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!


  • Rosa

    January 4, 2018 at 11:25 AM

    What a glorious costuming year 2017 has been! You've made so much loveliness, I can't believe it. How on Earth did you manage to squeeze that into your packed schedule?:-) I love that origami method, the IKEA gown and the new stays especially. A feast for the eyes.

    • Rosa

      January 5, 2018 at 8:57 PM

      Yeah, I can sympathise – working on clothes for a fashion show, can't show that to anyone right now, feels like I haven't really produced anything in a while 😀 Was it ever kinda frustrating for you or Abby? But indeed, you've made lots of beautiful stuff and achieved so much over that year – I'm in awe, you're a real inspiration. That book is wonderful, I hope you and Abby are really proud of yourselves…

  • evette

    January 4, 2018 at 12:30 PM

    I'm lost for words, all I can do is just stand and give you a big round of applause. Well done! Well done! I'm really enjoying the new book and I just received the two new Simplicity patterns in the mail yesterday! Happy New Year! 🙂

  • Black Tulip

    January 5, 2018 at 5:37 PM

    Erm, let me see. . . . you made all all this fabulous stuff, ran a business, worked with Simplicity (and persuaded them to use your photographs) and PUBLISHED A BOOK, and you're apologizing for the lack of blogging?? 🙂

    I'm amazed you managed to post anything! And I love the new stays.

  • MrsC (Maryanne)

    January 11, 2018 at 9:51 AM

    Lauren the quantity of posts may have diminished last year but the quality is always there! I think you do an amazing job of balancing commercial related blogging promoting your business things with your personal stuff, as well as Abby of course, and that is hard I imagine and I am sure I am not the only person to appreciate it <3

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