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, May 31, 2016

NANNY BROOCH; Another Unusual Ladies' Accessory PART 2

This is Part 2 of my Unusual and Little Known Ladies' Accessories. For Part 1, Perfume Buttons, see my previous post here. PERFUME BUTTONS

Following my previous post on little known ladies’ accessories, I bet you’ve NEVER heard of these either.  I can’t even remember where I first came across it but I think it was when I was searching for cabinet cards and saw this one above saying she was wearing a nanny brooch.
The seller had the cabinet card listed for $45 (which I’d love to buy but not for THAT price), and dated it as 1890s. The following description was included:   
 Victorian Nanny brooch pins have hidden compartments specially designed to hold needle & thread for emergency repairs to their children’s clothing. Usually they had threaded caps that could be unscrewed to reveal the hidden items within.   Victorian Nanny Pins are considered the Rarest of the RARE—thus highly sought after by Victorian Jewelry & Sewing collectors. Finding an authentic Victorian Nanny Pin is rare enough—seeing one in a vintage photo is EQUALLY exciting!   Offered here in GORGEOUS CONDITION ….is this fabulous RARE vintage original one-of-a-kind circa 1890 cabinet card photograph of a pretty young Victorian-era woman wearing what appears to be a lovely Nanny Pin. The Nanny Brooch has round knobbed end caps that look like part of the brooch design, but they cleverly unscrew to reveal a hidden compartment for emergency sewing items. Close expert examination with a magnifier has confirmed that this is indeed a Nanny Brooch Pin.

So that put me on the hunt. They are pretty rare, don’t come up often for sale, AND can be expensive. I finally found one in England around my birthday that was $60. So that was my birthday present to myself. This style is mainly dated around 1870s. So far it looks to me like the English are the ones giving it this name, nanny brooch, or housekeeper’s brooch. 
They’re also shown in sewing etui groups, since the back section holds a needle and thread, with the oft-repeated story they were worn by nannies to allow them to perform quick mending jobs for their little charges. You can recognize them by the little knobs on the ends that you would unscrew. But be warned that one dealer had one that looked like a nanny brooch but in fact did not unscrew. So you need to check or ask for those to be verified if purchasing one. And of course since there’s no way to check those in these cabinet cards, it’s only speculation but probably a good possibility.

 Most of them are dated by the sellers from 1850-1905, with most of them around 1890s, which many of these cabinet cards are from that time period. They were made of gilt brass, about 2 inches long, with stones that the majority of them are a round “goldstone”, also known as aventurine glass, a form of quartz, which was a common gemstone used for jewelry then. But there were a couple with rectangle shapes and stones of mother of pearl stone, onyx, and clear glass.

This is one without it's stone. 
They all have a German patent mark stamped on the back but they’re kind of worn down. Mine is marked GFS 3ESCH, like this one. **EDITED TO ADD- I was told  this is actually GES GESCH, OR "Gesetzlich Geschutzt" and is the German equivalent of a trademark, copyright, or patent, as seen in the United States. The translation literally means legally protected. 
Another seller had DRGM 49760 on theirs. 

And this other one had a sweet little hand engraving of “Love to Dorothy” roughly scratched on it, and another had someone’s initials, E L,  on it.
This is a cabinet card gifted to me by my friend, Sue, mostly because of its watch chain she was wearing. *I love that my friends think about me* It was unusual, and after looking at it with a very strong magnifying glass, I think she's wearing a nanny brooch with a watch hanging from it. You can see the tiny knobs on the end of the brooch. She certainly looks like someone’s special nanny.

So far this is all the information I’ve found on this seldom-seen accessory. Another one of those forgotten stories, I guess.


Friday, May 20, 2016


I’m sure any historical costumer, or maybe any pattern buyer, has noticed the recent trend of digital patterns. You purchase the digital pattern online, it’s emailed to you, and you print it out on maybe 20-40 sheets of paper, depending on the size pattern. An average full sheet of pattern uses 35 sheets. So if it's a full dress, it may take 2 sheets. So plan for enough paper to print it. The fun part is taping them all together. It’s a bit tedious and time consuming BUT you get the pattern instantly, and it’s usually less expensive than the printed paper one. That’s especially good for buyers in other countries where it costs an arm and a leg to ship, or even shipping costs in the US, thank you US Postal Service.

