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, August 31, 2013

Adieu and Cheerio!

August 31, 2013
We’re flying out Monday morning for three weeks in France and England. As much as I’d like to say I’m going to hunt down costumes, accessories, hats, tearooms, and teacups, and wear fabulous costumes for photos, alas, dear hubby doesn’t have the same tastes. We do however both love history and landmarks. And this is to celebrate our 30th anniversary so it’s all about us. I will be able to throw in a few of my own preferences, as long as I go along with his whims of spending a day at Normandy and seeing WWII history. He probably says bleh! to all the places I want to stop too.

I hope to bring some treasures home with me but they must stay small and not take up a lot of my suitcase room. But little accessories to add to my costumes aren’t too bad, and I want to find old photos of pretty ladies in dress, fashion or pattern magazines older than 1920, hat pins, millinery ribbons and flowers. And I have to have a teacup from England. You know, to add to the 200 others I already have. But they weren’t purchased in the land of their creation.  
We’re doing mostly guided tours while we’re there since this is our first time and we haven’t a clue. I’m less familiar with France so our tours include the Catacombs, Paris City Tour, Normandy and the beaches (I believe that includes Mont St Michel?), Versailles & Trianons, Eiffel Tower, dinner cruise, and illumination of Paris.
From there we take a train up to Rotterdam (Holland/Netherlands) and the next evening we take an overnight ferry and arrive in Hull, England, the next morning.
We’ll pick up our rental car and drive YIKES! up to York for two days. Then, on up to the Lake District, and stay for two days in Windermere. Our cute little B&Bs include Bronte Guest House and Wheatlands Lodge. A drive farther north to Carlisle, where we turn in our car and take the train down into London.
Of course I’m going to be using my eagle-eye and try to find a couple quaint little tearooms, like Betty’s, Crooked House, and Maids of Honor. Hubby managed to find a tour, Magic of London & Tea at Harrod’s, so I could be assured of not missing an afternoon tea in England. I didn’t want to go anywhere dressy so little tea shops, or even farm cream teas would fill my soul. Our first full day in London will be a free day but we got special passes to go to the Key Ceremony at the Tower of London that evening.  
Some of my friends will be attending the Jane Austen Festival in Bath, and will be there the same time one of our tours takes us there. In our wildest dreams, we like to hope that maybe we’ll see each other and take a photo together, but our tour that day also includes Stonehenge, Cotswolds, Stratford Upon Avon w/ a play, so my hopes aren’t too high. It would be fun though. 
In all locations we have some free days that I just want to be able to walk the streets and dirt roads to FEEL France and England, and to SMELL and HEAR it. In my travels on the internet I found this great site that people add photos to thousands of locations in England, and I’m excited to see some of the areas we’re going to.
It may sound like this is a very expensive trip, and it may at the end of three weeks, but we traded our timeshare weeks for the two weeks in Paris and London, and our bonus points for our air fare. So most of our money is being spent on tours, transportation, and of course taxis to get us to and from the hotels. I am NOT carrying my luggage on a subway. Our hotel in London, the London Marriott Park Lane, we found out is on the outskirts of the city so not an easy access to anything. 

Those of you who know me on Facebook may get to see some photos if I’m able to make that work.
In the meantime, see you in three weeks! 

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Costume College 2013, "Ask Me How I Goofed"

