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.


Sunday, August 23, 2015

COMBINATIONS: Combining a Chemise & Split Drawers

Last Friday I drove up to Nuevo, CA, to one of Shelley Peters’ workshops from the Kansas Mercantile. I wanted to make a couple pairs of combination underwear both in late 1800s style and some ‘teens styles, and with something as complicated as this, I wanted to have Shelley there to help if I got stuck. Guaranteed I’ll get stuck trying a new pattern. Shelley regularly puts on these workshops at different locations wherever someone wants to host one in their home or a meeting room. I heard her say she’s traveled to Nevada, Arizona, and Washington to do one of her corset workshops. She told us a local newspaper from Riverside, Press Enterprise was coming to interview her during the workshop on Friday for a human interest story for the newspaper and she wanted her students to help her put on a “show”. So we brought our dress forms with dresses we had made in her classes, or underpinnings if we wanted to show those. Because it was on a Friday the number of students were small but we certainly made up for it.
Cindy S. had brought two dresses to display; a navy blue 1850s dress, and an 1870s red plaid polonaise over black skirt. *I have to admit that Cindy’s plaid has inspired me to repurpose a green & black plaid bustle dress I made into one of these now. I wasn’t happy with my bustle due to the weight of the fabric pulling it down, but a polonaise would work. So thank you Cindy!*    Jennifer K. who recently became interested in historical dress brought her black and grey ball dress that she put together from thrift store finds. Of course it set her off to create more now.  Amanda M. was also new to costuming and she came to make her first corset and had a wrapper she had been working on so we had a lot of good conversations over both our experiences with them. I brought my 1830s jewel toned plaid dress I had started in a workshop last year. I also brought a couple pairs of antique split drawers, partly for myself to have a visual while I was sewing my combinations, and also for showing to the reporter if needed. And we did. 

After the reporter, Laurie Lucas, had about an hour’s worth of history on Shelley herself, which was fun to hear about her beginnings, and then more than she could have imagined about history and women’s clothing, she and her photographer walked around talking to us and photographing what we were working on. They asked us to tell about ourselves too, and then about the dresses we had on display. She became really fascinated with the dresses, and we showed her the split drawers, how they worked, and our corsets. At this point the photographer was done and left, so we started loosening up our corset laces, so to speak. Laurie got to hear about our personal experiences wearing corsets and how we try to dispel the fake stories about them. Shelley finally said I’m putting a corset on you! If you’ve ever been laced in by Shelley then you know the hilarity that came into this. Laurie was at first shocked and then amazed, and was laughing as she felt this “big hug” from the corset around her. Once she got to see what she looked like in it, and took it for a “spin” walking around and sitting down, she got it.
Laurie stayed a couple hours and had lunch with us before she left. I heard the article is supposed to come out on Thursday August 27, and is both a hard copy paper and an online newspaper, so you can see it on their website that I left the link for above.
Article in Enterprise Press
My good intentions of having two of my combination patterns all cut out in time for this workshop and sew on my assembly line fell through during the week before. So all I had to sew was one pair of the Truly Victorian ones that I had cut out. I decided I would try one first and see if it fit, since we had some fitting issues with it earlier, then go on to the others. The first time I tried a pair of these on, it wasn’t long enough for the split drawers to be comfortable and enough fabric to open easily. I’m high-waisted so I added an inch at the waist to make the bottom half longer. And the legs were too tight at my knees. So if you make them and you have knock-knees or large thighs/calves, check your measurement first before cutting. Most likely the legs themselves will be fine because it has lots of fabric that you gather into a cuff. But the cuff is where you’ll need to do some altering if needed. If you don't have a flat tummy or butt, most likely you will need to add some extra length for that too. 

These are my two patterns. I’m using a lightweight cotton because I don’t want any bulk although they may not be as absorbent as a thicker cotton. I’d like to try some linen sometime too.
 Truly Victorian 105                                                                      Wearing History 1917 

I have a couple pieces of wide vintage eyelet that were at some time cut off of petticoats that I’ve been saving to use as trim on my own. One piece was just long enough to cut in half and use on the legs of the first pair of combos I was making. It’s a heavier fabric but will be fine on my 1870s combos. I have some finer lace to use on the ‘teens era ones. I plan to wear those under my 1914 dresses.

 I cut the fabric out the day before the workshop. The main pattern piece, the front, is large. Very large. It’s the entire side of the combinations with the leg, minus a small square piece that is the back. All in one; that’s it. You have to unfold your fabric to have enough width and then fold it lengthwise to cut the two sides. The remainder you use for the square back piece and the facings.
That main pattern piece is really weird shaped. So weird, it’s hard to tell what is what. After I had sewn my facings onto the neckline and the crotch, then I was to sew the back piece onto it.

