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.


Monday, August 27, 2012

Tiki Dress & Black Cherry Dress

Started Aug 18, Finished Aug 27, 2012
These were a departure from my usual historical sewing. I haven’t sewn “modern” clothing patterns in about 25 years. I reminded myself that they would be loose fitting but it was much looser than I expected. Or maybe it’s because I’m used to my historical gowns being so tight fitting. My friends challenged me to make a Tiki dress to go with their’s at Costume College, and then later a Cherry Dress to go with another theme they were doing. All I can say is I need more practice.
The Tiki dress requirements were just a fabric with a vintage/batik/tribal pattern, and I had a choice of patterns to try. I chose Vogue Easy Options 8555. This was also a remedial on putting in zippers for me. It didn’t come out too bad but it didn’t fit too well and my back midriff piece didn’t line up right. But I had a busy fabric pattern so it wasn’t visible. The bust area was way too big on me and found out that was a problem with the pattern, so more gathering is needed in the front. I already have ideas of how to make it fit better when making a second one.

They also decided to make dresses with cherry fabric and I’m a little behind on that but finished mine the other day.
The pattern I used this time was Vogue 8807, another “easy” pattern. Who the heck decides these are easy? My fabric, a black background with cherries, was purchased in the Garment District for $4 a yard.

It’s a loose-fitting (loose being rather loosely thrown around here) and fits over the neck with a belt to pull in the waist. I would describe it as Omar’s tent dress. I cut it out according to my measurements but after putting it on I ended up taking 6 inches out of the front seam, and 4 inches from each side. And it’s still pretty full but apparently you use that fullness to create pleats when you belt it. I didn’t want to line it which is the “easy” part since you sew it all right sides together then flip it right-side out so all the seams are finished. But I finished my neckline seam and armholes with a red bias tape.
  It has yet to have a wearing but at least I’m ready for it. I had a red belt to go on it & found some 1950s style red shoes at an antique shop on sale for $10, and a straw bag also for $10 to go with it. More red will be added with a red wooden ball bracelet and necklace.
 I should be working on my Edwardian 1910 corset, and planning my mourning gown and a Fall bustle but at the moment “Easy” patterns are staring at me. And then there’s those half-done Edwardian chemises. I work on bits and pieces, and then finally everything gets done at the same time and I look like I’m a sewing animal. 

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

PART TWO: The Wearing of the Costumes, CoCo 2012

Aug 2-6, 2012
This entry will have some of my photos but for all of them, please go to my online album here:

After an evening of glamour, we all had to come back to “reality” as we costumers know it, and dress in another era for another day. And attend more classes.
I was too busy to attend the Sunday Undies Breakfast where attendees dress in their beautiful underpinnings such as chemises, corsets, petticoats, girdles, hosiery, negligee (all PG-rated of course) and go down to the restaurant in public to be able to show off what is worn under their costumes, and all the hard work they did on them. I ran into a couple in the hallways though. 
Today after attending one class I have to start getting the Pearls Room decorated for the Sunday Fantasy Tea. So I dressed right off in my 1905 gown I would be wearing. My first stop was at the Truly Victorian booth in the Marketplace to get a photo with Heather in both our gowns. Laura was still in her undies and even though I thought it would be nice to see what we had under our gowns, she was too shy.


