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. 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 Past President & member of the San Diego Costume Guild,Costumer's Guild West in Los Angeles, and Orange County Costume Guild, & a representative of the San Diego History Center. I make my own historical costumes but don't sell any unless I get tired of it.The eras I've made so far are 1770 up to 1918. My favorite is the 1880s bustle.


Tuesday, March 7, 2017


This last weekend I joined my friend Cindy for her clothing history presentation at the Davis-Horton House in downtown San Diego, across the street from the Horton Grand Hotel. She had been asked to do this for their History Talks lecture series, and she chose to do a timeline of dress and the understructures from 1800-1905.  She asked me to help her with the dresses and underpinnings, and talk about those. So I was her living mannequin.  This was written on the website for our presentation. 
        Changing Silhouettes Throughout the 19th Century: Clothing and Understructure. 
                      Presented by Cindy Piselli and Valarie LaBore 
The Gaslamp Quarter Historical Foundation is pleased to announce the return of it's popular "History Talks!" series in 2017. The first lecture will be Sunday, March 5th at 3pm at the Gaslamp Museum in the Davis-Horton House. Clothing experts, Cindy Piselli and Valarie LaBore will share their extensive knowledge on the clothing of the 19th century.
Cindy and Valarie are both members and past Presidents of the San Diego Costume Guild, as well as members of the Costumers Guild West. Cindy is also a member of the Victorian Roses Ladies Riding Society. Valarie has given a presentation on bloomer gowns at the annual ALHFAM conference in Williamsburg, VA. Cindy has co-lectured on fashion here in San Diego with author Garner Palenske, who wrote Wyatt Earp in San Diego. Both ladies have several years of experience producing and narrating historical fashion shows, and presenting lectures at events such as Costume College, and for various guilds and clubs.
Join us for an afternoon of fashion and history! Free for members, $5 general admission. RSVP by calling the Gaslamp Museum at 619-233-44692. 
It was primarily a slideshow but we included visuals of dresses on mannequins, dresses on ourselves, and I showed samples of each of the underpinnings that she was talking about. We held it in the basement room of the historic house, and it was a nice cozy location, with about 20 people attending. I’d never been to this house before but had heard about its ghost tours, so I was excited to see the inside of it. It’s an 1850s Saltbox-style house, not a fancy decorated one but functional, and at one time was used as a hospital. More can be read about it on their website. 

I wore the earliest dress we had a sample of, my 1835 teal and cranberry Romantic Era dress. On one mannequin (which were supplied by the museum and were extremely tiny!) I put my 1860s white and blue floral lawn dress, over a hoop petticoat, which we showed off. Cindy wore her 1870s pink and grey plaid bustle dress, and on the other was my 1877 pink polka dot dress. Each had their appropriate supports under them. I brought samples of stays (which the wooden busk shocked many of them), corsets, chemises, drawers, combinations, petticoats, bustles, & bustle pads. I also gave them a little background on corsets, and that they weren't instruments of torture, no ribs were removed. You know, that garbage. One of my friends, Vicki, from my water aerobics class had attended so I invited her up to try on a lobster tail bustle. Then we showed how easy it is to sit down in it. The ladies were fascinated by this one and later some came up to also try it on. 

We’re starting to notice that many of the attendees to our fashion shows and presentations are fascinated by the underpinnings worn with the dresses, so we’ve started focusing a lot more on those. With having about 15 pieces of the different eras to show, it filled out Cindy’s presentation very well, and gave a good hands-on view of the actual pieces worn. I would have loved to try the hoop petticoat on someone but the poor mannequin wouldn’t have survived very well having it yanked on and off. If we’d had time, I probably would have tried putting a corset on someone too. That’s always fun!

Friday, February 24, 2017

2017 Port Townsend (WA) Victorian Heritage Festival

If you’ve ever been to the Victorian Festival in Port Townsend, or have heard about it, I wanted to tell you it’s going on again this year, after the former organizers retired, and new ones stepped in. It's a beautiful seaport town, right off the water, and near where the ferries run. 

The dates have changed, to April 1 and 2, and the website is up,  which is still being worked on but has some pertinent information on it already. This year's theme, Victorian Dreams, takes you back to the 1890s, and Jules Verne, along with afternoon tea, demonstrations, lectures, and historic building tours. Last year I found a ghost in one. This is the information on the events but it's still being updated from last year.
If this event sounds familiar, it’s because every year at this time I head up to WA to visit my Mom and attend the Festival to be in their fashion show. Last year I did my presentation on “Watches & How Women Wore Them”. This year I’m taking on an even bigger challenge, writing and organizing the fashion show, which is mostly a new group of people, and we’re in a new location, the Port Townsend American Legion Hall. Later that evening it will be transformed into the Victorian Ball room. It’s located just off Water Street, the main street of all the historical buildings, and where the Festival is normally put on.  This isn’t so much an outdoor street show but has presentations going on inside buildings.

