Sunday, November 30, 2014

Advertise in December!

Do you have a costume-related business that needs a boost over this holiday season? Why not try an advert here on the American Duchess blog?

At a low cost and large banner size, you can take advantage of one of the most trafficked historical sewing blogs in the community. The latest stats shows American Duchess at over 72,000 pageviews/month, with a following of 30,000 + combined blog, Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter fans. 

Ad spots are simple to purchase and set up, and start at just $10, for small businesses wishing to try it out. All ads are handled through Passionfruit - just click the "Add to Cart," then follow the instructions for creating and uploading your ad.

If you have any questions, please feel free to email me - [email protected]

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Saturday, November 29, 2014

Friday, November 28, 2014

And Now...The American Duchess "Silver Belles" SALE!

Ladies, and accompanying Gentlemen, it's time to kick off the Winter festivities with a SALE! We have new styles just come in, restocked old favorites, and have put a bunch of other pretties on sale....and, you guessed it, IMPERFECTS!
"Victoria" Carriage Boots, "Seabury" Edwardian Shoes in Grey/Gold and Black/Black, plus more new arrivals...

Fresh top-up of "Tavistock" Button Boots, "Pompadour" 18th c. Shoes, "Astoria" Edwardians, "Hartfield" Regency Boots, "Renoir" Civil War Button Boots, and "Pemberley" Regency Pumps.

And all of this stuff is on sale too....

And just for those of you who have been patiently, achingly waiting...

We don't throw our seconds into landfill. These are great shoes with just a few cosmetic flaws, now available to you at a big discount!

This pinecone may not be perfect, but it's still beautiful!
Happy Holidays

Special thanks to our beautiful model Anna M., our 2014 Silver Belle
Photography by Chris & Lauren Stowell
Graphic Design and Post Processing by Lauren Stowell
Anna's coat was made by American Duchess using Wearing History Resto-Vival 1910s Jacket e-Pattern
Anna's hat and umbrella are vintage originals
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Thursday, November 27, 2014

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1860s Purple People Eater - Finished, Just Barely! and the Magic of Gored Skirts

This past Tuesday I was in a mad rush to finish the day version of my 1860s purple gown, just in time for the tree lighting ceremony downtown.

This was about 2:00 pm on Tuesday ... the event started at 4:30!
I was stitching right up to the last minute, but I wanted to do things right. That's always a tedious combination when you're trying new techniques for the first time!

This is the first time I have cut a gored skirt for the 1860s. I was familiar with the magic of gored panels for bustle and late Victorian, but I'd never "needed" to do it for Civil War. This is what happens when you don't have enough fabric for your skirt...

I got my purple silk in China, and bought 7 yards of it, which turned out to be too little for a day bodice, evening bodice, and the enormous, tightly-pleated, bell-shaped skirt of the first half of the 1860s. I had only 132" hem with the rectangular panels...uh oh.

I quickly opened Period Costume for Stage & Screen: Patterns for Women's Dress, 1800-1909 to see about gored skirt patterns. Hunnisett notes several with varying numbers of panels and layouts for each. Encouraged, I scribbled out a plan to achieve the right waist measurement and increase the hem circumference as much as possible.

Success! From three rectangular panels, I squeeked out a 195" hem! MAGIC!

Of course, this added complexity where I didn't expect. My ginormous crinoline+petticoats now was too big and bell-shaped. I removed one of the petticoats and switched one of the bum rolls holding the hoop back in a more elliptical shape, but after wearing this ensemble the first time, I can see I need an even flatter front, and smaller diameter cage underneath, and a full-length, flounced petticoat.

While out in the cold I wore a fur collar and gloves, which made a lot more sense with the enormous fur hat

However, this is what it's all about, right? Learning by doing! I'm very happy with this first wear, with plans to fiddle and fuss...when I don't have a killer deadline!  My pics from the evening aren't that great, but I promise to get out (probably in the snow) to take some proper photos soon.

I quite like the back - next time I'll let the back of the skirt drag just a bit, and also a flounced petticoat will help hold the skirt out.
I wore a pair of "Tissot" Civil War Slippers dyed purple to match my dress. Tissots look ace with shoe clips, but I didn't have time to make any ribbony puffs, so I clipped on some vintage "Cromwell" style buckles, to add just enough interest.

Now to the ballgown bodice for next weekend...!
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Thursday, November 20, 2014

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Preview Pages from the Bellas Hess 1917-18 Winter Catalogue

I recently received a number of vintage and antique catalogs, from my good friend Lady Carolyn.

