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. most of the time. And I want to share with others what I learn along the way. **You can find me on Facebook, or have my posts delivered to your email by signing up at the lower part of the right column.**

About Me

My photo
HI, my name is Val. I'm a member of Costumer's Guild West in Los Angeles, Dean Emeritus of 2018 Costume College; member & Past President of the San Diego Costume Guild, member of Orange County Costume Guild, a representative of the San Diego History Center, & an honorary member of SITU (Someplace in Time, Unlimited) in Seattle. This year I am the Dean of Costume College 2018. I make my own historical costumes but don't sell any unless I get tired of one.The eras I've made so far are 1770 up to 1918. My favorite is the 1880s bustle.


Wednesday, December 12, 2018


For many of us during the holidays, our sewing turns to something new to wear for any holiday events we want to go to. This year mine is mostly going to Xmas teas. I could have just rested on my laurels and worn my previously made Red & Black Checked bustle dress. But Southern Californians know that just because it’s December, that doesn’t mean our weather will be cold enough to wear your warmer costumes. We can go from 80d to 63d the next day, then right back to 85d. It’s a crap-shoot. But I dream someday of wearing a wool dress with fur trim. My red & black dress is silk taffeta, and although not a really hot material, I am usually quite warm in it. Something new and in cotton was needed.
I wanted something easy and basically quick (for me) to make, and that would be the Truly Victorian polonaise #410 and skirt #221, a two-piece outfit. (LOL! In retrospect, even this took me a month to make. But that’s how I sew.)

I had bought some red plaid cotton homespun fabric from my friend, Kristen, not too long ago and after seeing this one plaid dress made by The Victorian Dressmaker, I aspired to that. I wanted to try doing something fancy to the skirt hem with pleats and stuff, and try somehow to make it not looking like everyone else’s version of this pattern. Sadly, in the end, I didn’t have enough fabric to add anything fancy to the hem. I’m still considering adding a couple rows of velvet ribbon for it’s second wearing.

As mentioned, the pattern goes together really fast, especially if you’ve made it 4 or 5 times. I did have a few delays when a little someone needed attention. 

I always look forward to planning and adding trims to my dresses. About a year ago I bought a bag of pre-pleated black grosgrain trim that was held together with strips of masking tape. Now was a good time to save myself some labor and use this for trimming my dress. And I had lots of it. I had to sew the length of it to keep it together since the masking tape couldn’t hold it well enough while trying to attach it. I ran it around the neckline, on the edges of my sleeve cuffs, and around the entire bottom of the polonaise. 

It was still a bit plain so I dug out some 1” wide black velvet ribbon to add to it with a bit of the fabric showing between it and the pleating. I had to hand-tack the velvet ribbon on as it was too thick to pin it in place before I machine-sewed it on. And I decided it needed large buttons to add something eye-catching, and covered them with black silk taffeta. I’m not a fan of the metal covered-button kits but this time I gave it a try and they actually are staying in one piece.  

As I’d mentioned, I had hoped to add a 4” wide box-pleated trim to the bottom of my skirt, but I only had about a 12” rectangle left over. So, I just hemmed it so I could wear it and would come up with something for it later. In the past I had tied the side fronts to pull them towards the back like the pattern has but to be different I let them hang down this time.

I bought some vintage 3” wide taffeta ribbon from my friend Kristen for the bow in back. It looked a little plain by itself, and I played with two lengths of a tail to add. I decided on the short tail.  No, Chloe, not your tail.

After I wore this for the first Xmas tea I went to, I had time to add a row of black velvet ribbon to the hem. I only had enough for one row and didn’t want to buy more and have to wait for that too. So, I’m happy with the outcome. 
Next up was my accessories. I saw a couple photos where a small corsage was added to the front of the neck, and another where she had a lace collar laying around it. I combined these two ideas using a vintage lace collar I had, and a Xmas pic I bought just for my holiday dress. It was really the only thing that said “Xmas”, unless you count the color red. I want this dress to be wearable for other times of the year, and that’s why the cotton fabric works better for me. 
For my bonnet, instead of making a brand-new hat, I pulled out a squished antique straw hat I’d found at the bottom of a box in an antique store for $12 and tried to fluff it up a bit. As I was doing that, part of the straw braid on the back edge turned basically to dust. I ended up removing that, and to cover the inside of the shattered silk lining, I tacked in a new lining of silk taffeta and covered that bottom section where I had removed the braid. I also removed the poor flowers that were on the bonnet but saved it for my stash. Unless it’s falling apart, it might be used again in the future. 

Again, to add a touch of Xmas, I bought some little Xmas pics with green leaves and white berries. Later after I put the bonnet on, I realized I was walking around with mistletoe constantly above my head. 
So, finally at the CGW Xmas Tea I was able to get a couple photos taken of me, and I received two of them this morning from our photographer, Andy, of the Shotwell Collection.