I stared at it and kept laying the two sides down to figure out what end was up and where it would go. At that point I realized there was no sure way to tell what went where. After a couple attempts I finally had it laid out so it looked like the drawing on the bottom of the pattern picture. It’s just a partial drawing so it wasn’t really clear immediately where to sew but I finally got it. That long thing on the left of the pattern appears to be a leg but it’s not. That’s the back half of your drawers.  But until you’ve sewn one of these, it isn’t clear right away. What I am taking from this is, for my next one I’m going to make tiny dots with pencil, or water soluble pen, and mark where the legs are on the piece of fabric. Or maybe I’ll remember what I learned and whip right through it.

I wasn’t going to make this one too fancy other than the eyelet around the legs. I finished it last night at home and put it up on my dress form for a photo. It looked sad, like a sack. It had no defined waist, but it’s just underwear. And once my corset is on top of it there would magically appear a waist. So as I’m prone to do, I went on Pinterest and did a search for Edwardian and Victorian combinations. I found one pair from 1890s and realized I forgot to put my darts in. Oops. I guess I’m not quite done yet.

I found quite a few Edwardian ones but very few Victorians. And those are 1890s. So I’m not sure how they would have looked. But one thing I noticed on some of them, they had ribbon drawstrings on the waists. And all kinds of pretty trims. I think making the Wearing History ones are going to be fun.

While searching for these photos, I came across someone else’s blog where she made the Wearing History ones. Perfect timing! The Dreamstress 

Monday, August 17, 2015

I Gratefully Accept This Blogger Award

Jeanette from The Perfect Touch has awarded me the Sisterhood of the World Bloggers Award. I know I have an award someone else gave me but never got around to doing anything because everyone I wanted to award had already been awarded, and I still for the life of me can't find any space open on my site that will let me add another picture.
But I owe Jeanette a response to her questions, and those are fun anyhow. In the meantime I'll see if I can dig up a blogger or two that I can award.

The Official Award Rules are:
1.  Thank the blogger who nominated you, linking back to their site.

2.  Put the Award logo on your blog.

3.  Answer the ten questions sent to you.

4.  Make up ten new questions for your nominees to answer.

5.  Nominate ten blogs.

These are the questions Jeanette asked of me:
1.  What is your favorite fabric?
      Hands down, cotton. Besides it being the best fabric for our SoCal heat, it can be washed, and comes in SOOOOO many colors and design patterns. And with the lower price, you can make ALLLL the dresses! They don't call me Squirrel for nothing! 

2.  What era would you most like to visit?
      Edwardian because I'd love to see the women get dressed and see how all that works. I've figured out a lot of how the Victorian clothes are constructed but even those have some odd layers to them. The Edwardians did a lot of sleeve and bodice layering that look like a puzzle. 

3.  Does anyone else in your family share your hobby/hobbies?
      No, but he's very supportive of my crazyness and sends me on my way. One time when I was wailing about what a mess my room was in the midst of sewing, he said, yes, but in the end you will create something beautiful. It made my heart sing.

4.  What part of the world have you not seen and would love to visit?
      I've only seen a small part of England and want to see it all. I probably should try to go to Norway and find my roots there. Apparently I have second cousins there.

5.  Dark chocolate or milk chocolate?  Or neither?
     Dark chocolate, especially Belgium. They know how to make good rich but not sweet chocolate. And I'll take it in any form. 

6.  Have you ever ridden a horse?
     Yes, often as a teenager, and went through a period all teenage girls do and wanted a horse. I had statues and drawings I did of them around my room too. 

7.  Do you have your blog printed?
      I do! It makes me feel like a real writer/author. There's something amazing to have your word and photos IN a book that you can hand to someone. My Mom loves to read them too. My first couple years got put all into one book when I first discovered But I've become such a prolific writer that I now do it once a year on January 1st of everything I've written in the previous year. I think if I waited too long, the book would be too thick and cost too much. I also wait for the 20% off sale they offer regularly. 

8.  Are you a morning person?
     6:30am and I'm awake. Much better than 4:30am when I was working. Ah, the retired life. My preference for night is jumping into bed at 9:30pm so I can read for a half hour. I used to spend hours reading every day after work to relax. The computer and my Kindle has replaced that now. 

