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, September 4, 2016

1897 Fuschia Evening Dress

I don’t normally make evening or ball dresses because I don’t have many places to wear them. But every once in a while I like to make something fancy, and it’s usually for the Gala night at Costume College. Other than that, the only time they may get worn is in a fashion show. So I don’t like to put a lot of time and money into something like that. That said, I may be wearing this to our San Diego Guild’s annual Xmas dinner in Seaport Village this year.

This was my inspiration dress for this year; an 1897 evening dress I found a tiny little photo of in a French fashion magazine years ago. I’m pretty sure it was on ebay with a French seller of antique magazines. She would often share photos from inside the magazine so you could see what you were getting if you bought it. Such a tease! There was not much to go on; the text was French so I didn’t know the colors or fabrics either. It kind of looks like a velvet skirt and corselet. But that embroidered collar & sleeves- oh yum! That’s about as far as I got with it because where would I find fabric for that bodice?
Fast forward to Costume College 2015, and a vintage textile dealer in the Marketplace there had many table cloths, table runners, odds and ends of lace and embroidered stuff. And there it was, a full length table runner that I could cut off the corners to create that collar!
Last year I also had in my mind a color of fabric I wanted to make an evening dress with- fuschia. It’s kind of a purple-ish pink, and orchid mix. Once again I found it at Valentine’s in the LA Garment/Fabric District.
After going back and forth on using three different patterns for the skirt, I ended up using Truly Victorian #297 but made a higher waistband on it with buckram for support, which would be covered with the belt like this pleated aqua one. Aren’t those buttons cute?
Since I’d made this skirt pattern before, I was able to whip it out pretty fast.
This was a hard color to try and find velvet to match for the belt, and I bought a textured polyester velvet in a similar color that I thought would work. But after trying to work with it multiple times, it kept stretching and I gave up. So I just used the same taffeta for that and pleated it.
The final skirt and belt looked like this. I ended up using rhinestone buttons on it that I bought in a bracelet jewelry pack from Michael's.
So that part was done. Now on to the bodice. A couple patterns were considered but none were perfect. I would have to use bits and pieces of patterns to do it. For the puffy sleeves, I was going to use this out of print Butterick 4418, but after I’d cut the collar pieces out of the table runner, I didn’t have enough to do those parts on the upper sleeve. I barely had enough to trim the sleeve cuffs with it.
To do the crossover portion of the bodice, I had two choices; the VPLL 4925 – 1912 shirtwaist, or the vest portion of Past Patterns 1908 tunic. Both were a later date obviously.

Because I already had a muslin from the Past Patterns I used for my 1908 Directoire dress, I decided to go with that and did some judicious chopping away at it and folding the front until it looked nice. I used a very sheer cotton voile for the body of the bodice.
I had to first cut the corners of the table runner so I was sure to have enough to do the collars. That left me with just some bits from the middle that I could squeeze some trim out for my sleeve cuffs.

A week before CoCo, I still had to get those sleeves done. I used the ones from my Truly Victorian E41 and cut the sleeves shorter. There was no upper sleeve poof and with the fabric being very sheer, I wasn’t sure how to put any stiffening fabric in them to fluff them up. This was the only part I really wasn’t happy with the whole dress but when are we ever completely happy?
I began gathering my accessories and the tiara bug finally got me. I had one picked out that I really liked but with it coming from China there was no way it would arrive in a week. So I ordered one coming from the US, and it was here in a couple days.
For other accessories, I looked at a couple 1890s photos for them. Fans, long gloves, short necklaces. And darn, I forgot I was going to put some feathers in my hair.

I had a silver-tone rhinestone necklace that would work and it matched my shiny tiara. I used some tiny buttons for the closure on my bodice and used the one extra rhinestone button at the top to match the necklace too.
Now I needed a reticule, and it needed to be fancy. Nothing in the stash, so I had to make one. I had a metal purse frame purchased at our Del Mar Antique Show, and with my previous experience in sewing a new pouch back on to a frame, I knew how to do it. I had saved a photo of an antique reticule I wanted to make from it. I loved the little beads on the bottom. I hope to someday do the same to mine.  
I wanted a Chinese brocade fabric for it but because of time limits, I had to choose from our JoAnn’s stores for mine. Only ten choices of gaudy fabric, and none looked good with my dress. Until I flipped one red one over, and the back of it was a perfect muted tone of a paisley design. It toned down the red enough to look good with my fuschia fabric.  I only purchased a fourth yard, which later I realized limited the length of my purse because I wanted the paisley to hang down. Of course you would! But it was long enough to hold my cell phone.

I traced around my frame for the shape, and then extended my drawing down to the length and width I wanted.
Since I had plenty of the brocade left, I used the red side as my lining. I sewed each pouch separately, leaving the upper portions open that would be sewn to the frame. I worked that out by laying the frame on them and marked where to start sewing. Then I turned under the edges of the upper portions a fourth inch to stitch to the frame. I placed the lining pouch inside the outside pouch and used a heavy weight black thread and sewed in and out of the holes in the frame into both the outer and lining pouch, and then reversed and went back so it was a solid stitching line.

Because of the way the clasp closes, it needs a small gap just inside the frame. I had to push that down after I sewed it and tack it down to hold it out of the way.
My frame didn’t come with a chain and after some trial and errors, I bought a really nice length of chain at Michael’s that matched the color of the frame very well.
And there you have it.
I got a couple blurry photos of me walking the Red Carpet at Costume College, and I am again hating myself for wearing my glasses. The couple times I’ve done that I’ve told myself I want to see all the pretty dresses around me. But then I hate my own photos after. Literally, I think it totally ruins the whole look of my dress. But at least I got one nice one where I remembered to yank them off.

As I mentioned, I plan on wearing this to our Costume Guild’s Xmas Dinner in December, and by then it will have new sleeves. I have lots of practice ripping stuff out, so I’m good to go.


  1. Thank you so much for sharing your journey honestly! As a lone historical seamstress in my area, it helps me stay grounded to read about other's experiences (good and bad) and to see ways they 'cheat' with the finished look. (A lace table runner for the collar. Great idea!) Thank you for all the pictures showing your process from inspiration to finished outfit. It is so inspiring!

    1. Sloane, thank you very much. If you're on Facebook, you might be interested in my Historical Pattern Reviews group there. We all share our experiences with patterns for making them.


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