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, April 26, 2017


I’ve been waiting in hopes of someone coming up with photos from the fashion show I wrote and presented on April 1 at the Port Townsend Victorian Heritage Festival in Washington state.   Other than a couple one nice lady texted to me that day, we haven’t received any. So instead of waiting any longer, I’m writing this blog post with what I have and at a later date if we do get any, I can do an addendum post.
This was my sixth year of being in the fashion show there but my first year of writing the narrative and presentation. It was exciting to me to be asked to do this and fortunately I had a great pool of models and dresses from the Seattle-based guilds, SITU (Someplace in Time, Unlimited), and the Puget Sound Costume Guild. I contacted some of the previous models from past years and had a couple responses from there.
For my first time, I picked my easiest theme, a timeline of dress. I was able to use one of my ideas I’d had in the past there of having the narrative include local names of places in town, and relating to the history of Port Townsend so it would make it a special theme just for them. The title was “Victorians Dress for the Occasion”. It included the timeline of the city at its bustling time of 1850 to 1900.

Next, I wanted to change up the way it was done in the past, and when we found out our new location would be inside the American Legion Hall where the majority of the main events are held, like the Victorian ball, it was perfect. It’s a good size room, has lovely wooden floors with a stage at one end, and a pop-up stage at the opposite end for musicians. Instead of being up on the stage, I asked that we do it on the main floor with chairs set up around the center where we could walk down it. It gave us a longer area to walk and we could go back and forth to give everyone time to see us, and get a closer view. Later I heard very good reviews of the set-up.     And a grateful shout-out goes to the volunteer workers who did such a wonderful job of setting up the chairs and our enclosed dressing area.

After gathering up a group of 12 models and their dress descriptions, I set about the time consuming task of writing them into a story for each of them. Each one had to be a specific length so that we all fit into the one hour show we were doing. Some were a little longer that had to be edited down, while others had to have more details added but with the help of my “Model’s Questionnaire” it gave me plenty to fill in with.
On the day all of us arrived for the show, the room was already set up for us, with large room barriers placed along the far wall as our dressing area, with a row of tables and chairs for us. Each end was open for us to enter or exit. At the far left end there was an exit door leading out to a ramp with a parking lot below it. It’s not a public parking lot but I think we could use it for loading in and loading out for the show, rather than carrying everything down the street from the hotel like we did. Yes, we stretched our arms about 3 feet longer by the time we got there. When you’re bringing in snacks and water, and costumes, it gets pretty heavy.
I took some photos backstage, as I always do, because I knew we might not get any later. This year I didn’t have any friends in the audience, and even though my Mom was there, my cell phone isn’t the easiest thing for someone to take photos with if you’re not used to it, and the battery was dying most of the time I was there. Port Townsend is not very conducive to internet and cell phone signals. These were a couple I took before it did die. 

Marc, our Canadian Mountie, was hilarious. He walked in when some of us (me) were partially undressed (corsets showing OMG!) and he blushed and threw his hat up in front of his face and walked through us not wanting to see anything. We’ll have to cure him of that if he wants to continue joining us. LOL! Next year we do plan on a separate completely closed off dressing area (maybe up on the unused stage?) for those that need to totally change clothes, as this wasn’t a completely private area.
Our narrator, Beverly, a local store owner in Port Townsend, was up on the pop-up stage with her daughter. After I did a quick walk-through of the layout, I decided we would walk out of the far end by the stage and come out into the center of the room, walk to the back, reverse to the other end, then come back to the center where we could exit back into the other end of the dressing area. Because of the space being so open we were able to walk farther during our 1 minute descriptions instead of a very short stage, and it gave people much longer to look at us and take photos. Oh, to have all those photos!
At the end of the show, we all walked back out and lined up for a final group view. I had written a short thank you that I read to all the attendees who came to see us, and for their donations to the historical society. I was contacted by a lady shortly after this and she texted me some photos she had taken of us plus two very short 4 second videos of me, that she had taken accidentally. Sadly, one of our models, and her husband, Pam & Larry, couldn't make it at the last minute, so they were sorely missed.

Of course the photo taken of me had me pulling my lips in after smiling too long. Nasty habit of mine. 

VIDEOS: You have to click twice to make them work. 

After the show was over, and before I left the building, we were already talking about next year’s show. One of the models had given me an idea after something he said reminded me of another event I’d done back in San Diego, and I think it would make a great theme for next year. What is it? You’ll have to wait until about next January to find out.

The day we were packing up to leave, we found out the Port Townsend Leader newspaper had published a short article about the Festival, and included a photo of me from last year's fashion show. That was really cool.
This is one of my favorite photos that got photoshopped. 