 My first class on Saturday was Make-up Palettes & Application Techniques: 20s-40s, by Laura Lowe. I found this very interesting with all the photos showing the different styles and she went into great detail of the shape of the eyebrows, nails & lips. She had samples of the different cosmetics and their modern versions that we can still buy. I had a hard time keeping up but did manage to write a few notes of what to buy, although most of them are hard to read now: for ‘30s --look for Smashbox  foundations and rouge, lips- Sephora’s R13.  For ’40 lips—look for Revlon Strawberry Sue or Love That Pink.  A great website she gave us for doing makeup is  Her final words of wisdom are “the vintage look focuses on eyes & lips, and a matte skin finish.
My next class was Victorian Mourning by Kristine Scott. Since I’m doing a mourning interpretation I wanted to attend this, and to meet Kristine. She explained the rules of first year, second year, and third year mourning, with the changes in dress and accessories style for each one, and comparing women’s and men’s rules. Much of this I knew already but it confirmed some things I’d heard of.
As mentioned in my previous post, I met up with my friend, Trudy, in the Costume Exhibit, got us some lunch and then I headed off to another class by Carolyn Runnells, “Dressing the Victorian Lady”. I’d read about her presentations online and on cruise lines, and even bought her cd of “Dressing the Edwardian Lady” through Amazon. So this time I wanted to see it in person.  . She passed around some of the gowns she had for us to look at the details. One I liked in particular was inside her pleated green skirt that was ruched up on the sides.  I turned it inside out and along the side seam is a channel of fabric that a cord goes through. It’s attached at the top inside the channel and comes out the bottom. You pull it up and attach the cord to the bottom partway up. This gives you more control on how much you wanted it ruched up. And you can let it out to iron it flat. I just have ribbons that tie for the bustling and have a tendency to untie themselves. My side ruching/pleating was more permanent. This was a great tip that I walked away with.

 Carolyn put on the different pieces she had to show how each were worn, and has a wardrobe of exquisite clothing passed on to her by the husband of a lady who passed away. She tells a very touching story about it at the end of her presentation and commemorates her program to this lady.

Then I stopped in for Lauren Maringola’s class, Creating a Basic 30s or 40s Wardrobe, which she used a vintage wardrobe planning sheet with putting pieces together to create a bigger wardrobe.
And from there I went back to my room to start dressing for the Red Carpet & Gala.

Now we’re back to Sunday.
After leaving my last class, I headed over to the Pearls Room where the tea would be held. My containers with decorations and teapots had been brought downstairs from my room earlier by the banquet manager so I didn’t have to mess with that. The room was being set up with tables and while they were doing that I started taping my movie posters to the walls. I set them at an angle and then added large gold stars between them. At some point I realized I was creating a wave effect with the curves so I continued that throughout the room. You can kind of see it in the back of this photo. I also requested that the lights in the room be slightly dimmed so it wasn't a brightly lit classroom anymore. Soon the tables were set and we were ready to open the doors.

 I started my music of movie theme track songs, and Cindy and I greeted everyone as they arrived.

 My plan with the Golden Age of Hollywood Movie Awards theme was to mimic the Academy Awards but instead of awarding movie stars, the winners would be the characters in the movies from the 1930s, 40s, & 50s. My assistant, Cindy, was a movie buff and she came up with the characters from the movies, and since she knew the movies, she wrote some funny acceptance speeches for my winners to win. We made little cards with the character’s name on it, then the actor who played them, & the movie and year. Each card was placed under everyone’s plate on the table. My front display for the awards ceremony included a gold foil- wrapped box to hold the sealed envelopes of the winning names, and a few of the gold statues and gold star sprays that were also on the tables.

 Once everyone was seated and finished their afternoon tea, the awards ceremony was began.  I pulled out sealed pages from the gold box and called the first winner’s name. The person who had that card came up to the microphone and I handed them a gold wrapped gift and held the page open for them to read their acceptance speech.  There were about 80 people in the audience and I had 20 prizes to hand out. I was delighted that each of the winners spoke or acted in the character’s voice in reading their speech. It was really comical.
Two examples:   And the winner is......
Marie Antoinette played by Norma Shearer in “Marie Antoinette” -1938    Thank you Academy for this wonderful award.  What a beautiful tea you have given in MY honor!  (sweeps arm grandly around the room)  I command you, let us ALL eat cake!

Dracula played by Bela Lugosi in “Dracula” -1931    I normally do not appear before dusk, but I bit back my dislike of the afternoon and came to accept my award. What a delicious looking group we have for tea today. I never drink…..tea.

 The prizes I gave away were small sewing notions I felt suited for all our talents, and hopefully will help with future projects.
Both Jennifer and I wore our new 1905 gowns made specifically for the tea this year and we enjoyed having our photos taken often. Mine was made using Truly Victorian’s patterns for the bodice and skirt. Jennifer used the skirt pattern but used a vintage one for her bodice. We’re now all stalking her for that pattern.

