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, December 31, 2020


This particular year I wasn’t sure I’d even have anything to review and write about at the end of it. But it made me wonder what it will be like to read in years to come of a year where not much, and so much, happened. It even seems silly to write “due to the Pandemic”, since, for now, we all know what that was. But what of future readers who come across everything we wrote this year?

I normally list and write about all the new costumes I made, and the events I went to and wore them all. I think February was the last time I wore anything to an event. And that was also the last event I could go to, as little by little everything fell like soldiers in a battlefield. At first, I was all enthusiastic to have so much free time to sew at whatever speed I wanted, and no pressure to finish. I think that dried up after one month. This has shown me that I’m goal-oriented. I work better under pressure and finish when its needed.

This morning I’m thinking about what I can write about for my year in review. And remembered I did other things than just sew my costumes. I wrote fashion show narratives, historical presentation slideshows, and even started creating and writing a pattern myself. I presented an online class for the first time. And in doing so, learned how to use Zoom live videos.  Each day I shared a photo of a fashion plate or museum dress that I wanted to make on my Facebook page. I hoped this would provide inspiration to myself, and to my friends. From the feedback I heard, it did help others. Good goals.

In the beginning: my first dress for was the Riverside Dickens Festival fashion show, and that would be the last one I wore this year. I re-created an 1872 arsenic green dress, and called it “The Dress of Death”. I’m not happy with the fit, as the bodice was too large, but someday may fix that. 
While working on that, I discovered aumonieres, a small hanging purse, and designed one of my own to wear with that dress. Later in the year I decided to try and create a pattern for it, and hopefully sell them. I had a lot of fun in the research through old magazines and fashion plates, and even got as far as writing the research up. But when I got to actually writing the directions to making it, my brain fizzled out. Apparently, that’s a side-effect of our Pandemic isolation. In the meantime, I still search for more of them to add to my research.
My next event was to be the Victorian Festival fashion show in Port Townsend, WA, in March. I was going to wear an 1850s dress I already had but hadn’t worn there, so just focused on making some 1890s walking skirts and blouses. I got as far as just needing hems when the reality of the Pandemic kicked in, and events were cancelled, as well as travel. So, they’ve been put back in the closet.

I also needed a hat for them, and found an antique ruffled straw hat online in pretty bad shape. After doing some reinforcing stitches inside the crown, I finished the edge with some grosgrain, and added some new trims.

After the Victorian Festival was cancelled, my first idea was to make a dress for the committee head, who was fairly new to costuming, as a thank you to her for all her work. She doesn’t know what it is, or what it will finally look like but I sent her a muslin for the bodice to have it fit on her. I’ve never done this so it’s scary. In the meantime, even that has been put on hold.

The other ladies and I started talking about maybe getting together later in the year, then the following year, and now it looks like it will be later in 2021 since the Victorian Festival has had to cancel again. We still don’t know if even that will happen. I had decided to make myself a summer weight cotton seaside dress if we did. I used an extant dress as my inspiration, and found my skirt fabric right away. It took a lot of searching online for the striped bodice fabric, and after rejecting one I bought, I found the right width stripe fabric for it. I got as far as making the skirt, and sewing the muslin for the bodice, and it went into stall. 

I think the biggest progress I made was on my multiple 1860s dresses where I cut out 3 at a time, and sewed each one, even having one day at a sewing workshop before things got shut down even more. I worked on them a little at a time over the months. All three still need to have their waistbands attached, hemmed, and buttons put in, but this was at least an accomplishment for the year. I still haven’t decided which is my favorite.

And then of course the inevitable happened, Costume College 2020 at the end of July had to be cancelled. Over the months, the committee came up with offering some online classes and I volunteered to do my PowerPoint class on using digital downloaded patterns. Those have become even more popular as many printers weren’t able to provide new printed patterns for the sellers, and also the mail between the different countries became a rat’s nest, and that’s being kind. It was my first time trying to use Zoom but we all managed it and had a really great time seeing all the classes presented. It really fired up many of us because its being part of the group and seeing others that keeps the enthusiasm going. I think this is when I did most of my work on my 1860s dresses, but the year has become kind of a blur. 

Last year I had been asked to do a presentation for the San Diego DAR group in February of 2020. They decided to cancel that meeting, and rescheduled it to be a Zoom meeting in October. I normally have a PowerPoint presentation, along with some live models and a couple dress forms if we are in person. This time I included lots of photos of my own costumes, and some of my friends in the slideshow. I started out with a 1-hour presentation, but was told it needed to be 20 minutes, so I had to cut it down to bare basics. But the ladies still enjoyed it. Recently I was able to record it with the help of my friend in WA so I could share it with my models. There were a few bugs but we hope to try again when we have time. 

I was kind of in the doldrums of isolation but decided to get back to making some little girl dresses to be donated to my friend’s Dress a Girl program her church has to take to Uganda. The bright colors and the joy of knowing some little girl getting them really helped lift my spirits.

From there I decided to try my hand at making little girls 1860s dresses and selling them. I was able to make 7 of them, but ran out of fabric. Good prints right now are at a premium, so I’ll wait to do anymore. But I did sell one already to a lady at the San Francisco Dickens Faire. She even asked if I wanted to be her supplier. Umm, no. I’m too slow.

