Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Introducing the "Georgiana" 18th Century Shoes by American Duchess

After months of work, finally the dream of our 18th century silk shoes has come to fruition.  The final sample pair arrived this morning and are absolutely beautiful!

The Pre-Sale opens Friday, April 1, 2011.  It's no April Fool's joke, I assure you!  Get ready, because pre-orders will open at midnight PST (West Coast USA) on www.American-Duchess.com.  Don't wait!  Those who participate in the sale will receive the special $85 price and be guaranteed their size.  For more information about how the pre-order works, click here.

Please Spread The Word
I must humbly ask for your assistance in getting the word out about these shoes.  We have to pre-sell a minimum 100 pairs of shoes in order to run the style.  If we fall short, everyone who has ordered will unfortunately be refunded 100% and there will be no pretty silk shoes.  With your help, though, we can achieve the goal and there will be beautiful shoes for everyone!

Please feel free to use the photos from this post to show your friends, costume societies, and re-enactor groups. Facebook, blog, tweet, share, repost, and help us get this line of Historical Footwear going!  The future of American Duchess Historical Footwear includes 18th c. dyable leather heels, Regency slippers, Edwardian pumps, and other styles of shoes that you the readers want, need, and can help design.

A pretty profile.  Wear the latches closed with shoe buckles, or rhinestone slide buckles, available in our shop in four styles.
For more information, please visit the "Common Questions" section of our new website.

US, UK, and EU Size information can be found in the "sizing" tab of the Georgiana's listing.

For quick ordering, you are welcome to register for a private account on www.american-duchess.com and add the shoes to your wishlist.

Yay for versatility!  Instead of buckles, loop the latchets and tie a pretty bow.
To read about this crazy endeavor from its inception, check out the "Shoes" tag, and see these pretty pumps evolve from sketch to finished product.

Comments and Questions are always welcome!
Read More

Monday, March 28, 2011


More Tea with Madame X - Progress on The Satan Bodice from Hell

...did I say satan?  I meant satin, really.  Or is it the same thing...

I'm starting with the most recent photo, because I'm too embarrassed to start by showing you the horrible ones!
Anyway, here I was thinking the bodice was coming along swimmingly on my Madame X, Sargent-inspired gothygown...until I put it on.

If only things looked as good on my actual body as they do on my dress forms.

This was the hellish demon spawn bodice I had a few nights back, with only one stay over the bust seam on the right side.
I realize I've gone about this all wrong.  I *should* have fused the satin to a backing like drill or even muslin, to stabilize it and keep it from buckling under stress, but I didn't.  Completely distraught about the whole mess, I went ahead and sewed the boning channels and stays onto each seam on one side only, to see if it was going to make any sort of difference at all (this was at about 3 a.m. a couple nights back), and to my glee, it did make a difference.  I also removed the bust pads, which were causing more funkiness than good.

Things were/are still a little buckle-y, sure, although I'm comforted ever-so-slightly by seeing the same sort of buckling in extant gowns (like this one)(and this one).  I know, I'm making excuses.  It's just really hard to go up against satan and win.

The bodice after quite a lot of work on the right side.  This is still before adding more stays and stability to the center front, and also, nothing on the left side except my total lack of modesty and a hot-pink bra. (just kidding, I really am a modest person, promise).
I've top-sewn some 1/4" channels around the sides, and down the front point, and may add more yet.  At this point it's so off the path of historical interpretation that I don't even care anymore.  It's "inspired by," and I'll be happy if I get it done and wearable for the event in mid-April.  More later!
Read More

Saturday, March 26, 2011

The Paperie - Custom Wedding Invitations by American Duchess

[/shameless self promotion]

I wanted to share with you guys another recent venture.  It's not related to costuming, but does have a feeble link to pretty dresses :-).  It's a new business in wedding invitation design, and all that such a thing entails.  I design invites, save the date cards, rsvp cards, thank you notes, place cards, really any necessary paper object for The Big Day.  Here are my first five collections, now listed in their own little shop on Etsy:

Click the images to see more views and information on Etsy.  If you are a bride-to-be shopping for invitations, I would love to work with you!  I am open to completely custom designs and am able to print digitally (most affordable), with offset printing, and also with letterpress, for maximum luxury.

