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.


Friday, January 22, 2010

Two Civil War 1860s gowns Part 2

I normally just put buttons and buttonholes on my bodices because it’s easier for me, and I can adjust it easier if I don’t get it quite right, or my size changes. I’ve used hooks & eyes in the past but it’s very time consuming, and getting the hooks to line up with the eyes is enough to make you pull your hair out. I've also tried the hook and eye tape but I had no idea how to insert it. I butchered it and it wasn’t very pretty. I decided to try it one more time. I got to look closely at some in a bodice, and take pictures of them, while I was in a sewing workshop, so I felt a little more confident in trying it this time. It still was a little confusing figuring out how far back from the edge it should go but not show from the outside. And what happens to that overlaying flap of the fashion fabric that wants to pull away and open? Ah, a heavy duty hook and bar (like they use for trousers) solved that problem at the neckline and the waist. Until I actually wear it, I won’t know just how good that works. This is a gathered front bodice so it’s not pulled tight like a fitted one would.
Another issue I had was the ends of the tape. There’s hardly any gap between one hook to the next so when you cut through the middle it doesn’t give you much to turn under. My ends look frazzled. It wasn’t until after I had one bodice done, and went to the next, that I tried removing the unused hook and it gave me more fabric to turn under. So why didn’t anyone mention this to me? These are the tales of my struggles.

So, the closures are complete, and I can start on my trims. I cut some bias strips of the purple silk taffeta and sewed it an 8th inch in on the front edge of the sleeve cap and the cuffs. Then I turned it over to the inside, folded the edge under, and slip-stitched it down. From the outside you only see a fourth inch of the trim and honestly it looks almost like piping. I love the way it came out.

Even though I wasn’t doing buttonholes, I still wanted faux buttons for color on the bodice. I wanted to make covered buttons but not use the modern metal ones. My idea was to use a regular button and cover it with the silk by making a yoyo, and gather it around the button. I tried it with a dome shaped button with a shank, which looked pretty but flopped all over the place when sewn to the bodice. It was suggested to me to use flat buttons and create my own shank with thread. So I picked up a bunch of cheap flat buttons, covered them, and found that the part of the fabric drawn to the center in the back provided a perfect shank.

Once I finished covering it, I left the needle on and sewed it directly to the bodice. It took quite awhile since there are ten buttons down the front, and one on each cuff. The purple buttons made a very striking contrast to the olive green.
I made my collar from the pattern provided, and tried sewing some crocheted lace between the two pieces and turning it right side out. Except it was catching in the seam, and when I ripped it out, some parts of the delicate lace would tear. So I asked for some help again from my costume friends, and was told about basting the lace to the outside underneath the collar. That also makes it easier to remove for washing or replacing if it’s torn. See? I learn by baby steps. I basted the collar to the inside of my neckline. This is so it can be removed for washing, since the collars are mainly to protect the gown.
Now to make a belt out of the same purple silk. A couple suggestions I got was to cover a stiff fabric or buckram. While at JoAnn’s in the home fabrics drapery department I saw a roll of crinoline that’s used for stiffening the bottoms of curtains. It was wide but when I folded it in half, it was exactly the width that I wanted. I tacked the fabric to the back of the belt with a glue stick, turned the other edge over it and under, then tacked again. I whip-stitched the edges together on the back. Since the belt was too wide and too stiff to go through the vintage belt buckle I had, I just sewed the buckle to the front of the belt, and made a little cover of the fabric over the middle shank.

So, on to the blue and white cotton lawn gown. I did the cartridge pleating on my skirt, and attached it to it’s waistband. I was a little concerned about the fit of the bodice. I’d cut it out the same time as the olive one but for some reason the blue one fit tighter, and wasn't fitting as well at the waist. So I made the decision to rip out part of the waistband and opened up some of the gathering to add 2 more inches to the opening. I also discovered there was a pattern piece I’d cut out, and forgot, that was an extension of the waistband. So I’m going to need to add that piece to the olive dress too so it has more than the half inch overlap on the waistband. Even though I didn't want to cause more work for myself, I'm glad I did.
I bought a navy blue silk ribbon when I was in San Francisco at the Ribbonaire store, and have decided to use part of it as bows on my lace day cap, and maybe a bow at the neckline. I was trying to decide if I wanted to use white covered buttons or do them in blue. After doing a test one, and asking for feedback from my friends, the blue buttons won. The navy blue silk ribbon was a lot more delicate than the silk taffeta and a couple times I’d get runs in it. So I had to sew it very gently. But I’m very happy with how they came out. This shows my lace cap with the bows on the side too.

I didn't do the little sleeve cap on this gown but I love the look of it on the olive one so if I have time I may cut out one and just sew it on top of the sleeve. It's so cute! I didn’t do a ribbon trim on the cuffs of this gown. I may use white undersleeves with it so the white cuff will sticks out.
For the time being, here are some test photos of how they’re fitting.