9.  Have you invented something?
     If you can call a DYI Pattern Organizer an invention, then yes. It's a small notebook which is quite large now, that I put small pictures of all my patterns in, along with yardage, to carry with me when I'm fabric shopping. I wrote a whole blog about it, and try to remember to share it with new attendees at Costume College each year before they go to the Garment District to shop for fabric.
 10.  Do you use Pinterest?  If so, how many pins do you have?
       I do! I like it mostly because I can keep all the photos I want w/o it choking my computer memory, or losing them if it crashes. Yes, happened twice. But it's also great because I can reference ones very quickly if I'm looking for a certain year or style.  I also like that its easier to keep track of everything by "files". How many? Looks like 2,900 and growing. I also like that its on my phone and whenever I have to waste some time, I can sit and look at what others are pinning, and save more from there. It's like a drug, I tell you!

Here are my 10 questions for the blogs I nominate for this award:

1. What started you to want to blog? 
2. What do you read in other people's blogs that make you want to follow them, or read them? 
3. Do you have a "Sewing Cat"?
4. How do you come out of a slump when you can't come up with anything new to make?
5. Is there anything you loose regularly in your sewing room?
6. What is your favorite sewing tool?
7. Do you prefer sewing by machine or by hand? 
8. Do you plan and make dresses way ahead of time, or are you a last minute sewer/seamtress? 
9. What era dress did you say you hated in the past but have now made dresses for it? 
10. What era have you made, and now don't like anymore, or lost interest? 

I nominate:
1. Isis at Isis Wardrobe
2. Mennonite Girls Can Cook Mennonite Girls Can Cook Not costuming but oh what great recipes! 
3. Isabella at All the Pretty Dresses
4. Miss Brilliantine at B*tch, Pelisse!
5. Mary at An Historical Lady

PS, I have NO IDEA why some of the text here is in white blocks. 

Saturday, August 15, 2015

GOTTA LOVE THOSE POLKA DOTS -1885 Pink Polka Dot Bustle

**One of my favorite photos taken of my Pink Polka Dot dress at CoCo**
Somewhere about eight months ago I began thinking about making a polka dot bustle gown for a mini theme of “The Polka Dot Parade” at Costume College for the Friday Night Social. Each year a lot of people are coming up with mini themes among themselves, and the previous year I had “A Murder of Crows” with all of us wearing either our mourning dresses, or anything having black. It was a great success. This year due to many of our group’s “real lives” getting in the way, the weird weather (yes, that does affect our sewing mojo), and deadlines, our theme wasn’t much of a success. But as usual the planning and chatting about it was fun, and it got me to finish mine so I could wear it.
I wandered all over the LA Garment District for my polka dot fabric. I saw this almost immediately but it was polyester. A very lightweight lovely one though, and only $3 yard. And I LUV’D the pink with black dots. I wandered all the other shops but found nothing that caught my heart like this one did. So I bought it with the plan to line it in cotton so it wouldn’t be touching my skin.
Gathering photos and ideas for a dress are my favorite part of its creation. I’m so much better at that than sewing. I wanted this to have lots of opportunities to have ruffles and lace, and draping, and bows. My ideas bounced all over but I narrowed it down to a mix of these, taking ideas from each. I wanted to try another asymmetrical overskirt again, which would leave an interesting area on the open side for something to hang down. Rows of ruffles around the underskirt. And a square neckline so more stuff could be done to it. Getting the picture? Stuff and more stuff.

Pattern choices were again all Truly Victorian. I’m making an 1887 bustle dress but wanted the square neckline and peplum of this 1870s TV #400 pattern for the bodice. My bustle overskirt I chose ended up not being asymmetrical and I used the new TV #367. My skirt, which was going to be black silk taffeta and some pink wherever I could use it, would be TV #261-R. After making one of my last outfits and having trouble with how my skirt would lay smooth in the front, I discovered I’d been using an 1870s pattern for all my 1880s outfits for the last 10 years. It was one of the “duh” moments. 

Last September the first thing I had to check was if sewing with this filmy polyester was even going to work. It could be too slippery and not be smooth on the bodice. Even though the rest of my outfit would be lined in cotton, I used a cotton twill to line the bodice body itself. If the bodice would work, where it was most important, then I knew overall it would work. And it looked lovely. I see now on my notes that I was also going to put a concealed watch pocket in one of the front seams but I forgot. It will be done when I get time later.
So that’s as far as I got for 8 months. It sat aside while I worked on other projects. Two months before Costume College I finally got back to it and put more of it together. The bodice was simple; I used hook and eye tape to close the front, which I did before sewing the side seams. It’s my trick to have a straight closure in the front right off the bat. It works on the back too if that’s where it closes. I used pink cotton bias tape to finish the neckline and bottom of the bodice. Then I started playing, the fun part, with the trims on it. My notes I have say bows down the front. But then I saw this with the tabs across the front. I made tabs with black velvet ribbon I had and made the ends pointed. I sewed the one side down and intended to have buttonholes on the other side to close it but the velvet did not like having buttonholes put in it. I ruined two of them before I gave up.

