Tuesday, April 30, 2013


LACMA Sacque-Ma: Operation Petti-Pouf

Thank you to everyone who left incredibly helpful comments on yesterday's petticoat post.  Last night I went for it with implementing each of the changes suggested, to see what effect they had.

Pretty much all of them were/are necessary, and I'm *still* not through it with this petticoat yet, but it's getting there.  Here's where I am today:

What I've learned about mid-18th c. petticoats thus far:

  • The top curves control fullness over the sides, but if there is too much, it will cause sagging in the skirt, and the hem will fall under (this is part of what was happening with mine)
  • Stiffness at the hem is a good idea - taffeta, horsehair, etc.
  • The panier shape for the late 1760s and 1770s is high at the hip, but with a narrow body.  Control tapes to create the kidney shape are *very* important.  A ruffle at the hem of the panier helps, too. Not all panier shapes will just "work" !!
  • Pleating the front of the petticoat on the dress form helps.
  • A 120" hem may be period correct, but perhaps just not full enough - I've had this experience with round silhouette petticoats too...
  • A little shortness at the sides of the petticoat help draw it up into the A-line shape.
  • A flat front is important for decorations - some decorations will add stiffness, others won't.

I still have work to do with my silhouette.  In the photo, I have my desiccated panier, but when I shrunk it so significantly, it lowered the hip hoops, so I actually have my small pocket hoops stacked on top, just to see what an effect it would have (and it looks good, so this tells me I need to mess with the understructures more, or just make some damned pocket hoops already).  Basically, this project is like this:

My hem also needs to be lowered, but lucky me, it's faced about 3 inches, so there's wiggle room.  It just means more work.  Yay.

All this for something that is going to be 75% covered!
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Monday, April 29, 2013


LACMA Sacque-ma: The Petticoat, and Why Bigger Isn't Always Better

I spent this past weekend toiling on a "simple" petticoat for my first Robe a la Francaise ensemble, inspired by this gorgeous sacque in LACMA:

I thought it would be a quick throw-together.  I've made lots of petticoats before, and based on the patterns in Janet Arnold's Patterns of Fashion 1 and Costume Close-Up , I anticipated a nice, easy, weekend 18th century fix.

Patterns of Fashion 1 - petticoat diagram, for a Robe a la Francaise, 1770-75, a bit later than my inspiration dress

I wrestled with it, added bits, took away bits, pleated this way, pleated that way.  In hindsight, I know that the problem was that my panier was just too big.  WAY too big.

To make a stupidly long story short, I shrunk my panier down to something far more 1760s, and stuck to the diagrams in the books.
From Costume Close-Up : petticoat diagram showing the top curves and the straight hem

...but then I decided I hated the color of this fabric.  On the site I purchased it from, it looked far closer to the yummy steely blue the LACMA gown features.  That blue is the reason I fell in love with the dress in the first place...but what I got in the mail wasn't that blue....it was crazy mermaid turquoise 1980s neon explosion.
So I decided to dye it - one part being in flats, one part being the nearly complete petticoat.  I gritted my teeth and went for it, using my water-efficient front-loading washer to do the deed (not the best, but the only option).

I used one package of royal blue RIT and one package of grey RIT - powders - dissolved prior in a bit of hot water.  About a cup of vinegar went in there too.  The fabric was wet before I tossed it in, and I put the cycle on the longest and hottest I could, with two rinse cycles.

Here are the results:

Before and After: that is a BIG difference, and I love it!
I LOVE the color now! Love Love Love!  And I've also learned that silk + washing machine = OK.

I still have a lot of work to do on the petticoat.  I don't like the bubble shape, and I'm not sure how to correct it - petticoats, ruffles, or is the panier still too big? Anyone have suggestions?

Help me, hive mind! What can I do about this shape? I want it to flair more at the hem.

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Friday, April 26, 2013


My 18th Century "Weddingote"

So....I'm gettin' married.


I've been a bit buried in all things wedding, with an additional layer of all things shoes on top, and I realize I totally haven't posted about this!  Eek!

So here's my wedding gown inspiration:

Via Costumer's Guide
My most favorite gown from "Marie Antoinette" is this pale sage green redingote that appears in the "Petit Trainon" part of the film.  I love everything about it, and it's been reserved for this special occasion since I saw the movie so many years ago.