 Our paparazzi photographer, Jerry Abuan, walked around and took photos of all the movie stars and guests and I think everyone had a great time.  I thank Jerry very much for all the lovely photos he took of us, and more can be found on his website here. They can be downloaded for free, or purchased for a nominal fee.
And may I introduce next year’s Tea Mistress for Costume College 2013- Cindy Piselli, my assistant this year. 
After packing up all the decorations and picking up my gowns in the Costume Exhibit, I brought it all back to my room and died. My roommates had all packed up and were ready to hit the road. After making sure they had all their belongings and were gone, I started my own packing. I was staying one more night but I knew in the morning the chances of getting a bellman at a reasonable time to get everything back downstairs was next to impossible with the group getting ready to go on the Garment District Tour. I wasn’t going on the tour this year but instead was driving over myself from the hotel and then driving home from there. It actually saved me about an hour in travel time doing this. But I sure missed going with the group. There’s so much comraderie there. I did meet up with two of my friends, Angela & Janea from Williamsburg, who had attended Costume College, and we had agreed to meet in the GD. We met up in Home Fabrics, and did some running around there and generally geeking out over the fabrics.

After making some purchases there we went to a little hole in the wall next door, called Sweetpea’s and bought a few more fabrics. I found a perfect pink striped twill fabric to make my 1910 corset that cost me $4. It will go on top of the coutil I have for it. I think that’s the first project I’ll be working on as long as I don’t get distracted by something else……SQUIRREL!!!   
Since we all had different goals that day, and they were leaving later to go to the Huntington Gardens, we split up after that. I had a few things on my shopping list, keeping my mind open to any cotton voiles, or dark stripped fabric for Fall 1905 skirt, and some kind of white cotton voile for a blouse to go with it. Mission accomplished! I also bought some more of the pink striped cotton voile that I’d made my 1914 dress from to make a Civil War dress. I’m still in that pink mode. I also bought a very inexpensive peach and teal polyester blend to make the Button Dress from the Decades of Style pattern. Then I found an olive green with brown striped lightweight upholstery fabric that I think will work nicely for the Fall 1905 skirt, and an ivory lightly pleated voile for the blouse. Also a white figured cotton voile for another blouse. So far these have all been under $4 a yard. And a little bit of whimsy: I had to have some cherry fabric for a vintagey sundress. 

By the way, I did end up buying a Mela hat. It’s a Downton Abbey hat, guys! I had to! 

Monday, August 13, 2012

The Wearing of the Costumes; AKA Costume College

Aug 2-6, 2012
This entry will have some of my photos but for all of them, please go to my online album here: 
       The Golden Age of Hollywood; 1930s, 40s, & 50s.

Day One- Thursday, Aug 2
The four days I was at CoCo went by in a blur. Suddenly it was Sunday, the last day, and I was amazed that it was almost over. But I did get to spend one more day in the Garment District buying some fabric since of course I now have all kinds of ideas of new costumes I want to make.
From Thursday afternoon into the evening most of us are checking into the hotel, all of which means we are totally overwhelming the poor bellmen when, instead of needing one cart to bring in some luggage, we are talking 2-3 to get all the extra stuff. Many of our rooms weren’t ready until 4pm and they had no room left to store things so we had to leave them in our cars out in the parking structure until they were ready and we could unload. So in the meantime we wandered the halls, ran into old friends, had lunch, and twittered like birds (not Twitter).
Because of my car being loaded with 4 dress forms, 2 very large Rubbermaid containers with Sunday Tea decorations & teapots, a large suitcase, hatbox, boxes with student handouts and patterns for my class, food and water, it took 3 trips to get it all upstairs. My roommates arrived and an instant hurricane ensued in the room. If you’ve been to a costume convention, you know EXACTLY what I speak of. Then dresses had to be pressed that would go on display in the Costume Exhibit, and ones that we would be immediately wearing. Why can things not get wrinkled in suitcases? That would be a great invention!
It was kind of a mad rush when our rooms were ready, and we had three things going on at once. The Vintage Pool Party started at 6:30pm; CoCo Registration Check-In was at 7-9, and the Costume Exhibit was open from 7-9 also for setting up our costumes. And we had to change into our Pool Party outfits.  So I finished ironing my two costumes that would be exhibited, and took those down and dressed my mannequins, then helped Cindy dress her Marie mannequin.  Back up in the room Cindy, Cat, & I changed into our own theme costume for the Pool Party, vintage 1950s Tiki. We all wore flowers in our hair, Cindy brought us parrot earrings, I brought us plastic pineapple mugs, and Cat made us vintage cigar box purses that she’s going to be selling next weekend at Tiki Oasis in San Diego. They’re so cute! Our dresses were simply made and I used Vogue V8555. The wide waistband was a little fussy, and it was my first zipper installation in over 30 years. I forgot that modern patterns have more ease in them, so right now it’s a little loose. 
 Photo from Cindy
I stopped on the way to the pool to check in for Costume College and it was quick because I was in the teacher line. By this time it was close to 8pm and on walking out to the pool, we found it wasn’t as crowded as expected. We found out later most people showed up at 6:30, then went to check in, and wandered away.
I got to meet a fellow blogger, Stephanie -  Girl with the Star Spangled Heart   (Hi Stephanie!)
We bellied up to the bar and filled our Tiki pineapple mugs with a drink of our choice and started socializing.
Joy & I enjoying our drinks.
 Photo from Cindy
There were some amazing Carmen Miranda-style costumes but I guess we missed all the vintage bathing suits.

