Sunday, March 31, 2013

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1880s Green Acres Gown: Steampunkin' Photo Shoot Preview

Happy Easter!

Yesterday was photo shoot day with one of my favorite girls, Angie, wearing one of my favorite gowns, the 1880s giant green bustle dress.  I can't wait to share the "official" photos with you, showcasing Tavistock Victorian Button Boots, but for now, here are a couple behind-the-scenes preview shots:

We shot at the Sparks Museum's antique train, on Victorian Square, here on our home turf.  We decided on a Steampunk styling, to go with all the nitty-gritty gears and goodness of the old locomotive.

More to come, promise!
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Thursday, March 28, 2013


Sewing Cake "Pavlova" Pattern 1940s Photo Shoot

Howdy! Back in January, I worked on a "collabvertisement" with Steph C. of "Cake Patterns," to showcase one of her awesome, indie, vintage-inspired patterns, "Pavlova."  It was a freezing cold day, but still fun to shoot with Mr C (and we went for steamin hot Pho afterwards).  I've sat on sharing these for awhile, because Steph was getting the pattern ready, but now she's released it, so check it out: Cake Patterns Website ; "Pavlova" Pattern on Etsy ; More Photos from This Shoot.

I styled the wrap top and circle skirt with a 1940s flavor, kindof "nitty-gritty-city."  I tried out a 1940s lip shape, and hairstyle (back when I had this much hair).  Thanks to Steph, Mr. C, and the city of Reno's alleyways and Deco post office!
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Wednesday, March 27, 2013

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Restoring Antique Shoes - How to Polish Leather Shoes

Ever since I started collecting antique shoes, I've been a little obsessive about restoration, primarily bringing leather shoes back from the dead.  I look for the *worst* leather shoes on eBay and Etsy, just so I can resurrect their desiccated bodies and preserve them for the future.  It's oddly fun.

This brings me to the importance of caring for your leather shoes.  We live in a world where most of the shoes you own are constructed of man-made materials, but if you own a pair of leather American Duchess shoes, they're the real deal, and you will want to care for them so they last you for-flippin'-ever.

So without further ado, here is a video I put together on how to use the Angelus lustre cream and Angelus shoe wax I've stocked in the "Accessories" section of the shop.  In the video, I'm using an original Victorian button boot for my demo, and you can see the magical effects the goop has on it...

Just imagine if anyone had polished that lovely creature throughout its 100+ years of life - it would look new! (and so will your leather shoes, forever, if you use this stuff every once in awhile).

The goops in the video are:
Angelus Lustre Cream in Black (we also have it in neutral and red) 
Angelus Perfect Stain Shoe Wax in Black (also in neutral and red)
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Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Monday, March 25, 2013

The Very Inspiring Blogger Award

Thank you to Deborah, for awarding my blog here the Very Inspiring Blogger Award!  I love awards, primarily passing them on and seeing them whiz around the internet.  So here we go...

To accept the award, one must:
1. Display the award and link back to the person who nominated you.
2. State 7 facts about yourself.
3. Nominate 15 bloggers for the award.
4. Notify the winners.

Seven facts about myself:
1. I don't know what my natural hair color is anymore. Hrm...
2. I love cars.  I'm a secret petrol-head.
3. I'm kindof superstitious. I kindof believe in Feng Shui.
4. I'm engaged. Surprise!!
5. I'm not Irish.
6. Every time I leave the house, like *every* time, I *have* to go to Starbucks. I will always find an excuse.
7. Sometimes I eat nachos and/or sweet potato fries in the middle of the night, while watching The X-Files.

Okay, time for 15 blogs that I absolutely adore!
1. Learning to Costume - and doing a great job of it!
2. Frolicking Frocks - girls got mad skills.  The Edwardian undies, zomg!
3. Curse Words and Crinolines - always something lovely being worked on.
4. Edelweiss Patterns Blog - beautiful vintage creations.
5. Dentelles et Macrames - awesome French costuming blog.
6. Tfirah - in-depth looks at costuming.
7. I Like Historical Clothing - lots of fun stuff to follow here.
8. The Costumer's Closet - 18th century and Regency awesomeness.
9. Possessions of a Lady - great projects to follow.
10. Thread-Headed Snippet - The Choll always has me in stitches.
11. Va-Voom Vintage - lovely retro and vintage looks and life.
12. Eva's Kleidertruhe - excellent, beautiful work.
13. Kleidung um 1800 - Sabine's work is always inspiring.
14. Rachael's Costumes - very creative pursuits!
15. The Pragmatic Costumer - an excellent read!

