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 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 Past President & member of the San Diego Costume Guild,Costumer's Guild West in Los Angeles, and Orange County Costume Guild, & a representative of the San Diego History Center. 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.


Monday, July 11, 2016


After attending a lecture on the Frederick Worth dresses last year at Costume College, I wanted to try making my own for the next year. The ideas I came away from it was Worth made really eye-catching and detailed gowns, paid attention to detail, and quality of workmanship. Ok, two out of three will happen. Just gotta get ‘er done.

While I was out shopping for fabric in the L.A. Garment District the day after Costume College last year, my friend Kristen and I came across a newly opened fabric shop that was primarily curtain and upholstery fabric but the rainbow of them on the wall blew our eyeballs out. And they had Grand Opening prices, like $2.99 a yard. Not silk, mind you. We knew they were polyester but still colors and patterns you wouldn’t normally see. This one really caught my eye; it was a plum color in faux dupioni with lots of floral embroidery on it. The flowers even had little tuffs on them. It looked very Chinese. I knew right away this could be my Worth tea gown that I’d saved a photo from.
Having no idea how much of it I would need, I bought 10 yards. I also begged him to put the roll in the back of the room for the rest of the day in hopes none of the other Costume College shoppers would see it.  LOL!! Sorry about that, ladies. 
My base for the tea gown would be Truly Victorian #432, which ended up taking 7 yards.

This was a fairly easy pattern to sew but the Watteau pleats on the back confused me a few times. Once I figured out I was pleating it inside out, and turned it right side out to pleat it, the pleats went the right direction. With the looseness at the waist in the back, I sewed a stay-belt inside on the back seams to pull it tight in front.
I tried these directions from another pattern, making an insert down the front to look like my Worth photo.

I thought maybe a shirred chiffon down the front would be pretty but I wanted to make it an overlay, not really part of the front closure. I even tried using the instructions from Patterns of History. I did two rows of very tight pleating at the bodice but the rest was just hanging loose. It started to look more like 1960s lingerie, and working with the chiffon was horrid. It was not the right choice of fabric to use. So off it went!
 Next thing I know, my friend Gina was able to do exactly what I was trying to do, except she was replicating a maternity gown that would later revert to a tea gown. Now I’m waiting to see just how she did it. Apparently it was a struggle for her too.
I was leaving the buttons and buttonholes for last since they go alllll the way down the front but finally had to do them. Marking them two inches apart, I ended up making 19 buttonholes after thinking I only did 18. Oops. Finding the buttons in a short period of time was going to be harder. Both fabric stores by me had 8 of each kind at best. I found some on Etsy in wood, and considered that but then saw some metal filigree ones that I thought would look nice. I remembered a bag of metal buttons in my stash that I’d bought about 8 years ago at a Renaissance Fair, and the Button Gods didn’t fail me. I had 30, although in two different styles. I was able to use 14 of one, and the rest of the other at the bottom. They’re vaguely similar, and being that far down, I don’t think anyone would notice. Bam! Done!
So now the fun part of trimming it out, or “decorating the cake”. The fabric itself shows really beautiful but I wanted to soften it a bit too.  I saw this lace collar and cuffs on someone’s gown, so I dug through my lace stash. I found the one I was looking for but in it’s old life it was actually part of a blouse. I didn’t like the separation on the shoulders instead of being one solid collar. 
So I went back to digging in the stash. I found a good size roll of a white lace that I’d used years ago while making lace caps and pleated that around the inside of my collar and cuffs. And the beauty of this is, the lace cap I’ve decided to wear has that same lace on it. Serendipity. I only have one row of lace on the cuffs in this photo. I later tried a second row above it but didn't like it. At least its still froofy and softer looking.

 My other addition is a pocket, like these other 1870s tea gowns.

I cropped a pocket from one photo and blew it up for my pattern, then hand stitched it to my gown, just slightly to the back. 

I added some lace just inside it. Now it needed a silly contrasting bow on it. Out of my stash, I found some burnt orange taffeta for that, and added another of the metal buttons to it. Later I will tuck a fan and a handkerchief in the pocket to show what it’s used for.
I’ve gathered my accessories, one being the lace cap I had, and found some oxblood “suede-like” flats at Target that turned out to be the same color as the fabric of my gown. That was a surprise when I really wanted black but they were all sold out. I also plan on wearing an antique white petticoat so it will peek out at the bottom of my gown where I’m leaving it open.

Just a few days ago I finally finished it completely, and took a quickie photo of me in it, sans wig and accessories, just so I could be sure it fit. I’m satisfied with it, although I will be moving slowly so as not to break out in a sweat. It would be perfect for a cold Winter morning but in a hotel with thousands of costumed ladies, I’m going to melt. I will have that fan and hankie at the ready.

My Supervisor has been making sure I’m staying on track, and I’m now sewing the lace strips on to my 1908 blouse waist for my other outfit that I finished after two years. But I finally caved in to my Inner Squirrel and pulled a couple fabrics out of the stash for my next project(s). Just couldn’t resist. I’m thinking a couple sheer dresses. 

