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, 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. This year I am the Dean of Costume College 2018. 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, February 25, 2018

2018 Riverside Dickens Festival Fashion Show, & My New Dress

This was, I think, my 10th year being in the Riverside Dickens fashion show. It’s now the focus of my drive up there each year, and it’s always fun to have a new dress for it. In the Dickens newsletter that is emailed out to everyone, they used our large group photo from last year on the cover for it this year. The fashion show is held at the Riverside County Courthouse, a beautiful historical building and we’re in one of the courtrooms.
I was really excited that I finished my 1855 Green Floral Tiered dress in time for it. I had it finished about a month ago, and had gone on to working on other dresses. And as usual, I didn’t try it all on before wearing it to the event. Fortunately, the only oops were the waist was too big and kept sliding down, so I kept stepping on my hem, and I forgot to add a snap, or even a safety pin to the front closure of my bodice under my green bow, so the bow went wonky. Other than that, I LOVED IT!
My big mult-tiered cotton petticoat was so heavy carrying it, but once I put it on over my hoop, and with wearing my corset, I felt light as a feather. I just loved watching it float around me.
The theme for this year was “Family Fortunes”. We were to find a character, either real or fictional, and tell how we earned/acquired/inherited our wealth. And we could be as serious or funny as we liked.
For my 1855 dress, I chose Lady Augusta Elizabeth Frederica Stanley, a well-to-do woman who lived in Paris with her wealthy parents, and at an early age, became a Lady in Waiting to Queen Victoria in the 1850s, and later married Lord Stanley, the Dean of Westminster. After her death, her letters were combined into a book that’s still available to read today, "Letters of Lady Augusta Stanley: A Young Lady at Court 1849-1863"In fact, I bought a copy off Amazon so I could read it. I just wished it was available on Kindle.  
I carried my antique 1850s parasol with a mother of pearl tip and handle, and wore my ivory wire-framed collapsible bonnet, that I added some vintage green leaves to it to draw in the green of my dress. As I walked past Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, and their court, who were attending the show, I received a nod from the Queen.

The day before the fashion show, our organizer, Nancy, had lost a few models to illness (bad year for the flu) so Cindy and I offered to wear two dresses. I decided to wear my 1894 Brown Polka Dot dress, and created a fictional character, Elsie McGuire, the Mad Poisoner of Limerick and had fun writing that story.
“In the small town of Limerick, Ireland, in 1894, a woman by the name of Elsie McGuire became famously known as the Mad Poisoner of Limerick, although none would call that to her face, because it couldn’t be proven. Elsie made her first marriage to a small landowner who was able to keep her well-dressed in a beautiful home. But sadly, he died a year later, it appeared from a rare disease.
Two years later, the now wealthy Elsie, met and married another landowner, and they combined their lands to create a large holding. All was well until one day he was found dead, foaming at the mouth. It was thought he may have ingested some fertilizer, but that was the best the local doctor could determine.
Elsie remained a wealthy widow for about 5 years until she met a squire from the next county, who he himself desired to acquire her money. Unfortunately, he died of a heart attack not 3 months after they married.
After a year bereavement, Elsie is now looking for a new husband. Do we have any gentlemen available? “
I carried my 1890s brown leather purse that could hang from my waist, and wore my boater hat with it’s cream bows, gold buckle, and brown feather.
These are the only group photos I’ve found so far but don’t include everyone that day. 

These are two photos of my friends, Cindy and Gina before the show. I thought Gina had the prettiest 1830s dress I’d ever seen.

Earlier in the day, Cindy and I walked around a bit, had lunch, and then stopped by the Mission Inn to take some photos of our first set of dresses for the show.

After the show, we again walked out in the promenade to shop, and to pick up a couple Truly Victorian patterns from Shelley, at the Kansas Mercantile.
And wouldn’t you know it? I overheard someone mention the Gone with the Wind BBQ dress when they saw my dress. Ok, I get it. It’s a big skirt and green floral fabric but I’m 10 years earlier. But I’m glad they liked it.
My thanks to K. Holian, and T. Clevenger, for the photos I included in my blog. 