Now I'm off to notify the winners!
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Thursday, March 21, 2013


Butterick to the Big Screen - Historical Hollywood Contest!

Thanks to Francis, who posted about this on Facebook...

Butterick is holding a contest to create your own Hollywood-inspired outfit, using a contemporary Butterick pattern, specifically any period from 1860 to modern.  If you're like me and happened to have purchased rather a lot of Retro Butterick patterns (but not made them up yet, or maybe you have), isn't this the perfect opportunity to get stitching, and maybe win that $100 gift certificate to Mood, and a basket of sewing notions?

Yes, ma'am!

Entries are due by June 20, 2013.
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Monday, March 18, 2013


Style in the Sky: British Airways Fashions Through the Ages

I can't help but love aviation fashion.  I was a complete sucker for "Pan Am ," and before that, "View from the Top ," and just about any photograph of a sharply dressed stewardess gets me all tingly in the costuming department. How about you?

I just learned about a charity fashion show put on by British Airways Heritage - I wish I could have gone!  Though less flamboyant than some of the mid-century American uniforms, there is such a chicness to BA's uniforms through the decades.  Get a load of these beauties...

BOAC stewardess uniform 1946-early 1950s (Via)
BOAC stewardess early 1950s
BOAC stewardess early 1950s
BEA stewardess 1960 -1967 (Uniform designer: John Cavanagh)
BEA female uniforms, 1972-1974 (Designer: Hardie Amies)
British Airways female uniform 1977-1985 (Designer: Baccarat Wetherall)
The "Fashion Through the Age of Aviation" event showcased historic uniforms and also raised money for BA's program "Flying Start," in support of Comic Relief.  Historic Fashion AND a good cause? Yes please!

If you're interested in learning more about it (and maybe be inspired to throw a similar event), check out the BA historic uniform gallery, read about Flying Start, and see some photos from the fashion show itself.
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Saturday, March 16, 2013

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How Wide Should Your 18th Century Panniers Be?

I've set out on the adventure of making a Grand Pannier to wear under voluminous 18th century apparel, and the first question that came to mind is - how wide was the typical pannier?

I thought perhaps they ran the gamut (and they do), but the more I looked at various mid-18th century gowns, the more I noticed the same proportions.

Proportion in historical costume is just as important today as it was then.  Proportioned garments are why that 1760s Robe a la Francaise looks itty-bitty, but actually has a 30 inch waist.  Too wide in the panniers didn't seem to be a problem, but too narrow does not flatter the figure.

So what are these magical proportions?

Thirds and Quarters.

The A, B, and C boxes represent the thirds - the blue box in the center is the width of the waist (your waist measurement divided by two).  The yellow boxes roughly measure the distance from the side seams to where the pannier begins to slope downwards.  Surprise!  The blue and yellow boxes are the same size. The length of each side of the pannier is also half the circumference of your waist.

The 1, 2, 3, and 4 on the bottom are the quarters - these divide the hem of the skirt into four parts.  These parts are roughly equal to the width of your shoulders.

You can use Thirds and Quarters to break down the width of the hoops in your pannier, too.  For instance, my bottom hoop will be 2 thirds added to two quarters, like this:

So with these measurements, I know that my pannier, at the top, will be 39 inches across, and my bottom hoop 54 inches across.  Multiply each of these by two, to account for front and back, and that will help determine the length of your pannier hoops. (You will need to add the depth to this front/back measurement, or else you pannier, when wrangled into hooped position, will "shrink")

Whether you are robust or thin, this proportion should work for you.

If your waist is 36 inches, then your grand pannier should be 54 inches across at the waist.

If your waist is 20 inches, then your grand pannier should be 30 inches across at the waist.

