through and vote on them, leave a comment, or share the link on Facebook or Twitter.  Each of these things helps rank the design high enough to get into prototyping.  Thank you!!!!!
VOTE for "Diesel Rose"
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Tuesday, February 8, 2011


My Pet (en l'air) Project - Progress

After fiddlage and fussling (technical terms), I think I've got this pet en l'air working.  I apologize for the lack of in-progress photos (new camera comes tomorrow!),  but I will show you the interior of this jacket in a future post.  For now, here are some photos of the almost-done pet:

Mostly done - needs trimming on the other sleeve, and also gold bows, yay!
Here's the back.  Depending on what happens on my actual body (since I am longer waisted than my dress form), I may add a line of boning on the side back there, where you see the wrinkle.
I have a petticoat to finish and a cap to make before Friday's "Winter White" exhibition at the Nevada Historical Society, to which I will be wearing this ensemble.  With the power of my new pineapple-reticule-sized camera I shall capture photos of pretty costumed ladies, mannequins in historic gowns, and myself in this outfit, so you guys can see the final thing on a body it fits, as opposed to my modern-shaped dress form.

Pleaty trim down the front edges and around the back of the neck.  Gold satin-covered buttons, and a comperes (false) front.  The buttons are functional.
Pleaty trim on the 3/4 sleeves.  I've since added golden bows to the top, where the seam is, and I might tack in some lace flounces to finish the look, but we'll see.

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