This year one of the historic old buildings, the Hastings Building, will be hosting a marketplace/craft show. It’s been under renovation, and will soon to transformed into a new hotel.
Two fun places to visit & stay are The Palace Hotel, and The Bishop Victorian Hotel, which is where I’ll be staying while I’m there.
In the past, the fashion show was held at a local church farther up on the hill. This time we’re going to be right down in the middle of the action. The Legion Hall will be transformed three times into different event locations. My fashion show theme is “Victorians Dress for the Occasion”, and I’ll have models wearing daytime, evening, sports, military, and masquerade. Many of the models are coming from the Seattle and Puget Sound costume guilds, with a couple from the previous group in the past shows. With the help of my local contact and costume friend, Mara, we’re going to give these folks a great show and hope the word gets out that everyone needs to come to the Festival.
I’m hoping the tintype photographer is there again this year because he had a great set-up last year, and I loved the photo he took of me. He had really nice props and he changed them as needed, and helped pose me. 
Check back on the website in the next couple weeks for more information as it’s added. 

Saturday, February 18, 2017

1885 Gold & Black Brocade Evening Dress

Even with a couple small projects going, I was immediately distracted by this dress when I realized, finally, that I had found one that I could use the gold and black Chinese brocade my neighbor had given me. It had been brought from China by a friend of her’s years ago, and when she realized she’d never use it, lucky for me, she passed it onto me and said she knew I’d make something beautiful with it. But with only four yards it would have to be part of a dress, not the whole dress. At some point, the Squirrel in me wants to cut out any remaining gold flowers and stitch them along the bottom edges of the skirt. Stay tuned for that but not in the next couple weeks is it going to happen.
This 1885 dress fit the bill.  It was created by French designer, Emile Pingat, and held in the Philadelphia Museum of Art collection.  By enlarging the photo I was able to see what patterns I could use for it, which made it easier.

I chose Truly Victorian #462 (1883) Tail bodice ( with the short peplum) and Truly Victorian #263 (1887) Trained Skirt (the center design).

I whipped up the bodice very quickly and then put it on my dress form to work out how to do the brocade trims on it. Since my dress form tends to be bumpy in different places than me, I laid the pattern out flat and traced the lines that looked like the photo. Then I cut pattern pieces out of that, and laid them on the dress form. That seemed to look right. The top of the center portion slightly sticks up like a sail. I didn’t think the brocade and my black silk taffeta would have the body to do that so I needed to put some interfacing in it to hold it up. On the opposite side since the front placket overlaps the other side, I can’t just sew the brocade following the front lines, or it won’t come to that point at the top. 
The sleeves actually look more like a lace rather than the solid fabric down the front of the skirt. But I’m going with the brocade all over. I had an idea for the sleeves to do something like this blue bodice with solid black sleeves and a strip of brocade down it so it’s not completely the brocade.
But later I decided I wanted a little more continuity with the brocade, and cut it entirely out of that, adding a black taffeta cuff with a brocade tab on it. Right now the tab is just basted on, and I left a little tail sticking up at the top to match the front of the dress trim.
Once I got all those trim ideas out of the way, the rest of the dress went together fairly smoothly, with just the hem and the closures to sew in by hand. 
The first chance I have to wear this will be in the Riverside (CA) Dickens fashion show next Saturday, February 25. The theme is Victorian Dreams, so when I needed to come up with something for it, I decided to accessorize this dress for it. I chose Titania, Queen of the Fairies, from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. A few simple additions, like a long train of shimmery gold chiffon, a headdress made of Xmas gold ball decorations, and a simple beaded gold necklace are my finishing projects this week.

After reading a short description of the scene where the Queen is enchanted by the King to fall in love with the first person she sees, which btw is a donkey, I knew I had to have a donkey with me. Without having time to walk around toy stores for one, I found a small plush one that would do on Amazon. I would have liked it a little bigger to be seen better from the stage, but he’ll do. I love going for a few laughs.

