Wednesday, May 29, 2019


LacedNYC - A New York Party to Remember

The Bathtub Ginnys perform at LacedNYC
Once upon a time, Abby and I went to New York to meet up with our favorite people - Cynthia of Redthreaded and Dandy Wellington - at Norwood, a beautiful private club in Manhattan.

The occasion was a launch party for our new Theatrical and Men's lines, as well as the new Royal Vintage "Foxtrot" Summer 2019 footwear collection.

Upstairs, Cynthia hosted a corset-fitting salon where guests could try on all of the Redthreaded historic corsets and stays.

It was a wonderful night, set to the jazzy tunes of Dandy Wellington and His Band with performances by the incomparable Bathtub Ginnys.

I'll stop talking now and let the photos do the rest.

All photos are by Jane Kratochvil
Instagram - @janekratochvil
FB - Jane Kratochvil Photography

Dandy made us talk about what we were doing and it was awkward, lol

The Bathtub Ginnys did a fabulous follies-style number and gave our new "Follies" T-straps a proper try.

Dandy Wellington, consummate performer and also so so generous to set up this event with us at Norwood, his club.

Stina of the Bathtub Ginnys

The Royal Vintage "Foxtrot" shoes were on display... were the new American Duchess theatrical shoes...

The co-conspirators - Dandy Wellington, Cynthia Settje of Redthreaded, me, and Abby.

Cynthia showing off her fabulous 18th century stays

The Ginnys performed in our new "Follies" T-Straps. These shoes are made for dancing, with sueded flex-soles.

Kaila Temple in original 1940s.

So many beautiful, fashionable people!

Mary Alice Ladd

Dandy and Cheyney McKnight

These dapper dudes

Lauren DeRossi (Virtuous Courtesan) and her friend, whose outfit I was obsesssseeeddd withhhhhhh

The Bathtub Ginnys

Dandy tries on the 1780s stays by Rethreaded.

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Friday, May 24, 2019


Introducing: The Isabella MacTavish Fraser Wedding Gown Project

The famous Isabella MacTavish Fraser wedding gown c. 1785. Photo by Ewen Weatherspoon. Reproduced with permission of Inverness Museum & Art Gallery
Big news! We've been hinting at it for awhile now, but it's officially time to announce.

This June, Abby and I are traveling to Scotland to participate in the recreation of the Isabella MacTavish Fraser wedding gown with Timesmith Dressmaking and in association with National Museum Scotland, Edinburgh.......and we are *stoked* !

A team of historical mantua-makers will be making a close recreation of this famous dress. The two-day long project will include cutting on the body (draping the lining), assembling and fitting the pleated-back gown from reproduction tartan made by Prickly Thistle, and dressing our model Georgia in her authentic c. 1784-85 ensemble.

The back of the Isabella MacTavish Fraser wedding gown has some rather odd construction. We're going to work out the how's and why's of it during this project and share with you. Photo by Ewen Weatherspoon. Reproduced with permission of Inverness Museum & Art Gallery
We will be working with project lead Rebecca Olds (Timesmith Dressmaking), along with a crack team of stitchers - Peryn Westerhof Nyman (Isabel Northwode Costumes), Katy Stockwell (Regency Regalia) , Alexandra Bruce (Alexandra Bruce Costumes), Georgia Gough, and Flora Macleod Swietlicki.

The original dress will be on display nearby as part of the NMS’s Summer 2019 Exhibition Wild and Majestic: Romantic Visions of Scotland.

The public project takes place live Saturday and Sunday, June 29 - 30, 2019 at National Museum Scotland, Edinburgh. It is a FREE event - come and watch! You can learn more about the event on Facebook or bookmark it on the National Museum Scotland's website. If you can't make it to Scotland, we are also creating a mini documentary about the project and the reproduction gown will be going on tour all over the world.

The members of our team in the UK have been granted special access to the original gown to record every detail of its construction, inside and out. The original gown will be on display in the "Wild & Majestic" exhibition while we are demonstrating the reconstruction.
To help raise the funds for this project*, we have an Indiegogo campaign going with some pretty lovely perks - enamel pins, scarves and shawls made from the reproduction wool tartan (my personal fave), cards and PDF patterns of the gown and assembly, and more.

