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, April 15, 2017

1894 Brown & Aqua Dots

This was something I was able to sew very quickly to wear to the Port Townsend Victorian Heritage Festival for 2017.
The 1890s have become a new passion for me. Besides it being a very quick and fairly easy pattern to make, it doesn’t require a lot of under-supports that make it hard to travel or move around. I had the two Truly Victorian patterns, #494 -1894 shirtwaist & #291 -1898 skirt for a while, but hadn’t made the shirtwaist yet. After I saw it on two of my friends, I knew it would look good, even though the sleeves in the pattern photo looked “scary”.

So, my favorite part began: researching from various sites of ideas for fabric colors/patterns, different ways to trim the bodice and skirt, hats, purses, and of course hair. Except the hair never happened. I ran out of time before I had to leave town and wear the dress. 
Pinterest has become my go-to site now for photos of extant clothing, and I especially love it when the item is dated, although you still have to be wary of that since even museums get it wrong sometimes. Besides getting ideas for fabric to look for, I picked some of my favorite parts of the dresses for adding a trim to the shirtwaist, and I knew they liked bright colors. I liked the contrasting bow you often see on the back of the collar but later saw it was near the end of the 90s, and my dress would be around 1894. 

For the past year, each time I went to the Garment/Fabric District in Los Angeles, I was keeping my eye out for fabrics that said 90s to me. Finally, this one popped out at me. It was a deep chocolate brown with aqua, dark brown, light brown and cream polka dots embroidered on it, for $3 a yard. Granted it was a curtain fabric, and I had to line it in cotton, but to my eye it was perfect. I happened to have an 8” wide strip of aqua silk taffeta that matched the one dot perfectly, and I had to squeeeeeeeze out bits of it to make my lapels that I finally put on the front of my shirtwaist. I was limited in the width of the lapels by the width of this scrap of fabric. So sad. I’d hoped I’d have enough to do the neck bow but sadly didn’t. However later when I saw that was for a late 90s dress, I didn’t feel so bad. The sleeve shape for that year was different too.
Since I’d made the skirt before, that went together very quickly. I did a separate lining for it in brown cotton and just attached it at the waist with a separate hem. It’s very satisfying to have that hanging on my dress form so quickly. Except then I had a minor disaster. I had been ironing this fabric with no problem on high steam.  The following day after I sewed the pocket in, I turned on the iron, and before it had a chance to get really hot, I set the iron on it, and partially melted an iron-size spot right at the top of the waist. Eep! Why the heck does polyester melt at a low temperature, and not a high temperature?!! In a couple places the fabric had separated so in desperation and a temporary repair, I put Fray-Check on them, and hoped it would be good enough for now. I still have lots of extra fabric. *More on that later in the story.*

I played with the pattern and decided to do the blouse attached directly to the peplum method, without the belt insert. I didn’t plan on wearing the peplum out over the skirt as I’ve seen some do. I also didn’t have to do a lot of fitting on it because it just gets gathered into the peplum and it’s a loose-fitting shirtwaist. That’s one thing that makes this go together quickly. And it’s front buttoning, so yay!
Here’s a note once you start laying out your pattern pieces. The back piece says CUT 2 ON FOLD. You only need ONE.
And when you cut out the humongous sleeves, unless you have 60” wide fabric, you will have to open up your yardage, then fold that end to end, rather than selvedge to selvedge, and cut two that way. So don’t short yourself fabric. The pattern calls for 3 7/8 yds. Just get 4. Make it easy on yourself, just in case you make a mistake, or want to do more stuff with it, as in self fabric trims.
The sleeves call for a netting lining to help hold out all the floofiness. I tried doing this one other time and only lined them halfway but the ends kept wanting to roll up. This time I cut two layers of the wide netting, not the fine tulle stuff, top stitched it to the back of my sleeve fabric, then my layer of cotton lining, and sewed the sleeves together. I used a pair of thread nippers and trimmed off any of the netting I could get to inside the seams because you don’t want that stuff sticking out. It’s scratchy! But the beauty it gives those floofy sleeves is amazing. Later this year I’m hoping to take a class to make sleeve supports for these and my 1830s dresses, but in the meantime, this works. And netting is cheap too. Since it’s so wide, I bought one yard and was able to cut all four layers out of it.
I flatlined everything with brown cotton, then sewed my front plackets on first to the shirtwaist so they were lined up nicely. Then I pinned my side seams on me so they were roughly fitted and sewed them. I sewed the gathers on the body, and on the peplum, after sewing it together, then pulled them in to fit each other. Voila! Next up was the collar, which I just did the standing collar, not a high one because I have a short neck and high necks aren’t so attractive on me. Or maybe I’m not so attractive in them. This then gave me the opportunity to work on my lapels. I drew a pattern as wide as I could, cut it out of the aqua fabric, and lined the back with brown fabric to save on the aqua. I really would have loved to have really wide lapels but it wasn’t to be. Since this is handstitched on, maybe at some later date when I find more aqua taffeta I can remake them. Later I relocated the lapels to be part of the front plackets and liked that better. And the sleeves got attached! Yay, it’s almost done! 

