Friday, August 28, 2015


A Summer Straw Cloche for Mom

I've been on a hatmaking binge, ever since I refashioned my black straw Gatsby hat. No hat in my house is safe now. Even the moth-eaten hat husks waiting to go out to the bin have been rescued, reverted, and blocked (and I will share those adventures shortly).

I've been wanting to make my mom a proper 1920s wide-brimmed straw hat for years. The twisted toyo (paper) capelines I recently acquired presented the perfect opportunity to get creative, even though I felt unsure of what I was doing. I had 5 ivory toyos to play with, so I could mess up, learn from it, and still be able to complete the project in time for Mom's birthday.

The fun thing about going banzai on a hat form is that you learn that they can withstand just about anything. Each material has its own characteristics - the toyo reacts to steam and moisture by wilting, and it takes very little to make it pliable - but it's *really* hard to actually ruin something unless you cut it up too much. (And even then.....those pieces are usable!)

Mom's hat is a wide-brimmed cloche cut very short in the back, with the brim curving around the face and turning up at the top. It's bound in ivory petersham, which was a little tricky to work on the flimsy, open-weave material, with a petersham band. I stiffened the whole thing lightly with gelatin.

I thought the hat looked quite blank, so I engaged my new ribbonwork concern, and made a big satin rose with some leaves. I'm very happy with how the whole thing turned out.

And Mom liked it too.

Watch out Mom, you might be getting a hat for Christmas, and Mother's Day, and next year's birthday too.... :-)
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Wednesday, August 26, 2015

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Orientalism in 1920s Fashion

Orientalism was a big trend in 1920s Western fashion, taking design for textiles, silhouette, even makeup, from Japan, China, Russia, India, and the Middle East.

I noticed that Miss Fisher wears a lot of Asian-influenced clothing. Her entire look, with the flowing trousers and long robe-like coats, is very Asian, as well as the fabrics used, too. It fits in nicely with her "woman of the world" character, and also ties in with Australian interest and proximity to Asia.

I have an Asian-inspired jacket that's been lurking in a closet for many....many years. It's straight out of the 1990s, is a very boxy cut, with huge sleeves and shoulder pads (ugh!). It's not a traditional cut, but a modern jacket made in Asian-inspired fabric. It's pretty unflattering, so I'm hoping to retrocycle it into something for my Miss Fisher wardrobe.

To the Pinterests!

Here are a few of Miss Fisher's robe-coat-things, for reference:

My absolutely favorite thing she wears, and very much with Asian influence, but perhaps a little Russian too?
The trim on this looks like it's from an Indian Sari
Heavily embroidered coat with a Mandarin collar and frogs. Stunning textile
A VERY similar short version of the coat above
Now, some original items that Miss Fisher would totally wear:

1920s Chinese silk coat with embroidery, lined in fur - Doyle's New York

"Mandarin" coat - Paul Poiret - 1923 - KCI
Art Deco Kimono Jacket - 1st Dibs
1920s Silk, Velvet, and Gold Asian inspired Cocoon Coat - click through for more views, especially the back - 1st dibs
House of Worth coat - WOW! - Timeless Vixen Vintage
There are loads of fascinating Asian-inspired garments at Vintage Textile too.

Looking at these examples now, they're just so opulent. My humble little thrifted jacket, which isn't even silk, has a looooong way to go....

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Monday, August 24, 2015


The Famous Regency "Manchester" Boots!

Boots. Manchester Art Gallery. 1949.97
Ladies, since several of you expressed that you're not getting our updates on Facebook, I'm posting the results of the latest Exclusive Cycle 6 poll here.

Congratulations to the "Manchester" boots, which won the poll and will be our next Exclusive! These are seriously cool - Grecian-inspired sandals with lacing tabs and delicate silk ribbons.

The original boots are made of green twilled worsted wool edged with a darker green binding. They have a spring heel (slightly built up heel, but otherwise flat) and blunt toes without toe boxes. Manchester Art Gallery puts these around 1820, made by Ascott & Parnham, Nottingham.

The maker's mark on the insole.
Our version will be cotton sateen, also bound in a darker color, lined in linen, and soled in leather. I didn't want to limit choice concerning ribbon colors, so there will be a selection of colors to choose from for your lacing, when the boots become available to pre-order at Yay for choice!

