Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Antique Edwardian Shoe Rehab

I'm going to call it rehab instead of restoration, because these shoes were in a *state.* They were sent to me by a lovely follower who saw the potential in a pair of sad, squished, absolutely filthy old stompers.

If these shoes could talk...

These poor shoes have seen better centuries...
Upon closer inspection, beneath the grime, I saw some interesting brogueing details and  imagined these would be actually quite charming oxfords.

The first order of business was to wash the dirt away. Then, while the leather was still damp, I applied a thick coat of Angelus Lustre Cream in brown. This stuff is a hydrating cream that keeps the leather supple. The pigmented lustre cream does an amazing job at evening out coloration in the leather and covering scratches, tears, and scuffs.

With the dirt rinsed away, I applied a thick coat of Angelus Lustre Cream and let it dry
After buffing off the lustre cream, I applied Angelus Shoe Wax in brown. The wax fills in cracks and crevices and creates a nice barrier. It also buffs to a fantastic shine and protects the shoes.

Shiny and preserved. Though they still show their extensive wear, now the details and shape of these oxfords comes through
These poor babies are rotten on the inside, where the thin, cheap leather has flaked away almost completely. This is the part of antique shoes that goes first and is usually the worst. It's unrecoverable too, so the best that can be done for these is to stuff them for shape and protect them in shoe bags, only to be brought out for study.

Looking so much better!
And they really did turn out to be a great pair of shoes. Somebody wore these as their everyday shoes, but also took care of them, having them resoled more than once. They were originally cheaply-made, with rough-cut lining and corners cut on areas like the tongue, typical of non-rationed, factory-produced footwear during the Great War period. Never intended to last very long, it's amusing to me that these simple, well-worn, common shoes have out-lived the company who made them and the person or people who wore them.

Now ready to be stored and studied for another 100 years

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The Late 1860s Aubergine Ballgown

Me and Kristen at the ball - photo by Nevada Live Magazine
I couple weekends ago I was all a-tussle finishing the evening bodice for my new purple 1860s gown. I intended to wear it to a local Civil War ball, and was happy to put the finishing touches on it a couple hours before leaving for the ball.

I didn't take the easiest path on this bodice. I scaled up a gridded pattern from Period Costume for Stage & Screen: Patterns for Women's Dress, 1800-1909, using a new-to-me digitizing technique, and after a quick toile (maybe a bit *too* quick), I cut into my silk and stabilizing layer.

Well it all worked out in the end, despite fussing with the side seams and performing an impromptu nip-n-tuck on the back pieces. I stitched in some hand-sewn eyelets, and bound the bottom edge in self-fabric piping. At this point, unadorned, the bodice looked very bridesmaid, which influenced my decision to add sleeves (because I'll avoid them if I can!). Again using Hunisett's instructions, I mounted organza puffs on muslin bases and stitched them in.

The bodice base without sleeves or any boning int he front point. It looks so...modern.
The bodice with the sleeve puffs and the base pieces for the bertha pinned in place. Still no boning in the bodice.
It's amazing the effect this little detail had on de-bridesmaiding the design, but the bodice needed the big finale to truly look period - the bertha.

One invaluable tip I picked up from Hunisett and Janet Arnold both was to cut bias strips and lap them onto a base, to create the pleated look of the bertha. I found this method SO much easier than trying to pleat a piece to shape, and gleefully layered on bias strips in the silk and organza, followed by a super-shreddy strip of ruched silk, and some trickier-than-they-look finishing pieces to cover where the berthabits met on the center front and shoulders.

Layering bias strips of organza and silk. Note to self - change the friggin' thread color next time, because that sh*t's visible!
The nearly-complete bertha pinned into place. My first base wasn't big enough, so I added more organdy and kept layering until getting to the size I wanted
Ginormous bows and bling finished it, and at least on the dress form the thing looked glamorous.

Day of the ball - adding black taffeta bows, big sparkly things, and planning jewelry for the evening.
I wheezed a sigh of relief when the bodice fit my actual body like a glove, and everything stayed put, despite the incredibly low-cut design, and constricting shoulder (can I even call them that?) straps.

Photo by Willie P. 
Photo by Kristen - everything stayed put, thank goodness.
Chatting with a gentleman I met at the dance. I need a bit more oomph in the skirt - elliptical shapes are a bit tricky to support. Photo by Nevada Live Magazine
For hair I used several hair pieces and a wash-out mousse to color my own hair brown, so it would blend with the hairpieces. The tiara could use a better method of sticking to one's head. Photo by Nevada Live Magazine
Photo by Nevada Live Magazine
I made little rosette clips for my Tissots dyed to match the dress, and attached a ribbon temporarily under the arch, to tie them on for dancing - this was a very common addition to evening slippers of this and other periods, though more often they were stitched onto the sides of the shoes.
Tissots with ribbons - if I hadn't run short on black satin ribbon I would have made the ribbons much longer, to loop around the ankle. Photo by Nevada Live Magazine
Most importantly, I felt wonderful in the gown. I felt regal and glamorous and graceful, and I can't wait to wear it again!

