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

My photo
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.


Tuesday, December 14, 2010

1850s turquoise plaid dress- My “Young Victoria” gown

I’m in the planning stages of a new project, and I always get really excited at this part of it. I am really hoping I’ll get this made in time to wear it in the Riverside (CA) Dickens Fair fashion show. It’s a month away and if the fitting goes well, there’s a chance I might be able to finish it. I plan on using a purchased bonnet I have so that won’t slow me down.
I was very impressed by the gowns in the recent movie of Young Victoria, about the young Queen of England. This led me to start searching for actual photos or drawings of gowns from the years around late 1840s to 1850s. I really liked the bell shape of the skirts at this time, and saw a couple with a deep V in the neckline, with a pretty chemisette under it. I was really excited when I came across this photo of Queen Victoria in 1845 holding the young Prince Edward. And she was wearing the deep V neck that I so liked. I can’t tell what color her gown is but it looks like a solid with no pattern design.

I knew I wanted mine made with a plaid after I saw this fashion print.It’s trim along the V-neck is scalloped and matches the scalloped tiers on the skirt.

And the clincher was this blue plaid. I love these sleeves with the lace ruffles and smaller sleeve sticking out on it. It’s similar to the green plaid but has a fringe as it’s trim along the V and the sleeves.

These are other versions of a similar dress, and also gives me ideas for hairstyles, which I’m going to try with a wig of long straight hair.

I saw this Simplicity 3855 pattern made up, and other than the very large pagoda sleeves, it was exactly what I wanted. And I found the silk taffeta plaid I thought would look good with it.

My skirt won’t be the same shape as this pattern, but a narrower bell shape which gets its shape from a corded petticoat under it. I may not have that done in time for the fashion show and I’m hoping my ruffled petticoat will support it enough until I get one made.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Another wearing of my 1860s olive green gown

Last night was our costume guild's annual Xmas dinner where we go to a restaurant in Old Town San Diego during their Holiday in the Park event. The Old Town Park is a living history museum with the town preserved back to it's original buildings. It burned down in 1873, and is a rough Californio settlement. During the Holiday event, everything is decorated for the holidays as it was back then, with tours and singing. Some of the little shops are our favorites, like the Johnson House which has costume accessories. We've bought hat forms, jewelry, shawls, vests, and other things they've gotten in that work with our costumes. It's not all historically correct but still a fun place and so pretty. Then there's Capt'n Fitches who carry all the Dover fashion print softbound books. The stores give guild members a 10-20% discount on everything, so we do all our shopping on this night.
Then we had our dinner at the recently renovated Cosmopolitan Hotel in their inside courtyard.
I wore my olive green 1860s gown, and added my antique fur muff (which includes the fox's head, who is named Oscar).

We stood out in front of various buildings, and were swamped by the public taking photos of us. So we had a chance to enjoy everything and the public enjoyed us.

Here I'm sitting in front of the Johnson House.

This was our whole group at the restaurant.
The rest of my photos can be found in my Flickr album.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Blinging up my caraco for Venetian Masquerade

Twice a year our costume guild does a Costumed Walkabout at the Del Mar Antique Show in San Diego. We’ve been doing this a number of years where we would dress in a different costume theme to entertain the shoppers. And of course, we shop there ourselves. We’re supported by all the vendors and get to win raffle prizes of gifts and gift cards to spend at the show that they and the producers donate to us.
Our theme for November 20 was Venetian Masquerade, and I planned to use my 1780s teal caraco and petticoat that I’d worn once at Costume College, but with lots of glitz and glitter added to it.

My caraco so far had pleated trim all around the edges & the sleeve cuffs, and looked very plain even the first time I made it. But I didn’t have time to take them any further before I left for the costume convention. So the only other decoration on it was a big cream silk bow on the front. I pretty much had a blank slate.
Because this was a fantasy costume, I had to keep myself from thinking “this isn’t historical” when I came up with an idea that clashed with period correct. I can’t believe how hard it was to get out of that mode. Even though I was wearing a 1780s gown, I didn’t have to stick to what was worn then. Unfortunately I came down with the flu and followed up with a cold the two weeks before our Walkabout, and my brain and energy went downhill. But I had a few ideas already and went with those.
My first idea was to hand sew crystal beads down the center of the pleating. But I didn’t like a straight line of them, so I sewed groups of 4, separated by an inch. In looking at the photo, they looked like a dotted line.

