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.


Saturday, August 12, 2017


I often take the easy way out when I need multiple costumes and this year was no different. You’ve read of my assembly-line method of cutting out 2 or 3 of the same pattern at a time, partially sewing up the main seams, then finishing them as needed, so it seems like they appear out of nowhere, and I can blame it on the magical sewing mice.

When our mini-themed costume group started up for the Friday Night Social at CoCo, “Casino Royale -Our Favorite Spies”, our group decided to go as the Ladies of the Pinkerton Detective Agency.  After the organizers of this theme, Joyce & Kristen, did some research on what the ladies were wearing for the Agency in the 1890s, they designed a “uniform” for all of us to copy. And copy we did; we were all twins! We all purchased red/burgundy velvet or whatever anyone could find, and a dark grey fabric for our skirts. We all bought the Pinkerton badge sets available on ebay and split them among us. I decided to be easy on myself and ordered a white 90s blouse from Wild West Mercantile.

We had a variety of choices to make our vests, and many of us tried using the crossover vest from Truly Victorian’s riding habit jacket, but many found the lapel and collar was too bulky, so removed that and just made it a center buttoned vest. The back tails were also cut off straight. The walking skirt was Truly Victorian 291. 

We were all going to wear boater hats, and I had just bought an antique one off ebay from England. They’re not easy to find but later Joyce found some at Party City for $9, and they worked pretty good for the others. We all tied a black ribbon around our necks for a bowtie. And of course, you know me, I added a watch pocket and wore my watch and chain with it.

Because of the simple skirt, a white 90s shirtwaist, and vest, it was an easy outfit to make, and this got finished about one week before CoCo. I was feeling pretty flush by now. Just some last minute things to do, like buttons and buttonholes on a couple other skirts and shirtwaists. *Did you notice I jinxed myself? Right after I announced I was done with everything, the Wednesday night before I was leaving for CoCo, I tried my two skirts on to see what petticoats would work best with them, and both skirts were two inches too long in the front! I had pinned them up on my dressform, which is supposed to be set to my height with the short heels I wear. But I think the last time I had to take it to a fashion presentation, it got readjusted and grew a bit. So I was up until midnight fixing the one, and then to midnight the next night at Costume College fixing the other. Don't EVER say you're finished, or you will jinx yourself.* 

**Here is an additional photo taken by Jeanette M. 
I decided to make two other similar outfits to wear, one during the day when I taught my class, and another for the Sunday Tea, using the same patterns. But I zinged them up a bit.
The patterns I used were Truly Victorian TV E494 for the shirtwaist, and the TV walking skirt. The shirtwaist is extremely easy to make, and I wrote about making my first one while I was visiting my Mom in WA on this blog entry.
Last year after shopping in the Garment District, I saw this black and white cotton fabric with scissors at Michael Levine’s, and knew it had to be a 90s shirtwaist. I made a black gabardine cotton walking skirt to go with it, and made a black silk taffeta corselet belt from Truly Victorian TV 492 to wear also. I’ve seen a black leather belt in photos of the ladies wearing the shirtwaists so would like to find something like that for it later. Or I may make it a little narrower.

It turned out to be my favorite one of the weekend, & got a lot of compliments. I managed to ham it up when I was able to get my hands on a pair of scissors too. 

I was really at a loss of what to wear for the Sunday Tea, “Tea at the End of the Universe”, celebrating vintage science fiction. I wanted to wear my usual historical dress so was going to go with another 1890s outfit. But Cindy suggested making the shirtwaist from a science fiction fabric, and we chose The Jetsons, still one of my favorite cartoons from the ‘60s.

I’m still waiting for those push-button kitchens, and maybe one to make fabric?
So, accessories were needed for this. I decided I wanted antenna like “My Favorite Martian”, another 60s TV show, but had no luck finding some. I thought I would have to buy two car antennas and attach them somehow to a headband. Or make something like this.  That was my backup plan if nothing else worked.

Then just before the 4th of July, I was shopping at Party City, and saw the “wall of wild color party accessories”. Rows of hats/wigs/plates, all matching colors of yellow, lime green, orange, red, purple, royal blue, and hot pink. I saw a hot pink wig and a light bulb went off! That wig would match one of the colors in my fabric, AND I wouldn’t have to even think about what wig to wear. And it was only $14. While looking at their catalog for other things I saw a glitter ball antenna headband, but sadly they were out of those. They claim it’s a Xmas/New Year’s only item. L So, I hot-footed it over to a costume store in another nearby town, and got one, the last one, with a couple sequins missing (hard life) but I could fix those. Et voila!

