Friday, January 29, 2016

A Really Really Big Shoe Sale - No Really!

Click the image to go to the SALE!
I have a gift for you all. It's the gift of shoes. We're having a really....REALLY big sale. Like a huge sale. An enormous sale of lots of things for tremendous discounts!

Why? Simply to clear out the old to make room for the new. I've been working on new designs: in the coming year you can expect an expansion of our Civil War footwear, some new Victorian button boot options, new Edwardian heels, and a more regular offering of glamorous "Exclusives."

Which to choose? Click here to shop!
All this 'new' means we need to clear up space, so we're clearing some of our older styles for over 50% off. This is completely your chance - Antoinettes, Seabury, Savoy, Tissot, and Virginia are marked down significantly, most below cost, lower than we've ever offered any of our footwear.

This sale has no expiration. It will be open until the very last pair is carried out of my garage by our faithful and patient postman. That being said, these prices have created a bit of a frenzy, and stuff is selling out quickly. Don't wait!

All the sale items are here:

Happy shopping!
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Monday, January 25, 2016


1880s Wool Ensemble - Apportioning Ruler Adventures

I've been slow but steady on the progress of this grey wool and black velvet mid-1880s outfit. It's been about a month of weekends working on it, but I'm proud to say that I'm just a few bits away from completion.

In the last post on this project, I had made the underskirt and begun patterning the bodice. Since then I've gone on quite the journey of apportioning rulers, sprung bones, mad fitting, and sleeve boss-fights.

Before I cut the bodice, I made the apron, or overskirt. I turned to Bustle Fashions 1885-1887 by Frances Grimble for ideas and pattern layouts. This book is a reprint of The National Garment Cutter and Voice of Fashion publications, 1885-1887. It's a *fantastic* book full of primary source material for ideas, pattern layouts, and most importantly, the apportioning rulers.

For those of you not familiar with apportioning rulers, they are proprietary measurement scales that came with different pattern books. That is, The National Garment Cutter had its own set of rulers for use with its own patterns. To easily explain apportioning rulers, imagine a ruler where the "inch" isn't a true inch, but slightly smaller or slightly larger based on your measurement.

The patterns in these drafting and cutting books call for the use of one of the special rulers according to your bust or your waist measurement. In drafting the apron from page 93, I used the special ruler included in the back of the book for my 27.5" corseted waist. The units of measurement are ever so slightly smaller than a true inch.

The pattern for the front pieces of the apron/overskirt. This is what a pattern using apportioning rulers looks like. Seems confusing until you know the very simple method to draft this out.
It's magic. No really, there is *no math involved here*. Looking at the pattern, it seems like a huge mess of confusing numbers, but if you know the system, it's so freaking easy. First, you measure down vertically what the number says - so on this pattern you start by measuring down 1/2", then 1.75", then 2.25" and so on - then at those marks you measured perpendicularly across - at that first 1/2" mark, you measure across 4.5"; at the 1.75" mark, you measure across both 2.25" and 9" and make the marks. Then you "connect the dots" in the general shape of the pattern piece. Remember, since the ruler you're using is not a true inch, the pattern, in theory, will come out to fit your waist precisely.

And you know what?  It did.


The handy illustration showing what the finished skirt should look like. By studying this, I could determine where the pleats should be. Mine isn't exactly the same, but it's close
The second illustration shows a variation from a different publication. This also came with a description of how to make it, sorta-kinda. I used both illustrations and descriptions when fussing with mine.
After the pieces were cut out, the fiddling came with doing up the pleats. I had two illustrations to show how the apron was meant to look when complete. I'd say it came out decently close, which is very satisfying indeed! Some of the patterns in these books are very straightforward as far as assembly, and some are not. I chose one I could conceptualize from flat to three-dimensional. Next time I may try a more challenging design.

My finished apron. Again, it's not exactly the same, particularly at the back, but it's pretty darn close and I'm very happy with how it turned out.
So as not to overwhelm you, I'll leave the bodice construction for the next post. The dress is almost done and I'm to wear it next weekend, so I'll have on-body photos for you soon as well!

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Tuesday, January 19, 2016

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Exciting Things in Store for Vintage Shoe Lovers

2016 is already off to a roaring start. The beginning of the year always comes with lots of planning for the next 12 months, and this year is more intense than ever.

In addition to adding new colors and styles to American Duchess, particularly for you Civil War ladies, I will be presenting my first collection for Royal Vintage Shoes, our recently-launched retro footwear brand.

This is a big deal for me because for the past five years we've been building American Duchess' footwear offerings one at a time, but Royal Vintage's collection will be all at once.

