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 18, 2018

My 2018 Costume College Wardrobe “1837 Court Dress”

It’s going to take me a little longer to write up details on my dresses that I made to wear to Costume College this year. I’m still winding down all the administrative paperwork that goes along with being the Dean there and getting ready to pass on the crown to the 2019 Dean later this month. I definitely feel like they got their money’s worth out of me doing this. But I felt the need to at least keep my friends who follow my blog up to date on what I made to wear this year. Since I was most happy with my Gala dress, I’m going to start with that one.
And of course, I had to have a collection of tiaras, all purchased from China on AliExpress and for the price we got, you could have a wardrobe of them.

Back in November 2017 I began planning my dress for the Saturday night Gala, The Royal Coronation Ball. I had originally planned on a recreation of a Russian coronation or court dress, and I thought I was being original.

I had purchased my tiara last Christmas from AliExpress in China, which is really what set me off on this track, as it looked very Russian to me, and my fabric for the underdress, a cream silk taffeta with beautiful embroidered vines on it I bought for a steal at a sale at Home Fabrics in LA. I was lucky to come across some lace yardage that a friend of mine was selling that I could use for my veil.
All of a sudden, the Costume College Inspiration group on Facebook exploded with everyone’s ideas, and I saw multiple versions of the same dress I wanted to make. Ok, so I can personalize it. At a sewing workshop, I fitted my 1890s bodice pattern using Truly Victorian 416. I planned to make some long open sleeves to go on it. And I definitely wanted it to button down the front. At least that worked into the style of the dress I wanted to make. But during the holidays, I set it aside to work on it later in January.
I didn’t want to waste much time so while noodling around in January, I started a couple 1795 Regency open robes to go over white voile dresses. My friends and I had started a mini-theme of Open Robes to wear for the Friday Night Social. (MORE ON THAT IN ANOTHER POST.) Then one day, while I was working with my Committee on the programming of all the classes accepted for teaching at Costume College, the President mentioned to me that she was also making a Russian coronation dress, and was having the embroidery designed for it. Suddenly I realized THERE WAS NO WAY I COULD STAND UP NEXT TO HER AT THE GALA IN THE DRESS I WAS PLANNING.  So, I went back to my planning board. I kept looking at paintings of court dresses and kept seeing ones from the 1830s, also Russian, that appealed to me. It was still a similar style that I’d started with but with the bigger skirts and sleeves that I love of that decade. The pink dress on this painting from the ladies in the Russian court gave me the idea for my headpiece and veil. It seemed like I was leaning towards pink. And I wanted lacy. 

But then I particularly liked this purple overskirt and the lace capped sleeves.

I came across this painting of Queen Victoria and finally knew I was on the right track of what I wanted.
I also loved the fact that they had belts on them, some to hold the overskirt. After I came across this French extant gown with the rosette in the center, I began working towards doing that.

I made another trip up to the LA Fabric District to look for my overskirt fabric. I didn’t plan on buying anything expensive because it would be a one-time use. I was happy to find a medium weight upholstery fabric at Home Fabrics, on sale, in PURPLE, with a texture on it.  

I began working again in earnest on my dress and cut my full skirt from Truly Victorian’s #455.  I was also able to use the sleeves from it but without the lower sleeve portion and I pulled them up above my elbows to create the puff.

Once the body was done, I began working on my overskirt. I used the same skirt pattern but subtracted one panel for it to be open in the front, and then extended the back to make a 4-foot train by tracing the hem on a Regency dress pattern I had. I made the rosette with a strip of pleated fabric and curved it into a yo-yo. It needed some bling in the center, and to cover the opening, so I bought a large rhinestone button at JoAnn’s.
As you can see by the photo of the overskirt, the bottom of my bodice extended below it. That’s because I originally was making an 1890s bodice. When I wore it, I tucked the top of my bodice under my skirt, and it worked fine. I would have liked to attach the bodice to the skirt like they were at that time but with a front opening, that wouldn’t work. I did however find some 1830s dresses that the bodice was not attached so there you go.
Then I started hunting around for some gold appliques or braid to go on my overskirt. That took me about 2 months to finally decide and then of course what I chose came from China, and takes 3-4 weeks to arrive. I bought 2 different samples first to see if they would work, and then ordered 22 of the large gold ones. I had laid them out on my overskirt to figure out how many but after I started attaching them all, I ended up short 4 of them, so I sent in another frantic order, which took another 3 weeks but it arrived the first week of July, which gave me plenty of time to add them. While I was waiting, I went back to working on my open robes to finish them because I couldn’t waste any more time at this point. 

These are iron-on appliques and I’ve never done those before. I decided just to tack them all on, but after trying the first one, which is about a foot long, I could tell it would be messy. So, I tried the ironing. At first it only held for about a few minutes. Then I ironed it on longer using a cloth. I did tack the flowers but not all those leaves. That worked better but would still peel off on the edges of the leaves. So finally, I found a video online of how to do iron-on appliques, and held the iron on for 30 seconds. Much better. I still tacked all the flowers on just in case. It would take me an hour to tack each branch, so in total it probably took me 27 hours to tack them all on. And I had lots of help and delays from Chloe.

