Monday, December 28, 2015


An 1880s Wool Ensemble - Beginnings

Last week I shared with you the beautiful "Russian Seasons" coat from, paired with an 1880s wool skirt I threw together for the occasion.

The skirt was made from my favorite Truly Victorian pattern, one I've used over and over again - TV261 1885 Four Gore Underskirt. In all of the original pattern books I have, this simple skirt design plays a role in a great many of the outfits.

Initially I thought a plain skirt best, but once I had it made I felt it was too plain, so I added the box pleated ruffle. Ruffles are time consuming and take up loads of fabric (I'll have to go back to the fabric store for more of this wool if I want to make an apron for a full three piece ensemble), but the effect is quite grand. I'm glad I added it.

The skirt without the ruffle and with.
For particulars, the skirt is faced in organza about 15 inches wide at the bottom, and then faced again in cotton flannel about 8 inches wide. This was a note from Directoire Revival Fashions 1888-1889 by Frances Grimble, and I do recommend doing some kind of hem facing, to give the skirt weight and durability at the hem, and also keep it from tucking in between your feet as you walk.

Now it's on to the bodice! Here's my inspiration, also from Directoire Revival Fashions:

Bodice from "Directoire Revival Fashions 1888-1889" by Frances Grimble
I started with another Truly Victorian pattern, TV420, but this bodice is from 1879 rather than the mid 1880s, and quite a lot of bustle happened in those years. My pattern was also too small for me, so I made alterations for fitting over the bustle, and also across the bust.

Slicing, spreading, adding, subtracting, pinning, marking, taping
According to my inspiration image, I redrew the hem, and added a small box pleat at center back. Fearing I had precious little wool to complete the bodice, I added in some black velvet elements to my design, and patterned the velvet front of the bodice by creating kindof a weird-shaped princess seam merging the shape of the velvet portion with one of the waist darts.

A scribble with ideas for soutache braid as well
Final alterations were made to the armscye, and sleeves come later.

Second pattern draft with more alterations
I've now cut and flat-lined all the bodice pieces, but I don't have the 20 buttons needed to complete the CF closure, so that's it for now!
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Wednesday, December 23, 2015


How to Use a Victorian Button Hook - Video!

Those of you who costume for mid-Victorian through Great War will be familiar with side-buttoning boots. They're iconic and beautiful, but can be a little tricky to get closed if you don't have the right tool.

That tool is a button hook. This handy implement was common in the 19th century - every lady had one - and was available in myriad styles, from simple looped designs with name brands stamped in the steel, to intricately tooled silver and gold plated designs, sometimes with ivory handles.

Often in re-creating historical shoes, there's a bit of a domino effect. For instance, in making 18th century latchet shoes, it only makes sense to then make the 18th century shoe buckles to fit them. Same goes for Victorian button boots - of course there needs to be a button hook to go along with them. If shoe shops in the 19th century had them, so must we, which is why we offer a free reproduction button hook with Tavistock and Renoir button boots.

Tavistock Victorian Button Boots c. 1890 - 1920s
I hope you find the video helpful, if you're having a bit of confusion over how to button your boots up. Button boots are fascinating - as much an experience to put on and wear as anything, and a part of "living history" we historical costumers love.
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Monday, December 21, 2015

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An Early 1880s "Anna Karenina" Winter Outfit via

Armstreet Russian Seasons wool coat with faux fur and matching hat and muff

I have a slightly inexplicable love of Russian-inspired Victorian and Edwardian clothing. The cold weather rolls around and I just feel compelled to make something with a lot of braidwork or trim, something that can be paired with a round fur hat.

Last year I made a 19teens suit. This year I was saved the trouble of tailoring a coat by this utterly fabulous "Russian Seasons" coat from a surprising source,

Some of you may have heard of Armstreet before. They make medieval and fantasy armor, weapons, and costumes. You may have switched off just then, but I urge you to check out their store, because their women's costumes are beautiful. Nearly all of Armstreet's offerings are meant for LARP, Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones, early Renaissance, maybe SCA, even adventurous modern wear, but there are a couple things in there that are actually quite lovely for later periods.

One of these items is the "Russian Seasons" coat (which also comes with a hat and muff.) I kept seeing this Victorian skating outfit in my mind when I looked at it:

But one of the most attractive things about this coat is that you can style it for so many different periods. It would work with earlier 1870s, later 1890s and 1900, with 1910s and even 1920s (Miss Fisher would totally wear this!), all just by changing the skirt silhouette.

