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.


Wednesday, January 27, 2016


Still working on my 1853 Purple Fashion Print dress for next month’s Riverside Dickens Fest fashion show, and now for the Port Townsend (WA) Victorian Festival fashion show in March. It started coming together rather quickly, especially after I *finally* got the enthusiasm to put on my corset to try on the bodice to mark the button holes and see how my black lace point d’esprit overlay would look.

At the sewing workshop with Shelley P. last month, she had taken a really close look at my fashion print I was copying and noticed some black ruffles down the center front of the bodice, and around the armholes. Good eyes, Shelley! She determined it was a lace overlay of point d’esprit lace. To make it easy for me, she had some in her stock. 

Once I had my bodice sewn, sans the sleeves which will probably come last, my fingers felt itchy to start working on the lace. I figured the easiest thing to do was make it a vest, and not attached, so it could be removed and not worn if I didn’t want to. I used my same bodice pattern, but pinned the front darts in on the pattern before cutting it out. On all seams I only used a 1/4 inch seam allowance except for the shoulders. This gave me a bit of looseness instead of a tight fit.
**If you didn’t catch my edit on my previous post where I added that my lace collar had arrived from France, you can see it here. It’s not as large as I’d like, but it works.**
I cut 3 inch wide strips of the lace using a large ruler and white chalk to draw my lines on it to cut. The lace yardage was folded in half and wanted to shift. So I pinned the edges, and as each line was marked, added a couple more pins to keep it in line. After all strips were cut, I folded each in half lengthwise and ironed them. I sewed down the two raw edges 1/4 inch in to stabilize it, and then machine gathered it down the same line. I sewed the strips to the armholes lining the raw edge to the raw edge of them, and then folding it under to the inside and topstitched it all together. A lot of stitching on top of stitching but it made it nice and firm, and not stiff. For the front closure I turned under the edges of it then sewed the ruffles onto it, turning it under again, then topstitched it. On the neckline, I just turned under the edges and stitched, and along the bottom, turned the edges under to create a channel which I will run a 1/8 inch black ribbon through and tie it closed in the front. I plan on putting tiny black snaps in a few places down the front just to hold it closed. 
 Now that that’s out of the way, back to cartridge pleating the skirt. And start tracing out a pattern to make my tablier because I’m dying to try doing the trim on that.


Thursday, January 14, 2016

Copying a Dress from a Fashion Plate

In 2014 I was so inspired by a fashion plate of an 1837 dress that I immediately went into gear to make it for the next month. Crazy, huh? Of course not. We’re all crazy around here.

I was only able to copy the main points of it but not the sleeves as that’s still a bit beyond my skill level. But in the end I was really happy with it and put another notch in my costume belt. 

I have an entire album devoted to dresses I want to make, and in looking through them, I see a recurring theme—BIG TRIMS. Things that stand out, not tiny little details. I want them to be seen, and not hide in the background. I tend to like fiddley things that require hand-sewn details. I guess I like pink too. This is only four of them. I’m not giving all my secret plans out. 

We ALL know these dresses aren’t real; they’re “fashion prints” so the artist can draw whatever they like even if not humanly possible to make it, and look like that. And that includes the women’s bodies, corseted or not. So I have to take into consideration that that may not look so good on me. But they were smart because the exaggerated designs- big sleeves, big shoulders, big skirts and bustles, all went into making us “appear” smaller. Smart Victorians!
So here I am starting a new year and a new dress from an 1853 fashion plate that I want to wear next month at the Riverside Dickens Festival, and in the fashion show there. At first glance it made my jaw drop, literally. And hey, purple! I need more purple in my wardrobe. It didn’t appear too complicated but more details started presenting themselves to me when we looked closer at it.  
 I had started planning it about a month ago, just figuring out my pattern for the bodice (going to use Truly Victorian 446 for it) and tearing the skirt lengths out while at a sewing workshop. Next weekend I will again go to one and this time will get some sewing done. At the last one, Shelley Peters looked closely at the print and began pointing out tiny details that I hadn’t noticed, like the black point d’esprit lace that overlays the bodice. She showed me the lines of it along the sides of the bodice, down the front, on the sleeve caps and the cuffs. Wow, I never saw that! And she just happened to have that fabric so I bought some from her.

