Saturday, November 30, 2013


Museum Sketching and Progress in 1879

Left to Right: me, Oscar, Debbie, and Jane
Last weekend a few of us Great Basin Costumers gathered at the Nevada Museum of Art to act as models for a sketching class. We were not stationary models - the Museum kindly provided us lunch, and we sat eating and chatting, while the students in the class captured quick, gestural moments.

The general theme was late Victorian, but that encompasses quite a spread. It was serendipity that we all arrived in 1870s bustle gowns.  We even had a gentleman accessory, Oscar:

There were Tavistock boots present:

It was a very fun day, and the museum-goers, both the students and general lunching public, were tickled by our attire (which I always enjoy).

I wore an old costume - a day bodice with a taffeta skirt - and once again the thing didn't fit.  Luckily, thanks to Victorian ingenuity, I can let the darts out of the bodice and not have to sell it (because I really quite like it!).  However, I was inspired to begin in earnest on my 1879 ensemble, which I now have precisely 13 days to complete (eek!)  Here's my progress so far:

It sure doesn't look like much.  I put the foundation skirt together the same way as my Green Acres Gown skirt, using Truly Victorian TV 261, but leaving the back panel long, and slicing a godet into it.  All of the piecing and stitching will be covered in the deep pleat guard going on next.

TV 261

The fabric turned out to be splendid. It was a $3/yard cotton/silk blend (mostly cotton), marked as "dupioni" but resembling it not at all. It's more like a crisper sateen, and has the sheen of a taffeta, but the drape and ease-of-sewing of a cotton. I *love* it.

I'm trimming in brown bias, various widths, with a vague nod to this gown:

Via Museum at FIT
I have a long way yet to go!

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Friday, November 29, 2013

This Weekend Somebody's Order Will Be FREE

Yes, I mean it.

If you place your order between today, November 29 and Monday, December 2nd, you could win your entire order back.

The winner will be selected by random number generator, and the cost of their entire order will be refunded. If it's $10, full refund - if it's $500, full refund.  If it's €50, if it's £300, doesn't matter - full refund.

Only orders placed between midnight November 29th and 11:59 pm December 2nd will qualify. The winner will be chosen on December 3rd.

So if you've been eyeballing some goodies, or you're shopping for loved ones, now is most definitely an opportune time. Place your order and enter the drawing at:

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Monday, November 25, 2013

Please Vote: What Will Be Our December Shoe?

Ladies and Gents, I need your opinions once again!

I have just way too many exciting shoes here, any one of which we could release for the December Pre-Order.  So I would like you to please choose which shoe you would most likely purchase in December.

*Please note that the December shoe will not be delivered until March/April of next year.

The candidates are:

"Stratford" Elizabethan/Renaissance Shoes in leather - will come in oxblood or black (a 2 color pre-order), and will be available in women's AND MEN'S sizes. Stratford is our first "Signature" shoe, a collaboration project with Francis Classe, Cordwainer.

"Georgiana" - finally back from the dead. The new Georgiana is made on Kensington's last and pattern, with the same delicate 1.75" French heel, latchet closure, and elegantly tapered toe. Dyeable Satin returns!

"Savoy" beaded Edwardian multi-strap pump. Built on Astoria's last, with our 1.75" French heel. The vamp features cut outs and a whole mess of beads, lovingly stitched on. Button closure makes these adjustable.

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Thursday, November 21, 2013


Announcing the American Duchess "Winter Wonderland" Photo Contest

Hey everyone! Tomorrow begins our first official Photo Contest on Facebook! The theme is loosely "winter wonderland" - starting tomorrow, click on the "Photo Contest" tab under our cover photo, and upload your favorite picture of you (or your friend) in historical costume of any period (including Steampunk).

All photo submissions are due by November 29th - voting then starts and will run through December 6th. The winners are chosen by popular vote (so tell your friends!). Prizes are:

1st place: $100 gift certificate to
2nd place: $75 gift certificate to
3rd place: $50 gift certificate to

So start looking through your photos (or go out and take some), and be ready to upload them next week!  Anything vaguely holiday or season-related is great: think "Dickens Fair," "plaid" "Christmas," Hanukkah," "Kwanzaa" - anything festive, fur-trimmed, wool, cozy-looking, etc. It doesn't have to be a photo in a snowy landscape - it should just evoke the feeling of the season. There's no restriction on the age of the photo - a day old, a year old, a decade old, all are welcome.

