Friday, January 31, 2014

Interview with Merja of "Before the Automobile"

Today's seamstress needs no introduction.

She is renowned world-wide for her gorgeous costuming, amazing fit, brilliant styling, and - oh!- that silhouette!

Merja Palkivaara of "Before the Automobile" and "The Aristocat" is not only a fantastic historical seamstress, but is also a wonderfully nice, genuine, and modest person.

I had the honor of meeting Merja at Costume College last year, and was floored by her grace as well as her skill.

So without further ado...

Read More

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

American Duchess Shoe Shop Announcements


Today I have a couple shop announcements for you. First...

Astoria Edwardian Shoes

Imperfects Sale

We have quite a few styles available, but only a small and random selection of sizes in each. The pricing reflects the level of imperfection - almost all flaws are tiny marks on satin or leather. There are no structural flaws, just cosmetic.

You can see everything available here:
Civil War Shoes

Gettysburg Pre-Order Ending

Just two days left on the Gettysburg pre-order. We *are* going into production on these. Remember that you get a discount and guaranteed your size when you pre-order (we often sell out of sizes before the shipment arrives, especially 6s and 11s), plus you're helping support the development and release of new historical shoes in our range.

Place your order here:

Gettysburgs *are* historically accurate from the 1830s through the 1860. They are period correct for Civil War.
Renaissance Shoes
Stratfords On The Way

Stratford Elizabethan Shoes have wrapped up production and are en route. We're expecting them near the end of February. You can order yours for arrival in time for fair season.

Remember these are a Signature Collection shoe designed by artisan shoemaker Francis Classe, and he receives a share of the profits. They're mega-researched and excellently designed and constructed.

That's all for now, folks!
Read More

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

, ,

Accessorizing for Williamsburg: The Do-It-Again-George Cape-Mantle-Thing

Of course, my cape looks nothing like this...
I'm off and running on my Williamsburg accessories. Feeling good about the muff, I jumped into making a cloak...something simple, easy, quick, right?

Uh, no.

I followed the diagrams in "Costume Close-Up ," except that I didn't. I had a remnant of blue wool melton in my stash, which approximated wool broadcloth quite nicely, so I endeavored to make a simple round cloak, about hip-length, with unfinished hem and hand slits, like the original. I planned to line the hood in soft pink silk, like the original, and tie on a big fluffy vintage fur collar I bought from Maggie last Summer. In my mind, mine would look something like a shorter, furry, blue version of this:

The Met, last 3rd of the 18th c.
Simple, right?

Well instead of using my brain, I just started hacking away at the wool. When I should have cut the cloak circular, or almost circular (because of its size), I had some weird half-circle that put the seams in a strange place. My pocket slits weren't in the right place either, so I stitched them back together, and ended up cutting the cloak into a mantle shape, to accommodate the arms.

The cape cut into a mantle shape - you can see the seams here. I later change the tucking on the neckline.
My hood came out too small, and the pleats on the back were crap, so I deconstructed it, pieced in some more wool (luckily that's period correct), but then didn't have enough pretty pink silk to line it. By that time I'd decided the whole cape needed lining, so I cut into an old ivory taffeta petticoat.

Of course, then it all looked too plain, so I endeavored to find some fur for trimming that would match the blonde fox collar. The thrift store delivered, with an outdated jacket lined entirely in ivory faux fur that was actually pretty decent.  When I got it home I realize that the fox collar was quite a bit darker than the faux fur I'd picked up, so I spent an evening learning all about how to color faux fur.

Bottom Right is the original faux fur. Top Middle is the real fur collar - you can see how red it is. Bottom Left is my result from spraying with the alcohol/acrylic solution.
At least THIS part of the project was a success - I used To The Wig Shop!'s tutorial for staining synthetic hair wigs. I mixed acrylic ink (and some acrylic paint, when the color wasn't quite right) into rubbing alcohol, sprayed it on the fur, rubbed it with my gloved hands, and let it dry. I didn't rinse it out, as my application was very light and topical. So far no paint/dye has come off on my skin or clothes, when working with the fur.  It didn't turn out an *exact* match - the real fur has a lot of red in it - but it was a close enough approximation for me to be happy.

Some more battling and fiddling and doing things twice - gathering/tucking/pleating the neck, the ties, the loops on the fox collar - and I'm done, over it, and it's actually quite nice. Here's the result:

It's not very drapey, but it'll be warm. With the big collar on it, I feel kindof like Ned Stark
The keep the fur collar in place, and make it removable, I added thread loops on the edges of the underside, and threaded the cape's ties through.
The pleats on the hood took some fiddling - I used a cartridge pleat technique to create them - basically a big gathering stitch. Worked a treat.

