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, November 28, 2016


For the first time in two, maybe three years, I am actually able to go to our Costume Guild’s Xmas dinner, which has conflicted a few years with either the San Francisco Dickens Faire I went to, or the family get- together.

I’ve been seriously trying to wear more of my existing costumes to save some work for myself, and this time I will be re-wearing my Red and Black Checked Bustle Gown but adding a bit of lace to it, just so it feels fresh. It has a black fringe along the bottom of the apron but that’s as much trim as it got last time, and I barely had enough for that. So, again using my stash, I found some lace that would look nice but only had enough for the neckline and not the cuffs. Maybe someday I’ll buy some that has enough but for now, the stash will have to be enough. I think it also needs some jingle bells attached to the skirt to jingle as I walk. 

I started thinking about this a month ago, so that’s as far as I got. And no new inspiration popped up that I could do to it.

But yesterday while roaming the Del Mar Antique Show during our Costumed Walkabout, I saw this fur hat and it hit me. I could add a new hat to it, and trim it up. It has a slight turn-out on the edges that makes it look Edwardian so I’m going to tack those down a bit to stand straight up.
I’ve been admiring some of the fur-trimmed dresses, capes and hats that some of my east coast friends, and others who live in places that get cold weather were making or wearing. So, this is my nod to the “cold” weather of Southern California, a fur hat. After coming home I immediately began looking up photos of these hats from the 1880s. Most I found are about 1885, the same time as my dress, so win-win!

This was in a group of hats from that date also.

Anyway, I think I’m on the right track with this. I may add some black feathers to it, or maybe a sprig of holly just for the holiday.
Then IF, and that’s IF, it’s cold enough in the evening for our Xmas dinner, I may actually be able to FINALLY wear my Talma wrap made of black Persian curly lamb without sweating too much. It’s pretty heavy and would definitely keep me warm.  And either way, I’m going to carry my antique black beaver fur muff. 


Thursday, November 17, 2016


With just a few days left before our Costumed Walkabout at the Del Mar Antique Fair on Saturday I’m getting down to the final touches on my 1740s Outlander outfit. The theme for the Walkabout is Cosplay: any TV, movie, literary, or comic book character. So, there’s a huge field to pick from, and I chose Claire from the Outlander series. And the nice thing is its fits right into my historical wardrobe.

My muslin from the JP Ryan short jacket pattern still fit, so I cut my navy blue linen from it, and did the easy out: I baglined it in white cotton. I used View D with the laced front, but this time I tried making the winged sleeves on View B of the pattern. But for the life of me, I couldn’t figure out how to attach it to the sleeves. Frustrated with my ineptness, I left it plain, as Claire’s is. The rest went together very easily, as all JP’s patterns do.
I had to do my cheater method with the front closure using grommets. I can’t do a lot of heavy-duty hand-stitching so I put grommets first in using a grommet setter, then overcast those by hand with navy blue embroidery thread. It took a lot of thread because the brass metal wanted to show through. I remembered last time I did this, I used a black Sharpie pen and colored over the brass. Now I find out there may actually be black grommets. If they come in this “OO” size I may have to get some, but I’m thinking she may have meant regular eyelets, not these. 

I finished sewing my jacket last week, and I made the stomacher (middle insert) with a brownish-gold upholstery fabric, using the pattern piece from the Butterick 8161 pattern. I liked the rounded bottom instead of the pointed one the JP Ryan pattern has that I used for my last white and blue short jacket.  In the TV series, Claire’s was rounded, so, there you go. 

Today I laced some dark navy blue ribbon through the grommets using my fantastic bodkin I bought from the Silly Sisters sutler years ago in Fredericksburg. Sadly, they don’t seem to have a website anymore.  These are thick rounded needles with large eyes that a ribbon can fit through and make it through those grommet holes. Makes it soooo much easier to lace yourself in. The Clover company has one but it looks thicker than mine.
And voila, we have a wearable outfit. 

I tried it all on the other day with the bum pad under the back. Umm, no, just no. Then I tried it with my bum roll. Again, WHY would I want to make my hips look bigger, and overall look bigger? If I was as skinny as a twig, it might work. Maybe it just takes some getting used to. Or maybe not.
Next up, I cut out a fine cotton voile kerchief to go around my neckline, which I think I’ll do some hand hemming on it. Since I don’t sew on my machine much at night, I like having some handwork to do. I found a couple diagrams for making different shapes on a blog. I’d love the curved neck one but for expediency, I just went with the common triangle. 

