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.


Thursday, February 28, 2013

Part 4 of the Nadia interviews & An Update

Part 4 of the interview of me on the Goose Mother blog just went up. Not sure how much longer this will be, but she keeps coming up with more questions. Goose Mother Blog

I've just started a new project making my 1878 gown for a fashion show in May. Our theme is women's leisure arts and sports & I'll be portraying a lady photographer. I found this photo to use as my inspiration and will have an antique camera to carry around and "take photos" with as I walk around the tables.

I already had in my mind a blue and white checked fabric I wanted to use for the bodice and overskirt, using Truly Victorian's #428-1880 Jacket Bodice and #324-1878 Long Draped Overskirt. 

I lucked out in my search at my second stop at JoAnn's Fabrics and found a cotton homespun fabric that fit the bill. And I got it for 40% off with my coupon. Then I needed something for the skirt. Solid blue or cream just wasn't doing it for me but my friend Cindy suggested a copper or burnt orange color. On an impromtu trip up to the Garment District on a holiday I found the perfect weight and color fabric for it at Home Fabrics for $2.49 yd. 
Also while shopping elsewhere at L.A. Alex, I bought some suitweight stripped poly fabric to make a couple 'teens dresses. One, a navy blue stripped, was $2.49 yd, and the other, a brown stripped, that was a little heavier and felt more like wool was $1.49 yd. I accidently had them cut another $2.49 piece from the rolls on the wall that I thought was brown but when I turned around to look at it after it was cut, it was an olive green. Oops.  So I'm going to try and resell that 5 yd piece to someone who might also like to make one of these dresses out of it. 
I went to a sewing workshop put on by Shelley Peters last weekend so I could get my mockup fitted on me. It took most of the day, and I made some stupid mistakes, like cutting the same size pattern out after I was supposed to cut a larger one but by the time I left, I had a mockup that fitted and I've been watching all the reruns of Dr Who and getting the fabric pieces flatlined and sewn together.
BTW, did you know the Face of Boaz was actually Capt Jack Harkness? :O Wow, did that blow me away!   

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

I Love Learning Something New

February 13, 2013
One of my favorite sayings is I learn something new every day. It might not be much but it all accumulates.
This morning while looking through some interesting blogs I came across The Merry Dressmaker and saw a link to one of her entries on the right for “scaling patterns for lazy dressmakers”. :D 
But this information she posted turned out to be a hidden gem for me. I learned how to find and use edit my photos on Paint that was already in my computer.
Basically you pick a photo in your computer, right click on it, scroll down to Open With, then go to Paint.
So far I’ve only played with Erase, the little rectangle shaped thingie on the left column. You can scroll over each to see what they do.
I started with a very dark photo with a black background, and erased everything surrounding me. It’s a little tedious and a bit rough for my first one, but wow, a new play toy! Hmm… so this is how they make all those skinny women.

Monday, February 11, 2013

More about me? Goose Mother Blog interview

Another episode of "all about me" interview by Nadia in the Goose Mother blog. A Closet Full of Costumes

For someone that complains each day she can't remember something from last week, I'm sure doing well remembering all these minute details from my costuming life. But it sure is fun going back through all my old photos and finding ones with friends who knew me when I first started.

Since Nadia is doing this in 6 minute increments, you will be entertained by these a few more times.
Hey, any of you other great costumers out there: go introduce yourself in a comment on Nadia's blog. She'd like to meet some of my friends and readers. 