I found the perfect pale green silk taffeta from Puresilks.us for the redingote:

I already have the ivory silk taff from Fabric Mart, nabbed on sale for $10/yard (couldn't believe it!)

So I guess I'd better get to work.  I have a petticoat and new stays to make out of the ivory first, then a full toile for the gown, before slicing into the final fabric.  October will be here before I know it!
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Wednesday, April 24, 2013


White/Ivory 18th Century Gown Inspiraton

I just received 10 yards of delicious ivory silk taffeta, and I'm just *itching* to make something (or a lot of somethings) out of it.  Of course I'm thinking along 18th century lines - I need a petticoat and stays for my wedding gown, and Mr. C needs a waistcoat for his Regency stuff, but I'm betting I can also get an 18th century robe out of the remainder.  ...but what style?

Here's a look at ivory/white/cream gowns from the 18th c.:

DarwinCountry.org - Wedding Dress of Cream Silk, 1785
Mrs. Edmund Morton Pleydell, by Thomas Gainsborough, c. 1765 Museum of Fine Arts, Boston - I don't think I have enough for a Francaise, but I love the blue accent with the ivory
George Romney - Jane Maxwell, Duchess of Gordon, c 1749 - 1812.
Miss Mary Finch-Hatton, 1788. From The Frick Collection, accession number 1898.1.104. - similar to a pattern in Janet Arnold's book
Henrietta, Countess of Warwick, and Her Children, 1787-1789. From the Frick Collection, accession number 1908.1.107.

Joshua Sir Reynolds - Lady Sunderland, 1786

Portrait Of Louise Marie Josephine De Savoie, Comtesse De Provence, by Joseph Boze 
The Met - Robe a la Francaise 1770
The Music Party by Loius Rolland Trinquesse, 1774
Kyoto Costume Institute - 1790 - I have always adored this gown.  It may have to be this one.
There are, of course, OODLES of ivory and white gowns from the 18th century, in so many different styles and even materials.  These are just a few I particularly liked.

Quite nicely, this itch falls in line with the Historical Sew Fortnightly's "White" Challenge, due in July (https://www.facebook.com/events/533681890003723/).  I don't think I'll be done with the whole thing by then, but we'll see :-)

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Friday, April 19, 2013

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Finished Project: 18th Century Grand Panier

And my, what a big panier it is!

I purchased the now-out-of-print Simplicity 3635 pattern on eBay a few weeks back.  The package contains patterns for stays, pockets, a chemise, and a full panier, all of which actually look surprisingly spot-on.  It's a shame this pattern is out of print, but I can see why - it isn't an easy throw-together for the casual Halloween costumer, though is straightforward for us wacky historical types.

I'm really pleased with the results of this panier.  The pattern was easy to put together, though time consuming.  Mine is made from plain ole cotton, single layer with the boning channels made from self fabric cut on the straight, and turned using a bias tape maker.

I deviated a bit, as always - instead of the drawstring waist, I gathered the top of the panier into a waistband with a buckle closure on the side.  I also added an additional hoop at the hem, and I may go back and add a flounce all around as well.

Simplicity 3635 Grand Panier (please ignore those Regency stays, btw)
My favorite part of this panier, besides its monumental size, is that it is made of zip ties.  Yes, zip ties.  Really huge ones, like, three feet long ones from Home Depot.  The largest hoop at the hem took three of these mega zip ties taped together with duck tape.  Initially I was concerned about collapse, but once the panier had all its hoops, and the interior tapes tied, it became very stable.  Here I have piled two basic 18th c. petticoats on top (obviously they are not made for a panier!), and the panier is just fine.

One flounced petticoat on top - this is the heaviest piece.
A lightweight cotton petticoat for an additional layer.  To fix the issue at the sides, I will need to make a petticoat specifically for the panier.
I most definitely recommend this pattern.  You can find it on eBay and Etsy, and although the price is a little high, in my opinion it is worth it.  You get quite a lot of bang for your buck, and it is an easy introduction to this large structure.
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Thursday, April 18, 2013

WINNER: Highbury Giveaway!

