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.


Friday, April 27, 2012

It's been a busy month

April 27, 2012
The last three weeks have given some of my costumes multiple chances to be worn again. Starting first with the Titanic Costume Walkabout at the Del Mar Antique Show. Over 50 of us attended the show in various costumes to commemorate the anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic. We had travelers, wealthy folk, and ship’s crew members.  

I reprised my role as Dr Alice Leader, who survived the sinking, and had a good time telling my story to the many interested people who asked. I spent about 45 minutes talking to one antique dealer about mourning jewelry. And later I bought a brooch that was missing its woven hair and plan to learn how to do that now.

This wonderful group shot was taken of us by Jerry Abuan of

 Next was another fashion show for the Creative Stitchery Guild, which is a group involved in fiber arts and handmade decorative clothing. That’s the best way I can describe it. The show was mainly to showcase wearable art made by its members but some of our costume guild members were invited to model our own “wearable art”. I gave a list of my different costumes I had so they could choose which ones I would model. My green Bloomer gown and aqua La Belle Epoque gown were chosen, and I was also asked if I could model my Victorian underpinnings. I chose the time to wear my underpinnings right after Cindy was done modeling her bustle gown, so I could stand next to her to show how the outer dress got its shape. As I showed them my bustle cage I flipped it up and down to show how I could sit in it, which caused a lot of laughter. Then as I unbuttoned my corset cover so they could see the corset, I heard a lot of whistles. But that’s as far as they got to see.

 This was Cindy’s pretty pink plaid bustle gown that she was wearing. You can read more about her gown at The Broke Costumer    

We didn’t have our own photographer at this event, so all we have are photos we took backstage of each other.
Most recently was a Steampunk presentation at a local library that was celebrating it’s 10th anniversary by offering different events every day to the public. When I heard they were focusing on Steampunk books and its origins, I offered to come with other members from our guild in costume. I ended up being asked to give a short presentation of Steampunk 101 to explain to the attendees what it was, and show how we came up with our costumes. I talked for about 15 minutes, then showed a slideshow of different costumes to give them a better idea of what it was. I told them it was Victorian science fiction, an alternate universe, or a path we might have taken by traveling in the future. I was contacted afterwards by some interested attendees who said they “got it”.
The library wanted some hands-on displays for people to look at so I set up my display of painting rayguns and decoupaging travel cases and books.
This was our group of costumers who came to help out with my presentation.

 Oh, and I made a new pair of Bloomers to go with my new Steampunk costume. I made a skirt and Bloomers out of a medium weight black cotton. With it I wore a pinstriped shirt and grey plaid vest I already had, and added my accessories. I really liked how it came out. The blouse and vest are too small, so I’m already putting together some new ones to wear to the upcoming Gaslight Gathering Steampunk & Victoriana convention next week.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

An 1851 Brown Cotton Bloomer gown

February 2012
This is my second Bloomer gown and this time I wanted one made in a cotton fabric instead of silk taffeta to be more of a day dress and cooler to wear.
I chose to do this one in one of my favorite necklines with a chemisette under it, similar to these photographs. The first photo was dated 1840s but I have another photo showing a similar gown and dated as 1850. Without being able to see more of the sleeve style on the first photo, it’s hard to tell if the date is correct. It looks like it has a tight cuff instead of the pagoda sleeves on the 1850 photo. But there’s no rule that says you can’t still be wearing the same style a few years later.

 For the v-neck I once again used my favorite bodice pattern from Butterick 3855 and with my shorter altered pagoda sleeves.

The cotton fabric I’m using was purchased from the reproduction fabric section at Rosie’s Calico Cupboard in San Diego. My last Bloomer gown had matching fabric for the Bloomers, but this time I’m using a solid color brown for them.

 I flat lined the bodice with burnt orange polished cotton that was given to me. Finally, something I could use that color for. And I made a bias trim from it to face all the edges of the bodice with.

I repeated the sleeve jockey that was on my previous Bloomer gown and made some small pleated trim to go down the front of the bodice, and around the sleeve jockey and the cuff of the sleeve just like the 1840/50s photos show.

 I used Truly Victorian’s underdrawers pattern for my bloomers this time and made them in a solid dark brown which gave a nice contrast to the rest of the gown. I used the solid brown for some ruching on the ankles like my first one too.

