Tuesday, July 31, 2012


V213: Extant vs. Extent - What's the Difference?

"I'm an extant gown with a skirt of great extent"
In the historical costuming world, we talk and write a lot about original garments.  It's important to get the right terminology when referring to periods of dress, or parts of garments.  One of the most common terms, but also one of the most common terminology mistakes, is the word "extant."  "Extant, extent, what's the difference?"

A big one...

Extant - (adjective)
1. in existence; still existing; not destroyed or lost
2. Archaic. standing out; protruding.

Extent - (noun)
1. the space or degree to which a thing extends; length, area, volume, or scope.
2. something extended, as a space; a particular length, area, or volume; something having extension.

These definitions come from Dictionary.com, which also has a handy audio pronunciation to listen to.

So now you know! Don't get caught using the wrong words!
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Monday, July 30, 2012

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V212: Georgian Hair Hopping

Chris and I did a photo shoot the other night, for the clocked stockings pre-sale coming up in a couple days. I wore my new "Parisian Gown," and wanted to do a trial run of some high hair, before Costume College.

The front, powdered lightly with corn starch, using a large makeup brush.  You can't see a distinct grey color, but the powder helps to blend your real hair with extension hair.
I went all out with the teasing comb, and when it wasn't high enough, I added more hair on top.

I want to convey just how awesome and useful hair rats are.  For some stupid reason I have avoided them up until now, but really, they make *all* the difference in forming 18th century rolls.  They're easy to make too!  Just purchase some of that super-cheap braid hair from the beauty supply shop, and then scriggle it up between your hands until you have a little ball ofhair.  Make a bunch, then start your rolls with them.  You can pin into them, and they're invisible.  Yay!

Some of this is real hair, some of it isn't.
So a quick rundown of this style -

1. Curl your hair before you start.  Having a little curl helps with body and forming into rolls.
2. Section your hair into 3 parts - front, crown (back/top of head), and back.
3. Tease the bejeezles out of the crown section, then roll forward over either bump-its, or a huge rat.  Pin.
4. With your snazzy new small rats, roll the back section of your hair into two or three rolls, stacked atop one another, up the back of your head.
5. Tease the front section of your hair and smooth it up and back.  Spray everything as you go along.
6. If your hair just isn't high enough, add a switch or half-wig to the top of your hair, and work it into several rolls, again with the rats.
7.  If you want a tail out the back or side, either pull some of your own hair out, at the nape of your neck, with a rat-tail comb, and curl it, or clip in an extension piece.
8.  Add flowers, birds, feathers, lace cappy things, pearls, whatever you like to finish the look.

Don't forget to pin at will and spray everything to keep it in place!

The back.  I added roses where there was a break between the front pouf and the back rolls.

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Sunday, July 29, 2012

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V211: I Like Big Bustles and I Cannot Lie

It is rather like an insect carapace, isn't it.
Last Friday night, I took a class with the industrious Mary Crawley, leader of the local Steampunk club, High Desert Steam, to learn how to make this clever, collapsible, wire bustle.

Modeled after an example from the V&A, this bustle is constructed of 6 struts, a cross piece, twill tape, and elbow grease.
Here is the effect it has on a bustle skirt.
We made ours out of wire coat hangers, straightened then bent into consecutive arcs, and threaded onto the wire cross piece.  With Mary's help, it took about 2 hours to complete the whole thing, start to finish, and now I have a lightweight, rather large bustle to put under future 1880s costumes.  Yay!
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Saturday, July 28, 2012

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V210: Sugarpine Living History Day 2012, and 1933 Vintage Vogue Dress

As promised, here are pics from today's lovely event at the Ehrman Mansion, Sugarpine State Park, Lake Tahoe.
Our Great Basin Costume Society group - Oscar, Debbie, Baby Autumn, Sarah, Maridy, Carolyn, and yours truly.
Debbie and me next to one of the lovely cars befitting our era.
Mr. and Mrs. Sessions, with vintage baby Autumn
My dress all finished, paired with so-so hair.  Always a pleasure when one's hair doesn't dry overnight, and drastic measured must be taken the next day, lol.
I finished the 1933 Vintage Vogue 2671 just in time, and even though I feel I didn't do a very pristine job, I like how it turned out a lot, and it was comfortable to wear.  I paired it with a pink silk slip I made a few years back.
Finished Vogue 2671, with my alteration to the neckline.  I also shortened the skirt considerably.

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Friday, July 27, 2012


V209: 1933 Vintage Vogue 2671 Throwtogether

In the midst of all the mad sewing for Costume College (next week!), I thought I'd put together a simple "recharge" dress for a 1930s picnic tomorrow.

