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.


Monday, October 2, 2017


I don’t often like to make a “costume” for an event that can’t be worn as a regular historical looking costume but when Cindy of The Broke Costumer, decided to use the fancy dress costume as her theme for a fashion show at the Gaslight Steampunk Expo Convention in San Diego on October 8, I knew I might be able to just add accessories to one of my existing dresses and not make it a one-time outfit. When she also decided to use the same theme for the Sunday Tea at Costume College 2018, it was even better. I would have two chances to wear it.

Her theme was based on the 1897 Duchess of Devonshire’s Diamond Jubilee Fancy Dress Ball in honor of Queen Victoria. Attendees dressed in various costumes depicting either famous people, different nationalities, inventions (such as electricity & the telegraph), photography/cameras, animals, tabletop games, the seasons, the sun & moon… as you can see, the ideas were endless.  What was really interesting is they often used their ball dresses and added the accessories to them but they were quite fancy. And some were quite silly. 


Cindy had set up an entire Pinterest page of photos showing years of photos and fashion prints all based on fancy dress. It’s not Halloween but a fancy dress dressed up.     
It didn’t take me long to find one, The Chess Game, that I could recycle one of my 1830s black dresses that had only had one wearing. With a few additions of checkerboard fabric and chess pieces, I could easily use this dress.

My first hunt was for the chess pieces. They needed to be lightweight plastic so my cotton fabric could hold them up. The easiest way to shop was on etsy and ebay. It didn’t take long to find a nice set and at a very good price, $10, on etsy. They were a good size, albeit a little heavier than I’d hoped but still workable. They’re not white-white but an ivory color but this way they stand out from the fabric. They’re actually a really nice set.
The next hardest challenge was finding the checkerboard fabric. Cindy helped me in the hunt, and we tried looking at fabrics and tablecloths online. Most had squares too small, or had a grey square with the black and white. It actually took us a few days of searching until I saw some on JoAnn’s website. Except when Cindy went to the store, she couldn’t find it. I finally found it there, which had been missed on the first hunt because it was folded inside-out on the bolt. Whuh?  At least I was able to use my 50% off coupon.

The biggest chunk was used for my apron. The fabric was wide enough to cover me side to side, so I just needed the length, and then some extra for the neckline and sleeve cuffs. The apron went together very quickly. It sure was easy to cut it on the lines. It’s all machine sewn so nothing fancy. I whip-stitched it to the waistline so I won’t have any bulk from a tie in the back since I plan to have a wide belt going over it. And I added matching cuffs to the sleeves. The neckline was another thing. It has a wide curved boat-neck shape. So I set that aside for awhile to work on the crown.
In the original photo she looks like she’s just wearing a pill box hat with the chess pieces attached, but I decided I wanted to use a crown, to make it easy for me. Besides, where could I find a pill box hat? It’s not like one of those white satiny things they use for bridal outfits. Party City came through for me with a crown. It was a kind of leathery-foam base, lightweight, and all I had to do was remove the purple stone, and spray paint it black. I thought of cutting the top of it off but decided just to go with it. 

I used the larger King, Queen and rook pieces from the chess set because of the height. They’re just basted on with thread. A bit floppy but stable enough. And of course I’m going to wear my whacky 1830s wig with it. I may put a couple loops of black ribbon standing up on the topknot, as they did with their hair then.

I finally had to knuckle down this week before the fashion show and get that neckline done. I tried a couple ideas, but my first idea of cutting a bias strip of the checkered fabric would totally mess up the squares. I tested a couple laces down the front too, like in the photo, but it was just too silly looking. Since this is supposed to be a ball dress, I may still put lace cuffs on the sleeves.

Since it had a slight dip in the center front, I decided I could do a slight V-neck shape with the fabric band. After I got the shape I wanted, I sewed the two center fronts together and basted it onto the neckline. It’s all temporary. The original also has that checkboard wide belt thing going and I think I have enough time this week to whip that out too.

I attached a couple of the smaller chess pieces to my neckline and I was right, the ivory ones stand out really well. Not so much the black ones though. If you look at me straight on, and not from below, you won’t see the green felt bottoms on the chess pieces. 
And of course we always have to make MORE work for ourselves, so why not make a fan? I stole that idea from another fancy dress photo where you can just see her paddle shaped fan by the table.
My idea was to print out a couple chess piece photos and decoupage them onto a paddle ala a ping-pong board. Except Michael’s made it easy for me by bringing out unfinished wooden Xmas projects. All I had to do was spray paint it, print out the pictures and use Mod Podge to deco it on there. Don’t ask me why, but instead of spraying it white, I spray painted it black (leftover spray from the crown) and covered it with the chess pieces printed on white paper. This is the still drying fan. I have a bishop on the other side. I plan to wrap a wide black satin ribbon around the wood handle to prevent slivers. But this will give me something to carry in my hand and to fan myself as its invariably hot at this venue in October.

Anything else I come up with for this outfit will have 10 months to work on for next July.


1 comment:

  1. Yay! As you know,I have been planning these two fancy dress events for about a year, and I'm excited to see what everyone comes up with. Your outfit is fantastic. If you use your imagination like this, you needn't create a costume from scratch. Great job, Val!


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