Tuesday, April 18, 2017


After I finished the last 1894 Brown & Aqua Polka Dot outfit, I decided I wanted to make the same blouse out of a white cotton with scissors designs on it I had. It could go with another grey skirt I was working on for yet ANOTHER secret outfit for Costume College. Isn’t that what many girls did, have multiple blouses for multiple skirts to mix and match?
So this was the pattern I used, Truly Victorian #494. And this was the fabric I bought at Michael Levine’s in the Garment District in Los Angeles. At the time I bought it I already knew it was going to be a 90s blouse.
 I was up in Washington state visiting my Mom for two weeks, and I always bring a/some sewing projects with me, so materials for this blouse and a vest for another project came with me.
It’s always a bit hard to do sewing projects in places other than your home when it’s not set up as a sewing area. So I had to make do with a large desktop to cut out my fabrics. Also, not having your own sewing machine you’re comfortable with has its own problems. I’ve fussed at my Mom for a couple years about the inexpensive plastic Singer she’d bought after her absolutely fabulous 1950s Pfaff sewing machine motor finally gasped it’s last breath. The little farming town she lives in doesn’t have anyone that can do repairs or replacement parts like it needed, and she’s at least two hours away from a major city that might. But since she wasn’t sewing much anymore, she didn’t think she needed anything expensive to replace it. So I’ve dealt with a clunky noisy machine that doesn’t like me much either.
This time I decided to check around town and see if there was any place that I might rent a machine. They’re really big into making quilts and there were two quilt supply stores there. But sadly, no rentals. *sigh* So Plastic Singer and I compromised and we didn’t do too bad this time and played nice.
Four days before I was leaving for home, we stopped in one of the large thrift stores and I was looking for large white sheets to use for cutting out patterns and making my muslins from. Used queen-size sheets here go for $2-$4 dollars each, and usually can get you about 10 yards of fabric, so that’s much cheaper even than the $1 a yard muslin I get in Los Angeles, or worse when I’m home. *grumble JoAnn’s grumble*. There must have been a lot of Spring cleaning because I came away with four Queen-size sheets, plus Mom dug a few out of her closet for me. *Score!*

 And I usually check the sewing section to see if they have any old patterns, keeping some of my vintage friends in mine all the time, or hooks & bars, wide bias tape, etc. In the past they’ve had a couple antique sewing machines, and sometimes a treadle one. So it’s a fun place to check out. This time two table-top machines caught my eye; a metal case Kenmore for $45, and a metal case Singer for $22. $22! You’ve got to be friggin’ kidding me! Both had tags on them that said it had been tested and ran perfectly.     Hmmm… Should I? “Yeah, Mom, coming now!” So off we go home. That night I thought about it. It was cheaper than renting a machine. It wasn’t THAT heavy if at some time I’d have to take it home on the plane, or even ship it via UPS. A really, really heavy one my Dad had mailed to me years ago only cost $60. I talked to Cindy about it the next day and made up my mind to go back. If it was still there, it was meant to be. I even considered maybe buying the other one in case any of my friends around here needed an inexpensive one too.
And it was!
I did some test stitches on it, and it ran like butter. Then I eyeballed the Kenmore. But alas, they didn’t know where the cord was. They said they get them stolen some times. So the Singer it was! And it had a carrying case with it.
Back home I was confronted by Mom with it. She said since it was my birthday she’d pay for it. Yay, Mom!
I was able to finish my blouse on it up to where it needed buttonholes, which I’ll finish at home, and sewed as much of the vest as I had time.
While at the JoAnn’s in town (note* it's 30 minutes away), I bought some black dome shaped buttons to go on the scissors blouse, and they actually had enough cards on them. And I found the pewter grey metal buttons I wanted for my vest. Gotta love small towns. Sometimes. The black and white scissors fabric with the black buttons goes very nicely with my grey twill skirt that you can see at the bottom of this photo.
 I finished the blouse as much as I could there before I flew back home, and will be finishing it later today doing the buttonholes and hemming the sleeves. I think I’m going to take a couple more tucks in the front where it goes into the peplum like I saw in a photo somewhere. And I think a little black bow tie might finish this off very nicely too, like this lady in the old photo. At some point, maybe a wide black belt with a buckle might be nice too, if I can find a wide enough buckle.  I may need to go hunting for more boater hats too.