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Thursday, August 20, 2015

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My First Miss Fisher Outfit

Last month I wrote about my love obsession with Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries, and of course Miss Fisher's fashion.

While the show is set in 1929, most of what Miss Fisher wears is much more 1930s. I'm totally okay with that - the '30s is my favorite 20th century decade of style, and one that I feel can be worn today without looking *too* much like you're wearing a costume. People notice you're dressed nicely, but they don't question why.

Basing my Miss Fisher Wardrobe on this particular outfit...
After attending Wearing History's Costume College class on creating a vintage "capsule wardrobe," I decided to put together a Miss Fisher capsule wardrobe for the impending Autumn. My plan:

Base Color: Navy Blue
Base Fabric: Wool Gabardine

  • One pair of wide-legged trousers
  • One skirt with interesting deco details
  • One long robe-coat

(all of the items above in navy blue wool gabardine)

  • Variation will be in blouses, some plain, some in deco prints, all coordinate with the navy blue
  • A selection of scarves
  • A selection of cloche hats - close-fitting, wide-brimmed, etc.
  • Oxford shoes, particularly spectators. I have lots already. 

Not too complex, right? Miss Fisher primarily wears some combination of trouser/blouse/robe-coat/hat in every episode.

I've completed the first two pieces. My trousers are made from Simplicity 6659, the same 1970s pattern I used to make my super wide-legged white trousers, except that I narrowed the bell-shaped legs. I also added pockets (a tutorial on that later). I know this pattern is long out-of-print, so I recommend  Wearing History "Smooth Sailing" Sporting Togs (printed pattern contains the trousers and blouse) orSimplicity 3688 - 1940s repro pattern with trousers, blouse, and blazer as readily available and easy to make.

Wool gabardine trousers. I did not put a lining nor a crease in these, so they are very flowy and soft.
My blouse is from a modern, non-vintage pattern, Simplicity 2406. This is a Cynthia Rowley dress pattern, but in looking at the basic pieces, it's just a basic un-shaped tunic tied with a sash at the waist.

I cut the dress off short, and used the bishop sleeve pattern (View C) to make the short raglan sleeves. I finished the neck edge with self-bias binding instead of facing, and the sash is separate - it can worn as a belt or a scarf.

The blouse is tucked in and the sash is tied at the waist, but can be worn as a scarf too.
Many of you on Facebook wanted to know about the fabric of the blouse. The fabric is figured and printed silk, the kind used for men's ties or dress coat linings. It's thin, but very tightly woven. It came in panels about a yard long and 40" wide, from my local Mill End shop. I wouldn't know where to find a fabric like that again, but if you're wanting to make a flowy '20s blouse, I recommend charmeuse, underlined chiffon, or any kind of thin and drapey material. This fabric was in the "fancies" section.

Lastly, and possibly most important, is the hat. The hat is 90% of what makes this outfit a Miss Fisher homage and not just something to wear to work. I chose a 1970s vintage-revival Adolpho II hat I got my for my birthday a few years ago. It's a wool felt hat with rather dramatic pheasant feathers arching over the brim. Miss Fisher would approve. :-)

Vintage 1970s Adolpho II hat - there are a lot of '70s pieces that can be used for '30s looks. It was the intention back then, too.
I learned how to block cloche hats at Costume College a couple years ago, so I'm already planning experiments for later in the season. Miss Fisher wears lots of inspiring pieces!

That's all for now, but next I will be making the robe-coat and a couple more blouses, plus of course the hats! Stay tuned!

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Monday, August 17, 2015

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Studying Up on Tudor Footwear

Shoes from the Mary Rose
Mary Rose Shoes - via
Tudor shoes are old. They're about as old as we get for extant shoes, with the exception of a very few Medieval examples. It's quite extraordinary, really, and even more mind-boggling that a lot of our Tudor shoes come to us from beneath the water.

The best collection of in-tact Tudor footwear is from the Mary Rose, the famous wreckage of King Henry VIII's warship raised in 1982. The ship was originally built in 1510 and sank in 1545, taking with it a historical treasure trove (literally treasure, but of course I mean the artifacts of life as a 16th c. sailor!) of tankards, spoons, hammers, combs, ... and shoes.