Thursday, February 7, 2013

One Hundred Years of Mourning Fashion

February 2-3, 2013
A year ago in 2012 just after the last Riverside (CA) Dickens Festival fashion show, I kept thinking about doing more on mourning dress styles and suggested to our coordinator about doing them the following year. After seeing a presentation at Costume College on Dressing the Silhouette which showed ladies dress from the inside out from 1800-1910, I came up with the idea of doing something similar but expanding on it. I thought a solid black silhouette would make the changing fashions really stand out. And we could include some education on mourning customs.
This is our mourning fashion timeline at Dickens last weekend, starting on the right-  1810-Lisa Klassen-Barnes, 1820- Cat Frazier(absent), 1830- Gina Lovin, 1840- Michele Peoples (worn by Pamela Swank-Yates),  1850- Mary Drobnis (dress by me), 1860- Shelley Peters, 1870- Kathy Loftman (dress by Arlene), 1880- Me, 1890-Tonya Clevenger (absent), 1901- Arlene Terrell, 1910- Cindy Piselli.
I had already been talking to Shelley Peters for the last couple years about us doing a couple more gowns, since she portrays the Widow Peters already. I contacted a couple other ladies who had been in the previous shows and a few others, and asked if any of them would be interested in committing to making a correct mourning gown for a specific time period. I chose the dates of 1810-1910 to give each model a decade to cover. I didn’t have much problem filling most of the spots but gave them all the opportunity to change their dates among themselves, which we did a couple times. They each had to do some research of what was appropriate for the time period, both in the dress style and the mourning customs. Most of the customs were similar with a few variances, like when white was still worn with black in the earlier decades. It would also encompass first and second year mourning if they chose to, and different levels of economy and society. They had a year to play around with their design and construct it. One of them had hers made for her by one of the other models; one wore my 1850s mourning gown, and one gown was worn by another model we brought in at the last minute. We lost a couple ladies to jobs, illness and injuries.
Since my favorite decade is the bustle, I chose 1880, specifically 1886, as my decade.
I already had the skirt made so my focus was on the bodice, bustle overskirt, and hat. I also had a muslin for TV’s 463 French Vest bodice, and used black velvet as the vest insert.  I used my black faux-silk taffeta and purchased a big bag of black velvet covered buttons to close the front of the bodice from Trim 2000Plus in the Garment District.. My first idea for the bodice was to make some pleated trim to go along the edges of the vest but after seeing some saw-tooth trim a friend made, I decided to try my hand at making that. And I failed. Then I remembered I’d purchased some black grosgrain saw-tooth trim from the Garment District in my stash. I had 10 yards so I could use as much as I liked. I basted it down the sides between the velvet insert and the taffeta side panels so it would stay in position when I machine-sewed it.
 I repeated the saw-tooth trim with two rows on the sleeves with one row under the sleeve edge, and another about 4 inches up from the edge. I finished the top of both with a one inch wide velvet ribbon that I slipstitched on. I used four of the velvet covered buttons and sewed those evenly between the two bands. Once I put the collar on, I hand-stitched some more velvet ribbon around it.

The pattern for the overskirt, TV 374 is an asymmetrical and splits open on the side front. It has three different types of pleats on it with pleats on one side that drape across the front to the other side, and a group of pleats above it on that side seam. This photo shows the front pleats to the side but got a little wrinkled being carried to the fashion show.

Then a group of burnoose pleats in the back create the bustle. Burnoose pleats are like a hood on a coat that creates a poof. I think. I tried doing them three times before I got them to poof. I still don’t think they’re right but they seem to work. Although I noticed in one photo one of them had turned the wrong way and just looked like a point. But they really are cute little poofs. This photo shows them gathered together, and where the white pin heads are were attached to the waistband after they’re turned inside out to poof.
 On the side opening of the front, I sewed more of the saw-tooth trim all the way down both sides and partly under the bottoms until they didn’t show. The fabric curves under there so you wouldn’t see it anyhow.

 My accessories were a postman-style hat my friend Cat Frazier made for me from scratch, using buckram covered with taffeta and trimmed with a black feather, ribbon, and a black glass round brooch I’d found for 25 cents. She also made me a taffeta and velvet drawstring bag to go with it. I stitched a black ribbon to the edges of a white linen hankie, and wore black cotton gloves. My mourning brooch was an antique jet oval I bought on ebay from Norway; in fact from the town my grandmother came from. It has a small window in the back to hold a lock of hair.  I bought the reproduction earrings from a shop at the San Francisco Dickens Faire last December.

 Here are some candid photos of me while walking in the Characters Parade after the show on the streets.


