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 membor of Costumer's Guild West in Los Angeles, member & Past President of the San Diego Costume Guild, member of Orange County Costume Guild, a representative of the San Diego History Center, & an honorary member of SITU (Someplace in Time, Unlimited) in Seattle. 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.


Saturday, July 22, 2017


Here we are, 5 days before Costume College starts (a 4-day costume convention NOT a college, but it is classes). Even though all my dresses I plan on wearing are done, there are still some bits and bobs I need to finish up, and get out all my accessories, and start piling them on the dining table so I don’t forget anything. I almost forgot to take my wigs to my wig stylist to smooth them out but she got them done in 2 days so that’s a relief. And now I need to read over all my notes and slideshow for my class of Conquering the Digital Pattern, which I’m teaching again, so I remember how to explain it all coherently.
The Storm? Many of you know I’m the Assistant Dean at CoCo this year. I’ve been learning all year how to be Dean for next year. At first it was intimidating and panicky, but by April it all started to become clear and I could see how it all ran, mostly, and what I would be doing. Then the excitement started, knowing I would be announcing MY theme for next year at the Friday Night Social at CoCo. I worked with our amazing Publications person, Rebecca, who, with my vision and some ideas, created the announcement flyer that was pretty close to what I was visualizing. I can’t wait to share that!

And then with hardly taking a breath, I’ll be jumping right in to starting everything all over again for next year in the month after this CoCo. I have moments of yikes and eeks! *breathe* And then, I’ve got this! We’ll see. I also hadn’t given this too much thought but after reading Jennifer’s Historical Sewing blog, What I Learned From Not Going to Costume College ( it made me start thinking how honored I am to be chosen for this position, and that so many people know me now. I’m still amazed by that. Unfortunately, they may also remember my early foo-pah costumes, and how badly I’d like to delete some of those photos. But it’s a reminder of where I started, like a record of my trip. (and no, I won’t post those here. Spare me the humility.)
I’ve read some people are a bit intimidated by the elaborate costumes, and the cliques that you always see going on whenever large groups of people come together. Yes, there are those. But I see it as inspiring me to try new things, seeing that it is humanly possible to make that fantastic dress, gets my juices going, and leaves me so excited that I can’t wait to go shopping for fabrics and get home to sew! I feel this often whenever I go to a costumed event. It’s like a drug, and you want more. If you step away from it, that feeling and inspiration goes away. Then you start wondering why are you doing this? My thoughts are to start looking at photos, and that feeling will come back, hopefully. So, I hope many of you come to our party and take it all in. Even if you don’t dress in costume, you will still enjoy the scenery, and all that you can learn. Take photos; ask questions; talk to those people about their costumes. Most of us love to talk about them.
I’d love to share photos of my costumes I’ve made to wear this year but they’re all bits and pieces, not put together or on me yet. Turns out I’m mainly wearing 1890s this year, 3 of them, although one is a SciFi version. That’s going to be fun. This is a peek at some of the fun things I’m doing with it. 

Then my Gala dress is 1887, so I do get to travel a bit more back in time. And here I thought I would have a variety of decades again like I usually do. I didn’t get the 1912 dress done that I started but my brain hit a roadblock on the skirt and I had to set it aside for when it’s calmer. Then I pulled out a sheer cotton voile with purple flowers to make a bustle dress. So, I’ll be working on that just to keep my hands busy.  When your fingers are itchy to sew something, you just gotta go with it.    

Friday, June 16, 2017


I’m running a bit behind in seeing the new Wonder Woman movie but I've been hearing chatter about the costumes among my costume friends for the last week. Not the amazing WW suit of “armor” she wears but the World War I-1916 clothing she and others are wearing in London. I just loved going to the dress shops with her while she shopped for modern clothing. She tried on, what, 254 of them, before she found something suitable to fight in. You’ll have to see the movie to get that.

I’m still not ready to try the triple tiered skirt outfit that looked gorgeous on her but even with her stick-thin body it added bulk to her. It hadn’t even appealed to me before seeing it on her.

