Thursday, December 27, 2018


American Duchess on Patreon

Hi Lovelies! I have some big news - we are now on Patreon!

Patreon is a way to support creators with small monthly contributions that help us make more and better content. In our case, we are heading more into video production and podcastery in addition to working on more books, patterns, tutorials, and interactive ways to up your historical costuming game.

As we've been podcasting the past year and more recently trying to create helpful videos, we've found that these mediums, while much richer in experience, are also much more skilled and technology-dependent than ye merry olde blog poste.

We've noticed, and it's been fed back by viewers and listeners alike, that we really need to work on our video quality, sound quality, editing, and accessibility features (transcriptions and closed captions). This all costs a fair bit, so we're asking for help in leveling up...

... and in exchange, you'll get to see it all, read it all, and listen to it all first. Some of what we have planned will even be exclusively for Patreon subscribers. Here is a little glimpse of what we have in the works for 2019...
  • An in-depth dressmaking video series creating a 1790s gown and all the accessories
  • A new season of our popular "Fashion History with American Duchess" podcast
  • Behind-the-Scenes videos and posts from photo shoots, our headquarters, and events
  • Previews from our new book "The American Duchess Guide to 18th Century Beauty"
  • Swag! Exclusive patterns, tutorials, and gifts for Patreon members only
  • Private Q&A video sessions (group and also one-on-one available)
We have lots of perks and different tiers, from just $1. We hope to make some really awesome stuff for you guys this year, and as always help everyone make their best historical costumes.

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Thursday, December 20, 2018

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My 1830s Bonnet

In the quest to be ever huger in our 1830s attire, the Gigot Girl Gang™ chose a variety of headgear to top off each of our ensembles. Maggie used bonnet shapes from Workwoman's Guide, Chrissy used an 1830s-specific Lynn McMasters pattern, while Nicole made a stellar hat and Abby a monolithic beret.

I went with a bonnet as well, but I started with a more generic buckram form I purchased years ago from Timely Tresses. It's been in naked buckram-and-wire form since 2014, waiting patiently for decoration which, to be honest, I really had no idea how to do.

I studied my Lydia Fast bonnet and determined a kinda-sorta-construction technique. If I had not purchased this buckram form, I would've just ordered the bonnet of my dreams from Lydia (support small business and avoid all that blood and anguish at the same time!), but I hate waste, so covering it was.

Mull me like one of your French bonnets....
The first step was to mull the entire thing, which means covering all surfaces with thin batting. I didn't have enough for the underside of the brim, which proved to be a mistake, so take a tip from me and don't skimp. It will seem bulky to put the thin batting all over, but it's the key to getting both a smooth cover and creating a quality-feeling hat.

I've never worked with an already-constructed bonnet before, so this was a challenge. I went in this order for covering with the silk taffeta:

1. Top of the crown
2. Outer brim
3. Crown lining
4. Inner brim
4. Crown stand with special buckram bias magic trick

Applying the silk taffeta to the top of the crown. This is probably the easiest step in the whole project. It's important to get a good tight fit here. The wrinkly raw edge are trimmed away and later smoothed out with bias buckram.

A smooth cover on the brim - tension is very important here and as you can see, I didn't get it perfect. I used Wonder Clips, which are amazing for working on millinery, to fold the silk over the brim edge and hold it taught, adjusting as I sewed.
Not going to lie - this is all tedious and all tricky. Lots of stabbery, but with diligence and some ingenuity it comes out looking pretty swell. I picked up a tip from Chrissy (who learned this from Lynn McMasters) to use strips of bias-cut lightweight buckram to smooth bulky parts and create crisp edges, particularly on the join between the top of the crown and the crown stand. I also used the bias buckram between the crown stand and the brim, and while I didn't do it perfectly, this did make a big difference in the quality of finish.

The underbrim is a straight strip of pink taffeta gathered on both long edges. I should have run more gathering stitches to get a better, less pleated-looking effect, though pleating is perfectly accurate too. So is a smooth lining but that is quite a lot more challenging!
 One of the trickiest parts was lining the crown. Normally I would use a drawstring bag lining, like in 18th century hats, but because of the architectural hair, I wanted "space" up in there and nothing touching the hair. There was a lot of "stitch in the ditch" to sew the lining in, and I installed it before I did the crown stand covering on the outside.

