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, May 31, 2018

My 1795 Open Robe Project

This year for Costume College, I decided I wanted something fairly easy to wear, costume-wise, in the day time walking the halls. I didn’t want to wear street clothes because, hey, I’m the Dean, and I feel like I need to look good and stand out for people to find me. Having to wear bustles and big petticoats, along with all the layers that a bustle dress uses, didn’t seem a wise choice considering I might not have much time. After a discussion on one group I’m on about the open robes of 1795-1810, I decided that would be a good choice, and easy to make.
I wanted two, one for Friday and for Saturday, and planned to use the same white cotton voile dress for it. So, the planning started.
My first search was for the style of my open robes. I was going to make them sleeveless, as it’s quite warm in Los Angeles, even in the air-conditioned hotel. There were many choices of how to make the front of the robe: belted under the bust, crossed over the bust, or almost a jacket. The robe portion could be long, half-length, or even done in panels.

This pink really caught my eye since it was so different. I wished I could have seen the front. It had a lot of details, a mile or so of sawtooth trimming, and a cute little rosette in the back to match the one on the side of her robe. Sadly, as reality and time constraints set in, I realized this would have to be something for a later day as I’m trying to cram 4 dresses into my sewing schedule. So I gave in to just a long straight robe. 

Next up was pattern choosing.  I made my white dress from a previously used pattern, La Mode Bagatelle’s Regency Wardrobe drawstring neckline, since I knew it fits already, and made three quarter-length sleeves. I used a very sheer white dotted Swiss voile. It was so sheer, I had to make a nice solid petticoat to wear under it. I used the skirt from my pattern, taking out one panel so it wasn’t too full, and added some shoulder straps, with a buttoned closure. Easy Peasy! 

I also decided to wear a pair of short front-closing stays since I usually don’t have someone to tie me into my bodiced petticoat. When I try it, it’s just too loose to hold everything in and up. Wearing a shift/chemise, stays, and petticoat, it sure feels like I still have a lot going on under the dress. So much for skipping the bustle idea.
I also plan to make a small bum pad to go under the robe later. I have a pattern diagram for one, but I like the crescent shape of the one shown in the inside of this dress. This holds the dress out in a straight line in the back. 

I did a search for a variety of patterns that could be used for making the open robe and saw some that I hadn’t even realized was an open robe (even though it says Open Robe right on the pattern cover, LOL!).  Once someone had made it up, with some alterations because the pattern artwork on the cover was very misleading, it was quite nice. It was by Mantua Maker #1810-2, an 1800-1820 Open Robe. A belt was added to the front under the bust area and it worked a treat. My friend, Mara, made her’s using a tied belt. You can read about her’s on her blog, Sew Modern, Sew Historical.

The other one I’d seen on the market before was by Wingeo #256, a 1795-1825 overdress. The only photo I could find of it made up was on someone’s blog, and with no front photos. It seemed a bit shapeless to me from the back. 

I saw another version with a buttoned front bodice using Laughing Moon #126, Bib Front gown, using the inside closure of it and eliminating the bib front that comes up over it. Examples showed either buttoning it, or lacing it closed. I really like this and given time, would like to try that someday too.

But then, being lazy and not wanting to fit a new pattern, I used the same one I’d made in the past, Butterick #4890. It already had a belt but it was separate and used like a real belt. In my alterations I just added a piece to the middle, sewed one side to the bodice and attached the other side with hooks and eyes.  On the closeup of my pink version you can see that better. I still say this is a quick and easy outfit to make, or why else would I be making two day versions and one evening version? (Evening version won’t be shared until later).

This time I did more alterations to the front and actually traced out the bodice to include a belt on both sides.

I wanted my two daytime open robes made of linen, and chose a peach and a fuschia color, which at first the “hot pink” doesn’t look historically correct but actually was. I purchased both linen blends at LA Alex in the Los Angeles Fabric District for $6 a yard. They’ve got a nice body and weight to them, and don’t wrinkle as badly as pure linen does. Also, its machine washable. Win-win!

Since both are plain, I wanted to add some trims to the robes, like plackets with buttons, bows, rosettes, or something. But sadly, when I got around to finally adding some trim, my remnant bits of fabric were nowhere around. I couldn’t even cover any buttons to go on them. They must have gone out in the trash with the whirlwind reorganizing I tried last month. So no pretties got to be added to them. Just call me Plain Jane. 

I asked a Regency Costuming group on Facebook for some suggestions as to what I could use to close my front belts with. I shared a bunch of ideas I’d found. 

