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.


Thursday, April 26, 2018

2018 Fashion Show at Port Townsend (WA) Victorian Heritage Festival

I made my annual trek up to Washington state in March to visit my mom, and also to attend the Victorian Heritage Festival in Port Townsend. I’ve been in the fashion show there for the past seven years, and this was my second year actually running it. There was new management last year at the same time I took over, so I was able to change the show up a bit. I pulled in friends from the local costumes guilds: the Puget Sound Historical Costume Guild, SITU-Somewhere in Time, Unlimited, the Washington Regency Society, and R.U.C.A.S.-Renton United Cowboy Action Shooters.
One of the biggest changes I did was create themes for their fashion show, instead of just having a bunch of dresses come out and describe them, as they had in the past. I am lucky to also have more men in our group, which appeals to the gentlemen who attend the show. In years past, many of the “events” focused on the Civil War. But surprisingly, besides some men in uniform, I saw very little of women’s 1860s clothing being worn. Then it became more 1880s through 1900-looking dresses but not much in underpinning support, and of course, Steampunk has mixed into it. But they have a separate festival for that. I know after talking to a few people on the street that our costumes we wear as we visited the shops has gotten a lot of people excited and asking us more about them. 

I really like our new location, inside the American Legion Hall, but since most of the presentations for the festival are done there now it has gotten a bit crowded, and they have to move the displays to the side for our show. Last year I decided instead of using the stage for our show, which is small and pretty high in elevation, that we would walk down the middle of the room, with the audience sitting around us. They were able to see us up close and for a much longer period of time. We’ve been told the fashion show is the highlight of the Festival, and that makes me happy.

It used to include two other buildings where the talks and presentations were held, and the demonstrations and displays were inside the Hall. But due to financial cutbacks, it’s now in the one building. This isn’t a street fair, primarily due to the inclement weather experienced in March, but rather a series of historical presentations, which include tours of the Victorian seaport town. For example, this year’s presentations were Architectural History of Port Townsend (which appeals to the locals but was very interesting to the rest of us); and Getting Around in the 1800s: Bicycles, Lamps, Bells, & Whistles; and something about guns, along with walking tours of uptown and downtown Port Townsend. In the past there were usually about four more, but apparently, they had problems getting people for them this year. My group remembered we had talked last year about offering some costume-related talks, and especially more for women. No one reminded us, and we forgot. So next year we hope to get our stuff together. There are also afternoon teas given at a couple locations especially for the event, and the Saturday night ball, which is rather small, and even less in costume than in the past.

The theme I chose this year was “Favorite Characters from Victorian Novels”. This gave me a chance to extend the time period of the costumes being worn too, starting in the 1830s at the beginning of Queen Victoria’s reign. What surprised me was the manager of the Festival decided to follow my idea and titled the entire Festival theme as “Legends of Literature”. Unfortunately, he failed to ask me who I would have in our show, and announced we would have Alice in Wonderland, (sorry but no rabbits this year), and Jane Austen. (I need to educate him in the “Victorian time period”). 

We did have a Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson though; and Mrs. Hudson as our narrator. 

Each model chose a book or character from a book and dressed according to the time period of it. Along with their description, I included a small portion from the book to give the audience an insight into it, or to set the stage. Author Edith Wharton was a popular writer for the models. 
My list of models and their characters were:
Rebecca Maiten                            -1830s  Dickens -Oliver Twist
Barb & Rob Gregg                        -1870s  Wharton -Age of Innocence
Sharon Ricketts                            -1900 Wharton -The Other Two
Mara Perry                                    -1890s  Wilde -The Importance of Being Earnest
Patricia Francisco                         -1904 James -The Golden Bowl
Valarie LaBore                              -1837  Gaskill -Cranford
Agnes Gawne                               -1890s  Doyle -The Dying Detective
Marc McDaniels                            -1890s Doyle -Sherlock Holmes
Stephen Pierce                             -1890s Doyle -Sherlock Holmes
Vanessa Wood                                -1870s Wharton -The Buccaneers

