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, 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.


Saturday, November 28, 2009

A collection of previous costumes PART I

Since I didn’t really keep a written record of my sewing on previous costumes, but did take some in-progress pictures sometimes, I have enough to at least do a couple posts with a conglomeration of costumes I’ve made in the past
In my costuming beginnings, I was lucky to get the dress done in a year in time to wear but I also tended to leave them plain. Well, that’s changed. I’m trying to give myself more time to finish a gown ahead of time, and then I can spend more time trimming it. I found that decorating the cake got a lot more attention than just baking it until it was done.
I’m now in what I call my 2nd stage of costuming. I’ve worked out some fitting issues; I’ve learned some techniques of construction better; my fabric choices are improving; and since I retired, I can spend more time on trimming and details. As I’ve gone into different eras of costuming, I’ve had to learn different sewing techniques for each of them.
The biggest improvement has been being able to have friends over to sew and we’re able to help each other with fitting problems, and just plain figuring it out.
But back to my past costumes. This post will mostly be a collection of gowns I've made for two Charles Dickens festivals. Our Riverside (CA) Dickens Faire gave me the most opportunities to make gowns for. Granted, they do need to stay in the time period of Dickens lifetime, but that gave me a range from late Regency, to Romantic, to Civil War/Victorian.
The first year I attended in 2003, I was fairly new to costuming, and used the popular Simplicity pattern for a skirt and cape. It was quick and easy, and my Mom did the matching bias trim around the cape. A friend made me my first bonnet. And I had a really great time.

That’s me on the right.
Later that year, I discovered Truly Victorian patterns, and for the 2004 Fair, I made my first bodice, using TV 440, with pagoda sleeves. It was made from hunter green cotton velveteen, and worn with the same plaid wool blend skirt from my first year.
I began a habit of changing either the bodice or skirt each year for a new outfit, and in 2005, I wore the same green bodice but with a new plaid skirt.

In 2006 I made another bodice using the same green plaid fabric, with TV’s 460/420. I also decided to come up with a “theme” costume after running across a picture of a Dickens-type peddler lady. I got two of my friends together and we each came up with a character: a flower peddler, a parasol peddler, and a lace peddler. I think I had the most fun that year.

In 2007, I had a chance to go to the San Francisco Dickens Faire and saw this pattern by Simplicity #4900. I only had two months to put this together, and it turned out to be an easy one for me to do. I really liked the fitted jacket part. My first one was a dark navy blue moiré polyester,with a black beaded trim around the jacket edges.

I wore it first to the San Francisco Dickens Fair Dec ‘07, with a white Garibaldi blouse, where only sleeves show. I saw three other versions of it there, one with a contrasting jacket fabric. So that inspired me to make a second version to wear to the SF Dickens the following year. I also saw a cute lacy day cap on a lady, who made it using a shoulder pad as a base. I immediately went home and made one for my self. The SF fair is so awesome that I know I'd be going back as often as I could afford it.

I wore this again to the Riverside Dickens Faire in February ‘08. I really liked my floppy curls that was a hairpiece I put in on top of my head, and let them fall over the front. I covered it with the lace day cap, and a bonnet on top of that. I was in my first fashion show that year at the fair.
Later in the summer of ‘08, I again wore it to a Civil War Reenactment at a local school, and wore a faux white bonnet with it. This was the last time I wore it, and sold it shortly afterwards since it was too big.

So for the next version of this outfit, I decided to try McCall’s 5132, a similar style of this pattern.

I had a brown and orange plaid silk dupioni, and bought a dark brown cotton velveteen for the jacket. When I finally got around to making the jacket, I discovered I had been shorted 1 yd. But when I went back to the store, they had none left, and I had no receipt to prove my story. So I had to run around and try and find a replacement. The closest I could find in this short time was a similar color velveteen that had a slight stretch to it. So I had to flat line it to keep it from stretching. But this still didn’t give me enough to make the McCall’s pattern, so I had to go back to the Simplicity one. I still want to make the McCall’s someday.
I was able to get it done in time for the Dec 08 SF Dickens Faire, and really liked the contrasting colors. I hand-sewed a beaded brown trim around the jacket edges and sleeves. This time I wore my braided hair halo with a chignon attached to the back and two curls hanging from the sides of my head.

For the following year at our Riverside Dickens 08, I decided to make something from cotton, since it tends to get warm out on our streets even in February. I wanted to try an 1830s Romantic era gown and couldn’t decide between using Past Patterns 1830 Full High Gown, or Truly Victorian’s #455 1830s Romantic gown.

A friend who was helping me fit the patterns said the TV was easier to fit and we went with that one. I went out shopping for the fabric, and found this one on sale at a quilt store that has a special room for period correct fabrics. And I love purple.

It was a little confusing working with an inner bodice and an outer bodice but somehow it worked out and I loved the pleating on the back and front neckline of the bodice. However I didn’t like the huge balloon sleeves and found photos of gowns with the sleeves collapsed at the top, and just let them hang down loose. I tried doing a gathering/smocking around the upper arms but it never lined up properly so I gave up for the time being.
I bought my straw bonnet online a few years earlier and trimmed that with a changeable purple ribbon and a vintage sprig of flowers I’d removed from another hat. I also was able to use a gold silk taffeta purse I’d bought from a friend.

The gown was rather plain by itself, and I’d seen one version with a belt around it so I made one, using a belt material I covered with my fabric, and a “belt buckle”, that was actually a cameo bezel I’d found in the Garment District. I sewed it to the covered belt & the opening showed the fabric through it.
I wore this to the Feb 09 Riverside Dickens Faire and was in the fashion show there also. I wore the little clip on curls I’d bought in SF, & I loved the reddish maroon shawl I’d bought to wear over it. Of course this year it got cold and rainy, but I was very comfortable with my shawl.

I got to wear this dress again in another fashion show and showed off my undies, a corded petticoat I’d made.

I again wore it to Costume College 2009, this time with an antique 1830s pelerine I’d bought on ebay. I can’t decide if I like it best this way or with the red shawl. But I got some lovely pictures taken of it on me.

I love this pattern so much; I’ve decided to make at least two more, one in a fancy silk taffeta for an evening dress, and other cotton day dress, which I have this fabric for it already.


  1. I love this! The ombre ribbon really makes the bonnet and outfit come together. Little details rock!

  2. Thank you, Nikki. That happens to be one of my favorite outfits too.


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