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.


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.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

When You Can’t Cut & Sew, You Plan

As mentioned in my last post, even though I was hobbled by a foot problem, I was still getting some sewing done as long as I could sit and do it. And my brain also was not resting. Can we say CADD? That’s Costume Attention Deficit Disorder, a familiar state of mind to many costumers. The designers/planners in us get carried away. 
Taking a look around my sewing room (& bedroom in the corners) I currently have piles I’m working on that include some more Regency reticules I cut out; an 1860s wrapper that since I worked on it some more, now I only need to hem it; a partially cut 1912 dress that I still haven’t found the lace fabric I want to do the neckline so it’s at a standstill. And new things are added to the pile: I finally found a dress from 1885 that I could use the 4 yds of Chinese black & gold brocade my neighbor had given me. But I was out of black silk taffeta to start cutting it. Gahh!! I’m in the mood!! I want to cut fabric!!

Fortunately, a couple days ago after taking mega-doses of Advil + Tylenol and wearing my shoes with orthotics, the plantar faciitis finally started going away. Enough that I was able to go fabric shopping for the black silk taffeta, including enough to do another dress, an 1880s black & pink princess dress.  Both fabrics were acquired, along with some black beaded lace for the front.

I’m not sure if I can use the Truly Victorian tea gown pattern and alter the neckline but the only other
option I have is to extend a bodice pattern to floor length. I notice each year as we come up on the Fall season that I start leaning towards a lot of black dresses. I haven’t had a chance to figure out just why yet.
You may remember an earlier princess dress I was playing around with and even had the fabric for that. Maybe if I had stayed with navy blue like the original dress instead of jade green, it might have still been more desirable. It's still on the planning board though. But this time of year black always wins over for me. 

And as I usually do while shopping the Garment District in LA, my eyes were grabbed by some pretties. One store was selling out its linen fabrics, the real stuff that wrinkles not the blend, and this rose one came home with me. Since it wasn’t on the planning list at the time, I’m still not sure what it will be, possibly the new Truly Victorian 1912 dress?

Oh, and then this! I found a remnant roll of 13 yds of it in the back room at Home Fabrics, and cheap cheap cheap! It’s 120” wide, curtain fabric in a beautiful golden yellow with darker gold leafy vines going down it. (The photo looks a lot lighter) It made me want to dance! Where have you been all my life? Sadly, it is polyester, but I would never EVER find something like this in expensive fabric. I bought all of it since you’re required to with remnant rolls, thinking I may only need under 6 yards and could sell the rest.
Well, guess what? While trying to fall asleep my brain thought otherwise. It can be an 1810, and an 1820s dress (I haven’t done that time period yet & want a bodice with the tab on the front and belted). Or this 1837 cream & gold striped one.  *Squirrely mind is in control now*

Or maybe this? (1834) See what I have to put up with around here? In fact I often see things I was all fired up to make on my memories on Facebook when they pop up each day. I've taken a second look at some of them and wonder what was I thinking? Or on the other hand, why haven't I made THAT yet? 
So on my way home from L.A. with visions of sugar plums dancing in my…… Oops wrong season. With visions of new dresses, we remembered a fabric store near Disneyland that our friend Trudy had mentioned that had tons of cotton fabric. So a quick side trip ensued. M&L Fabrics is at 3430 W.Ball Rd, west of I-5, just a couple miles farther west of Disneyland. It’s open every day of the week. OMG, it’s HUGE, like a warehouse!! Rows and rows of cotton bolts, mostly $5.99-$7.00 yd but then the other half of the store is tables upon tables of flat folded 100% cottons, flannels, white cottons, at $1.99 yd. We saw lots of pretty ones that could be 1850s, 1860s, and later 1930s-60s. I would also say this is a quilter’s heaven. There were some shelves with folds of satin too, and in the back room, there was some cheaper stuff, upholstery fabrics, leathers, and polyesters.  I bought some nice soft white cotton for some Edwardian combinations, $2.99 yd, but I didn’t need anything else at this time.
I only remembered to take photos of one half of the store while we were in line, and forgot to take some of the rest as we were leaving. We were a little bit excited.

So now my sewing is going forward again with the black brocade dress, which I’ve started with Truly Victorian #462 Tail Bodice pattern with the square neckline (no tail). I’ll be using #263 Trained Skirt pattern for the skirt and put the panel of brocade down the front of it. I’m going to cut out a pattern to do the brocade trim on the front of the bodice and see if I can cut strips of it to do the trim around the hem of the skirt. I’m hoping it’s not too heavy for the taffeta. 

 I’m still considering how to do the sleeves; brocade or black taffeta with brocade trim? The fabric used on the bodice trim almost looks like a sheer lace. But I’ll go ahead with the brocade and hope it’s not too heavy.
 Of course the minute I get up from my chair to get fabric, my chair gets hijacked.