**ADDED INFO FROM The Fashion Archeologist: "You know, I keep forgetting to mention that people can take these wide-format PDF scans on a jump stick (aka memory stick/thumb drive) to a local print shop and have them run off one copy. You would just need to be sure the print shop has a 36" wide format printer. The cost per sheet varies but most cities of a reasonable size have at least one print shop that can do this work."
***UPDATE ADDED 10-7-18--- At Staples, when having a pattern printed, ask for engineering print.
**UPDATE ADDED  2-1-19-- A friend of mine told me you can now have patterns printed for you from Pattern Printing Company.  "Emailed Dale for a quote which was $2.35 to print the sheets and $2.95 for shipping.  I didn't have him print out the instructions which I think I can do from my printer."

**PATTERN CORRECTION FROM The Fashion Archeologist: "the piece for the decorative front bow was inadvertently marked "Cut Two" on the pattern itself, although the sewing instructions do refer to a single piece."

I had purchased one from  WEARING HISTORY   in the past but just haven’t had a need to make it yet so its sitting in my computer, waiting. But after recently coming across two 1912 patterns by a fairly new pattern company, Edwardian Rose, selling as the Fashion Archeologist, I decided to give it a shot. It’s a small company, and financially she can’t carry much stock of her printed patterns. So trying one of her digital patterns sounded interesting. The 1912 Afternoon Dress doesn’t look to have too many confusing parts for a beginner either. She even shows completed dresses made with her patterns.
FROM BOTH PATTERN COMPANIES: Make sure you read the READ ME FIRST file before you print the pattern to make sure you have the settings right before you print.

When you print the pages out, you need to check the box on your printer page that says CUT MARKS. This will make little crosses on the sheets that you will line up when you put it all together.  I didn’t have to make any other changes to my printer instructions other than click on POSTER size.
The written directions that come with the pattern are very clear but once I printed out the first set of pages that make up the first sheet, they looked intimidating. This pattern has two sheets. There didn’t seem any rhyme or reason to them. But once I started laying them out as directed, I began to see the light. All around the outside of the pattern, the outside pages are numbered. And even if it confuses you a bit, as long as you do the layout as directed, it works. I kept my stack of pages clipped together so I didn’t get them mixed up, because the middle ones aren’t numbered.
My friend Sally had asked if each page was numbered, and they’re not, only the outside ones. However, YOU can number them yourself if you prefer. I would keep them in the stack as it was printed and just go to each page and make a tiny number on it yourself. This way if your stack gets messed up you can get them back together properly. OR you could lay them out and then put a number on them. Just depends on how brave you are.
It’s suggested you lay it all out in the order they were printed on a wooden floor or flat surface and then tape them together. The Fashion Archeologist directions suggests using Scotch Removable tape at this point so you can lift and move them if necessary. I laid mine out on a cutting board on my bed and after laying a couple rows down, saw I was doing it right, then decided I’d just work on two rows at a time because it was going to be pretty big. I tried lining up the little crosses on the pattern corners but couldn’t see through my printer paper very well. Fashion Archeologist suggests thin paper that you can see the crosses through but I used my regular printer paper. I just tacked the center of each page down onto the next sheet, got one row done, did the next, then tried to line it up with the first row. It was a bit catty-wompus, so I had to peel back the tape on a few to realign them. It still wasn’t working because I don’t think I was lining them up very well.

So here’s my first tip: On the edge that will overlap the next sheet, trim that edge off. Don’t do both edges because then you have nothing to tape over. And this way you can see them line up exactly. You’ll also see the pattern lines matching up too.
2nd tip: When you trim off those edges, draw a line down the side using a ruler from the cross at one end down to the other. Don’t try and just eye-ball it and cut it off. Use a ruler to get a straight edge. DON’T CUT OFF THE EDGES ALL THE WAY AROUND EACH SHEET.  *read that line again* You only want the top and one side to be trimmed.  See the red arrows?

I just came across a review page from 2014 that was showing how to print digital patterns, and although it's really outdated, it had one good suggestion. Instead of drawing the cutting lines on each sheet, then cutting, it suggested using a paper cutter. That would go MUCH quicker. 

So here is how I did this, and once I had all this figured out, it went pretty quickly.
I laid down the first row, only trimming the right side of each page that would overlap the next sheet. I only tacked the center of each page in an area without any lettering in case I had to peel it off again. Line the edges up like I show with the red arrow until the crosses match and the pattern lines look like they’re running into each other.

