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.


Wednesday, December 12, 2018


For many of us during the holidays, our sewing turns to something new to wear for any holiday events we want to go to. This year mine is mostly going to Xmas teas. I could have just rested on my laurels and worn my previously made Red & Black Checked bustle dress. But Southern Californians know that just because it’s December, that doesn’t mean our weather will be cold enough to wear your warmer costumes. We can go from 80d to 63d the next day, then right back to 85d. It’s a crap-shoot. But I dream someday of wearing a wool dress with fur trim. My red & black dress is silk taffeta, and although not a really hot material, I am usually quite warm in it. Something new and in cotton was needed.
I wanted something easy and basically quick (for me) to make, and that would be the Truly Victorian polonaise #410 and skirt #221, a two-piece outfit. (LOL! In retrospect, even this took me a month to make. But that’s how I sew.)

I had bought some red plaid cotton homespun fabric from my friend, Kristen, not too long ago and after seeing this one plaid dress made by The Victorian Dressmaker, I aspired to that. I wanted to try doing something fancy to the skirt hem with pleats and stuff, and try somehow to make it not looking like everyone else’s version of this pattern. Sadly, in the end, I didn’t have enough fabric to add anything fancy to the hem. I’m still considering adding a couple rows of velvet ribbon for it’s second wearing.

As mentioned, the pattern goes together really fast, especially if you’ve made it 4 or 5 times. I did have a few delays when a little someone needed attention. 

I always look forward to planning and adding trims to my dresses. About a year ago I bought a bag of pre-pleated black grosgrain trim that was held together with strips of masking tape. Now was a good time to save myself some labor and use this for trimming my dress. And I had lots of it. I had to sew the length of it to keep it together since the masking tape couldn’t hold it well enough while trying to attach it. I ran it around the neckline, on the edges of my sleeve cuffs, and around the entire bottom of the polonaise. 

It was still a bit plain so I dug out some 1” wide black velvet ribbon to add to it with a bit of the fabric showing between it and the pleating. I had to hand-tack the velvet ribbon on as it was too thick to pin it in place before I machine-sewed it on. And I decided it needed large buttons to add something eye-catching, and covered them with black silk taffeta. I’m not a fan of the metal covered-button kits but this time I gave it a try and they actually are staying in one piece.  

As I’d mentioned, I had hoped to add a 4” wide box-pleated trim to the bottom of my skirt, but I only had about a 12” rectangle left over. So, I just hemmed it so I could wear it and would come up with something for it later. In the past I had tied the side fronts to pull them towards the back like the pattern has but to be different I let them hang down this time.

I bought some vintage 3” wide taffeta ribbon from my friend Kristen for the bow in back. It looked a little plain by itself, and I played with two lengths of a tail to add. I decided on the short tail.  No, Chloe, not your tail.

After I wore this for the first Xmas tea I went to, I had time to add a row of black velvet ribbon to the hem. I only had enough for one row and didn’t want to buy more and have to wait for that too. So, I’m happy with the outcome. 
Next up was my accessories. I saw a couple photos where a small corsage was added to the front of the neck, and another where she had a lace collar laying around it. I combined these two ideas using a vintage lace collar I had, and a Xmas pic I bought just for my holiday dress. It was really the only thing that said “Xmas”, unless you count the color red. I want this dress to be wearable for other times of the year, and that’s why the cotton fabric works better for me. 
For my bonnet, instead of making a brand-new hat, I pulled out a squished antique straw hat I’d found at the bottom of a box in an antique store for $12 and tried to fluff it up a bit. As I was doing that, part of the straw braid on the back edge turned basically to dust. I ended up removing that, and to cover the inside of the shattered silk lining, I tacked in a new lining of silk taffeta and covered that bottom section where I had removed the braid. I also removed the poor flowers that were on the bonnet but saved it for my stash. Unless it’s falling apart, it might be used again in the future. 

Again, to add a touch of Xmas, I bought some little Xmas pics with green leaves and white berries. Later after I put the bonnet on, I realized I was walking around with mistletoe constantly above my head. 
So, finally at the CGW Xmas Tea I was able to get a couple photos taken of me, and I received two of them this morning from our photographer, Andy, of the Shotwell Collection.

Now seeing the back of my dress in this photo, it looks like one of my ties under the bustle came loose, so at least I can fix that, or maybe not, before wearing it again tomorrow to yet another Xmas tea with the Ladies of the Traveling Tea Society.

And here ends my blogs of 2018, and now I can send it all to and have it printed into my annual book from each year.
                                         Happy Holidays to everyone!  ~Val~


  1. A lovely Christmas ensemble, great ending to a fabulous costumed year!

  2. This is so lovely. I am truly mad for plaid!

  3. Gosh that is just adorable. I can hear that you don't get super cold there, while it is still technically winter (we are in summer here down south)but this is so deliciously Dickensian!

    1. Thank you Maryanne! I get to wear it again today for yet another Xmas tea!


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