To read more about how to order sample and invitation packages from me, please view my Custom Invitation Listing. 

[/end shameless self promotion]

Read More

Thursday, March 24, 2011

, ,

Tea With Madame X -or- A Start to A Goth-tastic Gown

Last week I put together a "quick and dirty" black satin bustle skirt to wear with my Steampunk outfits, but as all of you know, having a large quantity of black satin can put crazy ideas in one's head.

I decided I should go ahead and make a bodice to go with this skirt, and the first that popped into mind was the famous risque gown painted by John Singer Sargent, for the unforgettable "Madame X" portrait.

This is a lightened version, in an attempt to see what's going on with the bodice.
So why not?  This costume will be a fun ballgown for Victorian evening dance occasions, so I'm not much concerned with historical accuracy.  I want it to look the part, and of course I want to exercise my feeble craftsmanship muscles and maybe try some new things.

I studied Sargent's painting and saw that the bodice crosses in front, but most of the details are difficult or impossible to see, so I decided to go with a more straight-forward approach and do a simplified bodice with very curvy front seams.  We also can't see the back of the bodice, so I've made that up as well, keeping in mind the scandalous nature of this dress.

Jane wearing corset, boob enhancement, and the skirts.
First up was squeezing my compressible dress form into the right shape.  The bodice, for the purpose of draping, is strapless, which works well with Jane the Not-So-Uniquely-Me form, as she is fairly accurate everywhere but the shoulders.  I added the petticoat and bustle skirt as well (always work patterns over any undergarments or skirts, to account for changes at the waist).

Draping the front and side front pieces, with the pronounced curve over/around the bust
The side front seams curve quite a lot over the bust.  The side seams are also curved slightly to accommodate a flair at the waist.  The bottom of the bodice curves up rather sharply towards the back to help it sit nicely with the bustled skirt, and the top of the bodice back dips quite low.

Low back, very low back.  The jeweled straps will come in quite central, to help everything stay up
A quick toile and approximate pinning onto myself showed where things needed to be adjusted.  The plunging neckline was too low for even me, and the back edges needed to be reduced.  You can also see through all of this that my usual mid-bust Victorian corset will have to be replaced with something, er, much smaller.

Looooow front.  I raised it rather a lot.
pinching in a little excess at the center front, and you can also see my mark +3/4 to add to the neckline
A few quick adjustments to the pattern, and I was ready to cut fabric, but not before a solid plan of how exactly this thing was going to go together.

The muslin pattern traced out with seam allowances
I need the bodice to be very stable, to practically stand up on its own.  It also needs to not move at all, given the revealing lines, and with dancing that can be a problem.  Here's what I planned in layers, starting from the top-most satin, to the interior:

  1. black satin
  2. fleece padding layer
  3. bust pads (fleece & batting)
  4. 2 layers of muslin with boning channels
  5. staybelt at the waist
  6. interior stays in top-sewn channels, stitched to every seam allowance

With all this stability, it might be possible to wear the bodice as a corset itself, instead of over a separate waspie or underbust corselette.  /hopes

four layers of bodice pieces sewn together in two sets - the satin is interlined with fleece on every piece.  The red and white are two layers of cotton with boning channels sewn in.
Check out these busties.  I was having a Madonna moment, hahaha.  They are made from batting sandwiched in fleece, spiral sewn on the machine, and whipped to the fleece interior, to fill in the boob area.  Why did I do this?  Because I am not anywhere even remotely close to the shape of Madame X, and with a waist that only reduces to 26" on a good day, I figured I could use the help on the top too.
So at this point, the bodice is mostly sewn together, but is awaiting the back pieces, the staybelt, and interior stays on the seams as well as in the channels between.  The idea is that all this extra boning will straighten out the seams that you can see are currently buckling, and provide a fairly rigid understructure to keep everything smooth and secure.  As is the usual case with satin, it looks pretty much like a rumpled mess right now, but hopefully it will come out in the end and be a suitable homage to Madame X and John Singer Sargent :-).