Monday, January 29, 2018


Getting started on my sewing projects had begun at a very slow pace, at least I think so. I had a couple dresses cut out and started last month but had to set them aside for a while. Going into the planning mode for Costume College began on January 1 but it wasn’t sewing my dresses. It was the planning FOR Costume College, aka running it. In trying to work on the budget, I discovered I’m not good with numbers. Letters, yes, but not understanding spread sheets, etc. It took a few weeks to get it together, which included more grey hair, meltdowns, and a couple sleepless nights. But that’s done. I do have an idea of how to make that aspect better for the Dean for next year though. But the fun part has started of designing the covers for the Registration and Program books, and all that goes in it. 
Once the stress level went down, the sewing mojo moved back in. I pulled out my two Regency open robes I was going to make to wear during the daytime at Costume College, and whipped those out pretty fast. I used the Butterick 4890 pattern and altered the front of the robe to create a front closure so it was all one piece. My peach and fuchsia linen-blend fabrics came from L.A. Fred’s in the Garment District in L.A. Unfortunately, one of them was shorted by 2 yds so I had to so some creative cutting with it. I think the only difference ended up being the fuchsia one is shorter in the train. Lesson learned: don’t walk away from the counter, and pay attention to the measuring, because I also got double of the peach and ended up selling that to someone later. 

Right now, they don’t look very fancy, and probably won’t be because they’re meant to wear in the daytime but the Squirrel in me wants *something* fancy on them. I just don’t know what yet. I’m open to suggestions. Anyone?
Both are sadly displayed on my dress form over an older white Regency dress because I have a Victorian corset on it so the shape is wrong. They will eventually have buttons to close the front tab. 

In the meantime, I needed to get a new petticoat to wear under my sheer white dresses for them, and just whipped out the skirt and added a waistband with straps. It doesn’t show up well on top of the white dress here though. 
I still need to have someone fit the straps on me so they’re the right length and therein lies another problem. A few months ago, I bought custom-made Regency short stays on Etsy. She made it according to my measurements, and has lots of great reviews. Its very well made but when I put it on at first, the shoulders were too wide. So, I was going to do a quick alteration of that, even though the maker was willing to do that herself. When I put it on again the other day, I laced it tighter and seemed to work but every time I raise my arms, it slides up. And the girls go down. There’s no gusset for them to sit in. It makes me flat as a pancake and no poof up top. There’s nothing to support the girls from sliding down, and even adding some little “cutlets” or supports on the stays won’t keep it from sliding up. So, I’m going back to Plan B and wearing my bodiced petticoat, which does give me a nice poof.
I just went back online on Etsy to look at the stays I’d bought, and this may have been an error ordering on my part. The first photo is the one I purchased. As you can see, its flat with no gusset. The second one may have been the one I should have purchased. Unfortunately, too late. 

I have two white cotton voile Regency dresses cut out and almost all sewn to wear under my open robes, but the back of the bodice is too wide. This was while wearing the short stays so before I do any altering, I have to try it on with the bodiced petticoat I made a few years ago to see if that made a difference because I’m pretty sure this is the same pattern I used for the dress before, and I know I haven’t shrunk that much.
Now that’s been put on hold because I’ve been distracted by needing to finish an 1890s suit I want to wear to the Port Townsend Victorian Festival on March 24 in WA. The skirt (Truly Victorian #291 Walking skirt) was sewn a few months ago but the bottom of it has some issues with an uneven hem where I didn’t notice a chunk was cut out on the back side of the fabric when I cut out the pattern. Fortunately, the Ripple jacket (Truly Victorian #496) is already cut and flatlined. 
Over the weekend I pulled out the entire 1890s outfit and got to work on it. The first thing I did was try on the skirt. It seemed awfully long on me. In fact, it looked like I might be able to just cut off that uneven length around the hem. So, I took height measurements off myself, marked my guide on the door frame, then lined up my dress form to it, and adjusted the height. It was off, probably due to the last time I had to haul it to a presentation. Then I put the skirt back on it, and yes, it WAS too long. I set Sunshine up on my sewing table and began marking the hem level with the table top with safety pins. 
It looks like I can cut off 3-4 inches off the bottom with still leaving a hem allowance. Awesome!! My original plan was to sew a piece of fabric onto the hem to fill it in, then cover that seam with a row of black velvet ribbon all around the hem. There’s no need for that now but I am still going to sew two rows of black velvet around that and do coordinating trimming on the jacket with it too. I just got a steal of a deal on eBay for 9 rolls of black velvet ribbon for $6.50. At 2 yds each, that gives me 18 yds to work with. But I first want to see how the width of 7/8 inches works. If its too wide, then I’m going for a bit narrower. But this is still a deal because this width is very hard to find nowadays.
Next, I got started on the Ripple Jacket. It’s flatlined with black, so when the lapel folds out, you see black. I haven’t decided if I’ll make the lapel black or the matching purple fabric because I want to use more of the velvet ribbon around the jacket. It will have to tell me that when I get there. 

