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.

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Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2013 Costumes in Review

I just looked at my previous plans in January for 2013 dresses, and see I only made one of them. On the other hand, I made some others not originally planned on. So the “Best Laid Plans” don’t actually work in my sewing room I guess. And since many of our costume guild’s events are spur of the moment, you never know when something will come up. So maybe after reading this you’ll understand why I try to have so many different eras in my closet.
I went to fifteen costume events this year; some of them were three weekends in a row. And five of them were fashion shows. I especially liked them because I get to wear some of my dresses multiple times. Sometimes I even get to pick out my favorite ones to wear. And sometimes I make new ones just for the fashion shows. That was a lot of events I went to for one year, even for me.

January started out quiet, just how I like it, and I was able to work on some new outfits. In February I dragged my hand crank sewing machine out and attended the Vista Civil War reenactment at Mrs. Cressman’s Dressmakers tent.

In February I wore a new 1886 black mourning gown that I specifically made for the Riverside Dickens fashion show where I presented my half of the show, “One Hundred Years of Mourning Fashion”. This show turned out to be truly a high point for my year, especially in working with all 9-12 ladies who each made their own gown for the time period they picked. We repeated it again, adding and subtracting a couple ladies, at Costume College the following August. I can’t repeat enough how grateful I was to all the ladies involved, and their hard work to make it such a success. And now I’m keeping my ears open for another chance to wear my gown, and maybe get the band back together again.

This also made me open to the idea of making a couple other years of mourning dresses, specifically 1830s, 1905 and 1910. I may keep going and end up with a whole closet of different era mourning gowns, which, by adding some white or trims to it, could also be fashionable little black dresses.
In March I flew up to Washington to visit family and was again in the fashion show at the Victorian Festival in Port Townsend. I was joined by some of my friends from SITU, the Seattle-based costume guild, who have now started being in the fashion show too.
It was kind of chilly for it but I wore my 1905 Pink Floral gown, and my Red and Black Checked 1872 bustle gown. Later I wore that around town since it was warmer. 

In April I was asked to be in a fashion show at the Heritage Square Museum in Los Angeles and wear my Bloomer gown. It was a lot of fun but I never got any photos taken of me. I did take some of the other ladies and gents in it. 

The next day our costume guild held an English Authors Picnic in Balboa Park where we all dressed as characters or authors from English books. The costumes that came out of this were amazing and you could really see the talents of so many people. I wore my first 1830s lavender floral gown as Miss Matty from Cranford. Someone from the San Diego Public Library saw us and asked if we could repeat our costumes at the grand opening of the new Central San Diego Library and we gave a resounding YES!



I made a new gown specifically for the Gaslight Gathering Steampunk & Victoriana fashion show in May. The theme was Ladies Arts & Leisure Activities. It was my first foray into the Natural Form dress era of 1878, where I portrayed a lady photographer of the time period. I also wore my 1905 Pink Floral gown again as a seamstress. Afterwards I walked around in my Black & White Polka Dot polonaise.

















In June our guild was invited to be part of the grand opening of the Warner Carrillo Rancho museum in Warner Springs where it got to 112d! As much as I love being part of any museum event, that one was a killer! Most of us wore lighter weight cotton gowns. I wore my Black & White Polka Dot 1873 gown & it has been one of my favorites this year. Later we drove into Julian just so we could cool off there.

The following July I was asked if I would model my Bloomer gown in Old Town San Diego where the fashion show would be a timeline of women’s clothing. They wanted to show what some women wore when they came to California, and my Bloomer was a great addition. I was happily surprised when I found out they had one young lady wearing the same dress but before it was converted to Bloomers. 

At the same time I was trying to get ready for Costume College on August 1, and had two dresses I wanted to make for it, besides the above mentioned mourning gown. I made an 1890s Seaside gown that I really really like, especially the cute little boater hat I trimmed. On the other hand I was disappointed in my 1905 Lavender Silk Voile dress when I tried cutting out the neckline to put a lace insert with lavender velvet ribbon on it. It made the shoulder and neckline totally wonky and just didn’t look very good on me. Happily I have more of that fabric, and when I have time, I’ll make the bodice again. I also found that the lavender didn’t show well in photos and actually looked olive green most of the time. So any trims added to it, and the belt, will be a darker purple.


I had to take the rest of the month off from events as I was getting burned out from the last couple months. In place of that I hosted one of Shelley Peters’ Sewing Workshops so I could get some help finishing up a 1911 corset I had started. I haven’t had a chance to wear it with anything yet, but I’m ready! 

At the end of September we reprised our English authors and characters at the Central San Diego Library grand opening. There were so many of us that it looked like the books had all come alive.
So now I had a bit of a break and went back up to Washington to visit family again. But then I was asked by SITU since I was going to be up there, could I be on a panel with their guild to explain and discuss the benefits of coming to Costume College? The easiest costume to pack for this was my 1890s Seaside gown. It was kind of cold to be wearing it but we were indoors most of the time. I may be wearing this next March for the Port Townsend fashion show if I go again.
 After my having a month’s break our guild was invited to join in the grand opening of an 1883 schoolhouse museum in Encinitas and were asked to dress in the time period. It was a cute little one room schoolhouse and perfect for photos too. We even made it in the newspaper there! 


