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. most of the time. 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 member of Costumer's Guild West in Los Angeles, Dean Emeritus of 2018 Costume College; member & Past President of the San Diego Costume Guild, member of Orange County Costume Guild, a representative of the San Diego History Center, & an honorary member of SITU (Someplace in Time, Unlimited) in Seattle. This year I am the Dean of Costume College 2018. I make my own historical costumes but don't sell any unless I get tired of one.The eras I've made so far are 1770 up to 1918. My favorite is the 1880s bustle.


Thursday, October 11, 2018

There has been some sewing: 1873 Purple Voile Bustle

I took a break from sewing after Costume College was finally over at the end of July. I walked away with my brain fried, body exhausted, and mind frazzled. But a tiny illumination of a dress kept popping up and reminding me I wanted/needed to make it. I’d saved this painting above for a few years and finally found some purple floral printed cotton voile I could use for it. I am in love with cotton voiles, and keep a lookout for any that I come across. They’re so hard to find anymore. I’ve seen a few of my friends with this same fabric and knew I had to make mine not look the same as theirs. But I wanted it light and floofy-looking. Because I liked the square neckline of the 1870s, I decided to go with an 1873 style.

Before the mad rush of trying to finish things for Costume College, I was able to cut out most of my dress using Truly Victorian patterns # 462 with the short back, #201 for the skirt, with #303 for the overskirt. Both the overskirt and skirt would have ruffles around the edges. 

And so they all sat until around mid-September when I finally felt the need to sew again. Since the fabric is sheer, I had originally planned on lining it in white cotton, and had cut out all the pieces, including the skirt for it. Except the white made it look washed out. So, I used some lavender cotton and that made the little purple flowers pop. The white fabric won't go to waste though. I will be making a petticoat out of it to go with this.
After having my bodice muslin fitted at Shelley Peters’ workshop, I got the bodice sewn quickly (no boning or sleeve ruffles yet), and then the skirt. But since my dressform was still downstairs after CoCo, it hadn’t been brought back up to get its corset and undies put back on, so my first reveal of it is rather sad, The neckline is actually a lot lower than this too. But it gave me a working view of how to do my trims. 
The neckline will have a lace ruffle around it, and the sleeves will have self-fabric ruffles with the same lace on them. I first thought I would add a narrow purple ribbon along the edges of the neckline too, but remembered I had a purple silk rose I wanted to use on the front of my bodice, and it glaringly didn’t match the ribbon. So the rose won. 

My buttons are from a set of vintage embossed rose ones that I bought a few years ago in Port Townsend, WA, at the Button Bazaar. My hat from Atelier Mela, was custom-ordered to go with this, and I bought a pair of grape cluster earrings from The Lady Detalle after seeing those. 

Other than the skirt, that’s as far as I’ve gotten with this, and am a bit distracted by the thought of making a red/green plaid cotton bustle dress for some Xmas teas coming up. It would be so much more comfortable that the silk taffeta dress I’ve worn in the past, but if it doesn’t happen, then that dress may get some white fur trim added to it.
Since I am leaving shortly for a vacation, this is as far as everything has gotten but I hope I come home rested, and ready to get back to work on everything.


Saturday, September 1, 2018

Costume College 2018: 1795 Open Robe Dresses for day and evening

I already wrote about my preliminary researching and planning for my open robes to wear to Costume College in this earlier post.
A couple of my friends were also going to make them so we encouraged each other as the months passed to get them made. My big plans of having three versions to wear, two during the daytime, and one in the evening, didn’t really work out as well as I’d hoped. Of the three dresses, I can only say I liked my evening one in black velvet the best but it still wasn’t great. This was mostly because of a pattern/fitting issue with the white dress under it. And no one needs to remind me that we should always make a muslin to make sure it fits. I did have a muslin that fit but its also important that you grab the correct pattern piece when cutting out your fabric. And maybe try on the finished outfit? That turned out not possible as my hubby wasn’t around to help me into it. You really need a maid or dresser to get you into that drawstring neckline.

