This is a photo diary of my costuming "travels"; where I've learned and struggled to make historical costumes for myself. They're not always pretty, but always fun. And I want to share with others what I learn along the way. **You can have my posts delivered to your email by signing up at the lower part of the right column.**

About Me

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My name is Val. I'm a Past President & member of the San Diego Costume Guild, and Costumer's Guild West in Los Angeles. I make my own historical costumes but don't sell any unless I get tired of it.The eras I've made so far are 1770 up to 1918. My favorite is the 1880s bustle.


Sunday, October 4, 2015


About 6 months ago my hairdresser, who knows about my costuming and some of the fashion shows I’ve done, asked if I’d be interested in putting on a show for her church’s annual fund raiser tea in Bonita. It would be another small one, 10-12 people for a half hour, which is the size I like to do. So I told her I’d love to.
Since this was a new location I knew I could use the same narrative I’ve used before, “Fashions through Time: 1810-1910”, and just update it with new dress descriptions. I spent the next couple months looking at dresses some of my friends had made or were wearing, and contacted them and asked if they’d like to join me. I filled most of the spots but still had two left and I waited until after the last fashion show at the Gaslight Gathering convention to “shop” there. I ended up seeing one gorgeous 1890s dress one of my models was wearing and asked her to wear that instead of her 1914 dress. So my hunt changed to different time periods to fill the now vacant ones. I held off committing myself to any decade since I have quite a few of my own to choose from, and once most of the others are filled, I can put myself in.

I visited the church hall where the fashion show and tea would be held about a month before the date. It was huge. I found out this is a major annual fund raiser for them, and outside the building there was going to be a craft sale, and after our show, ballet dancers would be performing on stage too. And there’s a pianist playing during the tea. Classy!

I took lots of photos of the area, so I could share with my models to be familiar with it, and did a diagram so I could work out our floor plan later. The “stage” is very plain but large, with just a large crucifix on the center wall. So I needed to think of what to add to the ambiance. I settled on using two dress forms again like my first show where we could display some underpinnings.

Finally got my line-up filled in, with Nancy again as my narrator and as a model, although I really wanted to fit a mourning/black dress in there. During my presentations I include some history on the fashions, one of them being that black dresses were not always mourning. But since I had to fill in the 1900-1910 myself, I wore my 1905 Pink Stripe Floral with S-bend corset to explain why those didn’t bend the ladies over. My narrative from the show tells about the changing styles of each decade and then a dress description to illustrate them. So there you have my “historical fashion show”.



 The day before the show I returned to the church to put up the display clothing and got to watch the ladies of the church decorating each table in individual themes. All 200 of the tickets for the tea had sold. I think this is the largest show audience I’ve done, although I’ve done two in one day with a larger attendance combined.

We all arrived early to have a lunch served to us in our dressing room and then took our time getting dressed, and waited for a bit. I was still trying to decide whether to have the ladies walk out and step up on the stage or walk up the side ramp and come up onto the center. In the end, coming out center stage proved a better choice. So here we are getting ready. The first two photos are mine taken with my cell phone (AGAIN forgot my camera) and the others by Gina.

I brought two of my antique parasols to be used in the show, and April was able to use the small 1850s cream one with her dress, and I carried my lace covered one.

Photos backstage by Gina.