This dress is going to haunt me since it’s been waiting to be finished since around the Fall of 2019. Currently it just needs hemming (the bane of my existence), and I hope to finish that for a photo shoot to be put in an online Riverside Dickens fashion show in February, where models will submit a couple photos of their costume and they’ll be put into a Zoom slideshow. I’m worried the extra 13 Covid lbs I’ve put on this year will make it too tight, and I’m afraid to even try it on. I’m keeping my fingers crossed. 

Discussion began again on if Costume College would be held in 2021 or delayed again. So in the meantime, they asked for applications to teach classes. I had kicked around an idea of classes on accessories but to break it down by 50 years each so it wasn’t overwhelming. I chose to do two classes, 1800-1850 & 1850-1900. I’m most familiar with those decades, and maybe someday to earlier and later. I would love to have something from the 1920s, as that’s the time period they’re focusing on next time, but I know little to nothing on that. So, you teach what you know. I thought it would be easier to do this but hats, jewelry, gloves, reticules, fans, parasols, etc., change so much or change so little, and there’s such a variety, that it’s still a handful. And my classes will be on photos, paintings, and extant items of the accessories, not MY opinion or views. That’s my favorite way to teach.

It took me a couple months but I also made myself a Mrs Santa coat to wear at Christmas when our neighborhood has an outdoor Christmas lighting contest on our homes. I sat outside dressed up and handed out homemade caramels to the judges. And if you think that's bribery, that's accepted in our neighborhood, as others offer hot chocolate, cookies, champagne, and "tainted" eggnog to them. 
Over the past couple years, I’ve been making hand-stitched kerchiefs for 18th & 19th century costumes and selling them online in a group I’m on. I enjoy having some things I can sew by hand at night while watching TV. I’ve sold 78 so far over a period of 3 years. This year I decided to try something different. 1830s pelerines! These are large dainty looking collars that were worn over the dresses and were much fancier than a kerchief that is just worn tucked into an open neckline. I searched for as many photos of extant ones and also shown on fashion plates for ideas. There are a variety of shapes and styles to make them. A couple days ago I felt I wanted to start now, rather than try and enlarge some patterns that were only 6 inches large, and used a tracing of an antique one I own. It has a nice curve around the neck and slightly long tails down the front. My goal is to make a really long one but need to enlarge that pattern first. It took me 4 days of stitching about 6 hours each day but my first one is done, and I’ve started a 2nd one. I only had enough of two laces to make my first two so I have a bolt of the cotton crocheted trim being shipped to me. At some point, I want to make a self-fabric ruffle around the edges but that will take even longer to sew. Hand-work for the win!

So that’s it for my year! Lots of ideas and dreams, along with those unfinished dresses, keep coming in hopes of a better future. Here’s to 2021! 

Saturday, November 14, 2020



I learned a new thing this morning. While looking on Pinterest for a picture from 1908, I came across a fashion plate showing a sleeveless bodice that a blouse is worn under. This was not new to me, because I had others I’d saved in my Make Me file. Some had a slight sleeve as in the photo above, and some had slightly ruffled short sleeves. Others had NO SLEEVE at all, like this one in my file.

I’d already made something similar a few years ago in 2016. I’d found this line drawing in a fashion plate that I liked. I didn’t have enough fabric for sleeves, so decided to make it more like a vest.  I liked it because it was cooler, although my dress fabric. a mid-weight polyester drapery fabric, was not. But I loved the fabric, so you do what you have to do.

I had a few other fashion plates saved too, that showed a transition from the appearance of a “vest”, and they were wearing a guimpe, or under-blouse, to actually separating the blouse from the bodice. It seemed a natural transition, and used less fabric. Way back in 2011 I had tried making a pattern from the Edwardian Modiste book for this 1907 bodice, and it was very similar to this lady’s dress cropped from a 1906 wedding party. Due to some miscalculations, I had to re-do it, but it never was finished. It still sits in a ziplock bag somewhere, including my fabric, which is a cheap polyester but was perfect for this.

These are some others I’d saved. Note the changing sleeves on them. 

A couple dresses caught my eye today while I was doing a totally different search, all from 1908 fashion plates. But this one from McCalls (April 1908) had a description jumped out at me: New Ideas in Jumper Costumes. I’d never heard that term before. So, I began a further search. 

I found these articles from Delineator Magazine from their May 1908 issue. They were a thing! In the article, the loosely draped sleeves were called Grecian style. Some of the jumpers were simply called Bretelles, if they basically just had straps. 

The sleeveless, or near sleeveless, style also created this tunic to go over dresses too. The pattern is from Past Patterns #3973. It looks simple but has extremely minimal directions.  

In the years since I first tried the Edwardian Modiste book to try and drape one, now there is a pattern for the same bodice by Black Snail Patterns, #0117 available on etsy. I haven’t tried mine yet but was told it made up very well, but required fitting. 

All the ones I’m seeing are matching jumper and skirt, so no contrasting fabrics in those. But reading the article, this would be a game changer for the dressmaker, using less fabric, simpler to make, and easy to change her look with different blouses/guimpes. Granted, some of these are still some pretty fancy designs.