Let’s take a look at what my complaint is all about. I wore my fuchsia day version on Friday and that’s where I first noticed a problem with the dress. Here’s a good look at my issue. That evening this photo was taken at the Friday Night Social where I was making some announcements and introducing the new Dean for 2019. The shoulders on my dress kept falling off my shoulders no matter how many times I tugged it back up. Fortunately, my chemise WAS behaving itself so at least I didn’t have bare skin showing. It may have just looked like it had come loose or untied and was sliding off but earlier in the evening we had tried to tighten it and pin it but to no avail. It would not behave.

The rest of my evening wearing this was fun, especially hooking up with Cynthia who made her interpretation of the same dress from the same fashion plate I did. 
I added black embroidered netting along the hem of my skirt to copy the fashion plate. 

I wore my black stone Collett necklace and earrings I’d bought from Dames a la Mode last year that I picked specifically for this outfit knowing I would be making it. I also made my watchchain equipage aka chatelaine to hang on my belt, like in the fashion plate, after seeing how Cynthia made hers. Again, I used bead bits and strands of pearls I had, including a lightweight fake pocket watch, and some chains and beads I bought at Michaels. For not having ever made any jewelry, I think I did pretty good. 

I wore a wig that night that I had from another outfit, and wrapped it with a white scarf, added a pretty rhinestone star cluster hair comb, and later added some white feathers. 

And now onto my day wear. My shoes were pretty. There were the Mossimo brand that popped up at Target, Payless Shoes, and various sites, with a cording that laced through it. I changed that out to a ribbon and they were really comfortable. This is the only photo I have proof of that I wore one of my day dresses. You can just see part of the fuchsia robe on the lower right corner. And those are some of my theme ribbons I picked up in just one day that were being passed around. My first ribbon is of course the Dean. 

I received this pretty apricot & pink turban gifted to me from the CGW President, Mela Hoyt-Heydon, to wear with both my fuchsia and peach day dresses, and I at least got to wear it one day. 
This was kind of fun. I went back to my room that night and found out Mela had decorated my hotel room door for me. She brought back the banner “Party like a Royal” and a crown on my light fixture from England especially for me!

That Friday morning was when I discovered there was an issue with my dress when I put on my fuchsia linen open robe with the white dotted swiss dress to wear during the daytime. I had made both my white dresses at the same time, using the same pattern pieces so both ended up having the same problem. While trying to put the one on and not being able to get it to stay on my shoulders, I realized I had accidentally grabbed the pattern piece for my Regency bodiced petticoat, and not the bodice. The petticoat has a wider neckline and is lower in front. So, all the tugging in the world wouldn’t help. After spending the day walking around in my fuchsia open robe outfit, and being soaking wet at least three times (because I am a working Dean and not just swaning about), I gave up and changed to street clothes for the remainder of the weekend, except for the evening events.
So, the rest of the time I wore boring modern clothing, topped off by a tiara, but I was soooo much more comfortable and cooler, although I still worked up a lather a few times.
I found some time to do some shopping in the Marketplace at CoCo but didn’t have much time to really look. I picked up a hat I had ordered awhile back from Mela to go with a purple floral cotton voile bustle dress I’m going to start working on. And bought two yards of a vintage cotton fabric to make an Edwardian blouse with. 
I bought some ribbons from one new vendor I can use for hat trimming myself, and a little rosette that would have made a nice shoe trim if she’d had two of them. But it gives me an idea for future shoe trims. I also picked up some garnet grape earrings I’d ordered from a vendor back east who came to Costume College. It was nice saving on the shipping. Those will go with my purple voile dress too. 

From one of my favorite vendors who sells vintage items, I bought this inexpensive petticoat with beautiful lace on the hem in perfect condition, and it’s wearable.
My final day on Sunday was spent wearing my Regency bathrobe to the Sunday Royal Breakfast, which I missed seeing everyone since I was late, but I blinged it up appropriately for a royal visit by adding my sash and royal orders from the previous night’s Gala dress. My tiara was slightly askew, as fitting a late night out. 

