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

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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. 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.


Tuesday, June 25, 2019


Have you ever had a moment where in your costuming creations that you have an inspiration that totally goes the other direction of what you intended? If you have a sense of humor, its even better. Some might say, even grotesque. But keep laughing.

Our 2019 Costume College seminar next month in Woodland Hills, CA, have a variety of themed events you can dress in costume for. Its your choice if you want to dress to the theme, or just wear what you already have. This year I’m pulling out a few things from my closet from the past and either updating them or adding new accessories to fit the theme. Having just recently moved almost 2 months ago, I’m still unpacking. I still can’t find my box of straight pins, or certain fabrics, so I needed to make this year easy on me. Quite a change from all the turmoil last year of being Dean of Costume College. 

One of the themes is for our Sunday breakfast, “Good Mourning Sunday Breakfast”. That was easy, I have quite a few black mourning dresses I can wear. At the last minute I also was able to buy someone’s ticket for the afternoon tea, “Tea at the Haunted Mansion, which has been sold out for months. So I’m going to be able to wear the same outfit to both. Much easier than racing from classes and trying to change.
Last December I started planning my wardrobe and for the breakfast I was going to wear a black cotton 1870s dress I made in 2014 for Dia de los Muertos in Old Town San Diego. Minus the makeup of course because that will not last the whole day, or in the heat and humidity Los Angeles is famous for in July. I only worn it once more in 2015 for Tales of the Crypt in Riverside, CA. Time to get the dust off of it.

I didn’t think much more about it until a few months later and saw this Halloween yard decoration. I could have a prop! I always feel more comfortable when I’m carrying a prop, other than a reticule, be it parasol or sword.
And wouldn’t you know it? Too late to buy any Halloween sales clearance items of skeletons. Trying to find one online was either out of stock or at regular price. So I had to bide my time until summer.

Finally, last month a larger variety of them was showing up on Amazon, and one friend pointed this little fellow out to me. 
In conjunction of my love of cats, and following various Facebook groups, like Sewing with Cats, and Catspotting (both of which are great for lowering blood pressure and depression/exhaustion just looking at all those little kitties), I came up with The Crazy Dead Cat Lady.
And look, it’s Chloe-approved!

Its just the right size for sitting on my lap, and not too bulky or awkward to carry around. I actually think it’s the same size as Chloe, as shown here for comparison.

                               On to my next project. Only 30 days left to finish. 

Monday, June 17, 2019


I’m not totally back to sewing normality yet, as our halls and rooms are still full of boxes needing to be unpacked, but I needed a little normalcy in my life. With Costume College looming at the end of July, I just had to get going on the one dress I wanted to make, especially since I’d bought all the accessories for it, and fabric. Since the accessorized outfit will be a one-time wear, it needed to get made. My dress, however, is going to be able to be worn in in the future. That’s my thing. I won’t make a one-time only dress, especially with all the work and money that goes into it. This is turning out to be fun.
There are many theme-inspired groups on our Facebook page, and the one I liked was “Once Upon a Bustle”, a Disney-themed idea. Any bustle dress but made to follow a Disney character. My friend Cindy was originally going to be Cruella Deville from 101 Dalmatians. Since I had been saving a dress for inspiration, although from the 1890s, it gave me an idea of doing a “Dalmatian bustle”. I’d still like to make that 1890s dress someday though.

Prior to our moving, I got really industrious and came up with a plan to make my own dotted fabric since I couldn’t find any in the stores or online that were a light weight, like voile or linen. So I started planning on stamping quarter-sized dots on my fabric. I looked through my swatch book from Costume College for the linen that I thought would work, and decided on an Irish linen, which I bought from Em-Bee Fabrics in the LA Fabric District.
I did a lot of questioning from friends what the best paint was to use for this, and bought one bottle each of DecoArt Americana & So Soft black, and a bottle of Ceramcoat Delta Textile Medium. Both worked the same with the textile medium, although the Americana is cheaper. I bought a set of foam cylinders to do the stamping with and picked the quarter-size one to use.

I had 10 yards to stamp dots on so it was going to take a LOT of paint, and a LOT of time. Then I had to decide do I cut the pattern first, then stamp, or stamp the fabric, then cut? I decided on cut first. Before stamping, I did a lot of testing on strips of the fabric. I started out using too much paint, then not enough. I was getting worried, and I didn’t want to ruin my expensive fabric.
For one week I was having the inside of my house painted, and I *thought* this would be a good time to find a corner and just stamp away. But in reality, it was so chaotic here, that I couldn’t even concentrate, and I would have to keep being moved all over. So I gave up and binge-watched Game of Thrones from the beginning. Yeah, I’m bad. I’d only seen the first 3 seasons, and now all 7 seasons were over. It had been so long since I’d watched it, I decided to start at the beginning. And this time it made more sense and I was able to get a handle on all the wonderful characters.
People started posting about how many days were left until Costume College began. But I couldn’t get up the enthusiasm I’d had before to do all that stamping. And then I’d still need to sew it. *sigh* I still wanted this to happen though. I went back to look at some links Cindy had sent me from Amazon for fabrics and most were either too small of dots or a stiff type of fabric. I finally found one that was a cotton-polyester for $4 yard. I ordered it on a Monday and it arrived on Thursday!! It was so soft and perfect! 
Now some pressure was off. But I still couldn’t get to it because now I had to put my house in order after all that painting. It seemed like every time I emptied boxes in the hallway, hubby would bring more in from the garage. It was like a reverse Black Hole.
Meanwhile I decided to run away from home one day and went to a sewing workshop for the Dress a Girl program that Shelley Peters hosted. After hearing that the older girls just wanted long skirts, I had bought about 6 fabrics at the Walmart $3 sale and worked on my first one. Then over a week’s time I got 7 of them done. But now the serious sewing needs to begin.