I still have two weeks until I need to wear them, so I have time to do some alterations, and then start covering my bonnet. I have a straw spoon bonnet that I’m going to line the inside with pleated ivory silk taffeta, and have a cluster of purple and white flowers in the top on the inside. On the outside I have a lighter purple silk ribbon bought from Ribbonaire that I’ll use to tie around it.
*Added note* It was suggested to me that instead of gathering the front and back sections of the bodice, to pleat it. This would make it lay flatter and not blouse out. I think that's a great suggestion. At some point I may again alter the gathering on these and pleat them.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Two Civil War 1860s gowns

This is my first time making something from this era with a hoop skirt. So understandably (for me), I will be confused for awhile in how to make them.
This is the pattern I chose to use (Simplicity 4551) because I really liked the yellow color on the cover.

No, really! But looking at it closer, I also liked the gathered bodice. Which means it doesn't fit tightly, and looks softer. I'm just hoping it doesn't look baggy.
I bought both these fabrics for different costumes but after seeing this pattern, I knew they had to be used for it.

I bought the olive green cotton fabric at a quilt store in a historical reproduction section. It has a William Morris print on it, with tiny purple flowers. I’m trying to think of some way to have some purple trims on it to bring them out. I have some olive green vegetal ivory buttons I’ve been saving, and these would look nice on it.
I bought the blue and white cotton print a few years ago in the Garment District in Los Angeles (at my favorite store, Fabrics & Fabrics). It's a very soft cotton lawn. I’m not sure what kind of buttons to use on it yet. I’m leaning towards something subtle that doesn’t stand out, maybe white.

I started this project totally backwards: during the Summer of 2009, I took a sewing workshop with Shelley Peters, "Skirting the Belle", to learn how to make a cartridge pleated skirt. I didn't own a hoopskirt yet, so we couldn't sew the hem on it first, as her instructions relate. My main purpose was to learn to do the cartridge pleating on it.
Shelley's instructions for making a skirt just use a method for figuring how much material to use, and sew lengths of it together, instead of using a pattern. So the panels were sewn, and I folded the waist down about 3-4 inches, then started marking the waist every quarter inch in two rows to run my two rows of stitching through. I made a template with a piece of cardboard so I just held it up and made marks with a pencil where my needle would go through. I thought this part would be very tedious, since that's what I've heard from other sewers, but I found I really enjoyed it. Granted, it took awhile to make all those marks, and you only mark about 6 inches at a time, but once I started stitching, I really enjoyed seeing all those cute little accordion pleats.

I knew I wouldn't be able to finish these right now since I had other costumes I needed done first, but I sewed the two bodices up so I'd be a little bit ahead when I came back to them. These are very short waisted, and have a narrow band on the bottom of each waist. I chose to do one set of sleeves with the little flared cap, and the other without. But now after looking at them again, I may add a cap to the blue and white by just sttitching it on top of the sleeve.

It's now January 2010, and I'm able to start working on these again. I went to a second sewing workshop with Shelley to get some help in finishing the bodices, and finding out what does and doesn't work in regards to trims, collars, and bonnets.
I decided to bring out the purple in the olive dress by covering buttons with a purple silk taffetta I had. I considered also making a small bow for the neck with it. And maybe adding some to the cuffs. I played around with some ideas, and decided to make a belt in the purple with a small antique "belt buckle" I had. Then got some suggestions of sewing a narrow purple trim to the top edge of the sleeve cap and along the cuffs.
This is just the "belt" fabric wrapped around the waist at this time.

A few months ago I purchased a hoopskirt from Blockage Runners, and Shelley was able to help me mark my hem on the olive skirt. While she was doing that, a comment she made about turning the waist down gave me an "uh oh moment", and I picked up the blue and white skirt, which I'd pleated last month. At the time I was wondering why I didn't remember the edge being so unfinished. In retrospect, I should have pulled out the olive one to look at it again. I forgot to turn the waist edges down before doing the cartridge pleating. So I get to take out all that stitching and start over. Oh well, practice makes perfect.
I got to see a couple examples of how to put the hooks & bars on the bodice waist and the skirt waist to hold them together, and I decided I liked that technique. I took pictures of that, plus some of the hook & eye tape on the bodice. I've not been shown how to attach the tape, and in the past I've just fudged it in, which at times isn't very pretty. Now with some photos I might be able to attempt this next time. For the time being I'll still be doing buttons and buttonholes unless I feel adventurous.
I was trying to decide if I should find an antique lace collar for the olive gown but it was suggested I just sew a narrow bit of lace along the edge of a white collar, so I picked up some lace the other day in the Garment District for it.
The blue and white gown is a softer looking outfit, and I'm still thinking of just using white for it's accessories; white buttons, white bonnet/day cap. But I'm going to wait until more of it is together, and let it speak to me.
I’m planning, and hoping, to wear both of these to the Riverside Dickens Fair fashion show on Feb 6 & 7, but the olive one will be done first if I can only get one done.