So now my mish-mash of costume needed a purse. I was on a roll. I first thought of making one, using an old handbag from a thrift store, and covering it like a book from a favorite SciFi book. After some thinking, I wanted it to look like the Tardis, the time traveling police box from Doctor Who. When I started thinking about this, it was just before the 4th of July, and I was starting to feel the crunch of getting everything done. 

So, I again wanted to make it easy on myself, and just did a little searching on the internet for a Tardis purse. Yes, they have those! Except it would be coming from China, and wouldn’t be here until AFTER Costume College. Then Cindy found the exact purse on Amazon, and it could be here in two days for the same price. I ordered it the day before 4th of July, and it arrived the day after. It was $35 and some of the reviews said they loved it, it was bigger on the inside ;) and well made. Others said some of the color peeled off, or the zipper separated. I decided to be very careful with it, as I needed it perfect for one day and didn’t want it to explode on me. Good thing I did, because by the end of the day, yes, the zipper did separate. So Amazon got my review about that. It’s a cute purse but needs work.
I wore my whole outfit with the black skirt I’d made, and the same corselet. I had a lot of fun wearing it to classes on Sunday morning, as this is not something I normally dress in. I ran into a Smurf; my guest teacher, Jez Roth; and the Doctor. 
The wig wasn’t behaving as nicely as it did the first time I wore it. It felt stringy, and I think it needs a better haircut to shorten it a bit. It was a lot cooler than a full wig though.  I saw someone else wearing a similar one and she had cut it in a nice bob. How do you take a $14 hot pink wig to a hairdresser and ask if they can style it, without laughing? With your Jetson’s blouse and antenna on, that’s how.

The last day at Costume College on Monday, I did my shopping for my costume fabrics in the Garment District for next year, since I already knew what my theme for the year was, "Dressing the Royals", and I had plans for what I wanted to make. But we all know that gets thrown to the wind when you hit all the fabric stores. I came home with more than what was on my list. My plans do include multiple fabric cutting of the same pattern but none will look the same when they're done. 
Hope to see you there next year! 

Friday, August 11, 2017

The Metamorphosis of an 1885 Dress

I did something different this year. I started an 1885 gown for the 2017 Costume College Gala last year in December, planning to be way ahead of the game. I replicated an Emile Pingat dress, and had it done early enough that I was able to wear it in a fashion show at Riverside Dickens Festival in Feb, and again at the Port Townsend Victorian Festival in March. At that point, it wasn’t completely done with what I wanted to do but it was wearable.
For the Riverside Dickens fashion shows, I dressed it up first as Titania, Queen of the Fairies, and carried my little donkey, Bottom, which I was shocked to discover I had been given a love potion and fell in love with the donkey. When I threw into the crowd, I heard some startled squeaks. We had fun with that. 

I made my headdress out of glittery gold Christmas pics that I wrapped around a covered headband. I also had added a long shimmering gold sheer cape that came off my shoulders but wasn’t very happy with it.
For the next time I wore it in the Port Townsend Victorian Festival, I changed it into a Victorian Fancy Dress, and portrayed, “Sunrise”. And I left my cape at home. My dress was obviously mainly black as night, then the glittering sun began to rise, and again wearing my Xmas-y headdress, I raised my arms and welcome the sun rising in the sky. My mom said I’m a clown. At least she wasn’t there when I tossed my donkey into the audience.
Sadly, the only photo of me from there has me sucking in my dry lips. I think I need to carry around a jar of Vaseline from now on. There was a pretty good 4 second video of me though.
For my next incarnation, it was to become my Gala dress for Costume College. By then I had actually forgotten that’s what I’d originally made it for, until my Mom reminded me of it. And now I had time that I could really finish it, with having a couple months before I needed it.
The original dress had a black floral lace all around the hem and train. It was also on the sleeves of the dress but trying to find something like that would be too time consuming and probably fruitless. I came up with the idea of cutting out some of the gold flowers on the brocade and appliqueing them onto the hem. I did some applique on quilts years ago, so I figured I could do it. Twenty-seven cut flowers, and four evenings of hand-stitching later, I had a hem that made me very happy with how it looked. If you got too close to it, it looked clunky, because brocade is clunky. But step back two feet, and you’d think it was part of the fabric.

I wore my gold headdress again, with the long black gloves. I added a black beaded antique reticule from my stash, and gold beaded necklace, and I was done.

 I even got some nice photos when I wore it at Costume College. This is from walking down the Red Carpet to the Gala dinner.
And from dinner. 

This is one of my Facebook friends, Laura, who made it to her first Costume College and we had fun getting photos together. 

I feel like I put a lot of work into this dress, but am pleased that I’ve gotten three wearings out of it just in one year. For a fancy costume, that’s pretty doggone amazing. I wonder what it will be dressed up as next?
Oh, and the cat. Can’t forget Chloe. She did help when I was cutting out my skirt.