Monday, November 23, 2015

1930s Velvet Evening Gown Inspiration

To get right to it, I have about two weeks to make my Christmas Party dress.

This year it's green and it's velvet, and it's all the fault of these shoes...

Miss L Fire "Gabrielle" 1940s Crystal Pumps from
"Gabrielle" 1940s suede and crystal pumps. Merciful heavens. $160

...the most beautiful shoes in the world. These are "Gabrielle" by Miss L Fire, a brand any vintage fashion enthusiast will have no doubt heard of. We carry a small selection of Miss L Fire at Royal Vintage, and while photographing these shoes for the shop, I fell madly in love and ended up buying my own product.

No regrets.

They're so beautiful it hurts. Unfortunately I had/have absolutely nothing to wear them with, so off to Mill End I went to find a matching color fabric for an over-the-top evening gown mind-designing itself in my head.

Fabric acquired, time to figure out how to make the thing. The vision I have involved shirring, puff sleeves, and a bias-cut skirt, but I can't find a pattern! That means drape-enstein-ing one together, and quickly. More on that later.

In the meantime, inspiration!

Antique Dress
Source unknown - this one has the same type of sleeves as the purple gown above it
Guermantes Vintage on Etsy
Dear Golden on Etsy
Dita Von Teese in stunning vintage velvet - Vogue
Valentina, 1939 - The Met
Molyneux, 1935 - Kyoto Costume Institute
Dear Golden Vintage on Etsy
Rococo Vintage on Etsy
For lots more vintage velvet inspiration, from the 1920s - 60s, check out my dedicated Vintage Velvet Fashions on Pinterest.

I guess I'd better get to work!

Monday, November 9, 2015

A Real 1920s Lady...Woman...Nun?

Can't call this a flapper dress!

Remember that part in "Chicago" where Roxy doesn't want to wear the demure dress to court because it's so frumpy? Yup, that's this dress in blue.

If it was anywhere near as itchy as this original '20s home-sewn creation, no wonder she didn't want to wear it!

I've had this dress in my closet for a few months. I bought it for a photo shoot that is yet to happen, and was excited to find an original day dress for a smashing price, in a fabulous condition.

It was cold. - Here you can see the seaming on the skirt. I think that makes all the difference in the design of this dress.
The dress is a lightweight glazed-ish wool with a lace collar. There is some interesting seaming on the front (which is the only way to tell the front from the back), and the seamstress made clever use of the fabric selvedge on the interior. She also decided the sack-like cut of the thing was too much frump for her, so she took it in at the side seams through the bodice to produce a slightly more feminine shape. (I've so done that)

In general, though, this dress is demure. I can't quite explain why I felt so elegant wearing it, especially with the itch factory, but with the whole outfit on, it just felt so right.

Except for the scratchiness. It's the hair shirt of 1920s frocks. It never lets you forget!

I wore this outfit to Starbucks, to meet my mom for a coffee chat. Now, I wear vintage clothing often, and I've worn some even older stuff into my local Sbux, but this dress on that day produced some staring. I think people genuinely thought I belonged to a religious order. I was getting side-eye, and even a few surreptitious phone pictures were taken. That's definitely a first!

Don't rain on my Old Lady parade!!
My mom said I looked like a nun that somebody had dumped a bucket of water over, due to the floppy hat. Thanks, Mom.

But you know what? I'd rather stand out than blend in! It's Old Lady Chic!

I'll just be lining the devilish thing before I wear it again. :-)

Friday, November 6, 2015

A 1930s "Bonnie & Clyde" Sweater Blouse

Another adventure in sewing knits - I'm hooked, now! I've got my wooly nylon thread, my ballpoint needles, and a goodly dose of foolhardiness.

Sorting through my vintage sweaters board on Pinterest, I fell in love with this 1890s knit beauty:

The Met - sweater - 1895
I still want to make this more faithfully, but the fabric I found - a love Gryffindor striped jersey - was calling out for 1930s. The 1930s puff-sleeved silhouette certainly shares similarities with the 1890s, which I liked.

Another image floating around in my mind was of Bonnie Parker in her oh-so-30s sweater. The real version is nice:

The real Bonnie Parker
...but I loved these film version even more:


Then there's Claudette Colbert's drooly-worthy striped top in "It Happened One Night":

And this red and white, glorious 1930s knitting/crochet project:

So here's how I made mine...

I did everything wrong, and cut everything twice.

1930s striped jersey blouse with gauntlet sleeves
I learned quite a lot more about knit yardage, doing this project. For instance...

  • All knits stretch differently - an open sweater knit will stretch more than a tight jersey. You can't use one to pattern the other!
  • Various jerseys have different amounts of stretch too, and you have to consider your pattern specifically for your knit.
  • My chosen jersey doesn't stretch much on the bias - this was a problem when I cut my chevron stripes.
  • Ribbing is quite difficult, but produces amazing results.

