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.


Sunday, March 11, 2012

Cranky Ladies

Saturday, March 11, 2012

I was up in Vista yesterday for the Civil War reenactment, and it was mainly (besides playing dress up) to learn how to use my hand crank sewing machine from the other ladies there. There’s a group of reenactors who have created "Oak Street" which is a main street row of shops (tents with space in front) containing a bakery, hotel, seamstress, etc, and they set up like a main street. I was in the seamstress area, and there were a couple of us sewing. I had to learn basically from scratch how to use my machine (threading it/ winding the bobbin shuttles/ setting the stitch length) and my friends had suggested making a small quilt. But I wanted to make something that was more useable or something I needed. I ended up making the skirt that goes to a child's Civil War dress that I'm making for my friend Shelley to sell in her sutler’s tent. It was all straight seams and sewing the growth tucks on the bottom of the skirt. We were photographed constantly by the public and professional photographers, and had many questions asked of us, which is the reason we're doing this. 
Even though the sewing is slower, I really enjoyed it, and had a big grin on my face when I finished my first seam. But man, is my right shoulder sore from all that cranking!  One of my friends gave me a wooden thread spool so I can hand wind my thread onto it and use it with my machine.

These were my two friends who were sewing with me, Laura-lee, and Paige on the right, who taught me how to use it. The two skirts hanging behind Laura-lee were both made by Paige on her hand crank machine. We were joking about how I end up ripping out seams just as much as sewing them, so I said just call me Ripper. They said my name should be Mrs. Ripper, since they all have fake names for their shops. I thought about that awhile, and I’ve decided my name will be Mrs. Victoria Ripper, although that sounds a little  theatrical.  But I could have fallen on hard times during the CW and went back to sewing to support myself. They all like to have back stories to their characters.
I was so busy I forgot to hand my camera to someone for a photo of me. But if any show up somewhere, I've been told they'll be sent to me.  
This is the dress just pinned together after I got home. I still need to cartridge pleat the skirt and attach it to the bodice with piping between the seams, and then add the sleeves to it. I plan to sew black rick rack around the neckline and bottom of the skirt and sleeves. 
One of my other friends, Beth, who wasn't there this time usually does an afternoon tea for any of the ladies in the camp area (her husband runs the newspaper office) and I'm not sure if she's part of Oak Street. But I told the ladies that in the future if my friend wasn't there for this, I'd like to also do the afternoon tea thing. One of the "shops" makes lunch for us at the cost of $5, and yesterday we had cold meat pies, a delicious cucumber salad (that I got the recipe for), fresh sliced peaches & oranges, cottage cheese and pistachios. My friend that does the tea has a large collection of  Blue Willow stoneware plates and cups that she uses. I've found a few pieces for her in the past. They were used during the Civil War and are sturdier than fine china. So if I'm going to do that, I need to start looking around for some like that, mainly in thrift stores because they're dirt cheap there. But I would need to use my own stoneware teapots because you can never find those at all. But since I only make 1 or 2 CW events a year, I'm thinking of  NOT getting the Blue Willow, and just using my sturdier china that I take with me for my tea catering. They would have been in existence with the wealthier people back then. However IF I did find some Blue Willow cups & plates DIRT CHEAP, well, why not?   But it’s only a thought. I had way too much fun sewing on my machine, & it was quite an undertaking to get organized to set that up, and its 30 lbs so I don’t travel light. Now I have to teach my friend Cindy how to sew on her’s that she got for Xmas.


  1. Mrs. Victoria Ripper, what a charming and fun aka. Good luck on your treasure hunting, of course you never know what you'll find. Interested in the cucumber salad since they are plentiful this time of year. I always enjoy reading your blog.

  2. Sounds like a blast. I'd love to learn to use a hand crank sewing machine! Good exercise if nothing else. lol.

  3. Hi Val--
    Also interested in the cucumber salad recipe as my dad's mom made one for us, and my mom got the recipe and never wrote it down. . .
    Bill opted out of going to Vista today after doing the obligatory Shriner's gig in Laughlin Friday/Sat and is now sound asleep on the patio sofa, still recovering from his cold. I have to alter the CW day dress I made so until I do, no CW re-enactments for me--let's try to plan on Moorpark in the Fall. It's the biggest and the best, and there is quite a lot of opportunity to demonstrate, as many local schools assign their classes to go out and view, then make reports back.

    1. Hi Karen, sending it off to you. I'll check about Moorpark, especially if HCA will be setting up Oak Street, and Mrs. Ripper can get to work sewing again. :)

  4. Hi Val, saw you walk by our unit but couldnt catch up with you to say hi, :( -- and sadly didnt make it to the sewing group either, was bummed about that. your class sound like it might be fun - rj

    1. I'm sorry too. I got so busy learning how to use my machine, and then having so much fun with it, that I didn't get a chance to go around and visit and see everyone's camps. I had to go see Shelley, and get some advice on the sewing machine seller but that was it. I'm hoping to come to Moorpark in the Fall tho.


I would love to hear if this was any help to you. Pretty please!