Monday, August 28, 2017

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New Cotton Striped Stockings, Oh YEAH!

Storyville portrait, New Orleans, c. 1912. Portrait by E. J. Bellocq.
Who doesn't love a good striped stocking?

The Georgians, Victorians, and Edwardians sure did! Striped stockings of various colors - some loud, some more demure - have been in fashion for several hundred years now, right up until today. Why are we so draw to wearing striped hosiery?

Stockings, The Met, late 19th century. Cotton. C.I.56.10.5a,b
Stockings, The Met, late 18th c - early 19th c. C.I.44.8.13a,b
Stockings, The Met, 19th century, silk. C.I.54.7.7a,b
We're thrilled to announce the first addition of striped cotton OTK (over-the-knee) socks into our Accessories shop. These super-stretchy, heavy-ish stockings feature bright colors in ribbed knit.

Stockings, OTK, cotton - green and black rib knit.

Stockings, OTK, cotton, yellow and black rib knit
You can wear these vertical-striped stockings for so many things. They'll work for late 18th century and late 19th century, particularly the 1890s, when all manner of brightly-colored, wackadoodle legwear was en vogue.

Also wear these stockings for Harry Potter cosplay, Halloween, or just because they're freakin' awesome. Check them out:

Click me like one of your French girls, Just kidding - striped stockings aren't just for Edwardian prostitutes, promise.

Hufflepuff stockings, or bumblebee stockings, or Victorian stockings because they totally wore these crazy things under their prim dresses.

The End. <3
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Friday, August 25, 2017


Introducing Nicole Rudolph, Footwear Designer

We are beyond excited to officially announce the newest addition to the American Duchess / Royal Vintage team: Nicole Rudolph!

Many of you will know Nicole from her blog Diary of a Mantua Maker. Some of you will have also met her at Colonial Williamsburg and Costume College.

Nicole is not only an amazing mantua-maker and tailor, but an incredibly skilled historic shoemaker. Her research, know-how, and epic level of taste make her a real jewel in our tiara, and we could not be more excited to be working with her.

Here's a bit more about Nicole in her own words...

Tell us about how you got into historical costuming.

I have been interested in historical costuming since I was very young, making my first "historical" piece when I was 12- a purple crushed velvet Medieval gown with gold trim. It sounds terrible, but we all start somewhere! My mother is also an avid seamstress and taught me so much about sewing from an early age. From there I became responsible for costuming many of our high school's theatrical productions and went on to college for Technical Theatre at Ball State University. In designing a production of Cabaret I fell in love with researching historical costume and haven't been able to stop since!

What is your favorite period of dress?

My favorite era is probably the 1890s. I love the tailored looks that were so fashionable, as well as the absurdity of the sleeve proportions! So much changes in that one decade. But, the details, trim, and finishing of some of those garments is simply breathtaking. While no costume is ever "perfect", the closest I've come was with an 1890s jacket I made for steampunk a few years ago, so it's a bit of a sentimental time period for me as well.

An insane pair of 1920s shoes made by Nicole.

Did you go to school for historic costuming/dress? Have you done any training?

After college I worked at Colonial Williamsburg for about 8 years, starting in their Costume Design Center. I was fortunate to spend time learning tailoring, gown making, tent making, and even shoemaking from the tradespeople in Williamsburg. At the moment, I'm mid-way through graduate school, studying Fashion History at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

What lead you to shoes and footwear? How did you learn how to make shoes?

While at Colonial Williamsburg, I was frustrated by the lack of 18th century shoe options that fit me (the dark, pre-American Duchess days) and signed up to take an 18th century shoemaking workshop from Brett Walker. It turns out I have unusually narrow feet and have a hard time fitting into many off-the-rack styles. The only way to solve this was to plunge into the world of shoemaking and six years later I'm now in process on my 26th pair of shoes (I may have lost count). It's not an easy trade to learn, and in fact my first pair of shoes was two sizes too large for me and I've only suffered to wear them once! The second pair I wore through completely, however. And the third, and the fourth. Turns out I walk a lot!

What are your plans for the future?