Now seeing the back of my dress in this photo, it looks like one of my ties under the bustle came loose, so at least I can fix that, or maybe not, before wearing it again tomorrow to yet another Xmas tea with the Ladies of the Traveling Tea Society.

And here ends my blogs of 2018, and now I can send it all to and have it printed into my annual book from each year.
                                         Happy Holidays to everyone!  ~Val~

Thursday, October 11, 2018

There has been some sewing: 1873 Purple Voile Bustle

I took a break from sewing after Costume College was finally over at the end of July. I walked away with my brain fried, body exhausted, and mind frazzled. But a tiny illumination of a dress kept popping up and reminding me I wanted/needed to make it. I’d saved this painting above for a few years and finally found some purple floral printed cotton voile I could use for it. I am in love with cotton voiles, and keep a lookout for any that I come across. They’re so hard to find anymore. I’ve seen a few of my friends with this same fabric and knew I had to make mine not look the same as theirs. But I wanted it light and floofy-looking. Because I liked the square neckline of the 1870s, I decided to go with an 1873 style.

Before the mad rush of trying to finish things for Costume College, I was able to cut out most of my dress using Truly Victorian patterns # 462 with the short back, #201 for the skirt, with #303 for the overskirt. Both the overskirt and skirt would have ruffles around the edges. 

And so they all sat until around mid-September when I finally felt the need to sew again. Since the fabric is sheer, I had originally planned on lining it in white cotton, and had cut out all the pieces, including the skirt for it. Except the white made it look washed out. So, I used some lavender cotton and that made the little purple flowers pop. The white fabric won't go to waste though. I will be making a petticoat out of it to go with this.
After having my bodice muslin fitted at Shelley Peters’ workshop, I got the bodice sewn quickly (no boning or sleeve ruffles yet), and then the skirt. But since my dressform was still downstairs after CoCo, it hadn’t been brought back up to get its corset and undies put back on, so my first reveal of it is rather sad, The neckline is actually a lot lower than this too. But it gave me a working view of how to do my trims. 
The neckline will have a lace ruffle around it, and the sleeves will have self-fabric ruffles with the same lace on them. I first thought I would add a narrow purple ribbon along the edges of the neckline too, but remembered I had a purple silk rose I wanted to use on the front of my bodice, and it glaringly didn’t match the ribbon. So the rose won. 

My buttons are from a set of vintage embossed rose ones that I bought a few years ago in Port Townsend, WA, at the Button Bazaar. My hat from Atelier Mela, was custom-ordered to go with this, and I bought a pair of grape cluster earrings from The Lady Detalle after seeing those. 

Other than the skirt, that’s as far as I’ve gotten with this, and am a bit distracted by the thought of making a red/green plaid cotton bustle dress for some Xmas teas coming up. It would be so much more comfortable that the silk taffeta dress I’ve worn in the past, but if it doesn’t happen, then that dress may get some white fur trim added to it.
Since I am leaving shortly for a vacation, this is as far as everything has gotten but I hope I come home rested, and ready to get back to work on everything.


Saturday, September 1, 2018

Costume College 2018: 1795 Open Robe Dresses for day and evening

I already wrote about my preliminary researching and planning for my open robes to wear to Costume College in this earlier post.
A couple of my friends were also going to make them so we encouraged each other as the months passed to get them made. My big plans of having three versions to wear, two during the daytime, and one in the evening, didn’t really work out as well as I’d hoped. Of the three dresses, I can only say I liked my evening one in black velvet the best but it still wasn’t great. This was mostly because of a pattern/fitting issue with the white dress under it. And no one needs to remind me that we should always make a muslin to make sure it fits. I did have a muslin that fit but its also important that you grab the correct pattern piece when cutting out your fabric. And maybe try on the finished outfit? That turned out not possible as my hubby wasn’t around to help me into it. You really need a maid or dresser to get you into that drawstring neckline.

Let’s take a look at what my complaint is all about. I wore my fuchsia day version on Friday and that’s where I first noticed a problem with the dress. Here’s a good look at my issue. That evening this photo was taken at the Friday Night Social where I was making some announcements and introducing the new Dean for 2019. The shoulders on my dress kept falling off my shoulders no matter how many times I tugged it back up. Fortunately, my chemise WAS behaving itself so at least I didn’t have bare skin showing. It may have just looked like it had come loose or untied and was sliding off but earlier in the evening we had tried to tighten it and pin it but to no avail. It would not behave.

The rest of my evening wearing this was fun, especially hooking up with Cynthia who made her interpretation of the same dress from the same fashion plate I did. 
I added black embroidered netting along the hem of my skirt to copy the fashion plate. 

