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, December 6, 2015

2015 End of the Year Round-Up

I have no more costuming events for the rest of this year/month, so now it’s that time of year to look back and see what I did in the way of sewing new dresses. But I’m nearly at the point where I have at least one dress already for just about any time period I like that comes up. Goal met!   **Ack! I noticed I still write “gowns” and had to go back and replace that with “dresses”. I’m never going to be able to stop saying that even though I was told that word wasn’t used until the 1930s came around.**

But wait, you can never have enough dresses! Who wants just one dress in one color? Or for just one season or time period? Throw in my Squirrel and you need a bigger closet. 
Just for a bit of explanation on The Squirrel- it comes from being distracted very easily by new and shiny things. If you’ve seen the movie, Up, there is a talking dog named Dug who, while talking, is constantly distracted and yells Squirrel! when he sees something. That’s me. Even my husband calls me Squirrel. I just think I’m observant.
Ok, enough about me. Time for the countdown. I checked my list of things I wanted to finish or make this year, and looks like only one got done. But other things not on the list WERE made!

JANUARY:  The only event I went to this month was for the start of the Centennial Celebration of the 1915 Panama/California Exposition in Balboa Park. Our guild was asked for anyone to come in period evening dress for a fundraising event at the Museum of Man. I don’t have much in the way of evening dress but remade my 1910 Black Ascot dress with some new trims and re-did the bodice so it was all one piece instead of two.
FEBRUARY:  I was invited by a couple ladies in the Los Angeles area who call themselves The Occasional Bustle Society, to a tea at the Langham Hotel in Pasadena, and we all wore bustle dresses. It was a beautiful location and I had a great time. It was actually cool enough to wear my 1885 Autumn Bustle dress too.

The Riverside Dickens Festival is my annual event that I look forward to and seem to be making dresses especially for this and the fashion show. I was able to wear my 1837 Jewel Tone Plaid dress that I wore to the San Francisco Dickens Faire the previous December.
MARCH: Started this month off with a fashion show for the La Jolla Women’s Club and wore my Autumn Bustle for that too.
I again wore it while I was up in WA visiting my Mom, and going to the Port Townsend Victorian 
Festival, being in that fashion show, then doing some touristy things with my friends in the area.

APRIL:  Our costume guild did its mass attendance in Balboa Park for the 1915 Centennial of the Panama/California Exposition, and made a very impressive sight. I used a reproduction pattern of a 1914 dirndl skirt and blouse in green stripes. Even though the blouse was too big, I loved the dress with my bright orange parasol.

MAY:  I was asked to do a repeat performance of a fashion show for the Alpine Women’s Club tea and fundraiser and came up with a new theme of “A Day in the Life of Queen Victoria”. I’m having fun being creative with them now. I wore my favorite 1837 Persimmon Dress that I wore to Costume College last year.

JUNE: For the past couple months I was working on a presentation on 1850s Bloomer dresses that I was asked to present at the ALHFAM conference in Williamsburg, VA, and wore my brown cotton Bloomer dress, and I was glad I did. It was so hot and humid I can’t believe people can live in that. My reproduction of the San Diego Bloomer was displayed in the class too.

Right after I got back from there, I got to dress up as window dressing for the grand re-opening of the Villa Montezuma historic home in San Diego. It was a mite warm so out came my favorite 1870s white cotton with black polka dots polonaise dress.

JULY:   Finally got to make and wear another new dress. I organized a Downton Abbey Tea for my guild at the Aubrey Rose Tearoom, and made the “new” Butterick pattern dress for 1914 to wear to it. A nice cotton purple plaid made for warmer weather, and then it poured buckets of rain on us.

AUGUST: August is of course Costume College in Los Angeles and I planned on wearing everything that I’d already made, but of course had to make at least ONE new dress for it.  The dress lineup was my 1837 Jewel Tone Plaid, my 1885 Autumn Bustle (which I wore for teaching “Watches & How Women Wore Them”, because it had a watch pocket), and my new 1885 Pink Polka Dot bustle dress. I loved this one, even though the pink fabric was an extremely lightweight polyester.  Lots of lining helped that.
SEPTEMBER:  I joined the Ladies of the Traveling Tea Society and went with them to Barbara’s Teahouse in Rancho Cucamonga, and wore my 1914 Purple Plaid dress, which was good because it was again bloody hot.
OCTOBER:  My second historical fashion show was for a church fundraiser, and I used my “100 Years in Women’s Fashion” theme for it. After filling all the time periods, I took the one left for 1900 and wore my 1903 Pink Floral dress. Sadly we haven’t found any group photos of us all.
Not much else was going on this month but when I was told about the “Tales from the Victorian Crypt” being held in a cemetery in Riverside as a fundraiser for the Dickens Festival, I jumped at it. It was still hot so my cotton 187 3 black polonaise was needed. I did buy a new hat for it that had some amazing feathers on it.