I love rhinestone buckles but these were for day dresses. Two suggestions, mother of pearl buckles, and a cameo, were my best shot. I already had a nice cameo surrounded by pearls I could use for the peach robe, and after searching on etsy, I found a set of 3 small mother of pearl buckles for $3.50. These will be closed by pins most likely, also historically correct. 


Since my outfit is a bit on the plain side, my accessories will have to dress them up a bit. I can use my coral necklace from Hawaii, and earrings from Dames a la Mode, but not sure yet what I’ll wear on the fuschia. 

And my hair, or lack thereof, I plan to cover up, either with a turban or a cap, with little curls hanging out. No bonnet needed for indoors. I have one of these lace caps, like Mrs. Bennet wears, so that’s my backup.
With these two done (sorry, they’re not ironed yet), I finished my evening version that will be worn at the Friday Night Social at Costume College. And now I’m working on my Gala dress, which had been started a couple months ago, and stalled by indecisions. I swear it evolves every time I pick it up. 

And here’s my little helper, trying to find something for me, probably those missing fabric scraps. 

Sunday, May 13, 2018


Last March I quickly made an 1894 dress out of a mulberry silk damask to wear to Port Townsend but didn’t have time to make a hat. In fact, I was still working on the dress when I got up to Washington. I tried using a decorative hair comb but not having any experience in wearing one, and trying to stuff it into my wig hair, it wouldn’t stay. So, a nice evening hat was a necessity. And really this whole dress needed some finishing accessories to decorate it. I really love it and want more wear out of it.   
If you follow my blog, you know I love doing the research online for my ideas, and this hat was no exception. These are toques, or capotes, depending on where the fashion print or museum was from. This first picture with the fluffy pink ribbons on the top of the hat, more green ribbons and feather, gave me my first ideas. They do like height on them and I had a beautiful fluffy 6” curly brown  ostrich feather that would do that but I had a smaller 4” green one I’d brought back from a flea market in Paris (doesn’t that sound lovely?), and the green would make it pop more. I also liked the couple hats with lace along the outside edge but black velvet turned out to be my favorite.

                  "Squirrel Attack! I want to make that yellow dotted dress and hat!"
I pulled out every bit of hat trim I had in my stash and apparently I have a trend going with my mulberry and pinks. I had some vintage glass mulberries and some little mulberry colored flowers that went well with the pink ribbon rose I’d bought at Costume College. 
To make the base hat, I cut two rounds of buckram.  Mine isn’t really stiff so this made it sturdier with two layers. I used the base of my magnetic pin cushion to trace around on the buckram for my pattern for it. Then I machine stitched around the two to stabilize them. (Don’t use a fine machine needle, a medium one is better.) I cut out two rounds of velvet (or use whatever fabric you want as your base) about 1 inch larger than the buckram and basted over the top and bottom around the edges. Again, I used my sewing machine. It won’t show once you add your finishes and trims.

For a velvet ruffle, 40” long 4” wide, folded in half, stitch right sides together, leaving an opening in the center and turn it right side out. Run a gathering stitch along inside (or seamed) edge. Sew onto the top part of your base. I did this by hand so my stitching didn’t flatten out the velvet. The second photo shows it from the bottom.

Voila! Pancake hat.

I saw a couple hats with large velvet bows on the front that I wanted to copy. I’m not really good at making bows but cut a long rectangle of velvet, a bit larger than across my base, and 8" wide. Sew it in half leaving a small opening just about in the middle so I could turn it right side out. I folded the ends in to the center and did a little gathering stitch to hold it all together then pulled the stitches to make it smaller in the middle. Voila! A Bow! This is an after-thought that I’m going to do now but I’m thinking of adding a fancy button to the middle of that bow, just like the photos I’ve seen.

I arranged my trim pieces until I got them positioned where I wanted, and then sewed them on my hand using just a basting stitch but so it was sturdy. 

I haven’t had a chance to shop for a wig clip to attach to the front of the hat to my hair so in the meantime, I’m just using my two hatpins to hold it on. It pretty much just floats on top of your head. And more hair on your head works well too. I wore it recently in a fashion show but only have one photo that it’s barely visible in. I’ll be wearing it again this coming week for an afternoon tea and hope to get some more photos of the entire outfit. 

A friend share this information she found on making one of these on Victoriana. 1890s hats

All the while I was making this hat I kept thinking I would love to make them to sell, or maybe teach a class. We’ll see if either happens. Maybe next year I can offer it at Costume College as a class.