Wednesday, October 31, 2012

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V303: How To Create Flapper "Doll Eye" Makeup

Today's tutorial is inspired by several things - primarily Bette Davis and Clara Bow, and their ridiculously huge eyeballs, but also a blending of original flapper smokey eye makeup, and 21st century Japanese "Gyaru" style makeup - AKA, creepy doll eyes.

Publicity photo of Clara Bow for Argentinean Magazine. (Printed in USA)
The idea with this look is *not* to be dead-on historical, but to give your eyes the illusion of being crazy huge with the magic of makeup.  I'm not a makeup expert by any means, but I found this look pretty easy to put together.  You can do it too! ... here's how...

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Sunday, October 28, 2012

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V300: Vintage Stockings, 20th Century

from Wearing History - 1939-40 - novelty stockings
The other night at the Bomber Girl's Pageant, I was asked if we carried vintage style seamed stockings in the A-D shop.  I had to tell the lovely girl no, but it got me thinking...maybe we should.

You'll all be excited to know that I've got several fine 20th century shoe styles planned for 2013, and we're even starting early, with the perfect 1920s t-strap spectators, "23Skidoo," which will be available on pre-order in about a week.

Wearing History - 1933
So why not some proper vintage stockings to go with them?  I know seamed stockings are available online in plenty of places, but there is a difference between what's available now, and what was *actually* worn in the 1920s and 30s.

For one, stockings were silk or rayon, not nylon, which came into being in the late 1930s.  They came in a variety of colors, but the seam up the back more typically matched the stocking color, rather than being black or red or some other risque choice.
Vintage Dancer - 1927
Cuban heels were around, as well as Manhattan heels, double-point heels, French heels.  These were to be found on "fully-fashioned stockings," which are stockings that have lisle-reinforce heels and toes, no lycra or stretch, and, of course, need to be held up with garters.

Via - I think these are all just 1920s novelty stockings that are claiming to be from different eras.  Those silly flappers!

These vintage styles are hard to come by, and apparently only a few manufacturers in the world make them.  I'm determined to find out more about these, though, and perhaps carry them in the store, so when you order your 23Skidoos, your Gibsons, your Claremonts or Rosemonts, you can add a pair of perfectly period and proper stockings. :-)
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Friday, October 26, 2012

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V299: Real WWII Bomber Girls

Today is the Battle Born Day's Bomber Girl Pageant.  I'm getting my '40s on right now, and will be dancing the night away, and hopefully impressing the pageant judges with my authenticity, at the USO swing dance tonight.
P-51 Mustang

So let's remember the real "bomber girls" of World War II - those painted on the sides of, well, bombers. ...
(Some of these images may be NSFW...)
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Wednesday, October 24, 2012

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V297: Review: Litttle Bits 18th Century Makeup Products

For those of your interested in 18th century makeup - recipes, application, general wear - you'll  be pleased with Litttle Bits Clothing Company's line of Georgian beauty products for the face.

I had a chance to try out the lip salve, hair and face powder, and cheek rouge while in Colonial Williamsburg.  Here are my experiences...

Here I am wearing Litttle Bits rose lip balm, and the lavender face powder
1772 Tinted Rose Balm Lip Salve
This stuff is pretty great.  It's Georgian chapstick, and kept my lips from going dry (I'm a chapstick addict).  It smells good, and doesn't leave a weird sticky residue on the lips.

Made with rose water and alkhanet root, the balm is slightly colored with a rose hue.  It will give you just the slightest hint of color, but you have to put quite a lot on if you want a deeper tone.  I found it worked really well with just the slightest dab of lipstick applied to the lips, then the balm rubbed over.

The balm comes in a little tin that is easy to slip in your pocket.  I would definitely recommend this to 18th century ladies who need to keep their lips from chapping.

18th Century Lavender Hair and Face Powder
I will admit I was wary of this product at first, because (and this is just me), I hate lavender.  That majorly bummed me out, because I *really* wanted to give the powder a try, so I bit the bullet and popped the can open, and much to my surprise, the smell of lavender is not at all overwhelming.

