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, February 28, 2016

Final construction of my 1853 Purple Amethyst Dress

Fashion show models at Riverside Dickens “Pretty in Purple” & “Coming to America” (I'm 3rd from Right)

Have you noticed this dress didn’t get a special name until now, other than Purple Dress? That’s because this one had eluded me. I like to have names so it’s easier for me to remember which ones they are. Yesterday while looking at birthstones, it came to me. The Purple Amethyst.

To give myself a break from working entirely on the dress, I started working on my bonnet.  One of the other things I wanted to reproduce from the fashion print was the bonnet you just barely see in the background of the print sitting on a table.

I wondered how I would have time to find a straw hat form and cover it in time for my first event. I lucked out that Shelley P. had some shirred bonnets for sale, and one in an antique white would just fit the bill.

I removed the multi-colored flowers under the brim to replace with some pinks. My idea was to sew a band of pink silk fabric in loops around the brim like the fashion print, and put clusters of flowers just on the inside.
I started looking for some flowers to sew around the inside of it, and first tried my stash but I only had a couple and it wasn’t near enough. So off to Michael’s I went, and found two branches of pinks that I cut up.
I tacked a couple clusters of them to the inside of the bonnet, then made a band of pink ribbon with some folded poofs to go over the back of the brim. Bam! Done!

Back to work on the dress. One of the last things I made was the sleeves.
While I was sick in bed for two days my brain kept going round and round on how to do these. I was getting down to only two weeks left before it was needed, and it still needs to be hemmed. My first impulse was to just make the straight sleeves like in the pattern. The coward’s way out of pressure. So I let it percolate for another day, and came up with two ideas. One was to lengthen the sleeve, widen the upper portion, and create bell-shaped puffs. But how to hold them up? Elastic? No. Second idea was make the bells like sleeve jockeys/caps but folded in half and create a bell that I sewed on top of the sleeves like jockeys are.  We have a winner!
When I finally had enough energy to stand up long enough to cut anything out (this cold is a butt-kicker), I couldn’t find my pattern. In the weeks since I last cut out the bodice and moved things around, I lost track of it. I thought it would have still been in the bag with all the sewing supplies and fabric that I’d taken to the last workshop. Nope. So I checked to see if I had another Truly Victorian pattern with similar sleeves I could use instead. I did but then remembered I had already traced out the first sleeve pattern and it was still in the sewing bag. Boy, am I smart or what?
AND when I finally got the sleeve cut two days later (did I say this cold is a butt-kicker?) I played around with a jockey/cap shape but couldn’t quite get that curve like in the photo. AND how do you do that when you’re folding the fabric in half? Once again I remembered another pattern that had a sleeve jockey, Simplicity 4551 that I’d used before. It’s shorter than I needed but had a nice curve to the bottom.

I traced it out, then lengthened the top about two inches. Instead of folding the fabric in half for the finished edge, I decided to do piping along its edge. Notice the twisting along my piping? This is what happens when you decide to use fabric leftover from where you cut your caps from, and it’s not on the straight of grain, nor on the bias. I don’t always do it on the bias, in fact rarely, but at least I’ve done it on the straight.  I’m not physically or time-wise in the mood to re-do them so they became a decorative feature. I had a half inch seam where I sewed the piping on, so I turned it under and hand stitched it down since machine stitching would show.