But then she came out wearing THE suit. I grabbed my hubby’s arm excitedly and said this is the suit all my costumer friends are talking about! 

And this is the pattern that it can be made from: Wearing History’s 1916 suit jacket.
The drawings don’t do it justice until you’ve seen someone wearing the one they made from it. Some of my friends had already made this a couple years ago.

 If you want to try making one, Wearing History even has a blog showing step-by-step directions on the different parts of it.
Then of course I started digging around for photos for inspiration of my own. Here are some originals. 

Earlier CoCo Chanel had introduced these softer versions of the same style. 


These two fashion prints are my favorites for what I’d like to try making; either the royal blue one, which the print is labeled Gabrielle Chanel, or the Kelly green version, from a paper doll book.

It looks like you could change the look just by the types of fabrics you choose to make it from. And they weren’t all solid colors. These fashion prints show stripes and combinations of colors.

Even some young girl’s versions had some interesting color combinations.
If you’re interested in other patterns from this same time period, check out Past Patterns but be aware these are copies of vintage patterns, with minimal directions, and some with no size variation. Start by looking at the ones beginning in 1915.
Now go see the movie. You’ll be glad you did if you want to have some costume firecrackers going off in your head like mine did. 

Wednesday, June 7, 2017


Many of my readers have attended Costume College in the past, so you may know what I speak of. For those of you not familiar with Costume College, it’s NOT a college, but a costume convention held in Los Angeles each year. Fellow costumers offer voluntarily to teach other costumers. No one is paid to teach, or run the convention. So, it’s highly dependent on all of us to run it. 
It’s three days of classes, with a few events thrown in that we dress in costume for. In between classes, attendees may wander the halls and the small Marketplace in costume. Each year the planners come up with different main themes, and many attendees frantically start planning their next year’s wardrobe to match that. In reality, no one really has to follow the theme. Many of us march to different drummers and do our own thing, or wear what we already made for past events. In the past few years, the attendees themselves have created their own “mini-themes” rather than follow the set theme. Someone comes up with an idea, invites their friends, or others that are interested, whether it be by word of mouth or media groups, and they plan and create. Many of them have shown up at the Friday Night Social, while others have worn them for the Saturday Gala. This is helpful also if you’re rather shy around people and you can be in a group so you feel part of it. You also have to be willing to follow the theme idea if you want to be with them. It may be strict on the guidelines or loosey-goosey.
One year I had put on a mourning fashion show at CoCo (Costume College), and decided the next year to invite all the models and others interested to do a theme from it. It didn’t have to be a mourning dress, but primarily black. I called it The Murder of Crows. That one probably had the most involved because everyone has something in black.
The following year I picked polka dots. But it was not a good year for everyone to get things going on their dress. I did get mine done, a pink polka dot bustle dress, and it’s been one of my favorites so far. I think a couple others made one but we never managed to get together for a photo, and I haven’t seen any photos of their own to add to this. 
Last year I picked stripes as our mini-theme. Everyone loves stripes, as much as polka dots. I know there were some others who got their dress made, and we had all intentions of getting a group photo, but at some point, it all went to h*** in a handbasket. We started meeting out in the hallway outside the Friday Night Social room, and I heard a couple people say they were heading out to dinner first. Then I was told I needed to come back inside on the stage to be announced as the Assistant Dean for Costume College. So, we managed to get a couple quick photos of three of us, and that was it. Lynne and Karen also managed to get theirs to match the circus theme of the Friday Social too. Good coordination there, ladies!

