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.


Saturday, November 15, 2014

Party like it's the 1700s.

Photo by Trudy 
Yesterday was our San Diego Costume Guild's now-annual 18th Century Picnic in Balboa Park. We have a nice quiet courtyard in the middle of the International Cottages at the park near the Air & Space Museum. The Cottages are closed on Saturday so other than the few walkers and some tourists, it's pretty quiet.
We each brought our own picnic lunch plus a dish to share. Heather, our organizer, brought a couple authentic 18th C dishes, one being a spicey gingerbread. I brought Mozzerella cheese balls and sliced salami.

While we were sitting and standing around chatting, we were visited by a very friendly squirrel who first came up about 4 feet from me and sat up begging. He must have known we have something in common, being easily distracted by *things*. He then ran up a tree and kept a close eye on everyone's picnic baskets, most likely looking for a handout.  (photo of squirrel by Karen)

All of the little cottages were closed today but after awhile we heard fiddle-playing coming from one of them and from thereon we had background music all day. It was a nice touch. I had considered bringing my ipod and little speakers and hiding them inside my basket to play some period music. I'm glad I didn't now.
I was mostly taking photos from where I was seated so my views were a little limited.

As our picnic was winding down, small groups of Asian tourists began walking through and got all excited when they saw us. We're used to this with the tourists, and particularly with the Japanese. What surprised us was this group wanted to sit on our blankets with us, hold up the picnic baskets, and one lady even picked up a piece of leftover bread to hold up. Language barriers were no problem and I again wondered what they tell their friends when they show our photos back home. They were quite happy to take all our cameras and take group photos of us too.
I was really happy with how my short jacket came out. It looked pretty and was full around the hips, just I like it. I didn't even need a bum roll to give it some lift. My temporary fix to attach my stomacher to my stays worked quite well and stayed firmly in place. The only thing I'm not happy with is the sleeves. What's new? They fit fine when I sewed them up but I put a cotton lining in them and apparently that was just a bit too much bulk and they were tight. So once again I'll be doing some alterations on that, like removing the lining. I wore my sheer cap I bought in Williamsburg that I had a red ribbon tied in a bow in the front. But when I put it on I had it too far forward and with my hat on the bow was stuck in the front. So it looked a little uneven in my eyes. It looks ok without the hat on though.

One of our new members, Karen, made the same jacket and made her's reversible with the same fabric design but a white background for her lining. Brilliant!
How do you like that flower pot I'm balancing on my head? Great lining that up for the photo. (photo by Gina)

(Photo by Trudy)


Thursday, November 6, 2014

An 18th Century Short Jacket, aka Caraco

With our guild's upcoming 18th C Picnic in Balboa Park this coming Saturday I finally kicked myself in the butt last month to replace my earlier red floral linen caraco that was too short-waisted for me. Every time I raised my arms or stood up from a chair, there was a gap between the jacket and the skirt. I actually tried to find some more of the linen to remake one but had no luck since I bought it about 5 years ago. I had lucked out buying this fabric while at Michael Levine's in the LA Garment District after Costume College. Sally Queen was there giving a private shopping tour of 18th C fabrics and overheard her saying this was perfect. So after they left I bought some. And I bought the solid red linen to go with it for a petticoat aka skirt. 
For this picnic I wanted something quick to make and my new JP Ryan short jacket pattern fit the bill. I'd seen a couple of them with the lacing in front and thought that might help with some of the fitting problems I've had with those front closures. I've made a couple versions where I used hooks & eyes on the side or in the center but always had to cover it with ruching. I'm also not a pinner, ie pinning it closed as you historically would. I like the varieties on this jacket that are possible of using different colored ribbons, a contrasting stomacher, or a reversible one. So I chose the pattern pieces to do View B but with the ribbon closure that shows on D. 
I'm going to wear my red linen skirt and hope to use it multiple times with other fabrics. I decided to use the cotton fabrics I bought in Williamsburg a couple years ago, both of which will go with my red petticoat. After checking the fabric amounts, I had 3 yds of the blue and 5 yds of the red. Obviously I bought the red to make another longer caraco or Anglaise. So instead of wasting that on a short jacket, I decided to just do the blue one. And whenever I get a brown or blue petticoat done, I can wear it with that too. 

At the bottom of this page on the Silly Sisters site you can see some other lovely fabrics to educate your eye on what to look for while searching for your own.    I've seen similiar fabric patterns at Michael Levines in the LA Garment District where I bought this blue and brown floral patterned cotton. If I ever get a blue petticoat made I can wear both the blue jacket and this with it. 