Some of our characters were familiar, like Sherlock and Dr. Watson, but many were lesser known ones, although the books were not. I hope it brought the books to life for them, and a visual of what the characters in the books would look like. I’m all for exposing the town to more historical dress next year and going back even farther to Regency and the 1700s, since there is now a reenactment event over in Port Angeles.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

1894 Mulberry Evening Dress

A month ago, I thought I was running ahead of the game by being half-done with an 1890s walking suit to wear to the Port Townsend Victorian Festival in WA. My friends who I meet up with there, decided we would dress in 1890s from the town’s time period. This would be just for wearing around town, and to tea before we headed over to the American Legion Hall to put on the fashion show for the Festival. I had another dress I was wearing for that which was already made. I had my bases covered.
But then Mara kept posting photos of multiple 90s dresses she was making and I felt like the glove had been thrown down. So, I rationalized I really needed an evening dress to wear to dinner, and to the ball, which by the way, I just attend and watch my friends dance, as I’m still not walking well enough to even think about trying to walk sideways and twirl.
While folding up some fabrics in my sewing room, I picked up one delicious and silky mulberry and gold patterned silk damask fabric I’d bought recently after drooling over it at the tremendous sale of silks they had at Home Fabrics in LA. I bought a remnant of 7 ½ yards for $5.95 yd. It totally spoke to me of 1890s. So, what’s a girl to do? The gauntlet had been thrown down, and challenge was accepted.
Apparently, I did the same thing last year, and made a new dress just weeks before I was leaving. I can probably blame Mara for that too. At the last minute before flying up to WA, I made my 1890s Brown Polka Dot dress. Basically, it’s an easy outfit to do using both Truly Victorian patterns for the skirt and blouse. I used TV #494 for the 1894 Shirtwaist, but I decided to try the TV #296 Ripple Skirt with the full panels that are pulled to the back with ties inside, similar to doing the bustle ties. There’s a lot more fabric in this skirt than the usual walking skirt I make. 

This fashion print from 1896 shows ripple skirts.

For my inspiration, I pulled out this photo of a dress I want to make someday in all its black glory and beading. From this I mainly wanted the idea of the ¾-length sleeves, some fancy trim on the bodice, and a belt. But, oooh, I do so want to make this in black someday. 
The shirtwaist went together easily, as in the past, but this time I used the yoke front so I could have an area to put my trims. This fabric turned out to be a hard color to find a trim to go on it. I tried looking for some lace fabric and found the perfect one to cover the whole yoke, but was not going to pay $49.99 yard for it. In the lace trims section, the closest color I could find was kind of beigey-gold but after laying it over the blouse, it didn’t look dressy enough. But it sure was pretty. Too bad I don’t have any more fabric left that I can try something else. But I’ll save that lace for another blouse.
So this narrow gold trim was the best I could find with a two week window left to make this. I repeated the trim with a chevron design on both the cuffs. 

I can’t remember if I’ve ever shared how I do my puffy sleeve linings for these, to get them sticking up in the air, so I took some photos as I was doing it this time. I used stiff netting, not tulle, for them. I cut out my flat-lining, and then cut out two layers of the netting but end it about at my elbow. I sew the netting to one side of the flat-lining fabric with a basting stitch, and trim the excess netting off. Then I lay that onto the backside of the dress fabric, with the netting between them. I sew them as you usually sew flat-lining and then sew the sleeves seams. This way you don’t get poked by the pokey netting.

The skirt pattern, however, gave me problems from the beginning. I’m used to the fullness in an 1890s skirt to be all in the back. The Ripple Skirt has wide panels on the sides and I almost messed up cutting them out when suddenly I saw the straight-of-grain line on the pattern going horizontal instead of vertical. After reaching out to others and to the pattern maker, it was confirmed that yes, that was correct. They are cut so as to make that curve on the sides. Except I decided since my fabric had a definite pattern line, I wanted to cut it like all the other panels. So, to answer your question, I did not cut it as the pattern indicated.