I'll be finishing up graduate school in a year or so, with my thesis focusing on mid-19th century shoes. I've had to take a break from producing shoes because of school (aside from a few exciting pairs this summer), so I look forward to opening the workshop up again. I was able to take a research trip up the East coast this summer to look at original shoes in a few museums, leaving me full of inspiration and technical ideas I want to experiment with. I can't wait to start applying the research I've been doing!

If you'd like to follow Nicole more, check her out...

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Thursday, August 24, 2017

Podcast Episode 11: Interview with Theatre/TV/Film Costumer Constance MacKenzie

Constance & Cathy Hay looking amazing at the Jane Austen Festival in Bath
Hello Lovelies!

Lauren and I had the pleasure of being introduced to Constance MacKenzie by Cathy Hay while we were at Costume College in August. It took all of about 5 minutes for us to develop a strong costumer girl crush on Constance. This girl has made incredible things happen throughout her career, and never took no for an answer.

She started her sewing journey attending Kentwell Hall's Tudor Days as a child and eventually becoming a reenactor & participant in the event. From there she secured a job at Shakespeare's Globe Theatre, attending Wimbledon College of Arts for Costume Design, and eventually has worked her way into working on massive movies like....


She even got to be an extra in that scene when Diana is being outfitted in "proper" 1918 women's clothing. Constance is even in a gif!

See Constance?! She's measuring the customer in the background! Wee! 

While we don't get into a lot of nitty gritty history things with Constance, we thoroughly enjoyed hearing about her professional journey and we believe that she should be an inspiration to all young people who want to work in this field. Lauren and I both left the interview feeling inspired by Constance's drive and determination to follow her dreams and achieve her goals by being true to herself and working her bum off. 

Constance attending Tudor Days at Kentwell Hall

A selection of Ruffs made by Constance. She is a ruff queen! 

You can follow Constance on Facebook and Instagram!

Note: Thank you so much for all of your feedback both here, on facebook, and on iTunes - we are trying to figure out and better work with the sound issues (still a bit of a learning curve for me) - and while some steps have already been made, we are looking into other options so that way we can have better sound quality for all of our guests. <3
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Wednesday, August 23, 2017


Pattern Review: Decades of Style No. 101 The E.S.P. Dress

Hello Lovelies!

Almost exactly a year ago, I finished making my first dress from Decades of Style's ESP 101 Pattern. It's a part of their Decades Everyday pattern collection that is meant to be easy, accessible, and fast to make. I bought the No. 101 E.S.P. Dress pattern because it is a really good fit with my fashion aesthetic, and I thought it would be a good project for me to work on my machine sewing skills.

My legs are doing weird things, but I'm cool and comfy in my ESP 101 Dress

Of course, it took me all of last summer to make the thing (that's what happens when you have the sewing attention span of a gnat and a cross country move that same summer), and I'm just now getting around to being able to blog and photograph it. However, I wanted to give a little review of the dress pattern for those who might be interested or are a beginner looking for a good first project.

The Good

Overall, I really love this pattern and I am planning on making more dresses out of it. It's a good shape and design that is flattering for women and can be dressed up or down with fabric choice. (Seriously, can you imagine how glamorous this dress could be in just a black silk taffeta?!)

I found the instructions fairly easy to follow, which is important to me as I do genuinely consider myself to be a beginner when it comes to machine sewing, even though I'm an expert hand sewer. My biggest hang ups were adding the facing and setting in the zipper, and as far as I can tell, that seems to be normal with beginners. I got everything in and attached fine, but I do think my finishing work on the facing around the neckline could be oodles and oodles better. I also still get confused with terminology on stay stitching, etc. with facings. I just don't think I'm used to them yet.  However, for not using a zipper foot on my machine when setting the zipper - I'm pleased with how it worked out.

My favorite parts for this dress are: the pockets (who doesn't love a dress with pockets!), the fact that the dress has sleeves, and I find the neckline to be very pretty. When I didn't deviate from the instructions (more below...), everything went together smoothly, and could probably be completed if you worked the entire day. It really is a great dress pattern for your collection!

I did a red zipper because I like just a little touch of quirk. 

