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, January 31, 2012

Costume Pattern Reviews on Facebook

If you're on Facebook, I've set up a group called Costume Pattern Reviews. I'm looking for people who are willing to share their experiences with using costume patterns so other people can learn from that. 
When you go there, click on the button to Request to Join.   I (Val) will approve you shortly afterwards.
I've asked people to post a photo of their completed costume, along with a short review of the pattern, and any problems they might have had with it. Also rating it as Beginner/Intermediate/Advanced pattern. At the top of the page you'll see it has Doc's listed. Just click on it to read the guidelines. There are photo albums there also where you can add the photo of the pattern you used if its not there already. If someone else has reviewed it already, feel free to add yours too.

My group is similar to The Great Pattern Review by the Greater Bay Area Costume Guild, which is an amazing resource too. Its been in existence for years and the list of patterns reviewed is huge.

Friday, January 27, 2012

1914 Lavender Downton Abbey inspired gown

January 27, 2012
I'm planning this outfit for my costume guild's visit to the Titanic exhibit in San Diego and luncheon on May 5 this year. I've just started this outfit and because its a new pattern for me, and one of those vintage 1914 ones, its going to be a struggle. Besides not having familiar pattern markings, it uses different terms for things, like foundation, waist, shirring, tunic, regulation or high waistline. You get the picture.
The pattern I'm using is McCall's 6053.
    The front page & instructions are just a photo copy of the original pattern owned by the company I purchased this from. Sadly the lower right corner of the pattern was torn and the person who copied it didn't consider taping it back together before copying it. So it's almost illegible, and the pages have been copied so many times that the printing is offset, making it even harder to read the instructions. It has an entire back page of instructions but they don't seem to be in a chronological order, according to my brain, and seems to jump around from piece to piece.
  You may think at this point I was ready to give up. I did set it aside for a few days but kept looking at fashion prints of dresses similar to it and falling in love with it again. So I kept reading the instructions, & asking around to see if anyone else had made it or was familiar with the old McCall's patterns. I got a bit of help with some translations of the terms but on my pattern piece for the collar/vestee, which is one long piece, it has so many circles (originally perforations) that I can't connect the dots. That's what this is like, connecting the dots. And those dots can mean anything from straight of grain, darts, pleats, whatever. The three +'s means cut it on the fold. It also says there is only one half of each pattern, so in my modern mind that means cut two. Wrong. Getting further into the pattern, apparently I have to cut 4 of some of them but alter the width to be used separately as either one of the two vest styles or the foundation. In other words, the outside bodice and the inside bodice, which is mainly just a shell with a collar and a skirt attached to it. Confused? Me too. And I haven't even gotten to the skirt yet. 
    My first confusion was with the dress itself. I couldn't tell if it was a dress with collar and sleeves w/ two skirts, or a bodice with a separate skirt. It doesn't give much information on the skirt/tunic. I'm assuming tunic means the skirt. If not, I'm in big trouble.
   To make the pattern clearer to me, I photocopied the front & back pictures and colored in what I think are the two separate pieces. The one on the left shows the outside bodice and tunic. This middle is the foundation dress that has the bottom part of its skirt that will show on the outside. I still don't know how to make the foundation garment because I can't tell if the under bodice is just a repeat of the outside but very long, or somehow you attach the foundation skirt up into the collar/vestee.
   In reading more on the outside dress, it sounds like the belt is sewn on to the bottom of the bodice, and the other half to the skirt/tunic. I'm doing the one that has a large sash-type belt so I may do it my own way and have them separate. The last part of the directions faded off the photocopy so I have no idea what that part was.
   I had a specific fashion print and color I want to make but decided to try and use fabric from my stash before buying anymore just in case I screw this up. I had a very pretty lavendar linen blend but the pattern calls for 7 yds (40" wide) and I only had 4. The 7 yds doesn't even include the foundation fabric for the part of the skirt under the tunic that doesn't show (which can be a plain cotton) nor the contrasting fabric for the collar/vestee. But luckily when I laid out my lavender it was 62" wide, so I had enough fabric as long as I made the back bodice with a seam instead of on the fold.
   I first made up a muslin to try the bodice out and see if I was doing it right. Its pretty loose but according to the picture its kind of loose anyhow. It has some shirring/gathering in the lower back. Yesterday I cut out my lavender, and just to rest my brain a bit, sewed up the side seams on the skirt/tunic. I've left the pleating part of that till later. Last night I sewed up the outside bodice with its front pleats and the side seams. So here it is just loosely hanging on my dress form.

   It still looks very loose under the arms but until I put the shirring/gathering in the back, I'm not altering that. I'm so used to form fitting Victorian dresses that I keep wanting to do that to this dress. The skirt/tunic has groups of wide pleats around it so I need to figure out the markings for that.
Now I need to decide what kind of white fabric I want for the collar/vestee to be. The fashion prints I've seen look pretty plain. But I feel some lace calling to me.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

A Winter Tea at the Biltmore Hotel

January 15, 2012
This entry is not so much about me, or my gown, but of all the wonderful ladies and gentlemen dressed in their finery. Yesterday my friends and I drove up to Los Angeles to join a tea event with the Costumer’s Guild West at the gorgeous Biltmore Hotel in the middle of downtown LA. When we first walked out of the parking garage we were all stopped in our tracks by the size of all the buildings.

