Monday, February 25, 2013

Painted Pemberleys

I present to you my submission for HSF Challenge #4 - Embellish: my new American Duchess "Pemberley" shoes, painted in the style of the late 1790s.

American Duchess Pemberley

American Duchess Pemberleys

I guess technically there's not much "sew" in this Historical Sew Fortnightly entry. It still counts, right?

The Challenge: #4 —Embellish

Fabric: none

Pattern: No pattern, but I based my design on historical examples

Year: 1790-1810

Notions: Angelus leather paints, deglazer, and finisher (available from American Duchess or Dharma Trading Company); 5/8" rayon petersham ribbon for binding; 1/4" rayon petersham for covering the seams (available from Britex Fabrics); 30 wt. silk thread for pompoms (also available from Britex Fabrics); shoe clips; antique metal buttons

How historically accurate is it? I would say pretty good. The shoes are painstakingly designed to be as close as possible to originals in appearance, though they are obviously made with modern materials and techniques. My trims were pretty good — the ribbon is rayon instead of silk, but the silk thread and buttons are as accurate as can be. The shoe clip hardware is obviously inaccurate, but was much simpler than trying to sew through the shoes. The style of embellishment was based closely on historical examples, as you will see below.

Hours to complete: around 7

First worn: will be worn Saturday March 2 to the PEERS Jane Austen Ball

Total cost: $75 for the shoes, $20 for the trimming, and $30 for the paints and supplies to a grand total of $125

Here's some more information on the planning and execution:

As soon as I started planning my Regency dress, I knew that I would need appropriate footwear, and where else can one procure such things besides American Duchess? I've had my eye on the Pemberleys for awhile, since they are literally the only available option for an historically accurate early 19th century shoe. I had a hard time getting excited about them, however, until I came across Lauren's excellent tutorial on decorating them. In white, the shoe is rather bland and looks a bit like a 1980s bridal slipper, but with some paint and creativity, I could turn this plain (though elegant) little white shoe into something truly spectacular.

I immediately immersed myself in researching period examples. As lovely as these shoes look in solid colors, I soon discovered that bold stenciled patterns were all the rage in the late 1790s and early 1800s. These intricate patterns were usually executed in black over soft pastels, lending the delicate, flowerlike colors some depth and sophistication. Here are a few period examples that inspired me:

1780-1800 V&A
These are my favorites. When I saw these, I knew that my shoes absolutely must have floppy silk pompom-tassels. The black trim is super chic and makes the bubblegum color surprisingly sophisticated.

I preferred the color palette of these, however, since I tend to wear a lot more greens and blues. You can also see my inspiration for the tiny stripes, though in this case they are actually leather applique instead of paint. 

Here's another variation on the pastel-with-black color scheme, in a slipper that is very close to the Pemberley in shape. 

One last example to show that my stripes are plausible. Again, notice how close the shape is to the Pemberley. 

Initially I wanted to do an allover stenciled motif like the pink and yellow shoes above, maybe small flowers or something geometric. I soon realized, however, that this plan would a) take forever and b) leave a lot of room for error. The period examples I was so enamored with were made from leather that had been painted and stenciled while flat -- trying to replicate the look on all the curved surfaces of an already-made shoe would be treacherous. With encouragement from my husband, whose taste I always trust in such matters, I decided that a simple stripe pattern would be easier, faster, and safer, without sacrificing any style.

Here are some pictures of the process:

The white shoes, stripped of their factory finish and awaiting their first coat of paint.

This picture shows the color saturation after one coat. As Lauren demonstrated in her tutorial, I applied the paint in thin coats, allowing each to dry before applying the next. That first coat looked awfully streaky and splotchy, but don't worry, the additional coats smooth it out!

Here are the shoes with two more coats of blue. See, smooth even color!

After the blue paint dried thoroughly, I used narrow painter's tape from the craft store to mark off my stripes,

then applied the black paint.

While the paint was still wet, I carefully peeled off the tape, which unfortunately let in lots of paint under the edges, and pulled off some spots of the base paint :(

About an hour's worth of retouching made the stripes look sharper.

I next painted the heels and the edges of the soles.

After the paint dried overnight, I applied a clear finisher to seal it in, then bound the edges in black petersham, which also covered the side and back seams. The ribbon was applied with Fabri-Tac.

The tassels were interesting to make. At first, I thought I would make a classic pompom, like you might put on a knitted hat. The period examples that I saw, however, were flatter and more drapey than a true pompom. After some experimentation, I decided on the following method:

I wrapped a goodly bit of 30 wt. silk thread around 3 fingers,

then tied a piece firmly around the middle, leaving a cluster of thread loops,

which I then cut to release the fringe.

I made two bundles for each shoe, stacking them thus,

stitched them to a shoe clip, and added an antique metal button. Voila!

American Duchess Pemberleys

I couldn't be happier with these shoes. They turned out just the way I wanted them. Now I need to hurry up and sew my dress so I have something to wear them with!

Here's an extra tidbit for the challenge: you may have noticed another pair of shoes in the background of some of these pictures. While waiting for coats of paint to dry on my Pemberleys, I was also painting a pair of Astorias that I ordered at the same time. I wanted them in black, but they were sold out in my size. I was worried about painting an ivory shoe such a dark color, so I decided on a soft dove grey instead.

Cute, don't you think? I wore them to work today, and they were very comfortable. All my coworkers at the fabric store loved them!

I have been sewing this week, I promise. I'll post a few pictures in a day or two once my dress is looking more dress-like. I have to hustle if I'm going to have it done by Saturday!!


  1. WOW! WOW WOW! You did such an awesome job! Both the Pemberlies and the Astorias look fantastic, and I absolutely adore your color choice and the pom-pom shoe clips on the Pemberlies. Excellent!!

  2. ZOMG they look amazing! What a difference some paint and trim makes.

  3. Really wonderful job customizing them, they really look true to the period.

  4. Both pairs are just lovely!

  5. So elegant and stylish! They look spot-on to the historical examples.

  6. Thanks for all the positive feedback! The best part is, the whole process was a lot of fun. I haven't painted anything in years, and I had a blast doing it. Also, this was my first experience with American Duchess shoes. The shoes themselves are awesome, and the customer service was great. All in all, I really enjoyed this project from start to finish!