This last week I finally began to feel a little less stressed, and laid the fabric out to be cut. I still don’t have my new cutting table assembled. Its in the garage somewhere. So I used my dining table. It still took about 4 days for me to get around to start cutting it.
I’d say I have about 35 days to work on this, especially since it looks like I might have to make a pair of 1920s white wide-leg pants to go with a Miss Fisher outfit I want to wear for the Miss Fisher Murder Mysteries theme day. I made it even easier on myself with that and found a gorgeous long yellow knit jacket to use for it.  I just wished I could find the pants to buy. I’ve never made pants before, and my hip-hugger ones I made in class in high school doesn’t count. I have a black pair, and if I’m able to finish the black and white jacket I started, I would have a second outfit. Or just wear a teal knit jacket I have. Hmmmm… less work….

Back to my Dalmatian bustle: I wanted an 1870s polonaise that closed all the way down in the front and it seemed the easiest thing to do was use a previously-made pattern and shorten the polonaise, Truly Victorian #410. And I liked the style of the dresses from the series, The Buccaneers. I even have enough fabric to make a ruffle around the bottom.

Cutting began this weekend, and once that is all done, the sewing should go together pretty fast since I’ve made this about 5 times already. The accessories are what’s going to make this a Dalmatian bustle. Using the pictures from the book, I’m going to have a blue belt around the waist, and make a “dog collar” like Perdita's of blue ribbon with a small gold medallion I hope I can find at Michael’s.
Dog ears! I found this on etsy. Its cheap, and nicely made, and perfect for a one-time costume. A few months ago, I found this Disney Dalmatian stuffed animal for sale on ebay. So if its not REALLY obvious just what I am, LOL, this will help.

And if I have time, I bought some of this Disney Dalmatian fabric to make a simple tote to carry my class things in. We’ll see if that happens.
*Yesterday I got the skirt sewn together. But today I need to unpack some more boxes, so stay tuned.
                          Chloe, “Queen of the World”, surveying her domain.

Sunday, April 21, 2019

2019 Port Townsend Victorian Heritage Festival

Here is my delayed report on the Victorian Festival fashion show in Port Townsend, WA, on March 23. I’m still packing for us to move to our new house at the end of April.
The Festival is held every year to celebrate the Victorian history of this small town along the Puget Sound. When the plans for a train coming through fell through in the 1890s, commerce died and the city was almost abandoned. But the remaining Victorian-style buildings along Water Street, and many Victorian homes in the area were left behind.
The Port Townsend Historical Society began this Festival in an effort to bring its Victorian heritage back to life. In the past the events have mainly been indoors, due to inclement weather, and focused on lectures and demonstrations of the town’s history. Over the years, in a change of hands, these events have evolved but one has remained, the fashion show. I have been proud to participate in the fashion show since 2012, and was requested to take it over in 2017 when the previous director retired. With my contacts in the various costume groups in the area, and with the help of Mara Perry, Agnes Gawne, Patricia Francisco, and Julie & Terry Cheetham, of the Puget Sound Costume Guild, we helped raise the bar on the show, and are now considered the biggest draw of the Festival. This year the Festival’s director, Jason Pageau, even tried something different instead of lectures and demonstrations. He set it up as a meet and greet: a social hour the night before, and a garden party the next day. This was due to feedback where people wanted more interaction and less lectures.
The Festival’s theme this year was “The Social Season”, which gave me the inspiration for our fashion show theme, “Victorians in High Society”. My ideas were to show all the fancy dresses and clothing of high society. Except with losing some models in the week preceding, we had to add in some day wear, and a wonderful tea gown.
On Friday night, we attended the Social Hour and were introduced to the “Governor” (Jason Pageau) and his wife, using calling cards we were each given. Beverages and snacks were provided.

The next day was supposed to be a Garden Party in the grass area next to the American Legion Hall, but the weather was being iffy, so they moved it indoors to be a Conservatory Party. Mostly this was just chatting with everyone and a lively introduction to the Language of the Fan was given by Tracy Wirta and Agnes Gawne, which turned into kind of a comedy.