I measured 35” down the length of my voile per the diagram, tore it, folded it in half to make a triangle, pressed and then used that press line to cut the square into two triangles. An oops discovered the next day: I didn’t take into account the LONGER width of the fabric (42” after washing/shrinking) so it’s not a perfect 35” square. But I can’t even tell by looking at it now. I turned a narrow 1/4-inch hem on the edges and did a tiny straight stitch along the edges. Looking mighty fine. 
HAIR! Now we must have hair!   My wig: EEK! It’s a big mass of curls. Massive. Curls.
It must become THIS. But I’m no good at doing hair. I can barely make a ponytail and that’s it. So, I’m taking it to my wig lady and going to beg for help.  *Update- picking up my wig today on Thursday. She’s going to put it on me and see if it needs any tweaks.*
**Edited to add- I just picked up my wig and I LOVE IT!**
After this Saturday, I’ll have some photos of me wearing this, along with many other people in their Cosplay get-ups, whatever they decide to do. With the theme was very wide, there’s a lot of ideas out there.
**EDITED TO ADD** These are two photos from the Walkabout. The group photo was taken by Jerry of Zenfolio. 

                                      Hey, wake up there! We’ve got work to do, Chloe! 


Friday, October 21, 2016

Time Traveling in the Outlander World

I was late arriving to the fandom world of Outlander, the STARZ TV series, and the book by Diana Gabaldon. I swear, someday I’ll get her name right. I tried years ago to read the first book, Outlander, but was put off by the X-rated story. But at the beginning of the year I decided to give it another chance, and found I liked it, and it wasn’t as X-rated as I remembered. Still lots of sex but not the same. Then I found out there HAD been a more risqué version out and apparently that’s what I bought. Don’t get me wrong, this book and TV series still has a lot of sex and naked bodies, but nothing as bad as Game of Thrones, which I’ve also become a fan of.

When STARZ offered the first season for free for a week when the next season was ready to start, I watched it and got hooked. That’s when I decided to go back and read the book before I continued watching the series. I haven’t seen season 2 yet but have finished the second and third book so I’m ahead of the series at least. I’m holding out for the free week again but don’t know when that will be.

At the same time a fellow blogger, Lauren from American Duchess, had designed two patterns for Simplicity from this series.  I attended a class she put on at Costume College about the costumes and patterns too. 
In an earlier post, I showed the fabrics and patterns I’d bought to make one of the rustic middle-class dresses Claire wears in the series. I liked the earthy-tones and less-dressy look of them. I don’t often get to wear tartan or not so dressy, and was determined to make one.

Lauren tried to impress on us that they weren’t totally period correct and how to fix that. She also wanted us to take a look at the middle to upper class dress also. Hmm, maybe this for next time? I do love caracos. I have a fabric in my stash I can use if I decide to do that.

My bum pad was finished using her pattern, then I made the chemise also. I bought a really nice weight linen from F&S Fabrics online and am very happy with it for my tartan dress but would like something much finer for a later version. It went together very easily. I made the neckline ruffle a bit narrower as recommended, and I love the ruffles around the sleeve cuffs.

With that out of the way, I cut my tartan fabric into two lengths to become the petticoat aka skirt. I was just going to pleat it into a waistband. This all got set aside as LIFE became busy and costume events came up that I wore things I had already made. 

The other night I pulled out the fabric again, cut a waistband and then set down to start pleating. Except something didn’t feel right. What was it? Oh duh! My brain was in Victorian-mode, and I was trying to do a side opening skirt with the waistband attached. This was Georgian, and it’s supposed to have openings on both sides that are just tied closed, and you can reach inside to your pocket that’s tied around your waist. *Shown here by Lauren of American Duchess  * So it’s not really a real waistband but just something to attach the pleats to. On my underpetticoat I just used twill tape as the waistband. It cuts down on the bulk, especially if you’re using wool.
Apparently when I cut and sewed the side seams of the skirt, my brain WAS in the right mode, because I had sewn it with the side openings. All this time traveling can wreak havoc on you sometimes.

