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.


Saturday, January 17, 2015

My Corset History; They aren't that scary.

*This was a blog post I'd written back in Aug 2013 but never finished. So I've updated it to add here.*
When I first started costuming in 2005 I was one of those who just wanted to start making the dresses and was impatient to get them going. It was impressed on me that I really needed to make the corset first. But I was stubborn. However on a visit to the home of the McNaughton sisters (of Truly Victorian patterns) to pick up my first patterns from them, Heather told me they had some corsets they'd made for sale. *Now don't get excited, this was years ago and they don't do that anymore.* Heather tried a couple on me and I chose a pink coutil one. So now I was really ready to make my dresses. Later on Heather had to deal with me resisting her suggestion that I flat-line the bodice in a cotton dress because I didn't know what it was, or its purpose. And don't blame her; she really tried to convince me. And later it sunk in after I saw the bagginess of the fabric on my bodice. Flat-lining gives fabric support and smoothness. Even if you don't understand it, trust me. I highly recommend it. It's period correct and you will be sooo much happier in how your bodice looks.

I wore that corset for a couple years and made my dresses but kept noticing it would poke me in the underarms when I sat, or rode up by the end of the day. When I was finally able to afford a custom-made one by Shelley Peters of the Kansas Mercantile, she said because of my short waist a custom made one would be much more comfortable. And it was. That one was made using the Laughing Moon pattern, with a white floral brocade coutil. I wore that puppy to death for about five years.
In the meantime I wanted to make some Regency dresses and tried making a Regency corset with a wooden busk in a class at Costume College. It used cording instead of bones and really was fun to make and worked great. But I didn't finish it in class, and even though we were promised emailed instructions to finish it, they were never sent. So I bought the Mantua Maker's pattern for the same corset and used those instructions to finally finish it. I don't have a photo of it though.
A few years later when I tried 18th century dresses I made a Georgian corset using Butterick's #4484 pattern out of a powder blue silk taffeta. I liked it because it gave you the option of lacing both front and back. Since I almost always have to get into my corsets and costumes by myself any of the seamed front corsets made it really hard to wear them. This one doesn't have many bones in it so it doesn't give as much support as I'd like but it gave me the right silhouette for my 1770s gowns. The shoulder straps kept falling off my shoulders though and made me very irritable. At one point I cut them off.

A couple years later I made the JP Ryan pattern, which also has a laced front option. It was a much better fit. And this one didn't have those shoulder straps to fall off me all the time.
As I've been typing this and digging out photos to include here I'm starting to realize that I've actually made more corsets than I thought. Three years ago I made a 1903 S-bend corset using Truly Victorian's new Edwardian corset ##E01 during an online class with Jennifer Rosbrugh of Historical Sewing.
It gives an appearance of you leaning forward by a fuller bust area with bust pads, which is then covered by a fluffy corset cover, and a small bum pad in the back. It was very comfortable, much more so than my Victorian one.
Having that experience under my belt, I tackled a 1911 long-line corset that my friend Cat had graded up for me from Corsets & Crinolines by Norah Waugh. I bought a pink striped canvas fabric in the Garment District and flat-lined it with twill.
I've yet to wear this one but I'm now ready to make my 'Teens era dresses. Downton Abbey, here I come!

**January 2015-- Update 1 1/2 years later**
Finally I'm making my 'Teens era dresses and needed to use this corset. but I found it wasn't doing anything for my body. So at the recommendation of Shelley Peters, I added more boning to it. It had minimal bones when I made it. 16 bones later it finally felt like it was doing what it was supposed to be doing, making me svelte. Ok, pushing the fluff around to a smoother line. I was able to wear a couple dresses that I had made in the interim and now am excited to go on to the next ones.

I saved this photo of another corset someone had made where she sewed strips of "Shabby Chic" fabric together and would LOVE to make one like it. This is the one that got me going on making one.
By now my poor five year old Victorian corset was too big on my hips and wasn't doing me any favors. So when Shelley Peters asked me to host one of her Historical Sewing Workshops at my house, I knew this was a good chance to make a new 1880s one to replace mine.  Truly Victorian had their own pattern #110, and it gave a much better "hip spring" to it. I've heard that term a lot, not really sure what it means, bu it know it refers to the shape of the curve over the hips.

Considering I wear Victorian dress more often than anything else, I'm surprised it took me so long to make one of these corsets. And once again having the experience under my belt, I had no qualms trying a second one. It was scary but not as bad as I thought. And having someone who knows how to make them to help you along is a great advantage.