Wowza, guys, the Highbury giveaway was splendid!  With nearly 1000 entries, all the sharing really helped get the word out about Highbury, and helped us reach the manufacturing goal.  Woot!

Now the moment you've been waiting for.  The winner is........

Marta Krzyżowska


Thank you again to everyone who shared and entered. If you are beside yourself with sorrow that you did not win the Highburies, never fear - you can still place your order for the super low pre-order price through Sunday, at www.AmericanDuchess.com .

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Monday, April 15, 2013

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Victorian Boots & Accessories Survey - Please Help!

Hi Ladies!  As always, I am working on improving our historical footwear and accessories, and am in need of some information about your shapely gams.

The most difficult part of creating our Victorian button boots and spats is getting the fit just right through the ankles and calves.  With your help, I can get a better idea of what our *actual* customers need.  Please participate in this very short survey about your ankle and calf measurements.  You will need a soft tape measure and a minute or two.

Thank you!
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Sunday, April 14, 2013


1912 "Titanic Tea" Day Dress - Complete!

Hey everyone! I made a DRESS! And then I WORE it!

I've been seriously spazzy with completing costumes this year, so despite this "simple" 1912 frock stressing me the heck out, and not being completely in love with it, I *did* finish it and I *did* wear it today, for the Great Basin Costume Society's 2nd Annual "Titanic Tea."

Please forgive my rumples - I took these photos at the end of the day, after sitting and nibbling entirely too many cucumber sandwiches.

The dress is made from blue and white striped cotton, with white muslin accents.  The pattern is an amalgamation of a Simplicity blouse and my additions and alterations.  All along I had trouble, in places you'd think I'd have some knowledge by now - the way the skirt hangs, the way the collar lay on the shoulders (or not), the length of the waist.  It was a humbling project, where I thought it would be simple.  Here are my previous posts on this dress: part 1 and part 2.

I wore the dress over the incredibly awesome 1912 corset made by The Laced Angel.  My shoes are "Astoria" Edwardian shoes.  My hat was crafted from a $6 braided paper sun hat from Ross, with decorations compiled from the stash.  I based it on a number of images of hats from the period, though in the end I feel it comes off more late teens/'20s than 1912.

Despite the trouble, I'm always happy to finish and wear something, even if it gave me fits throughout its construction.  It was overall comfortable, and I didn't feel awkward, so I'll count it as a win. :-)
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Saturday, April 13, 2013

GIVEAWAY: Win a Pair of "Highbury" Regency Shoes!

It's giveaway time again!  Up for grabs this time is a pair of "Highbury" Regency Slippers, in dyeable satin, OR an AmericanDuchess.com gift card equivalent to the retail value of USD 80.00.

About the Prize:

"Highbury" Regency Slippers are perfectly period and easily dyeable to any color you can imagine.  Match them to your Regency ball gown for a one-of-a-kind look.  Based on original examples, including Abigail Adams' slippers, our "Highbury" flats offer sturdiness, customizability, and comfort.

How to Enter the Drawing:
Due to the crazy number of entries we've received on previous giveaways, I'm trying a new way to handle things better.  Enter through this cool widget below:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

*If you would like to include a widget just like this on your blog, for others to enter the Highbury Giveaway too, follow this link: http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/share-code/NmE2NTg5ZjBlZDdiM2FmNGM1YmRmZDg2ZmZkYzc5OjA=/

If you do any and all of these things, you will be entered to win a free pair of Highburies EACH TIME - and if you BLOG about the Highburys, you will be entered TWICE.  Please be sure to include a link to www.AmericanDuchess.com!

The winner will be selected on Thursday, April 18, 2013.  If you win and have already pre-ordered Highbury, your order will be FREE, you can add a second pair for free, or choose to receive a gift certificate for the value of Highbury, to spend on anything you like in the shop.
*The winner will receive her shoes when the shipment of Highbury arrive in July 2013.  Entries in this giveaway help us collect pre-orders to be able to manufacture Highbury, plus you get a shot at a free pair of shoes, so please enter as many times as you like, and tell your friends!

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Thursday, April 11, 2013


Behind the Scenes with the "More Than Just A Costume" Gainsborough Photo Shoot

Howdy!  I've had some questions about the most recent images I created, inspired by Gainsborough's portrait of Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, so I'm going to show you a little behind-the-scenes of how I created them.