The reason I'm sharing this now is because I want you all to be a part of it. I want your feedback, opinions, and help with making the absolute best first collection we can. We've always tried our best to listen to our customers and create what you want, so if you'd like to be a part of the "development team" for Royal Vintage, please follow us on your favorite social network:

I've been working closely with the workshop to develop four iconic 1940s styles, most likely offered in two colors each. We will offer our '40s collection on, and we are also hoping to team up with some hand-picked retailers. If you are a vintage/retro fashion retailer and are interested in carrying our shoes (USA, Canada, Europe, Australia), please shoot me an email to [email protected].

It's early days yet, but the plan is to open the collection for pre-orders in mid-August. Those of you attending Costume College at the beginning of August will get an in-person look at each design in context (and if you're a 7.5 you can try them on, too).

I know it's a lot to take in, but I wanted to let you all know what's up, and invite you to come on this journey with me. I'm excited to share updates and news over the next eight months. Stay tuned, lovelies!

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Tuesday, January 12, 2016

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Artifact: Paragon Home Shoe Button Kit

In my journey of studying and recreating old-fashioned footwear, I get to geek out on old technologies re-discovered. I just love the how and why of things: the effect an innovation in footwear manufacture had on industries, communities, and individuals in different time periods.

So I get majorly tickled when I come across artifacts that instantly answer questions we face from our customer's today. One of those questions is about buttoning shoes and boots - how did they, and how do we, make them fit?

My answer is always the same - move the buttons - and in our modern world, that means stitching them on. This was done in the 19th century too, but we also know that there were different attachment methods, evident on original examples. I have antique button boots with brads, pins, and staples holding the buttons on, so imagine my utter nerd-glee when I found the tools used for one of these methods.

The Paragon Home Shoe Button Kit box with tools inside.
This tool - a kit, actually - is the Paragon Home Shoe Button Kit. It's amazing to have the entire thing in-tact, because it tells us so much much more than if each piece were isolated. On the box is a diagram showing what the kit contains - button setter, wire cutter, button fasteners (the staples) and three colors of boot buttons - and how to use the button setter tool.

The button setter is marked "Bernard's Pat. Mar 17, 1914" on one side, and "W.Schollhorn Co. New Haven, Conn." on the other. A quick spin through Google Patents brings up William Bernard, the inventor of a great many punches, clippers,  pliers, and hand tools, working with the Schollhorn Company. Here's the original patent US1090191 A, and artwork:

(Another little super-squee moment here is that we can more accurately date boots that use this method of attachment to around or after 1913/14, when this device was invented)

Each tool/component in its own box - the button setter pliers, wire cutters, the staples, and a box of buttons - black, white, or tan
Inside is each component in a separate box. The tools are well-made and easy to use. This explains the consistency in shoe and boot button sizes and make, and why one could purchase cards of them; it explains why you see certain types of holes in antique boots, where the buttons have been moved; it explains why some boots have button colors that don't match; it reveals that women were adjusting the fit of their boots themselves (the box says on the side "This Paragon Kit is especially designed for home use.")

The tools are in excellent condition for being so old
How the pliers work - you thread the staple through the loop of the button, then place the pair in the pliers. Then it just works like a stapler, bending the ends of the looped staple flat once you punch it through the leather
Here's how the staples look on the inside, and the picture at the top of this post show how the staples look on the outside. Very clean finish.
These tools really are a lost technology. Nobody is making these kits today - of course not, when shoes and boots don't button anymore - but how important this auxiliary artifact is to understanding how people used their boots in the past!

(You can sometimes find these kits on Etsy or eBay, varying in price. The pliers will work with the buttons in the kit or those of the same size/type, readily available also on Etsy and eBay, but will not work with the buttons that come with any of our buttoning shoes - different size and type. However, there's no rule that says you have to keep the buttons that come with the shoes. If you're thinking of moving the buttons on your Tavistocks, et al, it would be quite the experience and be quite unique to replace them with actual antique boot buttons set using this tool.)

I do wish these kits were still being produced, though, because it'd make moving the buttons on your Tavistocks, Renoirs, or Astorias so much easier. (Edit: the patent IS expired, but re-creating this kit would be incredibly expensive in today's world) As it stands, though, it's not hard to do it the extra-old-fashioned way with the needle and thread. Here's how:

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Friday, January 8, 2016

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Musing on A Natural Form Spring - 1870s Photoshoot at The Lake Mansion

Sometimes I get so busy I forget to share things, like this lovely photo shoot we did last Spring with a wonderful girl, Siera, at a wonderful local historic home known as The Lake Mansion.

The gown and hat were made by a good friend, Lady Carolyn. I've always loved this stunning natural form gown. So much detail, fluff, and lace, yet figure-hugging and so flattering.

