Monday, January 15, 2018

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How to Lengthen/Shorten 18th Century Stays

The #1 question we receive about Simplicity 8162 (and will with Simplicity 8579 as well) is how to lengthen or shorten the stays. Particularly with Simplicity 8162, the body block used came up a little short and most seamstresses are needing to lengthen the body of the stays a bit (I know I needed to).

So how do you do it?

Don't worry! The alteration is really easy.

The proper fit for stays should have the tabs "breaking" right at your natural waistline. The very top of those cuts/splits for the tabs should be at your waist - too high and you don't get a nice shape; too low and you'll have pinching.

{As always, make a quick mockup to test the fit on your body. For stays, lightweight cardboard and masking tape can do the job, or you can use a heavyweight fabric and just tape some of the bones in place to check the fit. Make a note of how much the stays need to be lengthened, then make the adjustment on your paper pattern.}

If your stays are too short, measure up about 1 inch from each of the tops of those tab cuts. Then "connect the dots" to draw the adjustment line. This line will be on an angle for most pieces.

Then just cut along that line and move the pieces apart as much as you need to lengthen the stays. Make sure the distance is the same on all pieces (example - 1/2 inch for all pieces). Tape the pieces to a new piece of paper and "true up" the seamlines by re-drawing the line with a ruler (this is particularly necessary when altering angled lines or curves).

Also check that your seams still match up.

See how the tabs flare over the hips? Special thanks to Maggie for this photo

You can also use that adjustment line to shorten your stays, but and easier way is to just cut the tabs a little bit higher. Remember, the tabs should break just at your waist. If they are too low, a little clipping up on those lines on-the-body will set it to rights.


See? That wasn't so bad!

Extra Tip: Now when cutting out your new, adjusted pattern, give yourself some contingency and cut all pieces with extra seam allowance, particularly on the neckline edge. This gives you wiggle room for re-marking the neckline should you feel it's still too low.

Happy sewing!
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Thursday, January 11, 2018

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Patterns and Books for 18th Century Stays

Simplicity 8579 Stays, 1700 - 1770.
With the release of our book, The American Duchess Guide to 18th Century Dressmaking, we've given you patterns and instructions for a great many lovely 18th century gowns, accessories, and skirt supports.

...but one thing we did *not* give you in the book were patterns for stays. Stays are a complex subject that warrants an entire how-to book of its own. We knew their absence would be vexing, so to not leave you totally in the lurch for what-stays-when-how-where, here is my list of 18th century stay patterns sorted by time period:

Printed Patterns for 18th Century Stays

1700 - 1770 - Conical Silhouette

1770 - 1790 - Prow Front Stays

1790s - Transitional Stays

Tight Lacing, or Fashion Before Ease - Bowles & Carver after John Collet, 1777, The British Museum 1935,0522.1.227

Books With Patterns for 18th Century Stays

18th Century Stays by Redthreaded - Ready Made!
Other Resources for 18th Century Stays

  • Redthreaded - High-quality ready-made stays for the general 18th century, 1780s, and 1790s.
  • Period Corsets - High quality ready-made stays for general 18th century, 1725, 1770s, and 1790s.
  • Custom Corset Pattern Generator - Use your measurements to draft a custom pattern. This is originally for Elizabethan bodies but with some ingenuity can be used to made an 18th century pattern. Experiment!
  • Kleidung um 1800 - Sabine's study (and patterns) on 1790s stays. 1, 2

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Monday, January 8, 2018


What is an 18th Century Milliner / Marchande de Modes?

La Marchande des Modes (The Modiste) - Studio of Francois Boucher - c. 1746. Wallace Collection
When you're just starting off in the world of 18th century dress, terminology can be *so* confusing.

For one, there are both English and French terms to learn and sometimes they don't mean or describe quite the same things. It can be very baffling to run into fashion plates describing a gown, a night gown, an Italian gown, or a Robe a l'Anglaise and realize they all can mean the same thing at a given point in history! We here in the 21st century love to categorize and labels things clearly, but even the French fashion magazines of the late 18th century couldn't keep it straight.