 Photos from Cindy
Day Two-Friday, Aug 3
The next morning classes started at 9am and we all went our separate ways. I wore my 1850s Brown Bloomers since I was teaching my Amelia & Her Shocking Bloomers, & A Lost Pattern, at 11:30. My first class was with Jennifer Rosbrugh, of Historical Sewing, for Sleeve Fitting in Victorian Bodices. I already had her instructions from her website but enjoyed seeing it live too.
I was able to stay for most of her class then headed back to my room to pile all my stuff into this great wire cart Cindy had brought which held my huge box of patterns, my student handouts, my dress form, and my original green Bloomer gown. With a little help I was able to get it all down there myself. *I now own one of those*.  I had 15 minutes to set up and get my laptop hooked up to the digital projector to start my slideshow. Except my laptop didn’t recognize the driver and I had no idea how to make that work. Fortunately there was a tech savvy friend there who figured out I could plug my thumb drive directly into the projector and make it work. That still was a little wonky and all my photos were out of order, and some wouldn’t show. But I was still able to do my presentation and had a lot of fun sharing all the excitement I felt on the discovery of the missing pattern for the Bloomer gown and recreating it. When I told them I had the pattern for sale, a line immediately started at the desk. Besides the 5 already pre-ordered, I sold all but 4 of the 18 I’d brought with me. And have orders for a couple more of the smaller sizes I was out of.
 The cover design on the pattern has changed, and I prefer the original but Saundra wanted to show the original gown before it was altered, and that the pattern was for two gowns. I noticed the hairstyle and ribbons in the hair of the lady on the right were similar to my style when I wore the gown and sent Saundra a photo of it. Feels a little creepy to me. I made sure I opened all the instructions books to the page where I was acknowledged in it and signed them.

 Photos from Carolyn
 I hated to take my green Bloomers on the dress form back to my room. The ladies said everyone should get a chance to see it, and suggested I put it out in the hallway. Then someone else said take it to the Costume Exhibit! Excellent idea! I took it over, got the ok from a department head, and it stood right near the entry.
I had a few minutes before my next class so I took some photos of the Costume Exhibit and my Caught on Camera display.

had two gowns on display this year; my 1900 aqua La Belle Époque gown,
And my 1790s Periwinkle Blue Josephine gown.
Because we were running out of time I had to leave all the photos to be put up on the Caught on Camera display board to one of the volunteers (thank you, Tonya!) and I think she did an excellent job. Next year I’m hoping to have a better display board for it. One side held individual photos and a memorial collage for one of our San Diego guild members who passed away this year. The other side was guild and costume group photos of all their members attending events. I wanted to show people all the different groups represented at Costume College, and all the wonderful events and costumes they do. Next year I plan to expand on that more.