Sewing the first set of the cuffs to the sleeves was easy. I just pinned it on with the sleeve to the sleeve cap, and then sewed them all together. The second set was tougher and took me four times to get them on right. It might have helped if I had someone to pin them on me, or had a dress form with arms. But all I could do was put on my bodice, and roughly pin the cuff approximately where I wanted it, and where the edge didn’t show under the upper one. Then I measured down from the sleeve cap where it hit, and marked the same distance all around to give me a line to sew it on. I just did a running stitch to attach it, and voila!
While I was sewing these on, one of my black glass buttons on the bodice broke off. The glass had cut the polyester thread I’d used to sew them on. So I took all ten buttons off and re-sewed them with heavy duty upholstery thread. I KNEW this from using glass buttons in the past. I just didn’t remember it this time.
So on to the cuffs now. Other than the hem, I think this is the final step. I dug through my lace stash, since I doubt I could find anything in the stores to come close to my vintage French lace collar, and I only have a week left to finish it. I came up with this vintage lace I had. It’s just a slightly different white but with the distance between the neck and the sleeves, I don’t think it will be noticeable. And the patterns are vaguely similar.
Just to get an overall look of my outfit, I brought out my skinny mirror and took a selfie in it. I wasn’t wearing the petticoats or hoop because I wouldn’t have fit into the mirror.
You can barely see the bow tied at my waist, then I remembered I never sewed the black velvet ribbon along its edges. I was out of the one inch I had so I hit up JoAnn’s and found some half inch, which was really better since it wouldn’t cover up as much fabric.
On the day of Dickens I drove up with my friends and we decided to dress in our outfits for the fashion show later, and walked the streets with our much cooler outfits. My cheapy bonnet didn’t look too bad but it looked a bit squished. It also reminded me I don’t really look that great in bonnets. I prefer hats perched on top of my head. I did get to carry my new recovered antique parasol, done by Victorian Parasols.
When it was time to finally change into our outfits for the fashion show, we had worked up a sweat and I was rushed, which I hate to do. We dressed next to our car in the parking lot, and later I realized without having a mirror, I didn’t notice my bonnet was too far forward on my face. I remind myself of a daisy with a face in the middle.
I should look like this:  
But looked like this:
That’s the downfall of not having a lady’s maid in the parking lot.

The fashion show was a blast. Nancy’s theme was “Pretty in Purple”, or “Coming to America”. We had a choice of which theme to dress for, and many of us combined the two. So there was a preponderance of purple.

This was also my trial run of wearing my new outfit, and I discovered even with a hoop and ruffled petticoat, the tablier/overskirt was a bit heavy and it weighed down my skirt. No floofy skirt. And speaking of the skirt, this is why I normally don’t do more than a 3-4 inch hem. I can’t for some reason get that deeper hem to lay evenly on my skirt. So when I had this photo taken, I saw it was bunching up.  That’s something I need to work on.

**EDITED TO ADD: I'm a dimwit, and I blame it on my woozy head cold the last two weeks, but hoops were invented in 1856 and I made an 1853 dress. So the multi-tiered sturdy petticoat I've started, along with my quilted petticoat will be worn with it next time. **
Overall I loved the look of my outfit. And take a look at the reticule I have hanging on my wrist. It's a micro-beaded one I found in Norfolk, Va, last year, and because of a sale and some damage on it, I purchased it for $14! I found a couple others on an auction group where two of them were dated 1840s-1860s. So mine fit the time period of my dress. They sold for a very large amount of money. 
 What I learned from my first outing? 
1. Check the look of my bonnet before walking away. This seems to be a reoccurring problem for me. 
2. And make a new much sturdier multi-tiered petticoat that has tiers all the way up past my hips. That tablier needs much more support. Not sure what I can do about the hoop though.  So my next project of the 1903 Maize Yellow dress is being put on hold, as this week I will be making that petticoat.

**Thank you to Dyan, Darleene, and to Dave for a couple of these photos. **

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Salvaging a Disintegrating Bonnet

 With four days left until Dickens, my purple dress is done minus a button or so. But over the weekend I found out the temperature that day was predicted to be 88d, although it has since dropped to 83d but still, wearing a dark purple faux silk taffeta dress? Since I don’t behave very well when it’s hot, I stayed awake one night dreading wearing it and becoming a sodden mess by the time the fashion show began.

