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.


Saturday, June 22, 2013


June 19, 2013
I’ve been dreaming of making these dresses.

A few years ago I made one by copying a black and white afternoon gown that Emma Thompson wore in Howard’s End. But all I had was a Victorian corset that gives you an hourglass shape for full skirts and bustles instead of the smooth straight line that these gowns had.

And then there was my 1914 pink striped one that I just love and want to make another style from this pattern. I even have the fabric waiting for it to be made.
 The problem with wearing the Victorian corset with these is most of the squishy parts of you are pushed down by the corset and this would be covered by the full skirt or bustle of the earlier eras. But with the straight lines of these dresses, all it does is cause a little bulge at the bottom of the corset which can show through your skirt. For this era, a long line under-bust corset was created.

Even though these look like they would hobble you around the hips, the boning only goes down to where your leg ends at your hip. The bottom portion of the corset is just the fabric it’s made from and it bends when you sit down. But it does give you a smooth line.
I also saw this beautiful one that someone made doing strip-quilting method of creating her own fabric, and it was part of my inspiration to make one. You can see how its bending at her leg line. 
For those of us dependent on patterns, there aren’t any on the market yet unless you are teeny tiny and can fit the reproduction of ones that are only the original size it was found in. If you know how to scale up a pattern, there are ones out there you can use. But that’s way out of my intelligence quota.
Fortunately I have a friend, Cat, who had scaled one up from Corsets & Crinolines by Norah Waugh and was willing to scale it up for me. It’s labeled as 1911 on page 86 of the book. I made a muslin copy of it and with a few alterations it looked like it would fit me.
I already had white coutil for the base fabric but wanted something colorful on the outside. But when I saw a pink striped cotton twill fabric for $2 a yard in the Garment District, I knew that was it. It unravels a bit but it’s not bad.
I started sewing on this a few months ago and got all the side seams sewn and was able to purchase all the correct length of bones for it. Then other costume events came up and I had to set it aside. Last weekend I decided to take it to a sewing workshop and after spending one day having an 1830s bodice pattern fitted to me, I spent the other day working on my corset.
This was also my first chance to use my latest Singer Featherweight sewing on it. It took a few times adjusting the upper tension so it didn’t clump up on the bottom but otherwise sewed very nicely. It took me most of the day sewing all the boning in, setting in the busk and finally being able to set in the grommets with a heavy duty grommet setter. This particular corset has a LOT of grommets.
After looking at a couple extant corsets that I liked the lace trim on the top, I wanted to put some on mine and dug a couple possible ones out of my stash.
This white one from the MET has a pretty satin ruffle sewn on the top as the binding with some dainty lace under it. I totally forgot about doing my binding as a ruffle and just used a purchased satin binding for it. This pink one was very pretty too.

I pinned on my white cotton lace and basted it on. Then machine-sewed the binding on the front, and hand stitched it down on the inside.
The lace had little eyelet holes and made perfect openings for the laces to go through the grommet. The lace did block part of the busk closures in front but I trimmed off the bits of lace and used Fray Check on it. I want to add some pink bows along the top but still need to shop for some ribbon for it.
I finally finished all the hand work a couple days ago, and started lacing it onto my dress form. And then stopped to think where it would be tied off. Common sense told me at the waist like my Victorian corset but since this is more of a straight line, it made me pause. So I went looking on Pinterest and did a search for 1911 corsets. *Did you know there’s a search box in the upper left of the page? It’s becoming quite handy.* I found this one from the McCord Museum and even though it’s not quite an under bust (they went back up again) the rest of the body is the same. So at the waist it stays!
 And here it is on my dress form. Ack! I just realized I forgot to put the stay tapes inside my corset that would keep it tighter around me. I wonder if it’s too late for that now?

Now I’ve mentioned this is an under bust corset, meaning it goes under the girls. So this begs the question: What to wear under it?   I know a chemise is still worn under it as seen with mine but haven’t figured out how some ladies got any support. I’ve been told you pull your chemise very tightly over you so we’ll see how that works. Considering how sheer the chemises are, I’m wondering if they had something else under it for modesty. There’s always the corset cover or long Princess petticoat so that might work.
I questioned a couple friends who wore them today, and this was the advice I was given:
“In the day, they used the chemise to keep everything in order. I use a soft bra that I took the underwires out of, and a chemise...the bra lets them hang a bit lower. I have a lace bra that I took the wires out of, so they hang more natural... just a cheap lace bra, the kind with the super soft cups. Take the wires out. I got it at Kmart or Target or some such for cheap. Or you could sew your own. Less emphasis on the UP swing, more of a keep them tethered kind of garment.

Another suggestion was -a tight chemise/camisole with a bust improver. (If you want to make that)

Just for reference, I purchased this Barely There brand from Kohls and with my coupons, cost me just under $12.
I again dug around on Pinterest and found a bunch of ads showing these being worn, but other than the black & white photo I posted above where the ladies look like they’re wearing some kind of bandeau under their chemise, these drawings only show a lacy chemise. 

