Thursday, December 28, 2017

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CORRECTION - 1780s Cap Pattern - American Duchess Guide

Hi gals! We've been alerted to a flaw in the 1780s cap pattern from "The American Duchess Guide to 18th Century Dressmaking," so before you all tear your pomaded-and-powdered hair out trying to make the ruffles fit the band, here is the correction:

Share me like one of your French caps.

Additionally, here are some more photos to help you:

From left to right - two caul ruffles, two face ruffles, one band.

Each ruffle gets pleated up and applied to one side of the band - 4 ruffles in all.

This is what it looks like when it's done, before applying the caul. Ruffles on both sides - they meet in the middle.

Front view of the 1780s cap

Side view of the 1780s cap

Back vie of the 1780s cap
Huge thank you to Leimomi Oakes for finding this issue. Please print this pattern for your use and share it with anyone who needs it.

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Thursday, December 21, 2017

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{Video} Wherein Lauren & Abby Get Racked

...or Racked gets Lauren'd & Abby'd. ;-)

In early December, Abby and I took our annual trip to New York City to do *all the things.* One of the things we had the honor of doing was shooting a "Dress the Part" video with Racked, the fabulous online media website focusing on fashion.

Racked has done a whole series of "Dress the Part," all of them super cool, so we were beyond excited to participate. We did the shoot at the amazing Van Cortlandt House, an 18th century manor smack in the middle of the Brox (who knew?).

We did most of the shoot in one of the upstairs bedrooms, complete with a ghost throwing candlesticks around and messing with the A/V equipment. We demonstrated dressing, which you can see some of in the video, and had quite a lot of fun being exceedingly silly.

Fluff fluff fluff - tying up the skirt of my yellow Italian gown and fluffing out the "wings."

Abby and I are about 20 years apart in fashion here - sshhhh, don't tell anyone!
We have to give a *huge* thank you to Laura Meyers and Meredith Barnes, who allowed the use of the house and assisted in our silliness. Meredith also took all of these lovely behind-the-scenes photos and drove our fluffy butts back to Time Square, which is no small feat.

Dunmores in red and white on the left, and Kensingtons in ivory on the right.
We hope you enjoy the video! We had a great time making it, playing dress up, and talking about shoes. For more of the Dress the Part series, check out Racked on Facebook.
p.s. All of the items both Abby and I are wearing in the video were made for or with techniques outlined in "The American Duchess Guide to 18th Century Dressmaking," with the exception of the shoes, which you can get at too.
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Monday, December 18, 2017


A New 1780s CandyStripe Italian Gown

Italian gown - The Met - 1785-87 C.I.66.39a-b
Well, I just can't stay away from the late 18th century (can you blame me?). There is just so much to be explored in the last quarter, and I feel like I've barely scratched the surface on the 1780s, which was such a wacky-ass decade for ladies' dress.

Pink and ivory striped silk taffeta. I had to wash this to get some black marks out of the previous hem, and the fabric lost some of its body and lustre - the hatch marks you see on the surface are from washing it. Still workable and pretty, though.
I've had this pink and ivory striped taffeta in my care for a long time. I originally made it into a mid-Victorian ballgown and absolutely loved that dress, but it's been quite some time since I've been able to fit into it. In the spirit of the mantua-maker, it was time to recycle this beautiful fabric into something else.

The pink and ivory striped 1785 Italian Gown from The Met - the one we all know and love - immediately came to mind. The scale of my stripe is a little bigger, but not outside acceptable scale for 1780s gowns.

Italian gown - The Met - 1785-87 C.I.66.39a-b
I only have 4.5 yards of striped fabric, so I won't be able to get the petticoat out of it. I've also made some changes to the design for economical cutting - I've omitted the flippy-flappies and the zone. I'm sticking with 5/8 length sleeves and may try the pinked edges for the cuffs and possibly the skirt edges too, which is a fun detail you see in 1780s fashion plates and a few originals.

So far the construction has gone well. I've used the basic 18th century bodice block Abby draped on me at Rufflecon last year, but already made a mistake here and there (as usual!). The first is that I didn't add enough allowance on the center front overlap, so I had to try'n eek that out with a narrower seam allowance and fitting through the side back seams.

English Stitch on the back seams - this is used for the CB seam and the two on the sides, joining the multiple back pieces that make Italian Gown backs so interesting. For more information on the English Stitch, see pages 13 and 139 in "The American Duchess Guide to 18th Century Dressmaking."

