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.


Monday, March 16, 2020


Last August I went on an 1890s sewing binge. I decided my wardrobe I’d wear to the Victorian Festival in Port Townsend, WA near the end of March was going to be primarily 1890s. This was an important time period for this seaside town, and they would also be convenient for transporting them from CA. I would even be able to bring more than 1 or 2 dresses. Somewhere during that time, I had also started making an 1872 dress based on the green arsenic-filled fabrics for the fashion show at the Festival. That would be quite a bit bulkier but that didn’t stop me from my goals.
I already had three fabrics set aside for making skirts from; a dark plum, black with white pin dots, and a green & white striped. I later added a burnt orange that came from another project. I can make skirts pretty fast, and I just cut them all out at the same time, then sewed all the side seams, and then eventually finished each of them. Three of my skirts were actually going to be late 1890s, and the black and white would be 1903.

Each of these skirt fabrics had a particular fabric I was going to make a blouse from for them. I had a small amount of a tiny purple flower fabric to go with the plum skirt. And I used a remnant white stripe voile that could be interchanged between the green stripe and the burnt orange skirt. The black with white pin dots would have a matching blouse of its same fabric so I could use some antique lace I’d been hoarding for a few years. I trimmed some of the torn edges to make it usable on my blouse.

I used the same skirt pattern for all, Truly Victorian #291 1898 Walking Skirt, one of my favorites.
My blouses would be a variety of styles. The purple floral was made from Butterick 3417, because I LOVED the fluffy ruffles on the top of the sleeves. Also, it was the only pattern that I had enough fabric for. For the white blouse and the black and white pin dot, I used Truly Victorian #TVE 41, 1903 shirt waist, since it was originally planned as a later time period. I found out I can tuck the fullness of that blouse into my waistband, and it works perfectly well for 1890s. 

I had another white blouse I was going to try making from a white on white dot cotton jacquard, using the Vintage Pattern Lending Library # E9322 1899 blouse but it required some grading up. I ended up getting so involved in my fashion show dress, that it got set aside.   See my previous blog post, My 1872 Dress of Death.

I sewed up the first three skirts very quickly, and then began working on my blouses.  

I had a lot of fun with my purple floral blouse. The Butterick pattern was very easy to make but the pattern cover is deceiving on the length of the sleeves. They end in the middle of your forearm, which surprised me when I was cutting it out. I didn’t have enough fabric left to make ruffles for those. The shoulder ruffles were perfect for sewing a thin dark purple ribbon along the edges, which I repeated on the collar and the cuffs.
Now I have to confess that I have an inspirational lady I follow on her dressmaking. Erika, of La Belle Epoque Design, has made the most beautifully trimmed dresses, that I often just want to copy hers. She uses a lot of vintage lace but also modern lace, and in wonderful ways on her dresses. These two have been very inspirational for my current outfits. They’re both made of cotton but her strategically placed laces really raise them over the top. If you’d like to follow her, she’s on Facebook.  

I’m not sure where she finds her lace because I find it very hard to find any in enough yardage, or enough appliques to do any of this, but we can all dream and carry on the search. Either way, the search is half the fun.

For my one white blouse, I wanted to put a bunch of lace appliques on it and had four I had bought from the LA Fabric District, probably for about 50 cents each, and put two of them down the front. I hand basted these on.
My black and white pin dot required more extensive hand-sewing to put my antique lace on it. It was very soft and I didn’t want it to bunch up in the center, so that took me quite a while doing that. I wanted to use the remnant pieces of the lace that I’d cut off and put them on the sleeves but I can’t seem to get them on properly so I may revisit them later.
I jumped ahead and cut out, and sewed, the fourth skirt from the burnt orange cotton, and was again inspired by an outfit I’d save the photo of years ago because I loved the color and the skirt trims. I’m sorry I don’t know who it was. I just came across it on the internet but everything on it called to me. 
I wanted to repeat the lace and velvet along the skirt hem, and had a roll of cotton crochet lace I used for it, along with some 1-inch black velvet ribbon I had left from another project. I still have enough of the velvet ribbon and may eventually put a row around my plum skirt.
So, these are the final outfits that were finished to wear to the Victorian Festival. I found the long black sweater online after hours of searching, and it can be worn with both of these. In the seaside town of Port Townsend, it gets very windy, and blowing off the bay, sometimes its icy, so a nice sweater to go with these was a good choice. 

I still have some of the plum fabric, and also of the green and white stripe, and at some point, I’d like to make a bolero from them to go with these. This was my idea. 
I always thought I would buy the Wingeo #316 bolero pattern to make one but recently came across this pattern from Repeated Originals on etsy, that’s described as a corset cover. But I think it would be perfect for a bolero. It was inexpensive and I downloaded the digital pattern. Being this small, its an easy project.  

Sadly, just last Friday, the Victorian Festival was cancelled due to the Corona virus outbreak in WA. I had already cancelled my flight up to Seattle the previous week, because my two-week visit with my Mom might put her at risk. I was still working hard writing the narrative and dress descriptions of everyone’s outfits for the fashion show, all the time feeling very sad that I was going to miss it. But the Festival will come back next year, and will be it’s 25th anniversary. So, we’ll be working off many of our ideas from this year, and move them forward to next year. It was looking to be really amazing with all the new ideas the directors were putting together for the Festival, and we plan to continue to support them in any way we can.   

In the meantime, I have started some new projects, both in the 1870s time period. One of them is a seaside dress, that I printed out and taped together a digital pattern from Black Snail Patterns. I’m just waiting on my fabrics I ordered online to arrive. My dress will be pink stripes on top of a white with pink polka dot skirt. If and when I get up to WA later this year, I plan on wearing this to meet up with my friends there in Port Townsend.

I also decided to attempt making a dress for a friend in WA, who worked so hard for us this year. It will be a pattern I’ve made numerous times and hopefully that makes it easier for me.                         


  1. Oh Val I'm so sorry. Heaps of things are getting cancelled and postponed right now all over the world and it's hard on so many. I love your outfits and hope you get to wear them before next year!

    1. Thank you Maryanne. I will make the most of the extra time.

  2. I love all your 1890's costumes! It's always nice to see a pattern made up besides just seeing a picture on the pattern cover. Have you seen the post from Fresh Frippery 2 days ago? She made the Black Snail Victorian Seaside Dress you're planning to make and it turned out beautifully. I just spent weeks making an 1830's gown for a Romantic Era Picnic by the DFW Costumers Guild and it has been postponed. So I know how you feel about events being postponed or cancelled. We do what we have to do.

    1. Thank you for telling me about Fresh Frippery's post. I just cut out my skirt (TV pattern) and am dying to start the dress. If the muslin was any indication, it will be gorgeous.
      Yes, I'd say Watch Out World, when the costumers and events are set free!

  3. Dear Val,
    The outfits are delightful! Especially love the floral with violet trim -- those sleeve ruffles remind me, don't know why, of a candy store.

    The Black Snail seaside dress! Isn't it nifty? Really liked Fresh Frippery's interpretation, and know I'll like yours. Had thought of getting that pattern last year, but got caught up in the 1890s instead. The current 1895 outfit's taking forever but partly it's because I am having trim jitters. So I just keep researching :)

    Very best wishes for good health,

    Natalie in KY

    1. Thank you so much Natalie! 1890s is the NEW THING right now! My seaside dress will be off an extant dress I've loved for a few years. I just finished sewing up my skirt, and my pink stripe fabric is arriving tomorrow. The Shelter at Home is making me sew more, so that's a good thing.


I would love to hear if this was any help to you. Pretty please!