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, September 30, 2012

Little Girls Civil War Dresses

Started March /Finished Oct 2012
I first started making these Civil War dresses last March on my handcrank sewing machine at a reenactment. I was asked to make some for a sutler’s booth to sell them. I only got as far as sewing the skirts and growth tucks with all the questioning from the public I was getting. And I was enjoying that. But once home I had big girl clothes to make and they were set aside.
In September I made a trip up to Washington to visit my Mom for two weeks, and knowing I was going to have some down time I thought this would be great to finish them. So I brought the three with me I’d been working on. I was using Simplicity 4737 and was also going to try Elizabeth Stewart Clark’s pattern #250 (1850-65).  After questioning a few Civil War reenactor parents, I found their preference for sleeves are the pagoda style.

 I found a couple fabrics for $3 a yard at Walmart that I thought might work, and then started looking online for photos of extant dresses and photographs of little girls to see what fabric designs would work too. I wished I’d done that first because my first two fabrics aren’t bad but they remind me a little more of 1850 but it’s not impossible that they would have been used that long.

I loved some of the adorable photos of little girls I found, many on ebay. I didn’t even think of using plaids until after seeing some of them. And polka dots work too. I saved pictures of the fabrics of extant gowns too and most were tiny little floral prints, not unlike what we see in the stores today.

While I was visiting my Mom I checked at their Walmart and found these two blue fabrics on the clearance shelf. If they had more I probably would have bought some for me but they had barely enough for a little girl dress.
The first three fabrics were cut out of the Simplicity pattern, and the brown out of the ESC pattern. Having no children of my own, I have no clue what sizes are for what ages, so I’m dependant on what the pattern told me. I even stopped one lady in an antique mall with her daughter and asked her age so I could get an idea of what size she might wear. I tried very hard not to look like I was stalking them.  I did find this skirt length chart that I thought might be handy that shows the ages and the length it should be.           
 Of course I cut and sewed these on my “assembly line method”, and as I made them I found some shortcuts and a way to use less of the fashion fabric. Both bodices required you to cut out two and allowed enough fabric for that. After doing two of them, I thought that was wasteful and from there I started cutting the lining out of a plain less expensive muslin I had. Also the waistband requires cutting two, one for the outside, & one inside that you slipstitch on top of the outside one. It’s not much fabric but the time saved of not putting it on the inside was worth it. I was told the sleeves on this run short so I added 2 inches to the length plus it has the growth tucks that can be let out. The skirts also had two growth tucks on them.
The Elizabeth S. Clark pattern is made a little differently. The patterns aren't really sized and you sew it to fit your little girl. Without having any measurements to fit it to I had to make it the largest size it came with. Supposedly you gather the neckline in to fit the child and I didn’t realize that until after I’d already sewed the lining to it. So I just took a couple tucks in the neck. It has a very wide neckline and I’m hoping this is enough to keep it up on the child’s shoulders. I only cut out one dress from this pattern and had planned on doing long sleeves on all the dresses but I ended up not having enough for this pattern and made the short sleeve version instead. This pattern requires more fabric than the Simplicity one.  I’m really liking the Simplicity pattern more and more. After making one dress from each pattern, I've decided Simplicity is a better choice for me. 
After sewing the bodice front and back pieces together at the side seams and shoulders, I repeated it with the lining. Then I sewed the bodice and the lining right sides together, & flipped it right side out after trimming the neckline. I topstitched along the neckline very closely to the edge and it has the appearance of piping. The bodice was pinned to the waistband, matching notches, and I pleated the excess between them. I pleated the sleeves into the armholes rather than gathering them to have less bulk. Then I pinned the skirt to the lower part of the waistband, again pleating it to fit. On both the top and bottom of the waistband I topstitched them close to the seam lines. I machine-sewed buttonholes on the back and used some shell buttons I bought by the pound in a button store in Los Angeles Garment District, called Trim 2000 Plus, on Maple Ave.
The hardest part of making these I think are the growth pleats. I haven’t found a quick way to do that yet. They need to be measured, marked and pinned, then pressed & topstitched after the side seams on the skirt & sleeves are sewn because the tucks need to be able to be let down if needed, and if they’re in the side seams, that won’t work. It’s tedious and need to be measured to make them even. I’m working on that aspect.
 I can’t say how long it took me to make each one because a couple were started on my handcrank machine, and a couple started at a later date. But since I’ve made these, they will go faster now. I had trouble finding some fabrics that would work at my $3 and under price range when I first started looking but since I started these, I found a few more fabrics that will work. I even saw a cute little girl’s fancy dress that I think could be made using some leftover plaid silk taffeta I have.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

