Monday, May 23, 2016

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A 1940s Photo Shoot in Reno, Nevada

The beautiful Elizabeth, dressed in original 1940s vintage.
Whenever we do photo shoots, I always try to come up with an interesting concept. Usually, for the American Duchess line, we're trying to "hide" our very Western, very "new" landscape and town, to make the photos looks like they're from pastoral England or France.

But with the younger fashions, like the 1940s, our home town of Reno actually serves quite nicely. We don't have a lot of very old buildings, but we do have some from the 1930s and 1940s surviving. So for this shoot with Elizabeth, vintage fashion connoisseur, I thought we could actually celebrate Reno's past.

Reno in the 1940s - a new divorcee exits the Washoe County Courthouse

Where better to do that but on the Washoe County Courthouse steps, where thousands of women have become brides and divorcees. This is the famous courthouse from "The Misfits," and one of the most beautiful buildings in downtown Reno.

One of the traditions from the past was for a lady to "kiss the column" upon existing the courthouse doors, her divorce finalized. While no lipstick stains remain, the column still stands as a monument of 20th century female freedom from bad marriages. Check out the newsreel above for glimpses of Reno in 1943, and happy gals "kissing the column."

So, naturally, The Column played a role in our photo shoot.

Reno in the 1940s - Washoe County Courthouse - Elizabeth is wearing all vintage paired with the beautiful reproduction 1940s shoes "Betty" from Royal Vintage Shoes
Elizabeth's outfit is an original 1940s dress paired with a vintage hat and gloves. The shoes are "Betty" 1940s platform sandals by Miss L Fire, which we sell in the 1940s section at Royal Vintage Shoes. These are just wonderful shoes, very high quality and comfortable, with an arch support and adjustable straps. I have a pair myself and they seem to go with absolutely everything.

"Betty" 1940s Platform Sandals in Black Suede from (c)2016

I hope you've enjoyed our photos! Here are the details:

Dress: Vintage
Hat: Vintage
Gloves: Vintage
Model: Elizabeth Pedersen 
Location: Washoe County Courthouse, Reno, NV

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Tuesday, May 17, 2016

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Review: Emmy Design Sweden Vintage Repro Clothing

Vintage menswear look with Emmy Design trousers and suspenders. Shoes by

Do you ever feel like you just can't sew the vintage wardrobe you want, in its entirety, fast enough? I have a gazillion vintage sewing patterns, but it seems like less and less time to make each piece. Even when I finish something, too soon after I am wanting something more - maybe a blouse to go with the pants I just made, or pants to go with the blouse I just made!

Even as a seamstress, I am lured by vintage repro clothing companies, but with all the knowledge of good clothing construction, quality materials, and how things should fit, I am often disappointed with the products of many of these brands.
Vintage menswear style with Emmy Design
An adorable vintage menswear look is easy to pull off with trousers, an oxford shirt, and suspenders.
So when I find one that makes genuinely good stuff, I'm over the moon. Emmy Design Sweden is one of those brands.

Now, this stuff isn't cheap. It's European and the shipping alone can hurt, but I am subscribing to the well-known concept that it's better to spend a bit more on truly good pieces, and fewer of them, that spend the same amount of filling my closet with crap.

I've been wanting to try out some of Emmy's clothing for some time, especially the sweaters. You all know how I feel about vintage sweaters. And let me tell you, I have hardly taken this little 1940s cardigan off since it arrived back in March. The cardi is a very high quality wool blend, nice and soft, and actually fits without the button placket gapping. It's not too tight, with plenty of room in the sleeves, and is the proper length to wear with vintage at-waist styles. This is the best vintage style knitwear I've come across so far.

