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

My photo
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.


Thursday, January 7, 2010

Two Civil War 1860s gowns

This is my first time making something from this era with a hoop skirt. So understandably (for me), I will be confused for awhile in how to make them.
This is the pattern I chose to use (Simplicity 4551) because I really liked the yellow color on the cover.

No, really! But looking at it closer, I also liked the gathered bodice. Which means it doesn't fit tightly, and looks softer. I'm just hoping it doesn't look baggy.
I bought both these fabrics for different costumes but after seeing this pattern, I knew they had to be used for it.

I bought the olive green cotton fabric at a quilt store in a historical reproduction section. It has a William Morris print on it, with tiny purple flowers. I’m trying to think of some way to have some purple trims on it to bring them out. I have some olive green vegetal ivory buttons I’ve been saving, and these would look nice on it.
I bought the blue and white cotton print a few years ago in the Garment District in Los Angeles (at my favorite store, Fabrics & Fabrics). It's a very soft cotton lawn. I’m not sure what kind of buttons to use on it yet. I’m leaning towards something subtle that doesn’t stand out, maybe white.

I started this project totally backwards: during the Summer of 2009, I took a sewing workshop with Shelley Peters, "Skirting the Belle", to learn how to make a cartridge pleated skirt. I didn't own a hoopskirt yet, so we couldn't sew the hem on it first, as her instructions relate. My main purpose was to learn to do the cartridge pleating on it.
Shelley's instructions for making a skirt just use a method for figuring how much material to use, and sew lengths of it together, instead of using a pattern. So the panels were sewn, and I folded the waist down about 3-4 inches, then started marking the waist every quarter inch in two rows to run my two rows of stitching through. I made a template with a piece of cardboard so I just held it up and made marks with a pencil where my needle would go through. I thought this part would be very tedious, since that's what I've heard from other sewers, but I found I really enjoyed it. Granted, it took awhile to make all those marks, and you only mark about 6 inches at a time, but once I started stitching, I really enjoyed seeing all those cute little accordion pleats.

I knew I wouldn't be able to finish these right now since I had other costumes I needed done first, but I sewed the two bodices up so I'd be a little bit ahead when I came back to them. These are very short waisted, and have a narrow band on the bottom of each waist. I chose to do one set of sleeves with the little flared cap, and the other without. But now after looking at them again, I may add a cap to the blue and white by just sttitching it on top of the sleeve.

It's now January 2010, and I'm able to start working on these again. I went to a second sewing workshop with Shelley to get some help in finishing the bodices, and finding out what does and doesn't work in regards to trims, collars, and bonnets.
I decided to bring out the purple in the olive dress by covering buttons with a purple silk taffetta I had. I considered also making a small bow for the neck with it. And maybe adding some to the cuffs. I played around with some ideas, and decided to make a belt in the purple with a small antique "belt buckle" I had. Then got some suggestions of sewing a narrow purple trim to the top edge of the sleeve cap and along the cuffs.
This is just the "belt" fabric wrapped around the waist at this time.

A few months ago I purchased a hoopskirt from Blockage Runners, and Shelley was able to help me mark my hem on the olive skirt. While she was doing that, a comment she made about turning the waist down gave me an "uh oh moment", and I picked up the blue and white skirt, which I'd pleated last month. At the time I was wondering why I didn't remember the edge being so unfinished. In retrospect, I should have pulled out the olive one to look at it again. I forgot to turn the waist edges down before doing the cartridge pleating. So I get to take out all that stitching and start over. Oh well, practice makes perfect.
I got to see a couple examples of how to put the hooks & bars on the bodice waist and the skirt waist to hold them together, and I decided I liked that technique. I took pictures of that, plus some of the hook & eye tape on the bodice. I've not been shown how to attach the tape, and in the past I've just fudged it in, which at times isn't very pretty. Now with some photos I might be able to attempt this next time. For the time being I'll still be doing buttons and buttonholes unless I feel adventurous.
I was trying to decide if I should find an antique lace collar for the olive gown but it was suggested I just sew a narrow bit of lace along the edge of a white collar, so I picked up some lace the other day in the Garment District for it.
The blue and white gown is a softer looking outfit, and I'm still thinking of just using white for it's accessories; white buttons, white bonnet/day cap. But I'm going to wait until more of it is together, and let it speak to me.
I’m planning, and hoping, to wear both of these to the Riverside Dickens Fair fashion show on Feb 6 & 7, but the olive one will be done first if I can only get one done.


  1. I like your projects. The purple belt looks so pretty with the dress. Can't wait to see you wearing them.


I would love to hear if this was any help to you. Pretty please!