Again, my 1890s-mind wanted to put the placket in the back of the skirt. Except this one was on the side, and apparently the pleats from the side panels would envelope it. Mine turned out bulky though. I had to set this aside to finish up my plum suit and trim some hats before I jumped on the airplane. I figured I’d be able to finish the skirt hemming and ties while I was at my Mom’s house there.

It did need a belt though. I tried something new (to me) for inside my belt, cotton belting that I purchased at JoAnns. It’s not stiff, a little more pliable than the usual belting, and you can sew through it. 
I folded a long rectangle of my dress fabric over it, and slip-stitched it closed. It would close in the back with hooks, and I would use a decorative buckle in the front. I wanted to bring out more gold and when I saw these gold buckles for sale on a Facebook group, I knew it would be perfect. It would really stand out rather than a small one would disappear.

Other things I had to get ready was accessories. I planned to wear my usual wig with a bun, like this first photo shows. I don’t like the scraped back hair with a tiny topnotch that so many ladies then wore. I did find a couple crazy ones after the fact but it will require some more work in the future. 

I thought finally I could wear my pretty comb with gold leaves that I’d bought last year from Elizabeth Emerson Designs. But when I finally tried to put it on at the event, my wig cap kept pushing it out, and I was afraid I’d lose it. So it only got to be stuck in long enough for a photo. After I came home, I did some more research and have come up with another idea for a headpiece and plan to wear it later this month in yet another fashion show but locally to me. More on that later.

It was also going to be very cold in Port Townsend that evening, and I was resigned to bringing a shawl. But just a day before I was leaving to fly up there, Elizabeth Emerson Designs came to my rescue by posting this lovely antique quilted silk brocade cape. I purchased it and asked her to send it to my Mom’s house in WA, since it would never get here in time. It was as beautiful as the photos showed, and inside it, there was a cute little cone-shaped pocket.

So now a day before I was leaving for WA, I basted my hem on the skirt so I didn’t have to leave the pins in while traveling. And of course, the moment I set it down, Chloe took over. 
Finally arrived in WA, I began to finish my skirt. I got it hemmed but when I started looking at how to do the ties in the back, having a separate skirt lining was messing with me. The sides where I pleated the excess fabric in was very bulky. And I figured I would have to attach the lining to the skirt where each tie would be attached. All of a sudden it was too much! I needed to make this easier for me as I had 2 days before I needed it. I ripped out the waistband and removed all the pleating on the skirt. I smoothed out the front and moved all the excess fabric to the back where I would pleat it as I normally would have. AND……. I wouldn’t have to figure out how to attach those ties and get it looking proper. The only drawback was the side placket didn’t go to the back. It was halfway between my side and the back. This will be one of those projects after I get home to take out the placket, sew up that seam and move the placket to the center back. We’ll see if that happens before I wear it on April 22 for a fashion show in Oceanside, CA. And apparently I need to resize my waistband closure. I tried it on before the event and it was a bit tight with all my underpinnings, so I moved the button over 1 inch. Except the day I put it on in Port Townsend, it was 2 inches TOO BIG. With the weight of the skirt in the back, it was pulling the waist down and gaping at the waist. We did a quick fix with a safety pin, but what happened? Maybe my waistline shrunk with all that cold? Because my feet sure did.
We did a photo shoot out at Fort Worden and the beach in Port Townsend the last day we were all there and since I didn’t get any taken of this dress during the previous evening, I wore this that day.  

As luck would have it, I didn’t even need the cape. I was warm enough in my dress, and only put the cape on to take a photo of it on me. 

I felt half naked without a hat with my friends that day but I did decide what I want to make for a headpiece for it now. I found this from a fashion print and will shortly start digging through the stash of millinery pieces I have to make something for me. Probably some kind of little capote like this to fit on top of my head.