BTW, speaking of pockets; look at these lovelies that the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation is selling in their shops. They’re making them from the fabrics they sell for only $14. These are full size adult ones not the smaller child’s one. So, if you don’t have the skill, or time, to embroider one, there you go.  I’ve even got some colonial-period fabrics that I could make my own from.

They have some really pretty reproduction fabrics too. If you look at these long enough, you will be able to see similar fabrics that can work in regular fabric stores. I know I’ve seen some in Michael Levine’s in the Los Angeles Fabric District.  

I have my own pocket cut out from a nice white linen, but have yet to purchase some embroidery floss to begin working on it. I started tracing one pattern on mine but I’m still not happy with it. At least that’s water soluble pen so I can change it. I think I’m going to be putting some cotton behind it after I’m done because it doesn’t look very sturdy, even though the linen is. And I will want to protect my stitches. I’m also going to bind the edges with a colored binding like American Duchess did on hers. I like how it looks finished and has a pretty contrast color.

After the skirt is done, which should happen in a couple days, I can start on my bodice. I first intended to use the Simplicity pattern, which American Duchess posted how to hack it to make it period correct, but then I remembered my JP Ryan pattern that is already fitted to me, and is correct, and there I am, being lazy. I’m all excited to start cutting my blue linen now for it. I haven’t decided if I want to do the straight edge at the bottom, or like the skirted one in the blue bodice Claire wears but I’m leaning towards it. I noticed when enlarging that photo, her stomacher looks like it was just made from the same blue fabric, so it’s nothing fancy. That fabric is also a wool, so I’d bet the stomacher made of it is probably a lot warmer than a linen embroidered one would be. Hey, smart me! Not that it ever gets cold enough in Southern California.
All this flurry of activity comes from being notified that our next Costumed Walkabout theme at the Del Mar Antique Show in November will be cosplay: from any TV/movie series, comic book characters, etc. So, I have someplace sooner to wear this than just for Costume College next July. A virtual kick in the bum pad, so to speak. I only hope our weather begins to cool off by then. At least my bodice is linen but I’ll have that pretty knitted shawl I can wear if it is.
And you’ll never guess what I found while digging in my costume closets for stuff to sell at our costume guild’s annual costume sale? Things I had used from the Highlander Games in Vista, CA, years ago. I wonder if I can do anything with them now?


Sunday, September 25, 2016


A conversation started up the other day about colors; specifically, the colors we choose for our dresses in costuming. And then a comment on my previous blog about the black and pink dress I was planning, and about her “inner goth” loving it. That, and my wondering why this time of year I start leaning towards wanting to make black dresses made me think more about it. After commenting about it on Facebook, that brought me to pull out all my photos of dresses I’d made in black or primary black. And holy mother of kittens, I’m looking like a closet Goth! 

And even for Halloween I’ve been wearing the full length black robe and hood with a different mask each year.

The question has come up many times in looking at old black & white daguerreotypes, tintypes, and cabinet card photos, whether those dresses were really black. It’s hard to tell. But a good example is this 1851 photo of a mother and two daughters. The dress on the right is in fact this green dress held in the San Diego History Center costume collection. Now it’s fun for me to imagine what color the other dresses actually are.
These two test shots of color swatches in solids and patterned, first in color, then in black and white, shows how different they look. So don't judge a color by it's photo. 
I’m not sure what the draw of wearing black is for me but I think they tend to be elegant, and I love how they contrast with the other colors of my dress and make them stand out. The all-black ones I’ve done, either mourning or my “best black dress” versions, allow me to play with more textures and trimmings that have no distractions from other colors or patterns of fabric with them. I think a “black canvas” works perfectly for that.
Tell me this doesn’t make your fingers itchy to do something like it.

I did my dream fashion show a few years ago when I wrote and directed "One Hundred Years of Mourning Fashion" and included 10-12 of my creative friends to each research and make a mourning dress from a time period of their choice. We presented it at the 2013 Riverside Dickens Faire fashion show, and again at Costume College that year. 

So whether it’s my “inner Goth” as some have called it, or my artistic side, I will keep on making these black themed dresses and be happy about it. Because they do, for some reason, make me happy.