I was almost the last one getting dressed as I was running back and forth making sure the microphone was found and placed on stage, finding and letting the church coordinator know we were there so our lunch could be brought back (crab salad on croissants & potato or macaroni salad). I hadn’t worn my 1905 dress and S-bend corset for about two years and I had to have help getting laced in and everything buttoned up. This is one outfit I absolutely can’t get into myself, and strangely enough, it was also the easiest dress I've ever made. I also couldn’t find my hat at home I wear with it, and was really worried it had been lost after last wearing it in the Port Townsend fashion show. So I wore another straw hat I had. Good news though- the hat showed up later that day but too late to wear. That’s another tale.
So it was about time to go on. We lined up outside the door where we would walk out one at a time and go up on stage. Then Russell, our narrator Nancy’s husband, who is our gentleman escort/butler, suggested he walk each of us out to the stage, which I agreed would give us a nice look of elegance. This also proved to be a great idea because he was able to take some photos of us using Gina’s camera while we were up there.
And the show was on. As each model finished, they stepped to the back of the stage. Again, photos here were provided by Gina.
Both Birda and Jody looked like sapphire and emerald jewels in their Regency dresses as they began the show but sadly we have no photos them onstage yet. Gina really brought in the Fall colors with her 1830s dress. April countered that in her Spring time 1850s dress, and displayed the antique parasol I loaned her. Nancy was again showing off her 1860s undies and we heard the audience laughing. Cindy was recovering from a bad cold but soldiered on and looked lovely in her pink & grey plaid 1870s. This was Chanel’s first time in a fashion show, wearing her pink & cream bustle gown, and apparently she hammed it up as the audience was laughing again. Jo’s 1892 avocado green evening dress added an elegance to the show, and got a lot of close looks later when we walked around the tables. I ended the show in my pink floral stripe, and demonstrated how the S-bend corset and underpinnings gave me the fluff of a pigeon breast and rump. I heard a few oohs when I part-way opened up my silk lined lace parasol. The silk is shattering so I hope to have that replaced someday.

When we finished, we all stepped forward to the front of the stage for a group view. (I hope some of the many photographers I saw will share any of their photos with us.) Then we stepped off the stage and walked among the tables for the audience to have a closer look. I had a lot of them asking how the dresses were kept clean, especially with the hems that dragged behind us. And yes, I did get my skirt stomped on at one point, and the “ripping” I thought I heard was actually the snaps popping open on my back placket. I stood there frozen until it was confirmed no rips. Whew! 
If I get any group photos sent to me from onstage, I'll update my blog with them. 


Wednesday, September 9, 2015


I feel so laid back and relaxed being able to work on a dress that won’t need to be worn until November. Each day I can work on it a little bit and if I make more work for myself than is necessary, that’s my problem. Because I am and I have. I’ve turned a fairly simple pattern into something complicated. But I have time.
In November I’ve planned a picnic for our costume guild, “A Picnic in Tissot’s Garden” in Balboa Park. My vision was in a garden with blooming roses, looking like a painting, with everyone dressed in summer pastels. You actually can do that in November in Southern California. My first choice of location turned out not to be available, unless we paid an exorbitant fee to rent it. That’s no fun. So my second choice is our lovely Balboa Park near the botanical garden and lily pond. There’s a lovely grassy area just off to the side of the Botanical Building that’s perfect for a picnic and we’re slightly out of the public eye. Until that is when we parade around the pond. And we will.
My vision of my dress would be white, frothy, and ruffly. It was easy finding the fabric, a white cotton voile with light green Swiss dots that I spotted at Roberts Fabrics in the LA Garment District for $3 a yard.
I first played around with putting a couple patterns together to create my vision. After I saw a couple dresses my friends had made using an Ageless Pattern I decided this bodice pattern would be less work and matched my vision. Ageless Patterns # 1462, an 1870 jacket, from  Patterns of Time  
I’ve never made anything from this company but after hearing my friends say it was pretty easy, I was willing to try it. Of course this is a reprint from an antique pattern, which means NO DIRECTIONS. You do get some directions that say sew the three pattern pieces together. Yeah, THREE pattern pieces-front, back, sleeves. And it says to sew revers (rows of tucks) along the neckline. You get to figure out how to bind the edges of the bodice (I did self-fabric facings). You don’t have to finely finish any edges either because it will be covered up with rows of lace or self-fabric ruffles.
The pattern size on this is up to you to figure out. But since my two friends who made this pattern are close to my size, I figured I could work with it. It’s loose fitting and is meant to be pulled in tight with a belt. No boning either. I measured across the pattern pieces for the waist and bust size, and added 2” to the side seams for my 37” waist/ 42” bust. Then I made a muslin to try it on. It was quite loose with a lot of flare over the hips.  The armholes were a different animal. The armhole on the pattern looked REALLY narrow. And it had a weird point coming up on it. After enlarging the pattern, I cut away some of the armhole to fit myself and sewed it. And that weird point just hung there. I have no idea where it was supposed to go, and it got cut off. My suggestion is sew it and then trim as needed for yourself.

