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, September 25, 2016


A conversation started up the other day about colors; specifically, the colors we choose for our dresses in costuming. And then a comment on my previous blog about the black and pink dress I was planning, and about her “inner goth” loving it. That, and my wondering why this time of year I start leaning towards wanting to make black dresses made me think more about it. After commenting about it on Facebook, that brought me to pull out all my photos of dresses I’d made in black or primary black. And holy mother of kittens, I’m looking like a closet Goth! 

And even for Halloween I’ve been wearing the full length black robe and hood with a different mask each year.

The question has come up many times in looking at old black & white daguerreotypes, tintypes, and cabinet card photos, whether those dresses were really black. It’s hard to tell. But a good example is this 1851 photo of a mother and two daughters. The dress on the right is in fact this green dress held in the San Diego History Center costume collection. Now it’s fun for me to imagine what color the other dresses actually are.
These two test shots of color swatches in solids and patterned, first in color, then in black and white, shows how different they look. So don't judge a color by it's photo. 
I’m not sure what the draw of wearing black is for me but I think they tend to be elegant, and I love how they contrast with the other colors of my dress and make them stand out. The all-black ones I’ve done, either mourning or my “best black dress” versions, allow me to play with more textures and trimmings that have no distractions from other colors or patterns of fabric with them. I think a “black canvas” works perfectly for that.
Tell me this doesn’t make your fingers itchy to do something like it.

I did my dream fashion show a few years ago when I wrote and directed "One Hundred Years of Mourning Fashion" and included 10-12 of my creative friends to each research and make a mourning dress from a time period of their choice. We presented it at the 2013 Riverside Dickens Faire fashion show, and again at Costume College that year. 

So whether it’s my “inner Goth” as some have called it, or my artistic side, I will keep on making these black themed dresses and be happy about it. Because they do, for some reason, make me happy.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

When You Can’t Cut & Sew, You Plan

As mentioned in my last post, even though I was hobbled by a foot problem, I was still getting some sewing done as long as I could sit and do it. And my brain also was not resting. Can we say CADD? That’s Costume Attention Deficit Disorder, a familiar state of mind to many costumers. The designers/planners in us get carried away. 
Taking a look around my sewing room (& bedroom in the corners) I currently have piles I’m working on that include some more Regency reticules I cut out; an 1860s wrapper that since I worked on it some more, now I only need to hem it; a partially cut 1912 dress that I still haven’t found the lace fabric I want to do the neckline so it’s at a standstill. And new things are added to the pile: I finally found a dress from 1885 that I could use the 4 yds of Chinese black & gold brocade my neighbor had given me. But I was out of black silk taffeta to start cutting it. Gahh!! I’m in the mood!! I want to cut fabric!!

Fortunately, a couple days ago after taking mega-doses of Advil + Tylenol and wearing my shoes with orthotics, the plantar faciitis finally started going away. Enough that I was able to go fabric shopping for the black silk taffeta, including enough to do another dress, an 1880s black & pink princess dress.  Both fabrics were acquired, along with some black beaded lace for the front.

I’m not sure if I can use the Truly Victorian tea gown pattern and alter the neckline but the only other
option I have is to extend a bodice pattern to floor length. I notice each year as we come up on the Fall season that I start leaning towards a lot of black dresses. I haven’t had a chance to figure out just why yet.
You may remember an earlier princess dress I was playing around with and even had the fabric for that. Maybe if I had stayed with navy blue like the original dress instead of jade green, it might have still been more desirable. It's still on the planning board though. But this time of year black always wins over for me. 

And as I usually do while shopping the Garment District in LA, my eyes were grabbed by some pretties. One store was selling out its linen fabrics, the real stuff that wrinkles not the blend, and this rose one came home with me. Since it wasn’t on the planning list at the time, I’m still not sure what it will be, possibly the new Truly Victorian 1912 dress?

Oh, and then this! I found a remnant roll of 13 yds of it in the back room at Home Fabrics, and cheap cheap cheap! It’s 120” wide, curtain fabric in a beautiful golden yellow with darker gold leafy vines going down it. (The photo looks a lot lighter) It made me want to dance! Where have you been all my life? Sadly, it is polyester, but I would never EVER find something like this in expensive fabric. I bought all of it since you’re required to with remnant rolls, thinking I may only need under 6 yards and could sell the rest.
Well, guess what? While trying to fall asleep my brain thought otherwise. It can be an 1810, and an 1820s dress (I haven’t done that time period yet & want a bodice with the tab on the front and belted). Or this 1837 cream & gold striped one.  *Squirrely mind is in control now*