Mary Rose sailor's shoes
The interesting thing about Tudor shoes is that they're pretty basic, almost modern-looking. However, there appear to have been quite a few styles of upper - slippers, mules, clogs, bar shoes, latchet shoes, tie shoes - a few styles of toe - square, cow-mouthed, and round - and all sorts of slashing designs used for decoration. They're robust, sturdy shoes with thick soles and coarse construction. They're workmen's shoes, but commoner's footwear of this period doesn't appear to vary between the sexes.

In the upper classes, aristocracy, and royalty, we have the same shapes, but made in much more delicate materials - silk, velvet - and less "clunky."

Henry VIII in "cow-mouthed" slippers slashed and with a slight spring heeled sole.
Henry's slippers are a lot like this incredible pair from the V&A - 1520s-1540s

I'm studying up on Tudor shoes because the latest Exclusive, Cycle 5, is a pair of Tudor slippers. These:

Recorded as French, 1500-1550, but construction and design is inconsistent with footwear of this period. MFA
The interesting thing about these slippers, though, is that they are probably not actually Tudor. The consensus among historic cordwainers and footwear historians is that this particular pair was probably made in the 19th century for theater or fancy dress. The construction, patterning, and particularly the application of the stacked heel are all inconsistent with real Tudor shoes, but very consistent with Victorian construction.

MFA, recorded as French, 1500-1550

That being said, the overall design is actually pretty correct. So for the Exclusive design, I've "retrofitted" them so that our version will be closer to an original example.

Fascinating stuff! Gotta love History's Mysteries, and when you get this far back in time, things start to get squiggy. All part of the fun. :-)
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Friday, August 14, 2015

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FlapperHacks: Retro-cycling a Hat and Dress for Gatsby 2015

As all you modern Flappers will know, original 1920s clothing can be hard to find and scary to wear (don't sweat on it!), so it behooves us to collect our retro style through upcycling - or retrocycling - modern and thrifted clothing, creating that Jazz Age look without chewing through 90 year old chiffon.

Enter FlapperHacks, tips and tricks on re-working simple pieces into 1920s ensembles.

The outfit I wore to the Gatsby this year was 100% new stuff. Normally I wouldn't admit that, but I was pretty proud of having tweaked and altered my dress and hat myself. Here's how...

I bought this dress on sale from Modcloth, at a serious discount. I was pleased to discover it was a popular brand, but when I put it on I could see why the style didn't sell so well. The design cues were undeniably '20s, but the skirt was just too short.

1920s inspired dress on the left - Retrocycled on the right to take it a little bit more into the '20s
The dress was made with a chiffon top layer and underlying slip hanging free. The chiffon overdress had a high-low skirt, longer in the back and curving up in the front. In the front, where the skirt curved up, the slip beneath peaked out, with two rows of chiffon ruffles sewn on.

The back view of the dress without alteration - very flattering!
The easy alteration was to remove those two ruffles on the slip, extend the slip to just below the knee, and stitch the two ruffles back on to the extension. I used lightweight black crepe for the extension, a fabric appropriate for an intentional under-dress rather than a cheap polyester spandex slip. A last detail, but no necessary, was a black sash/band around the drop waist.

The length of the slip on the left, with the two ruffled flounces removed - Right is with the extension and the two flounces re-applied.
The whole thing worked fabulously and I felt instantly more appropriate for the Tahoe Gatsby garden party.

The next essential piece of the outfit was, of course, the hat. Most of us have hats in our closet that can be re-fashioned into historic chapeaux, so don't discount the possibilities of what you already have in your stash, when thinking about hats!

This hat was originally white with black trim. It was decently close to a 1920s shape, with the short back, but could use a rounder crown and more interesting brim.

A very old photo - the white straw hat I started with
And it needed to be black.

Solution? Paint. Now, not all paint for hats is created equal. I used spray paint from the hardware store, and it did a really good job covering all the white, but boy did it smell. And it still smells! Even with three days drying in front of a fan, the paint was not fully cured when it came time to wear the hat. The fumes weren't such a big deal, but the hat stuck to my head and hair. I peeled it off painfully at the end of the day!

That being said, don't use hardware store spray paint. Instead, use sprays made specifically for millinery and floral applications. Design Master Colortool Sprays were recommended to me, so next time I get creative with hat coloring, I'll get that.

