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.


Wednesday, April 4, 2018

1894 Mulberry Evening Dress

A month ago, I thought I was running ahead of the game by being half-done with an 1890s walking suit to wear to the Port Townsend Victorian Festival in WA. My friends who I meet up with there, decided we would dress in 1890s from the town’s time period. This would be just for wearing around town, and to tea before we headed over to the American Legion Hall to put on the fashion show for the Festival. I had another dress I was wearing for that which was already made. I had my bases covered.
But then Mara kept posting photos of multiple 90s dresses she was making and I felt like the glove had been thrown down. So, I rationalized I really needed an evening dress to wear to dinner, and to the ball, which by the way, I just attend and watch my friends dance, as I’m still not walking well enough to even think about trying to walk sideways and twirl.
While folding up some fabrics in my sewing room, I picked up one delicious and silky mulberry and gold patterned silk damask fabric I’d bought recently after drooling over it at the tremendous sale of silks they had at Home Fabrics in LA. I bought a remnant of 7 ½ yards for $5.95 yd. It totally spoke to me of 1890s. So, what’s a girl to do? The gauntlet had been thrown down, and challenge was accepted.
Apparently, I did the same thing last year, and made a new dress just weeks before I was leaving. I can probably blame Mara for that too. At the last minute before flying up to WA, I made my 1890s Brown Polka Dot dress. Basically, it’s an easy outfit to do using both Truly Victorian patterns for the skirt and blouse. I used TV #494 for the 1894 Shirtwaist, but I decided to try the TV #296 Ripple Skirt with the full panels that are pulled to the back with ties inside, similar to doing the bustle ties. There’s a lot more fabric in this skirt than the usual walking skirt I make. 

This fashion print from 1896 shows ripple skirts.

For my inspiration, I pulled out this photo of a dress I want to make someday in all its black glory and beading. From this I mainly wanted the idea of the ¾-length sleeves, some fancy trim on the bodice, and a belt. But, oooh, I do so want to make this in black someday. 
The shirtwaist went together easily, as in the past, but this time I used the yoke front so I could have an area to put my trims. This fabric turned out to be a hard color to find a trim to go on it. I tried looking for some lace fabric and found the perfect one to cover the whole yoke, but was not going to pay $49.99 yard for it. In the lace trims section, the closest color I could find was kind of beigey-gold but after laying it over the blouse, it didn’t look dressy enough. But it sure was pretty. Too bad I don’t have any more fabric left that I can try something else. But I’ll save that lace for another blouse.
So this narrow gold trim was the best I could find with a two week window left to make this. I repeated the trim with a chevron design on both the cuffs. 

I can’t remember if I’ve ever shared how I do my puffy sleeve linings for these, to get them sticking up in the air, so I took some photos as I was doing it this time. I used stiff netting, not tulle, for them. I cut out my flat-lining, and then cut out two layers of the netting but end it about at my elbow. I sew the netting to one side of the flat-lining fabric with a basting stitch, and trim the excess netting off. Then I lay that onto the backside of the dress fabric, with the netting between them. I sew them as you usually sew flat-lining and then sew the sleeves seams. This way you don’t get poked by the pokey netting.

The skirt pattern, however, gave me problems from the beginning. I’m used to the fullness in an 1890s skirt to be all in the back. The Ripple Skirt has wide panels on the sides and I almost messed up cutting them out when suddenly I saw the straight-of-grain line on the pattern going horizontal instead of vertical. After reaching out to others and to the pattern maker, it was confirmed that yes, that was correct. They are cut so as to make that curve on the sides. Except I decided since my fabric had a definite pattern line, I wanted to cut it like all the other panels. So, to answer your question, I did not cut it as the pattern indicated.

Again, my 1890s-mind wanted to put the placket in the back of the skirt. Except this one was on the side, and apparently the pleats from the side panels would envelope it. Mine turned out bulky though. I had to set this aside to finish up my plum suit and trim some hats before I jumped on the airplane. I figured I’d be able to finish the skirt hemming and ties while I was at my Mom’s house there.

It did need a belt though. I tried something new (to me) for inside my belt, cotton belting that I purchased at JoAnns. It’s not stiff, a little more pliable than the usual belting, and you can sew through it. 
I folded a long rectangle of my dress fabric over it, and slip-stitched it closed. It would close in the back with hooks, and I would use a decorative buckle in the front. I wanted to bring out more gold and when I saw these gold buckles for sale on a Facebook group, I knew it would be perfect. It would really stand out rather than a small one would disappear.

Other things I had to get ready was accessories. I planned to wear my usual wig with a bun, like this first photo shows. I don’t like the scraped back hair with a tiny topnotch that so many ladies then wore. I did find a couple crazy ones after the fact but it will require some more work in the future. 

I thought finally I could wear my pretty comb with gold leaves that I’d bought last year from Elizabeth Emerson Designs. But when I finally tried to put it on at the event, my wig cap kept pushing it out, and I was afraid I’d lose it. So it only got to be stuck in long enough for a photo. After I came home, I did some more research and have come up with another idea for a headpiece and plan to wear it later this month in yet another fashion show but locally to me. More on that later.