Once the underbrim lining was on, I went ahead and lined the inside of the crown. I stitched in the ditch along the top and passed the needle out to the mulling on the outside, to be covered in the next step. The raw edge at the base was turned under and applique stitched to the brim lining. Looks a lot easier here than it was!

Covering the crown stand - you can see my use of the buckram bias strip on the bottom. I also put one around the top, covering and smoothing that area right where the crown top and stand meet. The trick here is to pull the bias tight enough that it blends with the mulling, which I didn't accomplish so well...take practice!

Last bit for the silk taffeta - turning under the raw edge on the crown stand silk and stitching it through all layers. This, thank goodness, doesn't have to be too pretty because it'll be covered by the hat band and a mountain of other trims.
The last step was to bind the brim edge. I used 1 inch wide silk satin ribbon and applique stitched it to the silk on the top and underside both. At least on this step I had experience from previous projects. It gave a nice finish and covered all my raw-edge sins.

And finally, binding the brim edge. This is a nice touch but not the only way to do this - a clean turned edge is also accurate. I wanted the black to tie everything together, though, so I bound with silk satin 1 inch wide ribbon.

Huzzah! The finished covering! You can see how my underbrim would have benefited from the mulling, and how the buckram bias strip shows on the crown stand, but for a first time I'm pretty happy with this result. And yes, that is a wayward sleeve plumper acting as my hat stand cushion.
Hooray! The hard part was done, right? LOL. I actually *suck* at decorating bonnets. The general rule for 1830s headgear is to keep adding stuff, but I kindof feel my bonnet is just chaos. I used tons of ribbons, a couple antique feathers I love, and just sortof splattered it all on there until it looked alright. I'm happy with the result, even if it's not quintessentially 1830s.

Decorate with ALL THE THINGS

These weird feather bits you always see at craft stores...

Sh*t-tons of ribbons and bows. There are bits of antique ribbons, some taffeta self-made ribbon, and some satin ribbon I overpaid for in Paris.
In this project I learned some interesting things about '30s bonnets. The biggest "ah ha" moment was in how the bonnets worked with the hair. My bonnet has a rather low and broad crown and the angle at which is sits on the head is not particularly conducive to wearing with hair. This is because the bonnet form is generic, covering c. 1800 -1839 (I have the "Sophia" form). The Workwoman's Guide bonnets, however, have a particular angle and height in the crowns that are specific for wearing with towering coiffure. The crown circumference is also smaller than the general head measurement so that the bonnet stays back on the head and doesn't rest uncomfortable on the the curls at the temples. So as much as I love this bonnet (and I'm happy I can wear it with a good 40 years of costumes), I'm already feeling the draw to experiment and learn from the original bonnet shapes specific to my new favorite time period.

I know this post is a long one, but I hope it was informative. Constructing and covering bonnets is quite a skill, one that takes lots of practice and many hours. I probably put as many hours into this bonnet project as into the entire gown, but I do love the result. Now to figure out how to get this on the plane!
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Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Monday, December 17, 2018

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My Ghosts of Dickens Fairs Past

This year will be my first visit to Dickens Fair in San Francisco in many years, and I'm *excited.*

I've been to Dickens many times, and even worked it as a member of Tavistock House, back in college, so I thought it would be fun to do a little timelines of my costumes, from my mortifying first attempt to this year's 1830s silk plaid gown.

My First Dickens - 2004

Ah, the heady days of being an art student, just getting interested in historical costuming, making so many n00b decisions....memories. 2004 was the first year I went to Dickens, just as patron with my school friend Grayson. I threw together a "dress" from whatever I had laying around - some gag-worthy yellow and green faux taffeta with a chenille strip (lol), a pattern for a c. 2003 mini-blazer, no corset (of course!), an old bed sheet with a crochet edge...

The Horror! The Horror!
We went, we had fun, I wore the mother of all gold satin bonnets. I knocked things over in the shops; a couple of ladies made fun of my bonnet 'Mean Girls" style (I didn't realize it until quite some time later). All in all it was a great first experience, though, and I knew I wanted to be more involved.

Tavistock House - 2005-2006

For my second year at Dickens, and with a whole year of historical costuming experience under my belt, I made a new and much more "proper" outfit. This dress was made of upholstery jacquard (which was totes the thing to do back then) in a pretty, Christmassy plaid. I used what is now Simplicity EA440001 Print-On-Demand, which is a great pattern. I also made my first corset, though my hoop skirt was still made from grosgrain craft ribbon and sprinkler tubing.

