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. 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 membor 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. 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, April 28, 2016


Something that’s been in the “planning in my head” stage for the last year was an 1870s tea gown. These were the “house dresses” of the time period, later versions of wrappers, and pre-cursors to dressing gowns. They were meant to be worn around the house before getting dressed for the day, or to wear with the family for breakfast, and sometimes a visit from a close friend. They weren’t as tightly fitted as a day dress, most often not worn with a corset, and was all of one length of fabric, not a bodice and skirt. And they had trains. They were easier to put on and ladies didn’t need a maid to help them get dressed in them. I’ve seen them called princess dresses in catalogs too. Most likely from the long “princess” seams.
If you want to do some more reading about them, Leimomi’s blog has a lot of information on them.
When a challenge came up to make and wear them at Costume College this coming July, that fit right in to my project.

Right now the favored pattern for them is Truly Victorian # 423 tea gown. It’s labeled as 1880s but the style was also being worn in the 70s. The one by the Wisconsin Historical Society (aka Patterns of History), called the Avant-Garde gown from 1881, would have been a nice one but it only comes in Size 10. But I have it, and might try and play around with it someday.

This is a drawing I came across showing the interior of one that I think is from Janet Arnold’s books but I’m not sure. Notice that it has a stay belt on the interior that is attached in the back and hooks around your waist in the front to keep it snug. 
I didn’t want mine to look like a generic plain one, but something a little more elegant. I began collecting photos on Pinterest and found many would be hidden within a fashion plate of multiple dresses that could be worn throughout the day, or sometimes in the corner of a catalog page.

I found this lovely 1877 mourning tea gown (as seen by the black edged envelopes) and anyone who knows me, knows I love to make mourning dresses. There’s lots of little details I love on it. So this one may show up in my wardrobe too.
There are quite a few extant gowns for inspiration too, and a couple of them are Worth gowns.

I finally nailed down this one, identified as an 1870s Worth gown. The two ladies are having tea in a home, and have a visitor show up. The picture is a little grainy but her neckline almost looks like a chemise with a ribbon drawstring, and a bare neckline with a couple strings of pearls. Kind of dressy but still definitely an article of dishabille
The main fabric looks like a brocade, with a solid train, and a lightweight underdress. So I decided this would be my inspiration for a Worth tea gown.
My fabric was easy. I found this medium weight polyester, plum colored fabric in a newly opened store in the L.A. Garment District that was heavily embroidered with flowers and vines. It just screamed Worth dress to me. And at $2.99 yard, I bought 10 yards not even knowing how much I would need at the time. It turns out the pattern needs 7 yards, and the pattern pieces are full length so take into account if you have to buy small 3-4 yard pieces you will need 4 lengths long enough to cut from your neck to floor.
The center insertion fabric was the hardest for me to find. I first thought a lighter color than the plum but I think it needed contrast, and white didn’t work. After dragging it around in Yardage Town last week, I finally decided on a sheer pale pink chiffon. You can see through it but my plan is to shirr it so it’s opaque. Although bets are on whether I’m going to cut my throat after trying to cut and sew it.
I started tracing out the pattern yesterday so I could make my muslin to fit me. I only traced it down to the waistline for fitting. I saw the markings to pleat the Watteau back and thought this is going to be easy and followed the direction to fold them.

But then I was politely told just how I *should* be doing those pleats. And it wasn’t like the markings on the pattern seemed to show. WRITTEN IN THE DIRECTIONS, it has you fold the center back WRONG sides together and sew a straight line down to your waist on one of the marked lines. THEN you fold that in towards the sewn center line. BUT NOT ON THE INSIDE of the fabric as I did but on the OUTSIDE. Back to the drawing board. And no, I didn’t read the directions before I started. At least this was just the muslin.

I also was fitting this to myself with my corset on but after reading Leimomi’s blog I saw that these were not meant to be worn with a corset but to be comfortable in around the house. Hmmm. I’ll have to think about that for a while because my pattern was cut to fit my corseted body.
Now that I’ve got that worked out, I get to start cutting my fabric. Just look at all that pretty!


  1. I'm inspired to make one myself. Is this for the Breakfast or will you be wearing it at another CoCo function

    1. Leslee, I haven't totally made up my mind yet. I have a wrapper that's 3/4 finished that I'd planned to wear on Sunday Breakfast but until I see what all get's finished, I won't know until about the beginning of July.

  2. I've noticed that you never use Past Patterns. Is there a reason?

    1. Marilyn, I have. I worked with Saundra Altman to finish the 1850 bloomer dress and made that but the majority of the patterns are too small for me.

  3. Val, I am coming right behind you with this Princess style gown for the Stripes Parade at Coco!

  4. I just finished TV125's natural form skirt supporting petticoat. It adds subtle oomph to the back of the skirt behind the knees. Don't know if a dressing gown needs the support (mine is for a princess line ball gown) but it would be an option for this style, should you wear it "out."

    1. I haven't even begun to think about under-support of this, or if it uses it, but I will be making a princess dress that will need it.


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