On the 2nd day of November our guild again led the Dia de los Muertos Candlelight Procession in Old Town San Diego and I made a new mourning gown specifically for this. It’s still warm this time of year for us and I needed something other than taffeta, and not so bulky. I made a simple black embroidered cotton 1873 polonaise and Cindy’s daughter, Amy, painted my face for me this year. And I added a colorful floral headpiece to my outfit. I know this is going to become my go-to mourning outfit for other events.

The weekend right after that was our guild’s 18th Century Picnic in Balboa Park. Again our weather was beautiful and warm, and we couldn’t have had a better location.

And then the following weekend was our Costume Walkabout at the Del Mar Antique Show, one of my favorites. The theme was Dandies & Divas, and was totally open to our interpretation. I didn’t wear anything new but this was only the third time I've worn my 1795 Empire Open Robe.

Oh, and that was another one of those three-events-in-a-row months.
December started out really busy the first week. A couple of us reprised our costume fun being in the El Cajon Parade of Lights, where we rode on the fire engine with Santa during the parade. I planned on wearing my Red & Black Checked gown for as many events as I could.


 A few days later I joined some of my friends who went to the holiday open house at Heritage House in Riverside. 


And finally, our showstopper: the last event of the year- our costume guild’s annual holiday dinner. But there was no slacking off for me when Cindy challenged me to make matching plaid gowns for it. As of today I almost have the rest of the trimmings added to it but am able to take my time now since it won’t be needed for awhile.
So, the total of new costumes for this year was five, along with one corset. Not bad.

And here I end my year and as soon as I click on Publish this blog I will be walking to another room, lay out my cutting board on the bed and start cutting my next projects, two 1830s dresses, with one being a mourning gown. The third one was already in progress being sewn, and these will be done on my “Assembly Line Method”.

Happy New Year from Chloe and me!       I think I’ve worn her out too. 

Friday, December 27, 2013

Final Days of December

Obviously the holidays have been my focus for the last month but I did do a bit of hand sewing in the evenings while watching some TV. I've been adding the last bit of trim to my Christmas Tartan dress that didn't get added in time. The black braid is being tacked onto the bottom edge of my bodice and along the front of my apron, all of which had the pale green beads already sewn on.
Yesterday while taking a break and stirring up some conversations on my Costume Pattern Review group on Facebook, I asked others if they got any patterns for Xmas or which ones did they want to buy, and then what projects did they have coming up. So it made me think about my plans are. Of course my mind first goes to pretty things. At the end of February is the annual Dickens Festival in Riverside (CA) and what I make, or made previously, usually gets worn in the fashion show. Two months ago I started an 1830s dress using Truly Victorian's pattern. 
The muslin from the pattern was already fitted to me, and I sewed part of the cotton bodice in a workshop. I couldn't decide which fabric I wanted to make first so I cut out both that I had. *Remember my "Assembly Line Method?*  After playing with the fabric a bit, the blue and cranberry wanted to be done first. I call it the Cranberry Floral since the cranberry is the color that draws me the most. It was purchased at Rosie’s Calico Cupboard in San Diego from their sale table. Rosie has a room full of historical fabrics that I can’t resist shopping in. The other was from Michael Levine’s in the Garment District. 
I have a couple antique belt buckles and belt buckle brooches I bought specifically for using on the belts for these gowns since I like doing my gowns in the later '30s style of collapsed sleeves and a belt at the waist. I'm going to try a solid color belt on them this time instead of the matching fabric. 

And then after seeing a fancy version in a fashion plate, my brain started going ding ding ding! That red one was just screaming at me to make it, little bows and lacy cuffs and all! 

 I decided against a red fabric but found a picture of a nice deep burgundy that would look good on me. After a trip to the Garment District was cancelled, I put it on hold since I needed to finish my Christmas Tartan dress. But yesterday my brain was able to relax and start thinking again and came back to that. I decided to check my stash first this time and pulled out a couple rolls of silk taffetas (some being the faux silk taffeta) and mulled over a jade green, a rust color, a dusty rose, a persimmon color (that actually had been picked out for me at Fabrics & Fabrics by friend Lynne), and a powdery blue. I'm finding at my age a darker color suits me better. So the Persimmon was born.
I think it will contrast very nicely with the white lace collar and cuffs. And I get the fun of making all those bows! *If you go back and look at the Truly Victorian pattern photo, I just noticed the bow it has on the back waistband. Squee!*
I will be wearing the cotton version most of the time and my Persimmon gown will be the show stopper at the fashion show. I'm thinking possibly the antique belt buckle I bought recently at the Paris flea market might go nicely with this gown. 

By the way, do you name your gowns? I started doing that a few years ago and it makes it easier for me to remember them rather than that green colored 1880 bustle.

Since this is Dickens Festival maybe a nice cap like this from David Copperfield will be cute with my Cranberry Floral since I'm portraying Betsey Trotwood.
But for the Persimmon, I HAVE to figure out how to make that turban on the fashion plate! It kind of looks like two rectangles of fabrics, narrower on the ends, pleated then turned over a framework. At first I thought to ask help in either making it or buying one but the more I look at it, the more it looks possible to make myself. I'll just have to come up with eye-popping colors to contrast withe the persimmon color.
And that reminds me; I need to do a costume review of 2013 to see what all I got done this year. I guess this isn't my last post of the year.
--Val