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Introducing "Belleclaire" Edwardian Pumps - Pre-Order!


Darlings, meet "Belleclaire," our second Exclusive design chosen by you!

Based on a pair of 1900-1910 satin pumps in Les Arts Decoratifs, these Edwardian stunners will pair wonderfully with any formal attire, and offer glamour and comfort for an evening's events.

The Specifics:

  • Historically accurate for c. 1890s - 1920s
  • Satin upper, heel, and bows with rhinestone button accents
  • Leather lining and soles
  • Two strap closure with functional buttons
  • 3 in / 7.6 cm reproduction French heels


  • Women's US sizes 6 - 11
  • B-width
  • Belleclaire will fit the same as Seabury


Color Choices:



Belleclaires are $260/pair - unlimited orders / limited production - we will only make as many pairs in each color as are ordered. Each pair of exclusives comes in a numbered box. Delivery in 6 -8 weeks.

Exclusives are just that - exclusive. These are not offered as regular stock, and will only be made in very small batches by master craftsmen, using high quality materials. Exclusive designs will not be offered again, and are available by pre-order only. Click here for more information.

Pre-Order
December 11 - December 15

*Belleclaires qualify for coupon codes, gift cards, and EasyPay Layaway at AmericanDuchess.com only.


Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The Historical Costumer's Holiday Book List

I don't know about you, but about 90% of what's on my Christmas list this year is books on historical costuming. We in the community are lucky to have so many excellent quality reference books, so if you're making your own list, or checking someone else's twice, considering adding these wonderful resources:


Fashion: A History from the 18th to the 20th century (Taschen 25th Anniversary)

The Kyoto Costume Institute Book, as it's sometimes called. This is a gorgeous, enormous survey of fashion, with beautiful photographs of full costumes, from one of the most important collections in the world.

I recommend this book for beginners and advanced costumers alike, as it's a constant source of inspiration and great overview of 18th - 20th century fashion.




Seventeenth and Eighteenth-Century Fashion in Detail: The 17th and 18th Centuries

A splendid catalogue from the Victoria and Albert Museum, this book takes an in-depth look at the details of 17th and 18th century clothing, both men's and women's.

Beautiful, high-resolution images reveal cuffs, collars, embroideries, trims, buttons, laces, and so on. A line drawing of each garment reveals the full design, and a useful schematic for the historical costumer.




Nineteenth Century Fashion in Detail

The companion book to the one above, this 19th century catalogue from the Victoria and Albert Museum reveals details of men's and women's clothing from the Regency to La Belle Epoque, with close-up images of collars, cuffs, basques, buttons, and so on.

Detailed line drawings show the full costume, with a description of each, and the accession numbers to assist in finding further information online.


Two more books in this series:
Underwear: Fashion in Detail and Twentieth Century Fashion in Detail (V & A Fashion in Details)

What Clothes Reveal: The Language of Clothing in Colonial and Federal America (Williamsburg Decorative Arts)


The first and largest of the "Williamsburg Books," this one is essential to the serious 18th century costumer, with invaluable information on the dress of men, women, children, and the elderly, along with purpose-made clothing, and that of the working classes as well as aristocracy. This book includes hundreds of color photographs of clothing and accessories from Colonial Williamsburg's collection.

For the beginner, Williamsburg also offers this smaller primer:Eighteenth-Century Clothing at Williamsburg (Williamsburg Decorative Arts Series)

Costume Close-Up: Clothing Construction and Pattern, 1750-1790

Costume-Close-Up is the companion book to What Clothes Reveal, with patterns and instructions for making many of the garments in Williamsburg's collection. This is an invaluable resource for the 18th century costumer, with patterns for men, women, and children, accessories, and with detailed diagrams showing period accurate stitching techniques.



Period Costume for Stage & Screen: Patterns for Women's Dress 1500-1800

A valuable book for the Renaissance, Baroque, and Georgian costumer, Hunnisett offers a wide variety of gridded patterns, along with instructions and advice for making each. The book covers everything from closures to trimmings, as well as the creation of underpinnings.

This is a practical book with good advice for theatrical costuming. I have found many of the tips in this book to be perfectly applicable to historical costuming, helping with ease of wear, and making up.