The "Meh"

This is more of a personal body quirk, but after wearing the dress a few times I've realized that it is just too short in the waist for me, and as a result, it sits just a little short in the hem too. (My legs are really short, and so I would be shocked to see how short this dress was if I had legs that were, oh, I don't know, proportional to the rest of my body.) I like my skirts and dresses to be at least to the small of my knee and this one is just above. I don't really think this is a pattern problem, because I do have a long torso, but it is something to keep in mind if you have a longer torso or prefer your skirts to be a little longer. While the shorter torso doesn't really bother me, I do wish my skirt was about 1-2" longer for my own personal comfort.

I also did deviate from the pattern with the skirt - the instructions called for gathering and I opted for pleating. While I understand and agree that gathering is easier to pattern and to sew, I think pleats are more flattering.  As you can see in the photos, I did small box pleats all the way around. It worked fine, but I would have liked there to have been more fabric to the skirt so that way I had more to work with in the pleats. I wager I would probably feel the same way about the skirt if it had been gathered. It wasn't quite as full as I was expecting it to be.

When I make this pattern again, I'm going to add to the length and width of the skirt and the length of the bodice, too.

Final Verdict

As I said already, I have every intention of making more dresses out of this pattern - including out of wool and silk for winter and more formal occasions. I just think that I will need to be more careful when it comes to slight alterations to better flatter my body & fit my personal tastes.

If you're a woman who loves a dress with pockets - then this is a pattern for you - doesn't matter if you're a beginner or highly experienced! Decades of Style's No. 101 E.S.P. Dress is a must have in your pattern collection! If I can do it - then you can definitely do it! :)

Woo! I did it!

Have you made the No. 101 E.S.P. Dress? What do you think? Is there something I could do better next time (like use a zipper foot...haha!) Leave a comment and let us know! <3 <3
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Monday, August 21, 2017


Review: Gracy Q 1950s Style "Sophia" Dress

Gracy Q "Sophia" dress in yellow
Do you have a "best dress," a frock or outfit that is your nicest, most polished look and, most importantly, you feel epic in? My "best dress" is this little sunflower yellow number, the "Sophia" dress by Gracy Q.
On my pilgrimage to Revival Retro in London this past June, I anticipated I would buy a few dresses or blouses or something. Of course, I managed to fall in love with the most expensive dress in the shop, but also the one with the highest quality and best fit.

Being a seamstress myself, I usually go down the "I can sew that" route to talk myself out of clothing purchases, but such is the "build" of this "Sophia" dress that no, no indeed I do not think I would come out ahead if I were to try to make it myself.

The structured bodice flows into a full skirt - with pockets! - with a hanging rayon lining
The dress is a wonderful linen-look ramie textile in a mid-weight that drapes beautifully, fully lined in a very lightweight rayon (viscose). Yes, fully lined in the bodice with a hanging lining in the skirt, which removes the need to wear a slip underneath.

The bodice is structured and fits very well, particularly in the length of the waist, which is so commonly too short for me in RTW dresses. The neckline is particularly flattering, set quite wide in a 1950s style and tapering off into small cap sleeves. I feel like this dress combines business and pleasure with the structured lines of the bodice flowing into the full skirt, all of it done up in this beautiful soft yellow.

And my favorite-most-favoritest thing about this dress? It's incredibly versatile. The dress comes with a self-fabric tie belt, but as you can see it's very easy to use any color or design of belt. In my case I chose a navy blue belt to pair with the navy blue and ivory Lillian Mary Janes, but imagine red, green, sky blue....this yellow is a wonderful neutral. I do love versatility in dress.

Versatility in dress - today I chose Lillian Mary Janes in navy/ivory but just about any color or style will go with this dress.
Drawbacks - the fabric wrinkles very easily. As you can see in my photos, I'd been sitting before this photo shoot. It's a fact-of-linen (or near-linen), but I consider it a fair trade-off for the cooling properties of this fabric. The dress is also a hand-wash-and-hang or dry clean kind of girl. In pressing, I found it a little difficult to iron around the neckline trim.

All in all I love this dress. I'm impressed with the quality, fit, design, material, and versatility, and highly recommend Gracy Q as great value for money in flattering, beautiful garments.
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The "Jane Austen Goes to Ikea and then to Jane Austen Festival" Gown

This year was my first visit to Jane Austen Festival in Louisville, Kentucky, at beautiful Locust Grove historic site.

I had been to Locust Grove before on a rainy November afternoon rather a few years ago. I adored the house then, but longed to see it "brought to life" by this famous event.