I found this beautiful 1770s short jacket in the Cora Ginsburg Collection and this would be an easy fabric to find if you wanted to copy it. 

I liked both the short jackets and caracos (they're longer) because they use less fabric than the Anglaise or polonaise, are less work and time consuming, and you can use them with different colored petticoats for a variety of looks. *Edited to add- I recently learned that both the short jacket and caraco are used interchangeably with caraco being the French term.*
This pattern only had three main pieces plus the stomacher (the center panel that is separate from the bodice) and the sleeves. How much easier is that? I didn't have to alter the waist length on this one like I did on my previous  Period Impressions caraco. In fact the only alteration I did was my usual enlarging the upper arm portion. 
I made my muslin first out of a good cotton muslin and decided to use that also to flatline my bodice. With it being so horribly hot lately I just wasn't feeling like cutting another flatlining fabric out, plus another lining. Yes, I am lining this because it needs a little more body and for once I'm going to bag-line it. I know, I always say I won't do that and just do facings all around. But this time I'm going for quick and easy. It's also closer to the period correct way of finishing it. Even with the three layers of cotton it's not bulky. My first caraco was made with my Victorian-bodice-mindset and I flatlined it in twill and put boning in the seams. I was a real newbie at Georgian/Colonial fashion. This was also the one I wore to Colonial Williamsburg and was told that the neckline should be just above the nipple line, not halfway up my neck. This pattern was the generic size and you were expected to alter it to your own body. So I can thank Janea Whitacre there for that wonderful bit of advice. And then seeing my friend Barbee Mullin's bodices that were wafer-thin set me on a different path too. I have to say going to Colonial Williamsburg was a great learning location for my costuming. So no more binding myself in the dress. I'll let the stays (corset) do that. 

The three pieces sewed together very quickly although the pattern doesn't have the usual notches that I'm used to. It does have little lines that I'm assuming are for matching the pieces because it was a little confusing as to what side of each piece went to what. You'd think with only three pattern pieces it wouldn't be that hard. but if you've separated them and set them aside and then later pick them up, they're not very obvious as to what they are or what side they belong on. So here's my tip: make a light pen or pencil mark in your seam allowance telling you that it's a center back seam or side back to center panel, etc. Or maybe make up your own notches. 

Ok, so all pieces were sewn together and my shoulder seams were wider on the front bodice on the armhole side. I just trued it up cutting off a little wedge. This pattern has two back styles so I'm thinking the front bodice portion is the generic size for them. 

When I sewed the muslin together all the pieces lined up properly but after I sewed the fashion fabric and flatlining together both sides of the lower portion of the jacket was longer than the front portions. Stretch issues?? Maybe, because I'm sure I did stretch the muslin down to get the ends to fit and ease them in. But the final length on the bottom was a 3" difference. Because I'm doing the baglining  of the jacket, it will at least make it easier to deal with finishing those edges. 

I'm guessing this is just part of the style or maybe I'm supposed to trim it because the pattern doesn't say anything about it. The directions are minimal. The pattern is mostly a no-brainer on construction other than a few things you obviously are already supposed to know. I may have to wait for another trip to Williamsburg for some more great tips. In the meantime, I'm leaving that 3" difference alone and letting it be part of the jacket. It kind of folds into the flared portions. I'm doing View B as opposed to View D. 

*Now that I'm writing this, I again remembered that the front of the jacket is the generic one because this pattern has two lengths so maybe I was supposed to trim off that extra? But I wanted the longer length. Honestly I don't know. I'm not really that knowledgeable in Georgian fashion. While looking at some other short jackets I noticed a similar uneven bit. So I'm rationalizing that it's part of the way it pleats. At least until I learn otherwise let's call it done. *

I took this to a sewing workshop with Shelley Peters to work on the sleeves there and once again had issues with them fitting my upper arms. I had enlarged it but I still had too much fullness in the sleeve caps. Shelley tried a few different things but in the end she asked why do I try to pleat the fullness in and it never gets it spread out smoothly when I could just gather them and ease it around. ?? Umm, I don't know, I guess because I thought it was easier than having to run it through the sewing machine twice on each side to gather it? Maybe leftovers from working on later time periods? So I basted a gathering stitch and guess what? They went in much better~ Not perfect but better. And they're done. Now I have to decide if I'm going to do sleeve ruffs to go with the cuffs I made next. 
Next up were the eyelets on the front that I'll be running my ribbon through. I think I read somewhere that people are using grosgrain ribbon for extra strength but I don't think I'll be able to find a blue or red one. I had all intentions of putting grommets in while at Shelley's class using her grommet setter but on asking one of my friends online, I was quickly chastised that grommets weren't used back then and I had to do handsewn eyelets. Darn. So I dug up a video online on how to do them.
And found a photo tutorial also.
One of my blogging friends, Laurie, who often goes to Williamsburg, had a couple posts on making her 18th C jacket and I picked up a couple ideas from her, like her eyelets and how they looked on the inside. Notice there's no cut thread between each eyelet? Not sure why but methinks maybe so you don't have knots and makes it look cleaner. 