These are not hard and fast rules, just some things to consider when planning your side-hooped ensembles.  Remember, bigger is always fine, but too narrow and you may not be displaying yourself or your gown in the best way.  
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Friday, March 15, 2013


The Many Types of 18th Century Gowns

I realized today with the 18th century gowns I have made, I have only scratched the surface of how many different types there were. It's easy to fall into the idea that it was all Robe a la Francaise, Robe a l'Anglaise, Robe a la Polonaise, rinse/repeat; but there are really many more than just those, and then all kinds of mooshed up variations too!  So I have compiled a rough list of gown types.  I will not define these specifically (though I am sure they do have very specific definitions).  Ready?

Robe a la Francaise or Sacque or Sack Gown - an iconic gown of the entire 18th century, the Robe a la Francaise, or Sacque, features a pleated back.  The Robe a la Francaise was commonly worn over side hoops, and as the century progressed, remained the style of choice for formal occasions.

The Met - Sacque or Robe a la Francaise - 1750-55
Robe Retroussee Dans les Poches - This style of gown entails pulling the skirt fabric up through the pocket slits, creating a poofy, elevated skirt.  The example from the Kyoto Costume Institute shows a Robe a la Francaise worn this way, but a Robe a l'Anglaise can also be worn retroussee dans les poches.

KCI - Robe retroussee dans les poches, 1780

The English Gown (English) or Robe a l'Anglaise (French) - Extremely common in the first three quarters of the 18th century, this style features a tight, fitted back, rather than the draped pleats of the Francaise.  The English gown typically closed over a stomacher with the pins hidden beneath double, single, or mock robings. The pleated-back style falls out of fashion in the 1770s.

The Met - English gown or Robe a l'Anglaise - 1770-75

The Italian Gown (English) or Robe a l'Anglaise (French) - Beginning in the 1770s, a new style of fitted-back gown replaced the English gown. The Italian gown closed at the center front and featured a seamed back in either four pieces or two, replacing the earlier pleated back. There are several variants of the Italian gown - what we modernly call a "zone" front or cutaway front (below), a chemise front, various sleeve lengths including long sleeves, trimmed, untrimmed, etc. The defining factor is the back seams.

The Met - Robe a l'Anglaise with a "zone front" - 1785-87
**Yes, both gowns above are called "Robe a l'Anglaise" in French. The term is not incorrect, but it's important to distinguish between the two styles of gown. While the English Gown and Italian gown are contemporary for a very short time, one does pre-date the other and the construction techniques differ.

Robe a l'Anglaise Retroussée - This styling refers to a fitted-back gown worn with the skirts gathered up.  Any Italian Gown can be worn this way, with various systems of suspending the skirts; it is uncommon to see the skirts draw up this way on earlier English Gowns.  A Robe a l'Anglaise worn retroussée, however, differs from a Robe a la Polonaise. More information about this here.

The Met, Robe a l'Anglaise worn a la Polonaise, 1780-85

Robe a la Polonaise - This popular style was possibly named for the division of Poland into three parts in 1772, symbolized by the three portions of the skirt, when drawn up.  The Robe a la Polonaise also features a cutaway bodice styled like a man's frock coat, and worn over a gilet, or vest.  The bodice hangs loosely front the center front.  Polonaise gowns could have long or short skirts, and be worn over long or short petticoats that most commonly matched the gown fabric.  The Robe a la Polonaise was in fashion in the 1770s and early 1780s.

The Met, Robe a la Polonaise, 1787 - click for more views of the front.

Robe Volante or Robe Battante - This type of gown is from very early in the 18th c and is a precursor to the Sacque. The Robe Volante, or Battante, was a large, seemingly loose-fitting, draped gown, similar to the Robe a la Francaise, but less structured.  The back features loose pleats, as does the front.  Volantes were closed in front, but often have stomachers peeking out, and were worn over pannier.

The Met - Robe Volante - 1730s. Click through for more views.
Robe en Chemise or Chemise a la Reine - The scandalous fashion of the 1780s was the Robe en Chemise, a gown inspired by the underwear of the lower classes.  Robes en Chemise feature gathered bodices, sometimes cut in one with the skirt.  There are various stylings - some have fitted backs, while others have gathered backs; some have full billowing sleeves, while others have long, tight sleeves.  Chemise gowns were made of lightweight fabrics in any color, not just white.