It was also going to be very cold in Port Townsend that evening, and I was resigned to bringing a shawl. But just a day before I was leaving to fly up there, Elizabeth Emerson Designs came to my rescue by posting this lovely antique quilted silk brocade cape. I purchased it and asked her to send it to my Mom’s house in WA, since it would never get here in time. It was as beautiful as the photos showed, and inside it, there was a cute little cone-shaped pocket.

So now a day before I was leaving for WA, I basted my hem on the skirt so I didn’t have to leave the pins in while traveling. And of course, the moment I set it down, Chloe took over. 
Finally arrived in WA, I began to finish my skirt. I got it hemmed but when I started looking at how to do the ties in the back, having a separate skirt lining was messing with me. The sides where I pleated the excess fabric in was very bulky. And I figured I would have to attach the lining to the skirt where each tie would be attached. All of a sudden it was too much! I needed to make this easier for me as I had 2 days before I needed it. I ripped out the waistband and removed all the pleating on the skirt. I smoothed out the front and moved all the excess fabric to the back where I would pleat it as I normally would have. AND……. I wouldn’t have to figure out how to attach those ties and get it looking proper. The only drawback was the side placket didn’t go to the back. It was halfway between my side and the back. This will be one of those projects after I get home to take out the placket, sew up that seam and move the placket to the center back. We’ll see if that happens before I wear it on April 22 for a fashion show in Oceanside, CA. And apparently I need to resize my waistband closure. I tried it on before the event and it was a bit tight with all my underpinnings, so I moved the button over 1 inch. Except the day I put it on in Port Townsend, it was 2 inches TOO BIG. With the weight of the skirt in the back, it was pulling the waist down and gaping at the waist. We did a quick fix with a safety pin, but what happened? Maybe my waistline shrunk with all that cold? Because my feet sure did.
We did a photo shoot out at Fort Worden and the beach in Port Townsend the last day we were all there and since I didn’t get any taken of this dress during the previous evening, I wore this that day.  

As luck would have it, I didn’t even need the cape. I was warm enough in my dress, and only put the cape on to take a photo of it on me. 

I felt half naked without a hat with my friends that day but I did decide what I want to make for a headpiece for it now. I found this from a fashion print and will shortly start digging through the stash of millinery pieces I have to make something for me. Probably some kind of little capote like this to fit on top of my head.


Friday, March 30, 2018

1890s Plum Suit w/ Olive Green Vest

A few months ago, I began planning my outfit to wear to the Port Townsend Victorian Festival in Washington, where I go every March when I visit my Mom. My group of friends I go with, and participate in the fashion show, were talking about wearing 1890s this year. I had started an 1890s walking suit of a plum moirĂ© fabric that was given to me a few years ago; 10 yards of it, to be exact. It had some fading on the folds but when I looked at it near my waist and knees, it made it look Ombre, so I decided to just go with it.

I remembered a fashion print of a purple walking suit (pictured at the top of the page) that caught my eye with its contrasting olive-green blouse. I thought this would be very dramatic and the black striped trims would be fun to work with. After I cut out the skirt and sewed up the sides seams, I found an “oops”. On the backside of one panel, I hadn’t checked that the fabric extended all the way to the edge of the pattern where I cut it, and there was a chunk missing.

 So, my options were: cut out a new panel, because I had plenty of fabric left, or, sew a strip of fabric to it and cover that seam with rows of black trim around the bottom. I found a couple other photos showing this trim idea and decided not to waste any more fabric and do the trim. Except when I put the skirt on my dress form, the skirt was a lot longer than I thought, so I was able to just trim it shorter and that “oops” disappeared. But the idea of the rows of trim stayed. 

I also looked for ideas to trim the lapels and cuffs. I’ve had a dream of doing a fancy design of black soutache on a jacket or the lapels but when this needed making within 2 months, I knew this wouldn’t be the one. Besides, I wanted to have my black velvet ribbon trim around the skirt, not soutache.                                              
And I liked a belt idea with the jacket hooked at the sides, and also that pleated vest front to wear under the jacket. 

For my skirt, I used a pattern I’d made before; Truly Victorian #291 (1898 Walking Skirt). It has smooth panels in front, with a group of narrower ones in the back that are pleated into the waistband. The jacket would be Truly Victorian #496 (1896 Ripple Jacket). The “Ripple” name comes from the rippled peplum in the back. 

I made my vest from VPLL (Vintage Pattern Lending Library) #672 (1897 vest). These can be purchased on Etsy. Vest fronts were all the rage of the 1890s. The VPLL pattern had the gathered front I wanted, although I changed it to have it close in the front but it wouldn’t show with the gathers. It only goes up to a certain size so I added a few inches to the sides and with the loose fit of the front, it was pretty easy. I found my dark avocado-green cotton fabric at JoAnn’s. 

The whole time I was sewing this, I was constantly checking different sales groups, and on ebay/etsy for a one-inch wide black velvet ribbon. Lots of it, like 12 yards. It’s not easy to find, not even in the stores. Everyone has really narrow stuff. Finally, I found some 5/8” wide ones and decided that was the best I could do, and, they had 9 rolls of 2 yard rolls, with a total price of $6.50. Can’t beat that!  