That was a comfortable way to spend the day and show up for two classes until it was time to change for the Sunday Tea, “Queen Victoria’s Fancy Dress Tea”. The theme had us dressing up, maybe as famous people, ideas and inventions, such as the telegraph or electricity, Greek gods and goddesses, and objects. I went as The Chess Game, using my black 1830s dress I had and added checkerboard trims and an apron. I attached actual chess pieces to my neckline and to the vinyl crown I wore. I love being able to use my historical dresses to go with themes that they work into. There ended up being a couple people who also went as “board games”. 

I ended my evening up on that final day of Costume College by going to dinner across the street to PF Changs with some friends, and some new friends, and having my first full meal in 4 days. I came back to the hotel later that night, met up with some more friends in the lobby and had an impromptu meeting with some CGW Board members to discuss some issues, and finally made it back to my room to start packing. I finished mostly by 10:30pm and got a decent night’s sleep. Getting out of the hotel the next morning was a different story. Once again, my phone in the room wouldn’t work, which was a problem all weekend, and even though I went down the hallway to use a phone by the elevator to call for a bellman, no one ever got my message and I missed a meeting with the hotel manager to close out our event. It was like the Keystone Cops for about 2 hours but I finally was on the road, and made a stop in the Fabric District on the way home. It was just way too hot and humid to even spend much time there. After finding some fabric for a friend (more of the purple cotton voile that I’m using), and picking up some lavender linen I wanted, that will be made into a 1912 dress, I decided 2 hours in the heat was plenty and continued on home. 

Oh, and those two Regency dresses with the misbehaving necklines? Those have now been ripped out, and I will be cutting new bodices for them, this time using a bib-front pattern from Laughing Moon #126. And this one I can get into myself. We always say our projects are never done. 


Saturday, August 18, 2018

My 2018 Costume College Wardrobe “1837 Court Dress”

It’s going to take me a little longer to write up details on my dresses that I made to wear to Costume College this year. I’m still winding down all the administrative paperwork that goes along with being the Dean there and getting ready to pass on the crown to the 2019 Dean later this month. I definitely feel like they got their money’s worth out of me doing this. But I felt the need to at least keep my friends who follow my blog up to date on what I made to wear this year. Since I was most happy with my Gala dress, I’m going to start with that one.
And of course, I had to have a collection of tiaras, all purchased from China on AliExpress and for the price we got, you could have a wardrobe of them.

Back in November 2017 I began planning my dress for the Saturday night Gala, The Royal Coronation Ball. I had originally planned on a recreation of a Russian coronation or court dress, and I thought I was being original.

I had purchased my tiara last Christmas from AliExpress in China, which is really what set me off on this track, as it looked very Russian to me, and my fabric for the underdress, a cream silk taffeta with beautiful embroidered vines on it I bought for a steal at a sale at Home Fabrics in LA. I was lucky to come across some lace yardage that a friend of mine was selling that I could use for my veil.
All of a sudden, the Costume College Inspiration group on Facebook exploded with everyone’s ideas, and I saw multiple versions of the same dress I wanted to make. Ok, so I can personalize it. At a sewing workshop, I fitted my 1890s bodice pattern using Truly Victorian 416. I planned to make some long open sleeves to go on it. And I definitely wanted it to button down the front. At least that worked into the style of the dress I wanted to make. But during the holidays, I set it aside to work on it later in January.
I didn’t want to waste much time so while noodling around in January, I started a couple 1795 Regency open robes to go over white voile dresses. My friends and I had started a mini-theme of Open Robes to wear for the Friday Night Social. (MORE ON THAT IN ANOTHER POST.) Then one day, while I was working with my Committee on the programming of all the classes accepted for teaching at Costume College, the President mentioned to me that she was also making a Russian coronation dress, and was having the embroidery designed for it. Suddenly I realized THERE WAS NO WAY I COULD STAND UP NEXT TO HER AT THE GALA IN THE DRESS I WAS PLANNING.  So, I went back to my planning board. I kept looking at paintings of court dresses and kept seeing ones from the 1830s, also Russian, that appealed to me. It was still a similar style that I’d started with but with the bigger skirts and sleeves that I love of that decade. The pink dress on this painting from the ladies in the Russian court gave me the idea for my headpiece and veil. It seemed like I was leaning towards pink. And I wanted lacy. 

