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.


Saturday, August 15, 2015

GOTTA LOVE THOSE POLKA DOTS -1885 Pink Polka Dot Bustle

**One of my favorite photos taken of my Pink Polka Dot dress at CoCo**
Somewhere about eight months ago I began thinking about making a polka dot bustle gown for a mini theme of “The Polka Dot Parade” at Costume College for the Friday Night Social. Each year a lot of people are coming up with mini themes among themselves, and the previous year I had “A Murder of Crows” with all of us wearing either our mourning dresses, or anything having black. It was a great success. This year due to many of our group’s “real lives” getting in the way, the weird weather (yes, that does affect our sewing mojo), and deadlines, our theme wasn’t much of a success. But as usual the planning and chatting about it was fun, and it got me to finish mine so I could wear it.
I wandered all over the LA Garment District for my polka dot fabric. I saw this almost immediately but it was polyester. A very lightweight lovely one though, and only $3 yard. And I LUV’D the pink with black dots. I wandered all the other shops but found nothing that caught my heart like this one did. So I bought it with the plan to line it in cotton so it wouldn’t be touching my skin.
Gathering photos and ideas for a dress are my favorite part of its creation. I’m so much better at that than sewing. I wanted this to have lots of opportunities to have ruffles and lace, and draping, and bows. My ideas bounced all over but I narrowed it down to a mix of these, taking ideas from each. I wanted to try another asymmetrical overskirt again, which would leave an interesting area on the open side for something to hang down. Rows of ruffles around the underskirt. And a square neckline so more stuff could be done to it. Getting the picture? Stuff and more stuff.

Pattern choices were again all Truly Victorian. I’m making an 1887 bustle dress but wanted the square neckline and peplum of this 1870s TV #400 pattern for the bodice. My bustle overskirt I chose ended up not being asymmetrical and I used the new TV #367. My skirt, which was going to be black silk taffeta and some pink wherever I could use it, would be TV #261-R. After making one of my last outfits and having trouble with how my skirt would lay smooth in the front, I discovered I’d been using an 1870s pattern for all my 1880s outfits for the last 10 years. It was one of the “duh” moments. 

Last September the first thing I had to check was if sewing with this filmy polyester was even going to work. It could be too slippery and not be smooth on the bodice. Even though the rest of my outfit would be lined in cotton, I used a cotton twill to line the bodice body itself. If the bodice would work, where it was most important, then I knew overall it would work. And it looked lovely. I see now on my notes that I was also going to put a concealed watch pocket in one of the front seams but I forgot. It will be done when I get time later.
So that’s as far as I got for 8 months. It sat aside while I worked on other projects. Two months before Costume College I finally got back to it and put more of it together. The bodice was simple; I used hook and eye tape to close the front, which I did before sewing the side seams. It’s my trick to have a straight closure in the front right off the bat. It works on the back too if that’s where it closes. I used pink cotton bias tape to finish the neckline and bottom of the bodice. Then I started playing, the fun part, with the trims on it. My notes I have say bows down the front. But then I saw this with the tabs across the front. I made tabs with black velvet ribbon I had and made the ends pointed. I sewed the one side down and intended to have buttonholes on the other side to close it but the velvet did not like having buttonholes put in it. I ruined two of them before I gave up.

So I used snaps to close it. My buttons, which are now strictly decorative, are tiny brass antique Victorian ones I bought at the Port Townsend Antique Mall in WA last March. I repeated the velvet bands around my sleeve cuffs, along with tiny pleats under the sleeves, and finished it off with a couple buttons for decoration on it too.

Part of my plan was to trim the bottom edges of my bodice and the peplum with black but I was fast running out of time. But the peplum did need something to finish it off. I had a bit of the pleated trim left over, and two buttons, so I put another tab of velvet on the back at the waist, along with the pleats. And then hand basted some lace inside the neckline.
I pleated some lace onto a strip of twill tape and basted that inside the neckline. I didn’t trim off the excess lace as I was afraid it might unravel. The twill tape made it easier to sew rather than through all those holes.

