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.


Wednesday, January 27, 2016


Still working on my 1853 Purple Fashion Print dress for next month’s Riverside Dickens Fest fashion show, and now for the Port Townsend (WA) Victorian Festival fashion show in March. It started coming together rather quickly, especially after I *finally* got the enthusiasm to put on my corset to try on the bodice to mark the button holes and see how my black lace point d’esprit overlay would look.

At the sewing workshop with Shelley P. last month, she had taken a really close look at my fashion print I was copying and noticed some black ruffles down the center front of the bodice, and around the armholes. Good eyes, Shelley! She determined it was a lace overlay of point d’esprit lace. To make it easy for me, she had some in her stock. 

Once I had my bodice sewn, sans the sleeves which will probably come last, my fingers felt itchy to start working on the lace. I figured the easiest thing to do was make it a vest, and not attached, so it could be removed and not worn if I didn’t want to. I used my same bodice pattern, but pinned the front darts in on the pattern before cutting it out. On all seams I only used a 1/4 inch seam allowance except for the shoulders. This gave me a bit of looseness instead of a tight fit.
**If you didn’t catch my edit on my previous post where I added that my lace collar had arrived from France, you can see it here. It’s not as large as I’d like, but it works.**
I cut 3 inch wide strips of the lace using a large ruler and white chalk to draw my lines on it to cut. The lace yardage was folded in half and wanted to shift. So I pinned the edges, and as each line was marked, added a couple more pins to keep it in line. After all strips were cut, I folded each in half lengthwise and ironed them. I sewed down the two raw edges 1/4 inch in to stabilize it, and then machine gathered it down the same line. I sewed the strips to the armholes lining the raw edge to the raw edge of them, and then folding it under to the inside and topstitched it all together. A lot of stitching on top of stitching but it made it nice and firm, and not stiff. For the front closure I turned under the edges of it then sewed the ruffles onto it, turning it under again, then topstitched it. On the neckline, I just turned under the edges and stitched, and along the bottom, turned the edges under to create a channel which I will run a 1/8 inch black ribbon through and tie it closed in the front. I plan on putting tiny black snaps in a few places down the front just to hold it closed. 
 Now that that’s out of the way, back to cartridge pleating the skirt. And start tracing out a pattern to make my tablier because I’m dying to try doing the trim on that.


Thursday, January 14, 2016

Copying a Dress from a Fashion Plate

In 2014 I was so inspired by a fashion plate of an 1837 dress that I immediately went into gear to make it for the next month. Crazy, huh? Of course not. We’re all crazy around here.

I was only able to copy the main points of it but not the sleeves as that’s still a bit beyond my skill level. But in the end I was really happy with it and put another notch in my costume belt. 

I have an entire album devoted to dresses I want to make, and in looking through them, I see a recurring theme—BIG TRIMS. Things that stand out, not tiny little details. I want them to be seen, and not hide in the background. I tend to like fiddley things that require hand-sewn details. I guess I like pink too. This is only four of them. I’m not giving all my secret plans out. 

We ALL know these dresses aren’t real; they’re “fashion prints” so the artist can draw whatever they like even if not humanly possible to make it, and look like that. And that includes the women’s bodies, corseted or not. So I have to take into consideration that that may not look so good on me. But they were smart because the exaggerated designs- big sleeves, big shoulders, big skirts and bustles, all went into making us “appear” smaller. Smart Victorians!
So here I am starting a new year and a new dress from an 1853 fashion plate that I want to wear next month at the Riverside Dickens Festival, and in the fashion show there. At first glance it made my jaw drop, literally. And hey, purple! I need more purple in my wardrobe. It didn’t appear too complicated but more details started presenting themselves to me when we looked closer at it.  
 I had started planning it about a month ago, just figuring out my pattern for the bodice (going to use Truly Victorian 446 for it) and tearing the skirt lengths out while at a sewing workshop. Next weekend I will again go to one and this time will get some sewing done. At the last one, Shelley Peters looked closely at the print and began pointing out tiny details that I hadn’t noticed, like the black point d’esprit lace that overlays the bodice. She showed me the lines of it along the sides of the bodice, down the front, on the sleeve caps and the cuffs. Wow, I never saw that! And she just happened to have that fabric so I bought some from her.

In looking closely at the skirt and overlaying tablier, we determined that the skirt is separate and the tablier lays over the top of the skirt, due to the heavier folds of fabric just under the tablier. That will make it much easier to construct. And btw, I just learned that word tablier. Now you know it too.
And look, fiddly ruching and black velvet trims around the edges! My kind of thing! 
The sleeves are my nemesis but it might be something I can fake by sewing little ruffs on top of a straight sleeve. I very much doubt I’ll make those white puffs coming out from slits in the sleeves. That’s a bit much, and no one ever said you should make it an exact copy. I think there’s a rule about that somewhere.
I went searching on Etsy for a similar lace collar and came up with this vintage one for $20, and it’s coming from France with free shipping, no less. Now I just need to find some matching lace to use on my cuffs. I bet I have some in my stash but I need to see how white this is when it arrives.

EDITED TO ADD: my collar from France arrived yesterday and it's beautiful. A good solid whte, a little shorter that I'd hoped but perfect to use. 

When I started planning this I also wanted to make the bonnet in the picture. It’s rather pale and not immediately noticeable on the table behind the model until you blow it up. I thought I would have plenty of time to make one (best laid plans). But I only have 1 ½ months until it’s needed, and knowing how slow I’m sewing, that’s not going to happen. Unless the sewing birds show up one night.
But luck was with me over the holidays. I found out Shelley Peters (of Kansas Mercantile & Historical Sewing Workshops) had some shirred bonnets for sale and she brought her wares over to my house for me to shop from when she was out my way. And there it was, an antique white bonnet that I could use for this.

The color of the flowers on it obviously won’t work for this, so I’ll be looking for some pink ones, and a nice soft pink ribbon to put some loops on the outside.
 Next I’ll have to decide soon what to do with the hair. A wig, obviously, and I considered long curls either on the sides or towards the back (that’s Louise May Alcott in 1855). But with the lace framing my face, those may not show. I do like the side braids on the second photo, and those are easy to fake. I’ll have to see how I can strategically place some roses there. Not sure a lady of a certain age would be that frilly, but I’m not going as an old hag.

We’ve been catching up on a lot of recorded programs on TV lately instead of sewing but if I can just get Chloe away from the TV and back to the cutting table, I can make some progress on this.