It's a big day in the costuming world! The highly anticipated new costuming book, The American Duchess Guide to 18th Century Dressmaking, is out today from Page Street Publishing. You can buy it from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, etc, or directly from American Duchess (where you can even get signed copies, and/or buy shoes AT THE SAME TIME, yesss).
Abby and Lauren shared some secret sneak peeks with me earlier this year, and I have been so excited for this addition to the costumers' library ever since. I even accidentally pre-ordered TWO copies in my excitement, haha!
This book really does fill the gap between academic research and hands-on application for womenswear in the 18th century. I can't be the only one who has become frustrated while tracking down sources and techniques, and bewildered by the conflicting information in Facebook groups, message boards, 50 year old books, and newer papers. This book clarifies so much about dressmaking in this period. It is grounded in solid academic research, backed up by Abby's time at Colonial Williamsburg and 18th Century studies in Europe. The book is PACKED with information, in an accessible, easily referenced way.
The book strikes a nice balance between practical instruction and informational writing. It features four distinct gown styles from different parts of the 18th century, and sets each within their historical context. Step by step instructions guide the reader through the making and fitting of each gown, as well as skirt underpinnings, petticoats, and accessories. Finally, step by step dressing instructions show just how to wear each style of gown.
The first chapter illustrates every stitch needed to complete historical garments. The final pages--which illustrate fitting issues and solutions--will be a godsend to any costumer looking for a perfect fit.
I especially like that each chapter gets into the accessories of the period, the "millinery" (which is not just hats). As someone who is accessory-challenged, it's so nice to have patterns and step by step instructions for these easily overlooked pieces--caps, neckerchiefs, sleeve ruffles, sashes, etc.
I'm a machine stitcher at heart; my theatre training means I tend to look for machine shortcuts when possible. But, I appreciate that this book is 100% focused on accurate hand-stitching. I enjoy the idea of slowing down and making pieces in a historically accurate way from the inside out. I'm looking forward to making up several of the accessories in this book.
I learned quite a few things on just my first page-through! Why aren't apron tops straight? What's the "3rd pleat?" What DO you call that stitch? Now I know.
Also, this book is GORGEOUS, with inspiring photos and lovely illustrations. That Lauren and Abby completed all of the photography, sewing, illustrations, AND writing is a testament to their impressive creative skillsets. Renaissance women, unite!
My only critique would be that I kind of wish the book was *bigger,* not page-count wise but overall dimensions, so that some of the instruction photos could be larger. I'm sure that was a publisher limitation. There is a LOT of information packed onto each page. That being said, the 8"X9" size fits nicely into bags, suitcases, etc, and is a reasonable weight to carry around, which is important for a book that is meant to be used.
At $16-ish, this book is an outrageously good value, especially compared to other costume reference books. I wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone who is interested in the practical making of 18th century womenswear.
*I was provided a complimentary book by the publisher. My opinions and views are my own.*