Tuesday, April 28, 2015

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1770s Polonaise - Progress, but Slowly!

1770s Polonaise - the skirts are drawn up with cords, to create the three partition effect the gown is named for
Work on this crazy froofy dress comes in spurts, but now that I only have about a month to get it done, I best knuckle down!

It's quite a complicated type of dress. Despite the popularity of the Polonaise in the 1770s, there are no patterns available and only just recently have we even begun to differentiate between this and any gown with the skirts drawn up.

I can see why it's not a style made by many. It's *complicated.* Seriously.

Testing the drape of the gown skirts when drawn up - there's quite a lot of adjusting that goes on there, to achieve different looks.
To clarify, this type* of Robe a la Polonaise is a style of gown wherein the bodice and skirt is cut in one, like a man's frock coat. The volume in the skirt comes from the inverted box pleats at the center back and side back seams. The difficult part is in the fitting of the bodice through the sides - the front hangs open loosely, but the sides skim close to the body, achieved through tucks and pleats that *must* be fitted on the person (or in my case, the dress form). Beneath the open front is a false front that attaches all the way at the side back seams and pulls the back taught. Getting all these pieces together, hanging right and fitting well, has been a challenge, to say the least.

*Edit - There are examples in fashion plates of Robes a la Polonaise with back waist seams. They still have the open, hanging front of bodice and overall loose fit, as well as the skirts drawn up in the three distinct partitions. We might be tempted to call these Robes a l'Anglaise, but while they are closer in construction, they are still not the same type of gown.

The little false front vest is attached on the inside at the side back seams. All of this will be piped with organza.
And if I had it to do over again, there are a hundred things I would do differently. Luckily, though, every extant Polonaise is different. There didn't seem to be a set-in-stone way to do the seaming, the tucks, the cutaway, so you have all kinds of variation, which I find to be a comfort when constructing this crazy thing.

One organza cuff done by hand. This was 60 inches roll hemmed by hand on both sides, then gathered on 3 lines by hand, applied by hand, and those hands? they hurt like hell after the *hours* this took. So the rest will be done by machine, and I won't apologize for it.
Luckily, too, I intend to cover all my wibbly bits with trim, lots of trim. This is partially because it goes with the style, but also because it will obscure where I pieced in cotton because I didn't have enough pink silk.

The most intense piecing is on the petticoat, with a very deep hem done in the cotton, to be covered with organza. The back of the petticoat is heavily pieced on the sides and left as plain cotton down the center back, where it will be covered by the gown skirt. I'm astonished I had enough to get even this far, and quite like the quirky imperfections of this costume already.

Piecing the back half of the petticoat.
I have quite a lot of work to do, as you can see. I need to hem and gather all the organza. Originally I intended to roll hem all of it by hand, but for the sake of my hands I've decided to do the majority of it by machine. I also have the petticoat to construct (it's still in flat yardage at the moment), boning to add into the bodice, and some fiddling with the cuffs to create even more fluff and puff.

I realize at this point I will only have this one new gown down for Williamsburg, but I hope it will be the enormous fluffy monstrosity I imagine, and will be as much fun to wear as I hope. :-)
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Wednesday, April 22, 2015


Review: Heirloom Haircare 18th Century Rouge

I've wanted to share this epic 18th century rouge with you for ages, but I haven't played Georgian dress-up in such a long time!  However, last week's photo shoot presented the perfect opportunity.

Given my use of the word "epic," I suppose you already know how much I love this rouge. I've tried some other cosmetics made from original recipes, but had struggled to find a rouge that worked for me, until now.

Abby Cox, best known for being one of the apprentice milliners at Colonial Williamsburg's Margaret Hunter shop, is the creator of Heirloom Haircare, offering pomatum, powder, and rouge made completely in the original way - no substitutions, no compromises. We're talking ground up cuttlefish bone and locally sourced Virginia tallow for the hair products, and brazilwood and sandalwood for the rouge.

This stuff is legit.

No makeup on the left; Fully done 18th century face on the right
To apply the rouge, I first did my usual base makeup application, with foundation and cover-up, then shook up the rouge bottle, got a little on my finger, and rubbed it into my cheeks in a circular motion. The rouge blends in wonderfully, although there is some sediment that comes along with, which brushes off cleanly once the rouge is all rubbed in. It feels a bit like rubbing super condensed red wine onto your face....but in a good way....and with great results. I also used it for staining my lips.

