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.


Tuesday, April 14, 2015


A few months back our costume guild became involved in joining the celebration for the Centennial of the 1915 Panama-California Exposition in Balboa Park. I had a lot of fun researching a dress for it. I’ll go into more detail on my dress below.
This past weekend was the day our grassroots group planned the celebration since the City of San Diego pulled out of doing anything themselves. Everyone and everything there was all volunteers, along with the museums. It ended up mostly our group walking up and down the mall, interacting with the public, answering lots of questions, and getting our photos taken constantly. Standing in one spot for 20 or more minutes wasn’t unusual, with people hopping in for the photo shots. We broke off into small groups so we would be scattered around but occasionally we got together for the large group photo. 
Shortly after we arrived that day and a group of us gathered, one of the news stations contacted us and wanted to talk to someone on camera. 

I ended up being that person. I basically told them what today’s celebration was for, and a bit about the park. When asked why we dressed like this, I said we like making history come alive for the public. I give that station, NBC, kudos because even though my spiel on the history was cut out, they got our name right, and surprisingly spelled mine right too. Later another station, KUSI, found us near the House of England and I was again asked to do the talking. It was only a camera guy, and he recorded my name and the name of the costume guild on camera, but when it was aired, they also edited any reference to what the celebration was, and said we were the DAR. Wrong time period, wrong coast. I found out later the DAR had an information table nearby but it was very frustrating. And with that station, it didn’t surprise me. This is from a slideshow from the NBC station. 
I was very happy to see all the pretty outfits the ladies had made for this event. Recently a couple new patterns were put out by Butterick that fit the time period, and another by Hint of History, that I had suggested, had been made, and even a Past Patterns revival McCalls pattern was used. I had hoped to get all of them together in group shots but as usual, it was like, you know, herding…… But this is a nice shot of some of them. Me in the green striped Past Patterns, Jo in the Past Patterns McCall dress, Ellyn in the Hint of History pattern, and Sarah in the new Butterick pattern. 
And we always had to show off our lovely parasols. 

My friend, Loralee, from the CGW guild in Los Angeles, came down for the day to join us in her beautiful green suit and said she had a great time with us. Her bird hat was amazing. 

I was asked quite a few times what pattern I had used, so I expect I’ll be seeing some beautiful versions of that soon.
So on to making the dress:
I’m only slightly familiar with the changing styles from 1910-1915 and wanted to focus on bodice shapes & accessories. After I narrowed down the style and found a pattern, it kind of created itself.
So the choices I decided on was this style dress, using this pattern (Past Patterns 6204/ 5 gore skirt), and this green & white striped cotton fabric:

The pattern only comes in one size and it was 10” too small in the waist for me. Since it was just a skirt with two waistbands, and not a fitted bodice, I figured it was be a fairly easy enlargement but handed it off to a friend who knew how to do this stuff. Oh, and the instructions are only about one paragraph, so buyer beware. I lucked out that she made a muslin for me and I basically used that as my guide.
 The two front side panels have a folded over pleat but the rest of the gores are just sewn together. Easy peasey. But it looks like I didn’t take any in-progress photos of this. Sorry.  
After the gores/panels are sewn together, you sew the waistbands on, which has two levels. The first level sits just above your waistline. The second goes up to your bustline basically cupping the “girls” but not over them. The points should be just to the side of your bustline, and the shoulder straps will give you some support too.
I used a Pellon interfacing on both the upper and lower waistbands to give them some structure. The lower waistband is in two pieces and has a facing behind it. The front has an overlapping “belt” that I topstitched together so creating a fake “belt”.  After sewing both the fabric and the facing pieces in their centers, I sewed the length of them on one edge right-sides together and sewed that side to the skirt panels, then after I sewed the upper waistband on I folded the edge under of the facing and slipstitched it to the waist. I think you could probably skip that facing but I was already sewing it together before I thought of that. I can see a lot of fudging possibilities there. But definitely interface it.
The upper “waistband” has a finished top edge so I sewed those two pieces right sides together, turned it right side out, understitched the top edge to keep it down, then sewed one of the right sides to the first waistband, but keeping one side free and turned the edge of it under. Then slipstitched it onto the bottom. Since it’s inside it probably doesn’t matter if you just sewed it all as one piece to the right sides.
The back has a very long placket, and I only put two buttonholes on the waistband portion, with snaps down the rest of it. My neighbor pinned my straps on to where it fit me best and for them to stay on, but basically they were centered on the points of the waistband. I didn't do buttonholes to attach to the waistband, just sewed them to it.
Now the pockets on the front are a whole different story. Totally “pull your hair out” type of construction. The directions had you putting the pockets under the lower waistband with it poking out above and below so it was an open pocket. So you end up slipstitching part of the waistband closed. My rationalizing brain asked WHY? A perfectly good pocket could be sewed on TOP of the waistband. So there it sits. If you notice, I only have one pocket. I thought it looked cute. Originally I cut out two and have now decided I will mostly likely sew the second one on. So it looks cute on both sides. My vintage buttons, that have a raised floral design on them, are strictly decorative since I sewed my pocket shut. I only had 6 of them, and just realized why I only have one pocket. Oh well.