So the muslin fit ok, and I cut out the fabric and sewed it all together after flat-lining it with a plain white cotton since it was pretty sheer. It’s still really loose, and makes me think I almost could have gotten away with not enlarging it as much as I did. It doesn’t say how the front closes but my friends said they used hooks & eyes. Mine may cross over and hook closed because it’s too loose to close it straight down the front like the pictures show. But we’re going for loose here so that’s ok. As you can see, my bodice is all nicely finished.
The revers, or tucks, are where I ran into problems. The pattern gave no dimensions for the revers; just showed a line that you fit the revers into and then lay rows of ruffles along the edge to finish them. It did suggest lace ruffles of 2 ½” wide. Seemed easy enough. I cut strips of 2” wide fabric and folded them in half. Then I sewed each strip down on top of the next fitting them into the marked lines, starting at the V-neckline edge with a tiny bit of overlap, and then moving across the lines marked on the pattern. 

This is where I realized the ends are unfinished where I started them at my shoulder seams. It occurred to me it might have been better to sew them on BEFORE I sewed the shoulder seams and facings on. Oh well! I wasn’t going to rip all that out again. So I was just going to make sure my ruffled lace would cover it up. But then the unfinished outer edges of the tucks started to bother me, and I made more work for myself than necessary and boxed them in with narrow bands of fabric. Did I really think anyone was going to see those? Maybe.
And then came the closer look at the line drawing of the back of the bodice, and it started to go downhill from there. The revers apparently are supposed to go all around the back of the neck too. Oops. So my famous fudging comes into play. I just raised the line of the ruffled lace up to the back of the neck.
The lace was topstitched down onto the edges of the revers, and there you have it. All that extra work and no one can even see it.  Then the second row of ruffles really finished it nicely. 

I added the sleeves, which still need their ruffles in this photo, and more lace along the bottom of the bodice.
My skirt is made using Truly Victorian’s #208, View B. I haven’t bustled up the back of it yet, and am trying to decide if I need to make a lining or just stick with some white petticoats.  

Today I cut out the apron from the Skirt B pattern piece and finished with a row of the lace. In the pattern it has you sew it into the side seams but I like my apron separate so I sewed a narrow waistband around it that ties in the back. I’ve pinned a couple pleats on the side in this photo and decided after seeing it that it’s going to get one more near the bottom.  My green belt is made of some silk taffeta remnants I have, along with the bow at the neckline. Right now it just has a buckle brooch on it to fake a buckle, and ties in the back with a larger bow. I’m looking for a small round buckle to put there. The sleeves still need a tuck in them to pull them up and add bows to them too.
I still need to do the bustling in the back and thought about buying, finally, the appropriate bustle cage for this time period, since I’ve been trying to get by with an 1880s bustle. This bustle should have a half hoop on the bottom of front skirt to hold it out properly so I don’t get that “caved-in” look that I’ve been dealing with. I didn’t want to make one but this is the pattern for it, Truly Victorian #108, the Grand Bustle. I checked with Shelley Peters to see if she had any for sale but she didn’t at this time. When I asked if I could do a temporary one using my current bustle and put a channel along the bottom of it with Petersham ribbon and hoop bone, she said it would work. So that’s the plan.
My hat for this is still in the planning stages. I have a few ideas, using this hat style on the blue dress, with some of the green taffeta, and play with some trims I pulled from the stash. If I can find this green feather, which I apparently have according to this photo, it might be added to it also.

Chloe has been spending most of her days sleeping and not harassing me while I’ve been sewing but she’s enjoying the near 100d the rest of us are melting from. I heard the news mention tonight that all of Southern California’s lawns now have a tan. In other words, brown.