Inside the Biltmore we were again awed by the architecture inside this grand old lady. Our attention first went to the grand staircase in front of us, with stairs rising on each side. The bottom of the staircase proved to be an excellent location for many photographs of everyone attending the tea.  And then turning around was a beautiful view of a large arched window letting in so much light.

Our tea tables were already set with beautiful Royal Albert Old Country Roses china, and shortly after a tray of delicious sandwiches, scones, and desserts were brought out. I enjoyed many cups of Bombay Chai tea to go with my meal.

Before and after we’d eaten, many of us posed around the grand staircase for photos. These were some of my favorites. I wore my red and black bustle gown again, and this will probably be its final wearing for awhile. 

The green 1917 dress was my favorite and I’m already planning one myself. It was the first dress of that time period that I've liked and she did a wonderful job on it.
These are a few photos of my friends and other attendees.

 After the tea was over, many of us walked across the street to the outdoor ice skating rink, and 6 of them donned ice skates and skated with their costumes on. I was very impressed.  I tried taking photos but they moved so quickly, they were a blur mostly. But with all the Christmas lights still up, it still looked pretty.



Fashion Show at Riverside Dickens Fair 2012

January 7 & 8, 2012
This was my 5th year as a model in the Dickens fashion show, and it seems each year to get better. This year’s theme for the show was famous women, and we were supposed to wear a costume that would match the character and year if possible.
I proposed doing Amelia Bloomer and wear the 1851 green Bloomer gown I had made. I had a lot of really nice compliments on my gown, and afterwards people kept coming up to me to ask me more about it.

 I was also asked by the coordinator if I would be able to do one of two famous female murderesses. One of them, Adelaide Bartlett, had an interesting history & was accused in 1886 of poisoning her husband with chlorine. They were never able to find evidence of how he was poisoned so she was acquitted. I chose to wear my 1885 Best Black bustle gown. I call it Best Black because it’s very fancy with trims, and is appropriate to a wealthy woman. It’s also black so I would appear to be in mourning. At the end of the description of my gown and the story of Adelaide, the speaker said after the trial, Adelaide received 17 marriage proposals.  I flirted with the audience and had a lot of fun with it.


After the fashion show, I wandered around the fair with my friends, and was often stopped for photos. I chose to change back into my Bloomer gown just because it was more comfortable, and much cooler than my black dress.

 I think I made an impression on quite a few people with my Bloomer gown and I hope to see others popping up at events soon. I still have another gown in the works, in a brown patterned cotton, but I have others with more priority at the moment.
Photos were provided by my friends, Jerry, and Marcee.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Meet my new baby- she's 104 years old!

Last year at the Dickens Fair in Riverside, CA, a shiny object caught my eye: hand cranked sewing machines! I’ve often watched others at reenactments using them, and envying the use of such a wonderful machine. Unfortunately I didn’t have enough cash with me at the time, and had to walk away.
I’d forgotten about them until recently when my friend, Cindy, got one for Christmas, and I remembered the Dickens Fair was coming up soon. Armed with a cash gift from my Mom, when I arrived at the Fair this past weekend and before it opened to the public, I headed over to the Marketplace in hopes the vendor would be there again. And he was! I saw a lineup of about 15 machines, all gorgeously restored and in working condition. And the price was still the same from last year!
                                                                        Photo from a friend.
The first machine I looked over was the obvious;   a Singer, a familiar name. The others were names I’d never heard of. But still all just as pretty in their gold designs and glistening black skins. The vendor gave me a tour of all of them, mostly English or German made ones. One in particular stood out to me, a Jones.  It was made in England in 1908, and had a warrant emblem that said, “Supplier to Queen Alexandra”. It was particularly beautiful with so much delicate gold decoration that it won my heart right away.

It uses these tiny narrow bobbins that don’t hold a lot of thread. There’s a storage area on the side of the machine under the wheel, and a bobbin threader in front of it.

It has the ability to have a cable attached under the hand wheel to become a treadle sewing machine if I ever decide to do that, or even find a cabinet I could do it with. But that’s not my goal.
This website tells the history of my machine. Jones history
My mother just reminded me of a miniature Singer sewing machine she gave me when I was younger that was a child’s hand crank machine. I found it, looked it up on the internet, and found out it was made in 1951 to celebrate Singer’s 100 year anniversary and they put a badge on it to commemorate it. If she hadn’t mentioned it, I might never have looked it up, and I actually forgot that I had it, although I knew I did. It’s just “up on a shelf somewhere”.  It’s missing its bobbin so I’ve never been able to sew on it.  It has a small brace that you can attach it to a table to stabilize it too.
It’s been fun having people now tell me their stories of using hand crank or treadle machines. My Mom said she used a hand crank to make all her school clothes, and that her aunt wouldn’t allow an electric one into the home because that was dangerous. My aunt said she also used a treadle to sew all her clothes. Then my next door neighbor told me about sewing all her children’s clothes on a treadle machine. It makes me think of all the exercise I’m missing with only using my foot or toes to press on a pedal now.
When I mentioned my mini one, she said one of her friends had one of them that he traveled with to do sewing repairs. What an idea!
Please tell me YOUR stories of using hand crank or treadle sewing machines. I’d love to know of others who own these, and especially what you do with them & what you've made on them. At some point I hope to use mine at a reenactment demonstration.
ETA: I contacted the owners of Sew Cranky who I bought my machine from, and they do carry extra supplies for hand crank, treadle operated, and maybe other antique machines. Check out their website here.
And this tells you all about my Jones sewing machine.