Because of a shortage of time before my first lecture & slideshow on the Bloomer gown that I wanted to wear this to, I didn’t have time to put ruching on the sleeve cuffs, nor make a new chemisette to go under it. So I used an existing one I had.  I added my watch chain and attached it to the lower front of my bodice, and an antique brown topaz brooch to the neck of my chemisette, & topped it all with my flat straw hat. It was a warm day when I wore this, and I was very comfortable.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

My lecture on re-creating an 1851 Bloomer gown

April 7, 2012
In January 2011 I began a journey of exploration into the origins of “Bloomer gowns” after inheriting an incomplete pattern from a friend. It had been made by Past Patterns off an original gown in the San Diego History Museum’s costume collection. With only part of the instructions and patterns, and getting permission to photograph the gown in storage, I was able to make my own copy of it. And I began working with Saundra Altman of Past Patterns, encouraging her to complete the pattern and have it available for sale when I eventually did a presentation on it.
Over a year later, the pattern is very close to being done, although I do have some samples of the almost complete one. I set up a sign-up list for anyone interested in purchasing the pattern, and at this time I am the only one anyone can order them from. Saundra credited me in her pattern acknowledgments too. Having this in hand, and my photos, and research into the history of this gown and its origins, I gave my first lecture/slideshow presentation to the Costumers Guild West of Los Angeles.

I had spent a couple weeks rewriting my notes to go with the slideshow, and the history I’d be presenting with it. It could have been a lot longer, and had many more photos to show but I needed to keep it under 45 minutes so it would fit into a 2 hour presentation. I knew there would be questions and I’d be stopped a lot in the slideshow for more questions. At the finish of my presentation for CGW I ended up with 15 minutes left in the 2 hours.
Part of the fun for me was the searching for more gowns in other costume collections, and “meeting” other researchers, historical societies, and reenactors online. The sharing of information and photos back and forth was as exciting as opening a Xmas present. So far I’ve only found two other gowns in collections, and this one in San Diego is truly unique. At my recent lecture I met another costume collector who will be contacting collection owners on the East coast for any other gowns. So the search is not over yet.
Shortly after I finished my green silk taffeta reproduction of the gown, I was already thinking of making another one but this time in cotton and also making it in the style of a gown that the original owner’s sister was wearing in a family photo. The photo also shows the Bloomer gown’s owner wearing hers prior to being altered to a Bloomer.  I finished my brown striped and floral cotton gown two days before my lecture and was able to wear it there. This time I used current existing patterns I had; Simplicity 3855 for a v-neck bodice, and a drawers pattern from Truly Victorian. My skirt is just made from panels of fabric & cartridge pleated to a waistband. I repeated the ruching trim from the first gown since the owner’s sister also had the same ruching on hers.

My cotton one is more comfortable for our warm weather, and is easier to wash, since my poor silk taffeta is showing signs of dirt with all its travels recently. It’s been in two fashion shows already and has another coming up soon. It did however come out pretty clean after soaking for a day in Oxyclean. It still carries the scars of ink from a pen that someone sitting next to me at Costume College got on me in a class.
My original plan for my lecture was to tell the story of the gown as I played the slideshow. But I was stopped quite often by questions from my audience, many jumping ahead of where I was at, and would have been answered eventually. It was disrupting but it also educated me as to where I should have more information inserted earlier, but also to ask my next audiences to hold their questions until the end. It was a learning experience for all of us.
I’ve been asked by the San Diego History Museum to do my presentation for them also. It would include students of fashion besides costume enthusiasts. Since this is where the original gown is, we’re holding out for when the patterns are finally available since they want to offer them also, and possibly carry them in their gift shop. My gown will be displayed hopefully alongside the original at that time. I am also purchasing copies of the pattern myself to give as thank you gifts to our San Diego museum, and those museums & researchers back East who helped me in my search. 