I started sewing the flatlining in the humongous sleeves last night and then realized I’d forgotten to put my two layers of stiff netting in them. So off that came, back to JoAnn’s to buy some netting, and finished sewing the sleeves.
Today I hope to shop for my solid avocado green cotton to make the blouse for this. I’m copying this fashion print, and will be using this Vintage Pattern Lending Library #672 (VPLL) gathered front version. Now you can see where I got the rows of ribbon trim idea from.  

I’ve been doing some research on the kind of hat I’m going to use, and its’ going to be a small flat one. I have some straws but they would need to be covered. There’s also the possibility of just using buckram. I want big trims on it too. This will not be a shy hat at all. People will see it coming before they see me. 

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

End of the Year 2017 Review

At the end of December, I try to get a post done on reviewing what I accomplished in my costuming each year. It’s to be my final post so I can send the entire years’ worth of posts to be printed into a book.
My goal used to be to have a dress of every decade I like, and something for day and evening. I’m close to that. But it doesn’t stop there. Now I want to try different designs for the decades. And the different seasons. So, you see where that leads? It never ends. I have a folder of umpteen number of dresses I’d like to make. At least it keeps me from getting bored. 
I didn’t make that many dresses this year, as I was able to re-use some made previously. But wasn’t that the plan? I made it a little easier on myself this year by choosing to do a variety of 1890’s shirtwaists, to wear with a couple different colored skirts. These were primarily for Costume College, which made it SOOO much easier to get a couple outfits to wear.
But let’s go back to the beginning of the year where I had finished my 1885 re-creation of an Emile Pingat dress that I got to wear to a couple events this year. First was the fashion show at Riverside Dickens in February, then reprised it for another show in Port Townsend, WA. And finally, at Costume College for the Gala dinner. 

Also worn starting in Port Townsend, WA, then a DAR presentation, was my 1894 Brown & Teal Polka Dot dress. I love the color combinations, and it was a lot of fun to wear.

Then I started my marathon of sewing for Costume College, of 1894 shirtwaists and skirts, and a special mini-theme 1890s outfit for our Ladies Pinkerton Detective Agency.  I wanted something simple but fun to wear the first day, and made a shirtwaist from a white cotton with black scissors design on it, with a black skirt. My other version was for the science fiction themed Sunday Tea, and I used a Jetson’s cartoon fabric for the blouse. Finally, my Pinkerton outfit, following a design the group leaders came up with, was a simple white blouse, red velvet vest, and a grey skirt. Fairly easy but the vest caused everyone a lot of consternation. Dealing with velvet was not a job for the weak, either. 


When I started working on my Victorian Fancy Dress for next year’s Costume College Sunday Tea theme, I had to finish it earlier than expected to wear it in a fashion show in October, where the theme was the same thing. My dress was The Chess Game, and I reused an earlier 1830's black dress for it.
And finally, a dress I started last Summer, and had to set aside, was finished this month. I’m way ahead of the game for the Riverside Dickens Festival’s fashion show next February. I can’t wait to wear it, and try it on with my pink and white bonnet.

So that’s it; seven new outfits, although I find it hard to count those simple 1890s shirtwaists and skirts as much work.
I’m already starting out, before the year ends, with my next dress for Costume College, as I’m expecting it will require a lot of work, and one thing I love, hand sewing trims on. Lots of it! This Thursday I’ll be going to one of Shelley Peters’ open house sewing workshops in Nuevo, and get started on that.
                                                    See you in the New Year!