The CB seam joined by English Stitch, then pressed out flat. I've also go boning channels in the CB seam allowance, accessible by those two eyelets, so I can remove the bones later. The boning just at CB keep that deep center point behaving.

The completed back - CB and two side back seams all joined by English Stitch, then all pieces pressed out flat.
The greater mistake I made was in cutting the stripe on the slight bias for the front piece of the bodice. Now normally you want the bodice front cut on the bias because it allows a smooth fit over the stays. In the case of stripes, though, having a "V" design at the center front causes all kinds of visual difficulty with a pin-front closure. Those Georgian mantua-makers knew what they were doing when they cut these gown fronts on the straight:

Italian Gown - V&A - 1775, T.9&A-1972
Robe a l'Anglaise - LACMA - 1785-90, M.2007.211.931
I ended up re-cutting one side of my stripes so the overlap, when pinned *just so* will hopefully result in a perfect "V," but just in case that doesn't actually happen, my plan is to hide it under an enormous bow and/or the crossed tails of a fluffy kerchief.

I have precious little fabric to re-cut from, but I felt this was worth the piecing that will inevitable come later...

The CF now has an overlap so I can pin it and the V stripes should - hopefully - look alright.

There is too much margin of error here to ever cut a striped bodice on the bias again - lesson learned - but it looks alright for now, just roughly pinned like this.
So far so good, then. I have some more challenges ahead of me with potentially needing to piece the skirt at the waist to get enough length to go over the split bum, and also eeking out the sleeves from the very small amount of fabric I have left. In the words of Tim Gunn...."make it work!"

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Wednesday, December 13, 2017

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The Robe a la Turque - Part 4 - The Kurdi Polonaise

The last major piece of my take on Guimard's 1790 Turkish stage costume was the fabulous fur-trimmed blue robe. I pondered over this piece for a long time, trying to decide just what it was.

In actual Turkish dress, the long fur-trimmed robe was known as a kurdi, a fairly geometric pattern. You see this kind of fur-trimmed robe worn by Turkish men and women, but appropriated by European men and women in a variety of colors, though blue seemed particularly popular.

Depiction of a late 18th century Turkish women wearing a long fur-trimmed robe (kurdi)

Lady in Turkish Dress, c. 1775 - a beautiful leopard (?) trimmed kurdi in blue velvet
Cabinet des Modes, November 1786 - this is a fashionable "Robe a la Turque" - you can see they've take the short, broad sleeves but the cut of the robe is very trim through the back, unlike a real Turkish kurdi, which fit very loosely.
Through the lens of the 1790 mantua-maker, I decided to cut this robe like a Polonaise and construct it like a man's frock coat. I chose this path because I thought this is how a French dressmaker would go at a project like this, having little or no experience with actual Turkish dress. I also wanted a more fitted back and the possibility of wearing this robe in a less theatrical way later on.

Working out the design in my dress journal

Referencing the cut of this polonaise in "The Cut of Women's Clothes" by Waugh

I made a mistake in trying to construct the kurdi as I thought a mantua-maker would. Instead I needed to do it in the tailor's way, which I had no experience with (of course!). Trying to follow the typical steps of assembly for a close-fitting gown just didn't work, and I had to re-do several seams as well as figure out the stacked box pleats at the back. This project was a strong lesson in how these two trades differed.

The robe going together - I later had to pull out the side back seams and stitch them with a different method to make the stacked box pleats work.
The sleeves were very large tubes with only a little shaping at the top and underarm. We set them on the body like regular 18th century gown sleeves.
The #Fursnake and Its A**hole Ways

Construction of the robe was one thing, but what really made it ridiculously tricky was the #Fursnake. Ladies, be warned - a fur roll edging a garment is *really* hard!

Making the fur roll itself isn't so hard. I cut strips of my faux fur, joined the seams, then folded it in half, matching the raw edges.

Abutted edges of faux fur to make a seamless join - this is how you get the length.

Folding the roll in half long-ways, then whipping the edges together.
Because I was using faux fur, I thought I could get away with just whipping the raw edges together, but I ended up having to bind those edges with tape because there has to be something to catch the outer fabric and lining to. There was a great lot of shearing of the fur along the edges before binding it, and it was a struggle made significantly harder by using faux fur because of the bulk left on the edge, even with the trimming.

The #fursnake was long and unforgiving
Once the fur roll was made, applying it to the edge of the robe only got harder. Unlike a fur guard that is applied to a finished garment, a fur roll has to be set between the outer fabric and the lining during construction. On thin taffeta this was very challenging, and I was thankful that the cheap silk lining I used had enough body to stabilize the edges and support the weight of the fur. I still had to handle the garment very carefully before that lining went in - the last step.