The next idea was to add pearls to it. I bought some strands of fake freshwater pearls and separated them, then sewed one between each group of crystals. They broke up the line and gave it more texture.

I had enough of the crystals and pearls that I was able to continue them down to the bottom of the pleats to the hem but if I decide to continue around the back & maybe around the sleeve cuffs, I’ll have to buy more. I also made a new set of lace flounces for the sleeves. At first I thought they were too long but after looking at pictures of some, I knew they weren’t. But my fears proved correct when I got BBQ sauce on them later.
I was digging through my costume jewelry collection for a brooch to use on a headpiece and saw a teal glass brooch that needed to be on the caraco so I put it on the back between the two pleats. The pin broke off while trying to pin it on, so I had to baste it on.

I had a freshwater pearl necklace that I wore with this last time but I wanted something that would hang in the open area of my chest. So I found a silver and glass rhinestone necklace at Icings.

The only other addition I made to my costume was a headdress to wear on my wig. I’ve tried added feathers to my hair in the past with hilarious results (like a helicopter ostrich feather pointing in opposite directions every few seconds) so I bought a glittery silver plastic headband to attach them to. I only had two days left to complete this and had to resort to buying two ostrich feathers from Michael’s for $6.99 each, which really hurt, but ended up not using them because they wouldn’t lean over like I wanted them to. So I used two white feathery Xmas decorations I had and taped them to one side of the headband. While at Michael’s, I also bought a tall Xmas pick of large white pearls that could curl over my head, and attached that to the headband. On the opposite end I attached a piece of jewelry with a drooping pearl. I say attached, but that took some doing. First I used a white floral tape to wrap the feathers, pick, and jewelry on, but the tape was dry and wouldn’t stick. So I used Scotch tape around those but that wouldn’t stick. In the end, I tied thread around each wrapping, and it looks like everything held together because it all still looks intact after wearing it all day. Since my necklace was silver, I couldn’t wear the gold and pearl earrings I’d planned on, so I wore hanging double pearl earrings, and both my pearl bracelets.

This is a photo taken with my camera at the event, and our group photo. Our photographer took a lot of pictures of me so I hope for more detailed ones later tonight.

In January, we will once again be doing our Steampunk theme, which was so popular with everyone last January.

Friday, November 5, 2010

The wearing of my Carmelite nun costume

Last weekend was the debut of my nun costume at the Felicita Park Renaissance Fair in Escondido, CA.
***EDITED TO ADD: I was reminded that I didn't include my inspiration photo of this costume. On a website about the Carmelite nuns was a photo of an older outfit that I liked the color on and wouldn't be the usual black and white that we're used to seeing. It also seemed to me to fit into a Renaissance time period with its earthy colors.
I still had to make a wimple to wear under the cap and veil but that didn't come with the pattern so I had to make one up myself. Since the only part that's visible is around my face and under my chin, I didn't need to do anything elaborate. I used a large rectangle of white cotton fabric, folded about 1 inch along one edge that goes under my chin, attached some white grosgrain ties at each end and tied that on top of my head. I pulled it tight enough to fit snuggly under my chin. Then I put on the cap, which the veil is attached to on the top, and used bobbie pins to attach the wimple to the cap by my temples. The bottom was tucked inside my robe. It worked really well but has a tendency to loosen up after time and gets a little baggy under my chin. But overall, it looks good.
When I arrived at the Faire, a couple attendants who were parking us asked was I wearing a costume, or was I really a nun? I pointed out that nuns don't wear makeup or lipstick. Later a lady working in a booth told me she was an ex-nun. I asked her how I did, and she said "spot on". So I guess I did a good job on it.
I had a friend of mine take some photos of me in our encampment where our guild displays costumes we've made to the public. Even though this was taken on Halloween Eve, the skeletons are our year-round models for our Guild's costumes.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Carmelite nun for Ren Faire

