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.


Monday, December 31, 2018

SoCal Dickens at Winterfest Fashion Show

I thought my blog was done for the year but this past weekend I was in a fashion show put on by CGW (Costumers Guild West) at the brand spanking new Dickens Village in Costa Mesa, CA. I want to get the word out about this event so everyone can plan for it next year. The Winterfest there has gone on for years but this year a new addition of Dickens Village was added. It runs for 18 days, ending on January 6. They also have a Facebook page. Some of the CGW members took on the mantle of managing, planning, and running the events and demonstrations at the Dickens Village there. Many of us have visited the Great Dickens Fair in San Francisco, which is a huge indoor event and recreates the streets of old London and the many shops, along with all the Dickens characters. I’ve been there about 5 times but it is a long trek during a busy time of year and I’ve missed it the last 3 years now. So, it was exciting to all of us costumers to hear about this.

One of the events was going to be a fashion show with costumes from 1830-1870, the Dickens time period, on December 29. The planner and narrator, Mela Hoyt-Heydon, asked me if I could be in it. I love being in fashion shows and being able to wear my costumes more. So, I threw in my 1837 Turquoise & Cranberry dress to the schedule.
The event is held in the Orange County Fairgrounds, and when I arrived, it seemed very much like any other fair but I could see there were many huge Christmas and holiday decorations ready to light up when the day began to darken. The event begins at either noon or 2pm, depending on the day, and goes until 11pm. I think on New Years Eve it goes even later. It was nice not having to leave at the crack of dawn for the two hour drive up there. There are also Winter-type rides, like a snow slide and an ice-skating rink.
The inside of the Dickens Village had similar storefront facades like the SF one has. I took these photos just as it was starting to open. The shops weren’t too focused on Dickens-type items, more like things you find at Renaissance fairs, but they did have a hat shop and a kilt shop, and some costumed Dickens characters. I hope next year the focus is more on costumes and Dickens-related items. There were demonstrations of weaving, lace-making & spinning (Priscilla), and sewing (Shelley Peters), and a display of historical reproduction gowns made by the coordinator of the Dickens event, Lana Lily.

Our fashion show began with Mela telling the history of each dress and all our accessories. She didn’t read a narrative but uses her own historical knowledge to talk about our outfits, just getting basic information from us on what we’re wearing. I could never do a show like that myself but we all have our own styles.

I was the first one out, and later I went back out to help dress one model from her underpinnings out. This is always a favorite at fashion shows. Mela told us not to expect too big a crowd since it was it’s first year but I think there was about 30 in the audience at our 1:30 show, and just barely 20 at the 3:30 show. We had lots of photos being taken, including this from photographer Andy of The Shotwell Collection. 
My friends, Jody & Tracey, also took photos and shared them with me. And yes, I showed off my quilted petticoat at Mela’s request to show our underpinnings.

We had a father and son go out, where he made both their costumes. Our other models were Priscilla, Shelley, Trudy, Colleen, Nancy & Russell, and Diane. 

Here we are helping Diane dress from the underpinnings out, with her three petticoats, and into her Victorian day dress. 

After the first show, I met up with friends Jody & Evah for tea at Cuthbert’s Tea Shoppe. It’s the same company that does the SF Dickens venue, and also give out a souvenir teapot. But we went to the earlier Plaid Hatter Tea which didn’t include that. We were entertained by the Plaid Hatter, along with Alice, while we had our tea. I thought the scones a bit hard, as was the fruit tart, but both the sandwiches and tea were very good. 
Jody even had a visit from Mr. Scrooge, who offered her a loan with questionable terms.
After the final show, we all realized many of us were wearing blue gowns, and Tracey took a photo of us all. Maybe next year we should send a memo out about color?
 I didn’t take any photos of the outside area but these two are from Trudy. 

I hope the word gets out about this new event. There’s still time to visit before it closes Jan 6. Check different ticket sellers for discount prices rather than pay full price if you can. Or consider next year volunteering as an extra in costume for passes. 
                                   Happy New Year!    ~~~Val~~~

Wednesday, December 12, 2018


For many of us during the holidays, our sewing turns to something new to wear for any holiday events we want to go to. This year mine is mostly going to Xmas teas. I could have just rested on my laurels and worn my previously made Red & Black Checked bustle dress. But Southern Californians know that just because it’s December, that doesn’t mean our weather will be cold enough to wear your warmer costumes. We can go from 80d to 63d the next day, then right back to 85d. It’s a crap-shoot. But I dream someday of wearing a wool dress with fur trim. My red & black dress is silk taffeta, and although not a really hot material, I am usually quite warm in it. Something new and in cotton was needed.
I wanted something easy and basically quick (for me) to make, and that would be the Truly Victorian polonaise #410 and skirt #221, a two-piece outfit. (LOL! In retrospect, even this took me a month to make. But that’s how I sew.)

I had bought some red plaid cotton homespun fabric from my friend, Kristen, not too long ago and after seeing this one plaid dress made by The Victorian Dressmaker, I aspired to that. I wanted to try doing something fancy to the skirt hem with pleats and stuff, and try somehow to make it not looking like everyone else’s version of this pattern. Sadly, in the end, I didn’t have enough fabric to add anything fancy to the hem. I’m still considering adding a couple rows of velvet ribbon for it’s second wearing.

As mentioned, the pattern goes together really fast, especially if you’ve made it 4 or 5 times. I did have a few delays when a little someone needed attention. 