My re-creation of an 1851 Bloomer gown, PART 2

Started Jan 2011/ Completed April 2012
May 2011
In March I began sending out emails to different historical societies and museums, mainly on the East coast, asking if any of them had documents or extant Bloomer outfits. My focus was on the area of Seneca Falls, NY because this was where the Women’s Rights Movement started and where Amelia Bloomer was first documented wearing the Bloomers. I had many responses telling me they had the underwear type bloomers and sporting costumes but these were from a later period. I tried different historical societies that were suggested, but without much luck. In May I had a response from the Ohio State University pointing me to the Seneca Falls Historical Society, who had an extant gown in their museum. The Costume Collections Manager at SFHS sent me a woodcut photo of Amelia Bloomer, and I later purchased a copy they had of Ameila Bloomer’s newspaper, The Lily. She then forwarded my email to Courtland County Historical Society, and to Pamela Poulin, Professor Emerita, at John Hopkins University. Pamela had actually portrayed Amelia Bloomer and wrote an entire treatise on her. Pamela was very helpful with lots of information on Amelia and the dress reform movement but also said I needed to go to the original source of the Bloomer gown, Elizabeth Smith Miller. Miller was the first woman to start wearing a bloomer gown after seeing some women in the Oneida Community, a local religious sect, wearing men’s pants under shorter dresses while they worked.

Miller created her own version with the full pants known as Turkish trousers.

 It was at one of the Women’s Rights Conference that Amelia was introduced by Elizabeth Cady Stanton  to her cousin Elizabeth Smith Miller, who was wearing her bloomers. Amelia adopted the same dress after that, and it was the newspapers who reported Amelia wearing the pants, and named them Bloomers.
Pamela made suggestions of more museums to contact, and to go back to the ones in Iowa, where Amelia eventually lived out her life. I told her I was focusing more on the dress story than Amelia but that she would be a focus in my story.
Pamela also introduced me to Jody Luce, of Peterboro, NY, who portrays Elizabeth Smith Miller, and actually lives in Miller’s historical house. Jody and I began a lively conversation back and forth on the costumes, and she shared more information and photos of Miller with me. Jody helps run an annual fund raising tea each year in September for their historical society, and always wears her costumes for it.

The Courtland County Historical Society sent me copies of newspaper clippings of a beautiful all black bloomer costume they had on display that was covered in embroidered designs. It was thought to be only one of two gowns in the country.
At some point in my conversations between the different historical societies it was mentioned that one of Amelia’s Lily newspapers had information on making a bloomer gown but we haven’t been able to find it. The two museums claiming to have the ONLY Bloomer gown known to be in a collection were very excited to learn of other’s and of the one in the San Diego collection.
I was also emailing back and forth with Saundra Altman of Past Patterns sharing some information and encouraging her to finish the pattern in time so I could bring some to Costume College the following August. The best she was able to get me was a copy of the partially completed one but it had a cover photo so I was finally able to see what it looked like. When Saundra mentioned there was a family photo of the original gown being worn by its owner in a book, I contacted our SD History Museum, and found out they carried the book for sale in their giftshop. I raced on over there and bought the rather pricey book, but the treasure was worth it! There she was, Anna Stickney, on the right, wearing the original gown before it was altered to a Bloomer gown. I just about yelped in the store when I saw it, and the neat thing was even though the photo was black and white, I now knew it was an avocado green.