I didn't have a pattern for this top, so I made a lot of mistakes, and had to redo both the bodice and the upper sleeves twice. I blew through all two yards of my very wide fabric, but somehow finished without having to go back to the fabric store.

After math-ing out the first puff sleeve and failing, I draped a leg-o-mutton shape on my armed dress form.
This was my first project using ribbing. I'm insanely lucky to have a mill end shop (garment industry graveyard) that has a huge ribbing section, so I found some that matched the ivory in my jersey. It's not cheap stuff - sold by the inch, and you have to double it over to make your cuffs, bands, and neck binding - and I nearly ran out of that too. The most difficult part of the ribbing was getting the cuffs sewn smoothly to the sleeves. I did it in-the-round, but now that I'm more familiar, I'll do it "on the plane" (flat) next time.

The neck ribbing was also super-fussy. I had to piece it, and getting it to lay smoothly was a challenge. Braining through making a mitered V neck corner that fits the angle cut on the bodice is pretty tough, too, and I did a lot of seam-ripping at this last step, but was chuffed when I finally got it right.
The whole outfit - volume on top asks for a slim silhouette below the waist - a '30s skirt is the perfect pairing
Despite the raft of re-do, I ended up with something I absolutely adore. Right in line with my love of jersey as a modern, casual fabric, I feel like this top is wonderfully vintage while also being completely laid back. I just adore the juxtaposition of such a casual fabric being used for a glamorous design.
Finally have some more '30s daywear to pair with the '30s oxfords we did for American Duchess a couple years ago
I paired my new top with my slim '30s gabardine skirt, a very Bonnie-esque wool beret, and Claremont 1930s oxfords.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

All About the New 16th c. "Tudor" Exclusives

It's been *ages* in prototyping the new Tudor shoes, but they're finally done! This has been an interesting project, one with many challenges.

The first was sorting out the design. After discussion with Francis Classe, historic cordwainer and the designer of our Stratford Elizabethan Shoes, we concluded that the original MFA examples are almost certainly 19th century theatrical creations.

Scarpine - labeled as French 1500 - 1550, MFA - noted in the description that these are styled in first half of 16th century fashion.
Another view with more description of the toe. These are constructed as turn shoes rather than welted shoes, which allowed the seamed square toe. This is not in line with original 16th century shoemaking methods. Also out of place - the side seam construction and the knock-on heel.
Pretty good ones! But still, knowing this, I decided we had to alter the design to fit more in line with original 16th century shoes. To the research, Batman!

We're lucky to have several wonderful original examples of Tudor footwear, some brought up with The Mary Rose shipwreck, and some of my favorite examples found in the Thames. We also have portraits and artwork depicting shoes, and a few remaining examples from other parts of Europe.

The Met - 16th century, probably British
King Henry VIII wearing cow-mouthed slippers with slashing.
Mary Rose shoes - 1545. Just one pair of 500 (!) found on the shipwreck. This shape and construction is a direct reference for our Tudor recreations.
More examples from the Mary Rose - you can see here the variance in designs just in this sampling.
Here come more challenges. The iconic "cow mouth" toe shape is interesting, but ridiculously hard to reproduce. You might not think it looks so complex, but you can't actually remove the last from the toe of the shoes without breaking the ends, which Francis discovered when he reproduced a pair of early 16th c. Kuhmaulschuh.

Shoes, 1520 - 1540, V&A - great example of cow-mouth slippers, unfortunately out of our reach.
So no cow mouths for us, but we could still go with the blunt toe shape found on plenty of the other extant examples, so this is the direction we took, along with changing some of the seam lines from the 19th c. MFA example to bring the final footwear closer to actual 16th c. shoes.

Explorations early in the design process, merging the 19th c. MFA shoes with extant design lines. We wanted to stay as close to the MFA shoes as possible, while making the design more historically accurate.
The next challenge was a modern one - how to create shoes with the right look, but that would hold up in an outdoor fair environment. Originally, delicate velvet shoes with satin puffs would have been worn primarily indoors. Outdoor use of such shoes would be accompanied by pattens (overshoes) that protected the slippers and elevated the wearer out of the muck.

Luca de Heere 16th c. depictions of common Tudor people - here you can see the lady and gentleman to the left wearing pattens over their slipper shoes.
We're still working on recreating pattens (trying to explain these to any modern factory - I might as well be speaking Middle English), but in the meantime, modern fair-goers expect durability in their shoes.
Tudor Shoes by American Duchess
In response to this feedback, I chose no-wale cotton corduroy - AKA Fustian - for the uppers, a historically accurate piled fabric like velveteen, but much less fragile. A leather lining stabilizes the design, and catches in the satin puffs on the back, to create a closed shoe that will keep dirt, rocks, and pine needles out. This might not be as popular a choice in terms of looks - the cord is not as luminous as real velvet - but they'll hold up a heck of a lot better at fair, and are loads easier to clean.

The Tudors are available to pre-order November 4 - 11. As an "Exclusive," they're made-to-order, so we won't be offering these as a regular design.