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, September 11, 2019


                 Reenactment of the Railroad Groundbreaking Ceremony in Campo, CA
Our weather in Southern California has been sweltering recently. This has actually been weather we usually have late July-August, with humidity, hitting high temperatures, along with an occasional thunderstorm. But Mother Nature is delayed this year, so instead of just hot and dry, we’re still in miserable hot and damp.
I normally don’t like to do outdoor events in the summer. I don’t handle heat well. But when my friend Birda asked for some costumed players to be part of a reenactment ceremony at the Pacific-Southwest Railway Museum in Campo, I responded to attend. Our time period would be 1900-1910. This doesn’t require lots of underpinnings and many of us chose to wear light flowy cottons. I looked through my closet of dresses for that time period, and had two choices, both of which were from 1905. I really wanted to wear my olive-green striped outfit because it’s only been out of the closet twice but with it being a heavier polyester fabric, there was no way I could get away with wearing it in 90+ degree weather. So, my cotton voile pink floral dress came out. It needed shortening because I apparently have shrunk a half inch. It already was a bit too long due to my dress-form not set at the right height. In fact, I think most of my dresses are going to need some altering very soon.

The next issue was my hair. Wearing a full wig is awfully hot. I loved my little braid halo with an attached braided bun that I plop on top of my head for earlier eras but this time period needs a much fuller hair style. Most people are familiar with the “Gibson Girl” hairstyle, and that’s what I needed, a fullness on the sides to hold up the large hat. This is my braid halo I wear for most of my 1860s-80s outfits as long as I wear a bonnet or hat that covers the top and sides of my head. It’s made from making a braid from the 24” Jumbo artificial hair extensions (sometimes called switches) you can purchase at beauty supply stores. They’re really cheap, about $2.59. You attach the ends by hand-sewing them together.  It can be messy looking but your bun will cover that. Then use a 2nd switch make a second braid, and twist it into a small bun. Don’t ask me how to do that, I had my wig lady do all this. I can barely do braids. Then cover the bun with a matching fine hair net to keep in the fuzzies. Sew it to the back of the halo braid, and attach toupee clips to the front and back of the halo to attach to your own hair. I can’t find a really good photo showing me wearing it but this one gives you an idea. I usually let my bangs hang out a bit too. 

For my faux early 1900s wig, which most people are familiar with the fluffy “Gibson Girl” style, it needed to be a very full and fluffy braid so that most of it would show around my head and hold up my hat. A skinny head of hair and a big hat for this time period is, I don’t think, not very flattering. It also keeps your hat from falling over your face.
I wasn’t sure how many of the switches would be needed for this, so I just bought 3. I took them over to my wig lady, Creations by Coni, and showed her some photos of what I wanted, explained to her my idea, and brought the hat I’d be wearing. She caught on right away. She enjoys a challenge too.

Within 4 days she called me and said come and try it on. It was wonderful!

She loosely braided all the switches into one, then folded it in half. She twisted the raw ends together and sewed a heavy duty thread around them to keep it together. She wrapped a long strip of fabric around that, stitched it tight then pulled it to the folded center and ran the threads around it. I plan on buying another switch that can be wrapped around the fabric part. 
The only parts of my own hair that show are on top of my head, and my hat covers that. It hangs low enough in the back and on the sides to cover my short hair. I chose to have my bangs hanging out too, at least until I can get that fabric portion covered. It also needs toupee clips stitched to the front and back to hold it on my head. The hardest part is running hat pins in to catch the braid. They’re lower than the hat. So that's going to need some thinking. I think I may be able to use this also for some other time periods. 
So, onto the train event. We were told to wander around the train museum, have our picnic lunches, and at some point, meet for a group photo. Except when that time came everyone had scattered to different parts of the museum and were taking photos themselves. I wandered a bit and walked up into one of the antique cars and caboose. They were pretty worn out due to age and the weather from being outside. But you could still see the first-class booths were classy and had their own toilet and shower. The “steerage” or workers caboose were just rows of bunk beds, sharing one toilet.
After I got off the caboose, I walked around to the front and found the group photo had just been taken on the back stairs. I finally was called up and got on a couple lower steps and made it into one group photo. Then Cindy took some of just me on the landing. 