So I used snaps to close it. My buttons, which are now strictly decorative, are tiny brass antique Victorian ones I bought at the Port Townsend Antique Mall in WA last March. I repeated the velvet bands around my sleeve cuffs, along with tiny pleats under the sleeves, and finished it off with a couple buttons for decoration on it too.

Part of my plan was to trim the bottom edges of my bodice and the peplum with black but I was fast running out of time. But the peplum did need something to finish it off. I had a bit of the pleated trim left over, and two buttons, so I put another tab of velvet on the back at the waist, along with the pleats. And then hand basted some lace inside the neckline.
I pleated some lace onto a strip of twill tape and basted that inside the neckline. I didn’t trim off the excess lace as I was afraid it might unravel. The twill tape made it easier to sew rather than through all those holes.

 I was now at the point where I had to cut out the overskirt, and discovered I barely had enough of the polka dot left for it. Those pattern pieces were HUUUUUGE! The fabric had to be laid out open to cut each piece and it was short about 1- ½” on one side. But you’d never know.  However I now knew I wouldn’t have any to make *anything* for my skirt. And again, time was running out. My backup plan was to use my previous black taffeta skirt that is worn with about 4 different outfits. It’s like having that one blouse or jacket that can go with just about everything.
**So here’s a tip for you: make a black/brown/cream/white/whatever color skirt that can be used with multiple bodices and overskirts. You’ll be happy you did. I certainly was.**
The TV #367 overskirt has a combination of gathers, pleats, and burnouse pleat, and it all seems to be sewn up into the waistband and backside of it. I kept pinning, pulling it out, pinning it on my dress form, pinning it on me, and still couldn’t get it right. And what’s with that butt crack look? Walk away, girl, walk away.

A few days later I attacked it again, and after seeing someone else’s version, decided my last attempt wasn’t all that bad. Neither of us are sure we did it right but if it still looks good, who’s to argue? With a bit of reshaping and tacking things down, it was finally coming together. *But oops, I found a couple straight pins still holding some together when I wore it to Costume College* With the last bits of my fabric I made little pleats and sewed those along the edges of my overskirt, and topstitched 1/8” black velvet ribbon on top of that. I ran out after doing the front of the skirt but I know I can get more later and do the two drapes in the back too.  *Notice that photo with my ugly thumb? That’s what happens when you’re hurrying sewing pleats, and the sewing machine wants to sew your thumb to it too* 

Chloe decided she’d better keep an eye on me now.
Ok, so there’s not a Grand Bustle under it at this point, but it’s starting to look much better!

Oh, and another oops. I had hemmed the overskirt and sewn the trims on before I realized I’d forgotten to do the V-cut in the front and there was no way I could do that now without taking everything off. So it’s been personalized.
I had a couple ideas that I wanted to do on the sides but again time was running out. This was one of my favorites though with the buckles and sashes on the side. I wanted this on both sides of my skirt, and had no time to shop for matching buckles. So at the suggestion of Cindy who said “shoe buckles!” I used a couple from my stash. They were perfect! How do I do that? There’s another use for those pretty shoe buckles, so if you see any, at a great price, buy them!

I made long sashes out of black silk taffeta and draped them on each side, and hand tacked the buckles to them. Since this had ended up NOT being an asymmetrical overskirt, it had a twin on the opposite side. Except, oops, I noticed later at Costume College in my photos that they weren’t *quite* even on each side. So that will be another fix later.
So now the dress is done, and onto some accessories. I had big plans for making a postman hat for this, and saw this I wanted to try doing. But by this time I’m only three days away from leaving, so I pulled out a black hat I had, took off the purple flowers, and replaced it with some pink ribbon flowers I had yanked off some other hat I’d bought at one time. Its sets partly on the back of my head, with the flowers up on top.

And my reticule? I’m a genius. I bought this cute little black purse with embroidered pink flowers at the Costume College Marketplace last year.
The Finale! 
I wore the whole outfit to the Friday Night Social at CoCo, and it was by far my most favorite dress I wore this year. But man oh man, was it hot! Polyester is not your friend when it’s warm or you’re running around. But vanity, thy name is Pink Polka Dots.