I was also working the fair this year as a member of Dickens' household at Tavistock House. It was really quite lovely - we sat around and talked, read, performed the eating of food, interacted with Dickens, talked with guests. I felt very pretty in my dress and truly I wore it for several years to many events, along with a velvet and fur capelet I struggled through (I still struggle with velvet and fur, lol).

---- I moved away from the Bay Area in late 2009. Facebook Memories told me that I went to Dickens in 2009 but I have zero recollection of this except that I bought a car and drove back to Reno in a snowstorm -----

 London With Friends - 2012

A few years later I went to Dickens with my bestie Maggie. We both no longer lived in the Bay Area, but we decided to visit our buds Chrissy and Curtis and see old acquaintances at the fair. I had a plaid skirt made from that lovely "Homespuns" fabric you can get at Joanns (I still love that stuff), but I'd never made the intended bodice.

I didn't have enough fabric for the bodice, so I pieced in velvet to make up the collar and cuffs. I needed to fill the neckline but instead of making a simple chemisette I wore an entire dress shirt underneath, which was quite bulky! I also didn't have time to make a bonnet, so I wore one my mom made years before.

I didn't really like this costume. I felt quite plain and boring, especially next to Maggie, who was frocked out in a gorgeous 1840s ensemble. This was one of those moments that defined my preferences for historic dress.

The Gigot Girl Gang - 2018

It's been 6 years since I've been to Dickens Fair. Time flies! This year a large group of us are attending in slightly-anachronistic early 1830s. Eye-popping plaids, stripes, and searing colors are at the ready. Bonnets and hats bedecked with plumes and ribbons are standing by. I am very proud of my ensemble this year and I feel the gravitational pull of the early 1830s sucking me in to making and exploring more of this brief period.

From our dress rehearsal - Abby and I have never been quite so wide, oh my! Our "getting dressed" video is coming soon!
I'm excited to spend the day at this fair with friends old and new, friends who have been going for years and friends who have never been. Don't worry, we'll take pictures!
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Friday, December 14, 2018

1833 Plaid Dress - Sleeves!

Museum of FIT - go big or go home!
The best part about early 1830s gowns, in my opinion, is the sleeves, of course! Big, huge, mega gigot sleeves are the primary identifier for this unique period of dress, so when recreating the look it's a "go big or go home" situation.

Interestingly, there is quite a lot of variation in sleeve shapes in the '30s. The Workwoman's Guide has pattern shapes that run from slim to enormous, all accurate though not all the most fashionable. Abby patterned out the most extreme of the sleeve patterns and tested in muslin.

Of course we were all drawn to this wackadoodle circular pattern. It's an ingenious design and a little tricky to wrap your head around at first. The "slice" forms both the forearm seam and the elbow-to-underarm seam, when opened out straight. Straightening the slice also causes the volume of the circle to tilt outwards, creating that huge volume we love.

We went with Figure 8 (resulting sleeve shape illustrated as Figure 7)
As with most sleeves in Workwoman's Guide, these were cut on the bias by folding up a triangle of fabric a yard square and placing the pattern on the fold. I made a mistake at this point and cut both of my sleeves in the same direction (cutting plaid generally hurts my brain, and this was no exception), but as it turns out, several original gowns exhibit this f-up as well so I'm not freaking out about it too much. (I also 100% did not realize this until I was fully finished with the entire gown and was looking at it on my dress form. Oops!)

Making the triangle of fabric to cut the sleeve on.

Here is the sleeve opened up flat. Each sleeves take about a yard of fabric, so factor that in when buying your yardage!
One of the big questions the Gigot Girl Gang had while planning our projects was about lining and interlining sleeves. Many originals, including the green late '20s silk gown in our collection, don't have any sleeve lining at all, or they have a half-lining just at the top. (There is also one really weird gown from the Tasha Tudor collection interlined with cane) There is also commonly no interlining. Silk directly against the skin and no stiffening layer in the fabric seems counter-intuitive, but in making the sleeves the reasoning becomes a little clearer.

There is such a huge amount of volume in sleeve head that gathering it down into a relatively small armscye presents issues simply with fitting it all in. The sleeves are gathered all the way around rather than just on the top. Abby and I both lined with cotton voile and the added bulk was noticeable, so it makes sense that 1830s dressmakers would try to reduce this as much as possible. Pleating would help keep the slim profile but might compromise the poof-age of the top of the sleeves. It's very much a give-and-take.

