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.**

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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.


Tuesday, May 19, 2015

FASHION SHOW: A Day in the Life of Queen Victoria; 1837-1900

This past weekend I put on another fashion show for the Alpine Women’s Club fundraising tea after being asked last year if we would do it again. Well of course we would! But I wanted to come up with another theme rather than just the usual timeline. I have a folder that I write ideas down for future themes, and one of them was life during Queen Victoria’s time. It would somehow have to relate to the changing dress styles but also include what was going on with the ladies during that time. And it would be during Queen V’s reign of 1837-1900, so the dress styles would be in that time period.
I’m a big fan of Downton Abbey so that came into play also. In my mind I pictured the manor house with visitors, parties, and of course the butler. The first “educational” bit I wanted to put in was about the use of calling cards, and having the butler announce each visitor/model as they arrived with their calling card. The various activities the upper class ladies would do in the home besides visiting or receiving friends, were included too, like afternoon tea, needlework, reading, and painting. And later there would be a scene in the dressing room where new styles of dress and millinery would be shown using fashion plates, and of course live models. Since my plan this time was to have “scenes” and have the ladies stay onstage and seated each time after their presentation, I could only put five of us at the most on the small stage at a time.

I looked through Pinterest for photos of Victorian parlours to give me an idea of how I wanted the stage decorated. Even though Victorian is usually busy with lots of niknaks, I needed to keep it a little more sparse so as not to distract from the models. This was my idea I went off of; a small round table that would hold teapot and teacups, and a large poster I purchased of Queen Victoria and mounted on poster board. And I pulled out some Boston ferns and containers I had stored away for some greenery. For the dressing room scene, we would replace the tea items with a bonnet and a couple fashion plates.

While setting everything up the day before the show, I walked to the back of the room to see how it looked and if everything was visible from there, and then took multiple photos, moving things around until I was satisfied. Except I didn’t like how plain the table was looking. Originally I was offered a Tiffany lamp to put there, but I was afraid we would knock it over moving around with our big skirts, or stepping on a tablecloth, so I declined it. I ended up putting a vase together with peacock feathers to place there. If I’d had more time I would have looked for a cheap Chinese vase but at a distance this would suffice. I thought this was very Victorian.

We all remembered last year at this time, it had been 105d during our set-up, and the next day “cooled” down to 95d. So we were not at all unhappy that this year it was raining, and would only be 63d the day of the show.
I spent about a month writing drafts of the narration for this show, including all the ladies dress descriptions. Since we only have a half hour I have to keep the descriptions to 1- 1 1/2 mins each, and I time myself reading each one to make sure I can get it all into the time limit. It also has to flow into each transition.
We have a wonderful gentleman we’re able to use during the show, our Narrator Nancy’s husband, Russell, who helps us off and on the stage, and this year I wanted him to be included even more. For the beginning of the first scene, Nancy, began with her husband, Russell, arriving in his butler ensemble she had made for him. Russell brought out the teapot and placed it on the table, then Nancy described a butler’s duties and his outfit. Since I was the only one available with an 1830s dress, I came out as the lady of the house.  I wore my 1834 Persimmon dress. After doing my twirl, I sat at my table and poured myself tea. Then my first “visitor” arrived, -“Mrs. Lakin, Madame”.  Robin was wearing her red and brown 1850s dress. After her twirl, she sat at my table and I poured her tea. Afternoon tea history was explained by Nancy. From there, after each lady’s dress was described, they were to sit on a chair and pick up the “activity” that Nancy would describe. The next visitor was Karen, in her red & black late 1850s dress, whose activity of reading in the home was described as she read from a small book after she sat in her chair. Next was Sarah in her 1860s cream and black gown. She brought her own needlework she was working on, and sat doing it as it was described. My final “visitor” was Birda, in her cream and pink 1870s dress, and she demonstrated painting and sketching.
At this point five of us were seated onstage at once, and I think it gave the audience much longer to see and admire all the gowns. We then exited as Nancy announced we would now enter the dressing room. Cindy arrived in the latest Paris fashion of 1870s in her blue and white Seaside dress. At the table she began looking at fashion plates, as Nancy described how the latest fashions were shown to women using magazines and ads. The next “fashion plate”, Trudy, arrived wearing her 1870s white and pink flower Tissot dress. Now looking at a millinery fashion plate, as the next model April arrived in her green and pink 1880s bustle, and wearing her new bonnet. To segue into women outside the home, our model, Terri, arrived wearing her navy blue 1890s bicycling outfit. And finally I was able to work Nancy into the fashion show theme, wearing her 1890s claret walking suit.
With it being hectic as usual, I forgot to hand my camera to someone in the audience and ask them to take photos of us onstage. I still hope that some photos show up at some point, but we did get one of all of us standing onstage afterwards. Then we stepped off the stage and wandered among the tables so the ladies could get a close look at our dresses. Everyone looked so beautiful. 