In the past few years I’ve gotten photos of some other mini-themes I saw, although I know there probably a lot more. I either didn’t see them, didn’t hear of them, or never saw them all together as a group. That’s the hardest part of doing this. There’s so much going on and getting people coordinated at a convention is rather like, you know, herding cats.
In 2013, a group of ladies all bought the same fabric and each did a dress in a different decade. I think that’s a great idea and lots of fun.
In 2014 Game of Thrones was a big influence on costuming, and these ladies did a great job of them. 
In 2015, persimmon was the color theme, again an open field of time periods were made here.
This year I’m part of someone else’s theme, and it’s kind of fun to sit on the sidelines with it and still have an outfit to wear for the Friday Night Social. We’re sort of following the theme for the Social, Casino Royale -Spies Who Love Us, but quite an easy one to make for many of us. We’ll be The Ladies of the Pinkerton Detective Agency. We all will be dressed pretty much the same and easy to spot at the Friday Social. Just look for the red velvet vests. I finished my own outfit for it the other day except for hemming the skirt. So that’s out of the way at least. I’ve been reading about other people’s plans for their own mini-themes but I don’t want to mention them because they may like having it as a surprise.

My brain was already planning a mini-theme for something else after I was inspired by someone else’s dress. But I’ve been pleaded with to put it on hold for next year. That doesn’t mean I won’t be gathering my fabrics and planning, and maybe sewing it long before then. Considering we have less than two months before CoCo, it’s probably not a good idea for me to start anything new for this year right now. But I’m going to get as much done before next year because I’ve been warned I won’t have as much time to sew once I’m the Dean. All I know is, I need to look good because people are going to be staring at me. EEK! That’s why I like to be part of a group. I blend in. Oh, wait, no. I HAVE been a peacock quite a few times. So maybe I do like to get noticed.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

WOMEN’S REVOLUTIONARY FASHION; A Presentation for the San Diego DAR

Almost exactly a year ago I was contacted by Judith Reale, a representative of the San Diego Chapter of the DAR (Daughters of the American Revolution), about the possibility of putting on a historical fashion show for their Chapter’s annual meeting the following year. Unfortunately, it would be on a Friday, so I couldn’t do it because most of my friends who will model for me all work. A couple weeks later she contacted me again and asked if I could possibly do one of my other presentations I do by myself. Well, sure, but it’s mostly focused on actual costuming and I didn’t know if it would be of interest to those not involved in wearing historical clothing. But I asked if I could think about it and see if I could come up with something better suited to them. I said I could do something like Two Hundred Years of Fashion with some dresses on display, and wearing one of my own. Judith liked that idea, so I began gathering my thoughts. In the meantime, she put together an introductory page in their newsletter about my program, and picked her favorite photos from the ones I sent her.
Time-jump six months later: my thoughts finally came together for a narrative of historical fashion and include a PowerPoint slideshow with lots of photos of extant gowns. I chose the beginning time to start in the 1700s since their group is, of course, about the Rev War. And I normally stop about 1910-ish, since my interests and knowledge don’t go much past there.

For a couple months I gathered photos from the internet for each decade, and began looking for information of how the styles changed. I’m a little more familiar with my specific eras of interest so I wanted to make sure I didn’t give out any wrong information on those. But I found I had a pretty good idea of most of them just from my experience with them, and seeing photos. 

Come January, while having afternoon tea with a costume group, I was talking to my friend Tracey, who turned out had done a historical presentation to another DAR chapter herself. She said she had used a couple photos from movie costumes. light bulb!   I could expand on that and add photos from different movies and TV series that matched the different eras so my “non-costuming” group could relate the time period to a movie. So that began to expand my search. And of course I had to start with Claire from the Outlander series for 1740. 
A couple of the decades I had a hard time finding a decent movie/TV photo for some of them, and couldn’t find anything for 1850. Fortunately, at the last minute PBS came out with “To Walk Invisible”, about the Bronte sisters, so I had one for the 1840s.
After helping my friend, Cindy, with her timeline presentation at a local San Diego historic home, we both had commented how interested everyone seems to be in what goes under the dresses, almost as much as what’s on the outside. I added that search to my list, and decided I would have all pretty and colorful dresses in my collection. I had to have a lot of them for each decade because I would be doing a collage of them on my PowerPoint show, which if you’ve never tried them, it’s a lot of fun! I actually had a lot more photos but could only get about 6 per slide unless they would be too small to see the details.

