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.


Tuesday, February 12, 2019


In the past I’ve written a Year in Review of costumes I’ve made for the recent year. Its always good to remind yourself that you weren’t totally laying around doing nothing for a whole year. Well, sometimes you were. And you do need to do that sometimes. But you also need to give yourself a pat on the back for what you did accomplish. For many costume designers and makers, you NEED the compliments and accolades to keep you going. And it is a work of art, something that you created with your own hands. 
This morning I was comparing how many I used to make while I was working (one a year) and now ten years later after I retired. I actually started making my costumes in 2003. Sometimes I wondered how many exactly do I have in my closet, Space Bags, and clothes rack. And this is not counting the corsets, underpinnings, petticoats and bustles/hoops I have stored too. While we’ve been on our new house hunt, needing a one story instead of a two-story, we included on our “wish list”, an extra room or storage area that I can keep all my costumes plus a couple bookcases that would hold my bolts of fabrics, plus the big plastic tubs that hold all my patterns (5 right now but they’re ready to explode all over the place). That doesn’t even include my 20 hat boxes, or the various wigs on wig heads that take up a lot of room. As I’m typing this, I’m starting to feel like I need to buy a house just for all that.
I don’t feel I need to justify needing an additional room in our new house for this either. The hubby wants a big enough room for his 12-man poker group, which involves a large table, so this is my requirement. When you retire, your hobbies take a priority.
10 years ago, after I retired, I ended up selling most of my previous costumes, due to weight losses and gains, wanting a new improved version, or just wanting MORE in different colors and styles. Therefore, the closet stash of fabric grew.
I keep photo folders in my computer of all my costumes, broken up by the decades, so that seems to be the easiest way to share them too.

My earliest one, which I wore to a Renaissance Fair, was a early Carmelite nun outfit that I copied from a Catholic website showing them. I even fooled a lot of people thinking I really was a nun (I had to point out my lipstick), and a past nun told me I got it spot on. I don’t remember the date it was from but it was documented.  
 I have about 5, and 2 unfinished, from the 1700s. 

 A couple dresses and  morning robe from the Regency period, early 1800s.   

 One of my favorite time periods, the Romantic Period of the 1830s.   

 I haven’t made anything for the 1840s yet, mainly because I don’t like the squatty “cottage bonnets” they wore but I have a beautiful Turkey Red cotton for one just waiting for me to give in.
I started with Bloomer dresses of the 1850s and then went on to the later ones.

I’m not sure why but I only have one dress now from the 1860s. I sold my other one. I think I need to remedy that, especially since I have a gorgeous fabric for one.

I like the 1870s mainly because of the open square neckline options but don’t have the long waist that makes this time period look better.     

MY FAVORITE TIME PERIOD- the mid-1880s. Big bustles or go home!

The last couple years I made a foray into the 1890s, mostly around 1895 for the big sleeves.  

 Early 1900s, very comfy to wear too.

Going into 1910 and the ‘teens to about 1918. I have plans in progress for more ‘teens dresses. Two of these I have for sale but as of now, they’re still in my “wardrobe”. 

So, this answers my question of how many dresses I have: 44, plus or minus a couple that I don’t like, or didn’t quite finish. Over a 10-year period, I made an average of 4 a year. I guess I’ve been busier than I thought. And I have no plans to stop any time soon. 

Thursday, January 24, 2019


I wish I could say I’ve made lots of progress sewing on my purple floral voile bustle dress, but just when I thought I could finish it up, I smashed my baby finger in a heavy door. With a finger brace on it so nothing would touch because OWWIE! it would hurt, I had to set that aside for something simple like straight stitching and no fabric manipulation. Even trying to cut fabric was painful. But I had something else to work on, so more on that in a minute.
I’m happy to share that the theme for the Port Townsend Victorian Heritage Festival in WA has been announced for March 22-24, 2019, “The Social Season”. We’ve been told there will be lots of changes this year in the event schedule. Information on it is still minimal but here’s the website:
We’re working on our theme and costumes for the fashion show there to compliment the main theme. The models are gathered from the surrounding city’s costume guilds and we even have a few new people this year. For once, this year I won’t need to make anything new for it, unless “someone” bugs me about that. I have a dress already for the show, and probably will wear my 1870's Red Plaid Polonaise around town.

But before that, we have our own Dickens Festival in Riverside, CA on February 22-24.  I will again be in that fashion show on the Saturday. I already have a dress for that too. I’ll get a chance to wear my Victorian court dress that I wore at Costume College last year. Not sure what I’ll wear out walking the event but definitely wouldn’t be wearing that.  
After resting up after the holidays and getting into the new year, I finally got around to starting my 1913 long line corset so I could finally finish two ‘teens dresses. I got as far as making and fitting my mock-up but when I tried to start cutting my fabric, a yellow striped silk taffeta, the finger brace prevented me from getting hold of my scissors very well, and then caused it to cramp up. So that was put aside. This extant corset was my inspiration.

So, you might ask what my busy fingers HAVE been doing? Mainly something that only requires sewing straight lines, and very little cutting. And it’s so off my normal sewing track that it might surprise you. I don’t make modern clothes at all. I did buy a couple patterns to make myself modern blouses, but there’s moss growing on those in a corner of the room somewhere. My friend Cindy- The Broke Costumer, was talking to me about the Dress a Girl Around the World that she was hearing about from our friend Shelley Peters, of the Kansas Mercantile, and who runs the Historical Sewing Workshops here locally. Simple and colorful cotton dresses were being made for young girls in poor countries by this organization that has been around for years. Last November Shelley went with her church group to Uganda to dedicate a new well for a small community, and brought a couple hundred dresses they had for them.
For more info on the project, go here: There are Facebook groups for them too.
Shelley’s church group knew they needed many, many more dresses, so when she came home, Shelley began telling all her costuming friends about this great project. She hopes to bring back 500 dresses when she returns in 2020.
Cindy wrote about her start making the dresses on a new blog: DRESSING THE GIRLS BLOGSPOT  She's just started so check back for further posts. 

I started looking through my fabric stash and found some good size pieces of cottons from another project I’d had and gave that to her. When I started seeing all the cute dresses she was making, the “bug” got me too. I cut out my first dress using one of the suggested Simplicity patterns (this was before the finger meets door episode) but later decided I would do the simpler ones where I could just tear lengths of fabric and sew them together. With a 70% off coupon from Joann’s Fabrics, I stocked up on a bunch of 1 1/2 yds pieces of remnant quilting cottons.

My original thought was to bring them up to WA while I visit my Mom (and for the Victorian Festival) and with her help, sew these up. They turned out to be perfect for my bandaged finger though and I got 6 ready to sew. At Shelley’s recent sewing workshop, some of us were sewing on those rather than our usual historical dresses. I brought the one dress I had made using a pattern, and then worked on two others from the sewing chart measurements the group provides you. It has a lot of requirements for making them but nothing unusual or tedious. You just have to think along the lines of where they're going.

As I’ve said, I got 6 ready for sewing and after a couple hiccups (not making them long enough but am adding a ruffle along the bottom) I’m going to finish those, then finish up some little girls Civil War 1860s dresses for Shelley to take to her next venue, and THEN I will get back to my regular and normal sewing. But its a very fun break and they’re such happy colors.
I thought I was going to finish my purple floral dress for a Valentine’s Tea in February but rather than kill myself over that, I have a back-up dress for that. So the stress level is down to Yellow.
There does occasionally occur an interruption when “someone” needs some me time and gets in your face.