Period Costume for Stage & Screen: Patterns for Women's Dress, 1800-1909

Another in this series, this book has patterns for Regency through the end of the 19th century, with large and valuable sections on sleeve and bodice designs, the cuts of skirts, construction of corsets, petticoats, and cage crinolines, and how to achieve the correct look for each period.

I've found this book incredibly helpful and complete in creating both day and evening looks for each decade in the 19th century.

Two more books in this series: Period Costume for Stage & Screen: Patterns for Women's Dress, Medieval - 1500 and Period Costume for Stage & Screen: Patterns for Outer Garments : Cloaks, Capes, Stoles and Wadded Mantles

Patterns of Fashion 1: 1660-1860

Recommended for intermediate to advanced costumers, Janet Arnold's famous books offer detailed gridded patterns, drawings, and information from original gowns in the Snowshills Wade costume collection and Victoria and Albert Museum. This book also includes a thorough preface with history and sources, along with an appendix with information on the book, author, and patterns.



Patterns of Fashion 2: Englishwomen's Dresses & Their Construction C. 1860-1940

Second in the series, this book includes gridded patterns, drawings, and history for 1860 - 1940.




Patterns of Fashion 3: The Cut and Construction of Clothes for Men and Women C. 1560-1620

Third in Janet Arnold's series, this book is perhaps the most in-depth, with patterns for both men's and women's dress of the Elizabethan and Jacobean periods, and various countries. Beautiful line drawings and thorough information complement the detailed history, photographs, and reference materials included in the preface.

Goes excellently with this companion book:Patterns of Fashion 4: The Cut and Construction of Linen Shirts, Smocks, Neckwear, Headwear and Accessories for Men and Women C. 1540-1660 (Patterns of Fashion)

Cut of Women's Clothes: 1600-1930

Another for the serious costumer, The Cut of Women's Clothes offers primary and secondary sources for women's clothing from the 17th c. to the 20th c. Non-gridded, scaled patterns are provided for reference or scaling up, with information on each garment.

This is a rare book best acquired through a third-party vendor, but an excellent one to have.




Corsets and Crinolines

This is an excellent, focused book on underpinnings of the 17th through 20th centuries. The book contains primary and secondary sources, as well as non-gridded, scaled patterns for corsets, stays, girdles, cage crinolines, and bustles. It's a wonderful book for the seamstress interested in making her own underpinnings.






Corsets: Historical Patterns & Techniques

A good companion to Corsets and Crinolines, Salen's book focuses specifically on corsets from the 18th century to the early 20th century, with gridded patterns ready to be scaled, showing boning and cording placement for several interesting examples from each period.

This is a great book to use as-is, or as a cross-reference for corset patterns, or your own pattern draft.




Costume in Detail: 1730-1930

In terms of sheer volume, Costume in Detail wins, with hundreds of illustrations of women's dress from the 18th century to the 20th century.

Each page is stuffed with information, showing several views of each garment, with detailed drawings of interiors, seam lines, closures, trims, and so on. Some of the garments in this book are patterned out in Janet Arnold's "Patterns of Fashion" books (above), and can be found in the National Trust website database



Vogue Sewing, Revised and Updated

The Vogue Sewing book is a reference book for modern sewing techniques, both hand and machine. While you won't find period-specific techniques in this book, it does cover multiple methods of finishing everything from hems, collars, cuffs, and buttonholes, to how to work with faux fur, leather, and couture techniques for tailoring. This is a *must have* for beginners and advanced seamstresses alike.





Couture Sewing Techniques, Revised and Updated

Another great book for detailed, hand-finished garments, Couture Sewing offers easy-to-follow tutorials for working bound buttonholes, finishing hems, cuffs, and collars perfectly, tailoring basics, and a number of other techniques to take your garments from home-sewn to stunning. I use this book in conjunction with the Vogue Book to achieve a professional level of finish..






The Tudor Tailor: Reconstructing Sixteenth-Century Dress

This is a great book for anyone recreation Renaissance fashions for either men or women. The gridded patterns are easy to use, with clear instructions on how to scale, slash/spread, and fit them. It's a beautiful book with color photographs and stunning, inspiring examples of garments made with the patterns.

Also in this series:The Queen's Servants: Gentlewomen's Dress at the Accession of Henry VIII (Tudor Tailor Case Studies)





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This is by no means an exhaustive list - there are hundreds of costume and vintage sewing books out there, covering every period you could ask for. These are just a few of my favorites I keep coming back to year after year, and will hopefully be as useful and beloved of you or the historical costumer in your life as well.