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, January 24, 2019


I wish I could say I’ve made lots of progress sewing on my purple floral voile bustle dress, but just when I thought I could finish it up, I smashed my baby finger in a heavy door. With a finger brace on it so nothing would touch because OWWIE! it would hurt, I had to set that aside for something simple like straight stitching and no fabric manipulation. Even trying to cut fabric was painful. But I had something else to work on, so more on that in a minute.
I’m happy to share that the theme for the Port Townsend Victorian Heritage Festival in WA has been announced for March 22-24, 2019, “The Social Season”. We’ve been told there will be lots of changes this year in the event schedule. Information on it is still minimal but here’s the website:
We’re working on our theme and costumes for the fashion show there to compliment the main theme. The models are gathered from the surrounding city’s costume guilds and we even have a few new people this year. For once, this year I won’t need to make anything new for it, unless “someone” bugs me about that. I have a dress already for the show, and probably will wear my 1870's Red Plaid Polonaise around town.

But before that, we have our own Dickens Festival in Riverside, CA on February 22-24.  I will again be in that fashion show on the Saturday. I already have a dress for that too. I’ll get a chance to wear my Victorian court dress that I wore at Costume College last year. Not sure what I’ll wear out walking the event but definitely wouldn’t be wearing that.  
After resting up after the holidays and getting into the new year, I finally got around to starting my 1913 long line corset so I could finally finish two ‘teens dresses. I got as far as making and fitting my mock-up but when I tried to start cutting my fabric, a yellow striped silk taffeta, the finger brace prevented me from getting hold of my scissors very well, and then caused it to cramp up. So that was put aside. This extant corset was my inspiration.

So, you might ask what my busy fingers HAVE been doing? Mainly something that only requires sewing straight lines, and very little cutting. And it’s so off my normal sewing track that it might surprise you. I don’t make modern clothes at all. I did buy a couple patterns to make myself modern blouses, but there’s moss growing on those in a corner of the room somewhere. My friend Cindy- The Broke Costumer, was talking to me about the Dress a Girl Around the World that she was hearing about from our friend Shelley Peters, of the Kansas Mercantile, and who runs the Historical Sewing Workshops here locally. Simple and colorful cotton dresses were being made for young girls in poor countries by this organization that has been around for years. Last November Shelley went with her church group to Uganda to dedicate a new well for a small community, and brought a couple hundred dresses they had for them.
For more info on the project, go here: There are Facebook groups for them too.
Shelley’s church group knew they needed many, many more dresses, so when she came home, Shelley began telling all her costuming friends about this great project. She hopes to bring back 500 dresses when she returns in 2020.
Cindy wrote about her start making the dresses on a new blog: DRESSING THE GIRLS BLOGSPOT  She's just started so check back for further posts. 

I started looking through my fabric stash and found some good size pieces of cottons from another project I’d had and gave that to her. When I started seeing all the cute dresses she was making, the “bug” got me too. I cut out my first dress using one of the suggested Simplicity patterns (this was before the finger meets door episode) but later decided I would do the simpler ones where I could just tear lengths of fabric and sew them together. With a 70% off coupon from Joann’s Fabrics, I stocked up on a bunch of 1 1/2 yds pieces of remnant quilting cottons.

My original thought was to bring them up to WA while I visit my Mom (and for the Victorian Festival) and with her help, sew these up. They turned out to be perfect for my bandaged finger though and I got 6 ready to sew. At Shelley’s recent sewing workshop, some of us were sewing on those rather than our usual historical dresses. I brought the one dress I had made using a pattern, and then worked on two others from the sewing chart measurements the group provides you. It has a lot of requirements for making them but nothing unusual or tedious. You just have to think along the lines of where they're going.

As I’ve said, I got 6 ready for sewing and after a couple hiccups (not making them long enough but am adding a ruffle along the bottom) I’m going to finish those, then finish up some little girls Civil War 1860s dresses for Shelley to take to her next venue, and THEN I will get back to my regular and normal sewing. But its a very fun break and they’re such happy colors.
I thought I was going to finish my purple floral dress for a Valentine’s Tea in February but rather than kill myself over that, I have a back-up dress for that. So the stress level is down to Yellow.
There does occasionally occur an interruption when “someone” needs some me time and gets in your face. 

Wednesday, January 9, 2019


I think in the past I’ve done my Year in Review at the end of the year so its on my final posts of 2018. But I had no time in December to do that. But it is fun to see what you actually accomplished and then sometimes surprise yourself that you were much more productive than you thought you were.

I started out the year finishing up a dress I’d started in November 2017 for the Riverside Dickens Faire the following February. It was my first multi-tiered 1850s dress. I had a lot of trouble with the bodice using a too-large Period Impressions pattern #405, when I could have used a McCall’s pattern that had the same shape and fit me. I also tried to make the skirt just by cutting the fabric and making tiers but finally had to use a Truly Victorian pattern to guide me. After making this I swore I would never make a multi-tiered skirt again. But I have plans for a double-tiered plaid dress now.
For the Victorian Festival in Port Townsend, WA, I made an 1894 plum-colored suit to wear, along with trimming an antique hat to match it. At the last minute I cut out and finished sewing an 1897 evening dress while I was up there. I didn’t get a proper hat made for it until a few months later, and I made a cute little black velvet capote that sits on top of my head. 

I had already been planning and working on some of my wardrobe for Costume College this year, and felt like I had to come up with some good ones. But I also wanted something fairly easy to make and get around in during the daytime. I decided on two 1795 day dresses with linen open robes, and then a fancier one for the Friday Social with black embroidery on the hem, and a black velvet open robe. But first I had to make a petticoat to go under the dresses since they were all sheer. It was easy. I just made the skirt portion of the dress but with a bit less width, and then added a waistband with shoulder straps. Easy peasy. 
To make it easy on myself, I did an assembly-line cutting of the two dresses, and then the open robes. Except I accidentally used the bodice pattern piece for my bodiced petticoat, which has a deeper and wider neckline, so the shoulders kept falling off on me all the time I wore them. Those will be getting a new bodice cut out for them. Someday. 

I had the best time working on my Gala dress, which evolved from a couple different time periods over the months, and finally decided to be an 1830s dress. I focused on one painting of Queen Victoria that had a train that attached around her waist. About a month before Costume College I came across another painting of a lady in her court dress at the marriage of one of Queen V’s son. And that became my dress. 

I took a break after Costume College since I was exhausted and played with a couple new outfits but was all over the place with really working on anything. I finally went back to working on a new cotton voile bustle dress and hope to finish that this year for when our warm weather starts.

In November I signed up to attend a couple Xmas teas and decided to make something new, an 1873 polonaise and skirt, using a red plaid fabric. I just added some Xmas mistletoe to the top of the antique bonnet I wore. After seeing the photos, I want to adjust the way the polonaise opens in the front to more of a curve, and play with the bustling in the back too. But not bad for a quick outfit.

**Edited to add- I had to add this photo where I was on the cover of this month's issue of the CGW newsletter, Squeals, even though the year is wrong.**
I’ve already started planning this year’s outfits but I know things come up and they get sidetracked. But its always good to have a beginning plan.