The rouge comes in a small 0.5 oz brown bottle, but you need just the tiniest amount to get a good flush. It can be layered for a darker blush, even mottled if you want that 18th century fresh-from-the-country look.

Abby modeling her rouge, pomatum, and powder
I highly recommend the Toilet de Floral All Natural Liquid Rouge & Cheek Stain from Heirloom Haircare as the easiest to use with excellent results, and most historically accurate rouge I have tried. It's made in limited batches from one of the premier researchers in 18th century toiletries, so be sure to snag yourself a bottle and try it out!
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Monday, April 20, 2015


The 1785 Pierrot Jacket - Finished!

American Duchess 1785 pierrot jacket outfit

Last week I wore my new 1785 Pierrot jacket in our most recent photo shoot for Dunmore 18th century shoes.

I'm proud of this outfit for several reasons, not least of all because it is the first entirely hand sewn ensemble I've ever made! I'm not a big stickler for hand-sewing, but I genuinely found it easier to construct the jacket and petticoat by hand, with the ability to control thread tension on the silk petticoat, and finagle the delicate fiddly bits on the jacket much more easily than if it had been done on the machine. I learned a variety of historic stitches and fine-tuned a few techniques that are actually quicker to do by hand than the modern method!

18th century pierrot jacket
This is the first bodice I've made that closes with pins. I'm still getting the hang of it!
The pierrot jacket is made from two yards of Colonial Williamsburg printed cotton. I cut a basic Anglaise pattern into a zone front, which swept back into the "tail" created by the pleated back. The back was free-form pleated to the lining (a basic bodice back) and top stitched using prick stitch. The tail flounce is one long strip of cotton, narrowly hemmed, and then whip-gathered on the top edge. It's my favorite part of the jacket.

I had the most trouble with the sleeves, of course, which had to be pieced at the top to make a deeper sleeve cap. It was fiddly business, and they're not perfect, but they're on there and I can move my arms, so yay!

The petticoat is changeable silk taffeta with a van dyke hem. This petti is meant to replace an earlier one of a similar color that was too short and not quite right in construction. I'm wishing now that I had made it even longer - more ankle length -  but it's way better than what I had before, so I'm happy.

One of the motifs from the destroyed apron appliqued onto the new one. This was tedious, but covered the gaping hole.
One of the biggest challenges to completing the whole costume was the apron. I had a wonderful antique tamboured net apron, but my dog literally ate it.  Of all the things in my sewing room, she decided to eat that! I've since learned to keep things off the floor, and the door closed! Luckily I found another broad panel on Etsy, but it had a huge hole in the middle, so I found myself tediously cutting out and appliqueing a few motifs from the demolished apron onto the new one. I'm glad I kept that scrap Lexi chewed up! I still have a few more motifs to go to make it look more purposeful.

Thrifted straw hat trimmed in taffeta bows, buckle, and feathers. Very easy!
Last but not least, the hat. a basic two-tone straw I found in a thrift shop. I re-trimmed it with a black taffeta band and bows, a rhinestone buckle, and feathers. It's flexible enough to turn up the brim on one side, for a variety of looks, and while it could certainly be bigger, it's a great all-purpose 1780s - 90s chapeau.

It feels so good to complete this whole look. The jacket was in the UFO pile for nearly a year, but now it's done and I can wear it to Williamsburg in June, squee!
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Thursday, April 16, 2015

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Shoes of the Revolution - More About "Dunmore" 1770s Shoes

As most of you know, yesterday we opened for pre-order our latest 18th century shoes, "Dunmore," named for Lady Dunmore, and developed with and for Colonial Williamsburg.

"Dunmore" has been a year in the making, starting with references and conversations with Brenda, the head of the Costume Design Center at Williamsburg, along with the ladies of the Milliner's shop, and resulting in what we feel is a very faithful reproduction of a 1770s style.

This period of footwear is very interesting because it departs in silhouette rather greatly from designs only a decade earlier. Primarily this is in the heel shape, which went from a rather thick and sturdy "French" design to a narrow, almost modern-looking "Italian" heel.

Shoe Icons, c. 1780s
Smithsonian Libraries - illustration of a 1770s-1790s shoe, by T.Watson Greig, 1885
Glazed Wool (Calimanco) 1770s-1790s shoes, eBay listing (dead) from fiddybee

This type of heel provided minimal support with a considerable wedge shape extending under the arch of the foot. The shaped last was no longer in use, and shoes were made as flats with the heels applied, resulting in the wearer being pitched forward and having to adopt a sliding gait. This method of construction would not change for heeled shoes until the late 1880s!