But then I particularly liked this purple overskirt and the lace capped sleeves.

I came across this painting of Queen Victoria and finally knew I was on the right track of what I wanted.
I also loved the fact that they had belts on them, some to hold the overskirt. After I came across this French extant gown with the rosette in the center, I began working towards doing that.

I made another trip up to the LA Fabric District to look for my overskirt fabric. I didn’t plan on buying anything expensive because it would be a one-time use. I was happy to find a medium weight upholstery fabric at Home Fabrics, on sale, in PURPLE, with a texture on it.  

I began working again in earnest on my dress and cut my full skirt from Truly Victorian’s #455.  I was also able to use the sleeves from it but without the lower sleeve portion and I pulled them up above my elbows to create the puff.

Once the body was done, I began working on my overskirt. I used the same skirt pattern but subtracted one panel for it to be open in the front, and then extended the back to make a 4-foot train by tracing the hem on a Regency dress pattern I had. I made the rosette with a strip of pleated fabric and curved it into a yo-yo. It needed some bling in the center, and to cover the opening, so I bought a large rhinestone button at JoAnn’s.
As you can see by the photo of the overskirt, the bottom of my bodice extended below it. That’s because I originally was making an 1890s bodice. When I wore it, I tucked the top of my bodice under my skirt, and it worked fine. I would have liked to attach the bodice to the skirt like they were at that time but with a front opening, that wouldn’t work. I did however find some 1830s dresses that the bodice was not attached so there you go.
Then I started hunting around for some gold appliques or braid to go on my overskirt. That took me about 2 months to finally decide and then of course what I chose came from China, and takes 3-4 weeks to arrive. I bought 2 different samples first to see if they would work, and then ordered 22 of the large gold ones. I had laid them out on my overskirt to figure out how many but after I started attaching them all, I ended up short 4 of them, so I sent in another frantic order, which took another 3 weeks but it arrived the first week of July, which gave me plenty of time to add them. While I was waiting, I went back to working on my open robes to finish them because I couldn’t waste any more time at this point. 

These are iron-on appliques and I’ve never done those before. I decided just to tack them all on, but after trying the first one, which is about a foot long, I could tell it would be messy. So, I tried the ironing. At first it only held for about a few minutes. Then I ironed it on longer using a cloth. I did tack the flowers but not all those leaves. That worked better but would still peel off on the edges of the leaves. So finally, I found a video online of how to do iron-on appliques, and held the iron on for 30 seconds. Much better. I still tacked all the flowers on just in case. It would take me an hour to tack each branch, so in total it probably took me 27 hours to tack them all on. And I had lots of help and delays from Chloe.