In looking closely at the skirt and overlaying tablier, we determined that the skirt is separate and the tablier lays over the top of the skirt, due to the heavier folds of fabric just under the tablier. That will make it much easier to construct. And btw, I just learned that word tablier. Now you know it too.
And look, fiddly ruching and black velvet trims around the edges! My kind of thing! 
The sleeves are my nemesis but it might be something I can fake by sewing little ruffs on top of a straight sleeve. I very much doubt I’ll make those white puffs coming out from slits in the sleeves. That’s a bit much, and no one ever said you should make it an exact copy. I think there’s a rule about that somewhere.
I went searching on Etsy for a similar lace collar and came up with this vintage one for $20, and it’s coming from France with free shipping, no less. Now I just need to find some matching lace to use on my cuffs. I bet I have some in my stash but I need to see how white this is when it arrives.

EDITED TO ADD: my collar from France arrived yesterday and it's beautiful. A good solid whte, a little shorter that I'd hoped but perfect to use. 

When I started planning this I also wanted to make the bonnet in the picture. It’s rather pale and not immediately noticeable on the table behind the model until you blow it up. I thought I would have plenty of time to make one (best laid plans). But I only have 1 ½ months until it’s needed, and knowing how slow I’m sewing, that’s not going to happen. Unless the sewing birds show up one night.
But luck was with me over the holidays. I found out Shelley Peters (of Kansas Mercantile & Historical Sewing Workshops) had some shirred bonnets for sale and she brought her wares over to my house for me to shop from when she was out my way. And there it was, an antique white bonnet that I could use for this.

The color of the flowers on it obviously won’t work for this, so I’ll be looking for some pink ones, and a nice soft pink ribbon to put some loops on the outside.
 Next I’ll have to decide soon what to do with the hair. A wig, obviously, and I considered long curls either on the sides or towards the back (that’s Louise May Alcott in 1855). But with the lace framing my face, those may not show. I do like the side braids on the second photo, and those are easy to fake. I’ll have to see how I can strategically place some roses there. Not sure a lady of a certain age would be that frilly, but I’m not going as an old hag.

We’ve been catching up on a lot of recorded programs on TV lately instead of sewing but if I can just get Chloe away from the TV and back to the cutting table, I can make some progress on this.


Sunday, December 6, 2015

2015 End of the Year Round-Up

I have no more costuming events for the rest of this year/month, so now it’s that time of year to look back and see what I did in the way of sewing new dresses. But I’m nearly at the point where I have at least one dress already for just about any time period I like that comes up. Goal met!   **Ack! I noticed I still write “gowns” and had to go back and replace that with “dresses”. I’m never going to be able to stop saying that even though I was told that word wasn’t used until the 1930s came around.**

But wait, you can never have enough dresses! Who wants just one dress in one color? Or for just one season or time period? Throw in my Squirrel and you need a bigger closet. 
Just for a bit of explanation on The Squirrel- it comes from being distracted very easily by new and shiny things. If you’ve seen the movie, Up, there is a talking dog named Dug who, while talking, is constantly distracted and yells Squirrel! when he sees something. That’s me. Even my husband calls me Squirrel. I just think I’m observant.
Ok, enough about me. Time for the countdown. I checked my list of things I wanted to finish or make this year, and looks like only one got done. But other things not on the list WERE made!

JANUARY:  The only event I went to this month was for the start of the Centennial Celebration of the 1915 Panama/California Exposition in Balboa Park. Our guild was asked for anyone to come in period evening dress for a fundraising event at the Museum of Man. I don’t have much in the way of evening dress but remade my 1910 Black Ascot dress with some new trims and re-did the bodice so it was all one piece instead of two.
FEBRUARY:  I was invited by a couple ladies in the Los Angeles area who call themselves The Occasional Bustle Society, to a tea at the Langham Hotel in Pasadena, and we all wore bustle dresses. It was a beautiful location and I had a great time. It was actually cool enough to wear my 1885 Autumn Bustle dress too.

The Riverside Dickens Festival is my annual event that I look forward to and seem to be making dresses especially for this and the fashion show. I was able to wear my 1837 Jewel Tone Plaid dress that I wore to the San Francisco Dickens Faire the previous December.
MARCH: Started this month off with a fashion show for the La Jolla Women’s Club and wore my Autumn Bustle for that too.
I again wore it while I was up in WA visiting my Mom, and going to the Port Townsend Victorian 
Festival, being in that fashion show, then doing some touristy things with my friends in the area.

APRIL:  Our costume guild did its mass attendance in Balboa Park for the 1915 Centennial of the Panama/California Exposition, and made a very impressive sight. I used a reproduction pattern of a 1914 dirndl skirt and blouse in green stripes. Even though the blouse was too big, I loved the dress with my bright orange parasol.