I was finally down to two weeks before the picnic and still had to do those eyelets. I started making the holes with my awl and stitching them with two strands of embroidery floss but as fast as I stitched, the holes closed up. I have arthritis in my thumb and the more I fought this, the more it hurt. After getting two finally done and putting some Fray Check on so the holes would stop shrinking, I had to set it aside. It just hurt too much. And I still had 8 more to go. One evening Shelley stopped by on her way home with her grommet setter and we did it. Then I covered them with my embroidery floss stitches so they wouldn't show. I'm sorry all you historically correct people but I have my limits. 
I put it on my dressform to see if it’s going to work. I think so. 
I bought some royal blue 5/8" ribbon and pulled out my bodkins I bought a few years ago from Silly Sisters and laced it up. Umm, no. Not going to work with a ladder lacing. It needs to tie at the top with a pretty bow, darn it. 

So I did a crisscross lacing starting at the bottom and was able to lace it on top. 
Historically the stomacher is pinned to the stays to hold it in place and you wear your jacket over it. I'm a newbie and that's not working for me. I won't tell you what I'm doing to do that but you won't be able to see it, and right now that's all that's important to me. I get to wear it. 
Photos of it on me and everyone else at the picnic will be forthcoming next week. 

Friday, October 31, 2014

A Trio of Historical Classes Presentations, & Wearing the Autumn Bustle

Last Sunday a group of us from the San Diego Costume Guild, Cindy Piselli, Tracy Gomez and I presented our classes to our costume guild that we had done last August at Costume College. 
        “Watches & How Women Wore Them”; “Jewel Tone Handbags of the 1960s”; 
                                         and “Faking Hair Under Hats”


I had all intentions of wearing my normal street clothes due to the weather still being hot and having to lug in all my gear wasn't conducive to wearing a costume But Cindy managed to talk me into it. However I didn't want to wear my 1830s dress that started me on my path in creating my watch class because I wouldn't have anyone at home to help me get into it. And the other dress I would like to wear that had a watch pocket similar to one of my slideshow photos, my Autumn Bustle, would be too hot to wear with all it's polyester fabrics. But gradually the temperatures started to cool down a bit and by that day it was only supposed to be 72d in San Diego. So I gave in. I also wanted the chance to wear my antique capote bonnet that looked so nice with my gown but while I got dressed, my wig had too much hair for it to fit, and I had to wear my frazzled wig uncovered. I didn't leave myself enough time to come up with an alternative.
It was still pretty warm to wear and by the beginning of the class after setting everything up, I was pretty "dewy". I made a point of telling everyone THIS is the reason why its not recommended to use 
polyester when you make your dress. But I've used it a few times and usually have a cotton lining between it and my body. But it doesn't always help.
Our set-up at the YMCA worked out well. The room was much larger than we expected and had large windows on one wall for light. Definitely a great location for future classes. 

I began the classes with my Watch presentation and when I got to the slide that showed a dress and watch pocket similar to mine I stood up and walked around, showing it to everyone. I didn't think quick enough to ask someone to take my photo but the lights were dimmed for the slideshow so I don't know if that would have even worked. *Unbeknownst to me, my bustle got caught up on the back of the chair. Not pretty.*

Cindy THE BROKE COSTUMER brought a portion of her Jewel Tone handbags for her class on them to display and had Tisha show them as she described them. The history of these handbags made many of us suddenly realize that we had grown up with them and remembered seeing them. I had a moment when I remembered decorating a wooden purse kit from the Tandy Leather Co (who had copied the designs) when I was 12 years old. 

Tracy THE HISTORICAL HAIRDRESSER rounded out our classes with her demonstration of how to attach wig pieces to our heads just where it would show under the hat or bonnet. She showed one piece that had multiple uses and caused a lot of us to have that "ah-hah" moment. 
I've done this in parts where I've attached little curly bits on my temples for both 1810 & 1830 styles. I have a longer piece with curls that I've attached across the top of my head to poke out from under the front of my bonnet too. I can definitely say I too benefited from our class presentations too. 
                                                                     i  ~Val~

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