When I ordered, I punched in my measurements, and soon after got a confirmation email informing me that my coat was being cut and sewn by the seamstress. Whoa! Not just customized, actually completely custom made for me! "Russian Seasons" coat, hat, and muff, styled with a 1880s skirt to create an Anna Karenina inspired outfit
With the measurements I gave (for modern wear over jeans, not to accommodate a bustle), I went with an earlier 1880s silhouette, more Natural Form, so the jacket would lay smoothly. You can order this jacket with any measurements, though - just give them measurements taken over your underpinnings.
It took about 5 weeks for my order to be sewn and shipped from Ukraine, but it was well worth it. The coat is gorgeous and extremely well made. It's real wool, fully lined, perfectly fitting to my measurements, and very warm. The fur is faux, and very fluffy. I ended up trimming the fur back a bit - just my personal preference.

The wool, poppy trim, and faux fur are excellent quality.
I ordered it as much for everyday winter wear as for costuming, but you could give measurements taken over your underpinnings, to use specifically for a certain costume - for instance, a smaller waist and fuller hem for wearing over a crinoline or bustle.

I particularly like the puffed sleeves. You could wear this jacket with various skirts for 1880s through 1920s. It would look equally good with a wide 1900s Belle Epoque skirt, or a 19teens hobble skirt. If you plan to wear this coat with historical costume, give measurements taken over your corset, hip padding, and petticoats (like I should have done)
When I got the coat, I dashed to the fabric store for some black wool to make a matching skirt, but all I could find was grey wool. Over a weekend I threw together my favorite Truly Victorian TV261 1885 Four-Gore Underskirt to wear with the coat. It was a tough decision on which period to go with - 1880s? 1890s? 1900? 1910s? Any and all would work.

I have to say this whole outfit is very warm. The temperature was about 28 degrees for these photos, but I was snug as a bug wrapped in wool and fluff. "Russian Seasons" coat, hat, and muff, styled with a 1880s skirt to create an Anna Karenina inspired outfit
A future black wool skirt with a wide fur guard is in order, to make a completely matching outfit for ice skating or winter strolling.
All in all, I love this coat, and it was well worth the price and wait time. I'm really impressed with Armstreet's quality and service, and the possibilities are broad. They're super-receptive to questions and special requests, too. I love items you can wear for both historical and modern, so I consider this a great buy! To read more about the "Russian Seasons" coat, click here.

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Friday, December 18, 2015

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Spotlight on Tango Boots - Video!

I made a video! I know that doesn't seem like a big deal in today's hugely visual world, but I worked *all day* on this and I'm proud of it, even if I simultaneously hate it because I can't stand watching myself talk.

Edwardian Tango Boots by American Duchess

Anyway, I hope you enjoy this little insight and information on the new Tango boots. They came out wonderfully, with great quality, fit, and balance, and I hope you love them as much as I do!

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Wednesday, December 16, 2015

American Duchess Historical Stocking Stuffers

Christmas draws nigh (squee!), and you may be thinking of some last minute gift ideas....or seeding certain folks with last minute gift ideas for *you*.

I have a number of small items that make perfect stocking stuffers, some of them stockings themselves (har har). Check out these easy gift ideas:

18th Century Shoes Buckles

The Georgians loved to display their wealth in clothing and accessories, even if they were not of great means. The standard way to close one's shoes in the 18th century was with shoe buckles, at once functional and decorative.

All of our 18th century latchet (strap) shoes are designed to be worn with historically accurate shoe buckles. Made of plated cast brass, our Georgian shoe buckles are each based on antique examples. "Fleur" exhibits beautiful sparkling paste stones, while "Valois" is tooled silver. "Cavendish" are antiqued brass or pewter finish with understated floral motifs on a simple yet elegant frame.

Shoe Buckles - $35 - $40 (or save $2 when purchased with shoes)
*Sold in pairs; come in a little velvet bag; instructions for fitting buckles can be found here.

Victorian Button Hook

Quite the useful historical item, the Victorian button hook is most notably used to do up the buttons on our button boots and shoes (like Tavistock, Renoir, and Astoria).

This nifty little tool is also splendid for buttoning bodices, sleeves, and gloves.

Victorian Button Hook - $15 (or FREE when purchased with button boots)
*Comes in a little velvet bag.

Silk Stockings

Each historical period had its own style of stockings - for both men and women they were over-the-knee, opaque stockings made of cotton, wool, or silk, often with intricate designs on the sides or front, known as "clocking."