I had the idea to re-create famous portraits with distraught historical figures holding ugly shoes, to try to visually impart why I started a company making period-correct footwear.  I thought the idea of it would be funny, so I went ahead with creating the first image, since this is the one that I could get the closest to with the costuming.

I already had a hedgehog wig, and black Gainsborough hat.  I needed to make a blue sash and ruffled neckerchief.  As for the gown, I don't have a light peach colored gown in my closet, so instead, I wore my red "Revolution" dress, and changed the color of it in post processing.  Here is the original image:

The original photo, in all its glory.
It's quite a lot different from the finished piece!  For the photos, I dressed as much the part as I could, and used natural light from a window off to the right.  In post processing, I removed the background completely, replacing it with one I painted, similar to the portrait's background.  I carefully changed the color of the gown, as well as the shoe, and enhanced the definition in the wig, then color corrected everything to be as close to the portrait as possible.  In the end, I ended up with this:

It's one part photo and one part art, and a lot of fiddling and finessing in Photoshop.  Here are the two images side-by-side:
Don't I wish I looked more like Georgiana, lol!
I'd like to do a whole series of these, but I have some items to make first! I'd also really like to make a peach colored gown now, too, after working on these photos.

Here is another shot from the same campaign, with the same process, but a different message:

I hope you enjoyed these silly photos as much as I enjoyed making them. :-)

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Wednesday, April 10, 2013


Finished Project: Regency Half Stays

They ain't pretty, but they seem to get the job done...
I've finally finished something!  I've been experimenting with Regency stays for a bit, trying out different designs, and I think I've got the silhouette I want.

Some time ago we talked about Regency boobs, and how high and mighty they were (and how hard to achieve).  In my experiments, I found these things to be true (for me anyway):

  • Cording or boning beneath the bust cups will help keep the bust in place
  • A busk will help raise and separate the bust, but needs to be long enough - that is, just some boning in the front edges of very short stays won't work - the busk needs to extend down the front of the body.  The 9 inch paint-stirring sticks from Home Depot are a good length (or longer, for long stays).
  • Using a drawstring to pull in the top of the bust cups will also control the oomph of the bust, as well as the line of the stays under the gown.
Drawstring bust cups

Regency stays are strategic, a departure from earlier varieties that sortof just pushed and pulled the body into position.  They're not laced tightly, because the aim was not to reduce the waist.

Laced in back.
I've made mine waist length, laced in back - this is so the front busk can work effectively.

The other particulars:
  • Cotton muslin lined in cotton osnaburg
  • Corded with hemp, and zip ties for the CF and CB closure
  • Hand bound eyelets in back (my first, yay!)
  • Bound in self bias.
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Tuesday, April 9, 2013

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Will The Real French Heels Please Stand Up?

My latest eBay acquisition thrills me to no end.  Thanks to Lauren M. of Wearing History, who sent me the link to these - a box of eight "Lynn Wood" French heels from the 1920s (possibly earlier), in white, brown, and black.

Yummy!  These heels are hand-carved wood, covered in leather, with leather tips, and just the most lovely balance and curves.  There was a bit of a battle for these, but I knew when I saw them that they *needed* to go into the American Duchess collection for the sake of future historical shoes.

The creation of French heels seems to be a lost art (as well as a lost interest).  Despite being the most popular heel shape for several hundred years, you won't find a properly balanced French heel on modern shoes these days (unless, of course, they're from American Duchess!).  Read more about the Death of the French Heel here.

Meanwhile, one of these eight little babies is going to travel off to faraway lands to be reproduced for enticing new flavors of 18th century, Victorian, Edwardian, and 1920s footwear. :-)

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Monday, April 8, 2013


Special Event: "Kensington" Black Leather Colonial Shoes Re-Pre-Order

Hey all! So...we've run out of black Kensingtons.  Yep, there are, like, five pairs left.  So I thought I'd try something new - a "Re-Pre-Order," to help us raise funds for the next order of black Kensingtons.