Setting the fur roll to the robe edge. I turned and basted the edge of the taffeta first, then top stitched through to the fur roll, catching the binding. 

To be honest, I'm actually surprised at how well the fur edge came out given what a struggle it was to install it. I'm very happy with the result, though.


The last part of constructing the kurdi was to set in the lining. I wanted to line the robe in green according to this fashion plate:

Costume of the Sultana used in the Comédie Française in the Plays where there is a role for this Costume. (1779
I thought it would be more economical to half-line it, but in hindsight it would have been less work to just fully line the robe. I had to cut a separate guard for the hem in the back and secure it with a line of fine stitches across the top. It worked fine in the end but could have been avoided.

Working flat on a big work surface was the only way to make this work without bubbled between the outer and lining fabric. Lots of pins, then carefully turning under the edge and top stitching just enough to catch the bound edge of the fur roll but avoid the outer fabric.
The inside of my kurdi - halflined in green silk. The back of the bodice is lined in sturdy linen. The sleeves were set in like a woman's gown and the armscyes left unfinished.

The junction of the stacked box pleats and the waist - tricky. There are lots of stitches here securing everything together. One way to keep these pleats secure is by stitching a decoration such as a button or a piece of braid trim on the exterior, both commonly seen in Polonaise and Turque gowns.

All in all, the kurdi robe came out great. Though it gave me such trouble, I learned a lot about tailoring. The most difficult garments, when complete, often give us the most pride, and I am indeed very pleased with this piece. I look forward to styling it in other ways, with other pieces to create different looks.

I wore the kurdi loose over the other pieces of this ensemble, with no additional pinning at the neck or waist and worn over no underpinnings. I intend to try this robe in a fashionable European way worn over a split bum and with the skirt looped up.

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Friday, December 8, 2017

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Simplicity 8578 and 8579 - TWO new 18th Century Patterns!

Ladies, we are SO excited to finally announce two new 18th century American Duchess patterns from Simplicity!

Simplicity 8578 is the Robe a la Francaise (Sacque) and petticoat and Simplicity 8579 is the underpinnings to go with it - shift, stays, and side hoops.

When Abby and I were writing The American Duchess Guide to 18th Century Dressmaking, we realized that readers, especially beginners, would be confused about where to get patterns for the gowns. We weren't able to include full gridded gown patterns in the book, so we referenced existing patterns from Patterns of Fashion 1, The Cut of Women's Clothes, Tidens Toj, and other available sources. Even with these sources listed, though, it seemed like a natural need and next step to produce paper patterns for use with the book. Add to this the gap in our book - stays and shift - and a collaboration between American Duchess and Simplicity was born.

Creating the patterns for the shift, stays, and hoops was easy. We opted for a different style of stays from Simplicity 8162 - back-closing, spiral-lacing, conical in shape, and with the awesome, accurate posture straps you're all going to love. Additionally, you'll find the shift pattern is accurate right down to the gussets and godets. The side hoops match those in the book and can be hand-sewn with the book instructions if you so choose.

Working out pattern shapes in paper rather than fabric - easier to manage the pleats and when unfolded, mark where each pleat needed to go.
Making the pattern for the sacque gown and petticoat was NOT easy! We faced challenges primarily with tissue space, finding ways to fit huge pattern shapes on only four large pieces of tissue, across all sizes.

The brown paper underneath is pleated for the iconic back pleats, then I layed the gown lining back piece over to trace the shape of the armscye and side back seam, before continuing on with the waist pleats for the skirt.
Starting with Abby's sacque gown lining from the book, I scaled down the shapes to a size 10 (Simplicity's required standard) and then origami'd the gown in paper onto that lining, constantly double-checking shapes and placement with the sacque made for Abby for the book.

Scribbles in my notebook figuring out how to make all of this work with the limited tissue space.
As always with commercial patterns, we had to make some changes to make the pattern accessible to novice costumers. The biggest change is from a pinned stomacher to a comperes front - that is, in the book we make a separate stomacher that is then pinned to both edges of the gown when dressing, and for the Simplicity pattern the stomacher closes center front and is stitched to the edges of the gown instead. Luckily, both methods are historically accurate. There are also very small changes to the trim templates and placement for the petticoat. The pattern also does not include the tucker and sleeve ruffles - instructions for these are in The American Duchess Guide.