The main part of the reenactment was recreating an old photo showing the ground breaking ceremony for the railroad coming through, and of course the speeches of all the big-wigs. Cindy Piselli (THE BROKE COSTUMER) got to be the woman seated in the photo. I trimmed up a straw boater hat for her, and I think she got the look very well.

While we were seated during the ceremony, I took one photo showing the reenactors starting the dig. And yes, it’s pretty barren and dusty out there. At 92d it was hot but there was a strong wind that helped and also blew off our hats and parasols a few times. 
                              **Thanks to Cindy P., Brian T., Carol S., & Russell S. for their photos.**

As the hot weather continues for who knows how long, I’m pulling out some fabrics for a couple 1912 dresses and will be using this Hint of History #102 Kimono dress pattern.


Sunday, August 11, 2019

COSTUME COLLEGE 2019: Bring on the Costumes!

It’s taken awhile to gather photos from last month’s event so I could write a blog about my costumes I wore, and of course about Costume College. In the meantime, I’ve been playing with making some new dresses, and new inspirations for next year. Also got a little more organization done in my sewing room, although not done yet, and got my new cutting table all put together. Its so nice to have a higher level to cut on instead of leaning over a table. Here in the photo, I have one leaf up but when folded down, its very narrow. It has wheels so I can roll it out into the family room area when I need to do a lot of larger pattern cutting. For now, this small area is perfect. And the two shelves hold my current projects in one place, along with the occasional cat.
My previous blog posts told about my costumes I was working on for CoCo, so here’s the story behind some of them again. One of the themes a group of us came up with was Once Upon a Bustle, and we would make bustle dresses of the 1870s & 80s with a Disney theme. We each chose the Disney story to design around. And we signed up to be in the Friday Night Showcase at Costume College. I chose 101 Dalmatians as my theme of choice, and made an 1870s dress using Truly Victorian’s pattern #410, but cut the length of the polonaise shorter, so it wasn’t really as instantly recognizable to people. In fact, I was asked what pattern I used. The cotton fabric was purchased on Amazon, as I decided not to take the chance of ruining an expensive Irish linen fabric I’d bought and was going to stamp the dots on. I didn’t do well in my test samples, so this fabric was a life-saver. To add to the image of a dog, I added a headband with ears I purchased on Etsy that were made as party favors. I also found the stuffed Disney dalmatian dog on Ebay. I made a dog collar using blue ribbon and a gold medallion bought at Joann’s in the jewelry section, and also a wide wired-ribbon belt to tie around in the back with a big bow. The wire kept it fluffy. I also made a purse from a 101 Dalmatian fabric purchased online, and used the pattern I’d made for my Miss Fisher purse, kind of a triangle with a looped strap for a handle. It was lined with more of the white with black dot fabric from my dress. This was my very favorite costume to wear on the Friday evening, and got lots of comments and photos of it. I wished I’d worn it all day now. 

This was from the Friday Showcase show, where we all paraded around stage to the music of the Electric Light Parade from Disneyland. It was a lot of fun and got lots of cheers as we each stepped out on stage. 
I was really excited this year when I heard Marion Boyce, the costume designer from Miss Fisher Murder Mysteries, was going to be there and doing lectures on her costumes. A lot of us planned to make costumes similar to the series to wear. I had big plans myself but with us moving and still unpacking to this day, I had to make other choices of what to wear. I was able to buy some modern clothes to put together for my Miss Fisher persona, which can actually be worn on a daily basis. My yellow sweater was purchased online at TJ Maxx on sale for $12.99. I found the white cotton shirt later at Macy’s marked down immensely because of a small hole near the shoulder. The only failure was my choice of linen-blend white pants, bought online at JC Penneys, which turned out stretched every which way, and after a few hours, the high waist had stretched, and dropped, making the legs hang on the ground, and they got baggier by the minute. I was safety-pinning it tighter the next day. And I should have cut the wig length shorter, and not tip the hat so far forward, although it was fun that very few people even recognized me. For my yellow outfit, I had bought a vintage Art Deco necklace on Etsy, stamped Avon on it, that originally was going to be worn with a black and white outfit, but it got used. My friend Cindy loaned me her Art Deco earrings that went perfectly with it too. I made my hat trims so I could change the ribbons out from yellow to teal for each outfit but I liked the yellow one the best. I got lots of compliments on my marigold yellow sweater as a great color on me, so it will be a new color for me to add to my costume wardrobe someday. 