The bodice in-progress, with the skirt.  The bodice needs boning to smooth out that warping, but it's looking on-target right now.
Ah, the joys of satin, but I'm expecting a lot of that to straighten out with the boning.  Also, some not-great matching up on the seams at the bottom, but that will be easily trimmed to the right shape and turned up with black bias for a nice clean edge.
Read More

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

, ,

1790s Wrap-Front Gown - More Progress

The front crossing.  The ties will meet with as-yet-existent ties on the sides.  I love the adjustability of the drawstring, too...one can go from modest lady to regency floozy in seconds!
I worked a bit on the 1797 voile wrap-front gown last night.  Read about the start of this project and my references in this post.

Last night's festivities included making the second half of the front, and also adding in a couple under-bodice pieces.  These aren't much of a bodice, just a couple straps that attach at the side seams and will be laced across the front of my really-old-ugly-and-shoddy Regency stays.

under-bodice pieces, no lacing holes yet, just pinned.
The gathered bust pieces need a little taming, and I plan to wrangle them with tiny invisible tacking stitches, to keep the sides from puffing out weirdly.

The back, now with both straps hand-sewn into place.  I did some adjusting with the angle of the straps, to get it to fit my actual shoulders (as opposed to my dress form's), although it may still be too wide
Next (and last) steps are to make up the loose-fitting sleeves, and to hem the skirts, which you see are too long now.  Then I can call this baby done, and move on to 1815 :-).

Please talk me out of leaving the train on the back of the skirt.  I love it, it's soooo pretty, but so impractical, especially for a day event on turf, and with crowds.  Oh but can't I just carry it around in my hand?
Read More

Monday, March 21, 2011

Historical Costuming vs. Historical Re-Enactment: What's the Difference?

A re-enactor would never be caught dead in modern sunglasses and inaccurate mary jane shoes
I'll be honest with you guys.  This morning I received a forwarded e-mail attacking me and my blog for not being historically accurate enough.  In Mary Spencer's own words, and all capital letters:


Aside from being hurtful and untrue, this does bring up a very good point.  What is the difference between historical costuming and historical re-enactment?

I am not a re-enactor.  I never have been.  It's not that I am not interested in history, but more that where I live I do not have any opportunity for 18th century re-enactment.  We do have Civil War groups, but I'm just not that into it, sorry!

An Edwardian lady, a soldier, and a cowgirl, all at one vaguely themed "Music Man" picnic in Alameda, CA
Costumers - Who We Are (at least out here in the West)
What we *do* have in my part of the world is a large and vibrant community of open-minded people who love to dress up in costume and dance.  These same people like to ride their bicycles around San Francisco wearing Steampunk clothing, like to play "urban golf" on the streets of Berkeley in 1920s and 30s sporting togs, like to invade historic landmarks for impromptu picnics.  Costume is always "admired but not required."

These people are costumers.  I am a costumer.  We are those who like to dress up in fashions of the past for fun.  We do it because it feels good to wear these clothes, because it's fun to make them, fun to learn about the history of dress in a hands-on way.  Some of us like to be theatrical, some more historically accurate, and some of us even don't give a care at all whether it's accurate or not, we just like it!

My good friend Clint put a lot of research and time into making his Elizabethan tailor's costume, but in the end it's about having fun, not about counting stitches.
Historical re-enactors, however, have within their very definition a responsibility to accurately portray history in everything they do, from the pots and pans they cook in, right down to the dead-head buttons on their coats, and the buckles on their shoes.  Re-enactors who sew almost always do so by hand, and try to specifically re-create the sewing methods and techniques that were used in the time period they are portraying, not just the overall look of a finished piece.  I have nothing but the highest respect and awe for this community of people.

I Am Not An Expert...nor will I ever be
But I'm not one of them.  And that's okay.  This blog started because I didn't know what the heck I was doing.  Through the last two years I have taught myself about 18th century costuming, and other periods as well, and done so by reading books, looking at historic patterns, studying museum garments, talking to people more knowledgeable than myself, and above all sewing.  These are the very same methods by which re-enactors become "educated," but the difference is in our motivations.