I knew I would need a gown to handle the heat of Kentucky in Summer, something light and cool but also fashionable. It was an easy choice to explore the late 1790s after studying and creating the gown and millinery for the American Duchess Guide earlier this year.

My inspiration came from Kyoto Costume Institute, a couple of the transitional open robes in bold floral prints worn with white-work petticoats. While this direction was a bit more involved than the simpler round gown, I felt that the plainer petticoat would help balance the floral print.

The petticoat was an exercise in stash-busting - several different pieces put together and tea-stained for uniformity. It didn't come out quite how I'd hoped, but it gave the effect I was going for. I may revisit petticoat option later...
And yes, the floral is from Ikea. Huzzah for curtains! I was very happy with this textile - 100% cotton with a linen-ish look, lightweight enough for a gown, and with a pleasing design. My only quibble (if one can even quibble when one is using curtains for costuming) is that the design is screenprinted on and a little tough to get a needle through in some places.

I had originally planned to pleat the back skirt, but because I had already finished the bottom edge of the bodice and the top edge of the skirt, I stroke gathered and whipped the volume instead, which worked well with the sash and was secure and full enough for the right look.
The petticoat is a suspender style, opening on the side. Because of the sheerness of it I wore split drawers beneath, which may not be entirely accurate but they solved *many problems.*

The gown bodice is constructed on a linen lining and underbodice that pins at center front. The front - two pieces on drawstrings tying at center front - is then applied over the top. I love this transitional method so often seen on 1790s gowns, as it means you can use the same underbodice repeatedly and just do a different design over the top - surplice, bib front, gathered round or V-neck, etc. For reference, Abby's 1790s dinner gown is the very same bodice/underbodice, but how different these gowns look! It's merely a matter of what sleeve style/length, what front style, open robe or round gown? (Don't worry, we go over all of this fun in the book, too).

The bodice - top is the back, bottom is the front. You can see the linen left plain and just hemmed where it will later be covered by the gathered front pieces.
For the event, I wore the gown and petticoat with a silk sash, ruffled chemisette, and Dashwood Regency Slippers in brown/tan. In the morning I wore a Caroline hat I re-fashioned from an old straw hat (many are the bows. many!), then changed into the turban cap for our formal dinner.

Dashwood Regency Slippers in brown/tan for Saturday. I wore the black/black on Sunday.

A bit hard to see, but the straw Caroline hat served me well for sun protection and added fluff. Thank you to Tony Tumbusch for the photo <3
Best of all, I didn't die. We were lucky to have rather favorable weather this year, and my gown was comfortable and easy to wear, breathable, and quite cool. I was surprised to have been more comfortable on Saturday dressed as a lady in stays and petticoats than I was on Sunday as a sailor dressed in trousers and waistcoat!

For more information and tutorials on making your own 1790s gown and millinery, you'll love our upcoming 18th century costuming manual, The American Duchess Guide to 18th Century Dressmaking, now available to pre-order on Amazon. <3

Millinery and Accessories - the turban cap and chemisette are two pieces we made for the book. Coral necklace by K. Walters At the Sign of the Gray Horse.

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Friday, August 18, 2017


The Robe a la Turque - Part 2 - The Gown

Italian Gown in yellow silk taffeta worn with a ruffled voile apron and cap, and fashionable black silk hat with black "Dunmore" shoes. Mid-1780s.
One thing I love most in costuming is versatility. I love that our Georgian foremothers re-trimmed old gowns, refashioned old frocks, and mixed-and-matched their clothing and accessories in different ways to achieve different looks. Being able to wear something for more than one occasion is economical, and this was at the forefront of my mind in planning my Turkish-inspired costume.

In studying the portrait, I concluded that the costume was a throw-together of various pieces to hand. A gown here, a belt there, oooh a shiny sash, how about this polonaise robe, wait put some fur on it...there we go. I can just imagine the actors and actresses of Comedie Francaise raiding a big trunk of garments, assembling them into various "characters," like the Sultana here.

So that is what I did too.

I started with an Italian gown. Lucky for me, Abby cut a muslin 18th c. bodice on me recently and I was able to get straight to assembly after a quick test fit. I tweaked the front closure from center front pinning to overlapping on an angle, to create the fold-down lapels seen on the gown in the portrait.