August 17, 2013

See all these ribbons on my name tag from Costume College? I earned them! I asked for the one that said “Ask Me How I Goofed”, & “Ask Me How I Did It”.
I only made two new dresses for CoCo this year; my 1905 Purple Silk Voile, and 1890s Blue Striped Seaside Dress. The others were previously worn but not at CoCo, so they’re new to that.  I had one winner this year, and one loser.
So first is my “loser”, the 1905 dress. I think we all need to stretch our abilities sometimes and this was mine. I tried altering a pattern that had worked well on me before, and cut out part of the neckline to make it an evening dress. To my mind, it seemed like it would work. But this was one of those pigeon breast blouses that have excess fabric that poofs and hangs over your belt. It’s not a fitted bodice. I was using Truly Victorian’s TVE 41 (1903) blouse waist pattern for it. When last you saw this dress, it was on my dressform.
Making that blouse was scary. I could have ruined it. But I told myself I have enough fabric I could make an entirely new blouse if it didn’t work.
First problem: see that area of shoulder fabric to the inside of the ribbons? When I cut that I lost two inches from the shoulder seam, which now didn’t match the back shoulder seam. After putting out some queries to my sewing friends, I ended up cutting just a bit from the back to make it curve like a round neckline. That seemed to work fine.
 Next problem: I was sewing away on this not thinking about it fitting me because I’d already made one before and it fit great. Bad. I have a sign hanging over my computer that says “Mark Closures First on Patterns”. A big sign! When I made the first one, I did the back placket first with buttons and buttonholes, THEN did my side seams. The front was poofy like it should and all was right in the sewing world. THIS time I forgot that warning. I sewed it all together and did the placket last. I remember thinking the front poof looked a little too poofy but I didn’t listen to that little inner bird chirping at me.
The week before CoCo I tried it on to mark the buttons in the back but I never really tried the whole thing on to see how it would look on me. It looked ok on my dressform. And by the time I was done sewing on the buttons, the rest of it was already packed in a garment bag downstairs.
The skirt was great! Kind of plain compared to the bodice but I plan on buying more of the velvet ribbon and doing a band of it around the bottom of the skirt. Someday.
Problem Three: I really like wearing hats. They’re much easier than just dealing with the hair. And my “hair” is wigs. So I searched around for some hair trimming ideas and came up with BIG feathers and a brooch. It looked good on my wig and wig stand, but never put it on myself and walked around with it.
I got to wear my new American Duchess Gibson shoes with this. I made sure I walked around the house to get used to them, and even hammered the back of the heel (padded with a towel) to soften it up.
Problem Four: I accidently put thicker stockings on while dressing at CoCo (wasn’t thinking at that point) and the shoes were tight and my toes all bent to form the point of the shoe. After about an hour I could barely walk and finally took them off and hobbled barefoot back to my room. Lame. Someone who has foot problems already should really know better.
I’ve been waiting to see if any nice photos come in of me wearing the dress, and so far I’m seeing the colors are not showing up well. The purple heliotrope color ribbon sometimes looks green or brown. The olive green taffeta belt I made isn’t a great choice. Darker purple would have been better. But hey, the blouse is so big and poofy in front, it hangs over it so you can barely see it. Hah!
This is the one photo taken by Debbie B. that does show it purple. And then it turns to green in Jerry A.’s photo. Now where did those pointy and tall ostrich feathers go? In my face! I kept blowing them out of my face all evening. I can’t really assign them a problem number but there it is.

So Problem Five was when I cut away the neckline on the blouse, I also cut away the support that held up the entire front. And where does that poofy fabric go? -down over the belt. Also there’s too much fabric in the front. I have the same amount of poofy underpinnings under the blouse as my last dress did but I tweaked the fit. Oh well, I have enough of the fabric I can make another blouse, and maybe try it with the rows of velvet ribbon going down the front without cutting anything out this time.
Now that I think of it, this has been a pattern with me: When I make a new dress the first time it is wholly and completely on ME is *the day I’m wearing it*. I don’t try it all on before the big day. I need to correct that bad habit. Will I? We’ll see.
I consider my “winner” this year as the 1890s Blue Striped Seaside Dress for the Sunday Fantasy Tea at CoCo. I was happy with the fit and my minor alterations to it.
The tea this year was very colorful and piratey, with its theme of Pirates of Penzance; A Victorian Seaside Romp. There were many pirates, and many seaside themed gowns. We sang along with stanzas from Pirates of Penzance, and listed to singers from it also. We had lots of small sandwiches, blueberry and plain scones sprinkled with sugar, and cream or lemon curd to top them. Our meal started with little skewers of meat or veggies with a hoisin sauce, tiny chopped fruit in a glass, and a wine glass of sparkling cider. Desserts were a mix of French pastries, and as a requirement of Costume College, there will always be chocolate among them.

At our place settings we had little fans, and a handmade card of Victorian ladies and pirates and decorated with pretty things, like lace and flowers. 

One wall held a landscape of a beach for the seaside feel of the room.

 I sat with Natalie, our Dean this year, during the tea. I found out veils worn with glasses is a nuisance especially if you take them off a lot for photos. *I must point out the “dome” over my stomach that my corset is causing. It’s too big around the bottom so a new one is in the works. Must have flat tummy for the 1890s.*
On another wall was a photo backdrop for us to have our photos taken by Jerry Abuan . Cindy and I goofed off.

