Friday, November 30, 2012

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V325: Introducing "Tavistock" Authentic Victorian Button Boots

...and it's about time!  I am so excited to finally be able to release for pre-order our first boot, and indeed the only completely authentic Victorian button boot available!

Tavistock Victorian Button Boots - new from American Duchess Historical Footwear
"Tavistock," named for the home of Charles Dickens, is very closely based on original examples of button boots from many fine museums, including my local Churchill County Museum in Fallon, Nevada.  These beauties are made of luxurious black calf skin, lined in real pigskin, and do *not* have a zipper up the inside of the leg.  You really do have to button them up, just like our foremothers.

Functional and historically accurate steel-shanked buttons.
I thought it would be cool to show you the development process of Tavistock, to lead you through a little journey from concept to reality.  Those of you who have been following Tavistock from the beginning will know that quite a lot has changed from the original design.  I'm here to explain why, and give a little insight into how things actually get made...

Tavistock started as a request, of course, by rather a lot of you.  When I hear a goodly number of ladies asking for the same thing, I will look into the availability of something like it on the market already.  For the button boots, I only found "costume" versions, all with zippers up the inside, and none that really had that authentic look.  It seemed like an insurmountable task, to do away with the modern technology and somehow achieve fit for a large array of different ankle and calf sizes, but then I thought, "if you can fit boots with a zipper, why not another kind of closure?"

One of the gorgeous, local boots I researched at the Churchill County Museum in Fallon.  I adore the two-tones and the spectator-y stylings.
The next step was to research, both original examples, and also what the majority of you ladies wanted in terms of color, material, heel height, and detailing.  About 450 of you answered questions in a survey, letting me know that you mostly wanted black, all-leather, with a 2 inch heel, like these:

Via The Met - 1883
With all this information compiled, the specification packet went off to the factory, where it sat for entirely too long.  The craftsmen working on the prototype had difficulty with the design, but were able to produce a sample just before they closed their doors.
My concept drawing
Sample 1 for Tavistock, from the old factory
The sample needed adjustments to the calf - it became clear that we needed to offer wide and regular calf sizes.  By this time, though, we needed to move to a new factory and start from square one, creating another prototype, with all the changes I wanted to make - the two calf sizes, and also a pointier toe, taller heel, and the addition of an elastic gusset at the top.

One of the revisions to Sample 1
Here is where Tavistock began to deviate from the original design.  With the addition of the gusset, the swoopy shaping at the top needed to be straightened out a bit.  I also made the difficult decision to do away with the scallops - in previous samples, the scalloped portion had not met our quality standards, and we try to avoid areas that may cause a high percentage of failure in manufacturing, especially the first time with a new pattern.  Once the factory is familiar with how these boots are constructed, we can add aesthetic detailing back in, and be able to offer two different styles - one more daywear, one more formal.

We also created a new French heel for these boots, something more substantial and visually balanced with the rest of the design.  It went through quite a few revisions...

Development of our new French heels, from left to right
Finally, the last shift was from leather-covered button, prone to popping apart and marring easily, to more authentic steel-shanked plastic buttons, developed from original, antique boot buttons I found on eBay and sent to our factory.
Original boot buttons
The final product makes me giddy, and I hope it does the same for you!  Our new factory has done a splendid job - Tavistock not only looks the part, but functions authentically, and is comfortable as well.  It's met all of my standards, so that means it is time for the pre-order!

Tavistock from the side - this is the wide-calf version
Tavistock Victorian Button Boots
Pre Order December 3rd - 21st, 2012
$150 ($180) Pre-Order Special
LIMITED quantities available this time!
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Thursday, November 29, 2012

V324: December Call for Sponsors

Hello Ladies and Gents!  Are you an up-and-coming small business that might benefit from advertising here on American Duchess?  How about giving a nicely-placed banner ad a try here on the sidebar, and seeing how your website traffic increases?

There are lots of options to choose from, at varying price points, from $5 and up.  Your ad will run for 30 days from the time of purchase, even if you purchase in the middle of the month.  It's so easy to set up!

The American Duchess blog benefits from regular postings, great content, strong social connections, and an international audience.  Articles cover historical costuming, sewing, and re-enactment events of all periods, particularly Georgian, Victorian, and early 20th century.  If your business is a perfect fit for the readers of this blog, I encourage you to try an ad spot!

November 2012 Stats:
  • 62,531 Page Views
  • 14,201 Unique Visitors
  • 9,215 combined Blog, Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter followers
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Wednesday, November 28, 2012

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V323: American Duchess Historical Holiday Gift Guide

Happy Holidays to all of you and yours!  'Tis the season for jolly times, being thankful, and giving lovely gifts to your dear ones.  Stumped on what to give to your historical costuming gems?  Well here are a few small, stocking-sized ideas...