Started August 2009/ finished October 2010
I’m not doing a lot of fancy sewing right now but did catch up on a few projects. I’ve been sewing three silk taffeta skirts for 1870/1880s outfits, and will be putting a pleated ruffle around one of them. These are plain to use as a base for a variety of costumes. And I keep remembering I need to make a couple more chemises of various eras, and a couple petticoats, also a variety of eras. I’m trying to take advantage of a slow part of the year for costume events.
In the next two months our Costume Guild will be setting up our Guild tent, The Guild of Taylors, at the Escondido Renaissance Fair. I don’t really care much for the Elizabethan clothing yet (famous last words) but I do like to join in. Last year we were talking about doing our own ecclesiastical court to follow the Queen’s Court. So this would be cardinals, bishops, maybe a Pope or two, and nuns. I didn’t want to be in a black and white penguin suit, so I did some digging around online, and found this Carmelite nun. With a maroon tabard, I can blend in with the cardinals, etc. I picked up Simplicity’s various costume pattern #3608.

Last Fall I tried making it in a dark brown cotton fabric but hated the way it draped. It felt cheap too, and not at all rust-icky for a Renaissance Fair. So last week after another trip to the Garment District I found some inexpensive brown linen-blend (if you can call $6 yd inexpensive but it is). I already had some leftover, very thin, maroon wool-blend for the tabard.
So far I’ve got the robe, cap, and veil done. You can see a sample of the maroon wool I’ll be using for the tabard. The part under the chin will probably just be some drapped white cotton. I don’t have a belt on it yet, & I photographed this over another costume on my dressform so it’s fitting a little wonky. Next up will be cutting out the tabard.

I have a set of skeleton keys on a key ring to hang from my belt, and a large cross to go around my neck. And I have two big pockets on either seam to hide all the non-period things.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

1895 Pink Mary Moore traveling suit

Started Aug 13, finished Aug 26, 2010.
I had admired an 1895 painting of Mary Moore, and her pink suit. It’s a very elaborately decorated bolero jacket and skirt. I had plans on trying to either recreate it or use it as an inspiration for a similar gown.

When my costume guild and vintage dance group decided to go to a Toulouse Lautrec exhibit in the Museum of Art in Balboa Park, San Diego, I knew this would be perfect for it, as the date spanned 1880s to 1901. Others would be actually copying gowns from his paintings.
The fabric in the painting is probably a silk since it looks pretty soft, and it has a clover soutache design on the jacket front and down the sleeve arms. It also looks like it has something sparkly on them.
I ended up making more of a day dress out of this idea. I bought a dusty pink lightweight upholstery fabric on sale that had a good weight for making it. I used Butterick 5232 for the bolero style jacket, and Truly Victorian’s 291 for the walking skirt. I already had a lace insertion white blouse to use with it.

I chose the Butterick bolero pattern over TV’s similar one for ease of making, since I only had two weeks to finish it. And I don’t really like the big leg of mutton sleeves. The skirt was a fairly simple one to construct.
After sewing the bodice together, I sewed the collar to the outside. I did a bag lining out of ecru cotton and sewed it to the bodice. The sleeves were sewn in next. The first set I lined but they kept making the sleeves twist with my blouse on, and I remade them without lining.
I set the sleeves in with pleats but one sleeve kept twisting around again, and after the 5th time I finally got them to sit right. They still need something inside the sleeve cap, like a stiff tulle, to poof them up.

The jacket fit very nicely, but it kept flying open so I added some fabric bars across the front with some brass buttons. At some point, I plan to hand sew a similar soutache design around the jacket and sleeves like the painting, and possibly on the front of the skirt.
For my hat, I started with a plain straw boater, and used this picture as my inspiration.

I knew I wanted to add a pop of color, and since the combination of pink and green had been influencing me recently, it seemed the perfect color to add to it.
I used some green silk taffeta and wrapped it around the crown. I sewed three long tubes of the fabric and then slid a narrow strip of buckram inside each one. I folded them in half, and sewed them & a bow to the back of the hat. The buckram kept them all up at attention. I had three pink silk flowers I’d purchased a few years ago, and pinned those to the front.

I was able to get lots of nice photos of me in this outfit this time. This was a group photo from the Toulouse Lautrec exhibit, & one of me in front of a well known poster by Lautrec.