Afterwards we were served our own tea at a couple of the tables, and then waited backstage for an hour until the next show. Notice I didn’t hand my camera to anyone for photos of me? Goes with the territory of being a busy manager.  

After that show, we all walked outside to the back area and took photos of each other. And, nope, none of me here either but I know Trudy took some of me. 

And look, photos have been popping up that I'm in! These are from Trudy, who was also one of the models. Proof that I was dressed and in the show! 

And these are a couple beautiful group photos she took of us. *Thank you, Trudy!*

Now I have four weeks until I leave for Williamsburg, and do my presentation on bloomer gowns at the ALHFAM conference. I had a major snafoo when my co-presenter, who had originally proposed doing it with me, and was bringing an extant bloomer gown down from New York, suddenly and with no explanation, dropped out. Just like that. After a few days of panic, I regrouped, and contacted the Programming Director and told them I would still do this but needed to change a few things. One of course was the description of the class, which the two sentence one my former presenter had written embarrassed me after seeing the other ones being presented. I wrote a much more descriptive one and then got a new co-presenter!  Jody Luce, who portrays the original bloomer lady, Elizabeth Smith Miller, in Peterboro, NY, said she would do it with me, and she could bring the extant bloomer gown with her. *BIG SMILE!*
All of this was approved by the Programming Committee, and they're currently changing the program book. So now Jody and I are going to start working to put our presentation together. And the topper to this: I’ve been asked to represent the San Diego History Center and use their logo on my slide and my business card while there. 


Tuesday, April 14, 2015


A few months back our costume guild became involved in joining the celebration for the Centennial of the 1915 Panama-California Exposition in Balboa Park. I had a lot of fun researching a dress for it. I’ll go into more detail on my dress below.
This past weekend was the day our grassroots group planned the celebration since the City of San Diego pulled out of doing anything themselves. Everyone and everything there was all volunteers, along with the museums. It ended up mostly our group walking up and down the mall, interacting with the public, answering lots of questions, and getting our photos taken constantly. Standing in one spot for 20 or more minutes wasn’t unusual, with people hopping in for the photo shots. We broke off into small groups so we would be scattered around but occasionally we got together for the large group photo. 
Shortly after we arrived that day and a group of us gathered, one of the news stations contacted us and wanted to talk to someone on camera. 

I ended up being that person. I basically told them what today’s celebration was for, and a bit about the park. When asked why we dressed like this, I said we like making history come alive for the public. I give that station, NBC, kudos because even though my spiel on the history was cut out, they got our name right, and surprisingly spelled mine right too. Later another station, KUSI, found us near the House of England and I was again asked to do the talking. It was only a camera guy, and he recorded my name and the name of the costume guild on camera, but when it was aired, they also edited any reference to what the celebration was, and said we were the DAR. Wrong time period, wrong coast. I found out later the DAR had an information table nearby but it was very frustrating. And with that station, it didn’t surprise me. This is from a slideshow from the NBC station. 
I was very happy to see all the pretty outfits the ladies had made for this event. Recently a couple new patterns were put out by Butterick that fit the time period, and another by Hint of History, that I had suggested, had been made, and even a Past Patterns revival McCalls pattern was used. I had hoped to get all of them together in group shots but as usual, it was like, you know, herding…… But this is a nice shot of some of them. Me in the green striped Past Patterns, Jo in the Past Patterns McCall dress, Ellyn in the Hint of History pattern, and Sarah in the new Butterick pattern. 
And we always had to show off our lovely parasols. 

My friend, Loralee, from the CGW guild in Los Angeles, came down for the day to join us in her beautiful green suit and said she had a great time with us. Her bird hat was amazing. 

I was asked quite a few times what pattern I had used, so I expect I’ll be seeing some beautiful versions of that soon.
So on to making the dress:
I’m only slightly familiar with the changing styles from 1910-1915 and wanted to focus on bodice shapes & accessories. After I narrowed down the style and found a pattern, it kind of created itself.
So the choices I decided on was this style dress, using this pattern (Past Patterns 6204/ 5 gore skirt), and this green & white striped cotton fabric:

