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”


  • Sofia

    November 13, 2013 at 2:47 PM

    I love your blog and everything you post, thank you!
    I'm probably heading to London next summer. Do you know any good laces to visit there to see historical dresses? Victoria&Albert's is already on my list, but do you know any other great places? 🙂

  • Alexa

    November 14, 2013 at 9:49 PM

    I love all of these dresses! Especially that blue and red velvet ensemble….
    I saw everything in person because the exhibit came from the special collections at UNH, where I got my BA! I also worked with Astrida when I was an intern at a nearby museum… all around SQUEE!

    There was a wonderful 1870s-does-1770s dress in the exhibit when I saw it – did that make it into the book? I loved it both for its wrong-ness and its attempt at bringing patriotically historic fashions up-to-date!

  • ProfessorBats

    January 24, 2016 at 5:37 PM

    I've been trying to decide whether to get this book, but the info on contents is fairly scarce. Could someone tell me what period the highlighted dresses cover, specifically? I mostly see photos of that one brown 1870s dress, but are all the dresses bustle eras /natural form? Or do we get to the 1890s, or maybe even Edwardian/teens?

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