 So a decision was made that I would wear my blue and white cotton lawn dress during the day, and changing into the purple dress for the fashion show. Good thing is at least it won’t get wrinkled.
 But I never got around to finishing a bonnet for it. I was just wearing a lacy day cap with it. And the bonnet I was working on I loaned out to a friend who is also going to Dickens. So I dug through the bonnet stash of unfinished forms, and came up with this one I’d bought off a street corner in the LA Garment District. Probably paid about $3.50 for it.
 My plan was to remove the black grosgrain ribbon and replace it with white, and add some white ribbons with blue floral trims. I bought a stalk of multiple blue flowers at Michaels, and cut it up into parts, then arranged three parts and tied them together, later adding some hot glue to hold them in position.
 This was going to have to be a quick and dirty bonnet. I normally hand-tack my trims because I can remove them easily later to do a different color or design. But because of time constraints and being cheapo, I was using hot glue.
It went downhill from there.
I began to remove the grosgrain around the brim edge and the bonnet literally began to disintegrate before my eyes. It did have a very thin piece of plastic “wire” sewn around the brim, thank goodness for that. But even it wasn’t being held on very well. The loosely woven straw had nothing left to hold it together. It was dry and brittle, and pieces were falling on my lap. First thing I did was grab my bottle of Stiffy liquid and pour liberally around the edges and on the lower back edge of the crown which pretty much had disappeared into a pile of little bits. After that finally dried. I tried to machine sewn the white grosgrain ribbon around the edge. But it was too brittle and any bending would cause it to break. Plan B: hand-baste the ribbon on. It looked pretty rough. I did a little touching up with hot glue to the edges so it would lay flat and stay attached. Then to cover the inside of the ribbon I glued some cotton crochet lace edging on.
 So far so good.  Except then I remembered WHY I quit using hot glue years ago. Unknown to many budding hat trimmers, in Southern California (and elsewhere when it gets hot), hot glue softens and melts when you’re outside standing in the heat. So there you have that pretty flower hanging down in front of your face, with lace drooping on the sides. And remember it’s going to be hot that day and I will be outside. *insert sad face* So on top of hot gluing, I now had to hand-tack everything.
I looked at some 1860s bonnets on Pinterest for some ideas of trimming, and came up with doing some gathered loops around the crown. I tied it in bunches with thread, and then tacked it to the bonnet. No glue.
 The back portion was a disintegrating hole so I had to use some creative covering of it.  I need to add a bavelot aka curtain along the back but still need to dig through my stash fabric for something for it.

 The flower clusters were hot glued, then tacked with thread. I repeated the same cluster on the other side at a slightly different angle.

 So a word of warning: if you see a bonnet near the corner of 9th and Maple for $3.50, keep walking.


Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Need help finding a pattern?

This is a reprint from an article I wrote for Squeals magazine put out by Costumers Guild West in Los Angeles.
   Do you have a fashion print or photo you’re trying to find a pattern to make it with? Are you new to historical costuming and have no idea what patterns are available out there, or where to find them? Or do you just want to see clothing already made from them to see what the pattern will look like?
I have a group just for you on Facebook.

   It’s called HISTORICAL SEWING PATTERN REVIEWS. I started it in 2012 and have over 4000 members. My group is different from GBACG’s Great Pattern Review in that it allows you to ask questions, see completed outfits, and has a large variety of experiences with the different patterns, both good and bad. We can refer you to websites to purchase patterns but I don’t allow sales or self-promotion.
   We mainly ask for reviews of patterns, with a photo of said pattern or what you made from it, and tell us your experience with it, and any problems. We’ve even had the owners of pattern companies who are on the group benefit from any problems experienced so they can make corrections. Anyone can add a review at any time, even if others have done one because we all have different experiences with different parts, and then we get to see your end result. The more the merrier! Many of the ladies just ask general questions, like where to find a specific pattern that they can use and how hard is it to make. But all questions need to be pattern related, although I do allow fabric questions and suggestions since that does come under the making of the outfit, but not specific sewing help. There are other groups for that.
   For example, I recently asked for help to find a bodice pattern to make this fashion print. I was given multiple pattern suggestions from which to make it, and even parts from other patterns to add to it.     

