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, July 19, 2015

DOWNTON ABBEY: A Dress & a Tea

A couple months ago I began planning a Tea at Downton Abbey event for my costume guild. Like many others, I’m a big fan of the Masterpiece series, especially of the clothes in the first couple seasons. Once it passed 1918, I just oohed and ahhed but not enough to want to make them. I liked the earlier 1912-1915 styles mostly, and especially the day dresses. I don’t have much opportunities to need the evening clothes, as delicious as they are.
I wished we had more and longer times of cool/colder weather so I could make those scrumptious suits. I still have dreams of these, like Sybil’s blue suit. I do have an awesome Folkwear pattern that is going to get some serious looking at soon.

For the last couple years I kept saying I’m going to make a Downton Abbey wardrobe and just wear all those to Costume College, which btw, is in 11 ELEVEN ELEVEN!! Days. Eek!
When I started planning something to wear to the Balboa Park celebration of the 1915 Panama-Californa Centennial, this got me the push I needed. At the same time a new Butterick pattern #6093 was put out and had the perfect 1914 lines I wanted, minus the big ole collar.

I did a test run on it for my pattern review group and it had some issues with the front skirt. I wrote about that in my post last September. I still can’t believe I started it that long ago. I made something else for the Centennial but finally got back to this and finished it last week.  
When I first made it the overskirt, which is all sewn as one piece with the front of the skirt, it only came to my center front and not to the side as shown in the photo. And the little pleats at the top side of it just pooched out. Not flattering. And no, I didn’t make a muslin. This was a very fast test run of it. I’d used the size 20 pattern but it didn’t seem to account for that part. And the bodice was made for a bigger bust size than me. I guess I’m spoiled by other patterns that have you fit the individual pieces to your size but I’ll try next time to mix and match the pattern pieces. When I tried it on, the crossover part of the bodice was very open in the middle, which accounted for the insert they had you make. But the shoulders were hanging off the sides. I’m short from the neck to my shoulders and I’m narrow across the front. To correct this, I pulled the crossover closed over more and higher. This deleted the need for the insert. I’d love to try this again and use a pretty insert of lace next time. And maybe restyle it into a 1912 dress like these.

 To correct the skirt, I had to rip out the stitching on one side seam that held both the skirt and overskirt, add a 3” wide strip down the side, and re-stitch it back together. That got the overskirt into the correct location on the side and the pleats now laid down flat. The belt was made using two layers of a stiff interfacing covered by my fabric, and also a fabric bow sewn on the end. It was really cute!
My collar and cuffs were made from a white cotton pique, and I found the wide collar seemed a bit large on me, but that’s my modern sensibilities, since this was the style then. And I was told it looked nice. I used large purple buttons down the front and sides. They were just decorative since I used snaps underneath them on the bodice. The bodice has a side closure that goes partly down into the skirt, which I also used snaps on. *It just occurred to me now that I forgot that was there because I was trying to shimmy my way in and out of the dress yesterday and had to struggle. Duh. Obviously I’m not used to this type of closure since I’ve never worn one before.*
So, it got worn yesterday for our Tea at Downton Abbey that I set up at the Aubrey Rose Tearoom in La Mesa, CA. I got really busy there so I forgot to ask to have a photo taken until later when we were shopping at the antique mall down the street. I wore my hat that I’d bought at a vintage fashion market, but later recognized it as one made by Mela Hoyt-Hayden, who on seeing it said it was one of her’s. She has a definite recognizable style for sure. It has a fabric trim with lavender & pink plaid that ties into my dress. My reticule was a repro that again had some purple in it. I wore my American Duchess “Gibson” shoes for the first time. I remembered to put some padding in the bottom for softness, and did a little pounding and bending on the leather to soften it up too. It wasn’t overly stiff but my feet don’t like anything hard. They were fairly comfortable and are now officially broken in. They even got to walk through a 2 inch deep stream during our torrential rain yesterday.