 And we found us a pirate!

As a side note: I had two gowns in the Costume Display room this year, my 1905 Pink Voile (sister of this year’s Purple Silk Voile failure) & one from 2005, my 1914 Shower Curtain Tea Gown. Yes, it was made from an embroidered cotton batiste shower curtain purchased at Target back in 2004. 

1905 Purple Silk Voile Evening Dress

May –July 31, 2013
I made this dress for our UnGala Dinner at Costume College. My friends and I attend the Red Carpet procession beforehand in our own gowns and when everyone goes inside for their Gala dinner, we go to the hotel’s restaurant for ours. Afterwards we return, and the photo bombing is on!

This is one of those evolution stories; fabric bought for one dress and later I decided it wanted to be another. I bought this silk voile back in 2008 from Fabrics & Fabrics in the LA Garment District. It was on sale I think for $10 a yard. It was very light and sheer and the tiny two-toned purple flowers with light hunter green leaves were so appealing. At the time the only dress era that occurred to me was 1860s, so I bought 8 yards. 
Two years later I saw someone else had made an 1860s gown out of the same fabric so I knew that wouldn’t work showing up in the same gown. The fabric sat in the back of my stash shelf waiting. Finally last March I saw an extant gown from 1903 with little purple flowers and I remembered my purple silk voile & knew that’s what I would make mine from. I’d already made one gown from Truly Victorian’s pattern for this era, and it was super easy but I wanted to change it up this time. I planned on wearing it for an evening event, but didn’t want it to be strictly for evening, and not a ball gown. My first idea was three quarter length sleeves and an open neckline instead of a high collar. I gathered these photos of bodices and trims that I liked from the internet. I wanted lace and bows and frills on mine.

Most of these involved lace insertions, which is something I haven’t done yet but have taken a class on it. So I had an idea of how to do it. I also liked adding a dark ribbon trim down the front of the bodice. Actually the white trim down the front of the one dress & the black trim on the neckline of the gold dress in these photos is what I first wanted to do. But it didn’t give me an evening open neckline. The third photo of the entire chest area being lace was just too scary for a first attempt, and also cutting into a $10 yd fabric even scarier.

My first search was for some purple velvet ribbon, none of which I could find locally and I didn’t have time to drive the 2 hours to LA. I did some online searching, and came up with three colors from M&J Trims It’s hard to tell the colors on a computer screen but I had it narrowed down to a royal purple, plum, or lilac. You can buy samples but it’s a minimum 1 yard lengths. They’re not too expensive, depending on the width, from $1.29-$1.99 yd, and they’re listed in millimeters but they also give you an approximate width in inches. I was looking for about 3/4 inch, and ended up with the 16mm which is 5/8 inch, close enough. I’d waited on purchasing my ribbon in hopes I would still be able to find some locally and see the color, but time was running out. When I went back online to order, I noticed they had a color called Helio which looked almost exactly like the lighter color of the purple on my fabric. So I ordered that, and it came in about a week. It was perfect!

I started cutting my fabric out last May and flat lined it with a very lightweight white cotton.  I sewed the side seams and little skirt around the hem but in hindsight if I’d known I was going to be laying ribbon and lace on the front to cut out behind it, I wouldn’t have done that. When I did get around to actually working on it, I took out the shoulder seams to lay it flat. Then I started laying the ribbon down to come up with a pattern.

I liked the V-neck but it was too deep. And I also wanted to put lace behind it where I would be cutting out the purple fabric and that would make it too sheer. I had a length of antique lace that I inherited from a friend that was just the right width for it (the top piece in this photo from all the lace she gave me). *Thank you Mary!*
I widened the V and laid out the lace behind it, and came up with two rows of the ribbon instead of one. Like! The hand sewing was on! I did a short stitch diagonally across a length of ribbon to get the point at the bottom.

 I pinned the ribbon on, and then lightly basted it since this fabric likes to spit out the pins. I also backed the ribbon on the inside of the fabric with a wide grosgrain ribbon since the fabric doesn’t support it very well.