Tuesday, July 5, 2016


Over the weekend I hosted another sewing workshop in my home with Shelley Peters’ Historical Sewing Workshops. Since I was already ahead on some of my sewing for Costume College, I decided to take the opportunity to make a new corset since my previous one from three years ago had gotten paint splattered on it while I doing my face-painting for Dia de los Muertos, which wouldn’t wash out, and also had some holes in it where I had replaced a busk. And I must have very dirty hands when I put it on because it was pretty dirty along the front.

The last time I saw Shelley’s coutil brocades for the corsets, I’d seen a white with lavender flowers on it and decided I didn’t want pure white this time. And she had a lavender cotton twill to line it with.

The pattern we’d used in 2013 was Truly Victorian #110 for late 1880, which is primarily the decade I like to dress. I’m not one of those who makes a different corset for the different decades, unless it's really different, like Regency, or the longer Edwardians. So this gets me through 1830s up to about 1905. Where it becomes telling is when the skirt is really flat and tight fitting and the fluff comes out the bottom of my corset. There’s no fuller skirts to conceal that so you need to take that into account how you make that skirt fit.
My corsets prior to this were made from Laughing Moon but after making my first TV one, Shelley said it fit my body better, and gave me better “hip spring”. I’m assuming that means a better shaped hip line and nice curvy hips.
*I wanted to add this quote from Jennifer of Sewing Historical, who said, "The Laughing Moon 100 runs big as you get into the larger sizes. The TV pattern doesn't, and you cut each panel according to your measurements." *
We used the same pattern pieces from my first time using the TV pattern, but took in a few “darts” to better flatten the bottom of the front, which tended to dome on me, and also a bit in the bust area. I tended to slip down inside mine, and she suggested using the little “bust improvers” that you can set down inside the bust cups for the girls to rest on and keep them up. Put on your chemise and corset, and then tuck them down inside and under the girls.  Cha Ching!
These are the "bust improvers/cookies/cutlets" made of a white foam with a thicker section at the bottom. They can be purchased at fabric/hobby stores in the accessories sections. Shelley had her's attached by a bit of a ribbon across the middle.

The workshops normally run for two days, starting about 9 or 10am, and finish each day sometime around 6 or 7pm. Since I was using my previous pattern which we’d already fitted on me, I didn’t have to make a muslin. I didn’t have constant supervision while I was sewing, and of course sewed one panel upside down, and put half of my busk in backwards. This isn’t the busk I used but can you see the little knobs are closer to one side than the other? The wider portion, not the narrow one, should be put up against the outside seam. I did mine with the narrow portion and so it didn’t close very well. So out it came! Yes, my seam ripper as usual got a good workout.
Some corset patterns are made so you sew all the coutil pieces together, then all the outside fabric, and then you sandwich them together, adding boning channels to it. The TV pattern has you sew each pattern piece of coutil and fabric together, then the next two to that one, and then next, and so on. To keep myself from being confused which pattern piece went next I would write on the backside which pattern # it was (1-6). It also helps showing you which is the top and the bottom. Of course I still can’t figure out how I sewed one panel upside down. They look really similar so it’s not hard, so that’s my excuse.
When it’s finally all pieced, you sew your channels down it with your sewing machine. No boning tape is used. It cuts down on bulk and cost, but then that’s not much. Shelley reminded me to do very small stitches when I did a running stitch along the bottom of each half of the corset so it enforced the channel the bones would go in and not poke through. I noticed I had forgotten to do that on my previous one, and they WERE poking through. I also learned I was using bones that were about a half inch too long and were set solidly in my channels right up to the tops and bottoms of them, so there was no room for movement. Thus, they were being forced out of the coutil.
By the end of the second day of sewing, with a really stiff back I might add, I had completed all the sewing except the binding on the bottom after I put the bones in. I was able to finish that the next evening. And voila! A new corset in two days.


Sunday, June 19, 2016


Following on the steps of a definite CADD-mode (Costume Attention Deficit Disorder) instead of trying to finish just one dress for Costume College, I decided to work on all four that were in progress and work on each part whichever got my attention at the moment. True CADD at it’s best.

I’m finally getting around to finish my 1908 Directoire olive green & brown striped skirt and vest, and getting a blouse made for it. I first was cutting out a pleated silk voile a couple years ago for it, but after dealing with it slithering around my scissors, I tossed it in a bag in the closet. So with a deadline approaching and a mini-theme of a Stripey Parade at CoCo, I recut the blouse using a plain off-white cotton voile. But while digging around in my fabric stash, I came across that bag of pleated silk voile, and since it was already cut, I decided what the heck. It was a simple pattern, but when I started pulling out lace to bling it up, it started to make me smile. So we’re getting there.