The lapels of the bodice are lined in purple silk, trimmed with silver leaves.

The trim had to be applied to the purple lining silk prior to the assembling of the outer and lining fabrics, so no stitches showed through.
I also added Flippy-Flappies, which were tricky and needed fiddling more than once. Additionally, my diagonal "zone" seams went all wibbly-wobbly on me and I had to piece in some extra silk to make up for the gap. Still a mystery to me how that got quite so off!

Pinning a flippy-flappy into place on the muslin bodice front. I had to adjust these a couple times.
For the back, I stuck with the simple two-piece back rather than adding additional seams. This meant quicker assembly of the CB seam and an easy fitting through the two side-back seams. I even reference our own book (The American Duchess Guide to 18th Century Dressmaking) multiple times to be extra sure I was doing things in the right order and with the right seaming techniques.

Center back seam assembled with internal boning channels. I worked on the bodice over the split bum, which helped me curve the back waist edge down into the point.

The finished gown back. I pulled my stitched a little tight on the CB seam which caused a little rumplage - this is a watch point for you guys when working with thin silk!
One thing I really love about Italian Gowns is that they really do go together super fast. The longest process was in trimming and lining the front of the bodice to fold down into those lapels. Aside from that, once the front and back pieces were together, I pleated up the skirt, stitched it to the bodice, leaving the raw edges turned down on the inside, and hemmed it. The last steps were to set the sleeves (thanks, Abby!), apply the shoulder straps, and tack in the lace tucker.

Pleating up one side of the gown skirts. I didn't do a great job, to be honest. Better next time....

Last bit of gown construction - applying the shoulder straps after the sleeves have been fitted. This is fiddly, but it sure does feel good to get it done!
Just like that, the gown was down. It felt great to have something completed that I could wear if I did not finish all the rest of the pieces for the Turkish costume. And, of course, my favorite aspect is that it can be worn different ways - either as a fashionable outfit with a split bum, apron, hat, and cap, or snazzed up a la Turque.

The yellow Italian Gown worn as fashionable European dress. The bodice is pinned closed up to the neckline, hiding those trimmed lapels completely, especially with the breast bow. The gown skirt is tied up and the ensemble worn over a split bum and matching yellow silk petticoat with a fluffy voile apron. To finish the look, a large 1780s cap, black silk hat, and black "Dunmore" shoes and "Dandridge" buckles. There is nothing "Turkish" about this ensemble.
Fashionable dress, mid-1780s

...but can you believe this is the same gown? Here the gown is worn over bright pink shalwar (pants) and a high chemisette. While still worn over stays, I did not wear any hip or bum padding. I roughly tacked on a decorative front panel to the skirt, looped up to show the purple lining and silver trim, which tied in with the lapels of the bodice worn open. The addition of the blue robe, a few accessories, and a change of cap and shoes render this outfit ready for the stage.
Turkish-inspired stage costume, 1790.
Never fear - I know there's a lot more going on with the Turque than just the gown, and I have posts on the way for the poofy-pants, the robe, the accessories, etc. Stay tuned!

And if you'd like to learn how to make a late 18th century gown like this, pre-order a copy of our Georgian mantua-making and millinery manual, The American Duchess Guide to 18th Century Dressmaking, releasing November 21st. We present detailed how-to's within on how to make both caps, the apron, and the black silk hat that appear in this post, in addition to step-by-step instructions on constructing the Italian gown in the accurate 18th century way.
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Monday, August 14, 2017


Getting Ready for Gatsby

Hello Lovelies!

Abby here -- and let me tell you -- I have 1920s on the brain! Now that Costume College has ended, the Royal Vintage travel schedule has died down just a bit for August, and Lauren and I are starting our prep for Gatsby Summer Afternoon in Oakland on September 10th!

I've had a love for the 1920s for a bit of time now and while I own 3 original dresses, I wanted to make something new to wear to the picnic so I wouldn't have to worry about the garment. I've been known to "Hulk Out" and do some damage on my clothes, and I don't want to do that to an original...again...on accident. 😬

When I think of accessible 1920s and vintage dress patterns, one of the first pattern companies that come to mind is Decades of Style. I've been a fan of Janet & the company for a few years now and have a couple of their patterns already. Low and behold, while at Costume College I met a lovely lady who had on this great 1920s dress. When I asked her about the dress and she told me it was Decades of Style's 1925 Zig Zag pattern, I knew what I had to do.