To entice you, the Re-Pre price is $105 ($125).  If you've been waiting patiently for Kensington, get your order in between April 8 and April 21st, before we sell out again (a very real possibility - we sold out of many sizes of Tavistock before they even got here)

Kensington in black has been our most popular 18th century shoe, and for good reason - it's stylish, comfortable, and period correct, c. 1770-1790.  You can pair it with all classes of dress, and wear it out in the fields, in town, or to a formal events.

Re-Pre-Order Kensington in black leather at 

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Thursday, April 4, 2013


Why Make Historical Shoes?

Lauren W. models a powder blue 1740s riding habit, surrounded by Kensington and Pompadour 18th century shoes
This month marks the two year anniversary of starting the Historical Footwear side of this whole "American Duchess" thing, and I thought it would be a good time to revisit the "why" of what we're doing, and to get acquainted with many new followers that have joined us, who may not know what American Duchess is all about.

Once upon a time...I couldn't find any shoes I liked, to pair with my 18th century ensembles.  I searched high and low, but when it came to the graceful curve of the French heel, the delicate silk fabric, and the beautiful colors and designs found in extant examples, there was nothing to slake my Georgian shoe lust.

Lauren R. (that's me!) matches red Kensingtons to a red Robe a l'Anglaise, for Bastille Day 2012
When you spend so much time sewing a gown, getting all the underpinnings and silhouette details right, slaving away on just the right hat and hairstyle, making sure everything is perfect, why then should you have to "make do" with shoes that aren't just as dazzling and correct as the rest of you?

And, simply put, that is why.  Because truly authentic reproduction shoes are near impossible to find, I've set out to create at least one or more examples from every period of dress from the 16th century to the 1940s, so that when it comes to appropriate footwear, you don't have to worry that your shoes aren't quite right.

You also don't have to worry that they're horribly uncomfortable and will fall apart after one season.  Part of my quest is to make *real* shoes - that means real leather inside and out, hard-wearing soles, and excellent fit, just like you would expect from a nice pair of shoes you buy at Macy's or Nordstrom's.  Balance and engineering are extremely important to me - the shoemakers of the past understood these things too.

Laurie T. trims Pompadours in pink ribbons, to match her pink brocade gown.
In short, American Duchess Historical Footwear is here to support the return of well-designed, comfortable, and beautiful shoes and accessories, through reviving vintage and historical styles.  We stand for grace, beauty, and dressing up, for exploring the past through clothing, and keeping history alive one step at a time. :-)

Most Sincerely,

For more information, visit AmericanDuchess.com, or find us on Facebook
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Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Interview with Karen Bowler of "Classic Costume"

Hi all! It's been some time since we last interviewed a savvy historical costumer.  Today I've interviewed Karen of "Classic Costume," a custom maker of some seriously gorgeous 18th century and Regency ensembles.  You can find Karen on her website, Etsy, and Facebook .  Here's what she has to say about her work...


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Tuesday, April 2, 2013


ORANGE! Regency Test Dress In Progress

Howdy! I've been battling to get my sewing mojo back recently, and thought I would test out a quick n' easy Regency pattern I've had in my stash for some time - Simplicity 4055 .  I've made this dress before, once upon a time, and had cut down the neckline of the long-sleeved version significantly.  Other anticipated alterations include raising the empire waistline up to the super-high-underbust created by the half stays (which I will share with you shortly, as soon as I get that last bit of binding on the armhole...)
The fabric is a cheap "art silk" sari - the "art" is short for artificial, go figure.  It was a whopping $17 from eBay, and I thought it would be worth a try for that price.  When it arrived, my gosh it was orange.  Like...ORANGE!  I was hoping more for a bold yellow.  I tried bleaching a piece of the sari, but no dice, and I just can't come to love the ORANGE!  Fair enough, for $17, and the perfect opportunity to test out the pattern.

So here she is in progress.  The Simplicity pattern has a front and back to the skirt, no side gores, and I am not particularly fond of how the skirt falls  The stiffness of the woven gold design isn't lending itself to a nicely draped skirt either.

Don't be fooled by that nice yellow color - it's ORANGE!
The bodice is alright so far, so I may go with the bodice, or similar, and draft my own skirt from one of the many diagrams available in books and online, like this one:

Who knows, maybe by the end of this mini-project, I will have learned to love the ORANGE!
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