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.


Sunday, May 17, 2020


Last January, as I was trying to decide what all costumes to make to wear to Costume College in July, it was a bit overwhelming. One of the events, the Sunday Breakfast, had a theme of the Gibson Girl Breakfast Parlour.
I don’t always want to make an entirely new outfit just to wear to breakfast, although you can wear it the rest of the day while going to classes, or the tea, which is another theme entirely. The last couple years I’ve been able to re-wear a previously made dress, or some kind of morning robe. I decided to just go with a wrapper this year, which looks kind of like a dress but is looser fitting. And it makes it easy to just throw your historical dress on later if you already have your underpinnnings on under it.
While searching for ideas and a time period, I came across a lot of interesting ones. These came up under the search for wrappers or tea gowns that I liked.

 The simple-ness of these cotton ones also appealed to me.
The Artistic Reform influence on the tea gowns are especially exciting. 

After seeing my friend, Mara’s version of this, I bought the LaMode Bagatelle Artistic Reform pattern. Its on the back burner now because I haven’t decided on the color or type of fabric I want to use yet. 

And in a timely bit of luck, my friend Adam Lid wrote a few posts about wrappers.
I’ve already made an 1860s wrapper, using Kay Fig #611. Ok, confession here. Its not finished yet. It needs some lengthening and hemmed, and front closures added. And sleeves, since that’s usually the last thing I sew on.  
Then I made an 1882 tea gown that I really liked, using Truly Victorian #432. I think its going to need to be enlarged a bit because it was already tight when I wore this a few years ago at Costume College. When I fitted my test muslin, I didn’t make it long enough to go over my hips and so it ended up way too tight. The watteau train is lovely in back.  

I also made a “Regency” one for Costume College a few years ago, using Butterick 5544, and wore it for two years there. I copied mine from one worn in the 1980s version of Pride & Prejudice. 

These are a few other patterns I came across or were suggested to me.

 When these conversations came up, a couple of my friends told me about the Folkwear pattern #208 Calico Day Dress wrapper that they had made.  Note-this is an out of print (OOP) pattern and Folkwear has reissued that number to a young girl's cloak, so you can only buy it on the secondary market now. Be prepared for sticker shock. They're worth gold now.                                     

They shared photos of their wrappers, plus I found some others online. 

My friend Lauren also made it, and then issued a reprint of a short version of it in her pattern line, Wearing History, as a morning jacket.  It only goes to a size 36” bust though.

I decided to go with the Folkwear pattern, and already had 8 yards of fabric in my stash I’d purchased a few years ago for an earlier dress. I bought it from Rosie’s Calico Cupboard in San Diego, CA, from her reproduction fabric section. I often see historical repro fabrics in quilt stores so its worth the time looking in those.
You can also find reproduction fabrics online and the price is about the same.
I’ve been saying all along that this was my 1890s wrapper but was told its actually closer to 1905. I think it was the ruffle over the sleeve cap that gave me that impression. Its kind of a generic shape so it can work either way.
The pattern only comes in S-M-L, so a maximum size of bust-34, waist-38, hips-42. It’s a loose-fitting gown that ties at the waist, so I figured I could add a few inches to the seams and make do. It worked except there's not as much to pleat in the front and back but it still worked out ok.                           

The instructions are well written with diagrams and self-explanatory. My fabric was 45" wide, and the pattern said to cut 3 for the skirt flounce. Except it was about the same width as the bottom of my skirt & had no real ruffle to it. So, I added one more. The only place I had problems with was the inside front piece that is supposed to be closed under the outside robe. I sewed it to the neckline as directed but when I close it, it’s not separated to close under the outside. I'm not sure where I went wrong with that but the outside is loose enough so I'm not worrying about it.
Also, while enlarging the pattern, I didn't make my yoke piece and ruffle longer, so it doesn't come down as far to the center as the pattern has. But again, it still works. I believe someone told me the front is only open to about the knees then sewn shut but I forgot to do that. So, I'm going to top stitch it closed.
This made up really cute and will be great to use in-between dressing at events, fashion shows, or just prepping to get ready for an event. 
As you can see, my sewing supervisor was very helpful. Most of the time. 

