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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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. And I've dabbled in some 1930s & 40s.


Thursday, October 23, 2014

Mad for Plaid, and Back to the 1830s

So here I was sitting pretty, just needed to finish a few projects for upcoming events, nothing major; just some hand sewn eyelets on my 18th C short jacket, and adding some feathers to my antique bonnet to wear with my Autumn Bustle gown next Sunday while I teach my watch class. It just needs a little fluff. 


The only other events I have coming up are Dia de los Muertos in Old Town (wearing my black and white polka dot polonaise with colorful head flowers, red shawl, and Catrina face), a Costumed Walkabout at the Del Mar Antique Show, and the San Francisco Dickens Fair, both of which I'll be wearing my Dickens-era 1830s teal dress. 

When suddenly out of the blue, PLAID struck me in the foreheard. Wow, Wow, Wow!  


This beautiful extant gown at the MET Museum just screamed MAKE MEEEEE!!  I think the reddish-burgundy with the blue is the more correct color than the orangey looking photos. But these started me in a frenzy of searching for more plaid dresses, and I'm going WHAT AM I DOING? I HAVE A DRESS! I DON'T NEED TO MAKE ANOTHER 1830s DRESS! 
Why yes I do. So the search began for fabric. I began looking for a medium weight cotton thinking I'd have more luck finding a plaid in it and would save money. Because we all know I already have FOUR 1830s dresses.  

So what do you think? Do I want to look like a man's plaid shirt or flannel pajamas?  

But none of those fabrics seemed right for a dress. The colors and patterns looked good though. But I'm really one of those touchy-feeley people who wants to feel the texture and weight of the fabric. I figured I'd be making the rounds of the fabric stores and soon, because I only have a little over a month to make it. 
And then another light bulb went off. I remembered seeing my friend Robin's gorgeous Dupioni silk 1860s dress at the Riverside Dickens Fest and it was the same color I was leaning towards. 

I decided I probably needed to extend my search to include Dupioni like her's was. She certainly doesn't look like she's wearing her husband's flannel pajamas. 
My local fabric stores had nothing I could use. Lots of solid color Dupioni's and lots of men's shirt and pj fabrics, but nothing even close to dress weight. So I went back to online shopping. Since I know what Dupioni feels like I knew I didn't have to worry about that, unless it had tons of slub. But with that pattern design, I think you'd need a magnifying glass to see that, and I think my cat is the only one who gets that close to my gowns. 
*Proof right here* 
I checked out a couple recommended silk sellers on ebay but yikes! prices running from $15-$20 a yard? I don't think so. I did find this one for $13.25 yard with free shipping, so if I got desperate....... It even looked close to the one Robin had. 

I started looking through Etsy next using Dupioni silk plaid as my search words and found a fabric seller with what turned out to be the same fabric on Special for $6.99 yard and only $2.99 shipping! But I think that's for the one yard and I needed 8.
The order button only went up to 6 yards and I panicked so I quickly emailed her asking if I could get more since the description said they could cut whatever you needed off the bolt. Luckily she had 7 yards plus a 1 yard piece left so I ordered it. Sorry girls, none left! My shipping turned out to be Flat Rate through the USPS for $12.50. Still not too bad considering the Special Price I got. I think my friend Cindy, The Broke Costumer, would approve. 
It was shipping that same day so I'm all excited to start this. I'd better get my butt in gear and finish that hat trimming and eyelet making before my sewing room is awash in fabulous plaid. And then I can do my quickie blog post on my 18th C jacket that I promised a few people 

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

1914 Purple Plaid -Butterick 6093

A brand new pattern put out by Butterick has everyone all ‘atwitter on my Costume Pattern Review group on Facebook. It’s a Retro Butterick 6093 that follows the lines of 1912-1914. The red version with the big white collar they have on the website is kind of throwing people off.  “In my own opinion”, I think it’s ugly. 

But if you look at the other photo, you can actually see the pattern line, without that ugly contrast white collar, and it starts looking really good.

I spent a lot of time looking through my computer folders of collected pictures and on Pinterest for dresses of this style or ones that could be made using this pattern. And I came up with enough that my Pattern Group really got inspired.