You know how sometimes you come up with ideas when you wake up in the middle of the night? I had an ahah moment about how I line my sleeves with two layers of netting sandwiched between my fabric and flatlining. I’ve been cutting out a full size sleeve of the netting to keep it stabilized. My idea is to only go to the elbow next time but when I top stitch it to my flatlining, I can sew straight across to stabilize it to that, then sew the whole thing to the inside of the sleeve. That stitch line won’t show except on the inside. It doesn’t save much netting but it also doesn’t make stiff cuffs. 

Chloe didn’t waste any time moving into my sewing bag when I came home.


Saturday, April 15, 2017

1894 Brown & Aqua Dots

This was something I was able to sew very quickly to wear to the Port Townsend Victorian Heritage Festival for 2017.
The 1890s have become a new passion for me. Besides it being a very quick and fairly easy pattern to make, it doesn’t require a lot of under-supports that make it hard to travel or move around. I had the two Truly Victorian patterns, #494 -1894 shirtwaist & #291 -1898 skirt for a while, but hadn’t made the shirtwaist yet. After I saw it on two of my friends, I knew it would look good, even though the sleeves in the pattern photo looked “scary”.

So, my favorite part began: researching from various sites of ideas for fabric colors/patterns, different ways to trim the bodice and skirt, hats, purses, and of course hair. Except the hair never happened. I ran out of time before I had to leave town and wear the dress. 
Pinterest has become my go-to site now for photos of extant clothing, and I especially love it when the item is dated, although you still have to be wary of that since even museums get it wrong sometimes. Besides getting ideas for fabric to look for, I picked some of my favorite parts of the dresses for adding a trim to the shirtwaist, and I knew they liked bright colors. I liked the contrasting bow you often see on the back of the collar but later saw it was near the end of the 90s, and my dress would be around 1894. 

For the past year, each time I went to the Garment/Fabric District in Los Angeles, I was keeping my eye out for fabrics that said 90s to me. Finally, this one popped out at me. It was a deep chocolate brown with aqua, dark brown, light brown and cream polka dots embroidered on it, for $3 a yard. Granted it was a curtain fabric, and I had to line it in cotton, but to my eye it was perfect. I happened to have an 8” wide strip of aqua silk taffeta that matched the one dot perfectly, and I had to squeeeeeeeze out bits of it to make my lapels that I finally put on the front of my shirtwaist. I was limited in the width of the lapels by the width of this scrap of fabric. So sad. I’d hoped I’d have enough to do the neck bow but sadly didn’t. However later when I saw that was for a late 90s dress, I didn’t feel so bad. The sleeve shape for that year was different too.
Since I’d made the skirt before, that went together very quickly. I did a separate lining for it in brown cotton and just attached it at the waist with a separate hem. It’s very satisfying to have that hanging on my dress form so quickly. Except then I had a minor disaster. I had been ironing this fabric with no problem on high steam.  The following day after I sewed the pocket in, I turned on the iron, and before it had a chance to get really hot, I set the iron on it, and partially melted an iron-size spot right at the top of the waist. Eep! Why the heck does polyester melt at a low temperature, and not a high temperature?!! In a couple places the fabric had separated so in desperation and a temporary repair, I put Fray-Check on them, and hoped it would be good enough for now. I still have lots of extra fabric. *More on that later in the story.*

I played with the pattern and decided to do the blouse attached directly to the peplum method, without the belt insert. I didn’t plan on wearing the peplum out over the skirt as I’ve seen some do. I also didn’t have to do a lot of fitting on it because it just gets gathered into the peplum and it’s a loose-fitting shirtwaist. That’s one thing that makes this go together quickly. And it’s front buttoning, so yay!
Here’s a note once you start laying out your pattern pieces. The back piece says CUT 2 ON FOLD. You only need ONE.
And when you cut out the humongous sleeves, unless you have 60” wide fabric, you will have to open up your yardage, then fold that end to end, rather than selvedge to selvedge, and cut two that way. So don’t short yourself fabric. The pattern calls for 3 7/8 yds. Just get 4. Make it easy on yourself, just in case you make a mistake, or want to do more stuff with it, as in self fabric trims.
The sleeves call for a netting lining to help hold out all the floofiness. I tried doing this one other time and only lined them halfway but the ends kept wanting to roll up. This time I cut two layers of the wide netting, not the fine tulle stuff, top stitched it to the back of my sleeve fabric, then my layer of cotton lining, and sewed the sleeves together. I used a pair of thread nippers and trimmed off any of the netting I could get to inside the seams because you don’t want that stuff sticking out. It’s scratchy! But the beauty it gives those floofy sleeves is amazing. Later this year I’m hoping to take a class to make sleeve supports for these and my 1830s dresses, but in the meantime, this works. And netting is cheap too. Since it’s so wide, I bought one yard and was able to cut all four layers out of it.
I flatlined everything with brown cotton, then sewed my front plackets on first to the shirtwaist so they were lined up nicely. Then I pinned my side seams on me so they were roughly fitted and sewed them. I sewed the gathers on the body, and on the peplum, after sewing it together, then pulled them in to fit each other. Voila! Next up was the collar, which I just did the standing collar, not a high one because I have a short neck and high necks aren’t so attractive on me. Or maybe I’m not so attractive in them. This then gave me the opportunity to work on my lapels. I drew a pattern as wide as I could, cut it out of the aqua fabric, and lined the back with brown fabric to save on the aqua. I really would have loved to have really wide lapels but it wasn’t to be. Since this is handstitched on, maybe at some later date when I find more aqua taffeta I can remake them. Later I relocated the lapels to be part of the front plackets and liked that better. And the sleeves got attached! Yay, it’s almost done! 

