Friday, January 5, 2018

Book Review: The American Duchess Guide to Eighteenth Century Dressmaking

I haven't had the chance to make any of the projects yet, but this book has me very excited to try some 18th century styles.  The projects include four different gowns from the 1740s and 1790s: an English gown, a sacque/robe ala Francaise, an Italian gown, and a round gown.  Each includes the supportive petticoats, pads, and/or panniers required to wear it, as well as accessories: kerchiefs, caps, bags, and aprons.  Corsets and shifts are not included, so you'll need to find those elsewhere (Corsets: Historical Patterns & Technique is probably where I'll start, though I'm not sure I have any post-1600 and pre-1800 shift patterns).  In addition to the garment instructions, there's three pages of historic sewing stitches, a page of mock-up advice, a trouble-shooting guide, references, and a few vendor recommendations.  The projects, however, certainly make up the bulk of the book.

This book stands out from other historic clothing guides for the quality and abundance of its photographs.  The instructions contain detailed, step-by-step, photographs, in addition to text. In fact, with half to three quarters of each page being photographs, the instructions are more 'photo-tutorials'. There are also good modern-language explanations of period hand-sewing techniques.  Personally, I found their explanation of the mantua-maker's stitch about four times more comprehensible than the description from The Workwoman's Guide (also quoted here).

A few images of original garments are included, but the vast majority of the photos in this book are reproduction garments and the methods of constructing them.  If you're looking for original garments to admire, this isn't the book for you, but if you want to make reproduction garments, it absolutely is. And, in that vein, I think this volume would pair nicely with all the originals in What Clothes Reveal, (and I'd love to compare it with Costume Close-Up in the future).

Stars: 5

Accuracy: Fairly High.  Well-cited, using many good primary and secondary sources.  I liked that they described which books/garments/paintings formed the basis for each reproduction gown, but would have liked a bit more detail on some of the accessories.

Level: Intermediate and up. The hand-sewing is well-explained, and there's a handy trouble-shooting guide for fit, but you're draping and hand-sewing garments, which are both skills.  The draping comes with some explanations and sample diagrams, but it's nothing like using a commercial pattern.

Overall Impression: The Dressmaker's Guide for the 18th century, but with more pictures.  The authors have done their research, and packaged it up neatly for your use.  The gowns are based on diagrams of original garments in The Cut of Women's Clothes and Patterns of Fashion, so you may find this an interesting/useful companion to those volumes (or those books useful for cutting out these gowns).

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