So the race was on to make one. I was in the middle of another project, my 1770s short jacket, but decided to drop it and go forward with this. I had the fabric, a cotton purple plaid that only cost me $3 yard, and perfect for testing it on. I kept trying to buy the pattern at JoAnn’s during their sales but every time I went there were none in the cabinet, which everyone else complained about too. Surprisingly if you went on a non-sale day, they suddenly appeared, but only about 3 of them. I also tried the $3.99 sale that Butterick had online but all they ever had was the small size group. So I caved in and bought one on ebay, paying $7 for it. Right after I bought it I saw another for $4. So I let the ladies know there were some out there if they were desperate like me.

Ok, so, my fabric. It’s cotton, kind of dense, with the feel of a linen blend, so it has a nice body for this.
This was my idea of the dress I would make. It looks very fresh and Summery. With the weather the last two weeks of temperatures ranging from 100-110, it was nice to look at. 
I saw some binding on another dress and may try that along with some lace on the cuffs too. I’m going to use solid white windowpane cotton for the cuffs, collar, and bib insert but I can always adapt some lace to them.
When I got my pattern in the mail and pulled it out to begin, I noticed it has a side opening that called for a zipper. I don’t do zippers. Period. And they didn’t have zippers back then on ladies dresses. During our discussion on the Pattern group, different ideas were posted of doing hooks & eyes, and snaps, or buttons, or being very daring by changing the opening to the period correct version of closing in the front. This would require changing the way the skirt operated. It’s similar to another pattern I’ve done, Hint of History 1914 pattern #101, although it had a similar problem where the giant shawl collars were throwing me off.
The two patterns are similar but H of H has a waistband, and a faux front, a rather simplified version. Butterick has a belt that goes over the dress, and the skirt is in three panels.
I decided to make the Butterick as it was originally designed, minus the zipper. Since so many of the ladies want to make their pattern too, I’m going to share how I’m making mine, although it will be in two parts because I’m only halfway done with it. But this will be more of the construction part to help them with theirs.
The bodice was pretty easy to sew, and you have to remember to keep the left side unstitched to about 3 inches down from the armhole where the top half of the closure will be. The other half will be on the skirt where they line up. I had to add 1 ½” to the waist on the pattern and I use 1/2 “ seam allowances. This makes the bust area a little blousy and there are no darts but this isn’t a fitted bodice, rather a gathered loose one.
I don’t normally do a bag lining (sewing the lining right sides together with the bodice & turning it right side out) but I wanted to do this faster. Once it’s sewn together the bottom edges are basted together then you cross it over to the front to match the dots on the pattern. Then you do a gathering stitch all around. It will be blousy, and I think I may be taking mine in a bit under the armhole, because I never quite fill out the bust area where it crosses over. The bib insert will help with the gappiness I have. *More on that later as I finish it*
 I sewed a placket on one side so when both edges of the opening meet up, it will cover that portion. This is where the hooks & eyes / snaps will go and be covered up. Another idea is to do buttons and buttonholes there. But your buttons will show. 

Once this portion was done, I sewed the sleeves together but will attach those later. Sewing the skirt panels again was easy, and the left side is open 10” down from the waist (to the dot on the pattern). The one panel that has the pleats is sewn on top of the front skirt.
On the left side opening I sewed another placket to the one side too. On the opposite side I just turned up a narrow edge. Since this will just have the hooks I think that will work, but can always add a placket on that side too if it’s too flimsy.
Another question came up on the Pattern group about this being a tight, almost hobble skirt. At least with mine having the larger hips, that’s not going to be a problem for me. We discussed putting a kick pleat in the skirt if needed. I see on the pattern and directions it has you leave an 18” opening at the bottom of the seam (where the second dot is) which I assume is for a kick pleat opening. But nowhere does it say what to do with it. I’ve reread the instructions to the last page 5 which is only the French translation of the directions. So I’m making that assumption and going for it. I’ll just finish off those edges with a facing.
 So that’s where I am with this so far. I hope it helps others attempting to sew this pattern.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Exciting News to Share!