MAY:  I was asked to do a repeat performance of a fashion show for the Alpine Women’s Club tea and fundraiser and came up with a new theme of “A Day in the Life of Queen Victoria”. I’m having fun being creative with them now. I wore my favorite 1837 Persimmon Dress that I wore to Costume College last year.

JUNE: For the past couple months I was working on a presentation on 1850s Bloomer dresses that I was asked to present at the ALHFAM conference in Williamsburg, VA, and wore my brown cotton Bloomer dress, and I was glad I did. It was so hot and humid I can’t believe people can live in that. My reproduction of the San Diego Bloomer was displayed in the class too.

Right after I got back from there, I got to dress up as window dressing for the grand re-opening of the Villa Montezuma historic home in San Diego. It was a mite warm so out came my favorite 1870s white cotton with black polka dots polonaise dress.

JULY:   Finally got to make and wear another new dress. I organized a Downton Abbey Tea for my guild at the Aubrey Rose Tearoom, and made the “new” Butterick pattern dress for 1914 to wear to it. A nice cotton purple plaid made for warmer weather, and then it poured buckets of rain on us.

AUGUST: August is of course Costume College in Los Angeles and I planned on wearing everything that I’d already made, but of course had to make at least ONE new dress for it.  The dress lineup was my 1837 Jewel Tone Plaid, my 1885 Autumn Bustle (which I wore for teaching “Watches & How Women Wore Them”, because it had a watch pocket), and my new 1885 Pink Polka Dot bustle dress. I loved this one, even though the pink fabric was an extremely lightweight polyester.  Lots of lining helped that.
SEPTEMBER:  I joined the Ladies of the Traveling Tea Society and went with them to Barbara’s Teahouse in Rancho Cucamonga, and wore my 1914 Purple Plaid dress, which was good because it was again bloody hot.
OCTOBER:  My second historical fashion show was for a church fundraiser, and I used my “100 Years in Women’s Fashion” theme for it. After filling all the time periods, I took the one left for 1900 and wore my 1903 Pink Floral dress. Sadly we haven’t found any group photos of us all.
Not much else was going on this month but when I was told about the “Tales from the Victorian Crypt” being held in a cemetery in Riverside as a fundraiser for the Dickens Festival, I jumped at it. It was still hot so my cotton 187 3 black polonaise was needed. I did buy a new hat for it that had some amazing feathers on it.

NOVEMBER:  This was a busy month with three events. First was a tea at the Teahouse on Los Rios in San Juan Capistrano with the Ladies of the Traveling Tea Society. And yes, the weather was still hot, so my 1903 Pink Striped Voile dress was again worn.

I had planned a Picnic in Tissot’s Garden at Balboa Park for our guild, and even though in the past years at this time the weather was very nice, it decided to rain. Not a lot but enough to make the ground wet and possibly threatening more. So sadly I had to cancel the picnic, even though I’d made a new dress just for it. I used another pattern reproduction from Ageless Patterns to make an 1870s loosely wrapped bodice, with big froofy skirt and apron, and lots of lace. It was a white cotton voile with green Swiss dots. One of my friends came up with an idea of an impromptu tea party at a tearoom so we could still dress up. After calling all the places she found one tearoom, Tea Upon Chatsworth, which had one table available. So we called a bunch of friends and managed to get 5 together for tea. So at least I got to wear my dress I’d worked so hard on for the picnic. I’m rescheduling the picnic again for later in the Spring; once the rainy season has stopped.

My final event was our costumed walkabout at the Del Mar Antique Show. The theme was Alice in Wonderland and if you read my previous blog, you’ll know the story behind my dress. And I realize without the accessories and bunny, I can use this for Mary Poppins if ever need be, since even my hubby thought that's who I was.
Once the hoopla has settled down getting ready for the holidays, I hope to get back to work on my Romantic era bonnet I’m making in an online class with Jennifer R. at Historical Sewing.   I’m finding it really easy with her step by step videos. I’m covering mine in a cream or off white silk taffeta so I can do a variety of colored trims on it. I still haven’t decided what dress will get this but I have some ideas of what I want to do. I think it needs some lace coming off the crown.

The first dress I’ll be working on is my 1853 purple silk for the Riverside Dickens Festival. It’s off a fashion print that made my jaw drop when I saw it. While I was at a sewing workshop with Shelley P. she noticed some details in it I hadn’t seen at first, and visually deconstructed the dress to help me make it. And there’s a bonnet with it that needs making too.

Another project I’ll be working on is a 1905 dress, and probably start some of my projects for Costume College next August because it’s never enough time to make all the dresses!

                                   Chloe & I wish you all happy holidays!