I headed off to my next class, Quick and Dirty Hats from the 30s, 40s, and 50s. It was an overview of hat shapes, how to find them in thrift shops, and how to reshape hats using steam, wiring, and other techniques to get the shape you want. It wasn’t an instructional class, just mostly to show you what the possibilities are.
I went to the Early Bird Shopping at the Marketplace, where our purchase of the $7 ticket goes to next year’s scholarship students. It was already crowded in the back where Mela Hoyt-Heydon had her hats for sale. I stopped first at one of my favorite vintage/antique sellers who has a very small booth but I always find some little treasures from her. She had a basket of millinery trims that I bought a couple things from and a vintage Bakelite brooch in a butterscotch color. From the button & lace lady, I bought a bag of bone buttons, and a roll of lace to use on my chemises, which I need to make more of. I had hopes of finding a Summer Civil War bonnet from Mela but there was none to be found. So I saved big money this year.
 Then we headed back to our room to change into our outfits for the Ice Cream Social. The decoration theme follows the previous year’s CoCo theme, which is Medieval. Most people wear whatever they like. Since I don’t do medieval, I decided to wear my Carmelite Nun which would fit in, and I could be comfortable and wear my tennis shoes w/ orthotics to give my feet a break. Cindy and Cat went vintage.
 I had a lot of fun wearing the nun and surprising my friends.

 These are some general photos I took around the room.

Day Three: Saturday, Aug 4.
Today was my Downton Abbey/Edwardian day and I wore my Pink Striped dress but only found one photo so far of me. Sadly you don’t think fast enough to hand your camera to others somedays. Cat was wearing her vintage dresses that day.
 Photo from Tonya

This was the only day I didn’t have anything preventing me from taking classes, and somehow I ended up missing one. My first class of the day was Thrifting: Is it Vintage or Modern? It was a fun class, but all on 50s, 60s, 70s, not 30s & 40s as I’d hoped. The teacher had a table and clothes rack filled with clothing and accessories and we all walked past them and then eyeballed an item that caught our eye. She asked each of us which was our favorite and why, and explained why certain styles and tags on them are clues to finding vintage. I picked a gorgeous red alligator purse that was early 50s but could also be late 40s. Now I want that purse! The class I missed, which was directly after it, and even in the same room for heaven’s sake, was Lauren Maringola’s, of Wearing History, Decoding Vintage Patterns. I’d even brought a vintage 1914 pattern hoping to learn how to understand it. I’m still not sure how I managed to miss it. I had a friend coming down for the day and she was volunteering to sit in the Costume Exhibit and then joining us later for dinner. After I found her, got her situated and brought her and I some lunch, I headed over to the Marketplace to do some more shopping. I finally caught up with Mela again to show her the hat I was wearing that I could have sworn was one of her’s. I’d bought it at a vintage show a few years ago and was told it was vintage but it always bugged me that it looked familiar. Mela confirmed that it was indeed one of her’s and she took photos of it for future copies. I picked up a couple new patterns, and then it was time to start dressing for the Red Carpet and Gala. We all planned to wear 30s, 40s, 50s for that. This was my first time doing 30s and I’m not really that familiar with it. I never got around to making something to wear so I wore a hot pink vintage 30s gown that I bought in an antique mall up in Port Townsend, WA, a couple years ago. I had a diamond brooch to wear on the center neckline but Cat put one of her own on instead, saying mine was a little older. I added white gardenias to my hair, and a silver mesh handbag. Cat also put one of her furs on me, so all three of us were wearing fur when we arrived on the Red Carpet. People and attendees not dressed, lined the hallways leading to the Gala to take photos of everyone arriving.
 Photo from June
I found I’m not really comfortable wearing 1930s and miss my bustle, big petticoats and corset. I think I look like my great aunt Esther (not necessarily a good thing) but good ole Jerry managed to get some decent ones of me.
 We headed off for dinner in the hotel, in lieu of eating at the Gala, and we were sadly disappointed in the food and the service, which is slower than a snail stuck in molasses. Apparently it wasn’t so great in the Gala either, so next year I think we’ll be going across the street to a restaurant in the Mall instead. That’s rather surprising for a Marriott too. Afterwards we went back to the Gala as everyone finished eating and started taking photos and enjoying watching all the pretty costumes. There were lots of pretty gentlemen too.
*My next blog entry will be for Day Four and Five*