With much of this information in hand, I was able to finish my copy of the San Diego gown and I wore it to Costume College with my friends in August of 2011. My post on making it is this entry.  I shared some information on the pattern and got a list of names of people who were interested in purchasing it when it was completed. My accessories that I wore with it are similar to those shown in photos of other Bloomer ladies; the flat hat and a watch chain. I also wore a wig with two gold bows in the back. *Remember this when you see the final cover art on the pattern.* When I first wore the green one I added a gold sash similar to one that Amelia wore.
I wore my gown a few more times in fashion shows both in CA & WA, and the Suffrage Parade in Balboa Park, San Diego. By this time the gown was starting to show some stains, and the fabric doesn’t wash well. It’s also very hot to wear in our southern climate, so I began planning a second one, this time in cotton. I chose to make it in the style of Mary Stickney’s sister’s gown in the photograph, with a v-neck. My post about this dress is in this previous entry. 
I continued going back and forth with Saundra getting different dates she would have the pattern completed, and finally to set a date for April in 2012, when she promised them by March, so I could do a presentation on it for Costumer’s Guild West in Los Angeles. But Saundra only sent me three copies of the pattern but still incomplete in it’s directions. Saundra also told me I would be the only one they could purchase the pattern from at this time, and it wouldn’t be on her website.
I wore my new brown Bloomer outfit for my lecture and displayed the green copy on my dressform. My presentation on it went smoothly and I was very excited over the great response I had for it. I had a lot of fun when I was finally able to reveal the very unusual part of this gown: that the Bloomers on this particular gown are actually SPLIT DRAWERS. In all my conversations with other museums and historical societies, the ones they had were more like men’s pants that were pulled up and buttoned at the waist.      My entry on that lecture is here.  I sold those three copies of the pattern I had with the promise of sending the completed directions to them when they were done.
Now that I had my first presentation under my belt, I felt I was ready to do my class at Costume College in August. I really began pushing Saundra to finish the pattern, which she had decided to redesign the cover art and had more historical documentation to add to it. By the time I was finally able to purchase 18 copies to bring to my class, the price had gone up $10. I had hoped to buy more than that but it was too much money for me to put up front all at once. And I wanted to see how they would sell. Saundra had acknowledged me in her pattern instruction booklet, so I went through all the patterns and signed my name next to it.
I was a little disappointed in the change of the cover art because I thought the first one was so cute but Saundra wanted to show the original gown and that the pattern was also for the full length too. *Notice the hair style on the new addition to the artwork? Remember how I wore my hair when I wore my gown?*

 It turns out that the excitement I shared in my class at Costume College infected everyone there and they were lined up in the front of the room to purchase them. All but four of the extra large ones were sold. More on my class can be read in this entry.      Since being home I’ve had two of the remaining patterns put on hold so now I feel comfortable ordering a few more. I’m booked to present my class on September 22 for the San Diego Costume Guild, along with Jody Regan’s The Harvey Girls presentation. We decided to join together and do a Costume History Lecture and Lunch. And on January 28, 2013 I’ve been booked to do my presentation for the San Diego History Museum, and was told the Costume Society will be there. Eeek!
ETA: This was my presentation at SDHC
One of the fashion shows I was in wearing this in Old Town San Diego.

My re-creation of an 1851 Bloomer gown PART 1

Started Jan 2011
Shortly after Costume College in August 2010, a group of us started talking about what we were going to make for the following year to wear. One of our Guild members suggested Bloomer costumes, and four of us decided to go with that. So we collected a few photos of fashion prints for some ideas, and I even came across a color print of one in an antique shop in Las Vegas that I bought. It had originally come out of a fashion magazine but I was unable to tell which one. The illustration is by Nathaniel Currier in 1851.                                                   

And this was Amelia Bloomer.             

At the time I really liked the colors on these two fashion prints with the dark pink or maroon, and the more I looked at them, I realized I could use pretty much any historical bodice and skirt pattern I had and just shorten the skirt.

 Shortly after that I “inherited” a large stash of Civil War costume patterns from a friend, Mary Swanson, who was downsizing her collection. In it I found a Past Patterns issue for an 1851 Bloomer costume. It had been produced for the San Diego Historical Society, based on an extant gown in their collection that was a gift of the Mary Marston Estate in 1987. Most of us in San Diego are very familiar with the Marston House in Balboa Park, and I’ve even attended fund raising teas in costume there.
I was really excited about finding this but the original envelope was missing, and there was only a line drawing of the bodice in the pattern directions. So I couldn’t really tell what it looked like. 

