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.


Tuesday, June 26, 2012

You can learn something new every day

June 26, 2012
Just sharing some Pearls of Wisdom here.
I repeatedly have said to myself and others, that I learn something new every day, even when I thought I knew everything. Case in point: sewing. Oh, that’s right. You who know me know the problems I have in understanding patterns and directions. I can understand far more when I have an actual gown in front of me and see how its sewn, rather than reading the directions on how to do it.
Right now I have two gowns I’m working on for Costume College; one is my 1905 voile gown, and the other is my “Secret Squirrel” project, which came to a roaring stop the other day when the directions weren’t the same as what my dress was doing. How many times has that happened? More on that foopah later.
I’ve been going along merrily sewing my Truly Victorian 1905 circular skirt and blouse/waist with no problems. And I might have continued that way if I hadn’t had the chance to socialize with Heather & Laura McNaughton of Truly Victorian last Sunday. My friend Cat and I were attending an open house & ice cream social at the Heritage House in Riverside, Ca. I was joined by other friends in costume, mostly 1890s-1908, and supporting our friend, Tonya, who’s a docent at this beautiful 1890s historic home. Besides having some yummy hand-cranked ice cream, it was a beautiful place for photos and I can’t tell you how many times we were stopped and asked by people to have their photo taken with us.

Heather & Laura showed up, both dressed in their TVE 1905 blouse & skirts, with Laura wearing the circular skirt like I’m making, and Heather wearing her trumpet skirt. Seeing these skirts in person really shows you how beautiful they are made up with fabric. I was fascinated by the back of Heather’s skirt enough that I took a close-up of it. *Sorry Heather* But look how pretty the pleating is at the bottom of the closure. It’s kind of closed up in the photo but when she walked, it spread out like a fan and looked so feminine and graceful. I’m already thinking of when I’ll have time to make one of these skirts too.

 Then I started looking closer at her blouse and noticed her high necked collar. She said it was shorter than the original because she doesn’t like it that high. I can so relate to that, so I too am going to shorten mine. I was using the round Stock Collar. Then I was surprised when I saw her collar was only attached in the front, what I could see, by her brooch. She said it’s a Stock Collar, which means it can be removed easily for washing or changing out. I’d heard of Stock Collars on men but had no idea what that really meant or that women wore them. She did say you CAN sew the collar directly to the blouse, which was what I was going to do as I was merrily sewing along. So that was my first new learning thing of the day.
Later in the day we all headed back to their beautiful little 1913 house and sat around talking patterns and sewing; even the guys.

 I started asking Heather questions about the different things I’d made or worn from their patterns, and then asked why my corset kept riding up from my waist. She said the hips were too tight. I said I tightened mine to try and flatten my stomach but she explained that Victorian corsets are meant to be hour glass shapes, so it's only tightened at the waist, and looser at the hip and bust. I was wearing an 1890s skirt but I should have been wearing an Edwardian one to keep my tummy flat. That was an eye opener! I think I’m going to try this same outfit with my TV 1903 corset next. So that was my second new learning thing of the day.
My third new learning thing was going to be a separate post altogether but I’ve decided to include these all in one. A short while ago *someone* (I can't remember who) suggested when I make the bodice, to mark and finish the closure first, then do the side seams to get a better fit. I was used to following the pattern and doing the shoulder and side seams first then finish the bodice closure last. I would struggle to get the closure lined up. Often it had to be closed over farther on the top than the bust, and more at the midriff. And sometimes it wasn’t big enough to even close. So out came the seam ripper after most of the bodice had already been finished. They don't call me Mrs Ripper for nothing! So with this method I would sew the shoulder seams, and fold the edges of the closure and finish it to where it was ready to have its buttonholes, or however I would close it, done. My first try at this was with the TVE 41 1903 blouse/waist I'm working on.
 I closed the placket with safety pins, put it on inside out, and then marked the sides on me with pins. I un-safety pinned the neck enough to slide it off me. This made it so much easier, especially since this one closes in the back. Other than taking it in a tad bit more after taking it off, it fit and closed beautifully the first time.
After looking at the photo I’d taken of the back of Heather’s skirt, I had another “ah hah!” moment. I could do the same method with the skirt closure. With previous bustle gowns, I’ve been happy that they had bustles and peplums going over my closures on the skirt because my plackets aren’t pretty. And that’s because of the same problem. I thought it fit when I put the waistband on but I think all the thread you use to sew it with makes it bulkier and takes up any excess you might have had.
Don’t believe that, huh? That’s all I can come up with.
I now have a sign hanging over my computer that says, “Mark closures FIRST on patterns”. It’s right next to “10 am, START SEWING”. I should change that to 3pm because that’s the time I start feeling like sewing. 
And I would like to publicly thank whomever it was that gave me this suggestion to do the closures first. *kisses*
**Here's an additional tip from Jennifer Rosbrugh of When you're fitting your muslin, take into account that your flatlining/lining plus any bones if used, will take up some of the fabric causing it to be a bit smaller. This applies to my method of doing the front closure first. At this point you should already have the flatlining (or possibly lining) done, but if you will also have bones, take that into account.**


