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, February 28, 2016

Final construction of my 1853 Purple Amethyst Dress

Fashion show models at Riverside Dickens “Pretty in Purple” & “Coming to America” (I'm 3rd from Right)

Have you noticed this dress didn’t get a special name until now, other than Purple Dress? That’s because this one had eluded me. I like to have names so it’s easier for me to remember which ones they are. Yesterday while looking at birthstones, it came to me. The Purple Amethyst.

To give myself a break from working entirely on the dress, I started working on my bonnet.  One of the other things I wanted to reproduce from the fashion print was the bonnet you just barely see in the background of the print sitting on a table.

I wondered how I would have time to find a straw hat form and cover it in time for my first event. I lucked out that Shelley P. had some shirred bonnets for sale, and one in an antique white would just fit the bill.

I removed the multi-colored flowers under the brim to replace with some pinks. My idea was to sew a band of pink silk fabric in loops around the brim like the fashion print, and put clusters of flowers just on the inside.
I started looking for some flowers to sew around the inside of it, and first tried my stash but I only had a couple and it wasn’t near enough. So off to Michael’s I went, and found two branches of pinks that I cut up.
I tacked a couple clusters of them to the inside of the bonnet, then made a band of pink ribbon with some folded poofs to go over the back of the brim. Bam! Done!

Back to work on the dress. One of the last things I made was the sleeves.
While I was sick in bed for two days my brain kept going round and round on how to do these. I was getting down to only two weeks left before it was needed, and it still needs to be hemmed. My first impulse was to just make the straight sleeves like in the pattern. The coward’s way out of pressure. So I let it percolate for another day, and came up with two ideas. One was to lengthen the sleeve, widen the upper portion, and create bell-shaped puffs. But how to hold them up? Elastic? No. Second idea was make the bells like sleeve jockeys/caps but folded in half and create a bell that I sewed on top of the sleeves like jockeys are.  We have a winner!
When I finally had enough energy to stand up long enough to cut anything out (this cold is a butt-kicker), I couldn’t find my pattern. In the weeks since I last cut out the bodice and moved things around, I lost track of it. I thought it would have still been in the bag with all the sewing supplies and fabric that I’d taken to the last workshop. Nope. So I checked to see if I had another Truly Victorian pattern with similar sleeves I could use instead. I did but then remembered I had already traced out the first sleeve pattern and it was still in the sewing bag. Boy, am I smart or what?
AND when I finally got the sleeve cut two days later (did I say this cold is a butt-kicker?) I played around with a jockey/cap shape but couldn’t quite get that curve like in the photo. AND how do you do that when you’re folding the fabric in half? Once again I remembered another pattern that had a sleeve jockey, Simplicity 4551 that I’d used before. It’s shorter than I needed but had a nice curve to the bottom.

I traced it out, then lengthened the top about two inches. Instead of folding the fabric in half for the finished edge, I decided to do piping along its edge. Notice the twisting along my piping? This is what happens when you decide to use fabric leftover from where you cut your caps from, and it’s not on the straight of grain, nor on the bias. I don’t always do it on the bias, in fact rarely, but at least I’ve done it on the straight.  I’m not physically or time-wise in the mood to re-do them so they became a decorative feature. I had a half inch seam where I sewed the piping on, so I turned it under and hand stitched it down since machine stitching would show.