I contacted a friend who is a docent at the Marston House, Gabe Selek, who hooked me up with Tammie Bennett at the SDHC Costume Collection Department. She told me the pattern had been made off the costume in their collection by Past Patterns in 1997 and they no longer had a pattern. She said the pattern probably had been sold in an “attic sale”.  She said the gown was very fragile but had been conserved.  The only photo she was able to find was one taken while the costume was on tour at the MET. It wasn’t a very good photo as it was taken during the set-up there.  The costume had been researched by Amy Simon, former SDHC Curator of Costumes & Textiles, and she had also supervised the pattern project.

 I was thrilled that now I knew what color the extant gown was and I decided I wanted to copy it. I also decided at that moment that I wanted to propose a class on Amelia Bloomer and her Shocking Bloomers at the 2011 Costume College.  I hoped to have the outfit done in time for it, and my three friends hoped to have theirs done also. Since Amelia was a strong believer in women’s rights and temperance, and last year some of the College attendees had started a suffragist costume theme, I thought this would fit right in since they planned to continue it this year.
I searched on the internet for the pattern but found nothing. Nothing! It’s like it didn’t even exist. But the pattern had the PP copyright stamp on it. So I contacted Saundra Altman, owner of Past Patterns, and told her what I had. She said the pattern had been made especially for the SDHS and was never issued to the public. In fact she hadn’t even written the directions for the Bloomer pants. I told her what I was attempting to do, and she got excited about pulling out the pattern and finishing it to put on the market. We’re hoping it’s in time for my class. She thinks she has photos she took of the extant gown and is still looking for all the documentation. But she said she’d send the pdf instructions for the Bloomers so I could finish it. I told her I’d also like to have the patterns for sale in my class, either by bringing them from her, or maybe she could come herself. No decision has been made on that at this point.
My friend who gave me the pattern had already cut her size out from the center of all the pattern pieces, so I painstakingly taped them all back together again, which took an hour. Then I traced a copy off of it in my size, which took another hour. I had all the pattern pieces: the jacket, the short skirt, and the pants.
I asked Tammie at SDHS more questions about the costume, and was told it was green silk taffeta, and most of the parts that didn’t show were made of linen and polished cotton. This even included a short portion of the sleeve under the sleeve jockeys, and the entire portion of the Bloomers that were under the skirt. They said the outfit had been dated by Edward Maeder, former Curator of Costumes & Textiles at LACMA. He believed the gown was made from the dates 1848-1850, and converted to the Bloomers about 1850-1851. He had determined that the outfit originally had been a full length gown and had been cut down, and the portion of the skirt cut off was used to make the Bloomers. Tammie mentioned a quote from an article in the California History magazine, 1982, “Bloomerism Comes to California”, that in a letter it said the aunt of Anna Marston was seen wearing them when she arrived in California in 1851.
I lucked out in that I already had 7 yards of a avocado green silk taffeta very similar to the extant gown, and started cutting out the pattern in a muslin to fit me. The directions are fairly simple but detailed, and so far I haven’t had any problems understanding it;  until I got to the sleeves. It had so many pieces and some seemed repetitious of each other, until I realized half of the sleeve on the top was separate because that portion was cut from a different fabric, like polished cotton, and not the fashion fabric. It has a sleeve jockey that covers that portion and you wouldn’t see under it. Ingenious! It saves a piece of silk. Similarly the top part of the Bloomer pants is made also with polished cotton, and the bottom of the silk taffeta, since the top would be covered by the overskirt. It was the same as other period sewing techniques of just doing ruffles on a skirt in the fashion fabric, and the skirt base was a cotton. I decided since I had plenty of my silk taffeta there was no need to be conservative, so I cut the sleeve as one piece without doing a cotton cap. This will probably be the only change I’ll be doing from the original.
When I started sewing the bodice together I noticed the back was all one piece. There weren’t any side back seams, or darts. And when I put it on it hung straight down my back and was kind of sticking out at the bottom. Right off this felt wrong since all the other patterns I’ve used of this period do have some kind of seam in the back to fit it closer to me. So now I’m waiting to see if either Saundra has better photos showing the back, or if Tammie is able to get me an appointment to come and see the extant gown. Things move slowly.