I went back and forth on my skirt length. I really liked the shorter skirt and tried really hard to find some plain white COMFORTABLE shoes I could wear but they don’t seem to make those anymore. All I could find were black. COMFORT being the main description because we would be walking a lot. So I found photos showing ladies still wearing long skirts and my nice comfortable white boots won out. I will still be looking for those *I Love Comfort* shoes though.
My blouse wasn’t anything too complicated. Butterick 4091 Basque Blouse, made with a white cotton/rayon blend fabric. 
The surprise for me was the collar turned into a great white sail. I used the one on the lower right of the pattern. I guess I didn’t notice how BIG it was in the back, big enough to sail a boat with. And it did try to fly away with me a couple times. Hah! And I just realized I used the smaller white buttons on that and I think I can scavenge two off of it since it doesn’t show at the bottom and use them for the two pockets. Brilliant!  The Great White Sail has now be removed from the neckline and will be cut down to a more manageable and smaller collar for when I wear it again in two weeks. I like that square one on the lower left of the pattern better.
EDITED TO ADD- I was just asked about what corset I wore with this. I wore my long-line one that was scaled up from Janet Waugh's Corsets & Crinolines book. A Victorian corset wouldn't give you that soft bust that this outfit requires. 
The main accessory was of course the awesome orange parasol I bought on ebay. It made me look colorful and quite easy to find in the park too. You couldn’t miss me.
 I’ve loved this hat style on Lady Sybil from Downton Abbey forever and used a straw hat I bought recently in Port Townsend to make mine. With only two days to go I had to run to a couple fabric stores to find some orangey fabric to trim it with. The best I came up with was polka dots. I put a band around the brim, made “rabbit ears” with interfacing and the fabric, and basted it to the hat with a giant vintage button. I turned down one end of the hat to get the Sybil-look.
Also on the final days I ran across this photo of a lady from the time period with that fabulous necklace! It was off to Michael’s for some beads. I really wanted wood ones but due to the time crunch and none there, I bought glass jade green ones. It wasn’t long enough at first and wanted to hide inside the collar so the night before the event, I made another run to Michaels for two more strands. 
I used my antique leather purse for the first time but it didn’t make it into many photos because I always had something else (cell phone/lunch) in my hand and had to put it behind my back for photos. 
Et voila!  We also did our characters parade at the House of England that day, and many of us wearing this time period chose to all be from Downton Abbey. It was a lot of fun.
And BTW, someone else blogged about the event and put in lots of pictures of us. Great to meet you, Richard! Cool San Diego Sights
This coming weekend we have our costumed walkabout at the Del Mar Antique Show again, and I'm always excited to possibly find some new accessory for my costumes. It's always a treasure hunt!