One of the complaints from the visitors was that the busy schedule gave them no time to visit the town, or have lunch and shop. So, there was a break after this until the fashion show at 4pm. So, we all took off to do just that, and our photos were taken as we did that.

See the papered up windows on the right of this photo? That’s the new location of District Fabrics that has just moved to Port Townsend. It’s next to Pippa’s Real Tea shop on Water Street. Sadly, the grand opening was delayed so I didn’t get to visit before I left Washington.

I took advantage of this time and visited the Port Townsend Antique Mall, and afterwards had lunch at my favorite, the Khuh Larb Thai restaurant. I did find one treasure at the antique mall, a piece of silk fabric. I spotted this bright fuchsia silky fabric draped around the shoulders of a mannequin and asked the clerk if it was for sale. She took it off and found a tag for $20, labeled silk. It was even printed on the selvage as silk.  SOLD! There were 4 yards and my mind was already circling around what Edwardian dress I could make using it combined with a solid fabric. This dress from 1912 was suggested to me. Now there’s another reason for me to finish my corset for this time period.

Then I headed back to my room at The Swan Hotel to change into my dress for the fashion show. I had a wonderful cozy room on the bottom floor, which I have marked on my calendar to reserve next year. No more lugging suitcases up 2 or 3 flights of steep stairs! It had a nice outside deck with seating where I could sit and watch the harbor.
Our “stage” for the fashion show at the American Legion Hall was again on floor level, which I must say is THE BEST way to do one. We have a much larger area to walk and can get much closer to the audience so they can see us better. This works especially well, as we had a very large audience and everyone had a good view of us. We’re always hoping for better photos of us in action, and this year we were lucky because my friend, Marilyn Miller, and a member of the Puget Sound Costume Guild, Robert Bergstrom, were both in the audience and took some of the best photos of us.

These are my backstage photos I took as we were waiting to go on.

Agnes Gawne was again our narrator, and we have her model her beautiful dresses too. She wore her copy of an 1820s dress in black velvet from a museum collection. The details were amazing up close. 

First out was Mara Perry, in a fabulous 1890s green Artistic Reform tea gown. A few of us are now drooling to make our own.

Rebecca Maiten first wore her evening version of her 1870s dress, with short sleeves and a lower neckline, which she copied from a museum dress. She wore a daytime bodice later in the show.

Cristal Bailey’s late 1880s evening dress, in a beautiful emerald green dotted fabric, topped off with a fur cape.

Our newest member to our troupe, Francis Classe, was a welcome addition as we like including the gentlemen in the show too. We love men who like to dress up with us and can show off their accessories.

Another pair of new models were Tracy Wirta and Scott Rovanpera, new residents of Port Townsend. Both wore coordinating outfits from the 1870s but we pointed out that men’s clothing didn’t change much so it was good to the 1900s.

I wore my 1837 Pumpkin evening dress with my striped turban. I also gave the audience a peek at my multi-tiered petticoat and quilted petticoat under it, which of course the newspaper, The Leader, chose to take that as my photo in the newspaper.

Patricia Francisco wore her 1904 evening dress of red silk with a exquisite black sequined lace overdress.

Mara Perry came out again wearing her 1890s evening dress. She loves her big puffy sleeves. We both are fans of those.

Rebecca Maiten was our finale, wearing her daytime version of her copy of the early 1870s museum dress. We didn’t get a photo of it during the show but this one was taken outside, and shows her long sleeves of the daytime bodice. It also showed off the true color of her dress.

Every year I hope to have a nice group shot of us but I realize that with our size group, that’s a bit hard. So, sections is all we can hope for. 

Tracy Wirta let us know the Port Townsend newspaper, The Leader, had taken photos and our show made the front page with a full page inside of more photos. They were really cute and made us look like paper dolls. She sent us copies of the paper to keep.

My thanks to photographers Marilyn Miller, Robert Bergstrom, and Svetlana Saitova for these photos I was able to include in my blog. 
The next day a bunch of us met in the Fort Worden park for our annual photo shoot at the barracks and along the water front. I only brought two costumes with me this year and wore my 1870s Red Plaid polonaise but added a new hat for it that I made the week before I flew up to Washington. I used a straw-hat base that I bent up the back, covered the crown in black silk taffeta, and added black lace and ribbons I had. Then basted on some sprigs of white antique berries on both sides from my stash.

Later along the beach we all took photos of each other. I like doing candid ones. I love how these look like paintings. 

We had to do a goofy photo.
 All that worked up an appetite, and we headed over to the Commander’s Beach House for our afternoon tea. This has been our favorite but after 3 years, we’re going to give others a chance to try it since we usually take over the whole room. Next year we’re going to the Old Consulate Inn for their tea. 

I fell in love with these adorable salt & pepper shakers and they’re lucky they didn’t end up in my reticule.
We already have an idea we’re working on for next year’s fashion show to add a surprise to the whole festival. I love it when these inspirations strike.