Lady Lemon, 1788, George Romney
Robe a la Turque - The Robe a la Turque was inspired by what it sounds like - an interest in Middle Eastern fashions.  Popular in the 1780s and into the 90s, the Turque is very similar to the Polonaise, with the back and skirt cut in one.  Its distinguishing features appear to be short sleeves worn over longer under-sleeves, a collar at the neckline, and a sash at the waist, though examples exist showing variation - no sash at the waist, and no short sleeves.  This makes me think that perhaps the style was as much about the chosen fabrics, colors, and accessories, as it was about the specific cut of the gown.  Cassidy, of A Most Beguiling Accomplishment, goes in to more details and theories about the turque in her excellent article here.

Three views of the Robe a la Turque from Galerie des Modes

Redingote - The Redingote, named for "Riding Coat," was inspired by men's fashion, and included collars, button fronts or cutaway fronts worn over gilets, long sleeves, and often military inspiration. Unlike earlier riding habits, Redingote skirts extend to the ground and do not include pockets.

Via Dames a la Mode, Magasin des Modes, 1787

Levite - The Levite was a style of casual dress with an exotic flavor, similar to the Turque.  This type of gown was often loose-fitting with long-sleeved, and the bodice closing in front, but sometimes left open like a robe.  The characteristic accessory of the Levite is the sash tied around the waist.  Levites were popular in the 1770s and 80s.

Dames a la Mode, Gallerie des Modes, 1780
Robe de Cour - The Robe de Cour simply means "Court Dress."  It was the most formal gown worn, and is conservative in fashion.  Robe de Cour in the 1770s were large trained gowns worn with grand panier, with tightly fitted, rigid bodices closing in back.  By the 1790s, not much had changed - Robe de Cour were still worn with pannier and a long train, even when the fashion of the day was for slim, classical-inspired looks.

Marie Antoinette, by Elisabeth Vigee Le Brun, 1778-1789
Dames a la Mode, July 1798

Round Gown - The round gown was a fitted-back gown with the the skirt and petticoat sewn as one - it is not an open robe. Round gowns exist throughout the century but become extremely common from the 1770s through the 1790s.

The Met, 1775 - click through and zoom in to see how the skirt is one piece with a drop front.
This list is by no means complete, and my descriptions are not at all in-depth.  There are yet even *more* styles of gown - Habit de Sultane, Circassiennes, variations on themes - and I did not include any short gown or jackets.  Hopefully, though, this will give a brief idea of the variety to be seen in just a few decades of the 18th century.  It certainly inspires me to make some of these more obscure or specific styles, rather than my typical Robe a l'Anglaise etc. etc. etc.

So with so many styles to choose from, which is your favorite?

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Wednesday, March 13, 2013


Regency Shoes - Delightful Flats

I'm a little in love with Regency right now, can you tell?  I've got new duds for both myself and Mr. C to do, but we're also prepping a new Regency shoe for pre-order.  Yaaaay!

Before I share pictures of the new "Highbury" flat, though, I inspire you with these original examples that were closely referenced to create our new dyeable satin shoes:

The Met: 1800-1815
Powerhouse Museum 1810-1815
The Met, c. 1812
Once again we are following the "hallmarks" of Regency footwear - pointed toe, high vamp, and side seams. There is also another hallmark to notice - the spring heel.  It is a common misconception that Regency shoes were totally flat.  Most Regency flat have a small wedge under the heel, sometimes covered in leather, like on this Met shoe:
The Met, 1815-20

Many Regency shoes had ribbons attached, to lace up the leg for a Greco-Roman look.  In Abigail Adam's slippers, you can see tiny little loops set inside the shoe, just for this purpose:

Abigail Adams' slippers, The Smithsonian, image via
We thought this was a great idea, too, so you'll find loops like these on the inside of "Highbury."

I will show you photos of the new "Highbury" soon! For now, dream of the all the possibilities. :-)
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Monday, March 11, 2013


Problem Solving with Regency Stays

Boobs are such an issue in the Regency.

Seriously, they're just in such *weird* places!