The extant gown has a few quirks and fiddly bits that are curious and fascinating. To work out the atypical construction, Abby and I will be making a test dress in wool flannel, which we will share with you here (of course!). Stay tuned!


*Despite National Museums Scotland supplying the venue and programming for the Isabella Project, they are not funding it in any way. Real costs include reproducing the tartan, travel expenses for the team, and the photography and videography expenses that cannot be donated.

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Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Should You Always Wear a Bum Pad for 18th Century Dress?

The split bum, perfect for 1776 - 1790s, worn with polonaise and Italian gowns. This is particularly effective for gowns with the skirts pulled up. From the American Duchess Guide. 
Ah, bum pads...nothing like wearing a pillow around your waist to make your derriere look bigger! But should you *always* wear one if you're in 18th century dress?

Generally, we try to veer away from saying "always" and "never" when it comes to historical costuming. Every character, impression, event, dress, costumer has different needs and different intentions.

The Bum Shop - 1785 - The British Museum
When considering your artificial rump enhancements, here are some things to think about:

Do you care?

I'm starting with this one because everyone has their own purpose and intention with putting on a historical costume. It's OK to wear whatever you want in whatever way you want to and have fun doing it. Some costumers are in pursuit of historical accuracy in portrayal, some in construction, and some are in pursuit of dressing up and having fun. All pursuits are valid. If you don't want to wear a split rump, pocket hoops, or a bum pad, it's totally your choice.

What decade or year(s) are you playing in?

If you're definitely into the hip and rump bolstering it's important to choose the right style for the specific time you're portraying. Prior to the 1770s, pocket hoops, panniers, and round hoops (for English gowns) were fashionable. The emphasis was on the hips. A set of kidney-shaped pads on each hip will do the job, or explore pocket hoops of various sizes, especially for Robes a la Francaise. (We have a very easy pattern on page 75 in the AD Guide).

A late 1760s sacque gown with pocket hoops - not TOO big, not TOO small.
In the 1770s, a rounder and softer silhouette comes into fashion. Hip enhancements fall out of fashion and the fullness moves to the back. If you're hanging out in the mid-1770s and pulling your Italian gown skirts up or wearing a polonaise, the split bum is the thing (pg 130, AD Guide), but rounder pillows on the rear also work very well for sack-back jackets and garments without deep, boned points in the back.

In the 1780s and early 1790s, the silhouette becomes full and round with a graceful, fluffy line over the hips and descending into the skirt. A large bum pillow like the one in Simplicity 8162 is great for these years.
The very large bum pad from Simplicity 8162 works wonders for 1780s and early 1790s. You can also use this to bolster round silhouettes for earlier decades too.
What style of garment are you wearing?

I mention this a bit above, but it's a good idea to consider to style of gown or jacket you're wearing when deciding what padding you may need. If you're wearing a Robe a la Francaise of almost any decade, you'll want some kind of hip padding. If it's an early 18th century Francaise, it'll be a pretty wide hoop/pannier; if it's a late 18th century Francaise, the hip padding will still be there, but greatly minimized compared to before.

Court gown from c. 1750 - WIDE pannier used for formal attire only. An everday sacque gown of the same year has a much smaller pannier. Consider the context. The Met, C.I.65.13.1a-c

1770s Polonaises and Italian gowns love split rumps, which allow for the deep V down the back while bolstering the gathered-up skirts.

The deep point and puffed up skirts of this Italian gown work perfectly with the split bum.
1780s Pierrot jackets, chemise gowns, and redingotes want for full, round pillows without a split in back.

It's a good idea to consider your full undergarments before making your costume. You'll ideally have all of these bits and pieces prior to jumping in to making the dress, and you'll definitely want to wear them when you fit your gown or jacket.

What social class are you portraying?

Ladies of fashion in any decade followed the trends, but working women didn't. If you're portraying a lower-class individual, skip the bum pillow. There are many depictions of working class women in unfashionably slim-looking petticoats, but you can also wear a simple quilted petticoat, which were common and functional for women of all classes.

The 1740s working womna's ensemble - no extra hip or bum support was worn with this, just an underpetticoat, petticoat, and the gown. From the AD Guide.
We purposefully did not make any kind of skirt support for the working class wool English Gown in "The American Duchess Guide" to show that full and fluffy skirts were not always the norm. I wear just my underpetticoat (under my stays), one wool petticoat, and the English gown in that chapter (pgs 14 - 69).