Most of them - Delineators, McCalls, Bella Hess - are in very fragile condition, but appear to be complete. These documents are absolute treasure troves of information, and I want to share them with you. I've thus set out on a project to digitize all of these old publications, for free PDF download or nominally-priced print-on-demand book, for anyone who may want a copy.

I started with the Bellas Hess & Co. 1917-1918 Winter Fashion Catalogue. It was the largest, but I didn't quite anticipate HOW large it was - 275 pages! I spent all day Tuesday scanning every page, cleaning them up and formatting them for print. I'm still not done, but I wanted to share a couple choice pages with you today...

This is the front cover. On the left is the original scan, with all the damage. This poor catalogue had been eaten by mice and worms, had moisture buckling, and missing pieces that broke off from being folded. On the right is my reconstruction, formatted for 8.5 x 11 printing - I filled in the gaps around the edges just a bit.

Above is the original scan of one of the pages. You can see the damaged bits, and how the pages have yellowed over the past 100 years. For the PDF and printed book, I'm limited in file size and also interior printing to having to make these pages black and white, so I've desaturated them, brightened and upped the contrast.

Here are just a few of the pages...again, there are 275, mostly women's and girl's clothing, but the catalogue also has some boys and mens, some novelty items, jewelry, linen, hats, shoes, gloves, long underwear, corsets, and even sanitary supplies.

This is one of my favorite pages - Elastic waists in petticoats! This is why catalogues like these are so valuable...they prove or disprove assumptions we in the future have made about how clothing was made and worn.

This catalogue has quite a few gorgeous color pages, which will be in the PDF, but not in the printed book. I'll share them with you later. For now, I hope these inspire you! Use them as you like - all of these images are in the public domain, and I believe that information like this should be shared for everyone's benefit.
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Thursday, November 13, 2014


1860s Purple People Eater Ballgown Bodice - Musings

In my mad rush to get three pieces of 1860s attire (and let's not even think about the accessories) done in time for a bevy of upcoming Victorian Christmas events, I've been laying the groundwork for the next piece of the puzzle - the ballgown bodice.

I'm wanting something with an enormous floofy bertha, like these:

Alexandra, Princess of Wales, by Winterhalter, 1864
Queen Sophie of the Nertherlands, by Winterhalter, 1863
Princess Dagmar of Denmark, who became Empress Marie Feodorovna of Russia - 1866
My sketches:

I have no idea how to make something like this, so I turned to Patterns of Fashion 2: c.1860-1940 and Period Costume for Stage & Screen: Patterns for Women's Dress, 1800-1909 to show me the way.

The place to start is with the foundation bodice upon which all the floof shall be built. I don't have a pattern for an 1860s ballgown bodice, so I thought I'd try a technique I came across on Ralph Pink's website, showing how to scale gridded patterns in Photoshop. (See the video here).

I scaled the 1860s basic ballgown bodice pattern from Period Costume for Stage & Screen, printed it out, taped it together, added seam allowance, and here it is:

It's much too small, but I at least have a starting point for the muslin, which will become the final pattern. I'm really interested to see how this method of scaling the pattern works out, because if it does...well, that will change *everything* !

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Wednesday, November 12, 2014


Progress on the 1860s "Purple People Eater" Gown

I have a million things going at the moment, and two major projects on the table, with all their various bits and bobs and parts and bodices and trims and underpinnings - IT'S MADNESS!

...but I AM making progress, which is what matters...right?

Looking at the calendar, it's Costume Triage right now. I have four Victorian Christmas Events coming up back-to-back, so I'm in a rush to get my new purple outfits done in time.

I've been hard at work on the day bodice. Here are my original reference points (you can see more here):

photo from eBay, but listing no longer available. I liked the trim and sleeves on this dress.
My sketches - the one on the left is what I went with.

Truly Victorian TV 443 - 1861 day bodice.  This is the pattern I'm using, but with some alterations, which I'll talk about below.
I did the mock up, altered the pattern, and set to work. My fabric is a super thin silk taffet-ioni...that's what I'm going to call it, because it's not quite taffeta and it's not quite dupioni. It needed backing, so I mounted it to a bottomweight mystery fabric I've had good results with on a prior project.