1. Crochet Gloves from Amazon Drygoods - $15.95

These lovely little ladies' gloves are an excellent compliment to any Victorian ensemble.  Delightful and lacy, they add that little extra touch, while also being practical - no need to take them off for every little thing, as the fingerless feature allows full sense of touch, and anachronistic smartphone fiddling.  (Shhh! Don't tell!)

2. 18th Century Bath & Beauty Products from Litttle Bits Clothing Company - $3.00 - $10.00

She'll revel in sumptuous scents and period correct pampering products, with Litttle Bits' whole line of 18th century items, from rose tinted lip balm ($8.00) to lightly scented lavender powder ($10.00) perfect for powdering the hair as well as the face.  I have personally tried these products and loved them.  Try the Moon of Isis ($4.00) or Cinnamon an Ginger Lye Soap ($3.00), and the 18th Century Herbal Footbath ($10.00).  YUM.

3. Historic Neckerchiefs from Burnley & Trowbridge - $18.00

What better to fill the neckline of an 18th century gown than a period reproduction neckerchief?  Based on many extant examples, B&T's neckerchiefs are a fine, block-printed cotton, measuring approximately 34 inches square.  They come in a variety of colors and prints.

4. American Duchess Clocked Silk Stockings & Buckles - $25.00 - $40.00

Okay, I know these are my own products, but they really do make great gifts!  The stockings come in three color - the white is dyeable - with three different historical reproduction clocking designs.  They are 98% silk, with stretch at the tops to help keep them up.  Buy two or more and you get a discount.

We have three styles of authentic Georgian shoe buckles, all based on extant examples.  Two are of sparkly paste stones, one wrought silver in an appealing naturalistic design.  Purchase buckles with a pair of latchet shoes, and get a discount.

5. Historic Jewelry from K.Walters at the Sign of the Gray Horse - $15.00 +

Beautiful and authentic, Gray Horse pieces are exquisitely made, perfectly period, and will add that something special to gorgeous historical gown.  Plus, the proceeds from the sale of these items go to supporting Kim's rescue horses.  There are items for gentlemen and ladies alike, all of which have been researching and handmade.

6. 17th and 18th Century Velvet Patches from Ruby Raven - $20.00

The last perfectly period touch is a Ruby Raven Velvet Patch Kit, which includes a large selection of patches in different shapes, sizes, and colors, along with a small bottle of spirit gum to affix the patch.  Wear as few as one, or as many as suits your mood.  Ruby Raven's kits are handmade in Alameda, California, by a wonderful member of the costume community.  Get kits in "Classic," "Gothic," and "Halloween" themes.

Happy Holidays!!
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Tuesday, November 27, 2012

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V322: Another Day at Dickens Christmas Fair, San Francisco

I'm back from S.F. now, but here are some photos from our second day at Dickens...

Maggie's puffy puff-butt in the morning.  I found this endlessly amusing.
Maggie's costume was divine - she built all the proper 1840s underwear as well as the ridiculously splendid jacket, bonnet, and skirt.
Maggie's bonnet was made from the Lynn McMaster's pattern.  She reported difficulty, but in the end it looked fabulous
More adoration of Maggie - she accessorizes like a pro - a vintage rabbit fur muff, a silk plaid reticule, mink collar, and The Doctor in miniature, pinned to her jacket.
Here's Chrissy posing in her Dark Garden Corsetry window, with a laundry maid theme.
Chrissy did a fantastic job in her window, and held her poses despite the goofy faces and hijinx going on outside,.
I didn't know the lovely lady in the opposite window, but she performed a set of poses with a little birdcage, and looked gorgeous.
I absolutely adored the Ballet Russe performance - so funny!  For those of you who haven't seen it, well...yeah, those are cymbals all over their bodies, hehe.
I was so honored to meet Vienna La Rouge of The Austrian Woman blog, as well as  Cait of Curse Words and Crinolines (didn't get a picture with her :-(  ).  They are both splendidly beautiful, graceful, and incredibly constumers.
My costume this year was "Frankenstein's Monster."  What started out to be a quick-and-easy throw-together using a pattern I knew already fit and was simple, I managed to run out of fabric, and had to get creative with piecing (the under piece of the sleeves look like Catwoman sewed them together).  It somehow ended up fitting, and I even kindof like it.
I wore a collection of skirt supports instead of a hoop, and borrowed the lovely bonnet from my mum.  Plain though it ended up to be, I didn't have any pain, pulling, pinching, or limited motion, so I count this one as successful.

