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.


Friday, December 19, 2014

The Jewel Tone Plaid and SF Dickens

I just got back from the San Francisco Great Dickens Fair at the Cow Palace outside the city. The ride up on the plane was very bouncy as we were going through the "Great Pacific Storm of 2014" that caused all the flooding in that area. But most of it was gone by the time I landed and the next day was mostly sunny so we didn't have to worry about ruining our dresses/bonnets/hair. However two of us had our suitcases pretty soaked while they were being loaded/unloaded on the plane and subsequently everything was slightly damp inside, including my silk Dupioni plaid dress. And it was badly wrinkled. I was able to let it dry slightly in the hotel room and iron it but it wasn't as crisp as it had been at home. And those sleeves! They didn't press very well at all. 
So let me backtrack a bit. I spent the last couple weeks before I left trying to finish my dress but with everything going on I kept missing entire days to sew. One of the trims I wanted to do on the front of the bodice came out really nice. I first wanted to do piping down the center like in this painting of the lady in the burgundy dress. But then I saw this extant gown with a tab of the fabric with piping around it and placed down the center of the bodice. 

I had no idea how to do it but it seemed pretty simple. I made a paper pattern of the size I wanted using my ruler as a guide, then added 1/2 inch seam allowance, and leaving a point at one end. I cut two layers of the fabric to give it body and then sewed piping around it. The point didn't look very pretty but when I turned the edges under it looked better. Then I slip stitched it to the bodice. Easy! 

The sleeves on this pattern (Truly Victorian #455) have a slit left open at the cuffs but this time I wanted to sew it closed all the way to my wrist so I slightly widened the fabric there and finished the edges with piping. I also piped the armholes and the waistline. Here it is on my dress form with the skirt pinned on so I could see how it was looking. Looking fine! I made the belt using a heavy interfacing. I wanted to try using a piece of Peltex this time but I couldn't find it in the stash. The buckle was the one I bought in a Paris flea market last year and felt this dress deserved to wear it. I also had some fun taking a photo in sepia tone. Kind of makes you think about those daguerreotype and tintype photos and wonder what color those dresses actually were. 

The last couple days before I left were spent pleating the skirt to the bodice and hemming it. And I ended up having time to make myself a matching reticule using LaMode Bagatelle's pattern from the Regency Wardrobe, which includes a pattern for one in a simple shape. This was so easy (can you believe *I'm* saying that?) I made it in less than two hours. It was a very good size at 9"x9" and held quite a few things in it. 

I'd hoped to have time to make a fur tippet with some fake fur I bought in the Garment District. That stuff is expensive! In retrospect, at the suggestion of Gina W., I should have bought an old fur coat to make it from. And I wanted to add some color trim to the black bonnet that Cat made me for my mourning gown but ran out of time. I tried some of the purple belt fabric on it but it disappeared on the black. Both projects will be attended to later.  

So on to Dickens. I met up with my roommates, Diane, Rebecca, and Colleen at the hotel, where we found out there was a Star Trek- Next Generation cast signing convention going on. This turned out quite hilarious as the costumed ST fans came in contact with the four ladies from Dickens. There were mutual photos taken too. We saw Jonathan Frakes, Brent Spiner, Denise Crosby, Marina Sirtis, Michael Dorn, and John DeLancie below our room's balcony. 

The best photo op occurred when we were leaving the hotel for the Fair and came across a couple Klingons. We just had to have our photo taken with them. And that night when we returned, a car stopped next to us and asked if we were going to the Star Trek Karaoke event. "No, we're heading out from the Holo Deck".  *Reference to the holographic deck on the Enterprise where we would have been appropriately attired*
Walking into the Cow Palace for the Dickens Fair brought back memories to me of previous years with it's yummy smells of cinnamon roasted pecans and brandy eggnogs. My group split up and started strolling the streets of Old London and browsing in the little shops. I was looking for other dresses to take photos of but my cell phone camera didn't have very good light in the dim building so most were a purple-ish color. 

I stopped by Tavistock House and peeked in the window to see this scene. 
Then I ran into a lady from my Costume Pattern Review Group on Facebook, Dyana, in her beautiful black & white striped creation. She recognized me by my dress that I had shared photos of it on the Group. I also ran into another friend, Chelsea, at Prince Albert's Bar, and I bought my friends a round of brandy eggnogs. 