This cardigan makes my heart go pitterpatter - high quality Fair Isle knit in wool blend by Emmy Design. LOVE!
I also tried the pants, which are voluminous and lightweight. They're a wide-legged 1930s style with buttons on the side. They were quite long and needed hemming for my 5'6" height, so I turned up cuffs and blind-stitched them in place. Though they are sold as Fall/Winter pants, the fabric is very light and flowy, actually quite perfect for Spring and Summer. I will live in these pants this season, no doubt.

The pants have buttons inside the waistband to affix suspenders, also made by Emmy, a style I absolutely love. I was having trouble finding button-on suspenders short enough for women, so Emmy really solved my problem there.

The trousers are loose, flowy, and comfortable, but may need hemming.
Emmy Design clothing is, unfortunately, not sold in shops in the US. Lucky you if you're in Europe, Australia, or South Africa. They do, however, have a web store where you can order. Check it out, especially the knitwear. I highly highly recommend it!

This outfit:
Blouse - thrifted
Sunglasses- Forever 21

A pair of "Back Then" oxfords from completes the vintage menswear look.
Model - Dalen Obryan
Location - University of Nevada, Reno
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Friday, May 13, 2016

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18th Century Stays: Boning Patterns

In preparation for making your Simplicity 8162 18th c. stays, you may wish to re-draw the boning pattern.

The pattern comes with an accurate layout for half-boned stays. If you would like to deviate from this, perhaps to add more support or change to a fully boned stays pattern, it's a very easy alteration.

All you need to do is redraw the boning channels. On my stays I've done fully boned and simply drew the pattern I wanted on the interlining layer. It's as easy as that.


On your stays pattern there are "no go zones" where your CF and CB needs to have channels on the edge and opposite side of the lacing holes. You'll notice in all the patterns I've drawn out that this "bone-grommets-bone" pattern is on the front and back pieces. Other "no go zones" are the seam allowances - obviously you don't want to run your boning channels into the seam allowances. I typically will do one channel right along the seam on either side, parallel to the seam.

Drawing the Pattern

After you've marked out your CF and CB "no go zones" and your seam allowance, you can draw whatever pattern you like. Keep your references handy and pay attention to how the boning channels intersect the tabs or curve across the body.

3/8" channel for 1/4" wide zip ties
5/8" channel for 1/2" wide zip ties

Here are several boning patterns from original stays, in chronological order:

Horizontal Boning?

On many of these layouts you will notice horizontal boning across the bust. This creates more support for the bust, especially larger busts. But how do you stitch this in?

The answer is to create a "pocket," a separate piece that is applied to the bust area after the vertical boning channels have been stitched into the outer fabric and interlining. I make my pockets of two thin layers of muslin with the horizontal boning channels sewn in, then I tack the entire piece to the interior of the stays.

You can stitch through all layers to secure it, but I usually just secure the pocket to the seam allowance and top edged. Another method for horizontal boning is to stitch linen or cotton tape to the interior to create individual channels. With any of these methods, if you stitch through all layers, be sure to sew the pocket or tapes in *after* you've inserted the vertical boning, so you don't accidentally sew the channels shut!

Once all the boning channels and pockets are sewn in, the interior will be covered with the lining, so don't worry about it looking messy!

Boning channels can be quite creative. Keep your references handy, but don't be a "slave" to the reference. Think about how different boning directions might affect your body, and don't be afraid to experiment.

Helpful References:
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Thursday, May 12, 2016

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My "Agent Carter" Outfit on The Mood Blog (!)

I am a bit remiss in posting lately. A whole lot of everything has been going on, but a lot of it hasn't been about historical costuming. While I've been buried in signing leases and lining up contractors and all kinds of moving stuff (more on all that later), I haven't had much time to sew and, well, write about it.

So I'm sharing a bit late. But it's good news!

Last month I knocked out a quick vintage sewing project. Awhile back I acquired a bunch of gorgeous original 1940s patterns, all of them somehow magically in my size. One of them just screamed "Agent Carter," so I put it together in a couple weekends with a scrummy blue wool blend from Mood Fabrics, everyone's favorite NYC fabric store.

