Monday, October 28, 2013


LACMA Sacque-ma: Beginning the Robe

I've finally started in earnest on the LACMA Sacque-ma. For a reminder, because it's been too long since I posted about this, here's the original dress:

LACMA, 1765
I don't have any experience with Robes a la Francaise.  They scare the nickels out of me, honestly, but with the help of Patterns of Fashion 1 ,The Cut of Women's Clothes: 1600-1930 ,Period Costume for Stage & Screen, and Katherine's very very helpful sacque-draping tutorial, I think I may be getting somewhere.

Pinning and fiddling with the back pleats.
After I dyed the silk fabric, I starched and ironed it like a crazy person.  This resulted in a rather springy fabric that didn't want to fold into pleats easily, but with a bucketload of pins, and the brutal savagery of my steamer, I got the Watteau back to this point:

The back pleats aren't perfection, but they look pretty okay.  Now I'm messing with the front skirt pieces, which I believe is premature, as I should construct the front of the bodice first.  Here I have them pinned on.  I was struggling with the fall of the front edges, but in studying Janet Arnold's Francaise pattern, I found that it's *really* important to slant the front edges, otherwise, if done on the straight, the skirt will fall too flat over the petticoat, and not in that nice A line.

The left side is folded back so the piece angles; the right side is on the straight.
That's my progress for now. I'm a little nervous about running out of fabric for all the trims I'd like to do. It looks like this is going to be a use-every-scrap kind of project (which I find quite satisfying, really).  More later!
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Saturday, October 26, 2013


Romantic Era Gowns - c. 1820s-1830s

I have a bit of an itch to make something late 1820s, 1830s.  Crazy, I know.  Crazy GIGOT SLEEVES! Crazy!

But...but...some are quite pretty. And it's a most unloved era.  I feel a great challenge in getting the silhouette correct, so I may have to give it a go.  Here are some stomachable examples (in my opinion):

Ball dress of cream silk net embroidered in gold metal strip. late 1820s, Via
The Met, 1830, British
abiti antichi, 1829, Via
Romantic-period hand-embroidered silk taffeta dress with large gigot sleeves, c.1830. Via
MFA, French Ball Gown, 1825, Via
I'll end with my most favorite Romantic garment ever, this pink gown from LACMA. I think if I try for this period, I will try to make this one...

LACMA, 1830, Via
This gown is pink silk satin with an overlay of organza beaded with imitation pearls.  I find it stunningly beautiful and incredibly challenging, especially all those pearls, but so drool-worthy! So...perhaps Costume College next year? pressure!
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Friday, October 25, 2013

Costume Clear-Out on Etsy

Right, here we go.  I've spent today photographing and listing a bunch of my old creations on Etsy.  Here they are.  Click the photo to go to the listing.  First come, first serve!

18th Century half-boned stays. $65.00
17th century satin gown - $199
Mid-Victorian cotton plaid dress - $175
1912 Cotton Day Dress - $70.00
Madame X satin bustle gown - $130
18th century Matelasse petticoat - $55
Regency open robe - $135
All of these and some other thingies are listed in my Etsy Shop: American Duchess on Etsy.
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Thursday, October 24, 2013

Turning Over A New (Silk) Leaf

This 17th c. gown is one I'd like to re-make, in silk satin, so I'm going to sell this version on
Every once in awhile there comes a time when just about everything in my costume closet no longer suffices.

This non-sufficiency happens for several reasons:

  • The costumes no longer represent one's skill
  • They didn't originally fit great, and magical closet transformations never took place, thus they still don't fit well
  • One increases or decreases in size, and the costumes don't
  • The materials from which the costumes are made are no longer as bitchin' as once thought
  • I'm just not that into it anymore.

After constructing my wedding gown, which was made from silk taffeta, I felt it was time to up my game.  The silk was so lovely, so nice to work with, and so pretty and shimmery and sheeny that I don't want to go back to synthetic taffeta ever again.

I didn't mind this year's Titanic costume, and it fit alright, but I never really cared for it that much, so to a more loving home it shall go...
I also don't want to wear uncomfortable, ill-fitting garments anymore. This presents a conundrum where the wedding gown is concerned, because it was too small.  Way.  WAY too small.  I get the "pleasure" of deconstructing the bodice and attempting to let it out through its various seams, but because it's my wedding gown, and made from such lovely materials, I want to neither sell it nor remodel it into something else. I pad-stitched the dickens out of that collar, and it deserves to be preserved!

Sometimes I'm just not that into a costume, even though it turned out alright. This Victorian will be great for somebody else...

I think these kinds of overhauls are good for one's self.  It's a shedding the old to make room for the new, and I feel excited by the challenge of making better clothing from now on. It won't always come out perfectly (the wedding gown being an example of that), but this is a life-long skill, and there's as much fun in the journey as in the final result. :-)

Anyway, I have a bunch of stuff to photograph and list on Etsy in the next week or so. I'll post here on the blog, and on Facebook, when it's all up and ready.
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Thursday, October 17, 2013

Green Gowns of the 18th Century

I have a house full of people here for The Wedding, so forgive me for being quite absent. It's all a bit mad here!

So in honor of the Historical Sew Fortnightly Challenge #21, and my light green wedding gown, here are some gorgeous 18th century green dresses.