Sometimes the words remain the same but the meaning changes over several hundred years. For instance, a milliner of the 21st century is quite different than a milliner of the 18th. Today, millinery refers only to hats and hatmaking, a shift in definition that happened in the 19th century.

The 18th century milliner (English), or marchande de modes (French), was responsible for so much more than hats. She (and sometimes he) reigned over everything to do with trimming* and accessorizing an ensemble, from gauze puffs and fly fringe on the surface of a gown to caps, bonnets, hoods, poufs, and on and on.

Marchande de modes portant la marchandise en ville - Gallerie des Modes - 1778, MFA
The milliner differed from the mantua-maker. In France, the rise of the marchande de modes took a different trajectory than that of the couturier (dressmaker), driven by the success of Rose Bertin, the most famous marchande de modes to Marie Antoinette. The two trades worked together, often in the same shop, but it was not an exclusive relationship.** Fashions radiated from Paris, and it was not long before English and American milliners sprouted up too.

One of the most wonderful aspects of 18th century dress was the culture of refashioning. The milliner played a large role in this practice, often trimming and re-trimming the same gown multiple times. Mrs. Papendiek describes her puce satin gown in four incarnations between 1782 and 1788, being re-trimmed three times in various embroideries, laces, buckles, and a host of accompanying aprons, kerchiefs, and caps to change the look each time. "A silk gown would go on for years, a little furbished up with new trimmings." (The Cut of Women's Clothes, 124) However, when the cut of the gown itself fell from fashion, it was the mantua-maker who would pick it apart and refashion it into the latest hottest style.

Marchande de Modes by Jean Baptiste Mallet, 1780
Often today we as 18th century costumers do not take our ensembles far enough. When I first started, I was guilty of skipping the millinery, but I learned that all that fluff really made my gown look more authentic. It's for this reason that we included so many millinery projects in The American Duchess Guide - aprons, caps, hats, kerchiefs, mitts, and muffs. The fun part of these accessories is that there is room for expression and variation - I can't wait to try the 1780s Triceratops Cap in silk organza trimmed in lace, with a string of puffs and lappets - same pattern, but quite a different look from the cotton voile cap trimmed in blue silk ribbon we made for the book.

Now that you know the role of the 18th century milliner / marchande de modes, don't be afraid to embody her trade. You can read more about the amazing marchandes de modes in Fashion Victims: Dress at the Court of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette by Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell.

Mademoiselle Rose Bertin. Engraving by Jean Francois Janinet after Jean Honore Fragonard. No date (but looks mid 1780s to me). The Met, 24.80.141

*An exception here is when a gown is trimmed in self fabric, which still seems to have fallen to the mantua-maker. (Fashion Victims, pg 52)
** In France, the marchandes de modes were often independent of the couturiers, setting up shops such as Rose Bertin's Au Grand Mogul, around the rue de Richelieu and the rue Saint-Honore. (Fashion Victims, pg 56)
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Wednesday, January 3, 2018

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2017 - Costuming Year in Review

Jane Austen Festival, 2017. Photo by Tony Tumbusch.
It's that time - that year-end-year-beginning-blog-post time. This year I feel I was a terrible blogger. One of the side effects of building out our business, even one based in costuming, is that more time goes towards exhilarating things like admin, taxes, and production, and less time is found for blogging. This makes me sad, so I will make more effort for blogging in 2018 (there, there's my resolution).

That being said, we did accomplish things this year, so here's the American Duchess *year in review*


Abby and I started 2017 sewing like crazy. We were working on the projects for The American Duchess Guide. We finished up the 1790s Caroline hat, muff, and mitts (which never made it into the book), then were straight into the 1760s Sacque and all its accessories. We were lucky enough to have Maggie join us for the sewing of *all the things,* and it was surprising how quickly we got through the sacque.

We have this giant chalkboard that we use for all our projects - here you can see everything listed out that still needed making. It was wonderful to erase things as they completed!

The finished sacque before we did the "glamour shoot" with Abby in the studio

More book sewing, of course! Abby, Maggie, and I finished up the sacque accessories and jumped right into the Italian gown, using a lovely blue silk taffeta for the petticoat and everyone's favorite IKEA duvet cover for the gown. Things got tricky with sewing and photographing with only about 4 hours of light a day, so it was all hands on deck to meet our goals. In the last week of February we finished the manuscript and submitted it to the editor.

