Monday, November 30, 2015

A Regency Winter's Tale

And so begins in earnest the Holiday season. For me this is a time of hard work rewarded with a peaceful Christmas day with my family, enjoying a little downtime and a sense of accomplishment looking back at the year.

Maggie is wearing a green silk taffeta spencer and casquette hat, paired with an antique red wool shawl, over a white cotton gown paired with "Hartfield" Regency Boots in brown.
Maggie is wearing a green silk taffeta spencer and casquette hat, paired with an antique red wool shawl, over a white cotton gown paired with "Hartfield" Regency Boots in brown.
Some of this hard work is in a great amount of photography that always needs doing before Thanksgiving. Two weeks ago, I was lucky to have a visit from my best friend Maggie, of Undressing the Historical Lady, and I never miss an opportunity to photograph her. Some of my best work as a photographer has been with Maggie - her Regency wedding, our shoot at Bacon's Castle in Virginia, and this most recent set here in my hometown of Reno, Nevada.

Maggie Roberts of Undressing the Historical Lady wearing Regency attire
The pastel green spencer and bright red shawl gave a warm and festive feel among the cool whites and greys of the natural setting
Maggie is not only an incredibly skilled historical costumer and graceful model, she's also a helluva good sport. There was quite a snowstorm looming on the day we did these photos. We raced around the local park nearly in the dark, Maggie climbing into bushes and hopping over mud puddles, never once complaining about the cold and wet (I was, though - it was freezing!)

Maggie of "Undressing the Historical Lady" in Regency attire of her own make, an antique shawl, and Hartfield Regency Boots by American Duchess
Maggie of "Undressing the Historical Lady" in Regency attire of her own make, an antique shawl, and Hartfield Regency Boots by American Duchess
We shot for about 20 minutes, and the snow began to come down heavily right as we leapt back into the car. Maggie's reward was Starbucks and a new pair of Hartfield Regency Boots. My reward was getting to work through the gorgeous photos we made together, and share them with you.


Saturday, November 28, 2015

#ShopSmall With These Great Indie Historical Companies Today


In the madness that is Black Friday and Cyber Monday, it can be quite difficult for us little gals to stand out. So today, Small Business Saturday, have a gander at the specials on offer from the dedicated niche companies, many bringing you high quality, rare, and beautiful historical items.

The following companies are all woman-owned micro-businesses run by just one or two people, most of them some of your favorite historical and vintage costume bloggers. Let's keep these hard-working women in business! #ShopSmall Today with:




Friday, November 27, 2015

American Duchess & Royal Vintage Winter Sales!

Here's the official announcement:


All sorts of things are on sale:



We're also offering free goodies on just about everything else. All shoes with a green tag in the corner have free options on them, such as 18th century shoe buckles for all latchet shoes, and silk stockings for all, well, all. If it has a green tag, you're getting free stuff.

This means free stuff is available in the listing - click on it!
And in addition to all that, we're doing free domestic shipping all weekend long.

Shop Vigorously at

AND

Because I'm insane and run two footwear companies, there's also a sale going on over at Royal Vintage Shoes:

Royal Vintage Shoes Winter Sale November 27 - 30 2015

We have lots of styles on sale in each time period, up to 30% off, and free domestic shipping on all orders through Monday.

Check out

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American Duchess and Royal Vintage Shoes are micro-companies run by two people out of a home in Reno, Nevada. Don't forget us this weekend as you're thinking of holiday purchases. We appreciate your business and support!

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 RoyalVintageShoes.com
"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:

via
via

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

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

via
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.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Retro-cycling Modern Sweaters to Make Vintage Sweaters

Rocket Originals UK - reproduction patterned sweater in claret.
I'm sweater obsessed at the moment. It might be that it's November and  snowing outside (yay!), but it's also because ready-made vintage style knits are hard to find and/or hard to afford.

There are some beautiful reproduction sweaters out there, don't get me wrong, but I'm just going to be honest and say I can't afford them. I splurged on a Rocket Originals sweater from the UK, and after the exchange rate + international shipping, it worked out to be one of the most expensive pieces of clothing I own.  I love it, but I can't do that again, no matter how badly I want an Emmy Designs knit top (or four).

Original 1950s Featherknit nylon sweater from Two Old Beans on Etsy
Other ways to acquire vintage knits:

  • Knit them myself (haha ha hahahahaha)
  • Buy original vintage (also hard to find, can be expensive, might be uncomfortable to wear, hard to care for, or in a fragile state)
  • Sew my own (working on that)
  • Retro-cycle modern sweaters

That last one - retro-cycling modern sweaters - is what I'm sharing with you today.

A trip to the thrift store will usually turn up a gazillion sweaters - men's and women's - that can be cut up to re-shape into a vintage style. Sweaters that are too big for you offer options for refashioning sleeves to create puffed shoulders, different necklines, etc. so don't pass those by!

Modern H&M sweater, un-altered.
My example today admittedly didn't come from a thrift shop, but H&M (I hit the thrift shop first, but didn't find what I was looking for - a tasteful, classic reindeer sweater), which was a surprise. It was about $35, which made me mildly nervous to slice into it (and really it was quite cute as a modern, long-length sweater), but the alterations were straightforward:

1. Shorten the length to at-waist
2. Taper the sides.

Rocket Originals repro sweater over the modern H&M sweater - both have similar stretchiness and measurements at the shoulders and bust
I used my Rocket Originals repro sweater as a guide, laying it atop the reindeer sweater to compare length and width. Both sweaters had about the same stretchiness (very important!)

I tapered the sides first, stitching along the lines I marked from the other sweater, making sure not to stretch the material as it went through the machine. I followed up with a second, wider zig-zag in the seam allowance, close to the seam stitching, then cut off the excess.

Turning up the band - I stitched along the line between the solid and patterned portion, then cut all that extra seam allowance off.
The second step was to cut off the ribbed band at the bottom, leaving the very wide seam allowance, flip it up to position it at the waist, and stitch. Again I ran a second, wider zig-zag right next to the seam line, then cut off the excess last.

The shortened sweater complete.
And that was it! It's a very very easy alteration to make, and leaves you with a great vintage-length sweater to wear with at-waist trousers and skirts.

The shortened sweater worn with at-waist trousers.
Tips & Tricks:

  • Stitch with wooly nylon thread + ball point needle + narrow zig zag stitch. This is the magic knits-without-a-serger combo for your regular machine.
  • Let the machine feed the fabric through -don't pull it!
  • Leave as wide a seam allowance as possible. Stitch first, trim seam allowances second. Especially on a looser knit, this will prevent a rippled seam.
  • Vintage sweaters often have quite fitted ribbed bands at the waist, then a blousier top. You can achieve this by reducing the band at the side seams, then gathering the fullness of the rest of the sweater onto the band, either with a gathering stitch (recommended for quite a lot of gathering), or stretch-gathering onto the band as you sew (ribbed band on the bottom stays un-stretched; fullness on the top, stretch and sewn down as you go)
  • When scouring the thrift store for sweaters to cut down, consider the scale of the motif. Example: A man's large reindeer sweater may not work for retro-cycling into a ladies' medium because you may cut off half the reindeer reducing the width across the chest.
  • Also consider necklines when hunting much larger sweaters to cut down.

As the weather gets colder and my vintage sweater adventures continue, I'll be sure to share them with you, from more advanced sweater refashions, to sewing your own with pre-knitted yardage. Stay tuned!