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, 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. This year I am the Dean of Costume College 2018. 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, May 13, 2018


Last March I quickly made an 1894 dress out of a mulberry silk damask to wear to Port Townsend but didn’t have time to make a hat. In fact, I was still working on the dress when I got up to Washington. I tried using a decorative hair comb but not having any experience in wearing one, and trying to stuff it into my wig hair, it wouldn’t stay. So, a nice evening hat was a necessity. And really this whole dress needed some finishing accessories to decorate it. I really love it and want more wear out of it.   
If you follow my blog, you know I love doing the research online for my ideas, and this hat was no exception. These are toques, or capotes, depending on where the fashion print or museum was from. This first picture with the fluffy pink ribbons on the top of the hat, more green ribbons and feather, gave me my first ideas. They do like height on them and I had a beautiful fluffy 6” curly brown  ostrich feather that would do that but I had a smaller 4” green one I’d brought back from a flea market in Paris (doesn’t that sound lovely?), and the green would make it pop more. I also liked the couple hats with lace along the outside edge but black velvet turned out to be my favorite.

                  "Squirrel Attack! I want to make that yellow dotted dress and hat!"
I pulled out every bit of hat trim I had in my stash and apparently I have a trend going with my mulberry and pinks. I had some vintage glass mulberries and some little mulberry colored flowers that went well with the pink ribbon rose I’d bought at Costume College. 
To make the base hat, I cut two rounds of buckram.  Mine isn’t really stiff so this made it sturdier with two layers. I used the base of my magnetic pin cushion to trace around on the buckram for my pattern for it. Then I machine stitched around the two to stabilize them. (Don’t use a fine machine needle, a medium one is better.) I cut out two rounds of velvet (or use whatever fabric you want as your base) about 1 inch larger than the buckram and basted over the top and bottom around the edges. Again, I used my sewing machine. It won’t show once you add your finishes and trims.

For a velvet ruffle, 40” long 4” wide, folded in half, stitch right sides together, leaving an opening in the center and turn it right side out. Run a gathering stitch along inside (or seamed) edge. Sew onto the top part of your base. I did this by hand so my stitching didn’t flatten out the velvet. The second photo shows it from the bottom.

Voila! Pancake hat.

I saw a couple hats with large velvet bows on the front that I wanted to copy. I’m not really good at making bows but cut a long rectangle of velvet, a bit larger than across my base, and 8" wide. Sew it in half leaving a small opening just about in the middle so I could turn it right side out. I folded the ends in to the center and did a little gathering stitch to hold it all together then pulled the stitches to make it smaller in the middle. Voila! A Bow! This is an after-thought that I’m going to do now but I’m thinking of adding a fancy button to the middle of that bow, just like the photos I’ve seen.

I arranged my trim pieces until I got them positioned where I wanted, and then sewed them on my hand using just a basting stitch but so it was sturdy. 

I haven’t had a chance to shop for a wig clip to attach to the front of the hat to my hair so in the meantime, I’m just using my two hatpins to hold it on. It pretty much just floats on top of your head. And more hair on your head works well too. I wore it recently in a fashion show but only have one photo that it’s barely visible in. I’ll be wearing it again this coming week for an afternoon tea and hope to get some more photos of the entire outfit. 

All the while I was making this hat I kept thinking I would love to make them to sell, or maybe teach a class. We’ll see if either happens. Maybe next year I can offer it at Costume College as a class.


Wednesday, May 9, 2018


This is a little post as I wanted to share a cute little hat I just bought at a small antique shop near Saratoga, CA, over the weekend. And it was only $24.00.
In the past I’ve talked about how I’ve learned some sewing tips from looking at extant bodices, and this time I learned a few things from two hats I just bought.

It’s from the late 1880s, between 1886-1889, and is made of a soft woven straw. I’m sure there’s a name for the material but I don’t know it. It had a price tag that said it was a doll’s hat. Knowing as I do that many hats and bonnets from this time were very small, I wasn’t fooled. It sits just on the back of your head with bits of it popping up on the top of your head.  The French liked it really high. This one is a little more subtle than that. And yes, there’s always that slim chance that this was a mourning bonnet, since the fabric trimming it is a very dull finish, and violets could have been added to become second half of mourning, but its also possible its a fashionable little black hat.

Once I got home I started taking photos of it. The edges have three layers of a soft black chiffony-type fabric that I need to find out what it is too. It’s possible it’s silk organza or chiffon from some of my friends opinions. The ribbons that tie under the chin are silk faille and have shredded pretty bad. Those will be getting replaced so I can wear this in fashion shows to, of course, show it off! The little velvet violets are really sweet looking too. 

I found two photos of ladies with one of these bonnets from 1888 & 1889, the late bustle era. 

And these are a couple extant ones held in the MET Museum. 

ETA: I'm adding this from further searching. I found this photo of a mourning bonnet covered in crape, from the LACMA museum, which doesn't look like my fabric. This is what crape looks like, wrinkly. Another opinion says mine is more like the softer silk chiffon, but may also be mourning. 