  1. Dear Val,

    The "On bodices and skirts, fit the closure first, then the side seams!" advice is about the best tip I've heard in a long while. Thank you so much for sharing it, along with the social pictures. Your ensembles are summery and fresh...

    Very best,

    1. That's exactly what I like to hear, Natalie! I hope it helps you in your future costumes too.

  2. Awesome tip, that! Another tip for your newly found lacing - suggest lacing with three separate laces - one high, one low and one through the waist. If you have a continuous lace, the lacing evens out no matter where you tighten it. If each section is separate you can lace it to be tighter through the waist and it will stay! :)

    1. Thank you, MrsC. I've been wearing a Victorian corset for about 10 years but this was the first time I got into a conversation about why that one wasn't working for Edwardian fashions. It comes under Learning something new each day.

  3. What great tips! I will use these on my next costume.

    I completed the TV blouse/waist for an event last Saturday. I bought the pattern after seeing you mention it on this blog. I was very happy with the fit! As usual, I didn't have time to make a muslin, so I just gave a go at it in my fashion fabric. I was delighted that it fit on the very first try, a real miracle! Because of fabric constraints, I ended up pairing it with a trumpet skirt from EvaDress. I had to resize that pattern twice, once due to a mathematical error on my part, and a second time because it just didn't fit. I think that if I'd used the TV pattern, with her excellent method of fitting, I wouldn't have had the problems I had.

    I didn't have time to make the stock collar, and ended up pinning some lace at the neck as a quick and dirty fix. I haven't made my corset yet, so like I say, this was a quick and dirty costume, just to get back into the swing of sewing. I can't wait to make up the pattern again, in better fabric.

    I'm so glad I found your blog, you are such a wealth of information! Thanks for sharing your expertise!

    1. Thank you very much, Rooskie. I found both the skirt and blouse pattern so easy to make, and so simple. No darts, no boning, nothing fancy. But what a fabulous final product.
      I hope you put photos up of yours too.

  4. "It’s right next to “10 am, START SEWING”. I should change that to 3pm because that’s the time I start feeling like sewing." This is so me! I'm struggling right now with sewing a bit in the early morning and a bit in the late evening to avoid the worst of the Texas heat, when all I really want to do is sew during the middle of the day! Fantastic tip about the fitting of the side seams. I'll have to try that next time!

  5. Ohhhhh! You have possibly saved me years more of aggrivation. I have troubles with my closures too. The waist fits devinely. The upper chest fits well. But, the "girls" insist on trying to burst forth. But before they do that, they try and stuff all the lining and hooks out of the opening first! I have the same problem with modern clothes as well and avoid button down shirts unless they hang like sacks. Each Victorian outfit has been given more and more hooks than the previous time (with some improvement) but still a struggle! Even muslins don't help. The muslin fits well but as soon as there is lining, inter lining, fashion fabric, threads, and seam allowances the nice fit turns into sausage casing. I've considered cutting one size for the waist and a size up for the girls and I have even considered binding my girls! I will try your method first!


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