Two matching shoes, one heeled, one flat - these were made exactly the same, but with different heels applied! Originally from catalogue.drouot.com

In developing "Dunmore," we had to consider these issues of original 18th century construction and work around them while maintaining the correct silhouette. Luckily, adding in modern arch support achieves the comfort and balance without altering the design too much. To keep the silhouette, we omitted the toe boxes and created the Italian heel in modern, strong materials, to prevent breakage and instability. I wore Dunmore for our photo shoot last week, and was pleased to find no discomfort or weird balance at all. We went back and forth with the factory several times to make sure the toe was roomy enough without the toe  boxes, and the balance of the heel worked.

The result:

I'm also incredibly proud to tell you that "Dunmore" will be available to purchase in the shops at Colonial Williamsburg later this year! You will also see them on several interpreters, including the apprentice milliners at the Margaret Hunter Millinery Shop!

"Dunmore" Pre-Order is open through May 4th at

Dunmores are available in black wool (which can be waxed to create your own mock-calimanco), or dyeable white sateen, to match your dress. While the pre-order is on, we're having a sale - your choice of free buckles, free stockings, or a $10 discount, as a "Thank You" for ordering ahead of time.
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Wednesday, April 15, 2015

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Spring Cleaning Sale & "Dunmore" Pre-Order Now Open!

Today's the day, ladies! It's time to make space for all the great new stuff coming, so we've put all kinds of things on sale in our annual...

Spring Cleaning Sale!
It's also the opening day for...

Dunmore 18th Century Revolutionary War Shoes

18th Century Shoes
The shoes of the Revolution(s)

We've been working with Colonial Williamsburg for a year to develop these utterly perfect 1770s - 1790s latchet shoes, made with your choice black "stuff" (wool), or white cotton sateen, easily dyed to match your outfit.
  • Black wool or white cotton sateen upper
  • Linen lining with our historic trade label on the insole
  • Leather soles
  • New custom made 1770s Italian heel
  • Historic silhouette with soft toe box

Pre-Order April 15 - May 4 and receive your choice of a $10 discount, free buckles, or free stockings.  Take advantage of this offer at:

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Tuesday, April 14, 2015


Early 1920s Tabard Gown - a Wonderful Gift!

Antique 1920s tabard style gown in cut velvet and silk chiffon

Last week I received a surprise in the mail from The Lady of Portland House.

I couldn't believe what I pulled out of the box - an utterly stunning cut velvet-and-chiffon early 1920s gown! Lauren M. said she saw it in an antique shop and thought of me. Thank you, Lauren!!

I absolutely love it! I haven't worn it yet, but am just waiting for the perfect occasion (next week? squee!).

Detail of applique work on an antique 1920s tabard style gown in cut velvet and silk chiffon

The details are amazing. It's a tabard-style gown with a built in silk chiffon slip. The sides are "open," with some of the velvet dots appliqued onto the drapey chiffon bits at the side. It's very clever and an interesting detail to what looks at first like a fairly straightforward gown. Like so many 1920s dresses, though, the joy is in the details (or the devil, if you're making one yourself!)

Thank you so so so much, Lady Georgiana!

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Friday, April 10, 2015


1770s Powerpuff Polonaise Progress

I've been working little by little on the pink polonaise I started last weekend. It's been incredibly tricky to figure out, but it appears to be working.

I re-fit the side pleats and back seam, and after more fiddling, I see I need to take another side pleat. Those side pleats are vital for fitting the front hang-y bits, which do hang close to the bodice, but are not sewn down. If I ever make one of these again, though, I would include the pleats in the pattern piece and cut it to omit them completely (if that makes sense), like Merja did on her Coqueluchon (hooded Polonaise).

I have made a lot of progress, though. I put the sleeves together, piecing in the pink cotton that will underlay the organza sabot cuffs. I made the sleeves quite short, and intend the sabot cuffs to come up quite high on the arm. An additional rufflepuff will emerge from the sleeve, to just below the elbow.

Enormous cuffs and lots of trimming on this one. Good inspiration, though mine won't be quite so lacy. (via)
Also very deep cuffs, and a good view of the back seams, and how the skirts are drawn up. (click for a larger view)
I also fussed out the waistcoat-y thing, which is attached to the gown at the side seams. This little piece is pretty vital, as it holds the back of the gown in place, for that nice tight fit.