Then I laid out the next row, and used my ruler and pen and traced the lines along the top and right side of each page that will overlap, trimmed them, and then tacked them down to each sheet.
I lined up that row to the first row along its bottom, and starting with the center page, tacked it and then gently moved it around until it lined up the full length. Once I was satisfied, I tacked them to each other.  On to the next row, and so on and so on.
In the end, it looked like this. 
I put a small piece of tape diagonally across each dissecting corner of the four pages, and along the outside edges. I wouldn’t waste a lot of tape by putting it along the entire seam line. In the end, hopefully you might just trace out your size and cut that. Or it you are going to cut this pattern, then just tape the parts of the pattern that would remain after you cut the pieces out.
**Today while cutting my pattern out so I can cut out a muslin, I remembered I hadn't mentioned to take note of a couple patterns that say ADD " for seam allowance, or the hem. I just cut it lining up with the top of the arrows for now.**

**Here’s a great suggestion from Fashion Archeologist- “What I like about the idea of PDFs is that you can always print out another copy, so you can thrash your initial one, write on it, chop it up, make changes, then start fresh with another printout (even to use a different size) any time you like!**
Tomorrow when I have more light, I’ll be putting together page 2 the same way. Per the pattern, this takes 40 sheets of paper, which I was told isn’t really a lot of paper, and it doesn’t use a lot of ink since it’s just printing the lines you’ll be cutting.  I thought I made my first mistake this morning when I saw just my one sheet took 40 pages, and when I looked at her screen print of the printer, it said it was 42.5” x 55”.  Mine was 42.5” x 88”. I had missed that tiny print on it. But after a panicked message to her, she calmed me down saying that sample was from another pattern, and mine showed Full size 100% printout. Whew! Thought I’d have to do that all over again.

This is where you can buy her patterns.

MORE UPDATES:  As I test putting together other digital patterns from different pattern companies, I'm going to add them to this blog post. 

Testing an easy one from WEARING HISTORY , her Edwardian Bust Improvers. Since I was just finishing up the other pattern, I didn't want to go too involved in a second one at this time, so I tried one of her's that I had. I also have the 1910-1916 suit pattern but that's for another day. 

Lauren's set-up is really similar to Edwardian Rose's so that was easy but she said her's cannot be put onto a thumb drive to print out at the printers, since her's are not wide format. But they still print out on regular size home computer paper. She said different companies may use different formats too so I need to look into that. 

These pages have the lines marked on them already for you to trim off some edges to do the overlap, so that makes it quicker, AND each page has a number dead center on it. So there you go for those of you who need that. 

I've started a project now to try and test some other companies, but since I have to purchase them, I'm probably going to keep them to the specific time periods that I wear. 

Just to show that this pattern worked, here is my almost completed dress I made from it. It just needs hemming. 

This Pattern Printing Company, owned by the husband of JoAnn Peterson (owner of Laughing Moon Patterns) will print any pattern for you at the cost of $1.60 per page with shipping costs, which isn't very much. Pattern Printing Company

Wednesday, May 18, 2016


                                                     PART ONE
I’ve been hoping to gather enough information together so I could teach a lecture class on some unusual ladies accessories for the 1800s but can’t find enough to do that, so I decided an article on all three would have to suffice.  

                                       PERFUME BUTTONS 
I’ve had this 1860s perfume button I bought years ago on Ebay in my jewelry box just waiting to see if I could use it, or find out more about it.  It’s a 1/2 inch metal (brass?) button with a metal shank, with little clover designs cut out on top with velvet inside them. From looking for these for years, this design is the most common, although there are a few others, some that are simple, some quite elaborate. Most range from 1/4 inch to 1 1/4 inches. All of them have the velvet inserts and darker fabric, in common.  The most common scents used on them were violet, rose, and lavender. 
In the past few years I’ve bought others and it caught my interest in finding out more about them. I love the little strawberry ones, but my favorite is the moon-design one. 
All of mine except one have a solid back shank, whereas the one has a little loop coming out of the back.
This is a sample of other designs I’ve seen.

These two were being sold for $25 & $45 respectively on Etsy. Both are the larger ones.

I’ve searched the internet for any history or reference to them with very little luck, other than mentions of them. I kept reading the same information over and over that everyone was repeating on antique sites. This is basically what they were saying:  

Perfume Buttons were designed and manufactured in the States in the early 1800's, incorporating fabric as part of their design - usually velvet. The ladies of the day wore these buttons on their dresses, putting their fragrance on them rather than running the risk of staining their clothing.
The story goes that during the Civil War the ladies would take a perfumed button off their dress and give it to their loved one, sending him into war with a romantic memento. Many stories are told of soldiers who died with a button in his pocket or stories that recount how this memento kept them alive during those stressful times.
Perfume Buttons were also used earlier in history in France and England.”
These buttons should not be washed. Victorians removed buttons before laundering, as there may be many parts to a buttons like this, and water can get trapped inside.