Prior to our coming onto the stage, our coordinator, Nancy Smith, invited me out to introduce me. This sent a few tingles down my back hearing it. Good ones.
For photos I took backstage of the fashion show while we were getting ready, please go to my album here.

My thanks to all the ladies for their hard work and to photographers Brendan Conoboy, Russ Loftman, and Jerry Abuan for these lovely photos. For more photos, please visit Jerry’s gallery .

We found this link to the Riverside News online, and I'm in the first photo on the left while we were out on the streets.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Miss Havisham for Dickens Fest Fashion Show

Feb 2/3, 2013
This year’s fashion show at the Riverside (CA) Dickens Festival had two themes, Victorian Literary Characters by Nancy Smith, and One Hundred Years of Mourning Fashion by “yours truly”.
For the first half we were to choose or given a female character to dress as from great literature.  I have ALWAYS wanted to dress as Miss Havisham from Great Expectations for the Dickens Festival. After I made a dress for our Holiday Costume Walkabout at the Del Mar Antique Show in 2011 as the Ghost of Xmas Past, I kept thinking I could repurpose it as her. 
           This was my Ghost.
 So when Nancy asked me if I could do one of the women for her fashion show, I knew this was my chance. My dress is an antique white faux-silk taffeta made in the Regency-style using LaMode Bagatelle’s pattern with a drawstring neckline. I used a woodcut picture from an early edition of Great Expectations as my inspiration gown for Miss Havisham.

 For my wedding dress I added two rows of different lace to the neckline and wrists. I added wrist bands of white ribbon that closed with a white bow.  My bonnet was a Mela Hoyt-Heydon hat that originally had cream trims. I removed those and put white binding on the edge and a white floral brocade ribbon around the crown, with a vintage bunch of flowers. Attached to the back was a white tulle veil.   I liked the look that Gillian Anderson did for her version of Miss Havisham so I used her as my hair inspiration. I used a curly blonde wig that I made a cluster of curls in the back, and sprayed it with Bumble & Bumble white hairspray to age it.  I wasn’t able to do a pale colored makeup because I had to immediately change into a black gown and it kept coming off on it.                 

I carried a small nosegay of vintage millinery flowers and one of my Aunt Irene’s white hankies.

 In this photo, my friend Cindy was the Countess Olenska from The Age of Innocence, and my friend, Mary, was wearing my 1850s black gown for our mourning portion.    

My thanks to photographers Brendan Conoboy and Jerry Abuan for these lovely photos. For more photos, please visit Jerry’s gallery .

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

My Presentation at the San Diego History Center

January 28, 2013

 This was a long road from Jan of 2011 when I first came across an incomplete pattern for an 1850s Bloomer gown that was copied from the original gown in the San Diego History Center’s costume collection.  It was like discovering a treasure chest and everywhere I turned, I was finding jewels.
After spending many hours on the internet and on emails contacting museums and historical societies for information on Bloomer gowns, on Amelia Bloomer, and its originator, Elizabeth Smith Miller, I was discovering a whole new world I didn’t know about. And I barely scratched the surface of women’s suffrage. These are the women I came to know:   Amelia Bloomer                                                            
Elizabeth Smith Miller    
Susan B. Anthony, Amelia Bloomer, & Elizabeth Cady Staunton at Seneca
Falls, NY.
Three different historical societies sent me copies of newspaper articles, woodcut photos, and copies of documents they had on Bloomers. And each one would “introduce” me to someone else who might help in my search for another Bloomer gown in existence. As far as they knew, they had one of only two in collections that they knew of. They were all excited when I told them about the one in San Diego.
I was honored to meet via email a professor from John Hopkins University, Pamela Poulin, who wrote a thesis on Amelia and shared much of her information with me. She even extended an invitation for me to stay with her if I’m ever in upstate New York and she would give me a tour of the museums I’d been contacting and introduce me around. Very nice for someone you’ve never met!
Then she introduced me to a lady, Jody Luce, who portrays Elizabeth Smith Miller, who originated the bloomer pants and met Amelia Bloomer. She even lives in Miller’s historic home in Peterboro, NY. Jody is known as the Tailor of Peterboro too. We started sending information and photos back and forth and finding new tidbits for each other. And even funnier, at presentations we both did wearing our latest version of a Bloomer gown, we both had ended up wearing a walking boot on our leg from an injury.