Lol Snuffle-upa-sleeve

When constructed but not set the sleeve doesn't look all that big. You can see the pronounced elbow crook here. When this is on the arm, though, it take a quite different shape.
Originally I gathered the sleeve head and also 2 inches below that. This produced an upper arm band that is accurate and adds a dollop of texture to the bodice, but I ended up ripping out the extra band of stitching. Just that extra 2 inches greatly reduced the volume of my sleeves and visually dropped the shoulder quite a bit further. I didn't hate the look, but it did throw off my intended early '30s silhouette , so I removed the stitching and let fly the arm zeppelins of glory.

The sleeves when worn, with the top gathered. They look really good but it wasn't really the look I was going for.

After the top gathering was released you can see how much more volume there is. This is the early '30s shape I wanted, whoo!
When I reinstated the giganticnessessess of the sleeves, my sleeve plumpers were no longer big enough. Thankfully, Abby's sleeve plumper pattern was ready to go (and you can download the PDF here) so I spent a couple hours patterning, constructing, and stuffing larger plumpers to fill out the larger sleeves.

Plumper before stuffing. Abby and I both made our plumpers out of glazed cotton and stuffed with down feathers. The glazing on the cotton was essential to keeping the feathers from poking through and wreaking havoc.

You've seen this photo before - the smaller plumper with the two larger ones behind.
A few more notes about the sleeves...

  • They are seamed together with the tailor's method, which we diagrammed in The American Duchess Guide and which is also described in Workwoman's Guide. It was very easy!
  • The sleeve seam, cuff, and armscye are all piped. It was infinitely easier to pipe the cuff while the sleeve was flat.
Pipe first, ask questions later.
  • The armscye has to be exactly right before setting in the sleeve. The 18th century method of fitting and setting sleeves deffo doesn't work here! Once the armscye was correct, I piped it, then just shoved the sleeve in to cover the gathering stitch, and "stitched in the ditch" with a backstitch all the way around.
  • There is no left and right sleeve - hallelujah! But there is a very clear "crook" for the elbow, so the sleeve seam has to be in the right place where it joins the armscye.

Whew! That was *a lot* but I hope it made sense. The gown is now done so it's time to move on the the millinery - a bonnet and a fluffy whitework canezou. More on these pieces coming up next...

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Tuesday, December 4, 2018

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1833 Plaid Dickens Dress - Progress!

Abby and I think these gowns look rather like 1950s evening gowns before the sleeves go on and ruin everything!
More 1830s goodness! All the other Gigot Girl Gang members were working diligently on their ensembles while I was in Europe. By the time I got back, the design was all marinated in my brainbox and ready for the grill, so I jumped right in!

The top of the skirt is turned over, then stroke gathered (cartridge pleated) and whipped to the waistband.

Yummy finished stroke gathers of the skirt. With more experience, next time I'll just whip the skirt to the bottom edge of the bodice waistband instead. I did it this way because the original late '20s dress we have has a separate waistband.
I wanted a front-closing surplice bodice. Workwoman's Guide describes this type of bodice for older women (lol), used with a drop-front skirt. Initially I thought I could keep the skirt and bodice separate, so I whipped the stroked gathers of the skirt to two waistbands, 18th century style.

First bodice toile - looking alright, but I straightened out the neckline at top for the second version.
Bodice fitting was a bit tricky. I did a few toiles (me? toiles...inconceivable!), and fit these tricky darts on my own body. The darts are rather extreme, but the nice thing is that darts in this period could be fit from the outside, then just top-stitched down. Abby's original late 1820s gown has darts sewn this way, which really does make it easy to fit each side of the body specifically. So that's what I did too.

Wacky pattern! Look at that mega dart! We've discovered that grain lines are *very* important for these bodices.

First fitting! Not bad!
With bodice fitted and trying the whole thing on over all the underpinnings and skirt, I applied the waistband, just a straight-cut strip about 2 inches wide. I quickly found that the skirt was not going to stay put under the bodice, so I stitched it all together, leaving a sortof overlap placket zig-zag opening thing with a series of hooks and bars to keep everything in place.

This seems to be the dress of doing-everything-twice. It's a new period for me, and I haven't sewn really anything other than 18th c. in such a long time that I did a lot of stupid things. For example, I knew I ought to face the hem...then didn't...then had to go back and do it after the fact, eegads! I also made the waistband ever so slightly too wide so I got to go back and turn it under another 1/8" in the! Did sleeves twice. Did skirt panel twice. Did darts twice, lol! (oh dear!)

