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.


Monday, November 18, 2013

Divas & Dandies; A Costume Walkabout

This last weekend was one of my favorite reoccurring SDCG events, Lady Mari’s Costumed Walkabouts at the Del Mar Antique Show. We’ve been doing this for about 6 years now, 2 or 3 times a year when the antique show is here. The “theme” is chosen by Mari and sometimes the show manager has a request. Apparently the most popular has been Steampunk, which we’ve done twice.

Our perk for doing this is we get in the show for free.  I love antique shows, finding little things to add to my costumes, and I love to play dress-up, so that’s why this is my favorite. The theme this time was “Divas & Dandies” and was open to your interpretation. Many of us were a little perplexed by it but the outcome was fun. We had royalty, movie stars, famous people, favorite gowns & outfits, or whatever you could come up with. I arrived the same time as Bob M. and his Mom, who were dressed as Prince Albert & Queen Victoria.  I had chosen my 1795 blue & white open-robe gown and came as the Empress Josephine, so we made quite the entry. My outfit also made it easy to cover up my walking boot which I had to wear again after a reoccurrence of my chronic Achilles tendonitis three days ago. It also covered up a bit of the waddling as I walked.

I stopped by the Freedom Dogs booth to sit and visit, and one of the service dogs, J.J., really liked my gloves and started to chew on one.
While we gathered for our group photo that we always do, I took some random shots of everyone. 
We had some groups of reds & pinks, and some of blacks.

I thought Sandra D.’s 1910 dress she made was very pretty. Using a braided trim along the edges of the overskirt made it much easier to cover the hem edges. She used a sheer curtain fabric for the overdress, and wore a vintage buckle on her belt. 
The vendors also love having us and as we walk by they compliment us and ask what the theme is this time if it’s not obvious. Some of them really show an interest in what we do and sometimes have special items to show us. One of my favorite items I've purchased there in the past was a trolley token locket. The right side is spring-loaded and you would have pushed your pennies into it. I think I paid $10 for it. Another dealer was going to bring an old trolley token for me to put in it next time she was here but I haven’t seen her back since. I brought some little English sixpence coins from our recent trip that I’m going to put in it.

I also have had some great conversations with mourning jewelry sellers and explained to one of them how a certain piece of jewelry would have been worn. So the exchange of information is really fun. Yesterday I was talking to a regular dealer about some ornate skirt lifters he had, which are something I could get more use out of than the silver color bicycle/equestrian one I bought in England. He said to bring it in and maybe we could do a trade for one of his. Now that I think of it, he may have thought I meant it was real silver, not silver color. I can’t believe I didn’t even think of bringing in the couple things I bought over there to get some information on them.

I was looking for some black glass Victorian buttons this time for a couple projects I am working on. I looked at some at one dealer’s booth but he wanted $8 a piece for them, and that’s way more than I’ve paid before. After talking to another dealer, I found out she was a button collector and dealer but didn’t have any with her this time. She took my card and said she will be emailing me. I love making contacts like that! I still found  a couple little items to take home this time; a black plumed ostrich feather, a small white paper Christmas house I’m going to use for a vignette, and my favorite deal was this handle for a parasol that I plan on replacing a plastic one on a parasol I recently purchased. I only paid $5 for it. I think the curved handle is horn but I need that verified. The little tarnished metal cap above it had some surprises though. I saw some little stamps on it and pulled out a super duper magnifying glass and saw 6 different hallmarks stamped on it. One of them I recognized right away, an English lion, which told me this was sterling silver. After getting some help from a friend, I identified a couple others. The “i” said it was made in 1900, the small lion’s head said it was made in London. The maker’s mark, a double AA, has eluded me so far. All in all, a very happy purchase. I plan on cleaning up that silver and make it shiny.
Other than being a fun venue, it’s always very educational for me. And it was well worth the discomfort I had walking. I also got a LOT of compliments on my gown which made me forget how I was feeling.
**Thank you to Colleen B., Darlene R., & Jerry Abuan for the photos of me. More of Jerry's photos are here-**

Right now I’m working on a couple sewing projects, in my typical squirrely mode, and my next event is Dec 14 for our guild’s Holiday Dinner. The gown is almost done and will probably be the next blog entry I’ll be writing. 