So then why did I choose anything Vogue. (rhetorical question)

I've made Vogue 2671 before, also in a sheer fabric, and I can't for the life of me remember why I didn't keep the dress, but I recall it being pretty and I liked it, a long long time ago.

This time around I used a sheer polka dot I originally bought for a Regency gown, but found not suitable because the dot is printed rather than woven.  What was inappropriate for the Regency was perfect for the 1930s, so I set to work on this pattern, planning to fell all the seams.

Stupid pattern.  It's not simple by any means.  I despise Vogue's love of lapping seams and top stitching.  It takes for flippin' ever and doesn't really look all that great.  On the sheer, it was just a pain.
This tubular dress doesn't really fit Millie the Dressform, but hangs much more nicely on  a real body.  Also, there is no slip on beneath the dress here.
Despite my issues with Vogue patterns, though, the dress came out pretty decently.  I remembered from the first make that the sheer fabric didn't really work with the button closure at the neckline, so I changed that to a big floppy bow tie.

My alteration with the bow tie.
I plan to wear this over a pink vintage style slip, but I like the idea of wearing it over any colored slip, to give different effects.  I'll have photos from our picnic to post soon. :-)
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Thursday, July 26, 2012

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V208: 1770s Chapeau de Paris Sketches

I'm winding down the Parisian Gown (at least the gown part of it), and realize I need an awesome hat to go with it.

No ordinary bergere will do - I want a big-ass-poufy-cloud-of-feathers-and-cake sort of hat.  So I looked at the images of hats saved in my 1770s Pinterest Board, and came up with a few designs I like...

My plan is to purchase a simple straw hat base from Michaels Crafts, and then cut the brim down to the small brims I keep seeing on these '70s chapeaux.  The crown will be covered in something poufy, and I'll wet-set the flip up in back, after applying any brim-trim.

Wish me luck!
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Wednesday, July 25, 2012

V207: August Call For Sponsors

Hi Lovelies! Do you have a business you think would benefit from advertising here on American Duchess?

How about trying out a banner for the month of August (or 30 days from time of purchasing the spot), to see how your traffic increases?  I've created several different options - large to small - for any price point, so you can test your market.

The American Duchess blog benefits from daily postings, rich content, and broad, international social connections. Articles cover historical costuming, sewing, and re-enactment of all periods, particularly the Georgian, Victorian, and Vintage 20th Century.

July 2012 Stats:

  •  61,735 Page Views 
  • 11,446 Unique Visitors 
  • 5200 combined Blog Subscribers, Facebook Fans, and Twitter Followers
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Tuesday, July 24, 2012


V206: Please Vote - What Is The Circumference of Your Calf?

Why am I asking this?  Well, I'd like to learn the average calf size of you lovely ladies interested in purchasing Tavistock button boots, and other future boot styles.  I want to achieve the best fit possible, and it's no small feat (hehe, get it?) fitting button boots across the board.

So please participate in this nifty poll.  Stand flat on the floor, barefoot, and measure up 9 inches.  Then take the circumference of your calf at that point, and select the closest size in the poll.  If you come in somewhere between number, round up.  Here's a diagram on how to measure:

Thank you SO much!
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Monday, July 23, 2012

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V205: Nearing Completion for the Parisian Gown

I've been working holes into my fingers over the past week, trying to complete shiny new costumes for Costume College, the first weekend in August.
I have her on my non-historical dress form, so please excuse the wrinkles in the bodice.  The skirt is just pinned in the poufs, but will be drawn up with cords, underneath.
The striped robe a l'Anglaise, now named "The Parisian Gown," has given me trouble, but I'm slowly working my way through it.  The sleeve issues aside, this fabric is just stupidly hard to sew through by hand - I mean, the needle literally squeaks when you pull it through (with pliers, of course).  I'll be happy to see this one done.
The skirt down - the serpentine trim makes attaching the skirt at front a challenge, because those panels have to be straight at the top, not pleated.  This type of trim works much better on a wide silhouette, with panniers, than a rounder silhouette.
Issues though it may have had, I'm really happy with how she's turning out.  I plan to make a matching petticoat, though probably not in time for CoCo.  I think it will look elegant with the skirt worn down, or a la polonaise, either way.  I'm really happy with the volume in the gown skirt, and the way it poufs when hitched up.  I have yet to tame the pleats and secure them on the interior, but that's next on the checklist.

Details - the sabot cuff, which also serves as an extension for the sleeves, that turned out shorter than I like.  The trim on the bodice and skirt is made from super long lines of cross-cut self fabric, ruched and pressed.  Again, please excuse the wrinkles in the bodice, as this is not my historical dress form.
I added a tiny gusset at the underarm seam of the sleeve, giving the sleeve head more ease.  Thanks to all you wonderful ladies who helped me with sleeve advice! They fit much better now!