Our photoshoots are, of course, to show examples of how to style American Duchess shoes. These are the "Renoir" button boots, which are historically appropriate for the late 1850s through the early 1880s. The Renoirs are wonderfully versatile, and can be worn with a cage crinoline or a bustle.

I met our model, Siera, at the local Starbucks. She struck me as having a "historical presence," even in her sandwich shop uniform. When I spoke with her, it turned out she was mad about historical costuming (do we emit an aura of some kind?), and was excited to do the shoot. Carolyn's gown fit her perfectly, and she moved in the dress as if she were born in the 19th century.

These photos have reminded me how much I love the 1870s, and how much I want/need to make more costumes from this era. There's nothing quite so luxurious and even sensuous as a form-fitting, trained, super decorative ensemble.

I hope you've enjoyed these photos as much as I enjoyed creating them!

See more of Lady Carolyn's work here
Shop historic footwear of all periods here
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Wednesday, January 6, 2016

2015 Costuming Year in Review

I'm pretty late on getting my 2015 costuming year in review up, but here goes:

In January I talked a lot about making a Robe a la Turque, but never did. Instead, I made an elliptical hoop, and wore it with my late 1860s purple gown:

Late 1860s day dress made of purple silk taffeta with black velvet trimming, worn over an elliptical hoop
In February I started the Larkin & Smith English Gown pattern in yellow taffeta, but still haven't finished it.

Half of my English gown, waiting patiently in a bag to be completed.
In March I did some vintage sewing - finally finished the Wearing History "Moderne" dress, and rather love it. I also made a quick 1940s rayon blouse:

Wearing History 1930s "Moderne" made sleeve-less for Summer
A 1940s rayon blouse made from a compilation of vintage patterns.
Come April, I started and finished some 18th century projects. On the "finished" list was a 1780s chintz pierrot jacket I'd been stashing for too long. I also completed a petticoat and altered an antique apron to go with it:

1780s pierrot jacket made from Williamsburg cotton chintz, paired with a taffeta petticoat and "Dunmore" 18th century shoes
I was thrilled with how this jacket came out, especially with the ruffle on the "tail."
In May, all preparations were being made for a trip to Colonial Williamsburg. I didn't complete anything, but worked diligently on trimming the 1770s pink Polonaise, and whipping up a quick 1780s Chemise a la Reine.

Then June - time for Williamsburg! All things completed! In our most sacred of costumer's cities, I wore the 1780s chintz pierrot, the 1770s pink Polonaise, the 1780s Chemise a la Reine, and an old favorite, the 1770s Revolution Dress

The most comfortable and practical dress I wore in Williamsburg was this 1780s Chemise a la Reine, made from cotton voile, worn with a black silk sash, bow, and bonnet.
The pink polonaise is my favorite dress to wear just because it's so puffy and pink and silly. I felt beautifully French the day we visited l'Hermione in Yorktown.
This is another outfit I feel very princessy in. It was rainy this day, so we stayed indoors as much as we could.
July is Costume College prep month. I intended to make a gigantic Robe a la Francaise for the gala, which I nicknamed "The Silver Ghost." I spent all of July working on this gown, but did steal a couple days to make a pair of 1930s trousers:

White super wide-legged trousers. I made these with intent to wear for 1930s, but from a 1970s pattern. The white fabric was troublesomely see-through, so I had to fully line them in cotton. They're quite heavy.
August is Costume College, at least the first weekend. The only new thing I made/wore was The Silver Ghost 1760s Francaise, which volumetrically is absolutely the largest costume I've ever made. It wasn't perfect, but I was really proud of it.

The Silver Ghost, my largest achievement. This is the second sacque I've made and so incredibly different from the first. I learned a lot, and on the whole really enjoyed wearing this. Next time? EVEN BIGGER!
Later August I did a bit of hatmaking and vintage sewing, most notably starting my Miss Fisher Fall wardrobe with a pair of gabardine trousers and a deco silk blouse:

Practical vintage daywear. I got so many compliments on this outfit. It's both comfortable and stylish.
September - Experiments in re-blocking old wool hats to make 1920s and 30s cloches. I also added a gabardine 1930s skirt to my Miss Fisher wardrobe, and whipped together the Wearing History "Smooth Sailing" blouse in novelty cotton:

A pretty straight-forward 1930s skirt. It's another piece that's casual, easy to wear, but gives such a polished look.
1930s/40s Wearing History "Smooth Sailing" blouse. This pattern is fantastic, easy to sew, and looks great.
October is the start of busy season in shoe company land, but I managed to grab some time to make a jersey 1940s dress. This was the first time I'd worked with jersey and though there was a learning curve (one I'm still on), I am really happy with the way the dress came out, and have worn it many times already. Super comfy!