Friday, November 15, 2013

An 18th Century Picnic; Second Thoughts on My Gown

Last weekend our costume guild held an 18th Century Picnic in Balboa Park, San Diego. We’d been having nice weather so it was perfect for an outdoor event, although November can be bipolar sometimes. Heather was the organizer of the event and she chose a spot in the middle of the International Cottages, a group of small houses each representing a different country. As busy as it was elsewhere in the park, very few people walked through here. Also the cottages are only open on Sunday so that was to our benefit. We were able to have some quiet and eat our lunches without being distracted too much by the public. As much as I enjoy interacting with them, and taking photos, I don’t like having to stop eating each time they come through so I don't have food in my mouth.
We set up tables, chairs, and blankets scattered under the trees and enjoyed our potluck lunch where we all brought something to share and pass around. Heather even made up some recipes from a Martha Washington cookbook and brought mini meat pies and small Queen’s Cakes that tasted like little spice cakes with sugar sprinkled on top.    
We had lots of pretty gowns; a couple pretty floral robe ‘anglaises’, some very fancy gowns, and a couple Regencys. And we had our pirates. You can’t have an 18th C event without pirates.

I wore my 1770s linen red floral caraco and red skirt that I’d made back in 2009. It was my first attempt at historical colonial dress and I used Period Impressions pattern, which I think was very easy. Except later I discovered the waist was too short on me, and I’m even short-waisted. Each time I sat down or raised my arm it would ride up, exposing my stays above my skirt waistline. I’d forgotten about that until I put it on for this event and tried to accommodate for that by using safety pins to pin my skirt up higher on my stays. It worked in a pinch but I can see in my photos here that it’s just way too high. The last two caracos I made using J.P. Ryan’s patterns are a much better fit. I really like this red floral fabric and I think I saw some more last time I was in the Garment District so I can make a new one.

I always forget to look in a mirror when I get out of my car at an event and have to put on my hat there because it never seems to sit in the right place. I thought I was putting it on to keep the sun out of my eyes, and used my two hat pins but I spent the day looking like a woman of mystery, and had to tilt my head back when I was talking to someone. And no, it never occurred to me to unpin it and readjust.    

And this is always a fun photo, getting caught using your cell phone.  
We did our group photos and apparently attracted a lot of tourists at this point because they suddenly appeared out of nowhere and started jumping into our photos to take some of their own. I always wonder what the Japanese tourists, who we really enjoy, tell their friends when they get back home about us.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

1873 Cotton Mourning Gown for Dia de los Muertos

November 5, 2013

Here’s the gown I made to wear at Dia de los Muertos in Old Town San Diego this past weekend. Dia de los Muertos is a Mexican holiday to celebrate and remember our dead. It’s a very colorful and happy celebration, and Southern California has embraced it.
Since I’ve made this pattern, Truly Victorian #410 Polonaise, four times now, it went together very fast other than having major problems again getting my sleeves to fit and getting them into the armhole properly. With some help, we discovered when I’m being measured for my sleeves the common measurement around my arm for the armhole doesn’t work because I’m bigger around my mid-upper arm. When I’ve enlarged the sleeve overall, it also made it too big on the rest of my arm, and I had those silly puffs at the top of the sleeve cap. After many refittings and cutting away of excess fabric, we finally got it to fit me and fit into the armhole. At some point I need to make a pattern to use for all future sleeves.
This is the top half of the gown, the polonaise, and a lightened up photo to show the embroidered pattern on the fabric. At this point my closure is a little crooked.

Trimming this dress was a lot of fun. There’s lots of ways to do that, and I like being able to make self-fabric trims. My cotton embroidered fabric gave me some great trim once I cut it in strips to have the embroidered section near the edge where I could gather it.

I put the ruffles around the neckline and after adding an extra cuff to the bottom of my sleeves to lengthen them, I added the ruffle to that too.
That wasn’t enough for me so I bought some 5/8 inch black velvet ribbon to also go around the neckline and cuffs. And I kept going by putting two more black velvet covered buttons on each cuff.
Other than coming up with some way to trim the skirt, the only other thing I could come up with was a big bow on the back of the peplum. After seeing the dress on me, I think the skirt is too plain and I plan on adding a deep ruffle to the bottom of it. The skirt is pretty lightweight too and even though I tried to make a black petticoat with a ruffle for it, I didn’t get that ruffle done so there wasn’t much fullness to it.
Since I was wearing this to the los Muertos Candlelight Procession and would have flowers on my head I didn’t need a hat for it. I would be draping a veil over my head with the floral headpiece on top. My jewelry was a black and brass necklace along with a pair of black “gutta percha” earrings I bought at the SF Dickens Faire last year. My face makeup was done by Cindy's daughter, Amy, and I think she did a bang-up job. We did discover that my skin is extremely dry and it was sucking up all the white face paint and she couldn’t get a solid white look on me. Apparently my expensive moisturizer is not worth the money I spend on it. She recommended Jergens brand so I bought the shea butter deep conditioning moisturizer version yesterday.
When I arrived in Old Town, I stopped by the Whaley House to visit with my friend Robin there and then walked back to the Cosmopolitan Hotel (one of the original buildings in the park) to sit on the steps and wait for other guild members to arrive. I was about 1 1/2 hrs early so I enjoyed having my photo taken with the public who came to celebrate with us. At one point a couple furry fellows showed up and joined me for awhile, and they got more attention than me. But I got lot of compliments on my makeup and my gown.
As more of our group showed up for the procession, the “paparazzi” began gathering around us taking photos. We started a line-up on one wall and every couple minutes another guild member would show up and we got bigger.