One of my research photos showed some decorative buttons on the front and off I went in search of pretty buttons on etsy. I wanted dome shaped ones and came across these that were plastic but looked like glass and they were brown. They contrasted nicely on the aqua. 

Next up was the corselet. I had considered a belt but I hate making belts, and having to adjust the size all the time. A back-lacing corselet was perfect. *These are not a corset, or the Swiss waists worn earlier in the 1860s.* I made the shorter corselet and amazingly it helped distract your eye from that melted spot on my skirt. I used Truly Victorian #492, and made a matching belt of the dotty fabric, lining the back with brown cotton but also flatlining the fabric with the same. It has short steel boning in it, and I just made my boning channels with the same brown cotton. Here’s a sewing note on it: I think because I do some under stitching on a seam once I turned it right side out to help it stay flat, but I lose a bit of length for the bones, and it barely gave me enough seam allowance to turn under the bones when I finally closed it up. So be very careful when you sew those seams across the top to give yourself enough room to fit the bones in and turn under the seam at the bottom. The next one I made, I just sewed a 1/4-inch seam instead of 1/2 inch across the top and bottom.

With only a week left to finish this before leaving out of town where I’d be wearing it, I panicked a bit on how to get my grommets in for lacing in the back. Since it was my birthday, and I knew this wasn’t the only corselet, or corset for that matter, that I’d need a grommet setter for, I told hubby he was buying me one for my birthday. I bought it online from a company up in Los Angeles, Gold Star Tool, surprisingly near the Garment District. It was also recommended to me by a few others.  I bought the $69 one with one die set. If all you need is the small 00 size grommets that most of us use for corsets, that’s all you need. The photo with the arrows shows you the two die bits it comes with. You don’t need a cutter one because if you’re a costume maker, you know you never cut the fabric. You simply separate the threads with an awl and spread it to hold the grommets. 

The easiest thing I had for lacing mine was brown ribbon. I made it a bit long but it makes a pretty bow in back.
And finally, the accessories. I used an antique purse with a chatelaine I had to hang It from my waist, just like I saw in some 1890s photos. *Remember the earlier Fray-Check needed on my skirt? I think I’m going to have to Fray-Check all the dots on this fabric, because my purse and my sleeve both rubbed against those dots and frayed them. So, I have a big project coming up and probably need to buy a bigger bottle of Fray-Check. 

For my hat, I pulled out a boater with a black band I had, covered the crown with cream taffeta and added stuff. I saw lots of big bows, feathers, and many with a buckle or brooch in front.

So again, out of my fabric stash came this cream taffeta. The flowers came from Michael’s. The buckle was a cheap metal one off etsy, and the scruffy brown feathers came from a Paris flea market that I bought from while in Paris a few years ago.  
I cut a circle of taffeta slightly larger than the crown and roughly basted it over the top. Then I folded over a wider piece to go around the sides and roughly basted that on. I reuse my hats often so that makes it easier to retrim them.  I made large loops of the taffeta to put on the front.

I basted all my trims on, THREE TIMES! until I was happy with it. That’s one good reason why basting them on is good. 

See the bar pin on this lady’s collar, and the comb on the back of her hair? I did wear one of my bar pins with this, and bought a celluloid hair comb for the next time.

Everything was finished in time for my trip to Washington state and for the Port Townsend Victorian Festival that I met up with my friends from SITU, and the Puget Sound Costume Guild. We walked around town and had tea at the Commander's Beach House. *I also put on the fashion show there this year. More on that in another post.*

Back home this young lady has been patiently waiting for me to get back to work on my next project, which I already have started. Yes, it’s another 1890s blouse!