After two weeks I finally got the courage to cut out the fabric behind the lace and ribbon. But notice how the shoulder seam is shorter on the front than the back (to the left of the red pin holder)? I had to put a call out for help to my sewing friends on what to do with that. The consensus was turning the edge under on the back to create a curve that ends at the back placket.
I repeated the lace as a ruffle on the sleeve cuff and finished the top of it off with more purple ribbon. On my dress form it looks nice. Since it buttons in the back, I had to wait for Cindy to stop by and mark where the buttons and buttonholes would go and check the fit. I used some vintage shell buttons from my aunt’s stash.
Some of the prettier belts I’ve seen on this style dress have been a color that popped out. So instead of purple I found a hunter green taffeta that matched the tiny leaves for it. I thought maybe I’d put this rhinestone brooch at the center, like in the fashion print, but the overhanging bodice covered it. So that would have been a waste.

I like to use buckram for the inside of this type of belt to give it a firm support. Some of my friends use small pieces of boning. I used Truly Victorian’s E55 Dip Waist Belt pattern for it, with the point going down. I’m not sure if this is totally the way the pattern has you do it but I cut the fabric and buckram using the pattern pieces and then fold over the edge of the fabric on the buckram. I hand basted it on (since this is the back of the belt and won’t show) and turned the edge under of the front piece of fabric and slip stitched it on to the other side. I used hooks & bars for my back closure.
I really wanted to make a pretty hat for this. It looks so much like a dress you wore to a garden party. But it’s an evening style so a hair ornament was called for. These photos gave me some ideas. I had to have feathers, obviously. I thought feathers on either side of my head would be nice and balanced looking.

I had some very long ostrich feathers so I cut them down to a more manageable length after trying them on my head. I made a yo-yo from a length of cotton lace and sewed it to a piece of buckram for its base. Then I sewed the feathers firmly to it. The final touch was a crescent-shaped rhinestone brooch I’d bought at the Del Mar Antique show for $1.

Did you know ostrich feathers have a mind of their own? They want to hang in all different directions. It looked nice on my wig though.

So now it looks like everything is done and will get packed up in garment bags and hat boxes to go to Costume College. 
My next blog entry will be when I wore this, and what went wrong. And what I hopefully learned from it. 

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

One Hundred Years of Mourning fashion show at Costume College 2013

August 2, 2013

Also known as “A Murder of Crows”
I have to admit, having a fashion show at a costume convention with 12 people is a bit of a stretch, especially when those people are also attending the convention and some of them are teaching classes. So I was extremely gratified when all but two were very happy to repeat our successful show from the Riverside Dickens Faire, and I was able to find two models who could wear the two gowns that those missing models who were unable to attend so graciously offered. A couple of them even drove up for the day just to be in the show. And this time I invited Nancy and Russell S. from Riverside Dickens to be our narrator and Undertaker/doorman.   
I made up and printed programs for Russell to hand out to the students that had each model listed with the era of their gown so our audience could follow along better. The whole idea is to see a living timeline of the changes in dress silhouette.  I printed them on white paper with this gravestone on half of one side then on the opposite side of the paper printed the information so it could be folded in half. I thought it would be a nice touch to the program.
I also found some background music to play as people entered the room to sit down to create an atmosphere.  It was Beethoven’s Symphony #7 and I found it on itunes for 99 cents. I only wanted the first couple minutes allegretto from the symphony to play because the second half was a little more upbeat, and not quite the mood I wanted. Fortunately I found it was the same music that was used in the movie, “The King’s Speech” with Colin Firth. They did exactly what I wanted in his “Speaking Unto Nations” radio talk. If you want to hear it to get into the mood while you read this, its here on youtube. Speaking Unto Nations-Beethoven's symphony #7  Even though the subject matter of our presentation isn’t the happiest, we had bits of joking and light comedy to lighten the mood so it wasn’t gruesome. My intention was for it to be educational and the dramatic black silhouettes showed the different decades off very clearly.
I can tell you we got a lot of attention when we were walking around and assembling for this. A lot of photos are showing up, and I’ve been waiting for more before I finished this entry.