On March 2, I had an appointment with Tammie to view the Bloomer outfit, and hopefully take photos of it. I’m so excited I’m already dressed and ready to go two hours before my appointment.  The offices of the San Diego Historical Center are in Balboa Park, downstairs of the Model Railroad Museum and Museum of Photographic Arts.
My visit to the Costume Collection was both exciting and surprising. The archival room is full of tall shelves containing many many boxes of preserved clothing and accessories. There were photos on the front of each box showing what was in them, and there are some beautiful ones. It’s a shame no one can see them.
Tammie had the Bloomer gown spread out on the table with tissue paper. There were rolls of tissue and archival paper between folds of fabric and supporting the body of the gown. There was no visible tears in the fabric but she said it was weak.
 I was first surprised by the color. The photo that I’d been sent showed it to be a grasshopper green. In actuality it’s a dark avocado or hunter green color. But when photographed, it shows lighter. The gown is silk taffeta with a linen lining, and glazed cotton was used for the top part of the Bloomers. Without touching the glazed cotton, it looked like crinkled leather.
I was really interested in seeing the darts and any boning used, and if there were any seams or darts on the back of the bodice, since the pattern didn’t show any. Without them, it didn’t fit my back very well. Other than what appeared to be a pull in the fabric, there are no seams in the back. The two front darts had boning, and one side of the front closure had a bone that only went to under the bust line. There weren’t any on the side seams.
It’s a very narrow back, and overall it looks like the wearer was under 5 ft 4” tall. So she was a slender small woman. There was a lot of piecing on the sleeve arms and even in the front bodice next to the darts.
The trimming on the gown was a graduating narrow pleat from the neckline down the front closure where it narrowed out. There were also pleats on the sleeve jockey and the cuffs. There was piping on the sleeve cap and shoulder seam. It closed in front with hooks and eyes.
Tammie said they have no documentation that the outfit was ever worn. It was originally a full length gown, and the skirt was cut off short to 26”, and that portion was used to make the bottom half of the Bloomers. The top half was made of glazed cotton. As Tammie was showing me the Bloomers I noticed the front opening of the pants with buttons but when she opened them I had the surprise of my eyes. These were split drawers! It was two separate legs and they were attached to a waistband. I had expected something like men’s pants and closed at the crotch. I started wondering if this was the norm because all the photos and fashion prints I’ve seen never show the pants themselves. They were always covered by a skirt. If this is what they were, I can imagine how shocking these were because these ladies were wearing their underpinnings exposed.
I’ve been searching online for any other extant Bloomer costumes in collections but so far haven’t come across any. This leads me to believe that SDHC may have the only one in a collection.
Over the last month I started construction of the bodice. I flatlined it with 100% cotton.  It’s fairly easy to construct,  and while doing it, I learned how to do piping along the seam lines of the armhole, neckline,  & bottom of the bodice.  The self trim is a narrow ruching down the front closure on both sides, which narrows in at the bottom, around the sleeve jockey and the sleeve cuff. It was made by turning a 1/4 inch under on both sides of the strip of fabric, then a gathering stitch on the sides. It was gathered and in photos, it looks like pleating.
At this time I only have the pattern directions for the bodice, and as I completed it, I realized it also didn’t include the skirt directions, which is attached to the bodice. The skirt has a pocket on one side, and a watch pocket on the other. The pattern pieces show where these go but not really how they were done. The pocket was made with cotton but had two strips of the silk taffeta to face it with. I ended up just using my own knowledge and figured out ways to sew them in; aka, “fudging it”.  I sewed the 7 skirt panels together,  and now I get to start the cartridge pleating on it.
For the last two weeks I sent out emails to different historical societies and museum collections trying to find extant Bloomer gowns. I finally started getting some responses from the area around Seneca Falls, NY, which is where the women’s movement and dress reform was focused. Those contacts have been referring me to other places when they can, and am still waiting for responses to those. One contact, a Professor Emerita of John Hopkins University, Pamela Poulin, Ph. D., has studied Amelia Bloomer extensively, and even portrayed her in costume. Those costumes were loaned to her, and she doesn’t have any photos of her in them. But she highly recommended I should go to the museum there, and I could even stay with her while I was visiting. She also told me to purchase copies of The Lily that Amelia published that had descriptions of the Bloomer gowns, and how to make them. I sent an email off to the Seneca Falls history museum immediately.
                                              Go to Part 2