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; Past President of the San Diego Costume Guild, member of Orange County Costume Guild, and a representative of the San Diego History Center. 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.


Thursday, June 17, 2021


I knew I’d been working on this dress off and on for a couple years. But I was shocked today when I saw the last blog post I made on it was in October 2018. Almost 3 years ago! Actually, it was finished last January when I was going to put it on and take photos for the online fashion show for the Riverside Dickens Faire but that wearing never happened. But today I can say officially it was finished and worn.

Our Ladies of the Traveling Tea Society had our first tea outing after 1 ½ years yesterday at the Tea House on Los Rios, in San Juan Capistrano (CA). We’ve been having unseasonably HOT weather, getting to 100d at my house the day before, but predicted to be about 15d less the next. But still, getting in costume in hot weather is no fun. And we were going to be outside on a covered patio. At least my dress was a very lightweight cotton voile.

On the day of the tea, after I got all dressed, I was sweating already.  I was going to wear my wig for an 1870s style, with a thick braid on the back, much like this plate shows so I can wear my hat tilted forward as they did in this time period. Except wearing a full wig is so darn hot! Instead, I decided to just wear my halo braid with bun. I plop it on top of my head, which leaves the top open and cool, then topped by my hat. Except with wearing that, my hat wouldn’t tilt forward where I could use my hat pin to secure it to my braid. So, I had to wear my hat tilted back. Which is fine because that was also an 1870s style. I pulled a thin fringe of my bangs out but not long after I left home, all my bangs came out and I had a very heavy fringe across my forehead.   

And guess what? Surprise! With the tearoom being close to the coast, it was still partly cloudy at noon (its our June Gloom) and only got to 73d, so it was wonderful. Perfect for being outside in costume. I should have worn my wig. Now I’m starting to try and figure out how I can have another fake heavy braid hanging from the top of my head with a headband holding it on. With having very short hair, I don’t have enough to just pin one on.

I was really happy with how my dress came out. The addition of a dark purple wide ribbon as a belt & tied in a big bow in back, the purple silk rose brooch, and my purple grape earrings (from LadyDetalle brought out the lavender flowers of my dress. And my custom-made hat by Atelier Mela was the perfect touch. I forgot to have a full-on photo of the back of my dress to show how I did the bustle and tails with the solid lavender fabric folded over to show it.

So please ignore the messy hair. I am just the mannequin. I think the side of my bustle was slightly askew, as there’s a part of it coming forward that shouldn’t be. 

Thursday, April 29, 2021

GETTING BACK TO SEWING—1887 Plaid Bustle Dress

 After almost a year of not feeling like sewing any of my historical dresses, I FINALLY broke through the wall a little bit. My inspirations that have been wiggling their fingers at me have been mostly plaid fabrics and I did an excellent job of collecting plaids in both silk taffetas and cotton. Those dress ideas ranged from 1830s-1890. The hard part was deciding WHICH dress I would make, and for what?

For what, pretty answered itself. At this point, nothing. Which meant I could make anything. Next was what would get the most wear? For me, its mid-1880s. In a spurt of enthusiasm last October, I had made a fitting muslin from the Truly Victorian #466, Alexandra 1887 bodice. So, I decided, ok, I made that, but does it still fit? You know, Covid weight. After a bout of being sick, I lost that extra weight, so I didn’t have to worry about it as much. That ended up also deciding on what to start first. 

I had this lovely orange, blue and red plaid medium weight cotton blend fabric, and I could pull out the colors in it for my accents, and after wavering back and forth on the vest color, I decided on a navy or royal blue to contrast with it.

Next up was my favorite part, looking for ideas. This blue plaid dress was my original favorite but I only had 5 yards of my plaid, so I could only make the skirt or overskirt in that. Later when I finally got around to cutting fabric, I forgot I was going to do the bodice in the solid blue and instead cut it out of the plaid. So, the dress decided to be a plaid bodice, plaid overskirt, and I had to go buy more solid royal blue for the skirt. Sometimes the dress or the fabric tells you what it wants to be. 

I started working on ideas for the trimming so it didn’t look like a cookie cutter pattern, and came across this from a fashion magazine, where I noticed the large buttons going down the lower portion of the jacket. I have some pretty antique Victorian black glass buttons that are 1” across but only have 4, with a 5th mismatched one. Although I have used mismatched glass buttons in the past because no one looks that close. 