Or maybe this? (1834) See what I have to put up with around here? In fact I often see things I was all fired up to make on my memories on Facebook when they pop up each day. I've taken a second look at some of them and wonder what was I thinking? Or on the other hand, why haven't I made THAT yet? 
So on my way home from L.A. with visions of sugar plums dancing in my…… Oops wrong season. With visions of new dresses, we remembered a fabric store near Disneyland that our friend Trudy had mentioned that had tons of cotton fabric. So a quick side trip ensued. M&L Fabrics is at 3430 W.Ball Rd, west of I-5, just a couple miles farther west of Disneyland. It’s open every day of the week. OMG, it’s HUGE, like a warehouse!! Rows and rows of cotton bolts, mostly $5.99-$7.00 yd but then the other half of the store is tables upon tables of flat folded 100% cottons, flannels, white cottons, at $1.99 yd. We saw lots of pretty ones that could be 1850s, 1860s, and later 1930s-60s. I would also say this is a quilter’s heaven. There were some shelves with folds of satin too, and in the back room, there was some cheaper stuff, upholstery fabrics, leathers, and polyesters.  I bought some nice soft white cotton for some Edwardian combinations, $2.99 yd, but I didn’t need anything else at this time.
I only remembered to take photos of one half of the store while we were in line, and forgot to take some of the rest as we were leaving. We were a little bit excited.

So now my sewing is going forward again with the black brocade dress, which I’ve started with Truly Victorian #462 Tail Bodice pattern with the square neckline (no tail). I’ll be using #263 Trained Skirt pattern for the skirt and put the panel of brocade down the front of it. I’m going to cut out a pattern to do the brocade trim on the front of the bodice and see if I can cut strips of it to do the trim around the hem of the skirt. I’m hoping it’s not too heavy for the taffeta. 

 I’m still considering how to do the sleeves; brocade or black taffeta with brocade trim? The fabric used on the bodice trim almost looks like a sheer lace. But I’ll go ahead with the brocade and hope it’s not too heavy.
 Of course the minute I get up from my chair to get fabric, my chair gets hijacked.


Monday, September 5, 2016


All my plans on starting new sewing projects almost came to a halt 3 weeks ago when my Achilles tendonitis flared up and I had to wear my walking boot day and night, which meant I couldn’t stand and cut fabric. If you’ve ever worn one, you know it has a curved bottom and rocks so you can’t stand up straight for long. If you lean over, you take the chance of losing your balance. It also kills your back and hips.

So I moped about feeling sorry for myself a few days but didn’t waste any time in planning my projects, which were all over the place.
High on my list was a costume from the Outlander series. This was something different for me, since I mainly do pretty things but I wanted to be a little more rustic this time. I now have my wool tartan, a blue linen, and a shawl made for me by a friend, which at the time was totally NOT for this but how perfect?

Since I couldn’t stand and cut this out, I started with something small: the bum pad from the Simplicity 8162 Outlander accessories pattern.  It looks a bit fluffy and stiff on my dress form but it’s not.
And then a couple days ago my friend Aylwen in Australia asked on her Jane Austen Festival site for any help from the members to make reticules to give as gifts for their presenters. Hey, I had quite a few small pieces of leftover silks and such, and a cute pattern for a reticule from LaMode Bagatelle, that I could make some from. And it could all be cut out on my sewing table whilst sitting down. So I pulled out my scraps and began cutting. I ended up with 15 cut out, then had to cut out the same of lining fabrics. Since I planned on sewing these on my assembly line method I figured they’d all be done rather quickly. But it got boring sewing seam after seam, without having a finished one to gloat over. But I soldiered on. I finally got to where I had one I could run the ribbons through and finish. Tah dah!  This took me about 4 days to get them all done. Some of these will go to Australia, and the rest to our costumer’s swap meet next month to sell.  

The mini project theme continued with planning a pocket for my Outlander costume. While searching for an embroidery design for mine, I remembered I had a pattern already for making one, Wingeo 202, and it has embroidery designs with it. I have the linen for it, and will be getting embroidery floss together for that soon.
I just got my white linen in the mail from F&S Fabrics for the chemise and got that cut out yesterday. So that’s my next sewing project starting today on Labor Day.
A couple weeks ago I had started cutting out my rose “mystery polyester” fabric for the Edwardian Rose 1912 dress when this cursed Achilles tendonitis struck me, so I will try to finish that up shortly. It’s out of my comfort zone and complicated to sew but I want to give it a shot.
I had two bolts of cotton voile fabrics sitting off to the side waiting to be cut into something. I keep looking at them, and they keep looking back. I can’t decide if I want a bustle dress or a tiered 1850s dress. This time of year when it’s so hot, these are what I want to work on. But by the time I start working on them, it will be cooler. And that hairy green and pink thing there? It used to be a tennis ball and is one of Chloe’s crazy toys.
As the weather starts cooling off I may go back to that Folkwear #508 outfit I wanted to make using either my maroon or navy blue linen blend I bought last March to make it from. I have hats for both already so I really need to make a dress for them.

As usual, my brain is all over the place of projects but that’s what keeps me from getting bored.