Our favorite place for large group photos is on the steps of the Cosmopolitan.
At one point so many people were wanting to have their photos taken with us that Gina’s husband, Larry, started announcing everyone to step up on the stairs to have them taken. We did this for about a half hour until it was time to head over to the Procession starting point.
A little confusion ensued as we weren’t really sure where we were to gather this time. Apparently it wasn’t the same point as last year, and we knew the path was different so we wandered over to the other side of the park where we saw the crowds we were expecting to see. We couldn’t even get through them. We finally managed to get closer to the front and then heard “San Diego Costume Guild to the front!!” People started parting so we could get through and we managed to get up with the banner carriers.
The hard part of doing this is walking slow enough to not make it a mad dash to the end. Occasionally we came to a halt and with Melinda’s help we slowed the pace down. Its only a ten minute walk to the cemetery that was our final destination but we wanted to draw it out longer. Having hundreds of people on the sidewalks and many on the street in front of us taking photos made it very enjoyable and makes all the work and sore feet worth it.

This year the cemetery was decorated even better with many orange marigolds, the traditional flower, and candles around each grave. It’s a very small cemetery so it takes over an hour for everyone to come in, look around, and funnel out the back where we stand as guides for them.
Here you can see how limp my skirt is, and how much nicer it would look with a flounce like Cindy has on hers, along with a decent petticoat. *I just love the color technique Jerry did on this photo*
I'm looking for photos that were taken of the beautiful cemetery but so far only have this one by Debbie. 

My thanks to Gina, Kathy, & Georgina for the use of their photos, and for the many that Jerry Abuan took of us. For more of his photos, see his website here:

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Not My Usual Costuming

November 3, 2013

Each year when Halloween arrives I enjoy decorating our front porch with spiders and bats and big spider webs in hopes of scaring the kids. Occasionally I dress up myself. I’ve recycled a black robe and hood I made about 20 years ago for my hubby to wear as the Grim Reaper into a length I can wear since he’s quite a bit bigger than me. Instead of the usual skeleton mask that went with it, I found a half mask with a long beak of the Plague Doctor, or Dottore De La Peste,  from the 1600s. During the Black or Bubonic Plague of that time, it was believed that the germs were transferred by air and odors, so the doctors would wear clothing to completely cover themselves, and a mask with a long beak was filled with herbs that they breathed through. They believed this would protect them from the disease but sadly it was bites from infected rats and fleas that actually spread it.
I found a really cool looking mask at our local Halloween store that sets up during the holiday, and then a soft vinyl hat at Michael’s to finish it off. I even got to wear this to our Costume Guild meeting a couple nights earlier when many of us dressed up for it.

At the Halloween store I also bought a long sheet of vinyl covering that looked like stone walls and covered my front door with some of it.  And I finally found the big ole hairy spider I’d been looking for that was just the right touch to my decorations. My side window had more spiders hanging inside along with static-cling bats on the glass. Since I was gone most of the day on Halloween I decided not to put up my giant spider web.

I recorded the soundtrack from the movie of The Shining that was played on an organ and it sounded really creepy. So I set up on the front porch, put my ipod speakers on the ground behind me, and held my black bucket of candy in wait for my first victims.              
As people began passing by on the sidewalks I heard a few say I’m not going up there. I even heard that from some teenage boys. Some weren’t sure if I was real or a mannequin. Little kids would turn around and go back to their parents so I started waving and smiling at them to show I wasn’t really that scary. One little girl thought I was a hummingbird. Another boy said I was a bird man. I tried to explain what I was but there wasn’t much interest there except with the adults. Many of the kids were very intimidated by the big spider on my door, and said I had a great looking door.  An hour and a half later I was out of the 400 pieces of candy, and had to close up shop. Until next year.