The pattern only comes in one size and it was 10” too small in the waist for me. Since it was just a skirt with two waistbands, and not a fitted bodice, I figured it was be a fairly easy enlargement but handed it off to a friend who knew how to do this stuff. Oh, and the instructions are only about one paragraph, so buyer beware. I lucked out that she made a muslin for me and I basically used that as my guide.
 The two front side panels have a folded over pleat but the rest of the gores are just sewn together. Easy peasey. But it looks like I didn’t take any in-progress photos of this. Sorry.  
After the gores/panels are sewn together, you sew the waistbands on, which has two levels. The first level sits just above your waistline. The second goes up to your bustline basically cupping the “girls” but not over them. The points should be just to the side of your bustline, and the shoulder straps will give you some support too.
I used a Pellon interfacing on both the upper and lower waistbands to give them some structure. The lower waistband is in two pieces and has a facing behind it. The front has an overlapping “belt” that I topstitched together so creating a fake “belt”.  After sewing both the fabric and the facing pieces in their centers, I sewed the length of them on one edge right-sides together and sewed that side to the skirt panels, then after I sewed the upper waistband on I folded the edge under of the facing and slipstitched it to the waist. I think you could probably skip that facing but I was already sewing it together before I thought of that. I can see a lot of fudging possibilities there. But definitely interface it.
The upper “waistband” has a finished top edge so I sewed those two pieces right sides together, turned it right side out, understitched the top edge to keep it down, then sewed one of the right sides to the first waistband, but keeping one side free and turned the edge of it under. Then slipstitched it onto the bottom. Since it’s inside it probably doesn’t matter if you just sewed it all as one piece to the right sides.
The back has a very long placket, and I only put two buttonholes on the waistband portion, with snaps down the rest of it. My neighbor pinned my straps on to where it fit me best and for them to stay on, but basically they were centered on the points of the waistband. I didn't do buttonholes to attach to the waistband, just sewed them to it.
Now the pockets on the front are a whole different story. Totally “pull your hair out” type of construction. The directions had you putting the pockets under the lower waistband with it poking out above and below so it was an open pocket. So you end up slipstitching part of the waistband closed. My rationalizing brain asked WHY? A perfectly good pocket could be sewed on TOP of the waistband. So there it sits. If you notice, I only have one pocket. I thought it looked cute. Originally I cut out two and have now decided I will mostly likely sew the second one on. So it looks cute on both sides. My vintage buttons, that have a raised floral design on them, are strictly decorative since I sewed my pocket shut. I only had 6 of them, and just realized why I only have one pocket. Oh well.

I went back and forth on my skirt length. I really liked the shorter skirt and tried really hard to find some plain white COMFORTABLE shoes I could wear but they don’t seem to make those anymore. All I could find were black. COMFORT being the main description because we would be walking a lot. So I found photos showing ladies still wearing long skirts and my nice comfortable white boots won out. I will still be looking for those *I Love Comfort* shoes though.
My blouse wasn’t anything too complicated. Butterick 4091 Basque Blouse, made with a white cotton/rayon blend fabric. 
The surprise for me was the collar turned into a great white sail. I used the one on the lower right of the pattern. I guess I didn’t notice how BIG it was in the back, big enough to sail a boat with. And it did try to fly away with me a couple times. Hah! And I just realized I used the smaller white buttons on that and I think I can scavenge two off of it since it doesn’t show at the bottom and use them for the two pockets. Brilliant!  The Great White Sail has now be removed from the neckline and will be cut down to a more manageable and smaller collar for when I wear it again in two weeks. I like that square one on the lower left of the pattern better.
EDITED TO ADD- I was just asked about what corset I wore with this. I wore my long-line one that was scaled up from Janet Waugh's Corsets & Crinolines book. A Victorian corset wouldn't give you that soft bust that this outfit requires. 
The main accessory was of course the awesome orange parasol I bought on ebay. It made me look colorful and quite easy to find in the park too. You couldn’t miss me.
 I’ve loved this hat style on Lady Sybil from Downton Abbey forever and used a straw hat I bought recently in Port Townsend to make mine. With only two days to go I had to run to a couple fabric stores to find some orangey fabric to trim it with. The best I came up with was polka dots. I put a band around the brim, made “rabbit ears” with interfacing and the fabric, and basted it to the hat with a giant vintage button. I turned down one end of the hat to get the Sybil-look.
Also on the final days I ran across this photo of a lady from the time period with that fabulous necklace! It was off to Michael’s for some beads. I really wanted wood ones but due to the time crunch and none there, I bought glass jade green ones. It wasn’t long enough at first and wanted to hide inside the collar so the night before the event, I made another run to Michaels for two more strands. 
I used my antique leather purse for the first time but it didn’t make it into many photos because I always had something else (cell phone/lunch) in my hand and had to put it behind my back for photos. 
Et voila!  We also did our characters parade at the House of England that day, and many of us wearing this time period chose to all be from Downton Abbey. It was a lot of fun.
And BTW, someone else blogged about the event and put in lots of pictures of us. Great to meet you, Richard! Cool San Diego Sights
This coming weekend we have our costumed walkabout at the Del Mar Antique Show again, and I'm always excited to possibly find some new accessory for my costumes. It's always a treasure hunt!