Flower Vendor, 1738 - The Met 53.600.588(27)

I hope you found this article useful. If you're looking for more direction on what to make and how, do have a look at The American Duchess Guide to 18th Century Dressmaking - we have patterns and instructions for making an underpetticoat, side hoops, and a split rump, along with how to wear each of these understructures. You can get a copy here. Also check out our Simplicity sewing patterns for underpinnings here.

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Monday, May 13, 2019


Ikea Costuming 101 - Making Historical Gowns with Duvet Covers, Curtains, and Sheets

The Italian Gown from "The American Duchess Guide to 18th Century Dressmaking" was made with one LJUSÖGA Queen size duvet cover from Ikea.
Accurate printed cottons are very difficult to find. Usually the pattern is too dense and the colors are a bit off. There are endless bolts of quilter's cottons at Joanns, repleat with cabbage roses or rainbow-colored Jacobeanesque flowers, none of them quite right. So it is indeed surprising when you run across a shockingly accurate print on a duvet cover or a set of curtains while strolling the showrooms at Ikea.

Ikea has a curiously long history of reproducing 18th century Swedish textiles and even furniture. In 1995 they released an entire 18th century collection with a table, mirror, dishes, chandelier, even bed hangings and a sofa. Don't I wish they'd do the same again!

Now, not all Ikea fabrics are good for costuming, but every once in awhile there will be a great print or two. Here's what to look for:
  • Limited color palette in appropriate colors - red, pink, minimal green, blue, yellow, black, minimal purple.
  • Open white ground - you want a lot of white space on the fabric. The pattern shouldn't be too small and dense.
  • Primitive floral rendering - remember that these prints originally were block printed and any shading was painted in by hand. You want florals that look hand drawn and not too complex, dimensional, or realistic in the shading and rendering of the flowers.
  • Medium to small scale floral - You don't want *huge* motifs. The flowers should not overwhelm the body, as this is a good hint that the textile was originally for furniture and not clothing. The flowers can be small but remember that you want a lot of space between them. Too dense a pattern won't read quite right either.
  • Fabric Weight - you want as lightweight as possible. The duvet covers and sheets are a great weight. The curtains can border on the heavy side, so make sure they're not too thick or backed with anything heavy. If you're tempted by the sheers (many of which are lovely!) make sure they're natural fibers particularly if there is any embroidery or design on them.
A late 1790s open robe gown made from INGMARIE curtains from Ikea
When you see these, don't delay - buy up that duvet cover or those curtains because Ikea does retire things quite quickly. The next time you go, that bedspread may not be there (ask my how I know :-\ ).

If you'd like to see a list of all of the Ikea prints from over the years and 18th century gowns made from them, check out the Ikea Dresses page on 18th Century Notebook here.

My particular favorites:

HÅLLROT - A very pretty geometric floral in a scale and color scheme that works well for dressmaking. This one is not available from Ikea anymore but may be found online - try eBay.

HÄSSLEKLOCKA - A nicely done red chintz with a little shading in the flowers. It's a small scale but has a lot of open ground, which is ideal. Atelier Nostalgia did a nice post on red and white chintz here. As of this posting, Hassleklocka is still available on the Ikea website.

INGMARIE - This textile was available as curtains and was a larger-scale print on a little heavier cotton textile than the duvet cover. The design was screenprinted, also different from the duvet covers, and while this wasn't ideal, it made up into a very lovely 1790s gown. Ingmarie is not available on the Ikea website anymore.
LJUSÖGA - One of my absolute favorites, the very popular Ljusoga duvet cover was an excellent textile for gowns. The design was small in scale with a lot of white space. The colors were crisp but not too bright. We used this very pretty print for the Italian gown in The American Duchess Guide to 18th Century Dressmaking. The gown now belongs to Maggie, whom we made it for in the book, and when I next visited Ikea to buy more for a gown for myself, they had discontinued this print. Then I cried. A lot. If you find Ljusoga online for a reasonable price, I highly recommend it!