At the end of March into April I was up in WA state visiting my Mom, and knew I would have some down time I could work on my narrative for this, so I got as much of the slideshow done first, and got all the info I needed for the narrative because I would have no internet there, except for my cellphone, and even that is iffy due to only one cellphone tower in the area. I transferred everything to my laptop so I could work on it there, and when I was in desperate need of information, I was able to rely on a couple of my friends to do a little internet searching for me. Thank you!!!
I also included some of my own experiences in learning about the different eras, like Victorian versus Civil War; some funny and shocking bits to liven it up; and added some sharing of actual underpinnings I would bring with me.
As my narrative progressed, I added then edited out a lot of things because I had to limit the whole program to just 30 minutes. I decided to leave in some history of sewing machines, and the S-bend corset, but left out most of dispelling the corset myths, although after being prompted by the audience, I was still able to share some of that. 
At Judith’s request, I kept in some of the story in the 1850s about the San Diego bloomer dress, and brought mine to display it. And then Cindy sent me a Regency cartoon to include in my slide on Regency dress. 

On one slide for I introduced them to Heather, and Truly Victorian patterns. 

I ended up with a total of 35 slides, and could have done more if I had the time. But I needed to leave room for showing off the undies, and as it happened, I also was able to have two of my friends, Birda and Jeanette, as live models wearing their wonderful dresses. So with them and myself dressed, a complete Georgian outfit on one dress form, bustle and undies on another, and the bloomer dress on a third, we had quite the mini fashion show.
While we were setting up at the Admiral Baker Clubhouse in San Diego for their meeting and my program, some of the ladies began arriving and we were immediately getting asked questions about what we were wearing, and I realized this program was perfect for them. Some of them had a bit of knowledge but were a little confused on some of it.
For my set-up, I had planned to hold my laser pointer in my right hand to point out particular slides, and also advance the slides. My left hand would hold my written narrative to read it. It was 17 pages, so this was nothing I could do from memory. However, I also had to hold a microphone. I’ve never had to use a microphone for this. I didn’t see any extra arms hanging from me, so it was a bit awkward at first. I apologized to the audience at my ineptness but they were so gracious about it and said I was doing fine. AND in my annals of “learning something new every day”, a few minutes earlier, one lady showed me how to use my remote for my laptop so I didn’t have to sit and poke at it to advance my slides.  After a couple minutes I finally held the mike in my right hand, narrative in my left, and poked the remote with my left hand for the screen. That worked great until I had to stop and hold something up, but my “live models” were willing to display most of the undies for me.
My introduction slide was a collage of movie/TV stills showing the different eras I’d be covering. Part of my focus would be the underpinnings that created the shapes they wore.
The idea was to make them familiar with the era by connecting it to a movie. I think it worked. 
Both Birda and Jeanette were able to walk around the room and showing off their lovely dresses. Jeanette had just finished her 1860s ball gown and was rightly proud of it. Birda’s 1810 blue silk dress lit up the room. I was wearing my 1894 brown polka dot dress and had fun showing off the big sleeves. A funny thing happened when I came back to sit down at my laptop. I started to sit, then realized there was no chair. I was shocked. I looked around for it. What happened to it? Then I saw it sitting off the side where Jeanette had pulled it away so I could walk out front to show my dress. We had a quick laugh about that.
Coming up with my closing slide was the hardest to do. I’ve always had problems how to finish something, whether it’s writing or sewing. Hmm, that's the first time I thought of that coincidence. I decided to include a collage of historical men to admire us. I think they liked that slide the best of all of them. Yep, nothing like a well-dressed man. 
I think it was worth all the hours and months I put into getting this together, and I really enjoyed the response I got. The ladies there shared their memories with us of seeing photos of their grandmothers dressed in similar clothing to what I shared that day.

At the end of my program, I was presented with a Certificate of Appreciation from the DAR Chapter, and an honorarium. Both a first for me. 

Now I'm on to my next project, a 1912 dress. It will require a new blouse, petticoat, and probably a new corset.