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, May 19, 2013

Do I Like Natural Form?

May 5, 2013
Another dress done and another fashion show over. This year’s Gaslight Gathering Steampunk & Victoriana convention in San Diego held its Fashion Show & Tea on Sunday where we dressed as “Ladies of Sports & Leisure”. It was a lot of fun. All the ladies picked a sport or leisure activity from the Regency, Victorian, or Edwardian era and put together a dress or outfit, along with the necessary accessories to demonstrate it. There were 18 of us, some wearing two outfits, and over the months went back and forth and traded with our themes. We had tennis, fencing, archery, equestrian, dancing, and many others.  We had twenty-four outfits modeled. I worked with Cindy, our manager and narrator, on a printed program to give to the guests with each model’s name and description for them to follow. There was a little teacup charm attached to it with a ribbon too.
 I wanted another chance to wear my 1905 Pink Floral gown and serving tea as a leisure activity was obvious for me. I planned on carrying a teapot and walk around the tables “pouring tea” as I modeled my dress. And then later I came across the photo of a lady photographer in the 1870s that inspired me to make a gown for it too. About a month before the event I switched my theme of serving tea to sewing, because THIS is what I do, and women have always done. How could I have forgotten that?
I only had to make one new outfit, the 1878 gown for the photographer. This was the Natural Form period, which I’ve never worn. I really like bustles and poofy skirts but I wanted to try something new. And it had the tailored look that my lady photographer had.
 My patterns & fabrics were shared in an earlier post but to reprise them, they were Truly Victorian’s 428- bodiced jacket, 324 long draped overskirt, and 221 for the skirt. This narrower silhouette of the late 1870s to early 1880s was called the Natural Form. They were without bustles and skirts draped around & showed the more natural form of the woman.

The jacket and overskirt were blue plaid cotton homespun, and burnt orange twill for the skirt. Later I found an ecru cotton crocheted trim to go on the jacket and skirt to tie them together.

Sewing the jacket together was fairly easy after having a mockup fitted to me at one of Shelley Peter’s sewing workshops. Getting over that hurdle has always slowed me down. This was also my second attempt at a lapel collar. I’m not sure if it was done the “correct” way but it looks good. I basted the collar to the jacket, and then sewed the facings over it. However since I wasn’t lining it and instead was doing facings along the edges, I ended up with a gap between the collar facings inside the jacket.

So after a chat w/ Heather at Truly Victorian, I just added a bit more fabric to close off the two facing edges. And no one will see it.
The sleeves only caused me to baste them in twice getting the excess fabric spread around the armhole properly. With it all constructed, I got to start adding my trims. I included a pocket on one side since “pockets” were all the rage at this time as decorative items, but I also needed to have somewhere to put my little preprinted photos that I would hand out during the fashion show. I used the ecru crocheted trim around the collar, the sleeve cuffs, the pocket, the bottom of my overskirt, and the bottom of my skirt to tie them all together. I used small dome-shaped navy blue plastic buttons I bought in the Garment District for the front closure and put extras on the pocket and cuffs.
Here is where I started to see some problems. I didn’t like the way the overskirt was hanging over the skirt, and it was caving in at the bottom. I made a new large ruffled petticoat that should have held the skirt out. Both the skirt & overskirt have ties in the sides underneath them and they’re supposed to be pulled to the back to get the narrow look. But I wasn’t getting it. After seeing some photos of me wearing it in the fashion show, I also didn’t like the limp look of the overskirt. And it haunted me during the entire time I was wearing it.

Instead of feeling like a graceful swan, I felt like a lump. Later I learned that I probably had it tied too tightly in back, and was also reminded about using the narrow plastic crinoline around the hem to hold it out. *Thank you for that reminder, Cindy! I’ve already sewn it in, and into another skirt I had similar problems with.  I definitely can see a difference*. The crinoline is found in the upholstery/curtain section in JoAnn’s fabric stores. Since my skirt was already hemmed and I couldn’t take it out because I’d sewn my crochet trim on top of it already, I just did a whip stitch on both sides. Cindy says she puts it inside her hem. Don’t you love it when we all share our special tricks?
I’m happy about my hat though! I used one of the last straw hat forms I’d bought from Truly Victorian years ago with the tilted up back.  I hand stitched a band of black taffeta around the brim, and also put a gathered circle inside the middle so it wouldn’t catch on my hair so much. I just love the frizzies I get on the top of my wigs from hats. *sarcasm*  I bought a couple flowers at Michaels in creamy gold color and burnt orange, plus a couple brown feathered plumes. I used large headed straight pins to hold everything in place while I was playing with all the trims.  I pinned a length of antique lace around the crown and brought the ends to the front crossing them over. After I got them to where I wanted them, I basted the lace on, then each flower and feather. I like to reuse hats so if the trim is basted on, I can just remove them later. I used two hatpins, one on either side pointing front and back to hold it on my head.
So I wore this outfit in the fashion show and carried an antique camera that our photographer, Jerry, loaned me to carry and “take photos” with. I carried a bunch of 3x5 size “photos” I’d printed of antique photos and as my part of modeling my dress as a photographer I walked around taking people’s photos and then handed them one of the photos from my pocket. It was a lot of fun rather than just walking around and displaying myself.

For my other outfit, demonstrating sewing, I wore my 1905 Pink Floral gown and carried a little SewHandy Singer mini sewing machine. I didn’t sew anything on it, just walked around cranking the handle. On the screen behind me you can see the antique photo displaying my “leisure” activity of sewing. Ha Ha!
 The day before the fashion show I also attended Gaslight and went to a couple classes. Instead of dressing in Steampunk this year, I decided to go with Victoriana, and wore my 1872 black polka dot dress that I got a lot of compliments on.  And this dress now has the same plastic crinoline sewn onto the hem so it won’t have the caved-in look anymore. 

My thanks to Jerry Abuan, and Kelley V. for the photos I used of theirs. 
Here are a series of videos taken of the fashion show by Marci Bretts. I was so happy to be able to see us all "in action". Thank you Marci!


  1. You looked amazing as usual! And again, thanks so much for all the help you gave for the show. Couldn't do it without you. :)

  2. Outstanding Val. Love the blue plaid cotton jacket and overskirt fabric and of course the finished outfit. You've become quite the milliner. Have you done a blog post with all your fine hats, yet? Just curious.

    1. No Karen, but I still have four other blog posts I haven't completed yet due to no photos, or not finished yet. Most of my hats are purchased but some I do the trims on hat bases.

  3. Thank you so much for sharing your sewing process and then the finished photos! Your creativity inspires me, I simply must get on with some of my unfinished projects.

  4. Dear Val,

    What a show that must have been! Loved the big panorama of everyone who took part.

    Wow, that homespun sure turned into a neat fabric for a natural form dress. Really liked the effect, and glad you got the hem figured out, plus the too-much-pulling-the-overskirt-back. It takes some experimentation to figure these things out!

    Agree with Karen's Place: any time you want to show us hoe you choose your hat trims and decide how to place them, we'd love to learn. You make great hats.

    Very best,


  5. Kudos for tackling natural form, I can't bring myself to try it. It seems so...restricting. You did a great job of problem solving and I have to say, you look fantastic in it.

  6. Thanks for passing on the crinoline tip. So very clever on passing out the antique photos to those that posed for you.
    Rochelle, ATAA

  7. LOVE your outfit Val! You look positively stunning! Your gathering looks like it was tons of fun~

  8. That Edwardian ensemble is still my hands down favorite - always to feminine looking on you!


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