Sunday, May 10, 2020


I feel like I need to document how the country’s current “isolate at home” has affected my blog. I was just reminded that my last post was March 16, shortly before we were all going on lock-down from the Covid-19 virus. It seems right that I should at least make mention of that in my blog since I may someday read this and wonder what the heck I was doing for two whole months?
Maybe like many of you, I was hibernating, and worried about when I would next need to go to the grocery store. But then I’m used to being home most of the time, and the only person I see is my hubby, unless I run errands, or visit friends, or vice versa, or go to events or sewing workshops. Hubby was still working and we worried about that every day but he finally was able to work some days from home, which was nice as I would get to have human conversations, rather than with a deaf cat. Both of us have some of the at-risk conditions, and him more so.
I started doing a lot of shopping online, which felt odd buying groceries, and it was rather erratic. And suddenly you find all kinds of things you needed for do-it-yourself. I am currently working up the courage to try cutting my hubby’s hair with a new trimmer, although he said its more of a groomer, not hair trimmer. What the heck does that mean? I’m not a barber, for heaven sake's.
Many of us assumed we would be getting lots and lots of sewing done, and the enthusiasm was high. But then the need for face masks came up, and many of my friend’s lives turned into mask-making factories. I made some for hubby and family but it was depressing to me with all the stress of needing them done NOW.
As events and fashion shows began to be cancelled, all the dresses I had planned on making, or were finishing, suddenly seemed useless. My incentive left me. I packed things away that I was going to work on. I had started an 1890s wrapper using Folkwear #208 Calico Day Dress. My rationale told me to keep working on that since it could be worn any time, and not a specific event. So, I got the body of it together and stopped. 

I thought I would have lots of time to to work on my plans for a Gala dress for Costume College, but that soon disappeared, since I knew the event would probably be cancelled for the end of July. Sure enough it was, and I still believe it was a good decision. I was going to recreate a Charles F. Worth dress using a cream and gold Chinese brocade my mom had given me, that my dad had brought to her in the 1950s from Hong Kong. I had already bought my sapphire blue silk taffeta, and had an antique white taffeta in my stash. I still haven’t found the lace I want to use for it, but then I guess I have time now? Costume College has been rescheduled for around the same time next year, with all the same event themes in place.
Every once in awhile I would pull out some of the colorful cottons I had for making the little girl dresses for Dress a Girl Around the World (DAG), and could pick those up, work a little, then set them down, using very little brain cells. I spent two days just whipping up a bunch of the skirts, and then organizing coordinating fabrics for trimmings and the yokes. My friend Cindy and I were lucky in that we had large boxes of quilters fat quarters donated to us last year for making these dresses. It was an amazing box of color coordinated cottons, about half of a 1/4 yard. I gave away a lot of the ones that couldn’t be used for dresses to two ladies in my neighborhood who needed fabric for making masks.
With all that fabric, each piece was not big enough to make a dress with, so I sewed strips of similar colors together to create a skirt. I think I ended up with seven of them, and have still more strips ready to sew together still. I called these my Mardi Gras Collection, since they were so colorful.

I went back to working on my wrapper dress for a couple days, and got the ruffled yoke attached to it, then sewed up the big ruffle that’s supposed to be sewn along the hem line, and stopped. Baby steps. I tried creating a pattern and directions for a project I had started but it wasn’t working for me. I had to set that aside.

Around this time in April, I also broke out in a rash over my eye and was in pain. It looked like some kind of infected bug bite. I was totally shocked when I went to Urgent Care and they told me I had shingles. Ugh. They said they’d seen a couple cases coming in recently. I guess we’re all under a lot of stress but I really didn’t think I was that much. What was I to know? After starting a high dose of anti-viral medication and lots of Advil, I was a little foggy trying to do anything. I had a lot of friends commiserating with me, telling me how painful it was. But I think because mine was on my face, and no clothing touching it, it didn’t seem as bad as others had experienced. The spikes of pain, which I found out are from the nerve endings, was probably the worst. Oh, and the swelling around my eye. I thought I looked like Quasimodo from the Hunchback of Notre Dame. I was grateful that we were on lockdown as I didn’t even want hubby to see me each day.

After a few days, the pain began to slow down, and the fogginess to go away. Still not having a lot of enthusiasm, I went back to my DAG dresses, and cut lengths of fabric for skirts, and whipped up about 12 of them. Then each day I would pick one, and put some contrasting fabrics with it for the yoke, hem, and pockets. These became more fun, and I guess some self-help for my stress. Either way, I became productive to a point and have been finishing about one a day.

I had been working on these dresses for the last year and a half, and lost some momentum at the end of last year due to events coming up. But I can proudly say I just finished #36. Its likely my friend Shelley’s trip with her church to Uganda in November to take all the dresses everyone has made will be cancelled until later but I have high hopes I may hit 50.

The other night, while half asleep, my costuming brain came alive again, and said, “hey, why don’t you start your Mrs. Santa outfit you already have the fabric for?”. And it came up with the idea of wearing a red beret rather than a Santa hat. So, I went online and found one I love, which won’t be here until late July, which is fine.

I have been sharing dresses from my Make Me file (those "dream dresses" you're just dying to make, I have 259 of them) on Facebook each day, just to share something pretty, and remembered that I had wanted to make a new 1860s dress, and after seeing the pattern from Truly Victorian #452 that I wanted to make, I pulled out three fabrics from my stash that I had bought for ones, and plan to cut them all out on an assembly line, then work on whichever one strikes me at the time.

So, we’ll see what happens in the next month or so as the Summer of Covid-19 continues. Stay safe everyone!