Then it was fit - buttonholes - fit - alter - know the drill. I've ended up with a very tight bodice on the dressform, but the bodacious curves of the corset are causing pulling across the chest, which I can't really fix. Solution is to make a new corset that doesn't require bust pads to fill out the cups ... but that's another blog post, another day.

I had two main trouble spots.

The first was the back. I deviated from the pattern, changing the three points in back to a smooth-fitting, squared-off tail. This required an 18th century trick of putting tiny godets at the top of where the tail starts to flair out. I also needed to tighten up the lower back through the side back seams, to get that nice smooth fit, and to bring the tail in to where it wasn't buckling.

The back before re-working it - pulling in the excess on the side-back seams, and bringing in the seams on the tail, to get it to fit tightly and lay smoothly over the voluminous skirts.
The back after fitting - nice, tight fit at lower back, and a trim tail laying smoothly.
My second trouble area was with the sleeves. I found them to be *huge.* Baggy sleeves were the style at this time, but these were just way too big, especially in the sleeve head, which would have required gathering even under the arm. That's a no-no, in my book, so I started cutting the sleeves down starting with the sleeve head, which I took about 6 inches out of. I followed that by slimming the sleeve down, again by about 6 inches. I'm really happy with the result - they're still 1860s baggy, but are proportioned to my frame much better.

That's where I am today - trim's been put on (imperfectly, of course). I'm awaiting jet buttons in the mail, and I need to finish the hems and add the little white collar, but otherwise this bodice is very near done.

Thank goodness.

Then it's on to the ballgown bodice and the skirt!

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Monday, November 10, 2014

First Exclusive 1920s Shoes "Harlow" Coming Friday!

Ladies, it's time to announce the winners of the first "Exclusives" cycle.  We've affectionately named them "Harlow" after the glam goddess of the 1920s and 30s, and we're proud to present three different color choices, voted on by you.

Meet Harlow...
  • 1920s/30s Spectator oxfords
  • Leather upper, lining, and sole
  • Lace closure over keyhole design
  • 6 cm / 2 3/8 inch custom heel
  • Women's US sizes 6 - 11, B width
Color Choices:
  • White/Black - Smooth leather upper with smooth leather trim and black shoe lace
  • Red/Black - SUEDE leather upper with smooth leather trim and black shoe lace
  • Grey/Black - Smooth leather upper with smoother leather trim and black shoe lace
When, Where, and How Much?

Unlimited ordering / Limited Production - we will only make as many pairs in each color as are ordered!

The fine print:
* We are limited to women's sizes 6 - 11, and B width only. Sorry, we cannot make other sizes or widths.
* The sale runs for 48 hours only. We cannot accept orders after the sale ends.
* Exclusives will not appear on our website until the sale begins, or  just before. They will be in their own section/tab called "Exclusives"
* Additional colorways are not available
* EasyPay, gift certificates, and coupon codes CAN be used on Exclusives ONLY on the WEBSITE.
* Sales on Facebook are handled through Soldsie. To register for Soldsie ahead of time, please click here. EasyPay, gift certificates, and coupon codes cannot be used on Soldsie.
* All items in your order will ship together. Please allow 6 - 8 weeks for delivery of Exclusive designs.
* For more information about Exclusives, please see our video, or read our FAQs.
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Thursday, November 6, 2014

Introducing American Duchess "Exclusives"

I've been a bit quiet lately, but it's because we've been planning some really...*really*... cool stuff for you guys, and working on a video to explain it all.

I'll let you watch the video first...

Any questions? Here are the answers to a great many.

I'm super stoked about this, because there are just gobs of gorgeous antique shoes that we want to make (and we get requests for from you guys all the time), but couldn't do a full production run of.

Yes, they do cost more - approximately double our usual range - as making only a few pairs of this and that is is tricky for any manufacturer. But in return for your hard-earned dollars (or pounds, or euros), you get some seriously rare footwear made by master craftsmen, using top-notch leathers and textiles, and with our proprietary historic heel shapes. They'll come in special boxes and be art.

I'm sure you're just itching to start voting. Cycle 1 is already underway with colorway choices on the first design. You can cast your vote here
Cycle 1 Winner - 1920s/30s two-tone spectator. Click the image to vote on your favorite color combos

If you'd like to submit designs for the next cycle, email me at [email protected] . Not all designs will be possible, and some may be in development for our regular line, so don't fret if you don't see your submission in the next cycle. We may also have to limit it based on number of submissions.

So get ready - the first sale is coming soon!

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