So I gave it a try on my face, over the top of regular, modern foundation, and I found the effects very lovely. It leaves a nice, silky, matte finish.  I also tried the powder on my hair, and was pleased with the effects as well, though it's good that you get 3.5 ounces, because it takes quite a lot of powder to do the hair fully (In the photo, I have applied some of this powder, but also sprayed my hair with modern aerosol temporary hair color)

Wearing the lip balm and the lavender powder.  The blush on my cheeks is modern.
I would recommend the hair and face powder, to be sure, even for weirdos like me who don't care for lavender.

1772 Liquid Rouge and Blush
I was most excited to try the Liquid Rouge from Litttle Bits, to get that period look and be oh-so-authentic.  The rouge stays true to the original recipe, with alkhanet root, alcohol and benzoin root, rosewood oil, spearmint oil, and with the addition of vitamin E.

I applied my usual makeup base, then dipped into the rouge, rubbing the rose-colored liquid into my cheeks, but nothing happened, so I thought perhaps there was something I was missing.  I wrote to Litttle Bits to ask, and here's what a found out.  Ladies! If you are using or planning to use this product, here are some things you need to know...

For the rouge, you must apply it over clean skin, without any foundation makeup on.

The rouge soaks into the skin, dries, and then brings out the color.  It will tingle and feel a little funny while it dries.  Litttle Bits recommended that the rouge be dabbed on, not rubbed in, and for a bolder color, you may want to apply several coats.  This process gives a blotchy appearance, similar to the ruddy complexions seen on ladies in 18th century portraits.

This rouge is not for everyone.  Reenactresses, you will like it, because it is one of the authentic ways that women rouged their cheeks 240 years ago.  Theater gals, and general costumers, you may be less excited about it, because it does give an appearance that is a bit removed from our modern sensibilities, and it cannot be worn with other foundation makeup.
If you would like to try Litttle Bits' makeup products, they can be found in her shop, along with lots of other cool things, on Etsy: Little Bits
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Tuesday, October 23, 2012


V296: Victorian Christmas...Stuff

With the holidays looming, it's time to think about what the heck to wear for all the fun Victorian Christmas events.  I've been spending 2012 building up my 18th century wardrobe, but sadly neglecting my Victorian.  I have one mid-Victorian dress, but it's really a summer frock, and that just won't do for snowy December.

I have a plan, though! I made a skirt out of some black-ish plaid "Homespun" brand fabric from JoAnn's, a couple years back, and I set aside a little chunk of it for a someday-bodice.  That someday is now. :-)

This is the skirt made out of the black plaid fabric.
Do I have enough? No clue.  I may need to get pretty crafty with what yardage remains, but I'm betting I can squeak out a simple bodice from this pattern:

The purple bodice, but minus the puffs on the sleeves.
Seems like a quick project.  Let's hope!  I have plenty of time, of course - my 10 yards of silk brocade for the LACMA Sacque-ma is backordered and won't be ready for at least a month and a half.  In the meantime...Victorian Christmas Stuff. :-)
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Monday, October 22, 2012

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V295: Victorian Plastic - Yes, Victorian; Yes, Plastic

Ever since learning about plastic injection molding of the 1870s, I've been gnawing on the idea of Victorian plastics.  It seems like an oxymoron - we all know plastic is a 20th century invention, right? - but while the first fully synthetic plastic was Bakelite, invented in 1907, plastics derived from natural materials had been around for a good half a century before.

Plastic boot buttons

I recently acquired some original boot buttons from who-knows-when.  They could be as old as the 1860s, as young as the 1920s, but are most likely from 1890s-1910s.  They are plastic, with a metal shank, and surprisingly strong.  I did break one, though, and the material inside was...weird...but...indeed plastic.

So, here's a little run-down of what plastics existed and some of the things they were used for pre-1900.  And next time some snark gives you trouble about the plastic buttons on your Victorian bodice, you can give them a nice send off with these little gems:

Bois Durci - invented 1855, used until post WWI.  This plastic is made of ground wood and either egg, gelatine, or blood albumen for the binder.  Items were press molded, and included such things as picture frames, belt buckles, brooches, clocks, paper weights, figurines, and purses.

A bois durci paperweight

Parkesine - patented 1862, but was unstable, and few items remain.  Parkesine is an early form of celluloid, and produced such items as knife handles and commemorative medallions.  Very few examples remain and are difficult to identify.