Well my dress went on the Mood blog! Squee! You can read all about it, the pattern, and see some more photos o'er there - get in The Mood (Blog).

p.s. The shoes I'm wearing are brown and white spectators from the new Royal Vintage Classic 1940s Collection coming out this Fall. They're not available yet, but I will be telling you all about them soon!
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Monday, May 9, 2016

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18th Century Stays - Q&A about Simplicity 8162

Continuing on with the Simplicity 18th Century Pattern Hacks, I thought it would be good to cover some questions about the pattern specifically.

I've finished my stays made from this pattern, but as you will see I have made a few small changes:
  • Spiral lacing instead of criss-cross lacing
  • Fully boned instead of half boned
  • Stays bound and then lined rather than lined then bound
Some additions and materials choices:
  • Seams covered in 1/4" strips of leather
  • Stays bound in leather
I did not change any of the pattern pieces. I just cut and sewed my size - size 12 - with no alterations to the fit. All of the fitment comes through the lacing - tightening or loosening the front and back laces as needed.

Some questions you may have...

Q: What Size Should You Cut?
A: Cut your size according to the back of the pattern envelope. No ease has been added to the pattern; in fact, the stays have negative ease, which means they are smaller than your body measurements when laced on. This is essential to creating a structural foundation garment.

My natural body measurements are bust 34" / waist 28" (it keeps getting bigger, lol). I cut a size 12, which is for bust 34" / waist 26.5". Now, the waist is an inch and a half smaller than my natural waist, so I was expecting to have some adjustments in the front and back lacing. Keep in mind that the waist is very flexible and squishy, so when I laced my stays I kept the bust loose and the waist quite snug.

Q: What If You Have a Full Bust and Small Waist?
A: There are couple ways to deal with this:

1. Cut out both sizes for the stays. The pattern tissue has each size printed individually instead of overlaying one another. So if you have a size 16 bust but a size 12 waist, cut out both sizes, then lay the pieces over one another and  redraft the seams, tapering the line from the size 16 bust down to the size 12 waist.

2. There is a full bust adjustment patterning change that looks like this:

Jill Salen "Corsets" - the front piece on the right hand side has a curve at the top and front lacing that accommodates a full bust
That S curve on the diagonal side seam of the front piece gives you more room in the bust but keeps the waist the same measurement. If you choose to use this method, cut your size according to your WAIST measurement, and alter the front piece for your bust measurement.

I am working out an easy tutorial to follow for this change, so stay tuned if you want to use this method for the Georgian FBA

3. Use a stomacher. Cut your size according to your WAIST measurement. You will have a gap between the front lacing at the top of the front. To fill this, use the stomacher pattern from Simplicity 8161, or draft your own, to create a boned stomacher to lace your stays over.

Q: Are The Stays Supportive?
A: Yes, very. I have made these stays fully-boned with 1/4" zip ties throughout, and 1/2" zip ties on the front and back edges. They are very supportive and lightweight. Half-boned stays will have the same effect but may be a bit bulkier depending on the boning you choose.

If you have a full bust, you can still use lightweight boning for fully-boned stays, but you may wish to add a little extra boning horizontally in the bust area. I will show you how to do this soon.

Q: Why Did You Change to Spiral Lacing?
A: Both spiral and criss-cross lacing existed in the 18th century, but served different purposes. Criss-cross was primarily decorative, while spiral was stress-bearing. Spiral lacing doesn't slip in the lacing holes the way that criss-cross does, so you can lace up quickly, securely, and snugly without fighting the laces. I have a very quick and easy tutorial for converting to spiral lacing on the way.

Q: Why Leather Binding? Was It Difficult to Sew? Do You Have to Use Leather?
A: I chose leather binding because it's durable, period accurate, stretchy/flexible, and comfortable. It was indeed harder to sew than the other binding options, such as linen tape, self fabric, bias tape, or petersham ribbon. A thimble is recommended! However, my binding will last a long time and keep the boning from wearing through to poke me.