I also noticed some mentions of the 1911 corset sewing challenge called Bridges on the Body, and I know there are a few other blog posts by people who did the challenge. I’m posting the link here and you can do some of your own research. If you read something you’d like to share, or have your own experience with them, please make a comment.

This link has a list of tags that can direct you to the post for specific steps in sewing them.
And now I need to make the Princess petticoat to go with it.

I decided to add this corset timeline at a later date to have a record of it and a reminder of when the shapes changed. 

Monday, June 3, 2013

Grand Opening of Warner Carrillo Rancho Museum

June 1, 2013
Members of our costume guild attended the SOHO (Save Our Heritage Organization) grand opening of the Warner Carrillo Rancho museum in Warner Springs, CA on this day. 

Through our contacts in Old Town San Diego, we were invited to attend the opening fund raiser there. We had a costume range of 1857-1920 so we had some room to move. Because of the predicted temperatures of high 90s many of us chose to wear something in cotton. Good decision. We heard various temperature ranges of 97-103d while we were there.
The adobe house was built in 1857 and was a huge cattle ranch and stagecoach stopover. You can see it on the right in my photo with the red roof. The old barn is on the left behind the people there. This barn survived the Great Easter Earthquake of 2010 (a 7.0) where it really knocked our socks off. The support structure built under it kept it from falling down even though the earthquake caused it to shift off its foundation.  This article by the Ramona Centennial gives a very succinct story of the rancho.
The area is high desert and as you can see, very dusty. The day we were there, the wind was blowing like a son of a gun along with all the dirt. I think the wind was the only thing that kept us all from dying from the heat. Except me, I felt faint quite a few times. But I don’t handle heat very well.
About nine of us showed up, and on arrival we moved some tables out of the direct sun under a tree and had our picnic. Then the wind started picking up. Quite a few times we had to lower our parasols and fans to protect ourselves from the dust. Alana Coons from SOHO came over to talk to us and commented that her lovely tan wasn’t really a tan but she was actually covered in dust.  I wore my 1873 gown of white w/ black polka dots, and changed out the red ribbons to all black. I really like this color better than the red. The red cherries on my hat added a spot of color to it.
The Grand Opening Ceremonies began with soldiers marching and a band playing. Then we stood out in the sun and listened to all the speeches.  At this point I started feeling the heat and had to go sit in the shade on the porch of the adobe house. But we were pleased that our costumed group was acknowledged in one of the welcoming speeches.
These were the ladies attending it with me, and if you notice the young lady in blue on the far right discovered us and has decided to join our guild and be part of the fun.
You’ll notice *I’m not in that photo*. That’s because I’d just discovered the tintype photographer was set up at the other end and I was going to get my photo taken at the carriage there.  Nick is the same photographer from Old Town San Diego that had taken the lovely one of me in my Bloomers during Twainfest last year. So I was excited at the possibility of another one. And these were a larger one with a donation going to SOHO.
It took two times for a decent one to come out because of the wind blowing my dress around. I felt like Mary Poppins about to take off with my parasol. Nick had to deal with the liquids drying out too. Sadly one of his large cameras on a tripod was blown over and damaged.  Nick has also decided he wants to join our guild to further his hobby of old timey photography.
If you notice, my dress looks white. It actually has black polka dots on it that you can’t see. So that’s fun to know when looking at old black and white tintypes. Here it is in color.
My friends Gina and Trudy also had theirs taken, and I took one of them with our cameras too. Now you can see the color of the carriage. 
I didn’t spend too much time walking inside the museum as it got crowded but this little beauty caught my eye in one of the rooms. I’m seeing more and more of these very old sewing machines and they’re so darn cute.
After about three hours, some of us headed over to the Julian Mining Company in Wynola to see what was happening with the Julian Gold Rush Days there. Not too much but we visited with some of our friends, and even the animals had their photo taken with us.
I ran into my friends Shelley Peters, who was packing up, and Paige, who was part of the Civil War encampment there.  
Then we headed into Julian and met up with the other ladies at Mom’s Apple Pies for some nice homemade pie and ice cream on top. After all the heat, it was a welcome treat.
We walked around town, did a little shopping, and many people stopped us asking why we were dressed like we were. And of course they had to take our photos.

We ended up in a shady yard at the Julian Grill to finally cool off. I think this was the prettiest spot to sit in.
These are my favorite pictures of the day with Cindy. And Randy finally got some shade.
Later that evening when I got home I put my dress into the bathtub with cold water and soap and let it soak overnight. The water was pretty dingy when I took it out to rinse it. I let most of the water drain out of the dress in the tub, then rolled it up in towels to get the excess water out, and hung it on a rod to dry for a day.  And I had a layer of dirt on me also. My shoelaces were so dirty in my boots that I pulled them out and tossed them in the wash. My white socks are no longer white. But we got a real authentic feel of what life was like in the old stagecoach days, I’ll give you that.
*My appreciation goes to Cindy P.,Gina L., and Trudy F. for the use of some of these photos.*