We have lots of styles of lightweight and extremely comfortable silk stockings to choose from. Our reproduction Georgian, Regency, Victorian, and Edwardian clocked stockings are based on original examples. Our single-color clocked, openwork, and plain silk stockings come in ivory or black, are Made in America, and work for multiple centuries.

Silk Stockings - $25 (or save $5 when purchased with shoes)

Little Bits

Useful little things, like Rubber Non-Slip Sole Stick-ons and Make-Your-Own Shoe Clip Hardware solve historical costumer problems easily.

Leather soling, while historically accurate, can be slick. Keep from face-planting on slippery cobblestones just by sticking these unobtrusive rubber pads on the soles of your favorite historic shoes.

Then it's time to decorate! Shoe clips are fantastic for dressing up and changing the look of shoes quickly and inexpensively. Make pom-poms, rosettes, bows, and tassels for Regency, Romantic, and Civil War shoes, to make them one-of-a-kind.

Rubber Non-Slip Sole Pads - $1.00/pair
Make-Your-Own Shoe Clip Hardware - $2.50/pair

Shoe Care Products

To keep your leather shoes in tip-top shape, give them a little TLC. We stock Angelus Shoe Care Products, made in America, because they're the best

Shoe Wax and Lustre Cream hydrate and protect your leather shoes, while Professional Shoe Stretch Spray will help the leather conform to your feet for a perfect fit quickly. Treat leather soles with Mink Oil Conditioner, and protect historic shoes with fabric parts against moisture and staining with Angelus Water and Stain Repellent.

Angelus Shoe Care Products - $3 - $6

I know that's a lot of choice. Not sure what to get? How about a gift certificate?

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Monday, December 14, 2015


The Historical Costumer's Holiday Book List

I don't know about you, but about 90% of what's on my Christmas list this year is books on historical costuming. We in the community are lucky to have so many excellent quality reference books, so if you're making your own list, or checking someone else's twice, considering adding these wonderful resources:

Fashion: A History from the 18th to the 20th century (Taschen 25th Anniversary)

The Kyoto Costume Institute Book, as it's sometimes called. This is a gorgeous, enormous survey of fashion, with beautiful photographs of full costumes, from one of the most important collections in the world.

I recommend this book for beginners and advanced costumers alike, as it's a constant source of inspiration and great overview of 18th - 20th century fashion.

Seventeenth and Eighteenth-Century Fashion in Detail: The 17th and 18th Centuries

A splendid catalogue from the Victoria and Albert Museum, this book takes an in-depth look at the details of 17th and 18th century clothing, both men's and women's.

Beautiful, high-resolution images reveal cuffs, collars, embroideries, trims, buttons, laces, and so on. A line drawing of each garment reveals the full design, and a useful schematic for the historical costumer.

Nineteenth Century Fashion in Detail

The companion book to the one above, this 19th century catalogue from the Victoria and Albert Museum reveals details of men's and women's clothing from the Regency to La Belle Epoque, with close-up images of collars, cuffs, basques, buttons, and so on.

Detailed line drawings show the full costume, with a description of each, and the accession numbers to assist in finding further information online.

Two more books in this series:
Underwear: Fashion in Detail and Twentieth Century Fashion in Detail (V & A Fashion in Details)

What Clothes Reveal: The Language of Clothing in Colonial and Federal America (Williamsburg Decorative Arts)

The first and largest of the "Williamsburg Books," this one is essential to the serious 18th century costumer, with invaluable information on the dress of men, women, children, and the elderly, along with purpose-made clothing, and that of the working classes as well as aristocracy. This book includes hundreds of color photographs of clothing and accessories from Colonial Williamsburg's collection.

For the beginner, Williamsburg also offers this smaller primer:Eighteenth-Century Clothing at Williamsburg (Williamsburg Decorative Arts Series)

Costume Close-Up: Clothing Construction and Pattern, 1750-1790

Costume-Close-Up is the companion book to What Clothes Reveal, with patterns and instructions for making many of the garments in Williamsburg's collection. This is an invaluable resource for the 18th century costumer, with patterns for men, women, and children, accessories, and with detailed diagrams showing period accurate stitching techniques.

Period Costume for Stage & Screen: Patterns for Women's Dress 1500-1800

A valuable book for the Renaissance, Baroque, and Georgian costumer, Hunnisett offers a wide variety of gridded patterns, along with instructions and advice for making each. The book covers everything from closures to trimmings, as well as the creation of underpinnings.

This is a practical book with good advice for theatrical costuming. I have found many of the tips in this book to be perfectly applicable to historical costuming, helping with ease of wear, and making up.

