Sunday, November 12, 2017

From the 2NHG Library: "The American Duchess Guide to 18th Century Dressmaking"

Sunday, November 12, 2017
Susan reporting,

With the holidays approaching, books are always on the top of the 2NHG lists for both giving and receiving. Here's one that will appeal to many of our readers who love historic clothing, the 18th century, and recreating period clothing for re-enacting and interpreting. It would also be welcomed by anyone who enjoys reading about the Georgian era, and wonders exactly how stays and hoops and pockets all fit together on a woman's body.

The book is The American Duchess Guide to 18th Century Dressmaking: How to Hand Sew Georgian Gowns and Wear Them with Style by Lauren Stowell and Abby Cox (Page Street Publishing) and it's a wonderful introduction to recreating and wearing 18thc fashions, exactly as that over-long title says. For those of you unfamiliar with the American Duchess brand: it's a company founded by co-author Lauren Stowell and devoted to creating replicas of historic footwear for modern feet. Their products have appeared in film, television, and on Broadway (from Outlander to Hamilton), and walked everywhere from red carpets to battlefield re-enactments. This is the first American Duchess book, and perfectly designed to serve the market that wears their shoes.

Hundreds of color photographs cover not only every step of cutting, sewing, and construction representative women's garments, but also demonstrate how to wear and style the clothes accurately. Instructions are included for undergarments and accessories, too. Although the book assumes the reader may possess zero background in 18thc costuming, there is also plenty here to interest those with more experience, with glossaries of fashion terms, explanations of 18thc sewing and fabric, and troubleshooting advice.

I'm guessing that much of the expertise in this book comes from co-author Abby Cox, who earned a M.Litt in Decorative Arts and Design History from the University of Glasgow. Abby's name (and face) will be familiar to long-time readers of this blog from her years as an apprentice mantua-maker at Colonial Williamsburg, where she cheerfully both shared her knowledge and posed for my camera for numerous blog posts. As a member of CW's historic trades program, Abby learned 18thc sewing techniques from Mistress of the Trade Janea Whitacre, and that training and practice shows in every page of this book. While The American Duchess Guide isn't a Colonial Williamsburg publication, it does reflect the high standards set by Janea and the other mantua-makers of the Margaret Hunter Shop. Even the most accuracy-focused readers and sewers will be pleased by the detailed instructions and photographs. If you're like me, you'll soon be eager to try your hand at a gracefully elegant Italian Gown in flowered chintz.

All in all, an informative and entertaining look at a particularly lovely period of women's dress (I know, I'm biased.) You can purchase it here on Amazon.

Full disclosure: I received a pre-publication copy of this book for review. 


Karen said...

Is it bad that I fan-girl these wonderful women more than "celebrities"? To me, these women are celebrities. I would lose all my cool if met them.

Pica Maloria said...

I'm lucky enough to know them, Karen, and when I first met Lauren (and later Abby) I fan girl squee'd! Very down to earth, lovely people.

Anonymous said...

I'm glad you mentioned Janea Whitacre, the head mantuamaker at Colonial Williamsburg. She taught Abby & Lauren everything they know. In a better world Janea's name would be on the cover of this book, too.

Sarah Walsh said...

To Anonymous: I can see why you weren't willing to put your name on your post, because that's an extremely snipish and nasty thing to say. I have never met Abby and Lauren, but my interactions with them via Facebook have always been extremely positive, and I've heard nothing but great things about both of them. They are very humble and always qualify everything with the caveat that they are constantly learning and open to constructive criticism and broadening their knowledge base. What is known about this era of costuming is not set in stone, and no one person has all the answers, and just like all information, it is passed from teacher to student, and now they get to be the teachers and impart what they know (and they will be the first to admit that what they know is limited and ever growing). Give them their moment to shine without stealing their joy.

Julie R. said...

To Sarah: I didn’t do the anonymous post, but I sure do agree with her. AND I will use my name! You know them through Facebook. Facebook can hide true faces. In the academic world, you don’t use someone elses research for personal monetary gain... and that is what this is. Not only is this a number of other peoples research over the course of 30 years, but Abby wasted 3 years of an apprenticeship that could have been filled by a more dedicated researcher who would have finished and stayed with the program. Lauren really has no claim on the research in the book. I’ve taken workshops that included the same information that the book supplies.... which were not given by Abby, but rather Janea. Shame on them for “stealing the joy “ meant for someone else. Vastly disappointed in people’s morals.

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