My 1870s tea gown has taken up too much time and it too is finally getting some more work done on it. Still playing with lace accents and going back and forth with various ideas. The lace collar idea I had won't work with this. What I have is something that used to be on a blouse. And I just came up with another idea a few minutes ago. So back to the stash I go!  The multitude of buttons that this required (somewhere between 14-24 depending on how far down you want to go) had me roadblocked since our local stores don’t carry more than 9 or 12 matching buttons at a time. The idea of covering them was mindboggling. But the Stash came through for me again, with a bag of around 30 metal buttons I bought about 10 years ago at a RenFaire.  18 buttonholes and buttons later, that’s done. Except somehow I made 19 buttonholes. Oops. Now onto the hem and figure out that lace I want to try.

My grand finale is an 1897 evening dress that will be my “Wow” entry this year. At least in my head I’m hoping for that. I thought I had my waist belt all worked out but after pleating it all together, it’s just too bulky. Waaaay too bulky. So I’m unstitching it and will just make one flat layer of it. That one single item has been the death of me this year. This will be it’s 3rd version.
The high-waisted skirt went together fairly easily but the blouse and I are still at a standstill. It’s something I have to build from scratch and my ambitions include a gorgeous lace table runner as part of the trim.

And on the “third try is the charm”-table I'm remaking my bodice on my 1908 Marigold dress where I found a better lace in my stash to use for the neck insert and the sleeve cuff trim. And the hem got redone too. Turns out it was about four inches too short. I think my dressform must have taken a header and lost some of its height when I marked the hem. Or I shrunk. I’ve heard that happens as you get older.

There was another project in my head for CoCo this year but didn’t realize I had so many others in the “almost-done” stage that I could use.
But as we all know, this time of year, we’re all a bit mad.

Mother Nature is helping me stay inside and sew, because any minute now our thermometer is going to hit 100d, and if you believe the weather forecasters, will surpass that by 10 degrees or more tomorrow. 


Tuesday, May 31, 2016

NANNY BROOCH; Another Unusual Ladies' Accessory PART 2

This is Part 2 of my Unusual and Little Known Ladies' Accessories. For Part 1, Perfume Buttons, see my previous post here. PERFUME BUTTONS

Following my previous post on little known ladies’ accessories, I bet you’ve NEVER heard of these either.  I can’t even remember where I first came across it but I think it was when I was searching for cabinet cards and saw this one above saying she was wearing a nanny brooch.
The seller had the cabinet card listed for $45 (which I’d love to buy but not for THAT price), and dated it as 1890s. The following description was included:   
 Victorian Nanny brooch pins have hidden compartments specially designed to hold needle & thread for emergency repairs to their children’s clothing. Usually they had threaded caps that could be unscrewed to reveal the hidden items within.   Victorian Nanny Pins are considered the Rarest of the RARE—thus highly sought after by Victorian Jewelry & Sewing collectors. Finding an authentic Victorian Nanny Pin is rare enough—seeing one in a vintage photo is EQUALLY exciting!   Offered here in GORGEOUS CONDITION ….is this fabulous RARE vintage original one-of-a-kind circa 1890 cabinet card photograph of a pretty young Victorian-era woman wearing what appears to be a lovely Nanny Pin. The Nanny Brooch has round knobbed end caps that look like part of the brooch design, but they cleverly unscrew to reveal a hidden compartment for emergency sewing items. Close expert examination with a magnifier has confirmed that this is indeed a Nanny Brooch Pin.

So that put me on the hunt. They are pretty rare, don’t come up often for sale, AND can be expensive. I finally found one in England around my birthday that was $60. So that was my birthday present to myself. This style is mainly dated around 1870s. So far it looks to me like the English are the ones giving it this name, nanny brooch, or housekeeper’s brooch. 
They’re also shown in sewing etui groups, since the back section holds a needle and thread, with the oft-repeated story they were worn by nannies to allow them to perform quick mending jobs for their little charges. You can recognize them by the little knobs on the ends that you would unscrew. But be warned that one dealer had one that looked like a nanny brooch but in fact did not unscrew. So you need to check or ask for those to be verified if purchasing one. And of course since there’s no way to check those in these cabinet cards, it’s only speculation but probably a good possibility.

 Most of them are dated by the sellers from 1850-1905, with most of them around 1890s, which many of these cabinet cards are from that time period. They were made of gilt brass, about 2 inches long, with stones that the majority of them are a round “goldstone”, also known as aventurine glass, a form of quartz, which was a common gemstone used for jewelry then. But there were a couple with rectangle shapes and stones of mother of pearl stone, onyx, and clear glass.

This is one without it's stone. 
They all have a German patent mark stamped on the back but they’re kind of worn down. Mine is marked GFS 3ESCH, like this one. Another seller had DRGM 49760 on theirs. 

And this other one had a sweet little hand engraving of “Love to Dorothy” roughly scratched on it, and another had someone’s initials, E L,  on it.
This is a cabinet card gifted to me by my friend, Sue, mostly because of its watch chain she was wearing. *I love that my friends think about me* It was unusual, and after looking at it with a very strong magnifying glass, I think she's wearing a nanny brooch with a watch hanging from it. You can see the tiny knobs on the end of the brooch. She certainly looks like someone’s special nanny.

So far this is all the information I’ve found on this seldom-seen accessory. Another one of those forgotten stories, I guess.