The hood is still not huge. It won't go over a monstrous hairstyle, but it'll do nicely over a daytime coif and a cap.
Next time I make a cloak, I'll be much more prepared! What I am *very* happy about is that this was almost entirely made from stash fabrics. The only thing I bought for it was the faux fur trim - the jacket was about $16.00, and I have loads of faux fur left. If I count the ink and alcohol mixture, too, the total for this project came to about $24.00. Yay stashbusting!
Read More

Thursday, January 23, 2014

, ,

Accessorizing for Williamsburg: An 18th Century Fur Muff

On my list of things to make for our March trip to Williamsburg was a fur muff to keep the hands warm, in case of chilly weather.
Mrs. Wilbraham Bootle, 1781 by George Romney, oil on Canvas, National Gallery of Scotland
I was itching to try making a muff, as I already had all the necessary materials in my stash - vintage salvaged sable fur, satin for the lining, the guts of a hundred dog toys (polyfill).

Sable fur rescued from a vintage coat that was in pretty bad condition - I seamed several piece together, which is a lot harder than it looks - you can see my vertical seam, which is rather obvious.
I read through Leimomi's post about her fur muff, and Katherine's tutorials on making a muff base and cover, then decided to try to make a base with the fur as a cover, after seeing Jen's version made this way.

Here's my muff base, made out of stash satin. I didn't really have enough polyfill to fill it up, and I ended up going a different direction with the construction, but this worked great as a mockup.
The problem was that I was using real fur salvaged from a vintage coat, and it didn't want to fold and bend the way faux fur does. I couldn't conceive a way, too, to cleanly attach a gathering channel to the fur.

So I went with a second method informed by Katherine's tutorial.  After piecing together a large enough piece of the vintage fur, I stitched one side to the lining material, and also attached a narrow strip to the other side, seen here:

The construction is the same as in Katherine's tutorial, but I've created the yardage from two materials - one will be the outside and one the inside of the muff.
The strip is what I would be whip-stitching the lining to, once I'd pulled it through the fur-tube, as stitching it to the hide itself would have been difficult and put a lot of stress on the skin, probably tearing through it.

With this piece, I then followed Katherine's directions, stitching it together length-wise, then pulling the lining through the middle of the fur, stuffing it with polyfill, and tediously turning the edge of the lining and facing strip, and whipping those together.

The tube, before pulling the satin through the fur, and stuffing it
Though some steps were tricky, all in all I made the thing in about two hours, and it works a treat.  I may open the end up and add some more stuffing (you'll need more than you think), but other wise it's finished, and I have one more accessory for Williamsburg done. :-)

The last little bit was to add a bow cut out of ivory taffeta. It's not necessary, but I liked the look of it, and it also reminds me which way to hold the muff, so the fur runs downwards, and my less-than-stellar seaming is hidden-ish.

That's it! It was quick and fairly easy, with good results. You can make muffs out of wool, satin, fur, faux fur, really whatever you like, and decorate them in a gazillion different ways. They work across periods, too, and really do keep the hands warm. It's a nice project for an evening, or a get-together with friends. :-)
Read More

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

, ,

Accessorizing for Williamsburg, 2014

For once I have a decent number of gowns to wear to a big event, but what I *don't* have is a selection of accessories to help with what might be quite chilly weather.  With a month and a half until we leave, I can surely knock together some of these things:

Gloves and/or Mitts
I'm leaning more towards the gloves. I've had this Butterick glove pattern for ages and never used it, so I'm thinking of giving it a try with some thin leather, but I might just buy doeskin opera gloves instead...

A Fur Muff
Lots of people (Koshka, Leimomi) have been making muffs lately, so I don't feel completely at a loss when it comes to figuring out how to make one. I have some old vintage sable fur that would be perfect for the job, and has been waiting patiently in my stash for something like this.

Madame Molee-Reymond by Vigee Le Brun (Louvre)
A Mantle or Cape
Short or long, wool or silk, I haven't decided yet. Here's some inspiration:
Nasjonalmuseet for Kunst, Arketektur og Design - 1780-1810
The Met, cape (and muff), last third of the 18th c.
The British Museum, 1778-1779
The Fashionable Past
Okay, so maybe I'm leaning rather towards a silk mantle with furry or fluffy bits...