This is the cover of Decades of Style's 1925 Zig Zag Dress Pattern - isn't it gorgeous?! I'm doing the sleeved variation since I'm not a fan of sleeveless anything. :) 

I was in love and it had to be mine.

I already had some sky blue cotton voile in my stash that would be perfect and I decided to add white voile bias for accenting all the lovely seam lines, and so after I got my hands on the pattern I set off to work.

I was very nervous adding the white detail to the skirt seams - since everything is thin and on the bias.

It's still currently in 2 large chunks (skirt and bodice), but I am making progress! I was (and still am) nervous about doing the dress justice. My machine sewing skills are extremely novice compared to my handsewing ability. So it's been a very good learning experience for me.

Not perfect, but I am very happy with how my white detailing is working.
I'm almost to the attach the skirt and the bodice together part, but I still need to finish pressing and prepping the skirt points (spray starch is your friend for this part). I'm also riding the struggle bus with the gathering at the shoulders for the bodice. I think my brain is just having a hard time making the mental calculations and steps to do what needs to be done.... (as in I'm over thinking it.)

So that's where my new 1920s dress is at the moment...a productive work in progress. I'm also trying to decide on which shoes I want to wear with them. Currently, I'm thinking Evelyn in Brown/Tan - what do you think?

Until the next update! <3 <3
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The Robe a la Turque, part 1

Mademoiselle Guimard in Turkish Dress by Greuze, 1790 - LACMA (detail)
Who doesn't love the feeling of completing a project you've been obsessing about for *years* and getting to wear it to the big event of the year? I know it seems silly - Lauren, gosh, just make x-y-z already - but as our lives get busier and time shorter, it's hard to stick to any project at all, let alone one with so many facets.

I'm feeling proud of my completed 1790 Ottoman-inspired stage costume. It is some of the best (and fastest) work I've done, but more interesting to me are the levels of history and culture this ensemble deals with.

At the Costume College gala - don't worry, I'll show you all the parts and pieces of this costume later (in better photos). Yes, I'm teasing you.
Originally I thought the portrait of Mademoiselle Guimard by Greuze, 1790, just depicted a woman in the popular Turkish-inspired dress so loved in France in the 18th century. As I peered into the world surrounding the creation of the portrait, though, I realized that Guimard's ensemble differed from the fashionable "Robe a la Turque" quite a bit. This helped me make decisions in how to construct the parts of this stage costume.

"Costume of the Sultana used in the Comedie Francaise in the plays where there is a role for this costume" (1779). Because I could not see the bottom half of Guimard in the portrait, I used this plate as secondary reference.
To break this down from the skin out, here's what I wore:

  • shift
  • stays
  • shalwar (pants)
  • gown
  • sash
  • belt
  • kurdi (robe)

I will go over each of these pieces and their construction in the next few posts about this project.

Ultimately, what I ended up creating from Greuze's portrait was what I believe to have been a stage costume thrown together from a variety of pieces made in the Western fashion rather than original Turkish pieces. The whole look together formed this European fantasy of Ottoman dress while having very little do with it, especially in the construction.

My original drawing and notes from way back. For the most part I stuck to this.
As a stage costume, the bright primary colors, extravagant textures, and shimmering trims would have read wonderfully and been a feast for the eyes. Oddly enough, viewing the Chagall exhibit at LACMA two days before wearing this costume really helped me understand the needs and intentions of theatrical costume, quite different from those of fashionable dress, even if both have the same Turkish influences.

In the end, I felt glamorous and authentic in this costume, but authentic only to the portrait of Guimard. To fashionable dress of France in 1790s or to real Ottoman dress of that period there was no faithfulness then nor now. And this fascinates me.

An example of the fashionable Robe a la Turque. Cabinet des Modes - November 1786. This is pretty similar, but it will have been constructed differently with the yellow bodice and striped robe likely being stitched together. 
Parts of this costume were quite easy while another part was the hardest technical challenge I've ever attempted. Stay tuned for more posts on each of these pieces and how they were made in the Eastern fashion using Western methods.
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