With the set-up at Costume College (CoCo), we would be doing this in a classroom setting, not a stage this time. That caused me some worry as to how we would be able to line up along a wall for people to see us. We were assigned a room on a corner that had an entrance at the back and on the side. The room was long and slightly narrow so I requested the hotel turn all the chairs sideways to face the long wall. I had the students enter at the back door and we lined up outside the front side door so we could walk in after the music stopped.  Have I mentioned  herding cats before? Trying to figure out who walked in first for the timeline to end up correct along the wall seemed to be mindboggling to us all.

Nancy began reading the introduction to the program and introduced One Hundred Years of Mourning Fashion, and we walked in. For a nice touch, Nancy and Russell had made a black wreath and hung it on the front of the podium. I thought this was a very thoughtful addition, and someone later sent me a pic of mourning drapery. Hmmmm…this could turn into a big production someday.

We had a total of 12 people included in this presentation, when I invited Kristine S. as Queen Victoria (1860), and Nancy as our narrator (who also dressed in black) and Russell as an Undertaker. I think we were very impressive. The audience was able to see us quite close, the first row being about 5 feet away. At the end of the presentation, Nancy surprised me by adding, “As the author Charles Dickens would say, I give you the Founder of the Feast, Valarie LaBore”.
I went up to the podium to thank all my models, and to tell the story behind how this all came about. After being inspired by a smaller version of a timeline silhouette of underpinnings, I talked to Shelley P. about us both doing a few more years of mourning dress at the Riverside Dickens Festival fashion show. I contacted Nancy S., the director & producer of the show and asked if we could include it. With her approval, I began contacting costume friends of mine and over the year each of them researched the year they wanted to make. We all tried for as historically correct as possible.
Then I opened it up to questions from the audience and of course the first question everyone always asks, and it still confuses us, what are the stages of mourning in the dress colors? We found out it isn’t cut and dry because it seemed to vary. First year full mourning was unrelieved dull black. No arguments there. Afterwards, additions of color to collars and cuffs were accepted using white, grey, lavender, & mauve. Third year sometimes included the entire dress being  grey, lavender or mauve. But again, that varied according to who you read. And to confuse matters further, some of the earlier time period gowns in full first year would have white. White was also used when mourning a child, as my 1830s model Gina wore.

Our dresses were variously made from cotton, dotted swiss, a modern crape, brocades, embroidered cottons, silk taffeta, and broadcloth. Some dresses contained lots of detail, others not. Each model wore some jewelry accessory that fit her time period. Finding history on the jewelry was probably the hardest because we just couldn’t find it. Our best research was of photos and catalog photos of the mourning dress of the time periods. I found we could also just use a dress of the period and make it black. I don’t think anyone followed the custom of throwing it into a vat of black dye instead of making one. But it was done in the poorer classes. I own two mourning petticoats that when washed, the dye comes out. I can’t positively ID them as mourning but it would be unusual to have them be black since the Victorians liked to be able to have clean white underpinnings.
As we ended the show, our audience gave us a very appreciative round of applause and commented on how impressed they were with the workmanship of our gowns, and the details they put into them. I was so proud of each of them because they were all very nicely done, and weren’t just plain old black dresses. My final admonition in the presentation was “back then wearing black was also considered fashionable as it is today, so buyers of antique fashions beware: the black gown you are looking at may not be mourning but may in fact be a fashionable little black dress.”
These are photos collected from all my friends who took them of us in the class and afterwards in the hallway. I know there are many many more but I wanted to get this blog entry done now. I’m collecting them all to share in my Pinterest page on mourning too. 

To all my models, April D.(1810), Gina L.(1830), Mary D.(1850), Shelley P.(1860 Civil War), Kristine S.(1860 Queen Victoria), Kathy L.(1870), (Me-1880), Tonya C.(1890), Birda H-N.(1901), Cindy P.(1910 Black Ascot), THANK YOU!  Do you know how totally AWESOME you were?
Thank you Arlene T. and Lisa K-B for the loan of your gowns. They were greatly admired. 

I’d also like to thank Mary J., Jennifer R. of Historical Sewing, Rebecca M., Rebecca R., Evan P., Amy M., and Loralee P-O. for generously sharing their photos with me for my blog and album. In fact ALL of us thank you.

*If you go to Costume College next year, be sure to check out the Costume Gallery because we may be displaying some of our gowns, under the label, “A Murder of Crows”. * 
If you wish to see a video of the Riverside Dickens mourning fashion show, they're here on Youtube.