When I was making this costume, I was told publicly that clearly I knew nothing about 18th c. costume.  The jacket is scaled from a Janet Arnold pattern, the stomacher based on one in the KCI, the skirt is walking length, and the shoes are Fugawee.  All of these things I have learned about or learned to do since I started this blog in 2009.
Those of you who are re-enactors and read this blog, I hope you know that is has never been intended to be a source of historical accuracy for re-enactors.  I try to be accurate - I flatline, I scale historical patterns, I study textiles, trims, and construction methods, but I don't always get it right, and sometimes I don't care if it's right.  I want that dress to fit and look the part, whether the seams are hand sewn or not.

I will never apologize for learning as I go, and for sharing my successes, my failures, my discoveries, and my frustrations with you.

Very Sincerely,

Lauren R
American Duchess Blogger
Read More

Friday, March 18, 2011

, ,

1880s Bustle Skirt - It's Black, It's Shiny, It's Quick and Dirty

Playing dress up with a pseudo Victorian shirt and a velvet waist cincher
A very short time ago I found myself in a predicament, one that involved needing a black skirt to wear with my Steampunk stuff, and having just sold it off for another costumer elsewhere to enjoy.

I know it's sad that I only have one black skirt in my possession, but it's true.  I had about a week to make a new skirt, and true to form, instead of doing something quick and simple, I decided to use one of my favorite patterns, Truly Victorian TV261, to create something really over-the-top for Steampunk.

I couldn't find any affordable dupioni, so I did a bad, bad thing and went with black satin.  I know, satin is THE DEVIL, but it's so shiny and pretty and enticing!  So this being Steampunk I went with the satin, and why the heck not.  The plan for this skirt was to bust it out solidly but quickly.

And so I did.  I made the skirt in three evenings, complete with 88 inches of pleated trim which really didn't take that long, and finishes this particular skirt in such a nice fashion.  It's nothing special - all the seams are just zig-zag stitched on the inside, and did I mention it's satin?

White shirts and swiss waists are fun and all, but how about a matching black bodice?
The poufs are flatlined with net, which help it to stand out considerably, and also makes a crunchy noise when you move around.  The pleats on the hem need a nice velvet ribbon to finish the top edge (it's just selvage now). All in all, however, it fits, I think it looks quite sporting, and it will look good with Steampunk stuff.

'Course, I can't stop there.  Why not make a bodice?  Black shiny immediately made me think of Sargent's famous Madame X painting, so that is the tentative plan for a curvaceous 1880s bodice over a tightly laced corset.  Fun :-)

No, I will never look like her, but she inspires me :-)
Read More

Thursday, March 17, 2011


New Vintage Goodness in The Boutique

Last weekend's trip to Sacramento Towne brought back quite a few very lovely vintage items for the American Duchess Boutique on Etsy.

Among them were two great hats, vintage kid and doeskin gloves, three deco purses, some beautiful porcelain figurines, and some lovely items for your tabletop.

Some of these have been photographed and listed.  Some of them have already sold!  And some have yet to be photo'd and listed, but are coming very soon :-).  Keep your eye on the Boutique for more lovelies!

Sweetest little sparrow s&p
Gerard the Beagle
The Iron Horse...no really...
Pretty porcelain deco lady
Click on the photos to visit the item listings!
Read More

Tuesday, March 15, 2011


18th Century Shoes - The Second to Last Step

The shoe as it arrived, white in color.  I added the rhinestone tension buckle.
For those of you who have been following the production of the upcoming 18th c. shoes, here's an update for you!  It's been quite a trial, and I've learned several times over that patience is a virtue: these things cannot be rushed.

I felt bad about pushing the pre-sale date back so many times, but the shoes had to be perfect!  I would not present a product to you that was sub-standard.  Through five prototypes, delays, custom-made heels, fabric testing, and all kinds of weird communication problems, I am very happy to present to you the final prototype for the new shoes.