Many of you will remember reading about my re-creation of a Bloomer gown, and working with Past Patterns who had started the pattern years ago after tracing off an extant gown in the San Diego History Center but never finished it. In the ensuing years I did classroom presentations on it and also one at the History Center.

Early last month I was contacted by Pam Poulin,  Professor Emeritus from John Hopkins University, who had helped me with my research on Amelia Bloomer and the Bloomer gowns, and who also pointed me to Jody Luce (aka The Tailor of Peterboro) who portrays Elizabeth Smith Miller. Pam asked if I would be interested in doing a joint presentation with her on the Bloomer at next year’s conference by ALHFAM,    comprised of living history interpreters and historians, to be held in Williamsburg, VA in June 2015.
At first I was shocked. Then a bit scared and uneasy. I went into my mode of “they know more than I do and I’ll look like a fool”. But that only lasted about ten minutes. I remembered thinking the same thing when I was asked to join a costume guild, and then to go to Costume College until I found out we’re all different skill levels and we’re all the same. So of course I said YES!
Pam told me when she approached the Directors for ALHFAM about doing this, they were very excited so she wanted my approval and input. For the past month we’ve been putting together our proposal for the presentation to submit it. We still need the final approval but Pam is quite certain they'll like it. But I’ll still hold off a little longer on my jubilation. In fact, that’s why I haven’t said anything until now. We should know by December if we’re on the schedule and then I can really start sweating.
I will be bringing my reproduction of the San Diego bloomer and will be wearing my other one. Or as The Squirrel says, “You have to make a new one!” Pam portrays Amelia Bloomer and will be wearing her’s and telling more about Amelia and the Women’s Movement. She also plans on bringing the “other” Bloomer gown held at the Courtland County Historical Society in New York. Until I came out with my gown, they thought they had the only one in existence. I think it’s going to be very exciting.
I let Jody Luce know about this and she hopes that she and her Bloomer Brigade may also be able to come and join us.
 So, to any of my friends in Williamsburg: here’s your chance to make something new, a Bloomer, and come join us! I’m throwing down the gauntlet. If you’re serious about this, contact me and I can give you some quick and easy options for making your own, not just with this pattern. Or you can always come to the presentation and learn how.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014


I probably should have named this the Winter Bustle since I still have two months to go before I can even consider wearing my Autumn Bustle. Here in SoCal we can’t expect the weather to cool off until December. But at least it is done.  I think I may leave it on my dressform in my sewing room as long as possible because it’s just so bright and cheerful in here with it.

I took a couple photos of me wearing it as best I could so I could see it on me.  I really like the two sashes I put on each side. Because I’m twisting to take my side view photo the bodice looks like it’s wrinkled but it’s not. 
I am so happy with my watch pocket. This is the first gown I’ve put a visible one on. I made a pattern for it by tracing around my watch then drawing a U-shape around it giving it a 1/2 “ allowance with a little more on top. I folded & pinned  1/4“ under around it but you need some extra since the watch has some thickness that needs to fit in it. If your watch has a higher dome shape you need to allow for that. Then I slipped-stitched it to my bodice just slightly below my waist but where I could comfortably reach it.
I ended up using my “carnival” glass buttons on the front closure and ended up with four extra so am considering if adding them to the little lapels on the top are too much. Opinions? I’m thinking it might be too much. Or maybe it’s perfect.  These are just pinned on at the moment.  *See what happens when you sit back and keep staring at it? You keep wanting to do more. It’s like it won’t stop.*

And the butt in the back needed some finishing touches too. I was down to my last couple scraps of the copper taffeta and had just enough to make a long bow to attach to the peplum.
I really wanted to do this belt in front with a brooch and I may get *desperate/anal/obsessive* and sew a bunch of strips together to try and do this. I just may have enough of the bronze Dupioni that the rest of the bodice was made from to do it.
 In an attempt to stop the madness I let my brain start focusing on my next project which won’t be a total outfit, but just a 1770s short jacket to wear with my red petticoat I have. We have an 18th C. Picnic on the planning board for November in Balboa Park.  So on my planning table are these, all from my stash.  JP Ryan’s pattern with the laced up front, using one or both of these fabrics from Colonial Williamsburg I bought last year, to go over this red petticoat.  I’ll be all patriot again.