A Calash Bonnet
I've wanted one for ages. I know it won't provide much warmth, but it'll look cool and cover a high hairstyle, in case it's misting or snowing or anything like that. There is a workshop during the convention, but I'm afraid it's going to book out before I can register. It's also during another workshop I think I might like to go on instead, so I might have to figure the calash out on my own. :-)

The Met, c. 1790
The Met, 18th c.
A Few Other Things I'll Need or Would Like...

  • A new bergere - mine are much too large
  • An additional cap, because I only have one
  • A quilted petticoat

I Also Need To Make or Fix or Finish...

  • A shirt for my riding habit
  • The gilet for my riding habit (because I don't think the jacket will close anymore)
  • The trimmings and whatnots on the LACMA Francaise
  • Full reconstruction of my Weddingote (may may not happen)

Read More

Monday, January 20, 2014


Returning to Williamsburg in March 2014

Colonial Williamsburg, here we come!
I'll spare you the "squee" (but know that it's happening) - my dear friend Maggie and I will be attending the Millinery Through Time conference in Colonial Williamsburg this March!

Oh my, I can't help it, sorry, SQUEEEE!!!

The conference promises to be ripe with interesting everything - lectures, presentations, viewings of collections, a birthday party reception, a little play. I'm even excited about the coffee break, not to mention the "study drawers open in Textile Gallery." OMG OMG OMG.

I didn't even get to wear all of these gowns last time I was there, on account of the weather.
Of course, my mind drifts to "whatever shall I wear?" With a short turnaround time, I will be taking older gowns - the red "Revolution" dress, the Indienne, the striped Anglaise, maybe my wedding redingote, if I adjust the fit, and maybe the blue riding habit - but I also plan to finish off the LAMCA Sacque-ma, and maybe, just maybe, make a little Pierrot jacket out of the chintz fabric I bought at Colonial Williamsburg last time I was there.

Reproduction cotton print, from a gown in the CW collection.
Maybe something like this:

Met, 1785

Maggie and I will be staying six nights, so that's rather a lot of days to be dressing up (oh darn).

I guess I'd better get to work!

Read More

Saturday, January 18, 2014


Review: "Creating Historical Clothes: Pattern Cutting From Tudor to Victorian Times"

Title: Creating Historical Clothes: Pattern cutting from Tudor to Victorian times
by Elizabeth Friendship
(c) Batsford 2013
ISBN: 0896762858
$21.00 - $26.00

Every once in awhile there comes a book that changes the shape of historical costuming ever after. One find one's self referring back to a book like this hundreds of times, before, during, and even after a project is completed. So vast is the information contained within a book such as this, that it becomes a go-to source for the myriad questions that arise when working through the construction of a historical costume. Creating Historical Clothes: Pattern cutting from Tudor to Victorian times is one such book.

The Pros:

Creating Historical Clothes: Pattern cutting from Tudor to Victorian times covers just about everything you could ever want to learn about drafting patterns for each of these periods. It's hard core.

The book starts with some serious lessons in basic pattern manipulation, detailing with description and diagram how to moved darts, flare skirts, adjust necklines, alter sleeves, and draft pants (to name just a few of the lessons).  Then it moves on to period-specific patterning, building on the lessons learned earlier in the book.

Each chapter covers period-specific patterning. Here on the left is a shaped sleeve with mariner cuffs, from the 18th c. - I wish I'd had this when I was doing the sleeves for my wedding gown.
Each chapter is quite in depth, covering not just the basic bodice and skirt silhouettes, but a brief history, and how to make the underpinnings as well. The chapters offer several different types of garments per period too.  For example, in addition to the basic 16th c. "Holbein" bodice, you get a mid-16th century bodice, a bodice with a stomacher, a doublet bodice, and a loose gown, for this century, to go with the many sleeve variations.

One of the major strengths of this book is that you use your own measurements to draft these patterns. These are not gridded patterns made from original garments, or to a single size, so the resulting clothing you make should fit you precisely. It does involve math, measuring, and the ever-dreaded mock-up(s), but the idea is to draft a specific pattern from the get-go, instead of correcting an ill-fitting one.

The Cons:

The book is intense. It is very much for costumers who are ready to draft their own patterns, and can make sense of the information. To beginners, the book will be overwhelming, though I do think it is helpful in advising how to alter existing patterns - for instance, enlarging a sleeve, or removing darts from a pattern.