Monday, April 13, 2015

An Update to my Bloomer presentation at ALHFAM

I felt I should put an update in here since many of you and my friends on Facebook have been so supportive of my presenting my Bloomer dress at the ALHFAM conference next June in Williamsburg.
Well, the good news is my proposal was accepted, and even better, I was awarded the Fellowship. Prior to this, I'd never heard of a  Fellowship, except relating to colleges and doctors, and found out it's a scholarship. I also didn't understand that I would have to pay $425 to attend the conference just so I could do my presentation. That was a major stumbling block to me and was almost the tool to end the whole idea, other than if they would just let me show up the day my class was scheduled and do the presentation. This conference is not exactly in my field, although I will keep an open mind when I arrive.

Part of what I had to do to apply for the Fellowship was to write my resume of all my accomplishments. That was tough enough. Then I needed two referrals from people who knew me. *Hello! Does anyone here know enough about me?* But I lucked out when I was contacted by our current Dean of Costume College, who offered to write one for me. It was very humbling to read it. I feel like I need to keep up my standards and make her proud of me now. And then I contacted the San Diego History Center, which contains the extant bloomer gown, and asked those who I have worked with if they could write me one. Gabe, who has known me for about 8 years, was very happy to write one for me, and is also a member of ALHFAM, so he's familiar with what they offer and might need from me. I have to tell you, I was thunderstruck at what he wrote about me. He got everything down that I have done in the past years with them, fluffed it up, and literally had me glowing. *I'm glowing!*
Thanks to these two wonderful people and their recommendations, I was awarded the Fellowship and will soon be reworking my slideshow presentation to update it. I am co-presenting with Dr Pamela Poulin, PhD, who specializes in Amelia Bloomer and the women's reform movement. We're trying to figure out how to interweave our stories together so we're not jumping all over the place. With her being in NY, we've done this via emails and phone calls. It's a little harder than it sounds because there's always a delay in responding. And I'm nervous because of where I'm speaking but I have to remind myself to just be me.
This past weekend, while at Balboa Park, I ran into Gabe and after thanking him profusely for his referral, he broached the idea of allowing me to bring the extant gown from the History Center's collection. I wasn't sure because Tammie, in the Collections Department, had told me it was very fragile. Gabe said he's going to talk to her about that possibility. AWESOME!!

At least there's some sewing plans to go along with this. I'm going to be wearing my brown cotton Bloomer outfit, but need to make a new pair of bloomers to go with it since my others are too short. And I need to get those hooks aligned on the bodice to the skirt since I screwed those up. I'm seriously considering just attaching the skirt to the bodice permanently instead. Yeah, more work but seems more feasible. I'd thought I'd make a brand new colorful outfit but since there was a delay in even knowing if my class would be accepted, then an even longer delay if I would get the Fellowship, that I haven't left myself time to make a new one since I have other spoons in the kettle, so to speak. I do want to find a new straw hat since the crown on the one I use is a bit too flat. There was some talk among my friends about maybe wearing Regency out to dinner while I'm there but I haven't heard anything else confirming this, or if any of them are attending now. So I'm holding off, although I may make my rose linen spencer to go with my white voile dress. *just in case*  


Sunday, April 12, 2015


I’ve been home just a little over a week from my trip up to Port Townsend, WA, and the area surrounding it. I had a chance to check out the antique mall there, and one in Port Angeles but didn’t come away with much this time. I was only up there for two days before I dressed up in my Autumn Bustle to attend the Victorian Festival and be in the fashion show.
The day before that I drove up to Port Townsend to raid the antique mall before any crowds did. If you’ve been to the Festival in the past you now know there really aren’t many “crowds” but it is easier to shop in the small spaces and go downstairs not wearing a bustle.

One of my favorite booths there has all kinds of sewing notions and previously I’ve found lots of really great black glass buttons I’ve used in my costuming, or add to my stash for when I need them. In the past couple years the pickings have been less and less. I still found a group of seven 1/2" ones, and also a group of 17 small brass Victorian buttons. The design on them look like a group of flowers. These may likely be held onto for a seaside dress.