Think that antique comb is tortoise shell? Think again - it's celluloid
Celluloid/Xylonite - patented in 1869, still used today minimally.  Celluloid was originally used as an ivory replacement, to make billiard balls.  It was also used to make cheap jewelry, dolls, picture frames, hat pins, buttons and buckles, pens, knife handles, and many other small items.  It was often referred to as "French Ivory," or "Ivorine."  Xylonite, identical to celluloid, was the trade name for the British Xylonite Company Ltd., which still trades today.

A vulcanite brooch

Vulcanite/Ebonite - process first used in 1839, and still in use today.  Vulcanite is made from hardened rubber, through a process of heating the rubber with sulpher.  It was very popular and widely used for imitation jet jewelry, as well as false teeth (weird).

Other old forms of plastic:
Gutta Percha - a naturally occurring rubber-like substance.
Casein - made from skimmed milk, lactic acid, and formaldehyde.
Shellac - made from the secretions of the Lac beetle.
Union - made from shellac and additional fillers.

So there you have it - Victorian plastics used for all manner of things.  So when you're deciding on your hair combs, brooches, and buttons for your next Victorian costume, don't be afraid of the plastics!  If it looks like ivory, horn, bone, toirtoise shell, mother of pearl, or jet, you're all good. :-)
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Sunday, October 21, 2012

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V294: LACMA Sacque-Ma Fabric on the Way!

So I was able to order the silk brocade fabric for my new obsessive project, the LACMA Sacque-ma.  I feel'm now part of a special club of historical costumers who sew with silk.  I know, shocking it's taken me so long, but this will be my *first* all-silk gown.

Silk brocade from
No really.

The only way I could justify the expense was to sell a couple older costumes, and I have more old costumes to sell (because the trim isn't purchased yet, ha!).  It's costume recycle!  Like when you take your soda cans to the magic money machine, then spend the money on more soda...

Metallic trims from Tinsel Trading.  These are expensive, but I think I can find something more affordable and that does the job at my local Mill End.

I got 10 yards.  It's 44 inches wide (boo, don't we all hope for 60?), and I plan to use inexpensive fabric on the back of the petticoat, so that saved a little.  Let's hope I've done my math right.
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Saturday, October 20, 2012

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V293: Finished Project: Indienne Print "Curtain-Along" Gown, 1780

I finished my "Curtain-Along" dress in time to wear to Colonial Williamsburg, but it rained the day I had planned to wear it, and only donned it for a couple hours, so I thought it a swell idea, given the beautiful Fall colors outside this time of year, to take some nice photos.

Mr. Chris and I went to our favorite local park and took a few snaps.  I wore the skirt of the gown down, and dragged it mercilessly through wet grass and dirt, but yay for cotton! it washed right out.  I like to see wear and tear on my gowns - Maggie and I call it "patina" - as I think it adds "life" to the dress, or the idea of age and use and authenticity.

The hedgehog hairstyle is done with mostly my own hair - the ponytail down the back is added on with two hanks of "ponytail" hair from the beauty supply.  I sprayed just the front of my hair with a spray-on silver color, but it came out too sparkly and shiny for my liking, and I much prefer the white spray color, to mimic powdering.

We were almost a *bit* early for the Autumn colors, but I liked the mix of green and reds, oranges, and yellows, the "transitional" rather than the full-on (that is another photoshoot, with another dress, another day!).  I was happy to see the Virginia creepers in full fire - absolutely my favorite sort of vine, so much so I crawled into it for a snuggle.

For accessories, I tried a beret originally made for Regency styles.  I took my new historical-dog-headed cane (not pictured), and wore red silk clocked stockings with black Kensington shoes, and Dauphine shoe buckles.  You can get the stockings, shoes, and buckles in my shop -

I'm really happy with how this dress turned out. I feel like it's the first dress I've really ever gotten it "spot-on" with, in terms of fit.  I can actually raise my arms, such a novelty!

For those of you lovelies who are also making Curtain-Along garments, please post links to your finished or in-progress projects! I would love to see the creative ways you used the fabric. :-)
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Friday, October 19, 2012

Thursday, October 18, 2012

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V291: New Project: LACMA Sacque-ma

Well, it's happened again.  You will know what I speak of.  I've bumped into a dress that I simply *must make.*

It's this one, from LACMA:

LACMA Collections Online - Robe a la Francaise, 1765, England

I've never been a fan of the Robe a la Francaise, but something about this one has me out fabric shopping and dreaming of silver passementarie.  I found this similar silk brocade at :

The original dress is silk faille, with a woven dot, and embroidered or woven with large silver floral sprays.  I'll have to compromise on the faille (wow, expensive) and the embroidered florals - my embroidery skills, particularly with bullion, aren't up to snuff, and it would take me, like, the rest of my life anyway.