 I was now at the point where I had to cut out the overskirt, and discovered I barely had enough of the polka dot left for it. Those pattern pieces were HUUUUUGE! The fabric had to be laid out open to cut each piece and it was short about 1- ½” on one side. But you’d never know.  However I now knew I wouldn’t have any to make *anything* for my skirt. And again, time was running out. My backup plan was to use my previous black taffeta skirt that is worn with about 4 different outfits. It’s like having that one blouse or jacket that can go with just about everything.
**So here’s a tip for you: make a black/brown/cream/white/whatever color skirt that can be used with multiple bodices and overskirts. You’ll be happy you did. I certainly was.**
The TV #367 overskirt has a combination of gathers, pleats, and burnouse pleat, and it all seems to be sewn up into the waistband and backside of it. I kept pinning, pulling it out, pinning it on my dress form, pinning it on me, and still couldn’t get it right. And what’s with that butt crack look? Walk away, girl, walk away.

A few days later I attacked it again, and after seeing someone else’s version, decided my last attempt wasn’t all that bad. Neither of us are sure we did it right but if it still looks good, who’s to argue? With a bit of reshaping and tacking things down, it was finally coming together. *But oops, I found a couple straight pins still holding some together when I wore it to Costume College* With the last bits of my fabric I made little pleats and sewed those along the edges of my overskirt, and topstitched 1/8” black velvet ribbon on top of that. I ran out after doing the front of the skirt but I know I can get more later and do the two drapes in the back too.  *Notice that photo with my ugly thumb? That’s what happens when you’re hurrying sewing pleats, and the sewing machine wants to sew your thumb to it too* 

Chloe decided she’d better keep an eye on me now.
Ok, so there’s not a Grand Bustle under it at this point, but it’s starting to look much better!

Oh, and another oops. I had hemmed the overskirt and sewn the trims on before I realized I’d forgotten to do the V-cut in the front and there was no way I could do that now without taking everything off. So it’s been personalized.
I had a couple ideas that I wanted to do on the sides but again time was running out. This was one of my favorites though with the buckles and sashes on the side. I wanted this on both sides of my skirt, and had no time to shop for matching buckles. So at the suggestion of Cindy who said “shoe buckles!” I used a couple from my stash. They were perfect! How do I do that? There’s another use for those pretty shoe buckles, so if you see any, at a great price, buy them!

I made long sashes out of black silk taffeta and draped them on each side, and hand tacked the buckles to them. Since this had ended up NOT being an asymmetrical overskirt, it had a twin on the opposite side. Except, oops, I noticed later at Costume College in my photos that they weren’t *quite* even on each side. So that will be another fix later.
So now the dress is done, and onto some accessories. I had big plans for making a postman hat for this, and saw this I wanted to try doing. But by this time I’m only three days away from leaving, so I pulled out a black hat I had, took off the purple flowers, and replaced it with some pink ribbon flowers I had yanked off some other hat I’d bought at one time. Its sets partly on the back of my head, with the flowers up on top.

And my reticule? I’m a genius. I bought this cute little black purse with embroidered pink flowers at the Costume College Marketplace last year.
The Finale! 
I wore the whole outfit to the Friday Night Social at CoCo, and it was by far my most favorite dress I wore this year. But man oh man, was it hot! Polyester is not your friend when it’s warm or you’re running around. But vanity, thy name is Pink Polka Dots. 


  1. It looks very nice! I loved reading about all the ways you decorated the dress, it's giving me some ideas!

  2. It's so fresh and lovely! But I am with you, I cannot wear polyester at all.

  3. You look so awesome! I love your work. :D

  4. Oh My Stars and Garters!!!!! This costume just makes me smile! Thank you so much for the step-by-step blog!


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