Ok, so they began being made in the early 1800s, but no record of them until the 1860s?
The Western Regional Button Association in their paper on fabric backed buttons, state:                                                                                                                 
While Barrans notes that these negative fabric buttons are often referred to as “perfume” buttons, there is no evidence to support that they were actually used for that purpose. It is likely that the perfume would have discolored and deteriorated the velvet. She acknowledges that the name however, does have whimsy!

I have a couple in my collection that the velvet HAS disintegrated.

Then I found an article excerpted from “Dr. de Weerts’ Daughter: Sage-femme Extraordinaire” by Ambrose Keller. Published in 2015, it’s a real book

Amazon doesn’t state if it’s fiction or non-fiction book, but the author does say it’s part family history & historical-fiction. So I can’t say for sure if it’s all from his imagination. Again, no historical documentation other than everyone was talking about them.

By the way, none of mine have any residual odor of perfume. *sad* I would love to have been able to smell what perfumes they would have used.

Then I came across this PDF file called “Field Guide to Antique Buttons & Vintage Glass”. But Grandmothers Buttons is a blog and I can’t find a book listed anywhere as this being a real book. It’s possible it was a display for one of their button shows. 

As I mentioned, I would have loved do a class on these as a lecture, and then set it up where everyone could make their own little button but again, I‘m having a hard time now finding open brass buttons that could be used for them. If anyone ever comes across some that might work, and can be bought in bulk, PLEASE let me know.

In the meantime, have fun hunting for your own on Etsy and Ebay. I’ve been paying about $3-$5 for mine. Some of the dealers are making jewelry out of them now so if you’re in the tiniest bit interested, better move fast.

Monday, May 16, 2016


Yesterday was the second picnic I’ve attended in as many weeks. This one was the one I set up, A Picnic in Tissot’s Garden, that was rescheduled from last November when it was rained out.  My theme was to be Summer whites or pastels, with a wide time period of 1800-1920 and inspired by the artist James Tissot. I created an album of his paintings plus many photos to give everyone ideas of what they could make.

The dresses this day were predominately bustle-era, as was Tissot’s paintings, and there were so many frilly, frothy ones, I came away inspired to make more sheer fabric dresses like these. Everyone looked beautiful sitting around on the bright green grassy area next to the Botanical Gardens, and stopped many people dead in their tracks when they saw us. 

I managed to get in a couple photos myself wearing my 1870s Tissot white cotton voile dress with green Swiss dots that I made from Ageless Patterns #1462 jacket pattern. It was so easy and comfortable. It's just a loose jacket that you belt around you. 

I remembered this time to attach my stay-belt inside the bodice, which I’d forgotten last time, and have forgotten on other bodices in the past. It’s an inside belt made of ribbon or twill that’s attached at the inside back seams and comes around to the front to hook closed. It holds the bodice tighter to your body and also helps prevent your front closures from being pulled or coming undone. Unless you’re digging inside your bodice looking for something you just tucked inside it to get it quickly out of the way for a photo. *guilty*.
So here’s a trick I figured out to remind me from now on not to forget to hook it: I'm keeping the front ends safety-pinned to the front while storing it to remind me next time, and also helps find them when I put it on. 
I took this photo of the lovely Helen’s 1910 pastel dress, and immediately thought of my recent blog of how to make these bodices using modern pattern jackets.
And now I want to run home and make one. Again. 

                                               HCA "BUSTLE PICNIC"
The previous weekend, May 7, was the annual Bustle Picnic in Craig Regional Park, Fullerton, CA, with the HCA (Historical Citizen’s Association). Since I hadn’t been able to wear my Tissot dress for our earlier cancelled Tissot’s Picnic last November due to rain, I decided I would wear it for this too. And guess what? One hour into the picnic it started raining. But it was still a beautiful day, with green grass next to a lake. Because of our continuing drought, anytime I see green grass I get all excited. But it also makes for gorgeous contrasts to our dresses. 

Everyone brings their china and glassware to this one, and we set up fine dining. It all adds to the atmosphere. We don’t draw as big a crowd as in the larger parks but as you can see, we still draw a lot of on-lookers. 

Our guests of honor, Jennifer & Jeff, showed up and we later had a baby shower for them.
It started to sprinkle so we rushed to start taking photos of each other, and when we finally did our full group shot, it REALLY began to rain, and we had to rush away to continue the party nearby at a friend’s home. But still a wonderful day.

I had to get a couple shots of Tracey’s beautiful hat, with all its ribbons & flowers in back, and feathers.

Thank you to Karin for this lovely photo of us.