Janet Arnold, Patterns of Fashion 1 . Very very similar, even has the comperes button front.
The nice thing about sacques is that there are plenty of patterns and information available.  I will most likely use the pattern in Janet Arnold's Patterns of Fashion 1: Englishwomen's Dresses & Their Construction C. 1660-1860.

I've dubbed this someday-soon project "The LACMA Sacque-ma."  More to come, I promise you!
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Wednesday, October 17, 2012


V290: Hello, Baby

Probably 1850-1855
Attributed to: William W. Kennedy (1818-1885) Acc. No. 1931.100.7

Well, today my niece London was born.  Happy literal day of birth to her. :-)

I have maniacal plans to be London's "Auntie Maime", the eccentric and fun relative with a house full of curiosities, and an endless trunk of dress up clothes.  I'm not sure how "weird" she'll think me, though - her dad (my brother) is a *far* stranger creature.

We're off to the hospital to see London today, so I leave you with this weird American folk portrait, from the Dewitt Museum in Colonial Williamsburg...
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Tuesday, October 16, 2012

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V289: Where to Wear - How To Throw Your Own Costume Events

Ladies attending the 2012 Titanic Memorial Tea, at a local tea shoppe called The Isles
Hi All! Today I'm going to answer another question I get often - where to wear the splendid creations we as historical costumers just can't stop ourselves from making.  Most often the issue is that there doesn't appear to be a costumer's club, group, guild, or society, in your area, but never fear, I'm here to help you get such a thing going.

When I moved back to my home town of Reno, Nevada, in 2009, I was determined to start a costumer's club similar to the ones I enjoyed so much in the San Francisco area.  It seemed like a daunting task, and I was even discouraged by several people who said it would never work.

Does this sound familiar?  Well here's how to start:

My partner in crime is my mum
1. First, find a partner in crime.  It can be your best friend, your mom, whoever will dress up in costume with you.  One person is a geek, but TWO people are a CLUB.

2. Next, create a blog and a Facebook page for your new club, and start inviting anyone you think might be interested, in your area.

Examples - The Great Basin Costume Society blog; the Great Basin Costume Society on Facebook.

Be sure to post your mission statement in both places, to entice people to join.  You will have a little group following along in no time.  Also be pro-active about posting flyers in fabric stores, local college campuses, coffee shops, anywhere that will let you. Then...

This was our first official Great Basin Costume Society event
3. Throw a Getting-To-Know-You party.  Our first meeting/event/thing for Great Basin Costume Society was a luncheon at a local coffee shop/bakery/restaurant.  Everyone was invited to come in the costume of their choice.  The invitation was sent via Facebook, and attendees were encouraged to tell and bring their friends.  Over twenty ladies and even a few gentlemen came, and so was born our club, e-mail list, and most importantly, awareness of a group of like-minded people.

Costume clubs are event-focused, but events don't have to be a huge deal.  Start with small things:

  • Tea parties at local tea shops or cafes
  • Picnics on the lawns of historic sites
  • Visits to museums, historic homes, points of historical interest
  • Holiday get-togethers at a member's home
  • Crash other local events - we crash Valhalla Renaissance Faire, The Tahoe Gatsby, Sugarpine Living History Day, and Hot August Nights (vintage car show) every year.

When you crash an event, such as we did here at Sugarpine Living History Days, you don't need a big presence, just a group of good friends - people will ask you about your clothing, and may even want to join your club.  It's like a virus.
Before you know it, you'll have all sorts of people coming "out of the woodwork" to come to your cool costume events, and you may even end up jump-starting a scene in your area, for instance...

High Desert Steam, another local Reno club focused on Steampunk, just wrapped the second annual Steampunk Ball in nearby historical landmark Virginia City.  The ball this year was double the size of last year, with well over 200 guests, all dressed in wonderful steampunk fashions.  Next year it will be even bigger!