But then I needed 14 buttons for the vest closure. I would love to use these 1/2” antique blue glass buttons. I have 19 of them, and the gold edge picks up the gold in my fabric. Except they don’t look well next to the bigger black ones, so I’m at a standstill with buttons. I may go shopping for 2 more large black ones, and just used some small black glass buttons. That can wait until the end though.

Then a few days later I went back to searching online on etsy with a different idea of using metal buttons, specifically antique brass ones. This seller had multiple ones and I ordered 2 sets of 10. They’re described as having cabuchon settings where you can put a colored stone in the center, but I think I like them plain.

Back to my planning stage and what to make the lapels with? I tested doing my lapels in a blue silk taffeta but it didn’t go well with the color of the blue cotton vest. I asked for suggestions on the Truly Victorian Pattern Sewist group on Facebook, and one lady had made her dress with a similar plaid, plus the blue vest. I noticed her lapels were a dark orange to match the plaid. (btw, notice her watch chain at the waist and watch pocket going to the side of her bodice?).

My plaid has a brick-red thin stripe in it and that’s what I decided to do my lapels in.  These photos just have a piece of the blue fabric in the middle faking the vest.

I had a boo-boo moment sewing the lapels. I first sewed up the royal blue taffeta one, and had it pinned on the edges so I could press it. Then I decided to make one from a brick-red silk dupioni instead. I sewed that up and was about to pin it and then remembered I needed to under-stitch the seam allowance. I totally forgot about that on the blue one, and it makes a huge difference on how crisp the edge is. You open up the two pieces flat, topstitch the seam allowance to the facing side, close to the seam line. Cut your usual notches in the seam allowance as needed. The turn it right side out, pin and press. It holds the lining flatter and looks so beautiful. This can and should also be done on the collar and cuffs.

I finally got my bodice sewn together, after a little hiccup where I couldn’t remember how to sew the vest portion into the bodice around the neckline (where the white line is in the photo) or stop at the top of the side (where the red line is). I thought I could see how to do it but wasn’t quite sure. I got a confirmation on the Truly Victorian group that I was thinking correctly that I stop at the top of the red line. The rest will be part of sewing the collar on where the vest attaches to the bodice.  

I sewed up the collar and placed it around the neckline but it was about 3” shorter. If I wrap the collar around my neck, I have a 1” overlap, and I plan on using a bar pin as my jewelry there and that only needs to butt together. I have three antique bar pins to choose from. But until I get up the enthusiasm to put on my corset, and try on the bodice, I won’t know if it really will fit. So, I’m setting that aside for a while.

Since I’d played with the bodice for two weeks, I went on to sewing up my overskirt, using the Truly Victorian #364, 1886 Autumn overskirt. This takes 4 1/2 yds of fabric. And that back piece is as wide as a queen bed! I’ve been exhausted just handling it. And now I see I also have to cut out a lining for that. Ugh. I started with sewing the center front and two side pieces together that make the draping from side to side, and pleated the sides up.  

I pinned it on my dress-form to see what it looked like and it wasn’t impressing me. First off, the front panel is way too long for my height, and I had even shortened it by 8” when I cut it because I didn’t have quite enough fabric. It was bunching out on the sides like a 18th century panier, or like pocket hoops under it. I may be doing a deep hem on it once I see how long it is on me.

Eventually I saw what I was doing wrong. I wasn’t pulling it up and to the center back like I should. So, before I taking any length off the front, I’m going to first see what happens when I do this correctly. *I just adjusted mine, and I think its still too long, especially for my height.

**I am again rethinking the vest on this. It looks off to me with so much blue, and I think I like it being shorter like the sample photo I did earlier where it stopped closer to my waist.

I’m now considering changing out the red lapels for matching plaid fabric like the fashion plate here in brown plaid, and making the lapels a bit narrower since I don’t have a wide chest. Good thing it’s still in construction mode.

At about the same time I was planning my trims, I was also looking for hat ideas. I found a couple I liked but didn’t want them out of straw since this is an Autumn dress. I could steam a straw one to make it the correct curve on the brim, but I think I may make one out of buckram. And I kind of like the idea of covering it in brown velvet. I’m pretty sure I still have some in my stash too.

Finding a hat pattern was a little harder. But I’ve narrowed it down to one by 1886, the Impressionist hat  pattern , which has the curved front already but might need a higher crown, OR Truly Victorian #551 with the short crown, if I can curve that point. I have both patterns so I need to play with them a bit. 