NOVEMBER:  This was a busy month with three events. First was a tea at the Teahouse on Los Rios in San Juan Capistrano with the Ladies of the Traveling Tea Society. And yes, the weather was still hot, so my 1903 Pink Striped Voile dress was again worn.

I had planned a Picnic in Tissot’s Garden at Balboa Park for our guild, and even though in the past years at this time the weather was very nice, it decided to rain. Not a lot but enough to make the ground wet and possibly threatening more. So sadly I had to cancel the picnic, even though I’d made a new dress just for it. I used another pattern reproduction from Ageless Patterns to make an 1870s loosely wrapped bodice, with big froofy skirt and apron, and lots of lace. It was a white cotton voile with green Swiss dots. One of my friends came up with an idea of an impromptu tea party at a tearoom so we could still dress up. After calling all the places she found one tearoom, Tea Upon Chatsworth, which had one table available. So we called a bunch of friends and managed to get 5 together for tea. So at least I got to wear my dress I’d worked so hard on for the picnic. I’m rescheduling the picnic again for later in the Spring; once the rainy season has stopped.

My final event was our costumed walkabout at the Del Mar Antique Show. The theme was Alice in Wonderland and if you read my previous blog, you’ll know the story behind my dress. And I realize without the accessories and bunny, I can use this for Mary Poppins if ever need be, since even my hubby thought that's who I was.
Once the hoopla has settled down getting ready for the holidays, I hope to get back to work on my Romantic era bonnet I’m making in an online class with Jennifer R. at Historical Sewing.   I’m finding it really easy with her step by step videos. I’m covering mine in a cream or off white silk taffeta so I can do a variety of colored trims on it. I still haven’t decided what dress will get this but I have some ideas of what I want to do. I think it needs some lace coming off the crown.

The first dress I’ll be working on is my 1853 purple silk for the Riverside Dickens Festival. It’s off a fashion print that made my jaw drop when I saw it. While I was at a sewing workshop with Shelley P. she noticed some details in it I hadn’t seen at first, and visually deconstructed the dress to help me make it. And there’s a bonnet with it that needs making too.

Another project I’ll be working on is a 1905 dress, and probably start some of my projects for Costume College next August because it’s never enough time to make all the dresses!

                                   Chloe & I wish you all happy holidays! 


Sunday, November 22, 2015


I started planning for our next Costume Walkabout at the Del Mar Antique Show in November once I heard the theme was Alice in Wonderland. Of course there will be the usual characters there but I don’t like to do “costumes” and wanted to stick to my historical clothing. This is where “character development” comes in which I don’t normally do but I did one in the past as The Ghost of Xmas Past, Present, and Future for a previous Walkabout.
It didn’t take me long after searching for Alice ideas to come up with an adult Alice Liddell, who the book was written for, all grown up. The book Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland was written in 1865, and Alice Liddell was 10 years old when it was written. So I figured by adding 30 years to her life that would make it about 1895. So there I had my time period I wanted to make my dress.

My memory of Alice is from the original 1951 Disney movie when I was growing up. And then I saw someone’s page of ideas for costuming an Alice, and I got some ideas from it.  Blue skirt, white blouse, maybe a half apron. I’ve got black Mary Jane shoes. Ooh, bunny jewelry! 
And then I thought how about an Alice who became totally obsessed with rabbits when she grew up?That gave me all kinds of ideas for some accessories. It would be like the White Rabbit wouldn’t leave her, day or night. Her jewelry could be rabbits. And she would always be looking for rabbits.
I came across this photo of a watch-style purse, and remembered this large wooden pocket watch I had that was actually a Christmas decoration. It has a short gold chain, and I can hang it by a small chatelaine onto my waistband.
I first thought of wearing a black ribbon headband but after being reminded of a hat, I pulled out my boater hat that HAS a black ribbon on it. Perfect!  Needing to add a little something to the blouse for color, I thought of making a navy blue bow tie for the neck like this photo I found. I still hadn’t decided on a white apron yet.