Sewing the first set of the cuffs to the sleeves was easy. I just pinned it on with the sleeve to the sleeve cap, and then sewed them all together. The second set was tougher and took me four times to get them on right. It might have helped if I had someone to pin them on me, or had a dress form with arms. But all I could do was put on my bodice, and roughly pin the cuff approximately where I wanted it, and where the edge didn’t show under the upper one. Then I measured down from the sleeve cap where it hit, and marked the same distance all around to give me a line to sew it on. I just did a running stitch to attach it, and voila!
While I was sewing these on, one of my black glass buttons on the bodice broke off. The glass had cut the polyester thread I’d used to sew them on. So I took all ten buttons off and re-sewed them with heavy duty upholstery thread. I KNEW this from using glass buttons in the past. I just didn’t remember it this time.
So on to the cuffs now. Other than the hem, I think this is the final step. I dug through my lace stash, since I doubt I could find anything in the stores to come close to my vintage French lace collar, and I only have a week left to finish it. I came up with this vintage lace I had. It’s just a slightly different white but with the distance between the neck and the sleeves, I don’t think it will be noticeable. And the patterns are vaguely similar.
Just to get an overall look of my outfit, I brought out my skinny mirror and took a selfie in it. I wasn’t wearing the petticoats or hoop because I wouldn’t have fit into the mirror.
You can barely see the bow tied at my waist, then I remembered I never sewed the black velvet ribbon along its edges. I was out of the one inch I had so I hit up JoAnn’s and found some half inch, which was really better since it wouldn’t cover up as much fabric.
On the day of Dickens I drove up with my friends and we decided to dress in our outfits for the fashion show later, and walked the streets with our much cooler outfits. My cheapy bonnet didn’t look too bad but it looked a bit squished. It also reminded me I don’t really look that great in bonnets. I prefer hats perched on top of my head. I did get to carry my new recovered antique parasol, done by Victorian Parasols.
When it was time to finally change into our outfits for the fashion show, we had worked up a sweat and I was rushed, which I hate to do. We dressed next to our car in the parking lot, and later I realized without having a mirror, I didn’t notice my bonnet was too far forward on my face. I remind myself of a daisy with a face in the middle.
I should look like this:  
But looked like this:
That’s the downfall of not having a lady’s maid in the parking lot.

The fashion show was a blast. Nancy’s theme was “Pretty in Purple”, or “Coming to America”. We had a choice of which theme to dress for, and many of us combined the two. So there was a preponderance of purple.

This was also my trial run of wearing my new outfit, and I discovered even with a hoop and ruffled petticoat, the tablier/overskirt was a bit heavy and it weighed down my skirt. No floofy skirt. And speaking of the skirt, this is why I normally don’t do more than a 3-4 inch hem. I can’t for some reason get that deeper hem to lay evenly on my skirt. So when I had this photo taken, I saw it was bunching up.  That’s something I need to work on.

**EDITED TO ADD: I'm a dimwit, and I blame it on my woozy head cold the last two weeks, but hoops were invented in 1856 and I made an 1853 dress. So the multi-tiered sturdy petticoat I've started, along with my quilted petticoat will be worn with it next time. **
Overall I loved the look of my outfit. And take a look at the reticule I have hanging on my wrist. It's a micro-beaded one I found in Norfolk, Va, last year, and because of a sale and some damage on it, I purchased it for $14! I found a couple others on an auction group where two of them were dated 1840s-1860s. So mine fit the time period of my dress. They sold for a very large amount of money. 
 What I learned from my first outing? 
1. Check the look of my bonnet before walking away. This seems to be a reoccurring problem for me. 
2. And make a new much sturdier multi-tiered petticoat that has tiers all the way up past my hips. That tablier needs much more support. Not sure what I can do about the hoop though.  So my next project of the 1903 Maize Yellow dress is being put on hold, as this week I will be making that petticoat.

**Thank you to Dyan, Darleene, and to Dave for a couple of these photos. **


  1. I have absolutely loved your posts. I used to volunteer in the costume department at The Atlanta Shakespeare company. My proudest moment was when of my hat finds was used in a play. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Dear Val,

    I love that bonnet! No matter on its position, it's sweet and your face looks fresh and happy in it.

    Agree on the tablier. The tablier on my 1869 dress is too heavy too. The trim doesn't help, but I used too heavy a lining. Next time, gossamer-thin book muslin or starched-to-the-hilt voile. The lining on the original I owned until recently was very, very light, as was the silk.

    Haven't been online much for a long shile, so am catching up...

    Very best,

    1. Thank you Natalie. I'm hoping with the much stiffer petticoat that it will hold up that tablier. I've considered making a padded bum pad that goes all the way around me. But I'll see how the petti works first.

  3. I really love this purple. That bonnet sure covers the face a little more than the picture it's emulating. That must have been a lot of work. Well done.


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