Last week I went to a sewing workshop with four other ladies. My plan was to put the bodice on, have it checked for fit, and see if my collar was going to work. Then I was going to cut out the skirt, and sew that up. What happened was we spent a good part of the day chatting about sewing, doing some show & tell with some antique clothing, and then looking at ideas. By the end of the day, we had worked out how to do the pleating on the back peplum of my bodice, and I cut out the skirt and sewed up the side seams. It wasn’t a lot accomplished in sewing but it was a good day well spent talking with friends in person again.

I got home and suddenly I was sidetracked by petticoats and crinolines. I haven’t done anything with those other than talk and plan but I think the enthusiasm is coming back.

In the meantime, I have continued hand-sewing some 1830s pelerines, and sold my first one. These are more time-consuming sewing them than my simpler Regency kerchiefs, but it gives me something to do while I binge-watch all those programs on Netflix. 


Thursday, December 31, 2020


This particular year I wasn’t sure I’d even have anything to review and write about at the end of it. But it made me wonder what it will be like to read in years to come of a year where not much, and so much, happened. It even seems silly to write “due to the Pandemic”, since, for now, we all know what that was. But what of future readers who come across everything we wrote this year?

I normally list and write about all the new costumes I made, and the events I went to and wore them all. I think February was the last time I wore anything to an event. And that was also the last event I could go to, as little by little everything fell like soldiers in a battlefield. At first, I was all enthusiastic to have so much free time to sew at whatever speed I wanted, and no pressure to finish. I think that dried up after one month. This has shown me that I’m goal-oriented. I work better under pressure and finish when its needed.

This morning I’m thinking about what I can write about for my year in review. And remembered I did other things than just sew my costumes. I wrote fashion show narratives, historical presentation slideshows, and even started creating and writing a pattern myself. I presented an online class for the first time. And in doing so, learned how to use Zoom live videos.  Each day I shared a photo of a fashion plate or museum dress that I wanted to make on my Facebook page. I hoped this would provide inspiration to myself, and to my friends. From the feedback I heard, it did help others. Good goals.

In the beginning: my first dress for was the Riverside Dickens Festival fashion show, and that would be the last one I wore this year. I re-created an 1872 arsenic green dress, and called it “The Dress of Death”. I’m not happy with the fit, as the bodice was too large, but someday may fix that. 
While working on that, I discovered aumonieres, a small hanging purse, and designed one of my own to wear with that dress. Later in the year I decided to try and create a pattern for it, and hopefully sell them. I had a lot of fun in the research through old magazines and fashion plates, and even got as far as writing the research up. But when I got to actually writing the directions to making it, my brain fizzled out. Apparently, that’s a side-effect of our Pandemic isolation. In the meantime, I still search for more of them to add to my research.
My next event was to be the Victorian Festival fashion show in Port Townsend, WA, in March. I was going to wear an 1850s dress I already had but hadn’t worn there, so just focused on making some 1890s walking skirts and blouses. I got as far as just needing hems when the reality of the Pandemic kicked in, and events were cancelled, as well as travel. So, they’ve been put back in the closet.

I also needed a hat for them, and found an antique ruffled straw hat online in pretty bad shape. After doing some reinforcing stitches inside the crown, I finished the edge with some grosgrain, and added some new trims.

After the Victorian Festival was cancelled, my first idea was to make a dress for the committee head, who was fairly new to costuming, as a thank you to her for all her work. She doesn’t know what it is, or what it will finally look like but I sent her a muslin for the bodice to have it fit on her. I’ve never done this so it’s scary. In the meantime, even that has been put on hold.

The other ladies and I started talking about maybe getting together later in the year, then the following year, and now it looks like it will be later in 2021 since the Victorian Festival has had to cancel again. We still don’t know if even that will happen. I had decided to make myself a summer weight cotton seaside dress if we did. I used an extant dress as my inspiration, and found my skirt fabric right away. It took a lot of searching online for the striped bodice fabric, and after rejecting one I bought, I found the right width stripe fabric for it. I got as far as making the skirt, and sewing the muslin for the bodice, and it went into stall. 

I think the biggest progress I made was on my multiple 1860s dresses where I cut out 3 at a time, and sewed each one, even having one day at a sewing workshop before things got shut down even more. I worked on them a little at a time over the months. All three still need to have their waistbands attached, hemmed, and buttons put in, but this was at least an accomplishment for the year. I still haven’t decided which is my favorite.