Right out of the bag
The prototype shoe arrived this morning, and I've spent all day playing with it.  First things first, I put it on, walked around, and found the fit to be accurate to my usual size (7.5).  The shoe is crazy comfortable too.  They've added a cushioned insole, and I did not experience any hot spots, rubbing, cutting, or uncomfortable squeezing throughout the day as I wore it around, which is really quite remarkable as I have very picky feet.

The shoe after I dyed it pink.
The next big test was to see if the fabric would dye.  I had a swatch sent along with the shoe, so just to see if it would take dye at all, I soaked a test piece in RIT dye for about 20 minutes, followed by a successful test dye on the shoe itself.

So what now?  I have approved this prototype and am now awaiting the production sample.  The difference is that the prototype was a close mockup of the final, but the production sample will show the full quality and proper materials.  This last shoe is what you will see when the time comes for ordering.

So bear with me just a little while longer!  The pre-order will be announced on this blog, on the American Duchess Facebook page, and on Twitter (AmericanDuchess).

Though it is pink in these photos, the shoe will come as a dyable white, able to be colored any hue.
Read More

Saturday, March 12, 2011

, ,

How To Make an 18th Century Wig from an Affordable "Costume" Wig

Earlier this week I espied on HalloweenCostumes.com a "Marie Antoinette" wig that looked surprisingly good.   My criteria for judging this goodness were the overall shape, color of the hair (it wasn't WHITE), but most importantly if this wig could form the base upon which to create a really great period styled wig.

Some of you will know that I posted a link to this wig on my Facebook fan page, and it sparked all kinds of discussion about period accuracy, quality versus pricing, "cheaping out," and if in this particular subject of wiggery, do you really "get what you pay for."  I am one of those who does not believe that you have to pay and arm and a leg to have nice things.  I'm also big on the D-I-Y, and I was eager to try out some new tips and tricks I'd picked up since my last adventure in Wig Wrangling.

Here's the image from HalloweenCostumes.com website
Let's start with the Marie Antoinette Wig fresh out of the bag, then I'll take you through the "how to" for how I altered it.

The Good
As mentioned above, the overall shape of this wig is pretty nice for 1770s pouf styles.  The hair comes up and off the face, with no bangs or ringlets framing the forehead, as is the sad case on almost every "costume wig" I've found for 18th c.  The curls of this wig are actually quite natural, and it's easy to fluff the hairstyle up and make it look pretty darn cute within a matter of minutes.  It is also easy to create more distinct ringlets just by twirling the hair around your fingers.

Here it is out of the package, a little fluffing, and I've removed the pink bows.
The Not-So-Good
These things aren't "bad," they just need altering.  The wig comes with pink satin bows on either side of the head.  These are glued on but can be pulled off easily and don't leave a gap or a mark.  Also, there are two ringlet curls hanging down by the ears, which to many people screams "18th century!" but they're not.  You can pin them up into the rest of the hair, or do what I did and just cut them off (but keep them for testing later, if you are going to work on this wig in the following tutorial).

Also, the wig only comes in platinum blonde, and I do not recommend the spray technique for taking the wig to a darker color.

The Eeek!
The wig is not WHITE, like most 18th century costume wigs, but it is very very platinum blonde, and very very shiny.  It's also a color very hard to match with hair extensions, if you are wanting to add more hair to your wig.

The Verdict
With just small alterations and a quick, light mist with an ivory colored spray paint this wig would look awesome and ready-to-go.  In its original state, it is the best option I have seen for anybody who wants to dress up in the 18th century style for a costume ball, Halloween party, masque, etc., who is *not* concerned with total historical accuracy and will wear the wig for fun.  It's cute, easy to wear, and at $22.99, an awesome deal.  Here's a bit about the store:

HalloweenCostumes.com also has a fun collection of Victorian costumes that are perfect for “Do-It-Yourself and Do-It-For-Less” costumers . With worldwide shipping, unique costumes, and a firm commitment to customer service, HalloweenCostumes.com is a perfect source for Halloween costumes and accessories that can be worn throughout the year.

For those on the journey of wig-creation of the historical variety, it's an excellent base from which to work.  But how do you get from THIS to THAT?