High Desert Steampunks who came out for a photo shoot event, just for fun.  This is what we'd call a "core group."  They come to everything steampunk, heck, they even march in parades in December, that's how into dressing up they are.
So don't be afraid! Remember, you only need one partner in crime to get started.  If only a handful of people come to your first event, don't be discouraged, and throw a second event - more people will come.  By your third event, you'll have a healthy club going, and next thing you know, you'll be throwing huge shindigs at your local historic opera house.

Who are these people? I don't even know! but they came to the Steampunk Ball and that's the point.
Why will you be successful? Simply this - people love to dress up in costume.  They LOVE it, and are only looking for an excuse to do it.  They're sitting in their living rooms *right now* wishing somebody would come along and put on a smashin' costume themed tea.  That person is you!
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Monday, October 15, 2012


V288: How I "Found My Era" - Question n' Answer

Hi All! I received a question from Rachel and KittyKatt, asking how I found the era of history that was my favorite to start making clothes for, so I thought I would answer it in a post, in case anybody else wants to know.

I started this blog several years ago, when I wanted to be an owl for Halloween.  My dear friend Maggie and I thought it would be cool to interpret animals - she was a fox, I was an owl - through the lens of historical garments, and for whatever reason I thought a big, feather-covered 18th century dress was a great idea.

Maggie the Fox at left; me as an "owl" at right.  Maggie is still a fox...and, well, I stay up late at night, does that count?
I started researching, looking at pictures, and just fell in love with the styles of the 1780s and 1790s.  I became intrigued by aspects that didn't really have anything to do with my owl costume, such as types of hats, hedgehog wigs, etc., and blogging about those things so much that I decided to change the name of this blog from "The Barn Owl Gown" (inspired, right? blah) to "American Duchess," and focus on 18th century costuming.

My first blog banner from back-in-the-day
I suppose you know you've "found" your era when it continually holds fascination and inspiration for you.  I also deeply love the fashions of the late 16th century, as well as the 1930s, but for years now it's been the late 18th century.  Drooling over pretty dresses is where to start, but when you find yourself spending hours learning about laws on the import and export of textiles, how block printing works, and what kind of seam finishes were used, along with the period widths of fabrics (and the difference between European widths and Chinese widths)...well, then you've entered into major geek territory, and I would say you've found your era.
Writing an article on 18th century dogs? Yeah...I went there. #geek #nerd #obsessivehistoryfreak
Of course, nobody is limited to just one era.  You may have three loves, and not love one particularly more than the other.  Your loves may change over time.  That's all okay!  This is for fun, education, satisfaction in crafting, all sorts of reasons that I hope are all positive for you. :-)

Historical accuracy is important to me, but I also don't take myself too seriously.
So ask yourself what you keep coming back to.  What do you spend the most time drooling over, pinning to your Pinterest, and saving to your research folder?  Then you will have a pretty good idea of what your favorite era is.

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Sunday, October 14, 2012

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V287: My 18th Century Pocket

So...I did make a pocket.  It only took me 7 months to complete because of my intrepid laziness when it comes to hand embroidery.

Luckily, flying on airplanes is a perfect time to embroider.  TSA allows scissors 4 inches or less, so I found some little Fiskars fold-ups at the craft store that worked perfectly, and packed all the pieces of the unfinished pocket into my carry-on.

It took me the whole two flights out to Virginia, but I got the thing done, binding, ties, and all, and was mighty grateful for it when it came time for playing dress-up.  Mom and I spent most of our be-costumed time digging around in our pockets for this or for that.

My pocket used the pattern from Colonial Williamsburg's Costume Close-Up: Clothing Construction and Pattern, 1750-1790 , except that I mirrored the pattern, whereas the original is not perfectly symmetrical.  I also deviated greatly from color scheme and material - the original is ugly crewelwork (in my opinion), and mine is done with regular ole embroidery floss, in pinks, greens, and yellows.  It's kindof "bright," but that's nothing a little dunk in a hot tea bath won't fix.

That's it, that's all, that's m'pocket. The end.
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Saturday, October 13, 2012


V286: Costumer's Link Love, October

It's time for another installment of Costumer's Link Love, where I share all the cool blogs I've found or been introduced to lately.  You can also find these blogs added to the blogrolls at the bottom of the right-hand sidebar. Enjoy!



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