And then of course the inevitable happened, Costume College 2020 at the end of July had to be cancelled. Over the months, the committee came up with offering some online classes and I volunteered to do my PowerPoint class on using digital downloaded patterns. Those have become even more popular as many printers weren’t able to provide new printed patterns for the sellers, and also the mail between the different countries became a rat’s nest, and that’s being kind. It was my first time trying to use Zoom but we all managed it and had a really great time seeing all the classes presented. It really fired up many of us because its being part of the group and seeing others that keeps the enthusiasm going. I think this is when I did most of my work on my 1860s dresses, but the year has become kind of a blur. 

Last year I had been asked to do a presentation for the San Diego DAR group in February of 2020. They decided to cancel that meeting, and rescheduled it to be a Zoom meeting in October. I normally have a PowerPoint presentation, along with some live models and a couple dress forms if we are in person. This time I included lots of photos of my own costumes, and some of my friends in the slideshow. I started out with a 1-hour presentation, but was told it needed to be 20 minutes, so I had to cut it down to bare basics. But the ladies still enjoyed it. Recently I was able to record it with the help of my friend in WA so I could share it with my models. There were a few bugs but we hope to try again when we have time. 

I was kind of in the doldrums of isolation but decided to get back to making some little girl dresses to be donated to my friend’s Dress a Girl program her church has to take to Uganda. The bright colors and the joy of knowing some little girl getting them really helped lift my spirits.

From there I decided to try my hand at making little girls 1860s dresses and selling them. I was able to make 7 of them, but ran out of fabric. Good prints right now are at a premium, so I’ll wait to do anymore. But I did sell one already to a lady at the San Francisco Dickens Faire. She even asked if I wanted to be her supplier. Umm, no. I’m too slow.

This dress is going to haunt me since it’s been waiting to be finished since around the Fall of 2019. Currently it just needs hemming (the bane of my existence), and I hope to finish that for a photo shoot to be put in an online Riverside Dickens fashion show in February, where models will submit a couple photos of their costume and they’ll be put into a Zoom slideshow. I’m worried the extra 13 Covid lbs I’ve put on this year will make it too tight, and I’m afraid to even try it on. I’m keeping my fingers crossed. 

Discussion began again on if Costume College would be held in 2021 or delayed again. So in the meantime, they asked for applications to teach classes. I had kicked around an idea of classes on accessories but to break it down by 50 years each so it wasn’t overwhelming. I chose to do two classes, 1800-1850 & 1850-1900. I’m most familiar with those decades, and maybe someday to earlier and later. I would love to have something from the 1920s, as that’s the time period they’re focusing on next time, but I know little to nothing on that. So, you teach what you know. I thought it would be easier to do this but hats, jewelry, gloves, reticules, fans, parasols, etc., change so much or change so little, and there’s such a variety, that it’s still a handful. And my classes will be on photos, paintings, and extant items of the accessories, not MY opinion or views. That’s my favorite way to teach.

It took me a couple months but I also made myself a Mrs Santa coat to wear at Christmas when our neighborhood has an outdoor Christmas lighting contest on our homes. I sat outside dressed up and handed out homemade caramels to the judges. And if you think that's bribery, that's accepted in our neighborhood, as others offer hot chocolate, cookies, champagne, and "tainted" eggnog to them. 
Over the past couple years, I’ve been making hand-stitched kerchiefs for 18th & 19th century costumes and selling them online in a group I’m on. I enjoy having some things I can sew by hand at night while watching TV. I’ve sold 78 so far over a period of 3 years. This year I decided to try something different. 1830s pelerines! These are large dainty looking collars that were worn over the dresses and were much fancier than a kerchief that is just worn tucked into an open neckline. I searched for as many photos of extant ones and also shown on fashion plates for ideas. There are a variety of shapes and styles to make them. A couple days ago I felt I wanted to start now, rather than try and enlarge some patterns that were only 6 inches large, and used a tracing of an antique one I own. It has a nice curve around the neck and slightly long tails down the front. My goal is to make a really long one but need to enlarge that pattern first. It took me 4 days of stitching about 6 hours each day but my first one is done, and I’ve started a 2nd one. I only had enough of two laces to make my first two so I have a bolt of the cotton crocheted trim being shipped to me. At some point, I want to make a self-fabric ruffle around the edges but that will take even longer to sew. Hand-work for the win!

So that’s it for my year! Lots of ideas and dreams, along with those unfinished dresses, keep coming in hopes of a better future. Here’s to 2021!