STENÖRT - My current projest uses Stenort and I'm *in love* with this print. It's delicate and a perfect scale on a broad white ground. One thing to note is that the Stenort duvet cover comes with one side printed floral and one side printed stripe, so you only get half the yardage, but the pillow cases are the floral on both sides. It appears that Stenort also comes as sheets/pillowcases, too. Woo! As of this blogging, Stenort is currently available as sheets from Ikea online.

How Much Fabric Do You Get?

I see this question pop up a lot when talking about using curtains or bedspreads for fabric. Conveniently, Ikea always puts the dimensions of the item on the package, so you know just how much fabric you're getting.

Twin Fitted Sheet / Duvet Cover - 59" x 78.7" - you will lose some when you cut the elastic away and iron the fitted sheet. On duvet covers check for buttons, buttonholes, and facings.
Approx. 2.2 yards of 60" wide fabric (30" folded) for the fitted sheet
Approx. 4.4 yards of 60" wide fabric (30" folded) in two pieces for a double-sided duvet cover.

Queen Fitted Sheet / Duvet Cover - 78.7" x 78.7" - you will lose some when you cut the elastic away and iron the fitted sheet. On duvet covers check for buttons, buttonholes, and facings.
Approx. 2.2 yards of 78" wide fabric (39" folded) for the fitted sheet
Approx. 4.4 yards of 78" wide fabric (39" folded) in two pieces for a double-sided duvet cover

King Fitted Sheet / Duvet Cover - 94.4" x 78.7" - you will lose some when you cut the elastic away and iron the fitted sheet. On duvet covers check for buttons, buttonholes, and facings.
Approx 2.6 yards of 78" wide fabric (39" folded) for the fitted sheet
Approx. 5.2 yards of 78" wide fabric (39" folded) in two pieces for a double-sided duvet cover.

Pillow Case - 19.5" x 31.5" - watch for embroidery, button, and button holes. Check how many pillow cases come in the package.

Bolster Case - 15" x 43" - check how many bolster cases come in the package.

Curtains - 1 pair - 98.4" x 57" - watch for tabs or a pocket at the top for the curtain rod.
Approx. 5.4 yards of 57" wide fabric (28.5 folded) in two pieces.

How Much Fabric Do You Need?

This, of course, depends on the dress, but when I'm considering yardage I go by the general "20 inch rule." Many 18th century gowns are made of up of panels of about 20 inch wide fabric. This is because the loom widths for silk in the 18th century were limited to around this width. Even though cotton, wool, and linen were not limited in this way, and certainly aren't today, going by 20 inch widths can give you a good idea on the fly.

These measurements are based on original gowns and my size (approx. 34 bust - 30 waist, height 5'6"):

Petticoat - 6 panels of 20 inch wide x length (usually around 45 inches from waist to floor) - 120 inch hem circumference. You may need a little more length for leveling over pocket hoops.

Italian Gown - 4 - 6 panels of 20 inch wide for the skirt x length (usually around 45 inches from waist to floor, but if you want a train you'll need longer). Bodice takes about 2 - 3 short rectangular panels; sleeves take about 1 - 2 short rectangular panels.

Sacque Gown - 6 panels of 20 inch wide for the back, bodice, and front skirt. The back length is nape of neck to floor + train - for me that's about 60 - 65 inches. The front skirt is about 45 inches from waist to floor. 1 - 2 square-ish panels for the sleeves. You'll want to add a bit more wiggle room for stomacher, flounces, and trim.

English Gown - Pleated back takes about 2 panels x the length from nape of neck to floor - for me that's about 56 inches. Front + Side skirts - 4 panels x 45 inches in length; bodice with pleated robings is 2 panels (one each side). Sleeves 1 - 2 short rectangular-ish panels. Stomacher and cuffs I'd do just 1 rectangular panel.

If you start thinking of your gown constructions in terms of rectangular panels, it's easy to doodle how much fabric you'll need based on these panels. Here's some examples of what this looks like, using an Italian gown and petticoat (sacque and English gown will vary, of course):

A two-sided twin size duvet cover is enough to make an Italian gown if you piece two of the skirt panels.

A two-sided queen size duvet cover is more than enough to make an Italian gown, but not quite enough to make a matching petticoat for it! You may get a petticoat out of it if you cleverly piece, though - remember you have pillowcases too!