Du Barry, 1789 Via
Lady Charlotte Finch, 1787 Via
Esther Boardman, 1789, by Ralph Earl, via
Journal de Luxus, April 1792, via
Maria de Ron von Breda
The Met, 1750s
VandA, 1740-50
Fries Museum, 1740 - 70
The Met, 1775
LACMA, early 18th c.
Nom Nom Nom! I'll never get tired of looking at these....
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Tuesday, October 15, 2013

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The Angel Wing Bum, 1785

Save for one tiny bit of stomacher fabric, my wedding gown is DONE! *happy dance*

Last week, when sorting out hems and skirt volumes, I decided I needed a new bum.  The en fourreau-ish-ness of the center back on the redingote didn't want to lay nicely over more hefty bums, so I was looking for something that would allow that portion of the dress to lay smoothly, while providing oomph to the rest of the skirt.

I immediately thought of Demode's excellent research, "Late 18th Cenury Skirt Supports: Bums, Rumps, & Culs," so went scurrying off to brush up on what sort of pa-dunk-a-dunk I needed to get the shape I wanted.

I was intrigued by the many bum styles satirized in this fabulous Rushworth print, from 1785, in the Lewis Walpole Library:

The bum in the top row, second from the right, caught my attention. In my brainbox I imagined it creating flare at the sides, while remaining flat-ish at the center back, and helping the skirt to transition smoothly from the waist into a backward sweep.

So here's my take on it:

It came out quite large, and I have a second, small bum stacked beneath it to angle the whole thing back a bit more.  This stacked bum method reminds me of the Elizabethan wheel farthingales shown in Period Costume for Stage & Screen and The Tudor Tailor, but it's also not so different from 19th century elliptical hoops.

Please excuse my messy messy room - shown here from the inside out is: small bum, angel wing bum, ugly puffer, synthetic taffeta petticoat, and silk taffeta petticoat.
It definitely does the trick. I'm not sure it's the most efficient way to achieve this shape, but it generally worked, so I'm happy.  I can see how variations on this design could achieve quite different results - maybe the wings wrap around the waist more, so there's padding more on the hips, or the center back pillowy bit is stuffed more, instead of left quite soft the way I did it. That's the difficult part about working from a cartoon - the shapes are exaggerated, and it's impossible to tell what the stuffing was like. It served as a nice inspiration, though, and I'd love to try out some of those other crazy-looking bums hanging on the wall!
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Monday, October 14, 2013

Astoria! Astoria!

Somewhere along the way a rumor developed that "Astoria," our most popular shoe, like, ever, was being discontinued. Well I'm happy to report that discontinued Astorias are NOT!

It's taken some time to sort it all out with our awesome new factory, but Astorias are back for pre-order, and better than ever.  I took the opportunity to make some improvements:

  • Better quality calf leather upper
  • Now lined in real leather instead of faux, which means these will stretch and mold to your feet perfectly
  • Thicker leather soles that won't wear out so quickly at the toe and edges
  • Functional buttonholes and stronger buttons - this means you can actually undo the straps to get the shoes on; also, no more scuffed leather buttons breaking apart; and you can easily move the buttons to let the straps out or take them in, to fit your arches perfectly.
  • Trimmed down straps - no more bulky piping around the straps, so they look more delicate and lay across the foot better.
  • The ivory is now actually ivory, and it has the same dyeability and paintability as before.

I've put the order for Astorias in already, so the size quantities on the website are limited. I know a lot of you have been waiting quite some time for a restock, and I would strongly encourage you to pre-order to reserve your pair, especially if you wear a size 6 or 11.  Delivery is scheduled for early January.

Place orders online at
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Friday, October 11, 2013

Important Announcement from American Duchess Historical Footwear

Okay, lads and ladies, it's time for me to put my business hat on and make a very important announcement.

On Monday, October 14th, the prices on some of our shoes will be going up.

While most of our prices will stay right where they are, we've had to make the difficult to decision to raise the prices on Tavistock, Hartfield, Astoria, Kensington, and Pompadour.

This tough decision involved many factors.  While the quality of construction and materials has gone up, unfortunately this means the price of those materials goes up too, as well as the cost of shipping and freight, and the skilled labor needed to manufacture high-grade leather shoes and boots.

We care about everyone connected to our business, from you the customer to the people making our product.  In return for the price increase, you get an awesomely authentic, comfortable, and superior quality shoe, and our factory workers get a higher wage and much better quality of life.  We here at HQ get to continue making historical shoes and accessories.  Everybody wins, even our mail carrier, who gets cash bonuses for all of the packages he picks up from us.

Thank you for your continued support and understanding.  This isn't easy, but I know you wonderful people in the community will understand the conundrum, especially those of you who yourselves run small businesses.

So if you've been eyeballing a pair of boots, Kensies, or the new Pompadours, take advantage of the lower prices this weekend.  EasyPay Layaway plans are also welcome.

If you have any questions, I'll be happy to answer them in the comments, or by email - [email protected] .

Most Sincerely,

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Wednesday, October 9, 2013


My October Wedding Inspiration

In ten days is my wedding.  The dress is nearing completion.  The florist, the caterer, the photographers, the decor, all of that is lined up.  The leaves are turning, the mountain tops are snowy.  I'm getting a wee bit excited :-).

I want to share with you some of my inspiration images.  Pinterest, of course, is the go-to for wedding inspo, so here are a few of the things that helped me narrow the focus for all the little deets that go into this event:

Silk Taffeta in sage green. Via

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