Leather binding cut from chamois cloth from the automotive store. You can also use any very thin, stretchy leather such as glove leather. The thinner the leather the easier it will be to sew.

Now that I've worked my way through the stays pattern, I will have individual tutorials for you soon. These will be:
  • The Georgian FBA - What to Do About a Full Bust in Stays
  • Spiral Lacing vs. Criss-Cross Lacing
  • Changing the Boning Pattern on Your Stays
  • Dressing Before Dressing - Putting On Underpinnings in the Correct Order
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Friday, May 6, 2016

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18th Century Stays - Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How

Ladies, now it's time to get started on our Simplicity 18th Century inspired patterns! You've got two pattern packs - one with underpinnings and one with the outfit itself - but where do we begin?

I'm going to host this "hacking" series in a way that is accessible to beginning costumers. We're going to really delve into the who, what, when, where, why, and especially how, of creating a complete 18th century outfit from the "skin out," which means starting with the underpinnings and building the rest of the outfit on the resulting silhouette.

Underpinnings? Yup, all the garments you wear beneath the dress itself to create the correct shape. In the 18th century we have a shift/chemise, stays/corset, and, depending on the decade and style of gown, a variety of skirt foundations such as a bum roll, hip pads, or panniers. Simplicity 8162 has the chemise, stays, and bum roll, and Simplicity 8161 has the petticoat pattern that will be worn over the top of it all and under the gown or bodice + skirt to fluff it all out and create a smooth line.

All of these items are essential when creating an authentic 18th century look, especially the stays. "Stays" are what we call 18th century corsets, and are the stiff boned foundation garment that supported the bust, trimmed the waist, held the shoulders back, and supported the gown worn on top.

Here is a short "Intro to Stays" video that may answer some questions you might have:

The biggest "shortcut" novice costumers make is to skip the stays. Many believe they'll be uncomfortable, or they're not necessary, or that their persona wouldn't have worn them. All of these ideas are incorrect, my darlings! The most uncomfortable I have ever been in costume was when I thought I'd just not wear my stays that day - the waist seam of the dress cut into me badly and the weight of the dress hung on my shoulders. My how I wished I had worn the corset!

Left - NO underpinnings; Right - all the correct underpinnings. See what a difference it makes?
Another big fear beginners have is that stays will be hard to make, but this is where I will help you most in the upcoming posts. Stays are not difficult to make, but they take time, especially the binding on the tabs. Everyone dreads that, but like anything lovely, it's worth putting in the time.

So, in writing:

Who wore stays in the 18th century?

Women of all classes wore stays. The lower classes often wore strapless stays, which did not impede the movement of the shoulders. The upper classes, and especially aristocracy and royalty, wore more restrictive stays. Lower class women did not lace their stays tightly, but upper class women are often depicted tight-lacing. Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, was known for tight-lacing her stays, but this is the exception, not the rule.

Stays - 1st quarter of 18th century - The Met - these are strapless stays made of linen, cotton, and whalebone. This style would have been worn by a working class woman.
What were stays made out of?

18th century stays were made from wool, linen, twill/jean fabric, stiffened linen (buckram), and silk brocade. The interlining layer was the stiffened layer, while the outer layer could be something decorative. Boning was whalebone/baleen, reed, or wood bents, and the stays had a lightweight lining loosely tacked in that could be replaced easily. We often see surviving stays without their linings. Stays were commonly bound in leather, but the edges were also finished with linen tape, self fabric binding, or grosgrain.

When and Where were stays worn?

Stays were worn for all of the 18th century. They changed shape with the changing fashions, but were ever present. This is, of course, a Western fashion. Women throughout Europe wore stays, as well as European women in the colonies.

Why were stays worn?