Detailed diagrams and instructions outline how to draft this Elizabethan bodice. I particularly like that attention is paid to the necklines and should strap areas, and getting these correct and trued.
Despite the many diagrams, there are few pictures to show a finished garment made from any of the pattern diagrams, so it can be difficult to visualize what will result, especially for the 19th century variations. In this way I think the book is intended to be a jumping-off point for working out a muslin, and then tweaking your design from there.  I would recommend using the book in combination with your other research, and other books on historical costuming.


Creating Historical Clothes: Pattern cutting from Tudor to Victorian times is definitely one to add to your bookshelf, even if you aren't quite ready for it yet.  I wish I'd had this book when I was making my grand pannier, or trying to sort out the construction for the LACMA Sacque-ma, or working out the kinks on last year's Elizabethan doublet. It's a fantastic reference and guide to working on patterns for a huge span of time.

Sleeves are often the trickiest part for costumers (I know they are for me). Here you can see clear diagrams on how to create shaped sleeves for the 18th c.

Read More

Thursday, January 16, 2014

, ,

Test Driving "18th Century Hair & Wig Styling - The Book"

As all of you 18th century beauties will already know, Kendra Van Cleave, the intrepid costumier and long-time blogger of Demode, has finally produced a how-to book on authentic 18th century coiffures.

"18th Century Hair & Wig Styling: History & Step-by-Step Techniques" will cover history and tutorials for hairstyles from each distinct period. From the images on the Facebook page, a number of high and mighty 1770s poufs and 1780s hedgehogs will be covered, along with 1760s styles, and techniques for men.

I thought a great way to help Kendra reach her pre-order goal would be to try one of the styles from the book and show you all the result. When it comes to styling hair, I pretty much suck, so if I can do this, then you ladies with skills far greater than mine will excel to unbelievable heights (four-foot hair tower, anyone?)

The style I tried is one from c. 1768  through the mid-1770s.  It was quite a popular style worn by Marie Antoinette and Madame Du Barry alike.

Marie Antoinette, 1769, by Joseph Ducreaux
Madame Du Barry, 1770-74, by Francois-Hubert Drouais
In studying these portraits, I determined that the style was overall egg-shaped, with smooth or frizzed hair ascending, then twisting into vertical rolls arranged prettily.  The tutorial walked me through each step in re-creating this style, and left room for a little creativity on my part, too.

I'm not going to show you a step-by-step, because that is what the book is for. Instead, I'll say that the tutorial instructions and images were clear and easy to follow. I made things a little harder for myself with the length of the wig I chose - mine was well-past the shoulder, and I ended up cutting off some of the length, before making the vertical rolls.

Left - my wig at the start; Right - set in rollers according to the instructions
My wig is synthetic, hard-front, and was about $30. You can do this with a cheap wig like this one, a nice lace-front wig, a human-hair wig, your own hair, doesn't matter. As mine was synthetic, I set the curlers with boiling water (Kendra goes over how to do this in the book), and let it cool and dry overnight.

Hair set with boiling water, then combed out. Atop is the foam rat foundation, a hair rat, and some of the hair pulled up from the back.
Following the instructions, I smoothed, pinned, ratted, combed, fluffed, and curled. The style is built over a collection of foam rats wired together to create the correct shape.  After much fussing and pinning, I got to this point...

I thought it looked nice - sculptural in a pleasing way - but I wasn't sure how it would look on my own head, so I thought I'd give it a go...

After just a little work blending my own hair into the front of the wig (and yes, some color work needs to be done to match my own hair to the wig color better), I was *astonished* at how good it looked, and utterly pleased that it literally took 5 minutes to put the whole thing on. The little gaps in the wig where the wig cap peaks through are covered by my own hair, and with a few silk flowers and an old necklace, all of the sudden I had one epic pouf.

No, seriously, I've never had hair this good. My prior experiments in 18th century hair hopping have been rather disappointing, so I am just amazed that this was so straight-forward and easy to do. I just needed the right tools and a guiding hand.

What I love most about the tutorial is that I can see how to create infinite variation. You could do this style with a much shorter wig and a smaller foundation, to create an earlier 1760s 'do, or you could go even bigger and higher, using a different structure (I'm sure will be covered in the book). You could create side-rolls under the ears, or stacks of rolls down the back. The possibilities are quite limitless and completely exciting.

All-in-all, for a few hours spent on wig-wrangling, I am incredibly happy with the result, and terribly excited to get my copy of the book. If you are wanting a copy as well, support Kendra's pre-order so that we get the best possible version of the book, with all the portraits and planned tutorials, printed on good quality paperstock. Here's the link to the book's Indiegogo order page:
Read More