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, Dean Emeritus of 2018 Costume College; 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. 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.


Sunday, July 19, 2015

DOWNTON ABBEY: A Dress & a Tea

A couple months ago I began planning a Tea at Downton Abbey event for my costume guild. Like many others, I’m a big fan of the Masterpiece series, especially of the clothes in the first couple seasons. Once it passed 1918, I just oohed and ahhed but not enough to want to make them. I liked the earlier 1912-1915 styles mostly, and especially the day dresses. I don’t have much opportunities to need the evening clothes, as delicious as they are.
I wished we had more and longer times of cool/colder weather so I could make those scrumptious suits. I still have dreams of these, like Sybil’s blue suit. I do have an awesome Folkwear pattern that is going to get some serious looking at soon.

For the last couple years I kept saying I’m going to make a Downton Abbey wardrobe and just wear all those to Costume College, which btw, is in 11 ELEVEN ELEVEN!! Days. Eek!
When I started planning something to wear to the Balboa Park celebration of the 1915 Panama-Californa Centennial, this got me the push I needed. At the same time a new Butterick pattern #6093 was put out and had the perfect 1914 lines I wanted, minus the big ole collar.

I did a test run on it for my pattern review group and it had some issues with the front skirt. I wrote about that in my post last September. I still can’t believe I started it that long ago. I made something else for the Centennial but finally got back to this and finished it last week.  
When I first made it the overskirt, which is all sewn as one piece with the front of the skirt, it only came to my center front and not to the side as shown in the photo. And the little pleats at the top side of it just pooched out. Not flattering. And no, I didn’t make a muslin. This was a very fast test run of it. I’d used the size 20 pattern but it didn’t seem to account for that part. And the bodice was made for a bigger bust size than me. I guess I’m spoiled by other patterns that have you fit the individual pieces to your size but I’ll try next time to mix and match the pattern pieces. When I tried it on, the crossover part of the bodice was very open in the middle, which accounted for the insert they had you make. But the shoulders were hanging off the sides. I’m short from the neck to my shoulders and I’m narrow across the front. To correct this, I pulled the crossover closed over more and higher. This deleted the need for the insert. I’d love to try this again and use a pretty insert of lace next time. And maybe restyle it into a 1912 dress like these.

 To correct the skirt, I had to rip out the stitching on one side seam that held both the skirt and overskirt, add a 3” wide strip down the side, and re-stitch it back together. That got the overskirt into the correct location on the side and the pleats now laid down flat. The belt was made using two layers of a stiff interfacing covered by my fabric, and also a fabric bow sewn on the end. It was really cute!
My collar and cuffs were made from a white cotton pique, and I found the wide collar seemed a bit large on me, but that’s my modern sensibilities, since this was the style then. And I was told it looked nice. I used large purple buttons down the front and sides. They were just decorative since I used snaps underneath them on the bodice. The bodice has a side closure that goes partly down into the skirt, which I also used snaps on. *It just occurred to me now that I forgot that was there because I was trying to skinny my way in and out of the dress yesterday and had to struggle. Duh. Obviously I’m not used to this type of closure since I’ve never worn one before.*
So, it got worn yesterday for our Tea at Downton Abbey that I set up at the Aubrey Rose Tearoom in La Mesa, CA. I got really busy there so I forgot to ask to have a photo taken until later when we were shopping at the antique mall down the street. I wore my hat that I’d bought at a vintage fashion market, but later recognized it as one made by Mela Hoyt-Hayden, who on seeing it said it was one of her’s. She has a definite recognizable style for sure. It has a fabric trim with lavender & pink plaid that ties into my dress. My reticule was a repro that again had some purple in it. I wore my American Duchess “Gibson” shoes for the first time. I remembered to put some padding in the bottom for softness, and did a little pounding and bending on the leather to soften it up too. It wasn’t overly stiff but my feet don’t like anything hard. They were fairly comfortable and are now officially broken in. They even got to walk through a 2 inch deep stream during our torrential rain yesterday.

And now for the Tea at Downton Abbey event!  I was just the organizer for the tea so the tearoom gets all the kudos for the wonderful food and ambience we were served. But I did create name tags with titles for everyone coming, with some educational & historical help from my friend Bess, in England. There is a proper way to address our lords and ladies, you know.
Instead of just giving them a title, I created one using part of their name, and sometimes having a location or home using their street or town name. Cindy was Lady Piselli of Clairemont; Trudy was Vicountess Foland of Park Gardens; Gina- Duchess Lovin of Vista: Lauren- Countess Maringola of Lemonwood. I changed my own title up to use my husband’s original English family name of Bor, so I was Lady Bor of County Cajon.
I also made bookmarks using a collection of the Dowager Countess Violet’s witticisms captured from the series. Everyone had their own individual quote, and I asked them to use it somewhere in their conversation during the tea.
As the time approached for me to drive to the tea, a tremendous thunder and lightning storm hit Southern Ca, and driving down the freeway the rain came down in buckets, and I saw a double bolt of lightning come down. This caused a lot of people to be late in arriving, and sadly Trudy never made it due to really bad traffic conditions driving down here. Some of us had to walk through a couple inches of rushing water on the streets to get to the tearoom. But inside all was peaceful. As each person arrived I tried to announce them and pin their name tag on. I felt like I was bouncing up and down from my seat as they arrived, and it was a good half hour before I finally started eating anything. It was a nice group, about 21 that made it, and we were seated close by at three tables. I was happy to hear Lady Violet’s famous quotes were being used too. A couple people came late so I didn’t get their photos taken.

The guys sat at the other table, and joining them was “President Teddy Roosevelt” (shown on the center right) who I made a special name tag for with the White House logo on it instead of Downton Abbey. He even gave me a $10,000 tip for my hard work.

The rain kept pouring during the entire two hours we were there but when we left it had stopped. So some of us made our way to the antique mall down the street to do some shopping. I think we surprised some shop owners. And I got to take a selfie.

In regards to the pattern I used for my dress, I’d give it 4 Stars due to needing some tweaking but it has a lot of possibilities. I still prefer the Hint of History 1914 pattern #101, which I’ve made also, and is available on etsy or her website, that is very similar to the Butterick but easier to make and fit. It has a waistband instead of attaching the skirt directly to the bodice, and doesn’t have the fiddly overskirt Butterick used. But I do like the belt option on the Butterick.
Back to the slaving over my sewing machine. I only have ELEVEN days to finish everything! But at least I have this dress done to wear to the Sunday tea at Costume College.


  1. You did a beautiful job on your dress and I heard several compliments on it. Thank you for organizing the tea and for the bookmark and name tags. President Roosevelt was feeling quite generous. I got $10,000 too!

    1. Thank you. That always helps my motivation.
      And we should go shopping with our earnings!

  2. How fun! I've made several Downton Abbey costumes but maybe I need another one now!

    1. Yes, I think we need an entire wardrobe, don't we?

  3. Val, Enjoyed reading your blog and seeing all the lovely costumes, even the gents. Yours looks quite comfortable and pretty. Aubrey Rose looks like just the setting for the Downton Abbey tea. Bet you all brightened a otherwise dreary/rainy day for shoppe owners when your group stopped in.

    1. Hi Karen! I'm glad you enjoyed it! And thank you.

  4. You coordinated a wonderful event, Val! And your dress and accessories are absolutely lovely! I enjoyed reading every word of your blog post.

  5. What a lovely-looking gathering! I really like your dress, and I think the colors suit you very well.

  6. Oh how fun Val! I am sure you planned a most fabulous tea for the guild!!! Everything looks so delightful! Your outfit is so wonderful! You make a beautiful figure as usual my dear!


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