11 inches of organdy facing the hem. You see hem facings in original gowns and noticeably drawn in fashion illustrations from the period. Because the skirts were held aloft by starched petticoats, etc., my theory is that the skirts of gowns needed to be stiffened as well, but couldn't be starched (starched silk? no...), so stiff fabrics were employed to keep the hems from collapsing below the bottom of the underpetticoats.
Little by little the gown has come together. The polished cotton lining has been a great structural lining fabric for the bodice and waistband. The skirt is unlined except for the stiff organdy facing. Next...onto the sleeves.

Sleeves are a whole post of their own (and a video coming soon too), so we'll cover those next 'cuz they're CRAZY!....stay tuned!
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Wednesday, November 28, 2018

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An 1833-ish Dickens Fair Gown!

I have had an inexplicable love affair with the early 1830s for many years now, but it's never been satiated....until NOW!

This year, our Gigot Girl Gang™ is headed to Dickens Faire in San Francisco. I spent many of my college years playing at Dickens Faire, but it's been a good six years since I've visited. Abby and Nicole have never been at all, so I'm doubly excited for them. The dancing, the shopping, Cuthbert's Tea House, Naughty French Postcards ... it's going to be great!

It's always been on my costuming bucket list to do an absolutely mad 1830s gown for Dickens. Dickens' "The Pickwick Papers" was published in 1836, followed by "Oliver Twist" in '37 and "Nicholas Nickleby" in '38.

Our gowns are from the early 1830s, when sleeves were at their maximum ridiculous huge-ness. The early 1830s was Charles Dickens' world too, so I'm not too bothered by the early dates, though the time period of the faire, generally speaking, is 1842 - 1863. As visitors, we aren't held to costume 1830s sugar plump fairies shall we be. :-)

 Okay...deets and plans!

A big pile of materials - the plaid will be the dress. The green, pink, and black are for the bonnet (you can see the buckram form there). The whitework will make a lovely canezou.
I bought a gorgeous silk plaid at Costume College this year, made up of sage green, pink, olive green, and burgundy. It was immediately slated for 1830s, though to be honest, the design is not symmetrical and it's not the bestest for dressmaking. Whatevs. Pretty.

With fabric selected and motivating me, it was straight in to the underwear. This past summer I compiled all of the undies needed for an 1830s gown, thank goodness!

All underpinnings present and accounted for. Seen here - linen shift, 1830s corset, sleeve plumpers, and corded petticoat.
My corset is from RedThreaded and is the best thing ever. 1830s corsets exhibit some interesting cutting and clever use of bias that's really beyond me, along with cording and a curved busk (whhhaat). I left it to the professional and couldn't be happier at being able to just jump right in with a perfectly-fitting corset ready to go. The only thing I changed was to add fan-lacing, which enables me to lace myself up easily. (I'll share more about fan-lacing another time).

Fan lacing on my 1830s RedThreaded corset. This is actually very easy to do and is really wonderful for those wanting to dress themselves.
My corded petticoat is from HandStitchesInTime on Etsy. It's well-made and once starched it certainly holds its shape. I'm glad I ordered it in Summer because, as a custom-made item, it took a good three months to get to me. It was worth the wait to not have to sew that thing myself.

The ghost of petticoats past - starched corded petticoat standing up on its own!

Here is the resulting silhouette of the bum pad, starched corded petticoat, and organdy petticoat (see on top). Large, puffy, and bell-shaped is the goal.
For underpinnings, I am also wearing a simple bum pad (bustle), an organdy petticoat (make one, it's the best thing ever!), and sleeve plumpers (stay tuned for Abby's video about these). I initially ordered sleeve plumpers from WorkshopKarinaFienn on Etsy, and they're great, just not huge enough for my ridiculously ginormous sleeves. I ended up making new ones, which I'll share more about later.

The plumper in front is one made by WorkshopKarinaFienn. The two behind are made by me and are at least a third larger and stuffed with down feathers.
Other bits and bobs - my chemise is the same as I wear for 18th century. The design really didn't change much (or at all), so that remains my bottom-most layer. I'm planning to wear silk openwork stockings in ivory paired with "Bronte" slippers, an old style we made some years ago.

At the risk of going too long, I'm going to break up these posts. Next I'll share with you the bodice, skirt, and sleeve constructions...see you soon!

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