The group I came up to the Fair with is the Historical Citizens Association (HCA) and I suggested we all meet at 1pm for tea at Cuthbert's Tearoom there. I made the reservation and our group all met up later and had a very nice tea there. 

We were all given a small teapot from Cuthbert's as a souvenir of our tea. 

A little bit later I was also recognized by another member of the pattern review group, Manzanita, in her lovely plaid dress. 
And after that I saw another beautiful plaid dress and kept trying to take photos of her. I was told we needed to have our photo taken together, so I introduced myself and Aimee was happy to have the photo taken. Turns out she's also on the pattern review group. Small world, isn't it? 

So now Manzanita, Aimee and I consider ourselves the "Plaidypusses". Too bad we couldn't get all three of us together for one photo.  Aimee had also written in her blog about her dress at the Fair and had a photo of me in it.

Then some of us from our group posed for photos of each other. 

Later in the day my roommates and I met up again and went to a couple of the vaudeville shows and the final show at Mad Sal's. We even turned up in someone's selfie that she took there. 
I was a little disappointed in the show this year. I knew the original Mad Sal had retired, and the new Sal doesn't have the stage presence and voice that she did. The girls singing on the stage had such soft voices the boom mike couldn't catch them and we could barely hear anything, even from the front row. I had been really looking forward to singing along with them, like "What do you do with a drunken sailor?" that I had learned to sing in the past. But when a short skit was included from David Copperfield with Bill Sykes killing Nancy behind the scenes but graphically heard, it unsettled all of us, and we chose to leave after a half hour. Sad but it ruined the show for us, and me especially when I had been raving about it to them. 
So we ended up leaving an hour before the fair was over, and luck was with us, because a motorcycle accident had closed down the freeway entrances and with the already heavy traffic, it would have been much worse as the fair attendees all came out. With the help of my cell phone GPS, we found another way onto the freeway, and with more help, it made us exit the wrong place and we ended up going back the opposite direction on the freeway. We got off at the airport to go around, and suddenly in front of us were a long line of tall pine trees beautifully lit with blue lights. Above us a bridge was covered in lighted garlands and rows of lights. We all gasped at how beautiful it was. And with another wrong turn due to the helpful GPS, we were treated to a second view of it. What a way to end the evening with Christmas lights. 
The next morning my roommates and I packed up and came home in much better weather than when we flew up. Now my days are filled with preparing my house for Christmas and our family gathering. But in the back of my mind I'm already thinking, what am I working on next? Maybe the fur tippet? And once my pattern for the 1915 dress is graded up for me, I can start on that for April. And I think I need a different chemise to wear under my 1830s dresses because it kept sliding up my shoulders to peek out the neckline. There's always something more to do. 
See you all in 2015! 


  1. Lovely photos! Your dress turned out beautifully and I love the three plaidypusses. I enjoyed the pics from around the faire as I have never been. I love the Star Trek extra bonus at the hotel!

  2. Lovely post and a very beautiful gown! Glad you had safe travels!

  3. Thank you for sharing your wonderful photos and story of a truly fabulous event! Your gown is stunning! A perfect way to end 2014! Happy sewing in 2015!

  4. Love all the plaid prints.
    Rochelle, ATAA

  5. I liked the actress playing Mad Sal, I was sitting in the front row, that must have made the difference. However, having Bill Sykes KILLING Nancy off stage while we hear her scream, is a terrible idea. What where they thinking? Steven Sondheim couldn't pull it off. The show continues with songs and some comedic banter and the audience knows that presumably Nancy is still back there, dead. A Christmas murder. I did have a roaring good time all in all. Thanks for including my picture.

  6. Everyone looks lovely! Thank you for the pictures. :-)

  7. Oh Val! Your dress turned out so beautiful! Yay for 1830s plaid!!! And your black hat matched it perfectly! It looks like you all had a fabulous time at the Cow Palace...I am a bit jealous and am still trying to find a worm hole so I can play along with you and your group! You are gorgeous lady!

  8. Dickens and ST: TNG! I have to show my brother!


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