Here are some examples:

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Friday, November 15, 2013


The Marriage of Albert Roberts and Margaret Emily Waterman, October 1813

This past October, Chris and I had the honor of capturing the wedding of our dear friends Maggie and Robert, who were joined together forever in the chapel at The Hermitage in Tennessee.  The wedding was historical one, set in 1813, no better choice for the couple who represents it best so often at reenactments and living history events throughout the South.

Albert is also known as The Doctor - here is his blog.
Maggie teaches historical dress as Undressing The Historical Lady, and also has a costuming blog here.
For the reception, Maggie wore "Hartfield" Regency boots in ivory
Her ballgown was made by The Lady of Portland House
Maggie's bonnet was a creation of Lydia Fast
More photos from the wedding can be see on the HMS Acasta blog here.

...and it was the most beautiful wedding ever!... 
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Wednesday, November 13, 2013


1879 Tea Gown: Mocking Up and Sketching

Last night, I jumped into working on this 1879 gown, for our tea on December 14th.  I was so anxious to see what resulted from the Wearing History 1879 Dinner Bodice pattern, as the pattern only has one illustration showing the front of the bodice, and I was just dying to know what was going on in the back.

The pattern went together quite nicely.  The measurements are accurate, and I found the pieces quite true.  The pattern notes that the center back pieces, at the hem, are longer than the rest of the bodice hem, which I suspect was a purposeful design, as the rest of the pieces match so cleanly.

I hit a snag with the pattern where the revers are concerned.  The illustration shows these lovely little turned back bits on the lower edge of the bodice, but when I turned back my bits, according to the lines on the pattern, it didn't look at all like the illustration.

I fiddled for many hours, until I determined that the bodice overall was too long for my taste, so I went slicing n' dicing, and cut the bodice hem into a shape I liked and felt would be more flattering on me.

The hem cut into a shape I liked
At this point I thought it would be a good idea to get jiggy with the skirt.  I had no idea what I was doing, but after consulting Patterns of Fashion 2, and Jen Rosburgh's "How to Make an 1870s Bustle Skirt" post, I set to work pleating and pinning kindof just wherever.

Skirt swags, along with the bodice back - on the left, the altered line (which may be altered further), and on the right the original lines.
Oddly enough, it appears to have worked. I wanted that tight-across-the-front, flared-at-the-bottom late 1870s look, and for the bodice to work with the placement of the poufs.  I think it kindof looks like an insect body at the moment, so I may try a couple different methods of gathering up the sides, before deciding on the final design.

I've been trying to wrap my head around each part of this ensemble, so have done a lot of sketches:

These are derived from various gowns on my 1879 Pinterest board. These are a few of the reference images I feel most closely resemble what I'm trying to create:

...but it's as much random chaos as anything right now!
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Tuesday, November 12, 2013


Book Review: "Embellishments: Constructing Victorian Detail" by Astrida Schaeffer

Embellishments: Constructing Victorian Detail
Astrida Schaeffer
(c) 2013 by Astrida Schaeffer
ISBN 978-1-938394-04-1

Many of us have been anticipating Astrida's book "Embellishments" for quite some time. I was happy to receive it for my birthday, and quickly ran off to read every word of it (accompanied by tea and puppies, of course) upon its arrival.

Beautifully put together, with professional photography of garments never before published, "Embellishments" is not only a feast for the eyes, but a useful reference for historical costumers interested in  late Victorian fashions.
Celestia's Homemade Dress, pg 5
The Pros:

"Embellishments" focuses on details of late 19th century garments the way that The V&A's Nineteenth Century Fashion in Detail does, but unlike the latter, "Embellishments" actually shows multiple views of the entire garment, which is entirely necessary to the historical costumer.  Taking it one step further, Astrida also shows us how to construct the various trims seen on the garments, using easy-to-follow diagrams.

Pg 51 - an example of a diagram showing how to recreate the trim seen in the upper right image
"Embellishments" features ten gowns from the Irma Bowen Collection of the University of New Hampshire Museum, all of which are splendid and have interesting stories behind them. In looking through this book, I feel as if I'm privy to a private, seldom-exhibited collection of important garments worn by American women.

The Cons:

For the intermediate and advanced costumer, "Embellishments" is much more about gorgeous reference material, and less about the techniques of making the trims.  The books covers the basics of knife and box pleating, ruching, bias binding, piping, and braidwork, among a few others, all things that experienced seamstresses will likely already be quite familiar with.