Omg, I forgot to add my Regency bodiced petticoat! I made this because I can actually get into it and almost tighten it up instead of the Regency corset, which I hardly ever get to wear because of that. I used my LaMode Bagatelle pattern's drawstring bodice portion, slightly lowered the neckline so it wouldn't show above my dress neckline. I did a drawstring around the neck and underbust. With the bones on the sides of the bust portion and pulling the ties very tightly it totally gives me the great "shelf" you need for Regency but sadly does not flatten the midriff. :(   I added a ruffle to the bottom hem to fluff out my dress but it really needs to be a bit longer.



Saturday, January 10, 2015

1910-1912 Black Ascot, And Beyond

I started and finished this dress for Costume College 2014 last August to wear to the Sunday Fantasy Tea. Originally the tea theme was A Day at the Races, or Royal Ascot, or A Picnic at the Racetrack, or something like that. I can't even remember now what the final theme was. Either way, when I first heard Royal Ascot I immediately thought of my friend Cindy's Black Ascot dress she'd made and worn for our mourning fashion show, and thought what a great idea for us both to wear that to the tea. Black Ascot refers to the year in 1910 where everyone in England wore black in mourning for the passing of King Edward at the Royal Ascot Races, which he loved.
I already had a black dotted Swiss cotton in my stash to make it with, and collected some inspiration photos for the bodice. These two from 1912 were my favorites. And a belt with the medallion was something I wanted to try also.


My design came from an OOP (out-of-print) Simplicity pattern #8474, that had just the right crossover I wanted, and I liked the pointed front of the over-skirt. The pattern is a jumper with an under-blouse. I made the under-blouse from the same dotted Swiss but didn't line it like I did the jumper. I used Butterick 4049 for that, but made three-quarter length sleeves. 
I used a row of purchased trim down the front of the V-neck, and tried making a medallion but was running out of time fast. Then I remembered this antique thingamabob I had in my stash. 

The pattern fits rather loose on you and since I didn't have time to make a muslin to check the fit, the bodice is a bit long on me, with my short waist, and it also has a three inch waistband that adds more fullness to it. But wrapping the belt around the waist holds a lot of that in. I made a 5" wide belt out of black silk taffeta and scrunched it down on the sides and pulled it up at the top center where I attached it to the center of the bodice with a snap to hold it in place. Then I basted the thingamabob to it. 

On the blouse collar, sleeve cuffs, and edges of the V-neck I used more black silk taffeta to trim them. It helped brighten up the dullness of the dotted Swiss and gave it more texture too. My over-skirt was kind of limp so at the last minute I sewed a band of the silk taffeta around the hem of it. 
My accessories were an antique silk purse I'd bought in Florida last year that I had to replace the silk faille bag but was able to do that with the same fabric purchased at Fabrics & Fabrics in the Los Angeles Garment District. I had also bought a hat in WA that was perfect for this. At Cindy's suggestion I put a black feather boa around the crown and then hand basted some vintage black grapes I bought at the Johnson House in Old Town San Diego, which is a great place to find some vintage things sometimes. My jewelry was a black glass Edwardian necklace I'd bought in pieces and restrung a few years ago. 

I also got to wear a remembrance rosette for King Eddie that Cindy had made me. 

As you can see, it wrinkles pretty badly. And the over-skirt still is pretty limp. I didn't have time to try it on much before I had to pack and leave for Costume College, and I already knew the bodice was just too blousey. So that was on my agenda to do some restructuring at a later date. 

With multiple events for the 1915 Centennial Celebration of the Panama-California Exposition in Balboa Park, I was able to kick myself in the butt to get this dress repaired, refitted, and restructured, to wear on the 8th for one of the first events there. Our Guild was asked for some costumed folk to attend as greeters and mingle with the guests at a Centennial Beer Tasting reception (of all things, I don't drink beer) at the Museum of Man next to the newly opened California Tower. That in itself is amazing because it's never been open in my lifetime. 
At first I thought I would wear my pink striped dress I'd made two years ago but wasn't happy with wearing a day dress to an evening event where it would be colder. I also needed to finish my long-line corset by adding 16 bones to it. So I couldn't do anything until that was done. After I did, I remembered my black dress and realized it would be more appropriate for this event. After conferring with Cindy, we decided to go as twins in our dresses. 