Period Costume for Stage & Screen: Patterns for Women's Dress, 1800-1909

Another in this series, this book has patterns for Regency through the end of the 19th century, with large and valuable sections on sleeve and bodice designs, the cuts of skirts, construction of corsets, petticoats, and cage crinolines, and how to achieve the correct look for each period.

I've found this book incredibly helpful and complete in creating both day and evening looks for each decade in the 19th century.

Two more books in this series: Period Costume for Stage & Screen: Patterns for Women's Dress, Medieval - 1500 and Period Costume for Stage & Screen: Patterns for Outer Garments : Cloaks, Capes, Stoles and Wadded Mantles

Patterns of Fashion 1: 1660-1860

Recommended for intermediate to advanced costumers, Janet Arnold's famous books offer detailed gridded patterns, drawings, and information from original gowns in the Snowshills Wade costume collection and Victoria and Albert Museum. This book also includes a thorough preface with history and sources, along with an appendix with information on the book, author, and patterns.

Patterns of Fashion 2: Englishwomen's Dresses & Their Construction C. 1860-1940

Second in the series, this book includes gridded patterns, drawings, and history for 1860 - 1940.

Patterns of Fashion 3: The Cut and Construction of Clothes for Men and Women C. 1560-1620

Third in Janet Arnold's series, this book is perhaps the most in-depth, with patterns for both men's and women's dress of the Elizabethan and Jacobean periods, and various countries. Beautiful line drawings and thorough information complement the detailed history, photographs, and reference materials included in the preface.

Goes excellently with this companion book:Patterns of Fashion 4: The Cut and Construction of Linen Shirts, Smocks, Neckwear, Headwear and Accessories for Men and Women C. 1540-1660 (Patterns of Fashion)

Cut of Women's Clothes: 1600-1930

Another for the serious costumer, The Cut of Women's Clothes offers primary and secondary sources for women's clothing from the 17th c. to the 20th c. Non-gridded, scaled patterns are provided for reference or scaling up, with information on each garment.

This is a rare book best acquired through a third-party vendor, but an excellent one to have.

Corsets and Crinolines

This is an excellent, focused book on underpinnings of the 17th through 20th centuries. The book contains primary and secondary sources, as well as non-gridded, scaled patterns for corsets, stays, girdles, cage crinolines, and bustles. It's a wonderful book for the seamstress interested in making her own underpinnings.

Corsets: Historical Patterns & Techniques

A good companion to Corsets and Crinolines, Salen's book focuses specifically on corsets from the 18th century to the early 20th century, with gridded patterns ready to be scaled, showing boning and cording placement for several interesting examples from each period.

This is a great book to use as-is, or as a cross-reference for corset patterns, or your own pattern draft.

Costume in Detail: 1730-1930

In terms of sheer volume, Costume in Detail wins, with hundreds of illustrations of women's dress from the 18th century to the 20th century.

Each page is stuffed with information, showing several views of each garment, with detailed drawings of interiors, seam lines, closures, trims, and so on. Some of the garments in this book are patterned out in Janet Arnold's "Patterns of Fashion" books (above), and can be found in the National Trust website database

Vogue Sewing, Revised and Updated

The Vogue Sewing book is a reference book for modern sewing techniques, both hand and machine. While you won't find period-specific techniques in this book, it does cover multiple methods of finishing everything from hems, collars, cuffs, and buttonholes, to how to work with faux fur, leather, and couture techniques for tailoring. This is a *must have* for beginners and advanced seamstresses alike.

Couture Sewing Techniques, Revised and Updated

Another great book for detailed, hand-finished garments, Couture Sewing offers easy-to-follow tutorials for working bound buttonholes, finishing hems, cuffs, and collars perfectly, tailoring basics, and a number of other techniques to take your garments from home-sewn to stunning. I use this book in conjunction with the Vogue Book to achieve a professional level of finish..

The Tudor Tailor: Reconstructing Sixteenth-Century Dress

This is a great book for anyone recreation Renaissance fashions for either men or women. The gridded patterns are easy to use, with clear instructions on how to scale, slash/spread, and fit them. It's a beautiful book with color photographs and stunning, inspiring examples of garments made with the patterns.

Also in this series:The Queen's Servants: Gentlewomen's Dress at the Accession of Henry VIII (Tudor Tailor Case Studies)


This is by no means an exhaustive list - there are hundreds of costume and vintage sewing books out there, covering every period you could ask for. These are just a few of my favorites I keep coming back to year after year, and will hopefully be as useful and beloved of you or the historical costumer in your life as well.
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