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Saturday, November 24, 2012

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V321: An Excursion to The Great Dickens Christmas Fair

Hi all! I'm down in San Francisco land with a whole wad of my favorite people, not least among them The Laced Angel, and Serendipitous Stitchery, the latter of which came all the way out from Tennessee and made a ridiculously stunning 1840s costume to boot.  We're taking the Great Dickens Christmas Fair by storm, causing mischief, breaking hearts, being generally goofy.  Ah, good times.  Here are a scant few photos from the day...

me and my bestie Maggie, all a-bonnet
Had to take a photo of this - the inspiration for the name of the new button boots come soon :-)
Maggie coercing poor Jessie into tying her cute little booties
Curtis posing in his Dark Garden Corsetry window.  I love that Dark Garden not only uses live models in their display windows, but that they include men in that lot as well - historical!
Myself and the charming and talented Mr. Dante Gabriel Rossetti, who left a wake of broken-hearted females wherever he went, and also taught a nice figure drawing class in the Adventurer's Club Pre-Raphaelite Salon. 
I wore a...thing...I'll tell you about it later. :-)

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Friday, November 23, 2012

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V320: American Duchess "Let It Snow" Holiday Sale!

My Dears, it's time!  Jump right in to your holiday shopping (and send your hubbies and boyfriends this-a-way) - I've put just about everything in the shop on sale!

And now for some pretty, wintry photos from our Winter Wonderland shoot, just to get you in that holiday mood...

Model: Lauren Wills
Costuming, Styling, Set Design: Lauren Elizabeth
Photography, Lighting, Set Construction: Chris Stowell
"Fleur" Buckles and "Pompadour" Shoes by American Duchess

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Wednesday, November 21, 2012


V319: Shop Small This Saturday at

Hey American Express ladies - this Saturday is "Small Business Saturday," sponsored by American Express, and we here at American Duchess Company are about as small as it gets, with just me and Chris.

In addition to the crazy sales we're planning for the kick-off to the holiday season, you can get an additional $25.00 rebate from AmEx, for registering and using your card for your purchase.

Registration is limited, so don't wait. Register here:

You can learn more about Small Business Saturday at .  Help support small business owners, and our communities, by shopping small this Saturday at .

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Tuesday, November 20, 2012

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V318: Behind The Scenes at Our Winter Wonderland Photo Shoot

The original concept sketch for the Winter Wonderland set
I've been *SO FLIPPIN' BUSY* trying to get everything done for the photo shoot yesterday.  I finished the blue riding habit, with its ten tons of silver trim, and Chris and I built a snowy landscape in our garage, er, I mean photo studio, *cough* .

Acres of silver trim put on by hand.  It took forever, but looks great, and stiffened the front of the bodice considerably.
For the cuffs, I used some of the vintage lace I bought at Costume College.  I didn't have time to make a proper shirt for underneath - that's for later, along with a gilet.
It took a long time - we made aspen trees out of rolls of corrugated cardboard packing, faux painted them, and suspended the on lines of string tied across the top of the garage door frame.

"Aspen tress."
Me painting the trees at 10 pm
It didn't look like much to start with
We also hung pretty blue ornaments, strung cotton balls on fishline, and spread out a massive piece of cotton batting on the floor, along with quite a lot of "snow" made from recycled plastic bags.  The dogs loved that far more than I've loved vacuuming it up after they carried it all over the house.

Historical Dog plunked herself down on the snow and wouldn't move for anything.  She was kindof grumpy all through the shoot.
The beautiful and talented Lauren Wills was our model.  She fit into the riding habit perfectly, and looked stunning with her lightly powdered red hair tucked under the tricorn.  Chris worked his magic with the lighting and through the lens, I directed, and Avi staged a protest by refusing to leave the snowy forest.

Chris photographing Lauren W.  Historical Dog was so bored she fell asleep

I can't wait to show you the resulting photos from this shoot! These are just my behind-the-scene snaps, but Chris' shot promise to be full of sparkly holiday goodness. :-)
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Saturday, November 17, 2012

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V317: 1740s Riding Habit - Nearly There!

Yesterday I made the petticoat and set the sleeves on the riding habit jacket.

The petticoat is worn over panniers.  I don't have very big ones, but I wanted to try the drawstring sides method seen on this petticoat from the Met:
Robe à la Française, detail - 1760-70, French - the MET 
The idea is that the length and fullness of the petticoat can be adjusted over the panniers, and you should be able to wear this type of petticoat over different size panniers, or no panniers at all.

I made the petticoat the same way as usual, with the sides open, but I left about 10 inches free on front and back, each side, and stitched in a drawstring.  The waistbands stop short of the gathered lengths, so they form a hole on each side.

It seems to have done the trick - hem looks level, yay!

Next it was time to get set the sleeves in the jacket, and, of course, I ran into problems.  The sleeve heads were 19.5 inches around, and the armscyes considerably less.  I wanted a smooth cap, so I took off the armscye through the underarm and the back, then eased the sleeve head ever so slightly with a gathering stitch.  Mission accomplished there, but I'm going to reduce the sleeve head on the pattern before I sew with it again.

Now the whole ensemble is wearable, but it needs the trim (the best part!).  It's certainly not perfect - my velveteen fabric was difficult to work with, and I can see this pattern working much better in wool - but I'm decently pleased with it, so far. :-)
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