I wore my teal jacket the next day. Due to the heat, this time I decided not to wear my wig, which I probably should have. My sweater was pulled from my closet, as well as a pullover white blouse, and I added a long white scarf, and an Egyptian Revival scarab necklace purchased on Etsy. It was also marked Avon and really inexpensive. I had planned to put it on a longer chain but after we moved, I forgot about that.  I was flattered that Ms. Boyce complimented my hat trim skills in her class.

I wore my Miss Fisher outfits during the day on Friday and Saturday for something comfortable to walk around in to classes. After going over the class schedule, I went to mostly Ms. Boyce’s classes, and any I could find on fabrics. Unfortunately, as it happens to many of us in hotels, I was experiencing swelling, and my knee swelled pretty bad, so I had to limit the amount of swanning around.

For the Red Carpet prior to the Gala on Saturday night, I pulled out my 1770s teal caraco and cream skirt to wear that I’d made back in 2010, and only worn twice. I love this dress and was happy to wear it again. But sadly, while ironing it in my hotel room, the iron had run out of water and got hot, so I melted a portion of the skirt. Fortunately, it was up near the top on in the back where my caraco would hide it. After having a melt-down myself, I made it work. The pleats also folded over it so I knew I could still wear it without that showing. What really helped me up was when I stepped out on the Red Carpet, I heard a loud cheer come out from the audience. Thank you all! You don’t know how much that helped me.

On Sunday morning, I got to wear another of my favorite outfits from the weekend, to the Sunday Mourning Breakfast, and later to the Tea at the Haunted Mansion. I again pulled a black mourning dress from my wardrobe, and added my cat skeleton, to be the Crazy Dead Cat Lady. My skeleton proved to be a very popular prop for other people to borrow for their photos too. I was able to wear my antique wire framed bonnet recovered many years ago by my friend Lynne, and it was so comfortable I need to get more use out of it. There was a new photographer there this year that used a green or blue screen and added different backdrops to it each day. For Sunday Mourning, he had cemetery backdrops. 

I carried my antique black purse that I had made a new pouch for to replace the shredded one that came with it. My jewelry, a necklace and bracelet, was from my collection. 

I was asked to share more photos of my bonnet, so here they are. Back sometime around 2002 I found the two- piece wire frame inside a trunk in an antique shop, and recognized the shapes right away as being a bonnet. My friend Lynne told me if I trusted her, having only chatted with her online for a short time, she would cover it in exchange for using it as a sample for one of her classes. It’s extremely lightweight and cool to wear. She did a wonderful job and she’s been inspirational to me in my own hat trimming. 

The afternoon tea couldn’t have been more incredible! Due to both Shawn & Colleen Crosby’s talents and connections, and their great crew, they had the huge room decorated like we were in the Haunted Mansion at Disneyland, with lots of photo set-ups, and interactive areas. The first photo of me was a re-creation of the elevator that takes you down into the Haunted Mansion. 


This year seems to have been more about the costumes than the classes for me. And the shopping of course. In the Marketplace, I had a 1910 longline corset fitted to me and ordered from Redthreaded. I have been stalling making my own ‘teens dresses with not having the right corset. I did try but wasn’t having any luck with making a muslin to fit me. I had even paid for an online class to make it, and after two years finally thought I had time to get to it but other things kept getting in the way. So, I decided this would be my big purchase of the year. Sorry, Jennifer. 

The new corset wasn’t supposed to arrive in the mail until September but lo and behold, it came this last week. This jump-started me to get out my patterns for all the underpinnings I need too. But while I was waiting, I didn’t let any moss grow under me. I cut out three, yes three, 1890s skirts (one was supposed to be 1905 but the fabric wasn’t wide enough), and lined up the shirtwaists to make to go with them. I got a surprise yesterday while emptying another box, I found a sheer white tone on tone fabric I’d already cut out for the 1905 outfit, so I call that a win! I’m going to finish these up so I have them ready for March next year for Port Townsend, and in the meantime get everything together to start those 1914 underpinnings, and then get those dresses done.

This black with white dots is the other skirt and will have a matching shirtwaist of the same fabric with lace appliques on the front. The purple will have that tiny purple floral cotton, and the green striped skirt will have the solid white sheer that I found cut out.