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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

18th century silk slippers to die for!

If you're in the market for ladies 18th century silk shoes with a dashing Louis heel you're in luck!

Head on over to the American Duchess blog and check out the American Duchess "Georgiana" style which will be available for pre-order on 1 April - no, it's not an April Fool's Day joke.   And you get a nifty discount for pre-ordering!

They can be ordered natural white or custom dyed or you can get them dyed by your local shoe shop. And there is an assortment of gorgeous shoe buckles and shoe clips!

I can't wait. I so want those shoes!  So spread the word!

American Duchess has to pre-sell a minimum 100 pairs of shoes in order to run the style.  If there aren't enough orders, everyone who has ordered will unfortunately be refunded 100% and there will be no pretty silk shoes.  

So tell your costume mad friends and let's order up a bunch! Visit for full details!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Quasi 18th century gown - the material

Yes well, haven't done too much more but thought I would show you the material I'm using.  As mentioned previously I'm recycling some old drapes. Well it was actually one long drape that wandered up and down over one window then did a large swoop and then up and down over another window. It was actually cotton quilting material I really liked and bought on special years ago.
Being on special I went crazy and bought about ten metres.  And it's come in handy as something to practice on while getting back into sewing actual clothes as opposed to crafty things.

In praise of Olive Matthews (1887-1979)

I've been reading "Understanding Fashion History" by Valerie Cumming which is not about the many and varied styles of clothing throughout history but how collections are formed and used and how that history is taught in our colleges and universities.
Collecting, preserving and storing historical items is an expensive and complex business and vies for budget allocations against not only historical artworks and furniture but also more modern collections. It must be a nightmare jugging what museums and galleries should keep and what they cannot reasonably maintain.  And how do these collections begin anyway?  Quite often it begins with a significant donation of objects.
So who was Olive Matthews and how does this relate to her?
Well Olive was an only child brought up by a strict father in London (her mother died when she was two years old).  
Her early interest in costume seems to have been sparked by some family items including a printed handkerchief c1774 featuring playwrights and actors that belonged to her ancestress Susanna Pearce and embroidered with Susanna's name. 
Fascinated by the 18th century (how could I not love her) Olive wanted to collect 18th century furniture but realising her father would not approve determined instead to collect clothing and items which could "easily be hidden in cupboards and boxes". 
Over a 40 year period Olive would collect more than 4000 items mostly from the period c1740 to c1840, finding things at markets and occasionally through dealers. The collection includes clothing and textiles, accessories, needlework tools (yum), toys and some furniture. 
Not wanting to see her collection split up and realising that large museums like the V&A would not accept it in its entirety, Olive with the help of a friend, set up a trust which administers the collection which is displayed at the Chertsey Museum in Surrey, UK to this day.
I have so much admiration for Olive.  She could easily have been thwarted in her ambition to collect items from the 18th century but she wasn't.  She could have just enjoyed those items throughout her life and left their ultimate disposal to someone after her death but she didn't.  She safeguarded it for the future.  For people like you and me. So we could enjoy it, study it, appreciate the construction and learn from it.
Bless you Olive. One day I will get to Chertsey Museum and see your wonderful collection.
You can check out the Chertsey Museum website at

Friday, March 11, 2011

Book review: Queen of Fashion: What Marie Antoinette Wore to the Revolution

I know this book by Caroline Weber came out five years ago and you have all probably already read it. I'm playing catch up with my reading.
I'm seriously impressed with this book.  I learnt so much more about Marie Antoinette herself and the context in which she lived. 
This is no light weight picture book. In fact there are remarkably few pictures but they all contribute to understanding how Marie Antoinette used dress to define her role, to escape, to challenge perceptions and how that in turn contributed to the tragedy that overtook her.
This books treats Marie Antoinette with a seriousness that is a revelation. I'm glad I ordered it, it's certainly worth the asking price.
Don't you just love this equestrian portrait of her in trousers by Louis Auguste Brun de Versoix.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Quasi 18th century gown

One day I will have the 18th century ensemble I dream of.  Not only will I have a hedgehog wig and American Duchess satin slippers, I will also have appropriate stays and a sacque. Good things are worth waiting for but it all takes time.

So while I am waiting for my stays, being somewhat impatient to play, I decided to make a quasi 18th century gown I can wear with modern undergarments. 

Yes, yes, this will no doubt cause shudders to many of you who are involved with re-enacting but sometimes half a loaf will do - especially since I don't know of anyone else in my area who is obsessed with the 18th century.  And realistically, the climate here in my part of Australia is not terribly conducive to getting dressed up in anything involving sleeves let alone stays.

I am using Simplicity pattern 3723 as a basis but being me, I decided I wanted the look of a Robe a la Francaise sans sacque back.

This is not only foolhardy, it's actually hysterical since I haven't sewn a garment involving a pattern since last millenia when 'one' was a lot slimmer.  And while I prefer handsewing, I have pulled the machine out for this one.  But wait it gets worse. Being an inveterate recycler, the material I am using is from some old drapes.

After much altering, pinning and tacking, unpicking and tacking, more unpicking and tacking and some slightly salty language I have managed to put the main pieces together and they seem to fit me.  I have a separate skirt to go underneath and have to work out how I am going to approximate the stomacher. 

I am not sure the finished article will ever feature here, but it's certainly an adventure.  Already I can see the skirt needs more volume so I am am tossing up whether to add another piece in at the back.  Ah the joys of a 'great idea'!