Stays were a support garment. They were the bras of the 18th century, supporting the bust from the waist instead of the shoulders. Stays lifted the bust, trimmed the waist, held the shoulders back (for those with straps), and created a smooth support for the garments worn on top.

How were stays worn?

Stays go on over the shift/chemise and under petticoat (optional, but helps pad out the hip tabs), and under the skirt supports (bum roll, pocket hoops). There is no need to lace them tightly - just snug enough to do the job.

How were stays made?

Ironically, staymakers were usually men. This was not a garment a woman would be making in her home, for herself, but a garment made by professionals. Why men? The processing of baleen required strength and stamina. Baleen would be boiled, split, shaped, and installed in a pair of stays, sometimes requiring springing, which was all quite hard labor.

Staymakers were usually men.
How can I make my stays today?

These days we don't have workshops of men to make our corsets for us, but we also don't use baleen anymore. Some good modern alternatives are German plastic synthetic whalebone, zip ties (my personal favorite), steel, or we still have the period correct material of reed.

With a good pattern, the right interlining and boning material, and a bit of determination, you can whip up a functional and comfortable pair of stays in a week (that's machine sewing, dears - completely by hand will take longer of course).

Once you have your stays, everything else becomes possible. If you do a good job on them, they'll last you an age - I still have my very first pair of stays made 10 years ago! The Simplicity 8162 stays pattern is a good, highly adjustable, easy to alter pattern that will serve you for nearly all of the 18th century.


Excited? Ready to get started? Good!

Coming up next in the series I'll give you the hows and whys of the changes I've made to my Simplicity stays that you can work into your own version.

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Thursday, May 5, 2016


New Civil War Boots - Pre-Order Now Open!

It's another pre-order day! I've been trying to go more towards "collections" for Summer and Fall and less all-over-the-place for introducing new shoes for you ladies. With that, I'd like to introduce two new styles for mid-Victorian - "Balmoral" and "Gettysburg" in blue/black.

Gettysburgs you will be familiar with. We first did these cute little side-lace gaiters in brown wool foxed with black leather. It was time to do a new colorway, another popular combo - slate blue and black.

The second style is totally new. They're "Balmoral" Civil War boots in black sateen foxed with black leather. They're a faithful reproduction of a very popular style from the 1860s - so popular that several museum collections have examples, and I even found and purchased two examples online within two weeks of each other. I talk about those original boots and our reproduction in this video:

Pretty as they are, the Balmoral boot for American women was "everyday" footwear. Fabric uppers (cotton, wool) with leather foxing were extremely common and worn for all kinds of outdoor activities, sporting, walking, even working. These would have been worn during the American Civil War by both Northern and Southern women.

Shoe Icons - sateen foxed in leather with metal grommets, stacked leather heel, and surviving rosette
American Duchess Archive - boots, 1860s, black sateen foxed with black leather. Stacked leather heel and leather sole. Rosettes on the vamp was silk ribbon with a small steel buckle.
The Met - boots, 1860-69, wool. There is no foxing on these but the overall design is the same.
American Duchess Archive - boots, 1860s, cotton sateen foxed with black kid, pigskin facing, white canvas lining, stacked leather heel, leather soles.
Just for fun - a pair of bright red sateen and leather Balmoral boots - same design, but somebody was a bit saucy! Originally on eBay from johnsartifactorium - listing no longer available
I'm very proud of our Balmorals! There was quite a bit of back-and-forth with the workshop trying to get the details right, but in the end I feel the boots came out splendidly. For your quick-reference:

"Balmoral" Civil War Boots

  • Black cotton sateen foxed in black leather with a white stitch
  • Lace-up closure with metal grommets; 3 inch tongue
  • Leather soles and leather facing
  • White canvas lining and leather insole
  • Black stacked heel, 1.5 inch knock-on from an original 1860s shoe.

Pre-Order May 5 - 20
Free Stuff -or- a $10 Discount
and Free Shipping in the USA

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