I tried my jacket on and I liked the way it fit. My plans were to have it attach to my waistband partially open, with decorative buttons on either side, and this worked. *notice the little black & white kitty stalking me in the background*
Once I sewed the black cotton flatlining in the jacket, the inside of the lapels folding out showed black and for a few minutes I considered doing a solid black velvet lapel, like this one. 
But, naw, the stripes would be more fun. I finished lining those lapels with the plum fabric and pinned the rows of velvet on, then machine-sewed them along the edges. My sewing machine didn’t like that much and we argued about the loopy threads under the fabric a few times, but this was a precursor to my machine blowing out an electrical panel a couple weeks later. Guess who won that argument? Due to time restrictions, we came to a draw and backed away for a later date to re-do it properly. 

Did you notice the “wings” on my upper sleeves? That came from an idea of a dress I saw on a TV program, but the funny thing was, only her left shoulder was totally pleated with very crisp knife pleats. The right shoulder started with some pleats in the back and ended up with just a wave in the front. Can we say, ”Oops”? 

These were pretty easy to make. I cut a panel that I folded in half, and then knife pleated it, letting the outside pleat bend a bit so it would curve. I pinned it on top of my sleeve cap before I sewed my sleeves in, so it was all one piece. I saw another version of this with lace and want to try that someday too. I’m on an 1890s roll right now. Wait till you see my next post!

Jumping ahead to my blouse, as I said, I reversed the closure of the back to the front, where all the gathers were going to be. Once I finished the front placket, I gathered the neckline and bottom and basted those down. Then they were fitted into the bottom peplum that I added to give me more to tuck into my skirt, and to the neck. I was running short of time to instead of sewing a facing to the armholes, I just turned the edges under and stitched it. My plans were to do hooks and eyes or tiny buttons on the front of the blouse but had to do those once I was in WA, so to save time I sewed snaps on. You can’t see them within the folds anyway. *aka fudging*

Back to the jacket; now the sleeves are in, which like the last '90s blouse I did, have two layers of heavy netting in between the fabric and flatlining. Besides the velvet rows on the lapel, I also did two rows on the sleeves. I wanted to do a chevron-design with them but the sleeve cuff openings were so narrow, I couldn’t get my sewing machine in there to sew them. Methinks this would need to be hand-stitched for future reference.  
I also began sewing a black velvet belt that I used 2 layers of buckram inside it. But when I placed it on the skirt and pulled the jacket closed, I realized that the plan I had of two decorated buttons on the front of the jacket that would have a hook inside to connect to a bar on the skirt waistband, wasn’t going to work. I couldn’t even stitch through the buckram to hold the bars on if I wanted to. 
So Plan A didn’t work. Plan B wouldn’t work with the belt. So, Plan C was to sew a band of velvet over the top of my skirt waistband and fake a belt. Now I was able to sew some bars on it to hook the jacket to. And while digging in my stash for two large buttons, I found two black frogs that I’d found somewhere, and those became the decorative addition to it. I also decided to wear one of my antique bar pins on the neck closure. 

Chloe managed to be very helpful every time I laid anything down for just a moment. 
So now we need a hat. Looking for hat ideas and trims are fun. Find the hat base not so much. I decided to go for a fancier version of a boater, but with a flat crown, and in black straw. 

I wasn’t having much luck finding a hat base that I could alter in the short period of time I had, and we’re talking 2 weeks left before I was leaving town. Again, for speed’s sake, I bought an antique hat on Etsy that needed some loving care.

I removed the pieces of shattered black silk around the crown and found that some enterprising lady back then had cut down a taller crown to make it flat, and hand basted them together. But it was pulling apart. So, I did some hand basting on it myself to strengthen it. I did save the silk and whatever else was on the hat in case I ever need it for another hat, but it’s pretty dried out.
To also save that crown, I basted a piece of black velvet over it. At this point, I failed take anymore photos of construction since I was in “Speedy Gonzalez”-mode, but I folded a length of black tulle into two folds with a “tail” sticking up and basted those to the velvet cover. They stood up nice and straight as little soldiers, just like the '90s hats like to have. From my stash I pulled out three little purple feather pads and laid those in the front and over the crown. And finally added two silk ribbon roses to cover where things were attached or looked wonky. I bought those in the Marketplace at Costume College last year. Everything is basted on so they can be removed or moved if needed.

And finally, it was all done, 3 days before the event in Washington. My group of friends has our usual photo op on the beach after our tea at the Commander’s Beach House. My little “wings” had a life of their own and often were standing up when I wasn’t looking. And since I couldn’t reach them, I was using either my hairbrush to push them down, or whatever else I could find when out in public. 
It was a purple year for three of us.

This is part of our group of models who went to tea that day. It was quite chilly, and we even had hail earlier that morning but as usual, we were pretty comfortable. 
Now here’s something fun. I had my tintype photo taken again this year by Jason Bledsoe in Port Townsend.

The amazing thing is the camera saw some blue in my purple fabric, and read it as white, so it gave a totally different look to my dress. This is a photo of my tintype, so it’s not really great but the tintype itself was.