I have just the finishing of the pleats at the waist, the hem of the skirt (oh goody), the second sabot cuff, and one more little line of trim at the waist to do, then...then it's done! Yay!
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Sunday, July 22, 2012


V204: Repro Vintage Butterick Pattern Haul

Okay, so maybe Butterick patterns were on sale for 99 cents at JoAnn's the other day, and...and maybe I bought a whole bunch of Vintage Butterick reproduction patterns.

I have a weakness...for 99 cent patterns, sure, but also for the vintage repro patterns that Simplicity, Vogue, and Butterick produce.  I don't usually go for Butterick patterns - fit funny on me - but there were just so many cute ones I couldn't resist!  I would have bought MORE if they'd had them all in my size packet.

can never go wrong with 50s dresses, as if I don't have enough patterns for them...
The problem is that I have a lot of these, and more than I'm showing you here.  I have at least 6 Vintage Vogue patterns, several vintage Simplicities, and a whole mess of genuine vintage patterns, mostly from the 50s.  I've only ever made up two of the repro patterns!  I keep buying them, then not making them into dresses!

I'm getting more into the 40s lately.  I don't have many original 40s patterns, so I thought I'd try these out.
Time to change that!

I also got the Butterick fitting shell.  I read about fitting shells in The Perfect Fit: The Classic Guide to Altering Patterns, and a little online.  Basically the fitting shell is the master pattern block for Butterick.  Vogue also makes one - apparently it's exactly the same.  You are supposed to fit this thing to you, following the adjustment guide in the instructions, record all your alterations, then make those same alterations on every Butterick pattern you sew with henceforth.

Hello, 1990s.
I'm planning to use it as a general fitting block for future patterns I make myself.  I hope it will be handy, especially when working out the armscyes, sleeveheads, and collars.

So now I've got all these new patterns...guess I'd better start sewing!
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Saturday, July 21, 2012

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V203: New Dress Design: Robe Royaliste

I don't have enough 18th century gowns.  I have jackets and things, and I do love jackets, but when it comes to full gowns, I have, like, one (soon to be two).

So time for a new one!  I found some lavender taffeta online and thought it would make a great 1790s roundgown, paired with a huge black silk sash, and giant black Gainsborough hat.  I'm not settled on the style, but here are my initial sketches:

This gown will be "Robe Royaliste," if we were in France in 1790.  Both the purple and the black were royalist colors, and add in a little green or yellow and the statement would be obvious!

I've been perusing fashion plates from Dames a la Mode, to find some inspo.  All of these would also be Royalist gowns, in France, and will help decide a final design for my Robe Royaliste:

Journal des Luxus, April 1792.  I adore this, the gown, the hat, the belt.  I like the interesting combo of redingote and gathered front, like a gaulle.
Journal des Luxus, 1791
Undated (but probably 1792) by Ann Frankland Lewis
Other inspiration....
From Kyoto Costume Institute - not a fashion plate, but one of my favorite 1790s gowns, and would be a savvy design for what I'm thinking.
George Romney Unknown lady, ca. 1786. - with the redingote collar and button cuffs.  The front looks gathered...?  A little earlier than my target dates.
From LACMA, the back of their stunning 1790s redingote.  I adore the huge mannish collar(s) on this one.
Marie Louise Elisabeth Vigée Le Brun. Marie-Louise of Bourbon-Sicily. 1790 .  I like the idea of redingote details, but I want the skirt to be closed.  The gathered-bust and long sleeve gaulle styles are also enticing, if the taffeta I bought will work that way.

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Friday, July 20, 2012


V202: Small Biz Betties: Starting and Maintaining a Blog

Hello again, and welcome to Small Biz Betties, where I share my experience in setting up a small, online costuming/crafting business.  This week let's talk about setting up and maintaining your most important internet presence - your blog.

Blogs are brilliant for so many reasons.  They allow you to share with the world news about your business, yourself, projects, anything, and offer great ways to build your brand as well as your audience and potential customer base.

Before you start a blog, think about how it will fit into your business.  Think about...
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Thursday, July 19, 2012

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V201: How To Make a Hedgehog Hairstyle With Your Own Hair

The late 18th century "hedgehog" hairstyle is one of the easiest coifs to create, though is can seem daunting at first.  You can create this style on wigs or hairpiece, but also on your very own hair, and here's how:

You will need:

  • Chin-length or longer hair  (if you are using your real hair)
  • Setting lotion (like Lotta Body)
  • Curlers
  • A variety of brushes
  • Teasing comb or brush
  • Hairspray
  • Hair extension

1) First, curl your hair.  I find that a wet-set works the best because you want a very strong, tight curl.  Wrap your hair in the smallest curlers you have, then let it dry - sleep on it, or sit under a hood dryer until completely dry all the way through the curl.