My first jersey knit creation went very well. I love this dress!
In November I made another knit item, a 1930s sweater with matched chevron stripes and gaultlet sleeves.

A challenging piece. I didn't have a pattern, and made a lot of mistakes. The ribbing was difficult, but it all worked out in the end.
Then finally to December. I threw together an 1880s wool skirt, which in the new year is getting a bodice and apron to go with. I also completed a velvet 1930s evening gown, another challenging project that came out quite well.

This skirt was originally just a throw-together to go with this jacket (not of my making), but I liked it so much I'm making a matching bodice and apron to create a full ensemble.
1930s velvet gown with rhinestone buckle

Looking back I feel that I both made a lot and didn't make nearly as much as I used to. This year was big for our shoe companies, though - we added quite a few new designs to American Duchess, and worked on some fun collaborative projects, and beautiful "Exclusives." Most notably, though, was the launch of our second footwear company, Royal Vintage Shoes, which took a herculean effort to get up and running. I'm most proud of that achievement (and now that it's standing on its own two, well-shod feet, I can get back to more sewing in 2016....she says)

So here's looking forward to 2016! Already there are projects brewing and bubbling. I have a number of things to finish, like that yellow English gown, and I intend to make quite a lot more vintage clothing to wear on an everyday basis. There will no doubt be mad preparation for Costume College (no idea on gala gown, yet!), but really, who knows where the sewing adventures will lead.

Happy New Year everyone!

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Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Making Vintage Jeans

My last project of 2015 was a pair of jeans.

As most of you know, I mostly loathe modern low-rise pants. I've been on a vintage trouser bender for awhile now, but one of the things I really missed was jeans.

When I say jeans I mean the sturdy, triple-stitched, fly-front jeans we all know. These are different than trousers made of denim. I specifically wanted the at-waist, wide-legged, front-zip, many-pocket, belt-looped jeans. There are a few makers of exactly this. Freddies of Pinewood is my favorite. But ever the frugal stitchist, I thought I'd try my hand at making my own jeans before shelling out another $140+ for some that may not fit as I'd like.

The benefits of making your own jeans is that you can make adjustments for all your little body quirks. I've been using the belly adjustment from Fast Fit: Easy Pattern Alterations for Every Figure on all of my pants lately, and it's made a *huge* difference in how they fit, how flattering, and how comfortable they are. What stops me from purchasing any more ready-made vintage-style pants is that I have little faith that they will be flattering. So I make my own.

Super wide-legged jeans made at-waist, with center front zip fly, back yoke functional pockets, belt loops, and lots of decorative stitching.
When making your own jeans, there are some things to consider. I always make a list of everything I want in a garment before I get started. On my list for jeans are:
  • Fly front zipper closure - a real one, not the mock ones you often get on women's pants patterns
  • No darts - darts have been converted to shaped side seams
  • Belly adjustment
  • Back yoke
  • Pockets - front and back, and large enough to actually be useful
  • Belt loops
  • Reinforced Stitching - this requires a heavy duty needle and heavy thread. Reinforced stitching includes flat-felling that inseam, top stitching elements, often double, and tacking certain areas securely.
  • Good denim - I go for no stretch, "hard" denim. Once it's washed, that hardness is depleted considerably. I always wash and dry the denim yardage on hot first.
For my first pair of jeans, I used a 1970s wide-legged pants pattern, already without darts in front and back. I cut pockets into the front, with this shaped pocket method, and drew the shape of the yoke in back, dividing the two pieces and adding seam allowance.

I prepared each leg individually. The back pieces got their yokes and patch pockets, and the front pieces had their pockets applied and top-stitched. Then it was time for the zipper fly.

Much trepidation.

Luckily I found a fantastic video by Melly Sews that showed exactly how to do the fly closure. I followed each step and was tickled to have it turn out perfectly! Now I'm a fly front addict...

Bookmark this one for later. Srsly.

With the fly installed, it was business as usual. I flat-felled the inseams first, then stitched the outseams, overlocking the seam allowance inside. The waistband and belt loops went on, then I washed and dried the jeans again on hot *before hemming.* I did this because I've had jeans shrink up on me even after washing the yardage. I wanted to be doubly sure.

I stitched "L"s onto my patch pockets in back. You get to do that when you make your own jeans. :-)
Hems went in, pants went on, and I went out to get coffee, feeling like a badass for having sewn my first true jeans.

The next day I dashed down to Mill End Fabrics for more denim. Next up? Overalls!
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