I always look forward to planning and adding trims to my dresses. About a year ago I bought a bag of pre-pleated black grosgrain trim that was held together with strips of masking tape. Now was a good time to save myself some labor and use this for trimming my dress. And I had lots of it. I had to sew the length of it to keep it together since the masking tape couldn’t hold it well enough while trying to attach it. I ran it around the neckline, on the edges of my sleeve cuffs, and around the entire bottom of the polonaise. 

It was still a bit plain so I dug out some 1” wide black velvet ribbon to add to it with a bit of the fabric showing between it and the pleating. I had to hand-tack the velvet ribbon on as it was too thick to pin it in place before I machine-sewed it on. And I decided it needed large buttons to add something eye-catching, and covered them with black silk taffeta. I’m not a fan of the metal covered-button kits but this time I gave it a try and they actually are staying in one piece.  

As I’d mentioned, I had hoped to add a 4” wide box-pleated trim to the bottom of my skirt, but I only had about a 12” rectangle left over. So, I just hemmed it so I could wear it and would come up with something for it later. In the past I had tied the side fronts to pull them towards the back like the pattern has but to be different I let them hang down this time.

I bought some vintage 3” wide taffeta ribbon from my friend Kristen for the bow in back. It looked a little plain by itself, and I played with two lengths of a tail to add. I decided on the short tail.  No, Chloe, not your tail.

After I wore this for the first Xmas tea I went to, I had time to add a row of black velvet ribbon to the hem. I only had enough for one row and didn’t want to buy more and have to wait for that too. So, I’m happy with the outcome. 
Next up was my accessories. I saw a couple photos where a small corsage was added to the front of the neck, and another where she had a lace collar laying around it. I combined these two ideas using a vintage lace collar I had, and a Xmas pic I bought just for my holiday dress. It was really the only thing that said “Xmas”, unless you count the color red. I want this dress to be wearable for other times of the year, and that’s why the cotton fabric works better for me. 
For my bonnet, instead of making a brand-new hat, I pulled out a squished antique straw hat I’d found at the bottom of a box in an antique store for $12 and tried to fluff it up a bit. As I was doing that, part of the straw braid on the back edge turned basically to dust. I ended up removing that, and to cover the inside of the shattered silk lining, I tacked in a new lining of silk taffeta and covered that bottom section where I had removed the braid. I also removed the poor flowers that were on the bonnet but saved it for my stash. Unless it’s falling apart, it might be used again in the future. 

Again, to add a touch of Xmas, I bought some little Xmas pics with green leaves and white berries. Later after I put the bonnet on, I realized I was walking around with mistletoe constantly above my head. 
So, finally at the CGW Xmas Tea I was able to get a couple photos taken of me, and I received two of them this morning from our photographer, Andy, of the Shotwell Collection.

Now seeing the back of my dress in this photo, it looks like one of my ties under the bustle came loose, so at least I can fix that, or maybe not, before wearing it again tomorrow to yet another Xmas tea with the Ladies of the Traveling Tea Society.

And here ends my blogs of 2018, and now I can send it all to and have it printed into my annual book from each year.
                                         Happy Holidays to everyone!  ~Val~

Thursday, October 11, 2018

There has been some sewing: 1873 Purple Voile Bustle

I took a break from sewing after Costume College was finally over at the end of July. I walked away with my brain fried, body exhausted, and mind frazzled. But a tiny illumination of a dress kept popping up and reminding me I wanted/needed to make it. I’d saved this painting above for a few years and finally found some purple floral printed cotton voile I could use for it. I am in love with cotton voiles, and keep a lookout for any that I come across. They’re so hard to find anymore. I’ve seen a few of my friends with this same fabric and knew I had to make mine not look the same as theirs. But I wanted it light and floofy-looking. Because I liked the square neckline of the 1870s, I decided to go with an 1873 style.

Before the mad rush of trying to finish things for Costume College, I was able to cut out most of my dress using Truly Victorian patterns # 462 with the short back, #201 for the skirt, with #303 for the overskirt. Both the overskirt and skirt would have ruffles around the edges. 

And so they all sat until around mid-September when I finally felt the need to sew again. Since the fabric is sheer, I had originally planned on lining it in white cotton, and had cut out all the pieces, including the skirt for it. Except the white made it look washed out. So, I used some lavender cotton and that made the little purple flowers pop. The white fabric won't go to waste though. I will be making a petticoat out of it to go with this.
After having my bodice muslin fitted at Shelley Peters’ workshop, I got the bodice sewn quickly (no boning or sleeve ruffles yet), and then the skirt. But since my dressform was still downstairs after CoCo, it hadn’t been brought back up to get its corset and undies put back on, so my first reveal of it is rather sad, The neckline is actually a lot lower than this too. But it gave me a working view of how to do my trims. 
The neckline will have a lace ruffle around it, and the sleeves will have self-fabric ruffles with the same lace on them. I first thought I would add a narrow purple ribbon along the edges of the neckline too, but remembered I had a purple silk rose I wanted to use on the front of my bodice, and it glaringly didn’t match the ribbon. So the rose won. 

My buttons are from a set of vintage embossed rose ones that I bought a few years ago in Port Townsend, WA, at the Button Bazaar. My hat from Atelier Mela, was custom-ordered to go with this, and I bought a pair of grape cluster earrings from The Lady Detalle after seeing those. 

Other than the skirt, that’s as far as I’ve gotten with this, and am a bit distracted by the thought of making a red/green plaid cotton bustle dress for some Xmas teas coming up. It would be so much more comfortable that the silk taffeta dress I’ve worn in the past, but if it doesn’t happen, then that dress may get some white fur trim added to it.
Since I am leaving shortly for a vacation, this is as far as everything has gotten but I hope I come home rested, and ready to get back to work on everything.