I have to say I’ve felt very good with everyone helping me in my search, and I was even more happy when the San Diego History Center asked me to share what I learned with them in a presentation at the museum. It felt right that I should continue paying it forward and helping them share “how our past, present, and future are interrelated”.
Last October a date was set for me to present my “Amelia and Her Shocking Bloomers, and the Lost Pattern”, at the museum for Jan 28, 2013. During those few months I was still getting some photos and information sent to me that I managed to update my slideshow with for their presentation. As the date got closer, I was getting nervous. This was a big thing for me; something I would never had thought I’d be doing.  The week before, I read my papers over and over to get familiar with them again. I rearranged my slideshow a few time, and a couple nights it even kept me awake with what a friend calls my “monkey-brain”. You know, its chattering around in your head and won’t stop? My husband said a professional would be able to do this presentation without having to read it from a paper. Well, I’m not a professional. I’m just a costumer who enjoys making historical-looking costumes for me and I’m not even a great seamstress. So I have to read from my papers. Its six pages long with a lot of information and I don’t want to miss anything.  
Then I did some quick corrections on the closure of my Bloomer gown just knowing some “professionals” might be eyeballing it. Yikes!! It wasn’t perfect and I don’t claim it to be. But the pressure was on, especially when they told me the Costume Council had requested they change the time of my presentation from the normal evening hours to daytime so they could drive down from Los Angeles for it. Sadly this prevented many of my friends from attending since it was a weekday and during working hours. But my friends didn’t let me down. Some members from our San Diego Costume Guild were able to attend, and some from Costumer’s Guild West in Los Angeles drove down here for it. Thanks guys! I really appreciated that! But sadly again, the Costume Council didn’t make it down. So I’ve left the door open for the future if that ever works out for them. 
On the day of my presentation, I arrived two hours early so we could set up and have me get familiar with the digital projector, and make sure the room was set up as I wanted it. It was in a medium sized room with round tables set up, a podium with microphone and screen on the back wall. There was a long table for me to put out my photos and things I’d collected. I included an enlarged photo of Mary Thurston Stickney, the owner of the original gown, along with 8x10 photos of the gown I’d taken. I also put my copy of the Bloomer gown on display, and wore my newest version.  The museum advertised this as a Fashion Talk & Tea, and they weren’t kidding. They did a very nice spread of afternoon tea sandwiches, scones, and fruit, along with some tea, and set the tables with china plates and cups. That rang the right bells with me since I love afternoon tea.

 We originally had me set to stand behind the podium but the slideshow would be showing on the wall behind me, and as each photo is shown, I have a tendency to give more details on it than what I have on paper. So I need to look at them as its going. I ended up pulling up a chair facing it. Of course we had some minor technical problems with not knowing how to operate some of the equipment but it was minor and the show went on. I enjoyed the questions I got and the laughter I provided sometimes. Later the ladies attending said they were fascinated by this little know article of clothing and didn’t know the history behind a very important time that had a major effect on the way women would dress. We all have our predecessors much to be thankful for. Remember that next time you pull on your jeans.
 The next day I received this very nice thank you from the History Center:
San Diego History Center commented on your photo.
San Diego History Center wrote: "Val, On behalf of all of us here at San Diego History Center, thank you for providing an engaging, enlightening, and informative talk about our 1851 Bloomer ensemble in our Costume & Textile Collection and the efforts you took to recreate this pivotal garment in the Women's Dress Reform Movement! Your presentation went a long way in helping us to achieve our mission here at the History Center, which is to help people of all ages learn about, and enjoy, the history of San Diego, and to appreciate how our past, present, and future are interrelated. We look forward to working with you and the San Diego Costume Guild on future programs and projects in the future. :-)

So how am I going to top this?