And now for the Tea at Downton Abbey event!  I was just the organizer for the tea so the tearoom gets all the kudos for the wonderful food and ambience we were served. But I did create name tags with titles for everyone coming, with some educational & historical help from my friend Bess, in England. There is a proper way to address our lords and ladies, you know.
Instead of just giving them a title, I created one using part of their name, and sometimes having a location or home using their street or town name. Cindy was Lady Piselli of Clairemont; Trudy was Vicountess Foland of Park Gardens; Gina- Duchess Lovin of Vista: Lauren- Countess Maringola of Lemonwood. I changed my own title up to use my husband’s original English family name of Bor, so I was Lady Bor of County Cajon.
I also made bookmarks using a collection of the Dowager Countess Violet’s witticisms captured from the series. Everyone had their own individual quote, and I asked them to use it somewhere in their conversation during the tea.
As the time approached for me to drive to the tea, a tremendous thunder and lightning storm hit Southern Ca, and driving down the freeway the rain came down in buckets, and I saw a double bolt of lightning come down. This caused a lot of people to be late in arriving, and sadly Trudy never made it due to really bad traffic conditions driving down here. Some of us had to walk through a couple inches of rushing water on the streets to get to the tearoom. But inside all was peaceful. As each person arrived I tried to announce them and pin their name tag on. I felt like I was bouncing up and down from my seat as they arrived, and it was a good half hour before I finally started eating anything. It was a nice group, about 21 that made it, and we were seated close by at three tables. I was happy to hear Lady Violet’s famous quotes were being used too. A couple people came late so I didn’t get their photos taken.

The guys sat at the other table, and joining them was “President Teddy Roosevelt” (shown on the center right) who I made a special name tag for with the White House logo on it instead of Downton Abbey. He even gave me a $10,000 tip for my hard work.

The rain kept pouring during the entire two hours we were there but when we left it had stopped. So some of us made our way to the antique mall down the street to do some shopping. I think we surprised some shop owners. And I got to take a selfie.

In regards to the pattern I used for my dress, I’d give it 4 Stars due to needing some tweaking but it has a lot of possibilities. I still prefer the Hint of History 1914 pattern #101, which I’ve made also, and is available on etsy or her website, that is very similar to the Butterick but easier to make and fit. It has a waistband instead of attaching the skirt directly to the bodice, and doesn’t have the fiddly overskirt Butterick used. But I do like the belt option on the Butterick.
Back to the slaving over my sewing machine. I only have ELEVEN days to finish everything! But at least I have this dress done to wear to the Sunday tea at Costume College.

Friday, July 3, 2015


On my planning table to make for Costume College that starts July 30 is a hopefully simple white morning robe to wear to the “Breakfast with the Bennett’s” theme on Sunday morning. I hadn’t planned on making anything originally, mostly because I eat breakfast in my room before I even walk out the door. But I was encouraged to come and dress for it. Instead of making a full-on Regency dress, I’ve come up with a shortcut.  I have to take into consideration that a couple hours after that I’m teaching a class, “Watches & How Women Wore Them”, that I plan to wear an 1887 bustle dress with my watch in watch pocket, so it requires all the pinnings for that. And then two hours after that I’m going to the tea in something else. All in one day. All within six hours. Am I crazy?  Quick answer: yes.
And to further complicate things, I still need to finish my polka dot bustle gown for my Friday night theme, Polka Dot Parade. One month to do this, you say? Yes, crazy.
I’m going to give it a try, starting with my Regency robe. My idea is to just be able to wear my Regency  bodiced petticoat and a lacy morning cap that I can put this robe over and look presentable. I know others are making morning or day dresses but this will work for my timetable. Not sure about my sewing timetable as I am one of the many who claim the title, “World’s Slowest Sewer”. I’m also a great procrastinator. I’m REALLY good at searching for photos and writing, as you can see by this blog post. But what the heck.

Come see my fun part. Here are my ideas percolating in my brain. These are what gave me the idea and set my brain on fire. I want frilly and fluffy. And pink would be awesome! Time will tell if I’m going to GET frilly and fluffy.

Other ideas I found just by typing in a search on Pinterest. They were all identified as morning dress by various museums.

Then I came across these photos and it told me what fabric I was going to use and I already had it. I dug in my stash and have a bunch of white cotton Swiss dot voile so Step 1 is out of the way.