How to Make an 18th Century Wig from an Affordable Costume Wig
Yep, it's the same wig...
What You Will Need:
  • one "Marie Antoinette" wig from HalloweenCostumes.com
  • one package of long hair extensions/weave in the lightest blonde you can find
  • one can of off-white, or "blonde" spray paint in a satin or matte finish
  • needle and white thread
  • powder (opt) - talc, corn starch, flour, or baby powder (if you don't mind the smell)
Step One
Fluff the "Marie Antoinette" wig by holding it upside down and shaking it, and puffing up the curls with your fingers.  Remove the pink bows and cut off the dog-ear curls (keep these for testing later).

Fluff Me Please! And cut off my ears!
For my wig, I wanted two big rolls on each side of the head, so I worked the wig hair into these rolls and pinned them.  I also wanted a roll around the back of the head, above the ears, so again with my fingers and a rat-tail comb, I worked the hair into this shape, but did not need to pin it.

The side rolls, in the wig before spraying.
Step Two
Decide where to place the weave hair.  I tucked mine up under the roll around the back of the head, but it can be higher, lower, you decide.  Double or triple your sections of weave so you have enough hair in back.

Curl the weave BEFORE you sew it on, but when you do sew it on, this is what it looks like...
Next, if you have a straight weave, you want to curl it.  With synthetic hair you cannot use the curling iron, but you can roll the sections of hair up on large rollers (or small, if you want tighter curls), and dunk them in boiling water for approximately 15-25 seconds.  This gently "melts" the hair into place, and creates permanent curls.

Do this *before* you sew the weave onto the back of your wig, otherwise you'll end up melting parts of your Marie Antoinette wig, like I did (whoops.) 

Step Three
Once your curls have dried (blot them with a towel and use a hair dryer if you're impatient, like me), sew the bound top of the weave onto your wig, catching the wig cap with a whipstitch.

Your extensions will now be hanging down the back, and you may notice that the "Marie Antoinette" wig hair is poking through underneath.  Go ahead and trim this, and anything that is sticking out or not laying nicely.

Quite a difference in the color of the two hairs, but that will change soon...
At this point you will see that the platinum shiny wig and the more natural looking hair extensions are totally different colors, and something must be done to bring them together....

Step Four
SPRAY.  Bust out your can of spray paint and lightly mist all around the wig.  You don't want to concentrate the spray, because this will clump and look gnarly.  Spray the hair extensions as well as the wig itself.

After spraying - big difference from the picture above
*Note About Spray Paint:  This technique will make the hair look powdered and sculpted, most like the French court fashions of the 1770s.  For this particular wig, because of how light the synthetic hair is, I went with a color a little darker, but if you are spraying hair that is a dark color, you want a paint that is a couple shades lighter.  For a powdered look over darker hair, I recommend a light grey or ivory paint, and always start with a very light mist and build it up.

The finished wig from the side, but what I didn't realize is that as the paint dried, it got yellower and yellower - wish it would have stayed this color!
As you are spraying the wig, move the hair sections so the paint reaches the "roots."  Remember, you don't want to coat the wig, just alter the color and shine.  If you are unsure, do a test spray.  If I did this wig again, I would choose a less-yellow paint!

Step Five
Style.  At this point your wig is complete and you can pile all the feathers, bows, and hats on it that you like.  Let it dry first, and if the color or sheen needs to be altered more, add powder, then spray with strong hold hairspray.  If the color is funky, lightly mist it with a different color of spray paint - for instance, I will probably re-mist mine with a lighter off-white.

Now check out the difference!  The possibilities are limitless with how you can style a wig by using hair weaves and this affordable Halloween wig as a base.  Add more hair on top, more to the back, large rolls, you name it.  Remember, these techniques will create a powdered "sculpted" wig, and are not recommended for natural-looking hairstyles.

Too yellow, so I'll re-spray it with a whiter, less yellow, spray paint.
If you have any questions, please comment or e-mail me!  My first attempt at this is by no means awesome.  I definitely made mistakes, but I think this is something that takes practice, and I can't wait to try it again!  Comments, stories, suggestions are always welcome.  I love to hear what you guys have to say!
Read More