A two-sided king size duvet cover is enough to make an Italian gown, matching petticoat, and still have fabric left over for trim or other things.

You know the folded widths and lengths of the duvet covers and curtains, so you can block out the gown pieces to get a good idea if you'll need to buy a king size duvet or just a twin size.


I hope you found this article useful, if not a little long. Next time you're at Ikea, check out the bed linens and the curtain area. Ikea is constantly introducing new prints that make up into gorgeous gowns.

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Tuesday, May 7, 2019


1780-81 Glasgow Polo-Sacque Fiddling

This past weekend I made a lot of good progress on my version of the 1780 - 1781 Polonaise-Sacque Jacket. I am always so very chuffed by how quickly sacque-back things go feels like you're making such progress! (Then come the fiddly bits, the sleeves, the shoulder straps...that final 20% that takes 80% of the time!)

On Saturday I applied the bodice front fashion fabric, the parts that will show beneath the flyaway front of the jacket. I also fit the bodice through the side back seams and pinched up the shoulder straps in front, stitching both areas but leaving the shoulder straps in back un-sewn for now so I could keep the lining flat for applying all the pleating.

Fitting the front and back lining pieces.
Applying the fashion fabric to the front bodice lining. Turn in all the edges and stitch with a running stitch.

The sacque back was easy - I just followed the pleating guide in The American Duchess Guide to 18th Century Dressmaking, pg. 97 (and yes, I totally reference our book every time I sew anything 18th c.).

Marking and pleating up both sides of the sack back. For jackets you probably don't need nearly as much in the back as I put in this one but it does make for a very pretty back line.
After reviewing the original jacket, I realize I put way way too much fabric in my pleated back. The original jacket's back is quite narrow and what we might think is skimpy, but I believe it needed to be less full due to the rather thick fabric. By putting so much fabric in my sacque back I reduced the volume on the sides, so I didn't have as much to pleat into the skirt...oh well.

You can see on the original jacket here that the back is quite narrow and doesn't appear to have all that much fabric piled into it. The fabric is a rather robust textile, so it makes sense to reduce the bulk in the back that would inevitably result by stacking up 100 inches of fabric. I could've saved myself a lot of material if I'd realized this sooner.
After the pleated back was applied to the back lining piece, I wrestled with trying to cut out the excess from between the side back seams. I thought I could just pleat it all up and then cut out the excess, but that didn't work, so I sortof draped it and marked it and held my breath while I cut. What I *should* have done was apply the back, get it all stitched on, then worked the front polonaise piece (which is basically just a big rectangle of fabric) as its own thing. I tried to save time and effort by sewing all of the panels together first, but this made it all rather unweildy. Silly me.

The trickiest part has been the waistline cut in the back. This jacket has the excess skirt knife pleated towards center back down beneath the pleats, like an English gown. This is created by slicing along the waistline towards center back, turning under the waistline edge, then pleating the fabric of the skirt in to match. That makes almost no sense in words, but if you've ever made an English gown, you've done this PITA operation.

Beneath the pleats on the back - you can see the waist cut where the excess have been knife peated towards CB. Tricksy tricksy tricksy.
Unfortunately I cut my waistline slash a *little* too high, so the jacket is slightly short-waisted in back (argh!). I'm wearing this jacket with a quilted petticoat so it's not the end of the word but I would've like it to be a little better fitted through there.

Still mostly pins and basting, but the jacket is really taking shape. The pleated skirt of the jacket is working, even if it's not as full and graceful as the original jacket - that's because I put much more material in the sacque pleats and ended up with not a lot left for the skirt pleats!
I still have the other half of the fiddly skirt to wrangle, and I've been pinning and re-pinning the polonaise front, but in general I think the majority of the jacket is almost there. There is a lot to stitch down, but I'm feeling pleased with it, even if it's more just my interpretation of the original jacket and not a replica.

An idea of the front. I always have a lot of trouble "letting go" with polonaise fronts - I want them everything to fit smoothly and perfectly and with something like this it's just not supposed to. That flyaway front is supposed to hang open loosely...that was the point! It's shaped by a large, curving pleat near the side back seam and a large fold at the front.
Next? Sleeves and those fascinating cuffs!
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