The first thing I had to do was take in the excess bodice fabric. My neighbor pinned it up for me but while I was looking at it I realized that just by taking out the three inch waistband that would correct it. So I ripped it out and sewed the bodice to skirt. The belt covers the waist so you wouldn't even know it's missing. The under-blouse was also an issue because the two cotton fabrics were rubbing up against each other. So I removed the sleeves of the blouse and sewed it directly to the jumper. Since I no longer had the blouse I had a lot of exposed neckline. I had bought a piece of black lace fabric from a vendor at the Costume College Marketplace last year so I sewed a band of silk taffeta to it along the top edge and basted it into the V-neck of the bodice. To add a bit of weight to the over-skirt I basted some crinoline tape under the hem facing and it gave it just the right amount of body. 
I was much happier wit the fit and my choice of dress for this event. And Cindy and I got to go as twinsies finally. *both these photos by Trudy F.*
*Photo by Mary J. *

There were 19 of us attending in costume of the period that night. The following are photos taken of some of our attendees by Dr. Dave Roberts. 
I don't know why I was never caught smiling, because I know I did. Dave almost caught me breaking out into a smile in one photo but not quite.   

These are a couple more photos taken by Cat F. 


Thursday, January 1, 2015


Planning a 1912-1915 outfit for the 1915 Balboa Park Panama-California Exposition

For the last couple years San Diego has been attempting to put together a huge celebration of the 100 year anniversary of the 1915 Exposition in Balboa Park. The Expo, which opened in January of that year, was organized in conjunction with the grand opening of the Panama Canal, and to entice travelers to come to San Diego as the first port of call after their westward trip through the canal.
The original centennial plan from last year fell through but a grassroots organization rebooted it and is scheduled for April 11-12, 2015. Our San Diego Costume Guild, and anyone else interested, has been invited to join along in costume to provide a visual trip to the past, and we've been planning our costumes for it. Of course I started doing my own research on the styles of dress worn in 1915. I figured styles from a couple years back would probably be worn too so included those back to 1912. I mainly looked for day dresses that would be worn by the general public as they strolled through the park. April in San Diego can still be cool but most of our cold and rain are usually gone by then.

The fashion name for this time period was called the 'teens, referring to the second half of the year number, such as 19thirteen. The styles ran from a dress, a skirt and blouse (aka shirtwaist or waist), or a walking suit. Starting in 1912 the waistlines are still slightly raised and drop to the natural waist by 1914. Skirt widths went from straight to slightly flared at the bottom.

The length also started going up and by 1915 the ankles were showing, although colored stockings or spats were worn. Dresses were still layered, going from the drapey bodice to clearly defined seams but still layered. Skirts were often in two sections, a shorter length at the top, or a draped overskirt from the side. 1914 showed a pulled-up drape on the sides creating an interesting look to the skirts. Necklines were varied but I see a lot of v-necks, with the majority of them having a center panel. A recognizable style was the cross-over bodice, and with pointed or lace collars.

The photos I collected for my Pinterest page, 1915 Centennial Celebration, don't tell what the fabrics are but cottons and linens work well for the day dresses, and most likely there were silks. Fabric designs for day include solids, stripes, plaids and dots, and some florals, mostly in two colors. But I'm sure there were others out there.


The underpinnings include an under-bust corset to have a smooth line of the hips. At one point they were very long but shortened later. By this time the chemises and drawers gave way to the combinations, which combined them into one piece with less bulk. The dress silhouette was soft with just a petticoat under them.

Hairstyles were soft with a slight fluff and curls. There still needed to be enough hair to hold up some of the larger hats so they wouldn't droop over your forehead and face.
For accessories, hats came in a variety of shapes and sizes. Large hats to small perched-on-top hats. Trims were fairly simple with just a band of fabric, and a single feather or flower.


Purses were changing from soft bags to leather. Patterns in 1912 for crocheted purses were shown, as well as the 1912 Sears catalogs with fabric bags but now with metal frames, both of which could still be made at home. But leather purses were being advertised.

The majority of the pictures I first collected are fashion plates so it doesn't tell exactly what women really were wearing. So I did a search for photos from the 1915 exposition and found quite a few postcards and photos what they were actually wearing during the grand opening. Granted it was in January so a majority of the ladies were wearing walking suits, but quite a few were also wearing a dark skirt and white blouse Very few were wearing dresses at that time of year. *If you click on the photos you can see them larger.*

There was one photo of an obviously well-to-do couple wearing a current stylish outfit, but not what the general public was wearing.  
There was still a lot of the white skirt and white blouse styles that were popular a good five years earlier. Ok, so I surprised myself when I'm trying to make a dress that was modern and up to date for that time period.

I firmly believe the best way to educate yourself in the styles of the era are to see them. For this reason I created my Pinterest page, 1915 Centennial Celebration, and have also included some men's fashions that I could find, which I know little about so can't really describe them. But I hope by seeing them it will help the gents.