At this point I just needed to do the final touches, and make the sleeves. And then one day the Heavens showed me what I was hoping for: final proof that this is the dress I was meant to make. I found this painting of the royal wedding of Prince Edward and Alexandra in Queen Victoria’s court. 
There was a lady in a purple overskirt on the left corner that I was trying to make! She is likely the Princess Royal and much younger than me, but it was mine! 
I made the sleeves poofy by lining them in 4 layers of netting because at this point I didn’t have any cotton organdy, which was on order. I cut out the lacy sleeve cap with the same pattern but gathered it tighter so it was opening underneath. I first thought of just using the lace but it didn’t have enough oomph. So that went on top of the silk taffeta sleeves. 
The taffeta sleeves were a bit longer than the photo but I tucked in the extra inside my sleeves and they held all by themselves, so no messing around anymore with those. 
Now to add the bling, the fun part! I started with my headpiece. I had a local wig stylist, Wigs by Coni, make me an 1830s style wig, and because my tiara sits upright, she basted it to the topknot to hold it. Between those I laid my length of lace veil over my hair and pinned it in place. Then I added a group of three feathers, because of course, you have to have three feathers on a court dress. Notice that little pocket/purse/thingy hanging from Queen Victoria’s waist in this painting? It’s actually part of her sash but it gave me an idea to make a reticule for myself using my dress fabric and a rhinestone crown buckle in its center. And of course, now I can’t find my photo of that.  
Now I needed jewelry. AliExpress had lots of inexpensive and pretty things to chose from and I bought this necklace for $7, which ended up so long I had to have it shortened for me. And then I found a drop pendant brooch on etsy, probably purchased wholesale from AliExpress, but I only had to pay $5, and it was in the US and I got it in 2 days. 
I also started making my sash and royal orders to go on it, from a few bits and bobs I had, plus bits from Michaels. I used an English bobbie’s hat emblem I was given while we were in England that said ER on it. Also found a tiny pendant with an even tinier crest on it on eBay.
I began making cream colored ribbon ones for myself, and to give to each of the past Deans at Costume College during the Gala, each having their first initial in rhinestones. I had a lot of fun making these. More on that in a bit. My friend Cindy made me a family order using a photo of my husband on it for me to wear too. I ended up with four ribbons on my sash, and one on the opposite side of my bodice. Later in the evening I noticed the weight of them all was pulling my dress off my shoulder. 

I found a 3-inch vintage rhinestone bar pin on etsy for $5 that looked similar to the one Queen Victoria wears on her shoulder to hold her sash on. But when the time came to dress, I couldn’t find it in my luggage. So, I just used a hidden straight pin. 

On to Gala night and walking the Red Carpet to dinner! I was really happy with how it all came out. I’d love to have had a photo of the train trailing in the back but in all the confusion you tend to forget the little things and I was just happy that someone sent me this photo from the Red Carpet. I got a lot of questions about my appliques on the train. They did end up looking pretty impressive. 
During dinner, I ran around finally having a few minutes to visit with my friends, Jennifer, Gina, and Mary, and later goofing off to show it was all for fun.

**9-11-18: I'm adding this photo that was taken in the photographer's studio that was just uploaded. At least now you can see my train.**
But then I had to get back to work. Yes, the Dean still has to work during Costume College. I walked into the middle of the floor and with the theme music from Masterpiece Theatre playing, I called up all the past Deans who were attending. We had 9 of us this year. I handed each of them their royal order I’d made, which was a total surprise to each of them. Then I called up Shawn Crosby to thank him for all the work he had done for us over the many years and tell him how much all the Deans had appreciated him.
This is what I wrote to him: 
Shawn Crosby, all of these past Deans are here with me tonight to thank you for the many MANY years you have helped and volunteered for all the years we have been Deans at Costume College. Your selflessness and generosity have been dependable to so many in so many different ways. Those here who attend Costume College may never know what all you’ve done in the background to help facilitate in making things work, and portraying memorable characters at our events, like a pirate, or a snooty French maĆ®tre‘d at our teas, or setting up music in the different events. But know that WE notice it and cannot express to you how much it’s appreciated. 
Therefore, Shawn Crosby, PLEASE KNEEL.

There were screams of approval coming from the whole room. His wife, Colleen (also a past Dean), is right next to him in the dark dress. She and the President of CGW were the only ones who knew I was going to do this.

I bestow upon you The Royal Order of Costume College 2018”.   Arise, SIR Shawn Crosby!    

Shawn surprised us all, including himself, when he came dressed as a Jedi Knight from Star Wars, as he portrays Obi-One Kenobi from the movies.
I had made Shawn his own Royal Order of Costume College 2018, using a badge of the King’s Hand from the tv series, Game of Thrones. I was pleased when he told me he wore it the next few days. 
The rest of the evening was spent again running around seeing my friends and all the wonderful dresses everyone wore that night. I was at sheer exhaustion when I went to bed at 10:30pm. I think it was all the stress from the year, and excitement of it finally happening, and throwing all my energy and enthusiasm into this one evening. But what a way to end my year as Dean. And boy, am I going to be relieved when I hand over the crown later this month.