However, the value is in seeing how all of these trims appear and work together on a single gown.  The breakdown of each type of embellishment, along with the many detail photos provided, encourages even the most advanced costumer to go the extra mile when trimming a Victorian gown. I know that I am guilty of under-trimming, but after perusing "Embellishments," I feel quite inspired to really go at it with the trims on my next Natural Form attempt.


"Embellishments" is a great little book that should be on every historical costumer's shelf.  It is an independent publication created by one of our very own, and offers both splendid imagery and useful information.  You can purchase "Embellishments" directly from Astrida, on her website Schaeffer Arts.

I and American Duchess Company are not affiliated with Schaeffer Arts, nor do I receive any commission for the promotion of "Embellishments"
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Monday, November 11, 2013


18th Century Mules in Art

Some of you may be wondering how, when, and where to wear the new "Antoinette" 18th century mules, thinking they look oh-so delicate, and not at all practical for anything.  To answer the question, let's take a look at some primary source material - depictions of 18th century women wearing this type of shoe.  When did they wear it, and how?

Wear them in the boudoir...
Francois Boucher, La Toilette, 1742  
Wear them while crying ...
La Mauvaise Nouvelle "bas news," 1740, by Jean-Baptist-Marie Pierre
Wear them in the kitchen...
"Svenska: En piga hoser sappa utur en kiettel - i en skal," 1770s?, by Pehr Hillestrom
Wear them for breakfast...
Leonard Defrance, "The Breakfast"
Wear them to wash other people's clothes...
"La Blanchisseuse," 1761, Jean-Baptiste Greuze
Wear them when you're Madame de Pompadour...
"Portrait en pied de la marquise de Pompadour," 1748-55, Maurice Quentin de La Tour
Wear them for a dangerous liaison...
"The Boudoir," 1730s, Jean Baptiste Joseph Pater
Wear them while swinging in your pastoral garden...
Jean-Honore Fragonard, "Les hasards heureux de l'escarpolette," 1767-68
Wear them while out hunting...
"Mr. and Mrs. Robert Andrews," 1748, Thomas Gainsborough
So where to wear your Antoinette mules?
Sport them for indoor events such as tea and dinner parties, or indoor reenactments.  Wear them in states of undress, or with more formal gowns, while relaxing, or while strolling formal gardens.  Wear them as a lady, a well-to-do middle class woman, or even a ladies' maid fortunate to receive her mistress' hand-me-downs.

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Sunday, November 10, 2013

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Dyeing Those Dyeable Ivory Leather Boots (or Shoes)

Those of you who have been following for awhile will hear me go on and on about "dyeable ivory" this, and "dyeable ivory" that, when it comes to the leather shoes in the shop.  I realize I haven't really shown you just how dyeable said ivory is, so now is as good a time as any.

Red Regency Boots

I decided to test out the Angelus Leather Dyes on a pair of "Hartfield" Regency Boots in Ivory that had a small smudge on the heel.

The process is really pretty easy - After removing the laces from the boots, I used the Angelus Leather Preparer/Deglazer to strip off any factory finish, followed by dampening the leather all over, with water.

Next I just smeared on the red dye - I used a flat paintbrush to get in the nooks n' crannied near the sole and around the seams, and the small wool dauber that comes with the dye to smear the stuff all over, working it in with circular motions.  I dyed the laces with the same leather dye as well - the color came out a bit differently, but they don't completely mis-match the boots. It's easy enough to add different laces, too, like on the extant boots that influenced our design.

After the dye dried, I applied Angelus Lustre Cream in red, which evened out the color and re-hydrated the leather.  Then I rubbed in Angelus Wax Polish in red/oxblood, and polished it off, which formed a lovely sheen and will help with water resistance.

The final result has a wonderful, rich color, and a hand-made feel.  The leather dye has character (whereas the paints form a completely uniform color with no evidence of the human touch), which I actually feel gives an authentic look.

American Duchess Regency Boots

Now I'm wishing I'd dyed a pair of 7.5, because I'd keep them! These are a 9, and since I can't wear them, they're up for sale on Etsy.

If you'd like to try your hand at dyeing your own pair of shoes, be them Hartfield boots, Astorias, Gibsons, any of the ivory shoes we have at American Duchess, here are the links to the gubbins you'll need:

Regency Walking Boots

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