And of course I couldn't just be working on one dress all this time, right? You are correct. I suddenly decided I wanted to make a new sheer dress to walk around in during the Dickens Festival, since my Brocade dress isn't suitable for walking and dragging the long train in the streets. I had the fabric in my stash, and wanted to make this multi-tiered dress. 
I tried a new pattern for the bodice, Period Impressions #405, because it had the little peplum going all the way around it. But it was too large all over, & I ended up cutting out almost a new pattern to make it work. And wanting to cut my throat. I probably should have made it using McCalls #5132 and just doing a bit of altering. Next time for sure. 
I started it in a sewing workshop with Shelley Peters but only got as far as getting a fitted bodice before I remembered I needed to get that Brocade dress done. So this is as far as it got. And I got all the tiers of the skirt are torn to the lengths I need to start the skirt. Since we all know that's not going to be done in time, I'm now considering wearing one of my earlier 1830s day dresses to walk the streets in. 
But then after having a little chat with Mara up in Washington about the Victorian Festival on April 1, and figuring out what to wear in that fashion show, and on the streets, she convinced me to make an 1890s skirt and blouse. I had just the fabric for it; a brown polyester with dots of brown, cream & aqua.  I had lots of it, cheap, and an easy pattern, Truly Victorian #494, and #291 walking skirt. I have a piece of aqua silk taffeta I want to try and run down either sides of the front closure, and add a bow on the back of the neck, like they did in the 90s. I don’t have much of it so I have to be careful.
I got the skirt almost done, but had a little oops with the iron. Whoever heard of polyester not melting when it’s on high heat with steam, but then melts when it’s barely warm? What’s up with that!! I’m wasting a day just doing repairs on it now. And with a week left until Dickens, it gets to simmer a little longer too. 

Yep, squirrels are running all over here. Stay tuned for further adventures.  


Wednesday, January 11, 2017


Even though we’re in the midst of “winter”, although in So California we have to laugh at that, my thoughts aren’t going to warm clothes. I’m already starting to think about spring and summer dresses and pretty colors. So, while enjoying reading one of Lily Absinthe’s posts written by Adam Lid about choosing colors, I saw this pretty bodice, and thought what a pretty square neckline.
But then I kept looking closer at the trims, and noticed the blue lapels were fake. The square neckline was also fake. Look between the lace pieces in the center. You can see the blue floral fabric behind it, and that it closes completely in the front up to the neck. So not a square neckline at all.
But what a pretty idea to dress up a possibly plain front of your bodice, and a very simple way to do it. It makes me rub my hands together and want to do something like that.
However, I have a couple other projects keeping me busy and planning at the moment. I’m halfway done with my 1885 Black & Gold Chinese Brocade dress that I’ll be wearing next month in the Riverside (CA) Dickens Festival fashion show. I’ve got the sleeves basted in, ready to be sewn. It needs boning and the front closures also. And a hem. I love the train in the back and am crossing my fingers it doesn’t get stepped on too often. 
I was almost ready to start on my next project, the new Truly Victorian 1911 skirt and bodice, using my jade green linen blend fabric. I’ve saved a couple ideas for the bodice trim, and can’t wait to start on it. I'd sure like to get my new corset done for it first. 
But with the Dickens Festival coming up I also wanted to make a summery 1850s dress, because quite often it’s warm while we’re there in February. That’s Southern California weather for you. But it could also be chilly and raining.
And I have to share this; my friend Cindy gave me this awesome tote bag for Xmas. I call it my MeMe Bag.
Over the holidays, I did some cooking and baking for a party, and my little sewing helper was a bad girl, and was publicly shamed on Facebook.


Sunday, December 25, 2016

2016 Review: A Look Back on My Costuming Year.

All my events for the year are over, and my poor brain can’t focus on anything right now, so I probably won’t be sewing until after Christmas. Which, by the way, is today.
Right now I'm waiting for to send me a 20% off sale so I can have my last year's blog posts published as a book. *tapping foot* 

OK, I lied. I have been sewing. But it’s just hand-hemming 18th century/1700s kerchiefs from a fine white cotton voile each night while I’m watching TV. I made one for myself for my Outlander dress, and since I had leftover fabric & enjoyed the hand-sewing, I made another. Then decided why not sell it? So, I posted it on a Facebook selling group, and it was grabbed within 30 seconds. I cut out two more, and left a message that if anyone wanted one, to put their name on the list. I got quite a few orders and since I’m finishing up the last two, I took a couple more orders. I’m not letting my fingers get rusty. I decided I’d better pick up some more of the fabric and found it was getting REALLY scarce. So, I’ve been driving to a couple distant JoAnn’s to buy the few yards they have left. Of course, none of them will ship it to me. 

I began this year planning a new dress for the Riverside Dickens fashion show in February by pulling out an 1853 fashion plate of a gorgeous purple dress that looked like it would challenge my construction talents. And it fit right in to the “purple theme” of the show.

I was able to repeat wearing it in the fashion show at the Port Townsend (WA) Victorian Festival in March, where I also wore my 1885 Pink Polka Dot bustle, AND did my presentation on “Watches & How Women Wore Them” at the Festival.

