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, February 18, 2017

1885 Gold & Black Brocade Evening Dress

Even with a couple small projects going, I was immediately distracted by this dress when I realized, finally, that I had found one that I could use the gold and black Chinese brocade my neighbor had given me. It had been brought from China by a friend of her’s years ago, and when she realized she’d never use it, lucky for me, she passed it onto me and said she knew I’d make something beautiful with it. But with only four yards it would have to be part of a dress, not the whole dress. At some point, the Squirrel in me wants to cut out any remaining gold flowers and stitch them along the bottom edges of the skirt. Stay tuned for that but not in the next couple weeks is it going to happen.
This 1885 dress fit the bill.  It was created by French designer, Emile Pingat, and held in the Philadelphia Museum of Art collection.  By enlarging the photo I was able to see what patterns I could use for it, which made it easier.

I chose Truly Victorian #462 (1883) Tail bodice ( with the short peplum) and Truly Victorian #263 (1887) Trained Skirt (the center design).

I whipped up the bodice very quickly and then put it on my dress form to work out how to do the brocade trims on it. Since my dress form tends to be bumpy in different places than me, I laid the pattern out flat and traced the lines that looked like the photo. Then I cut pattern pieces out of that, and laid them on the dress form. That seemed to look right. The top of the center portion slightly sticks up like a sail. I didn’t think the brocade and my black silk taffeta would have the body to do that so I needed to put some interfacing in it to hold it up. On the opposite side since the front placket overlaps the other side, I can’t just sew the brocade following the front lines, or it won’t come to that point at the top. 
The sleeves actually look more like a lace rather than the solid fabric down the front of the skirt. But I’m going with the brocade all over. I had an idea for the sleeves to do something like this blue bodice with solid black sleeves and a strip of brocade down it so it’s not completely the brocade.
But later I decided I wanted a little more continuity with the brocade, and cut it entirely out of that, adding a black taffeta cuff with a brocade tab on it. Right now the tab is just basted on, and I left a little tail sticking up at the top to match the front of the dress trim.
Once I got all those trim ideas out of the way, the rest of the dress went together fairly smoothly, with just the hem and the closures to sew in by hand. 
The first chance I have to wear this will be in the Riverside (CA) Dickens fashion show next Saturday, February 25. The theme is Victorian Dreams, so when I needed to come up with something for it, I decided to accessorize this dress for it. I chose Titania, Queen of the Fairies, from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. A few simple additions, like a long train of shimmery gold chiffon, a headdress made of Xmas gold ball decorations, and a simple beaded gold necklace are my finishing projects this week.

After reading a short description of the scene where the Queen is enchanted by the King to fall in love with the first person she sees, which btw is a donkey, I knew I had to have a donkey with me. Without having time to walk around toy stores for one, I found a small plush one that would do on Amazon. I would have liked it a little bigger to be seen better from the stage, but he’ll do. I love going for a few laughs.

And of course I couldn't just be working on one dress all this time, right? You are correct. I suddenly decided I wanted to make a new sheer dress to walk around in during the Dickens Festival, since my Brocade dress isn't suitable for walking and dragging the long train in the streets. I had the fabric in my stash, and wanted to make this multi-tiered dress. 
I tried a new pattern for the bodice, Period Impressions #405, because it had the little peplum going all the way around it. But it was too large all over, & I ended up cutting out almost a new pattern to make it work. And wanting to cut my throat. I probably should have made it using McCalls #5132 and just doing a bit of altering. Next time for sure. 
I started it in a sewing workshop with Shelley Peters but only got as far as getting a fitted bodice before I remembered I needed to get that Brocade dress done. So this is as far as it got. And I got all the tiers of the skirt are torn to the lengths I need to start the skirt. Since we all know that's not going to be done in time, I'm now considering wearing one of my earlier 1830s day dresses to walk the streets in. 
But then after having a little chat with Mara up in Washington about the Victorian Festival on April 1, and figuring out what to wear in that fashion show, and on the streets, she convinced me to make an 1890s skirt and blouse. I had just the fabric for it; a brown polyester with dots of brown, cream & aqua.  I had lots of it, cheap, and an easy pattern, Truly Victorian #494, and #291 walking skirt. I have a piece of aqua silk taffeta I want to try and run down either sides of the front closure, and add a bow on the back of the neck, like they did in the 90s. I don’t have much of it so I have to be careful.
I got the skirt almost done, but had a little oops with the iron. Whoever heard of polyester not melting when it’s on high heat with steam, but then melts when it’s barely warm? What’s up with that!! I’m wasting a day just doing repairs on it now. And with a week left until Dickens, it gets to simmer a little longer too. 

Yep, squirrels are running all over here. Stay tuned for further adventures.  



  1. Hi, Val: I'm a follower of your blog, and although I do not make costumes, I love seeing what you are doing, and the interesting events which you attend in period dress. You got me, here, with a Dickens themed fashion show, for I am a huge fan of C.D.'s works, and of the time in which he lived and wrote his novels. I live in Ohio, but oh, how I wish I could be there in Riverside on the 25th, and as fate would have it, my husband will be in L.A. during that time for a shoot (he's a commercial photographer), and this is one of the few times that I am not going with him! I just want you to know that I really appreciate what you are sharing here. The black brocade dress is going to be beautiful. Kind regards, Cynthia

    1. Thank you Cynthia, that's very kind of you. If your hubby ever goes to Galveston, TX, they have a very large Dickens festival too. I don't know the dates tho.


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