   There are many members who come in very new to historical costuming. I keep this to “historical” but not always historically accurate, and don’t abide by criticisms or suggestions of accuracy unless the member asks. The time period I have is from Medieval to about 1930 but usually point out the specific groups that are available to the time periods.  I don’t allow cosplay, SciFi/fantasy, or Steampunk photos or references but many of them use these patterns for their outfits, so it’s still helpful to them. There is a preponderance of Truly Victorian and Laughing Moon patterns being used on the group, and most members making 1700-1900 costume, but other pattern companies are suggested, and I’ve even come across new ones I didn’t know about.
   We've shared new patterns that have come out and anxiously await to hear the first person who tries it about their experience with it. 
There is not a searchable file but there is a search box that you can type in the pattern company, or its pattern number and it pulls up any posts made about it. Or just use general terms, like Regency or petticoats

   I have Files with lists of other costume or sewing groups or guilds that anyone can add their group to. 
   Every Friday-Sunday I have a Friday Fashion Show with a specific theme I pick, and we just share a photo of what we’ve made, sometimes with some information about it. This keeps the general show and tell to a minimum. There is also a File kept with links to all the previous fashion shows too. 
   This is the direct link to my Facebook group. Please ask to join, and don't add your friends. THEY must ask to join themselves.  

Tuesday, February 9, 2016


I’m still working on my 1853 purple dress but *Real Life* has prevented me from doing much, and now I have that “blasted cold” that everyone in the US seems to be sharing. So I only have short bursts of energy but at least I can sit and do handwork.

A third portion of my dress, the tablier, is finally done. I had to draw a pattern for it, using the width of my skirt under it as guidance but not quite as full since I was only going to do some pleating on its own waistband. It’s a separate piece from the skirt, worn like the later bustle overskirts. Since it’s a fashion plate, I’ve no idea how they expected it to be done so I used my “artistic license” to come up with my own version.

I planned to make it out of four panels, with the curved section being the seamed parts. I cut two pieces out of muslin and gave it a try.  My first pattern was waaay too long, so I folded up the edges to a better length. I also made sure it was wide enough to meet in the front center and the sides. Then I cut the four panels and test pleated them over my hoop and petticoats. It still needs another fuller ruffled petticoat but first things first.

I was looking forward to making the pleated trim that goes around the edges and first was going to just hand pleat them. I cut out and ironed 6 inch wide lengths of my fabric, turning the sides in.
In retrospect, it didn’t need that much turned under but I didn’t want fuzzy edges popping out. It didn’t require any finishing and was the lazy way. I probably could have just turned a narrow edges under and sewn them because the final velvet ribbon trim would cover that. Oh well, live and learn.  It did give it a nice weight though.
I remembered my Quick Pleaters I’d purchased last year at Costume College and got to use those for the first time. I have the small set and used the 1/2 inch size one. They’re available here on Amazon.
They’re a bit thick so once you pull it out of the pleat, it’s a tiny bit bigger but it’s so nice to have consistently same width pleats.

This site has an instruction video using it on the lower right. . They show it being pleated at the same time you’re sewing. My preference is to pleat and pin, iron, then sew.  
After all my pleating was done, I sewed half inch black velvet ribbon along both sides, sewing just on the inside since the outside edges would be sewn to the tablier. What I didn’t take into account was they were straight, the tablier was curved, so I couldn’t sew them flat onto the tablier. I sewed it on the outside edges then tacked it at various points of the inside edges. That seemed to work, although I received numerous suggestions of other ways to do it that would require a lot of ripping and redesigning. Fudging won.

And I tried it over the skirt, which is just bunched up under it since I haven’t finished it’s cartridge pleating.
For a bit of distraction I dug through my antique jewelry stash and came up with a brooch for the lace collar.
Since I have very little energy to do much I decided now was a good time to finish cartridge pleating my skirt. And Chloe decided it was also lap time. So we both benefited. Next step will be figuring out those sleeves.