One thing I am personally proud of is the use of our own photos for the pattern envelopes. Yup, that's Abby on both the envelopes, wearing garments that were made and fit specifically to her. One of the most difficult parts of developing historical patterns for commercial companies is that we never have access to the model for fittings and no part of the styling of the photo shoot, which can leads to less-than-stellar results. We have to give a HUGE thank you to Simplicity for bending "the rules" for us this time and accepting our photos for the pattern envelopes. This way, the silhouette and proportion, styling, fit, hair, makeup, etc. is all exactly as it should be.

We hope you like these new 18th century patterns. We tried to make them as historically accurate as possible, and intend for you to use the sacque pattern in conjunction with The American Duchess Guide to explore hand-sewing your gown, whether you want to try a technique here and there, or stitch the entire gown by hand.

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Tuesday, November 28, 2017

New! "Forget Me Not" 18th Century Shoe Buckles

Hi All!

We're thrilled to announce that Kimberly Walters of Sign of the Gray Horse has created another gorgeous shoe buckle design! Copied off an original in a private collection, this plated brass buckle comes in either a gold or silver finish.

Forget Me Not Shoe Buckles in Gold (Left) and Silver (Right)
18th Century Shoe Buckles -

We love the simple yet sophisticated design, perfect for those of you looking for something a little 'work a day' but still smart.

As with all of our shoe buckles, you get a discount if you order them with a pair of 18th century shoes, a great deal all around!

Red leather Dunmore Shoes and Forget Me Not Buckles in Silver 

After all, you can never have too many shoes...or shoe buckles, can you?

Shop all our 18th century shoe buckles at
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Monday, November 27, 2017

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What to Do When Someone Else is Making the Same Dress As You...

(....or has made the same dress...)

Do it anyway!

I've recently been eyeballing the 1660 bodice from the V&A, remembering how much I love the 1660s and that I've only made one gown once-upon-a-time but really enjoyed it. I also binged on two seasons of "Versailles," and felt giddy tremors of joy when I saw the incredibly detailed chapter on this very bodice in the V&A publication Seventeenth-Century Women's Dress Patterns: Book 2. Add to that a meant-to-be 6 yard piece of golden duchesse satin marinating in my stash and I'm there, planning my gown for Costume College 2018.

But then I remembered that Angela Mombers made a stunning version of this dress earlier this year....and I remembered the six gorgeous women wearing Baroque gowns at CoCo this year, one of them gold and divine....and then I saw Angela Clayton's shimmering orange 1660s confection....and even just this morning I saw Atelier Nostalgia's most recent work on her version of this very same V&A bodice.

Vivien and Elizabeth in gorgeous Cavalier dress.
Oh no! I I not do this gown now because others have already done it and are already doing it? Will they think I copied them? Am I unoriginal?  Shouldn't I find something new and interesting and not already done?

Do you ever feel this way?

The thing is.....everything has been done. There is nothing new in historical costuming! Even this original 1660s bodice survives with at least two other examples that are incredibly similar, yet each has its own unique markers.

Many gowns made from the same or similar fabric - the "curtain-a-long" project - every one of these is so different. It's as much about the millinery as the cut of the gown, remember. Costume College 2013.
If you're feeling intimidated from what's come before, take a deep breath and remember that you're an individual - your style sense is your own. History belongs to everyone. Nobody can own historical fashion, the designs, the colors, the trims, the techniques....all of this is available to us to explore and learn and use to create expressions of ourselves through costume.

Abby and Natalie - similar but not the same! Costume College 2014
You will always put your own unique spin on whatever it is you make, just as dressmakers of centuries gone by copied fashionable dress from magazines, prints, paintings, the court, etc., but did it in their own ways. The fabric and color choices, the trim, the fit and silhouette - all of these things will differ between gowns that come from the same source material.

In a perfect world, I would love to get everyone who has made the 1660 V&A bodice (or Bath, or Claydon House) together to gab about our experiences and take some awesome photos. It seems like quite a cool way to connect to each other through making and experiencing.

We don't have to compete. There should be no fear, reluctance, competition, or jealousy in historical dress - we are all here to have fun, learn, experience, play, and enjoy this special slice of history.

Merja and Kendra both made gowns from a fashion plate of Marie Antoinette - they are clearly the same source material, but each lady has made hers her own. Costume College 2013
For those interested:
The Claydon House bodice is gridded out in Patterns of Fashion 1 by Janet Arnold.
The Bath gown is diagramed in The Cut of Women's Clothes by Norah Waugh. There is also a picture of the Claydon House bodice in Waugh.

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