The hat with the trim removed, brim cut into a different shape, and the crown re-blocked to the round cloche shape.
The hat was easy to re-block. I bought a basic round head block in my head size (23" measured around the forehead) on eBay last year, and it's been a great thing to have for working on any kind of hat. With straw, you just wet it or steam it thoroughly into shape. The hat holds it shape when dry.

To trim the hat, I bound the edge with black petersham, added a black petersham hatband, and made a few ribbon flowers and leaves (thank you, Costume College, for the ribbon flower class!) in colors to complement the dress. I recommend Ribbonwork: The Complete Guide- Techniques for Making Ribbon Flowers and Trimmings for quick and easy-to-follow tutorials on making a bunch of different kinds of flowers.

Flowers and leaves made from ribbon, stitched to black net as a base, then tacked onto the hat.

The last little bit was the feathers. I used two spindly red ostrich feathers clipped into spear shapes. I didn't want them to be overpowering, so I used Lynn McMaster's instructions on chemically "burning" ostrich plumes to liken them to egret sprays, or just give them a different look. I bleached the feathers for about 5 seconds each, then rinsed. The red color was uneffected.

Ostrich feather trimmed and "burnt"
Then the hat was done!

The finished hat, re-colored, re-blocked, re-bound, and re-trimmed!
I wore the whole outfit to the Lake Tahoe Gatsby festival last weekend and had a great time not worrying about damaging my clothing.

I was really happy with this outfit, even though it wasn't original vintage. It was comfortable, cool, and looked the part.
Hat - Made by me!
Sunglasses - Forever21

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Monday, August 10, 2015


The Enormous Costume College Picture Post

Costume College was fantastic this year! I had a great time, taught some classes, made new friends, caught up with old friends, ate chicken, wore enormous dresses. It was great.

I didn't take a LOT of pictures, but here are a few...okay, several....okay, a lot. I'm doing this all in one post (prepare yourself), so we can get on to all the new projects and fun creative stuff in the works (the post-CoCo inspirational spurt).

If you'd like to know more about Costume College, what it is, where it is, and how you can attend, here's the official page:


General Hijinks

Arriving on Thursday afternoon - we're all VERY excited!
Thursday evening pool party - the "Bevvy of Bathing Beauties" looked great in their vintage swimsuits
Friday morning, the first day of "full dress up." Here's Abby in one of her fantastic 18th century organza caps
The Williamsburg gals looking splendid for Friday classes
Janea, head Milliner at Williamsburg, sitting down to breakfast in a beautiful purpose silk gown, and great 1780s hair
I was stoked to see Jen's ghostly Italian Renaissance gown up close. I LOVE the textures!
Trystan as Leonard, in bright purple Georgianas
Two Vintage Laurens! Lauren of Wearing History and me, both in Wearing History clothing and bandannas, on Friday
Ice Cream Social Shenanigans
I think they put mirrors in the elevators at the hotel just for Costume College...
Gathering for the Ice Cream Social
Natalie wore a scrumptious silk round gown, all hand sewn. She used a scalloped pinking iron to treat the edges of her bow
Kaila's Scalamandre lampas silk gown was to die for. Beautiful fit of the back, with 18th century sewing techniques
Jenny laFleur, one of my long-time costuming heroines, looked amazing in her silk sacque. She and Abby vied for the tallest hat in the room
Me and Abby being silly, because
Polonaise and Retroussee gals showing our fluffy bums at the Ice Cream Social - photo by Laurie Tavan
I wore "The Creature" and was quite pleased with it still. A hot mess it may be, but I'm proud of it. Photo by Laurie Tavan

Silver Ghost pre-ironing
At the Gala dinner. The food is nothing to get excited about, but watching everyone trying to sit in close quarters is rather amusing. Photo by Curtis Newbrough
Lining up for the "red carpet presentation." Me and Kaila in our 18th century best
And then there's Merja
And Abby.
Coqueluchon and Sacque - our "Christmas" pair in high hair
Wearing History's Lauren in her 1879 evening bodice made of splendid lampas silk faced in salmon pink taffeta. Scrummy!
End of night Abby in her Levite
Silver Ghost survived the night, just barely! I had a hoop malfunction and experienced some weird drag issues, but all in all I was really happy with this gown. It felt amazing to wear. I'll get some better photos of it soon :-)
I don't even remember what I wore on Sunday, sorry...Sunday is sleepy day!

For even MORE photos, check out American Duchess on Facebook.

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