As much as I’d like to make a pretty new morning cap, I may make-do with one I already have and add a pretty bow to it.

All the patterns I thought I could use didn’t quite have the shape I wanted without major restyling. Then I saw this- Butterick 5544. And on sale. I’ve seen it made up and the waistline is just above the waist but not high enough, so I’m going to try and raise it. But the lines will work. I may try and do fake curved seams on the back so it looks closer to the time period.
I know I’m in the Costume College Club of Crazies working on last minute projects like this but that’s part of the fun. Just don’t try and come into my sewing room as it’s in its usual tornado ravaged mode at the moment.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

One of San Diego’s Jewels; the Villa Montezuma Museum

This past weekend I was invited by the Friends of the Villa Montezuma to be part of the "soft" opening to the public for tours by the City of San Diego during restorations of the historic house in San Diego, in the Sherman Heights area, just above downtown San Diego. A couple members of the San Diego Costume Guild came dressed in clothing of its time period and were posted in different parts of the house during the tours. Much of the furniture had to be sold but the beautiful carved woods, decorations, and stained glass windows really stood out without that distraction. 
The last time I’d been in the house was about 10 years ago just before it closed for major restorations. Those are done mainly by public donations. So it’s been slow going, with lots of politics involved. To keep up its funding, it was required to be open one day for free public tours quarterly.

I’ve been coming to the museum since 1979 when I first began photographing it during a photography class in college. I was delighted to find out they still had the photo I’d taken of the house cat, Psyche, and had been in a display case in the house. I probably have my own copy stashed somewhere in a box in my garage, and may have to pull it out again. The house was a totally different color then but since I was taking them in black and white, I may not be able to remember what color it was. I remember liking the color then better than the current one though.

Our group of ladies (Judy & Linda w/ parasols, me by the door) stood out on the front staircase for photos. Above our heads on the roof of the house you can see the famous gargoyle, or dragon, lightening rod. It was the focus of lots of my earlier photos. Then we found our posts inside and prepared for the tours to start.

Chanel and I trying to stay cool. (photo by the UT)
The day before, and prior to tours, I took photos of the inside of the house. It was just as beautiful as I remembered it.
I was stationed in the Drawing Room just off the Music Room. I was surrounded by stained glass windows above a bow-shaped window that used to look out on the ocean before it was dredged up by the City and became land for houses and businesses.
This was my view of the two rooms. The fireplace, believe it or not, was made from a kit purchased from a catalog.

The ceilings, even though they looked like pressed tin, is actually Lincrusta Walton, a flax product that had been pressed into a design and then painted over. This was my pretty little needlepoint chair that I got to sit in or stand up by.

As the tours came through guided by a docent, we were asked to greet the visitors and describe how we were dressed. So in my room I came up with, “I’m Val from the San Diego Costume Guild. I’m dressed in an 1885 bustle gown that I made that ladies would have been wearing when this house was built (in 1887). (I also described my dress and underpinnings in detail when asked & demonstrated how I sit with a bustle) I came to visit Jesse Shepherd’s house and felt like I walked into a jewelry box and these (raising my hands to the stain glass) were my jewels.” 
This lady, Frances Hodge, also joined us as a room decoration. Everything she was wearing was antique.  I found out she puts on antique fashion shows from her own collection of clothing. I’m looking forward to hearing from her when she holds another one. She may be holding one at the Villa around Valentine's Day next year. 
Next door to the Drawing Room by me was Jesse Shepherd’s bedroom which he had on the main floor. It was the only room that had any furniture, a Klauber bedroom set was purchased by the FOVM at an auction. They were beautifully carved wood that I ran my hands over quite a few times.

These are more photos I took inside the house. The staircase in the front entry is quite impressive.

The stained glass windows are hard to photograph because of the light coming in but they are still wonderful to see. These are the jewels of the house showing the music and art themes.

The scheduled tours of the house were completely filled up and I was told it was very successful.
This is the article online that the San Diego Union Tribune did on it, along with their photos. 
I found this photo online that shows the sign that used to be out front of the Villa. I really wished it had been replaced but I don’t even know if it exists anymore. The next public opening is supposed to be in September this year, so maybe it might show up?  Follow FOVM for further info