2) Brush out the curls - I start with a regular brush with plastic brushy-bits, but then to go super fluffy, I use a bristle brush.

3) Next, start teasing/back combing your hair.  I like to use either a teasing bristle brush, or a rat-tail comb.  The goal here is to tease the base of the hair, and leave the curly ends in tact.  You are forming a matted, full rat over your scalp, upon which the curls will rest.

For big-ass volume, you can use rats, bump-its, or any height-inducing device, and work your hair over it.   Be sure to spray the heck out your hedgehog - upside down works great, to maintain height.

Tease, and add an extension
4) Lastly, pin or clip in an extension piece, for the long tail ladies often wore with hedgehog styles.  I like to use hanks of ponytail hair, or braid hair, found at Sally Beauty Supply (any local beauty supply will have them).  You can go for a single curl, a double curl on each side, a cadogan loop (you need very long braid hair for this), two straight hanks on each side, a straight hank down the back - lots of possibilities and opportunities to customize your 'hog.
The Finished Look
5) Now add your hat, head wrap, flowers, giant bow, whatever you like, and you're done!
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Wednesday, July 18, 2012

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V200: Redingote Portraits of Win

I love the 1780s and 90s, particularly the mannish styles, like the Redingote.  Something about those big collars and buttons, paired with big-ass Gainsborough hats - YUM!
Lady in Light Blue Gown by Jean-Baptiste Soyer, circa 1790
Maria de Ron von Breda
Portrait of Anna Lopukhina-Gagarina - 1792 - Jean-Louis Voille
Jean-Louis Voille Portrait of Elisaveta Alexandrovna Demidov 1791-92

I ordered some lavender taffeta to pair with black accessories, to make a 1790s something-or-other, probably a sweet redingote, I'm thinking. :-)

'Course, all this after all the other things currently on the cutting room floor. Ha!
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Tuesday, July 17, 2012

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V199: Georgian Man Candy

Oh, I know you're disappointed this post isn't about sexy, be-wigged gentlemen on the 18th century.  It's about the kind of bling a man would have worn on his shoes (shoes, of course!)

Or rather, bling a man *did* wear on his shoes.

I snagged another epic Georgian shoe buckle on eBay, a gorgeous steel and paste stone piece I thought would be splendid to use as a prototype for a new rhinestone buckle in le shoppe.

When it arrive, I was really surprised at how friggin' HUGE it was!  Oh sure, it fits the American Duchess shoes, but the thing is MASSIVE!

That's because this was a man's buckle of the first half of the 18th century.  How can you tell?  Men's buckles, as we see, are large, and rather flat.  Whereas the curve over the top of the foot for a ladies', or gentleman of small foot, is rather pronounced, for a large man's buckle, the top of the foot is much broader, and thus the curve far less pronounced.

Buckles came into fashion in the 17th century, and like everything else during this ostentatious period, were meant to make a big statement.  We start to see buckles shrink in size (though remain just as blingy in design) in the second half of the 18th century, as tastes moved away from the over-the-top Rococo, to a more Classical aesthetic.  Edit: Sharon noted in the comments below that men's buckles get quite large again near the end of the 18th century, and it does appear so when searching the Met and V&A examples.  So these could be early, they could be late - any ideas on other means of dating them?
The antique on th left, and Fleur buckles from le shoppe on the right.  What a difference!
So...this thing is so big, as is, it won't suit for our ladies' shoes, but perhaps a ladies' version is in the future.  The design is quite simple and charming.  For now, into the collection this one goes. :-)
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Sunday, July 15, 2012

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V197: Summer Tea at Carolyn's

Today I attended a delightful Summer Tea, hosted by Carolyn and Debbie of the Great Basin Costume Society.

There were lots of lovely things to eat, and lovely people with whom to converse.

It was tentatively a "costume tea," but with no specific era, so I went 1940s and tried some victory rolls.  Here's how that went...

The End.
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Saturday, July 14, 2012

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V196: Bastille Day Sale, July 14-15 - Vive La France!

Today and tomorrow, all 18th century items in the American-Duchess.com shop are on sale for 25% off.  That includes Pompadours, Kensingtons, and Pemberlies, as well as Fleur and Dauphine shoe buckles.

"Joy was in all hearts, the enthusiasm was indescribable. The oldest inhabitants of the city do not ever recall having seen a similar fête, so brilliant and complete."Anonymous

"How much the greatest event it is that ever happend in the world! and how much the best!" - Charles James Fox (1749-1806) on the fall of the Bastille, 1789

Photography: Chris Stowell
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