 I also collect unusual glass prisms from chandeliers that I hang on my Xmas trees. I usually get about 2-4 of the various styles, and surprisingly they do come in a variety of styles and sizes. Downstairs in one of the oversized locked cases is a multitude of them. Another lady was shopping there to make wind chimes with them and sell at craft shows. I’d love to have seen one, or possibly even bought one.
I also found this straw hat that I think I can use for my costume I'll be wearing in two weeks after I get home.
Afterwards my mom and I stopped at our favorite Thai restaurant and shortly after we sat down I began receiving texts from Gina W. ( her blog- Beauty from Ashes) that she was down the street having lunch with her mom, Lana. So afterwards I went out on the street corner to meet up with them. It was so windy I could barely stand still. I saw both of them coming down the street, just about to be lifted away by the wind if they’d had their hats on. Which they didn’t, as they would have lost them very quickly. They had decided to walk the town in costume and take photos around the area.
The next day I returned wearing my own Autumn Bustle dress and met up with them again where we had a photo shoot along the waterfront and wharf. It wasn’t quite as windy today but it was colder.

Afterwards I took them shopping at a local fiber arts store down the street that has a vintage button trunk show during the festival. They were both really excited and dug into baskets and trunks digging for treasures, which we did bring home some loot.

These were my purchases.

Later that day we all showed up at the church for the fashion show. This show raises money from the attendees donations for a scholarship to a deserving student in Jefferson County. This year we totally surpassed the previous year’s donations so I guess they liked us. J
As usual, since I’m in the show I can only take photos while backstage and just prior to going on. I did hand my camera to Vanessa W. when she arrived in the audience but forgot to tell her to take some of everyone. So all she got was me.
Here we are backstage getting ready, getting last minute information and lining up to go out. This was my friends, Gina W. and her mother, Lana’s, first time in the fashion show so I took a lot of photos of them. But when you see their gowns, you’ll understand why.

I loved seeing these Norwegian Bunad costumes, being of Norwegian descent myself. The little girl was just precious.

And of course there was the mad dash back and forth changing into another outfit but this year I made it easy on myself and just wore my one dress.    

There’s me on the stage. JoAnn asked the audience if they’d like to see my Imperial Bustle and how it worked so she lifted up my skirts to show how you lift and collapse it to sit down.

Afterwards we all returned to the stage for a group photo, which I really enjoy seeing us all together.

Friends Vanessa W. & Rebecca M. were in the audience. 
Later I helped with Gina W. doing her recreation of a painting. She copied her dress from a painting and recreated the whole setting. Loved those pleats and trims on the hem!

The next day I met up with Gina, Lana, and Rebecca, and invited JoAnn from the fashion show, to join us for afternoon tea at the Commander’s Beach House; another chance for us all to dress up, although this year I only brought my one dress. It’s getting expensive to ship it up, and on the way home I managed to cram it into a duffle bag, and only pay half the price to bring it home. This may be my new method.

Afterwards we all drove up to Fort Worden to do a photo shoot there and on the beach. Again it was extremely windy and we had a lot of wardrobe malfunctions. But it was a great place and a very dramatic day for taking photos.
We started out at the museum there, and then walked up the hill to The Castle. Not a very large castle, I might add. In fact, it’s only claim to fame is a single crenulated tower. These photos are courtesy of Gina W. who sent them to me. The gentleman with us was Rebecca’s beau.

We then headed down to the beach, which was even harder to walk through the sand and over the rocks with the wind trying to blow us away. These photos were by me.

We started rocking hunting along the shore and came up with some real beauties, along with some bits of white sea glass.

                             Final photo by Gina. What a lovely day.
One last photo: I didn't find as many things to add to my costumes this time but a trip to the antique mall in Port Angeles came up with this unusual hat. It's almost like two hats sewn together. The top of curly ostrich feathers is attached to a net covered wire frame that is attached to the top of the black velvet covered under hat. The silk inside the crown has shattered and it's loosing feathers. But I think it will be interesting to play with sometime.