Naturally, or rather unnaturally, we as costumers want to try to achieve these, um, heights, and do so by trying to re-create the undies that created such effects.

I've made a lot of Regency stays, which is odd since I hardly ever dress in this period, but the reason is because I never seem to get it right with the silhouette.  So I asked the famous Maggie, Regency fairy-queen extraordinaire, her advice on how to achieve the proper early 19th c. boob shape.  Here's what she had to say:

  • Gussets - make them shallow and wide, to the point of needing a drawstring to bring them in.
  • Add boning or cording under the gussets, to keep the girls from creeping down.
  • Bits hanging out/over the top of the stays is okay - these bits are controlled by the shift.
  • Try back-lacing with a front busk.
  • Make LOTS of mock-ups.

My aim is to make short stays, so naturally I went looking for inspiration and reference first.  Here is what I found...

The Met, marked 1861, but surprisingly Regency flavored - (thank you to Amanda, who confirmed these are indeed mid-19th century, NOT Regency)  These are surprisingly close to the pattern I want to do for mine, except there are no bust gussets, and they lace both back and front.
V and A, 1790 - transitional stays.  Not the overall shape I want, but some serious support as well as separation for the bust.
Corset, Epoque Empire, musee Galliera, Paris - this might be a style to try.  It doesn't have the double-bust-gussets, but is of a length that could accommodate a busk nicely.
In my hunting, I found this article from the Oregon Regency Society to be extremely helpful - complete with very clear and clever illustrations!  So now it's on to testing out these patterns and theories...
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Thursday, March 7, 2013


Tim Gunn-ing the 1912 Day Dress

Every once in awhile, a "simple" project comes along and kicks my butt.  Usually it's after I've just successfully completed something really complicated and I'm feeling good about my sewing skills.  Does this happen to you?

My simple 1912 shirt waist has turned into a project from hell, but I think, after last night's shenanigans, I've got it working.

Last post, I had given up on my failed self-drafted pattern and altered a modern Simplicity blouse pattern to make the bodice, which solved the sleeve and armscye issue, but presented some other problems.  The waist was still too long, and there wasn't enough volume in the front, overall.

I removed the bust darts completely, and shortened the waist up to more of an empire line.  Worn over my 1912 corset, with some help in the chest-stuffing department, it's looking pretty alright now.

The next problem is the drape of the skirt.  I didn't do a gored skirt like I should have done, but tried to make the skirt in just a front and back piece, shaped with darts.  Well, it didn't work, and closed all the way down the front, the skirt hangs very oddly indeed.  I was about ready to throw in the towel, when I found this pattern image from Ageless Pattern:

Ageless Patterns #1358

Hooray!  Now, I know that this pattern was, of course, designed to be this way, and my dress is taking this route because I suck, but at least I wont' have to scrap the entire thing and start over.  I even quite like how a white panel at the hem will tie in nicely with the other white accents on the bodice.

A quick scribble of how it will look
So that's where it stands at the moment.  I hope it's not *such* a battle to finish it up in the next couple days!
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Tuesday, March 5, 2013

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Starting a "Simple" 1912 Day Dress

I've got a case of Costume ADD!  My squirrely brain has landed on this "quick and easy" 1912 daytime tea dress.  I thought I would just throw it together...ha...haha...HAHAHA.

I started with draping a pattern, which looked pretty darn good:

I was so confident, I went for it with the dress, only to discover that my pattern sucked (of course!) all around the sleeves and armscyes.  I perpetually have problems with this - when will I finally figure it out!?

Feeling rather lame, I fell back to safety, and altered a modern Simplicity blouse pattern, which has actually worked out just fine.  All I did was slash-n-spread a few inches at the waist (keeping the shoulder the same), raised the waist by a couple inches, for that high-waisted Edwardian look, and scooped the stitching line down in front, to gather it up and make that puffy blousy 1912 front.  The collar is simply matched to the neckline edge in front and back, and drawn into a shape I liked, with a seam at the shoulder.  For the sleeves, I just shortened them, and added a cuff.

I should stick to altering existing, working patterns, because nothing is more discouraging that having cut your fashion fabric and then having an issue with your pattern. :-(  Good thing I had a lot of this fabric!

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