Monday, April 9, 2012

A fashion show in Port Townsend, WA

March 24, 2012
I would never have thought six years ago when I attended this fashion show in Port Townsend during their Victorian Festival, that I would ever be in it. I have memories of seeing some beautiful antique gowns in that show.
During the last year I was asked by a couple members of the Seattle-based costume guild, SITU, if I would join them in the fashion show at the 2012 Festival. After contacting the coordinator, JoAnn, about being in it, I received an enthusiastic YES!  The hard part was deciding what costumes, and how many. After deciding on three, I shipped those, including the simple gown I made for my Mom, up to her house just before I flew up there.
The show was held in a beautiful old church, as it has in the past, and we had a very large dressing room. Once there, clothes were thrown everywhere as we all marked our territory for dressing. In one corner there was a pretty screen and a light green wall which turned out to be the perfect spot for some photos of our gowns. I was not disappointed. Again this year there were some gorgeous antique ones being worn, along with a collection of antique beaded handbags that were brought for the models to carry. I learned that the smaller the beads, the older it is. 
And the fun part of this is I met some ladies whom I was friends with on Facebook but had never met in person. I’d already met Joan and Sharon, of SITU, at Costume College last year.

Later it dawned on me that I also was a Friend of Julie Ann on Facebook. Julie Ann and I chattered away about antique gowns and her collection, and later I learned her name, and had a duh moment. She was wearing this blue wool Edwardian cape with exquisite soutache work on it. I’d sure like to get into her closet. 

And then I met this young lady, Jean, who I learned was also Norwegian like me. We had a wonderful time comparing our antique hats. She was wearing her 1875 great(?)grandmother’s cape and hat, and was proudly carrying a photo of her great(?)grandmother wearing them. When I looked through my previous album of 2006 when I last attended the show, she was there too. And she says she’ll be there again next year.

These are some of the gowns I was able to photograph before we had to run out to the stage. I saw a couple others that I was dying to see more of and photograph but with us rushing back and forth, it never happened. 

This one was taken of me by Julie Ann and shows another of the pretty antique gowns. 
Most of the models were only wearing one outfit. Some were wearing two. I was the only one wearing three.  Am I crazy? I started making myself laugh as I exited the door to head back to the dressing room ripping open my bodice and pulling off my hat and wig. I must have looked crazy.  
On entering the church we each walked down the side aisle up to the stage as JoAnn introduced us, and began describing our gowns. The dark woods and colors inside the church and the lighting are perfect for showing us off to our best advantage, although we did have a podium in the center of the stage we would have to walk back and forth past so each side of the room could see us. Each time I walked in and the audience saw me, I heard oohs and aahs, which is what makes all of this worth it. It does my heart good and makes me want to keep going with it. 
My first costume was my Bloomer gown. Then my 1885 Best Black Bustle gown. I had a lot of questions coming from the audience about it, like what patterns did I use, and how much fabric it needed. And lastly was my 1898 La Belle Époque gown. There was enough time between changes of each but I still worked up a sweat trying to get hooked up into each one.

As I changed, we had the issue of one earring not wanting to disconnect from my ear, with three different ladies trying to unhook it, and one bead bouncing off onto the floor and chasing it. At some point I grabbed what I thought were my glasses off the piano in the dressing room, and later put them on to find I couldn’t see, and they felt odd. They looked like mine. But they weren’t. So it was a mad rush to find just who’s they were. With my last gown I was supposed to change out of my boots and into a dressy pair of shoes. But I forgot. So I hope the toes of my boots didn’t stick out too much.
I’m sorry I didn’t get to see everyone else’s gowns as much, but that’s the drawback of being in the fashion show. I learned they brought in $360 in donations so I think we did a good job.
Later that day after the show I went up the hill to see “Shaping Up”, a corset presentation by a local, Sarah A. Chrisman, who stood in front of her audience in a body suit and corset, with a tiny 22 inch waist. Her purpose was to dispel the myths of corsets and wearing them. She started out as a disbeliever in them, and after being convinced by her husband to start wearing one, she now wears one all the time with historical clothing that she makes, or by repairing badly damaged antique clothing. Both she and her husband live in a Victorian house and dress historical most of the time now. I was so intrigued, I bought her handmade book, Waisted Curves: My Transformation into a Victorian Lady, which tells her story. I was pleased that she tries so hard to correct the myths of corsets but repeated the myths of Bloomers, although she was referring to later versions than mine. It was funny while she was talking and mentioned Bloomers, a couple people in her audience pointed to me and said, “Like her?” If you’re interested in her book, or more about her, check out her website.