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.


Tuesday, April 10, 2012

My lecture on re-creating an 1851 Bloomer gown

April 7, 2012
In January 2011 I began a journey of exploration into the origins of “Bloomer gowns” after inheriting an incomplete pattern from a friend. It had been made by Past Patterns off an original gown in the San Diego History Museum’s costume collection. With only part of the instructions and patterns, and getting permission to photograph the gown in storage, I was able to make my own copy of it. And I began working with Saundra Altman of Past Patterns, encouraging her to complete the pattern and have it available for sale when I eventually did a presentation on it.
Over a year later, the pattern is very close to being done, although I do have some samples of the almost complete one. I set up a sign-up list for anyone interested in purchasing the pattern, and at this time I am the only one anyone can order them from. Saundra credited me in her pattern acknowledgments too. Having this in hand, and my photos, and research into the history of this gown and its origins, I gave my first lecture/slideshow presentation to the Costumers Guild West of Los Angeles.

I had spent a couple weeks rewriting my notes to go with the slideshow, and the history I’d be presenting with it. It could have been a lot longer, and had many more photos to show but I needed to keep it under 45 minutes so it would fit into a 2 hour presentation. I knew there would be questions and I’d be stopped a lot in the slideshow for more questions. At the finish of my presentation for CGW I ended up with 15 minutes left in the 2 hours.
Part of the fun for me was the searching for more gowns in other costume collections, and “meeting” other researchers, historical societies, and reenactors online. The sharing of information and photos back and forth was as exciting as opening a Xmas present. So far I’ve only found two other gowns in collections, and this one in San Diego is truly unique. At my recent lecture I met another costume collector who will be contacting collection owners on the East coast for any other gowns. So the search is not over yet.
Shortly after I finished my green silk taffeta reproduction of the gown, I was already thinking of making another one but this time in cotton and also making it in the style of a gown that the original owner’s sister was wearing in a family photo. The photo also shows the Bloomer gown’s owner wearing hers prior to being altered to a Bloomer.  I finished my brown striped and floral cotton gown two days before my lecture and was able to wear it there. This time I used current existing patterns I had; Simplicity 3855 for a v-neck bodice, and a drawers pattern from Truly Victorian. My skirt is just made from panels of fabric & cartridge pleated to a waistband. I repeated the ruching trim from the first gown since the owner’s sister also had the same ruching on hers.

My cotton one is more comfortable for our warm weather, and is easier to wash, since my poor silk taffeta is showing signs of dirt with all its travels recently. It’s been in two fashion shows already and has another coming up soon. It did however come out pretty clean after soaking for a day in Oxyclean. It still carries the scars of ink from a pen that someone sitting next to me at Costume College got on me in a class.
My original plan for my lecture was to tell the story of the gown as I played the slideshow. But I was stopped quite often by questions from my audience, many jumping ahead of where I was at, and would have been answered eventually. It was disrupting but it also educated me as to where I should have more information inserted earlier, but also to ask my next audiences to hold their questions until the end. It was a learning experience for all of us.
I’ve been asked by the San Diego History Museum to do my presentation for them also. It would include students of fashion besides costume enthusiasts. Since this is where the original gown is, we’re holding out for when the patterns are finally available since they want to offer them also, and possibly carry them in their gift shop. My gown will be displayed hopefully alongside the original at that time. I am also purchasing copies of the pattern myself to give as thank you gifts to our San Diego museum, and those museums & researchers back East who helped me in my search. 


  1. If you have some scraps of your fabric, you can test for color-fastness before trying hairspray on the ink marks. I've used it successfully many times.

  2. I remember having tea with you and discussing the fascinating museum research you've done. This is really interesting!

    1. Steph, you have no idea how much more interesting this got as I dug deeper and deeper into it. A lot had changed since we last sat together.

  3. Hi, I'm a volunteer at Old Town helping to organize a fashion show for July 20th (Women of the West day) and am hoping that you would be willing to participate and model your bloomer dress. I'm hoping that you will be interested -- my email address:

    Hoping to hear from you soon.


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