At this point I just needed to do the final touches, and make the sleeves. And then one day the Heavens showed me what I was hoping for: final proof that this is the dress I was meant to make. I found this painting of the royal wedding of Prince Edward and Alexandra in Queen Victoria’s court. 
There was a lady in a purple overskirt on the left corner that I was trying to make! She is likely the Princess Royal and much younger than me, but it was mine! 
I made the sleeves poofy by lining them in 4 layers of netting because at this point I didn’t have any cotton organdy, which was on order. I cut out the lacy sleeve cap with the same pattern but gathered it tighter so it was opening underneath. I first thought of just using the lace but it didn’t have enough oomph. So that went on top of the silk taffeta sleeves. 
The taffeta sleeves were a bit longer than the photo but I tucked in the extra inside my sleeves and they held all by themselves, so no messing around anymore with those. 
Now to add the bling, the fun part! I started with my headpiece. I had a local wig stylist, Wigs by Coni, make me an 1830s style wig, and because my tiara sits upright, she basted it to the topknot to hold it. Between those I laid my length of lace veil over my hair and pinned it in place. Then I added a group of three feathers, because of course, you have to have three feathers on a court dress. Notice that little pocket/purse/thingy hanging from Queen Victoria’s waist in this painting? It’s actually part of her sash but it gave me an idea to make a reticule for myself using my dress fabric and a rhinestone crown buckle in its center. And of course, now I can’t find my photo of that.  
Now I needed jewelry. AliExpress had lots of inexpensive and pretty things to chose from and I bought this necklace for $7, which ended up so long I had to have it shortened for me. And then I found a drop pendant brooch on etsy, probably purchased wholesale from AliExpress, but I only had to pay $5, and it was in the US and I got it in 2 days. 
I also started making my sash and royal orders to go on it, from a few bits and bobs I had, plus bits from Michaels. I used an English bobbie’s hat emblem I was given while we were in England that said ER on it. Also found a tiny pendant with an even tinier crest on it on eBay.
I began making cream colored ribbon ones for myself, and to give to each of the past Deans at Costume College during the Gala, each having their first initial in rhinestones. I had a lot of fun making these. More on that in a bit. My friend Cindy made me a family order using a photo of my husband on it for me to wear too. I ended up with four ribbons on my sash, and one on the opposite side of my bodice. Later in the evening I noticed the weight of them all was pulling my dress off my shoulder. 

I found a 3-inch vintage rhinestone bar pin on etsy for $5 that looked similar to the one Queen Victoria wears on her shoulder to hold her sash on. But when the time came to dress, I couldn’t find it in my luggage. So, I just used a hidden straight pin. 

On to Gala night and walking the Red Carpet to dinner! I was really happy with how it all came out. I’d love to have had a photo of the train trailing in the back but in all the confusion you tend to forget the little things and I was just happy that someone sent me this photo from the Red Carpet. I got a lot of questions about my appliques on the train. They did end up looking pretty impressive. 
During dinner, I ran around finally having a few minutes to visit with my friends, Jennifer, Gina, and Mary, and later goofing off to show it was all for fun.

**9-11-18: I'm adding this photo that was taken in the photographer's studio that was just uploaded. At least now you can see my train.**
But then I had to get back to work. Yes, the Dean still has to work during Costume College. I walked into the middle of the floor and with the theme music from Masterpiece Theatre playing, I called up all the past Deans who were attending. We had 9 of us this year. I handed each of them their royal order I’d made, which was a total surprise to each of them. Then I called up Shawn Crosby to thank him for all the work he had done for us over the many years and tell him how much all the Deans had appreciated him.
This is what I wrote to him: 
Shawn Crosby, all of these past Deans are here with me tonight to thank you for the many MANY years you have helped and volunteered for all the years we have been Deans at Costume College. Your selflessness and generosity have been dependable to so many in so many different ways. Those here who attend Costume College may never know what all you’ve done in the background to help facilitate in making things work, and portraying memorable characters at our events, like a pirate, or a snooty French maĆ®tre‘d at our teas, or setting up music in the different events. But know that WE notice it and cannot express to you how much it’s appreciated. 
Therefore, Shawn Crosby, PLEASE KNEEL.

There were screams of approval coming from the whole room. His wife, Colleen (also a past Dean), is right next to him in the dark dress. She and the President of CGW were the only ones who knew I was going to do this.

I bestow upon you The Royal Order of Costume College 2018”.   Arise, SIR Shawn Crosby!    

Shawn surprised us all, including himself, when he came dressed as a Jedi Knight from Star Wars, as he portrays Obi-One Kenobi from the movies.
I had made Shawn his own Royal Order of Costume College 2018, using a badge of the King’s Hand from the tv series, Game of Thrones. I was pleased when he told me he wore it the next few days. 
The rest of the evening was spent again running around seeing my friends and all the wonderful dresses everyone wore that night. I was at sheer exhaustion when I went to bed at 10:30pm. I think it was all the stress from the year, and excitement of it finally happening, and throwing all my energy and enthusiasm into this one evening. But what a way to end my year as Dean. And boy, am I going to be relieved when I hand over the crown later this month.