We went to various posters & sketches, and copied the poses of Lautrec’s models.If you look at the painting in the background, you will see that we posed in front of them to recreate them. The attendees to the exhibit really enjoyed seeing that.

My favorite photo, taken by Jerry Abuan ( was next to a sketch of opera singer, Louise Balthy. I was surprised that she had the same hat design as I did. You can just barely see the ribbon loops on the top but it was quite clear standing 10 inches away from it.

And another favorite photo by Jerry Abuan.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Edwardian Black and White Reception Gown

Started March 15 & completed July 28, 2010
I fell in love with a gorgeous Edwardian gown worn by Emma Thompson at her wedding reception in the Merchant-Ivory Production of Howard’s End about ten years ago. It wasn’t until last year that I felt confident enough that I could try and make it. I gave myself a year to plan it, find a pattern I could use, and the fabrics and laces.

I planned on using a black and an ivory silk taffeta, with multiple lace overlays. The pattern turned out to be the hardest. There is no pattern for this dress. I knew I would have to cobble one together, and fortunately I had just finished making a skirt from Butterick 4092 (skirt is high waisted). For the bodice, the closet thing I could find was Laughing Moon’s Titanic era dress.

I sent this question to Your Wardrobe Unlock’d, an online magazine:
"I'm attempting to "copy" an Edwardian black and white gown worn by Emma Thompson in Howard's End, which I've attached photos of. The skirt was no problem since there was already a Butterick pattern out that was similar. It's the bodice that's confusing me. Since I don't know how to grade or scale up patterns from a book, I'm at the mercy of pattern companies. And any coverage of this period of dress is sadly lacking.
The bodice appears to be in three layers, and the closest pattern I've found to mimic this is Laughing Moon's 1909-1913 Day & Evening Dress. I need help dissecting this bodice, and how to achieve this layered look. I wondered if I could possibly make it with a single layered bodice with the lacy under-blouse separate. The under-blouse might be easy but the over-blouse is confusing." *As of 8-24-10, I never received an answer*

I decided to make the bodice all one piece, and just attach sleeve bits to each other. To have the appearance of a higher-waisted skirted, I’m making a pleated cumberbund from the black silk taffeta to close in the back, possibly with more of the same buttons going down the skirt as decorations.
Video clips of the movie can be seen here:
Since I'd made the skirt pattern before, it went together quickly. I sewed some antique black glass buttons down the front panel of the skirt.

I made the bodice using the base pattern from Laughing Moon, then layered lace yardage over the front just to the center panel seams, & and sleeves. A black cuff of silk taffeta was added to the underside of the sleeves.

Then I started adding other lace trims to the bodice and sleeves. Each were hand sewn to the bodice. I attached strips of blk silk taffeta along the seams but brought it to a point in the front and back. Then layed the outside lace over it. Finding lace for the bodice trim has been the hardest part. The "white" taffeta is more ivory & all I could find was white or cream lace, no ivory, but I finally found a couple that matched the ivory pretty well. I ran one row of 3” wide lace down the front and the back. Another type of lace was sewn along the front insert of the bodice, and over the black sleeve cuffs. A third sleeve cuff, made from a silk chenille dotted fabric was sewn to the underside of the black cuff.

I made a cumberbund to go around the upper part of the waist with more black silk taffeta. I cut a 12” wide strip long enough to go around me, and did 1” pleats on one half of it, then folded it in half (inside out). I sewed it closed with an opening to turn it right side out & the pleats show to the front. This will go around my waist on the white bodice, and close in the back. I plan on using more of the black glass buttons on the back & front of it for decoration.

A millinery friend, Lynne Taylor, described the hat as black velveteen with ivory silk tafetta over the crown and swirled up into the poufs, narrow black feather on one side.

I used a black felt hat and covered the crown with a large circle of white silk taffeta. I sewed 3” wide tubes of the same fabric, opened them up and folded them into large poofs on my hat. The fabric had enough body that they stay up, and if they get crushed, they can be poofed right up again. I totally forgot I didn’t have a black feather on it when I saw photos of myself wearing it, and looked at the original again.

I wore this outfit at the Gala at Costume College on August 7, 2010. *Photos are courtesy of some of my friends*