Hunting for jewelry on Etsy was fun! I typed a search in for bunny jewelry and was surprised the amount of it that popped up, and many referred to the Wonderland White Rabbit, or Peter Rabbit. Since Alice Liddell was a real person, I didn’t want to refer too much to the cartoon character, and picked this life-like bunny pendant. It was only $10. But then I saw this antique child’s ring with THE rabbit in it looking at his pocket watch, and it was ONLY $7, so yeah, gotta have it! Total cost in jewelry was kept under $20. I like that. I don’t usually spend a lot on accessories for my costumes, unless it’s something antique but since everything else came from my stash, I decided that was ok.

I also decided to include a very small stuffed rabbit and knew I had to make an apron now to put it in the pocket of the apron. My friend Cindy found me a cream plush one at a swap meet that was a perfect fit for a pocket. So which came first, the apron or the rabbit?
While I was out shopping in the Halloween sales department at Michael’s I found this black bow tie for $3.97, so that saves me from making something that will probably cost more than that. I originally planned on wearing my usual white boots but remembered I’d bought some Mary Jane-style black shoes recently and they were similar to the shoes Alice wore as a child. 

I considered wearing a blonde wig for about 15 seconds. Uhh…no. I used to be white blonde myself, and as I got older it became more brown/auburn. So I decided I would stick to my usual wig color, and have it up in a 90s style, her being an adult and all.

My patterns are the Truly Victorian #494- 1894 shirtwaist, and #291- 1898 walking skirt.

I had picked up some powder blue cotton-twill blend fabric for my friend but it had a bit of stretch in it  and wouldn’t work for her, so I decided to use it for my skirt instead of wasting it. My white 100% cotton for the shirtwaist is a bit sheer and would need a good stiff netting in the sleeves to hold up those big puppies.

The apron was the easy part. My very first sewing project when I was a little girl was an apron I learned how to make at our local girls club. A large square of fabric, hemmed on three sides, pleated or gathered onto a long strip of fabric that was folded over and became the ties in the back.  Another small square of fabric became the pocket just big enough to hold a bunny. He was safety-pinned in for safety.

The skirt was very easy to sew together, although I had to deal with some stretchiness. I staystitched all around each panel that helped a bit but the waistband may start stretching quite a bit. In retrospect, I think I should have sewn a real sturdy interfacing in it to hold it firm. Maybe at a later time I can re-do that.
The blouse was probably the most work but still an easy sew. I used some stiff netting folded over and covered with a layer of cotton between my arm and the sleeve so it wasn’t scratchy. It only went in the section from the armseye about 6 inches down, although there was more in the poofiness. There’s still a bit of it in the armseye seam allowance that I’m slowly snipping away but will probably still poke me occasionally. A solution for next time will be to finish off the netting seam first with a strip of fabric before it goes into the armseye.
I chose the front buttoned view, and the short peplum primarily for more length to tuck into the waistband. I don’t plan on wearing it on the outside of the skirt. I’m not real happy with my collar. I managed to miss having a piece in it that the upper collar would fold over, so mine sticks up. Which is ok but there’s a slight gap. My bowtie will be covering that up though. 

So here is the whole outfit put together, and I decided I would bring my blue parasol that had just been recovered by my friend, Connie, at Victorian Parasols. *Don’t mind the little black and white furball there. She gets into everything.*

So off we go to the Del Mar Antique Show in San Diego for Lady Mari’s Costume Walkabout. We do this twice yearly and are given a theme to dress in. Today’s theme was Alice in Wonderland, and there were many Cheshire Cats, Mad Hatters, Queen of Hearts, White Queen, Dormouse, White Rabbits, a White Knight, Tweedle Dedee, Knave of Hearts, and many variations of fantasy and Steampunk. I had expected to see a lot of Alices though. Very surprising there was not!

This is worth pointing out. Bob was the Mad Hatter and had his dormouse skeleton in his teapot. Also notice the bandoliers with tea tins, tea spoons and strainers. And his tea medals. Lots of details went into this. 

By the way, did you know this year was the 150th Anniversary of the publishing of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland book? Happy anniversary Lewis Caroll and to Alice Liddell, who the book was written for. You can read more about the book’s beginnings here:
This was likely the last costume event I’m going to this year, unless I’m able to make it to our Guild holiday dinner since it coincides with our family get-together. Keeping my fingers crossed I can get out early enough to go. If I do go, I will most likely wear my 1880s Red & Black Check bustle dress.
But there will be more sewing going on; like working on an 1830s bonnet in an online class I signed up for last month at Historical, and working on my purple dress for the Riverside Dickens Festival fashion show. Oh sheesh, I just realized what I wrote. I’m making dresses JUST for fashion shows now? No, it will have other uses. It’s just the next and first event I will need it for. And then there’s a maize yellow 1905 dress I want to make for an April event.
Thank you to Jerry Abuan  for some of the photos I shared here.