One of my research photos showed some decorative buttons on the front and off I went in search of pretty buttons on etsy. I wanted dome shaped ones and came across these that were plastic but looked like glass and they were brown. They contrasted nicely on the aqua. 

Next up was the corselet. I had considered a belt but I hate making belts, and having to adjust the size all the time. A back-lacing corselet was perfect. *These are not a corset, or the Swiss waists worn earlier in the 1860s.* I made the shorter corselet and amazingly it helped distract your eye from that melted spot on my skirt. I used Truly Victorian #492, and made a matching belt of the dotty fabric, lining the back with brown cotton but also flatlining the fabric with the same. It has short steel boning in it, and I just made my boning channels with the same brown cotton. Here’s a sewing note on it: I think because I do some under stitching on a seam once I turned it right side out to help it stay flat, but I lose a bit of length for the bones, and it barely gave me enough seam allowance to turn under the bones when I finally closed it up. So be very careful when you sew those seams across the top to give yourself enough room to fit the bones in and turn under the seam at the bottom. The next one I made, I just sewed a 1/4-inch seam instead of 1/2 inch across the top and bottom.

With only a week left to finish this before leaving out of town where I’d be wearing it, I panicked a bit on how to get my grommets in for lacing in the back. Since it was my birthday, and I knew this wasn’t the only corselet, or corset for that matter, that I’d need a grommet setter for, I told hubby he was buying me one for my birthday. I bought it online from a company up in Los Angeles, Gold Star Tool, surprisingly near the Garment District. It was also recommended to me by a few others.  I bought the $69 one with one die set. If all you need is the small 00 size grommets that most of us use for corsets, that’s all you need. The photo with the arrows shows you the two die bits it comes with. You don’t need a cutter one because if you’re a costume maker, you know you never cut the fabric. You simply separate the threads with an awl and spread it to hold the grommets. 

The easiest thing I had for lacing mine was brown ribbon. I made it a bit long but it makes a pretty bow in back.
And finally, the accessories. I used an antique purse with a chatelaine I had to hang It from my waist, just like I saw in some 1890s photos. *Remember the earlier Fray-Check needed on my skirt? I think I’m going to have to Fray-Check all the dots on this fabric, because my purse and my sleeve both rubbed against those dots and frayed them. So, I have a big project coming up and probably need to buy a bigger bottle of Fray-Check. 

For my hat, I pulled out a boater with a black band I had, covered the crown with cream taffeta and added stuff. I saw lots of big bows, feathers, and many with a buckle or brooch in front.

So again, out of my fabric stash came this cream taffeta. The flowers came from Michael’s. The buckle was a cheap metal one off etsy, and the scruffy brown feathers came from a Paris flea market that I bought from while in Paris a few years ago.  
I cut a circle of taffeta slightly larger than the crown and roughly basted it over the top. Then I folded over a wider piece to go around the sides and roughly basted that on. I reuse my hats often so that makes it easier to retrim them.  I made large loops of the taffeta to put on the front.

I basted all my trims on, THREE TIMES! until I was happy with it. That’s one good reason why basting them on is good. 

See the bar pin on this lady’s collar, and the comb on the back of her hair? I did wear one of my bar pins with this, and bought a celluloid hair comb for the next time.

Everything was finished in time for my trip to Washington state and for the Port Townsend Victorian Festival that I met up with my friends from SITU, and the Puget Sound Costume Guild. We walked around town and had tea at the Commander's Beach House. *I also put on the fashion show there this year. More on that in another post.*

Back home this young lady has been patiently waiting for me to get back to work on my next project, which I already have started. Yes, it’s another 1890s blouse!



  1. Oh how totally fun is your new polky spot dress!! I love the colors and your hat is fabulous!! You look magnificent as usual! I sure missed you ladies this year at Port Townsend! I hope you had a grand time!

    1. Gina, you were missed this year too! Next year, hopefully? I already have a theme idea I'm working on for the fashion show then.

  2. Replies
    1. Thank you, Maryanne. It was a lot of fun wearing it too.

  3. Really nice! I love how you used the corselet!


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