Waistcoat futzing - may need to take a little tuck in the waistcoat, to get it to lay smoothly over the petticoat, but then again, this style seems to want to be a bit casual and rumpled
I still have so much to do - set the sleeves, finish the waistcoat, and piece the heck out of the matching petticoat, which may or may not work. I'm enjoying this project, though! It's such an unfamiliar type of gown, and I like the challenge.

My goal is to look as good as Johanna!

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Monday, April 6, 2015

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1930s Pink Easter Dress and Vintage Underpinnings

I love a holiday, a great excuse to wear something frothy, frilly, and vintage.

I've been rather lazy the past several holidays, though, not wanting to shimmy into the underpinnings required to wear a well-fitted vintage dress, and then eat my own body-weight.

Since acquiring a handful of fabulous original vintage pieces, though, I've felt guilty not wearing them enough (some of them not at all, yet!), so Easter lunch was the perfect time to wear this new-to-me 1930s bias cut gown:

1930s crepe gown with 1920s/30s spectator t-straps shoes
It's the most delicious peachy color, made from crepe, and oh so fluttery. It has a wonderfully deco rhinestone buckle on the belt, butterfly sleeves, and thanks to its bias cut, slips on over the head and hugs every curve in a very flattering way.

No thanks to the bias cut, though, and the material, this dress needs some very specific underpinnings that I don't have. I wore my Rago all-in-one with a vintage slip over the top and I still had visible lines and texture from the Rago shaper coming through in very unflattering ways.  I've had this problem with other vintage dresses too, most notably a 1920s chiffon number that seemed impossible to wear.

So naturally I came home and began researching 1930s underpinnings, looking at both what they wore back then, and what was available now.

As I mentioned before, I have a Rago all-in-one shaper, the kind with the crotch, but it's honestly quite uncomfortable. I like the compression, but the bra cups are itchy, and the crotchy bits chafe something awful. The powermesh lace stuff is pretty, but it shows through thin materials, even with a slip over the top. I may try the open-bottom version at some point, but I really hope there's something a little better out there:

Perhaps it's one of the What Katie Did corselettes, and I'd love to try one, but they're a bit out of my price range at the moment, though I may find that, like corsets, you get what you pay for.

What Katie Did

I did end up purchasing a Flexees Wear-Your-Own Bra Full Slip, which claims to provide tummy, waist, and back shaping, and appears to be long enough to get the smooth hip line needed for 1930s. It was on sale and I like the option to wear your own bra, so we'll see how this looks under those finicky vintage dresses!

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Wednesday, April 1, 2015


New Project: 1770s Powerpuff Polonaise

I have terrible Costume A-D-D right now. I want to make ALL the 18th century things!

It's good to be inspired, though! I have a trip to Colonial Williamsburg coming up in early June, so of course I'm sewing like mad to make new things. I do feel a touch guilty - my old gowns are fine, so why make so many new things?  ... but I've given up trying to justify this hobby a long time ago.

So, to the new things! Last weekend, after finishing the 1940s blouse, I was feeling confident, so I sliced into some pink shot taffeta, determined to turn it into a polonaise.

The Robe a la Polonaise has thus far eluded me. I tried to make a Polonaise jacket once, but it failed, and since then I've sortof just ignored the Polonaise Elephant in the room.

The Polonaise confuses me, though. I get that the pieces are cut all-in-one with the skirt, like a man's frock coat, and I get the back construction and fitting, but the hangy-openy bits at the front confuse me. I want to make everything fit like a glove, but having to leave those pieces hanging free and with the weird little foldy-backy thing they do....it makes me a little crazy, and I have a hard time believing it will all work out in the end.

Maybe it will.

Maybe it won't.

Either way, this thing is going, and it's going surprisingly well. I have the bodice together, but plan to revisit the center back seam and probably the side back seams as well.

The remaining bits will be an exercise in piecing. I didn't have nearly enough pink taff for the whole thing, but I want the petticoat to match the gown, so I found some matching pink cotton to use at the back where the poofy polonaise bits will cover the petticoat, and under the very deep pleated organza hem trim. The cotton will also underlay the organza sabot cuff trim on the sleeves, so I will use as little remaining taffeta in these applications as possible. I still have a waistcoat front to get out of the scraps, too. Eep!

I love the color, though, and I'm pleased with the construction so far. It will be so much fun to wear in June!
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