I wore my black stone Collett necklace and earrings I’d bought from Dames a la Mode last year that I picked specifically for this outfit knowing I would be making it. I also made my watchchain equipage aka chatelaine to hang on my belt, like in the fashion plate, after seeing how Cynthia made hers. Again, I used bead bits and strands of pearls I had, including a lightweight fake pocket watch, and some chains and beads I bought at Michaels. For not having ever made any jewelry, I think I did pretty good. 

I wore a wig that night that I had from another outfit, and wrapped it with a white scarf, added a pretty rhinestone star cluster hair comb, and later added some white feathers. 

And now onto my day wear. My shoes were pretty. There were the Mossimo brand that popped up at Target, Payless Shoes, and various sites, with a cording that laced through it. I changed that out to a ribbon and they were really comfortable. This is the only photo I have proof of that I wore one of my day dresses. You can just see part of the fuchsia robe on the lower right corner. And those are some of my theme ribbons I picked up in just one day that were being passed around. My first ribbon is of course the Dean. 

I received this pretty apricot & pink turban gifted to me from the CGW President, Mela Hoyt-Heydon, to wear with both my fuchsia and peach day dresses, and I at least got to wear it one day. 
This was kind of fun. I went back to my room that night and found out Mela had decorated my hotel room door for me. She brought back the banner “Party like a Royal” and a crown on my light fixture from England especially for me!

That Friday morning was when I discovered there was an issue with my dress when I put on my fuchsia linen open robe with the white dotted swiss dress to wear during the daytime. I had made both my white dresses at the same time, using the same pattern pieces so both ended up having the same problem. While trying to put the one on and not being able to get it to stay on my shoulders, I realized I had accidentally grabbed the pattern piece for my Regency bodiced petticoat, and not the bodice. The petticoat has a wider neckline and is lower in front. So, all the tugging in the world wouldn’t help. After spending the day walking around in my fuchsia open robe outfit, and being soaking wet at least three times (because I am a working Dean and not just swaning about), I gave up and changed to street clothes for the remainder of the weekend, except for the evening events.
So, the rest of the time I wore boring modern clothing, topped off by a tiara, but I was soooo much more comfortable and cooler, although I still worked up a lather a few times.
I found some time to do some shopping in the Marketplace at CoCo but didn’t have much time to really look. I picked up a hat I had ordered awhile back from Mela to go with a purple floral cotton voile bustle dress I’m going to start working on. And bought two yards of a vintage cotton fabric to make an Edwardian blouse with. 
I bought some ribbons from one new vendor I can use for hat trimming myself, and a little rosette that would have made a nice shoe trim if she’d had two of them. But it gives me an idea for future shoe trims. I also picked up some garnet grape earrings I’d ordered from a vendor back east who came to Costume College. It was nice saving on the shipping. Those will go with my purple voile dress too. 

From one of my favorite vendors who sells vintage items, I bought this inexpensive petticoat with beautiful lace on the hem in perfect condition, and it’s wearable.
My final day on Sunday was spent wearing my Regency bathrobe to the Sunday Royal Breakfast, which I missed seeing everyone since I was late, but I blinged it up appropriately for a royal visit by adding my sash and royal orders from the previous night’s Gala dress. My tiara was slightly askew, as fitting a late night out. 

That was a comfortable way to spend the day and show up for two classes until it was time to change for the Sunday Tea, “Queen Victoria’s Fancy Dress Tea”. The theme had us dressing up, maybe as famous people, ideas and inventions, such as the telegraph or electricity, Greek gods and goddesses, and objects. I went as The Chess Game, using my black 1830s dress I had and added checkerboard trims and an apron. I attached actual chess pieces to my neckline and to the vinyl crown I wore. I love being able to use my historical dresses to go with themes that they work into. There ended up being a couple people who also went as “board games”. 

I ended my evening up on that final day of Costume College by going to dinner across the street to PF Changs with some friends, and some new friends, and having my first full meal in 4 days. I came back to the hotel later that night, met up with some more friends in the lobby and had an impromptu meeting with some CGW Board members to discuss some issues, and finally made it back to my room to start packing. I finished mostly by 10:30pm and got a decent night’s sleep. Getting out of the hotel the next morning was a different story. Once again, my phone in the room wouldn’t work, which was a problem all weekend, and even though I went down the hallway to use a phone by the elevator to call for a bellman, no one ever got my message and I missed a meeting with the hotel manager to close out our event. It was like the Keystone Cops for about 2 hours but I finally was on the road, and made a stop in the Fabric District on the way home. It was just way too hot and humid to even spend much time there. After finding some fabric for a friend (more of the purple cotton voile that I’m using), and picking up some lavender linen I wanted, that will be made into a 1912 dress, I decided 2 hours in the heat was plenty and continued on home. 

Oh, and those two Regency dresses with the misbehaving necklines? Those have now been ripped out, and I will be cutting new bodices for them, this time using a bib-front pattern from Laughing Moon #126. And this one I can get into myself. We always say our projects are never done.