I love trimming hats & dresses myself, so I save ideas of ways to do it all the time. This bonnet share with me a way to attach those long ribbons that tie under your chin, which always seem very awkward to attach. It had two lengths of ribbon that were tied together at one end with little tails sticking up, then attached at the center back of the bonnet, and then along the bottom edges towards the front.  
A second 1890s boater hat that I bought at the same store also had a trick to share along the same idea. At the back instead of tying them together, the ends were folded down, basted on, and then left hanging in the back. Very sweet. 
If you’d like to try making your own bonnet like this from a modern straw, read Cindy from RedThreaded’s blog on it, since it was a similar hat to mine.

                          And now back to sewing, if Chloe will let me.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

2018 Fashion Show at Port Townsend (WA) Victorian Heritage Festival

I made my annual trek up to Washington state in March to visit my mom, and also to attend the Victorian Heritage Festival in Port Townsend. I’ve been in the fashion show there for the past seven years, and this was my second year actually running it. There was new management last year at the same time I took over, so I was able to change the show up a bit. I pulled in friends from the local costumes guilds: the Puget Sound Historical Costume Guild, SITU-Somewhere in Time, Unlimited, the Washington Regency Society, and R.U.C.A.S.-Renton United Cowboy Action Shooters.
One of the biggest changes I did was create themes for their fashion show, instead of just having a bunch of dresses come out and describe them, as they had in the past. I am lucky to also have more men in our group, which appeals to the gentlemen who attend the show. In years past, many of the “events” focused on the Civil War. But surprisingly, besides some men in uniform, I saw very little of women’s 1860s clothing being worn. Then it became more 1880s through 1900-looking dresses but not much in underpinning support, and of course, Steampunk has mixed into it. But they have a separate festival for that. I know after talking to a few people on the street that our costumes we wear as we visited the shops has gotten a lot of people excited and asking us more about them. 

I really like our new location, inside the American Legion Hall, but since most of the presentations for the festival are done there now it has gotten a bit crowded, and they have to move the displays to the side for our show. Last year I decided instead of using the stage for our show, which is small and pretty high in elevation, that we would walk down the middle of the room, with the audience sitting around us. They were able to see us up close and for a much longer period of time. We’ve been told the fashion show is the highlight of the Festival, and that makes me happy.

It used to include two other buildings where the talks and presentations were held, and the demonstrations and displays were inside the Hall. But due to financial cutbacks, it’s now in the one building. This isn’t a street fair, primarily due to the inclement weather experienced in March, but rather a series of historical presentations, which include tours of the Victorian seaport town. For example, this year’s presentations were Architectural History of Port Townsend (which appeals to the locals but was very interesting to the rest of us); and Getting Around in the 1800s: Bicycles, Lamps, Bells, & Whistles; and something about guns, along with walking tours of uptown and downtown Port Townsend. In the past there were usually about four more, but apparently, they had problems getting people for them this year. My group remembered we had talked last year about offering some costume-related talks, and especially more for women. No one reminded us, and we forgot. So next year we hope to get our stuff together. There are also afternoon teas given at a couple locations especially for the event, and the Saturday night ball, which is rather small, and even less in costume than in the past.

The theme I chose this year was “Favorite Characters from Victorian Novels”. This gave me a chance to extend the time period of the costumes being worn too, starting in the 1830s at the beginning of Queen Victoria’s reign. What surprised me was the manager of the Festival decided to follow my idea and titled the entire Festival theme as “Legends of Literature”. Unfortunately, he failed to ask me who I would have in our show, and announced we would have Alice in Wonderland, (sorry but no rabbits this year), and Jane Austen. (I need to educate him in the “Victorian time period”). 

We did have a Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson though; and Mrs. Hudson as our narrator. 

Each model chose a book or character from a book and dressed according to the time period of it. Along with their description, I included a small portion from the book to give the audience an insight into it, or to set the stage. Author Edith Wharton was a popular writer for the models. 
My list of models and their characters were:
Rebecca Maiten                            -1830s  Dickens -Oliver Twist
Barb & Rob Gregg                        -1870s  Wharton -Age of Innocence
Sharon Ricketts                            -1900 Wharton -The Other Two
Mara Perry                                    -1890s  Wilde -The Importance of Being Earnest
Patricia Francisco                         -1904 James -The Golden Bowl
Valarie LaBore                              -1837  Gaskill -Cranford
Agnes Gawne                               -1890s  Doyle -The Dying Detective
Marc McDaniels                            -1890s Doyle -Sherlock Holmes
Stephen Pierce                             -1890s Doyle -Sherlock Holmes
Vanessa Wood                                -1870s Wharton -The Buccaneers

Some of our characters were familiar, like Sherlock and Dr. Watson, but many were lesser known ones, although the books were not. I hope it brought the books to life for them, and a visual of what the characters in the books would look like. I’m all for exposing the town to more historical dress next year and going back even farther to Regency and the 1700s, since there is now a reenactment event over in Port Angeles.