Double bum shenanigans in the studio with Abby and Maggie

This ensemble turned out great! Very happy with the gown and millinery.

In March I started a new 1790s costume for Jane Austen Festival. I didn't have any of the underpinnings already, so I researched and constructed a simple transitional corset.

It ain't pretty but it worked - 1790s corset in two layers of linen.

In April I didn't make anything, but it's because we were going through the first pass edits on the book and OMG that took FOREVER! We were also feverishly working on the new Simplicity pattern for the sacque, petticoat, stays, shift, and hoops. (Simplicity 8578 and 8579).

Creating the paper pattern for the Simplicity sacque by way of origami. This was actually quite an easy way to do this! We constructed the entire gown in paper, which allowed us to see if things were really laying correctly, then take it off the form, open out flat, and mark the pleat and fold lines.

In May I picked apart my yellow 1750s English gown and began re-working it into a 1780s Italian gown. I also progressed a little on the 1790s Jane Austen Festival day dress. Book photography/imagery was also due this month, so 97% of my time was spent editing photos, gridding out patterns, and finishing the illustrations and diagrams needed for The American Duchess Guide.

Picking apart my English gown to make it into an Italian gown. Hand sewing this made it so easy to take it apart, and I felt very Georgian in my remaking of an older outfit.

Progressing on the 1790s day dress for Jane Austen Festival, plus a Blondie photobomb <3

In June Chris and I went to England and Wales for vacation! No sewing was accomplished, but I did visit the Manchester Gallery of Costume, a delightful place with a few famous frocks that I drooled over for not nearly long enough.

The famous collared dress from Patterns of Fashion 1. It was so stunning in person. The chintz gown to the left was also absolutely fascinating, though they had it dressed on the mannequin poorly.

The month of *all the costume events* ! - We attended Jane Austen Festival in Louisville, and directly after went to Costume College in L.A. I finished my 1790s dress and also speed-stitched the Robe a la Turque and all its various parts.

My finished 1790s ensemble at Jane Austen Festival. This was the end of the first day, after being quite warm. I'd shed my Caroline hat and my hair was doing the Kentucky Droop, but hey, it works for the 90s. ;-)

Finished just in time for the Costume College Gala, my 1790 Turkish stage costume. I finished the yellow Italian gown, made the poofy pants, and made the fur-trimmed robe for this outfit. A lot of work, but it came together in the end.

I rested. Phew!


In September I went to China to do sampling, swatching, and negotiating on all of 2018's new styles. I was there for half of the month, with no new sewing projects.

Scouring the leather market in Guangzhou, China, for just the right feel and colors for 2018's shoes.

Still no new sewing projects, but a lot of research on 1830s stuff for this coming year.


In November, The American Duchess Guide to 18th Century Dressmaking was released! We also popped to New York at the end of the month, which required a new late 18th century linen shift for our video shoot with Racked, since my previous shift was entirely inappropriate and had holes in it anyway (lol).

Photo by Meredith Barnes, at Van Cortlandt House in New York City. The yellow Italian gown worn in a less Turkish way, with white millinery. I left the lapel turned down because that seemed like a quirky 1780s thing to do.


And finally, the end of the year - our new Simplicity patterns released, as did the Racked video, and I started a new Italian gown in pink/white stripe, but then decided I really ought to have a new pair of stays. I finished out the year finishing up those stays (will blog soon!)

Cutting into this pink and ivory striped taffeta I've had for a long time. A new, simple Italian gown is in my future.

...but first, a new pair of stays. The stays I've worn for the last two years were a little short waisted and I also put on some poundage since I made them, so I decided to draft a new pair. I actually made them too big! Several hours of re-work later, they're fitting. Thank goodness for historical construction...but more on that later... ;-)

Today I went to Mill End with Laurie and found a *gorgeous* pink, green, and ivory striped taffeta, which will become a sacque gown. I plan to use the Simplicity pattern shapes combined with the American Duchess Guide hand-sewing instructions to create a Robe a la Confection of my very own, because I just can't get enough 18th century!

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