My next dress was going to be for an Edwardian tea aboard the Queen Mary ship in Long Beach. Again, I pulled out one of my favorite fashion plates from 1908 that I wanted to copy. I mostly Franken-patterned it from various patterns for the bodice.

I “discovered” a new pattern company, Edwardian Rose, on ebay and etsy. There were limited printed patterns but were also available as a download and you printed them out. I was excited and willing to give it a shot, and even wrote up an easy how-to for my blog and to teach it at Costume College the following July.
This was the first pattern I tried where I printed it out. But when I got to cutting it out of the rose fabric I had, I found I didn’t have enough of the lace I needed for the neckline, and I couldn’t go further with the sewing until I did. As of the end of the year, I still haven’t found any that would look suitable so that’s on the back burner. I bought a couple more of her patterns so at some point I swear I’m going to make them. 
I finally decided my corset of 4 years was a bit shoddy and besides, it had green paint splatters on it. *Long story* I went to one of Shelley Peters’ sewing workshop weekends, and made a new one out of purple brocade coutil. Now I’m back in fashion.

I seriously began planning my wardrobe in April for Costume College and finally finished up one I was really excited about; an 1870s tea gown inspired by a Frederick A. Worth tea gown. It didn’t cooperate as much as I’d hoped for, and some details had to be discarded. But the embroidered fabric made me swoon every time I handled it. And it lived up to its awesomeness when I finished it in plenty of time.

To save some time in starting a new dress, I finally gave in and finished my 1905 Directoire dress I’d started two years ago, after being inspired by a tiny little photo. It required a lot of tweaking on the vest but the blouse, which had already been cut two years ago, just about made itself. I wore it both to Costume College and later to a celebration at the Marston House in San Diego. 

Another outfit I’d had on my planning table for a long time was this 1897 evening dress. The lace on the collar and sleeves was what kept me from going forward with it for a long time. But after buying a lace embroidered table runner at Costume College Marketplace, I knew at last I could give it a shot. I would have loved to make it from velvet, as the photo seem show it is, but my plan this year was to make the dress in fuchsia. I couldn’t find any fuchsia velvet. So, it became silk taffeta. I had to rush this in the last week and didn’t focus on the sleeves long enough so I’m not happy with them. Next time. Because it needs to be worn again.

After becoming a fan of Outlander, I became excited about making a 1740s dress from it. When our Costumed Walkabout at the Del Mar Antique Show was given cosplay from movies or TV as our theme, it gave me a boot in the bum to get that made. I’m pretty happy with it, and now I have time to tweak it before taking it to Costume College next year. 

The only costume event I went to during the holidays was our Guild’s Holiday Dinner. I almost went to another event in LA but decided since the next day I would again have to drive back up there for a holiday tea with a friend, I decided that was too much. Tea with my friend, Martha, won over. I didn’t want to make a new dress for the Guild dinner, and my idea for years has been having something to wear for every time period, and then be able to wear them multiple times. I had a red & black checked dress I’d worn a few years ago, and just decided to dress it up a little more. It got a bit of white lace on the neckline, but also a new black fur hat. I was also going to carry my black Persian curly lamb muff I had bought last Xmas but when I went looking for it, I pulled out my black sealskin one and forgot I was looking for the lamb. Oh well, it was black. Now I need to find that lamb, and maybe put all my muffs together so that doesn’t happen again.
So as the old year is quickly fading into the past, I’ve been doing some planning and squirreling trying to decide what will be made next year. I made a list of what events I have coming up so I can better focus on what I should do first. Right now, it’s the Riverside Dickens fashion show and I decided the gown I had started over a month ago, will come first for that. I’m going to Shelley Peter’s sewing workshop over the New Year’s weekend to work on it some more.
One of the outfits I’ve been itching to start is a 1912 jade green linen dress using Truly Victorian’s new patterns.

Since I signed up for Jennifer Rosburgh’s online sewing workshop to make a new long line corset that I will need for it, I think that will come first. I just need to make a run up to LA for the perfect fabric. It really needs to be a stripe.
I have lots of other ideas in the planning stage but time and events will have to decide what happens next. Although I saw a truly beautiful 1795 open robe that will have to be made for Costume College too. And I REALLY AM trying to make things I bought fabric for already, and there’s a good chance that rose-gold changeable silk taffeta I bought in SF *blank* years ago, will be made up.

It looks like I made 5 new costumes, finished 1 that was close to being done, and 1 new corset. Why does it always feel like I didn’t make much?

As this holiday season winds down, besides my next wardrobe planning, I’m also planning my holiday tea for in January that I have each year for my friends from work, and some of my other friends. So, for now the cooking and baking continues and the sewing is on the backburner, besides those 18th c kerchiefs I’m still making to keep me from going stir crazy.