Thursday, December 5, 2013

Woohoo! My article goes public!

The reason I started this blog was to document the creation of my competition costume for Costume-Con 2013.
Then I decided to wait until after the competition for my tell all story.
Then I was asked to write an article on its creation for Virtual Costumer e-zine, so I put it on hold here once again.

Now you can read the whole thing!
The older versions of Virtual Costumer are available to the public when a new version comes out for the guild members. So my article is now available for your viewing pleasure.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Book reviews

Yay!! I got some new costume books in the mail!

I'm a librarian by trade, so pretty, new books make me happy.

Anyway...on one of my historical costuming lists someone asked if the Martha Pullen favorite places series of books were any good. They are at Hamilton Books for $7.95 each so I decided to take a chance on them.

Bottom line...I would have paid much more for them. They are a steal at that price!
The ones I got were these:


 I didn't get the DAR quilt collection book or the V&A children's collection books because those areas don't really interest me. Oh...and the Martha Pullen's vintage collection book is volume 1. Hamilton Books didn't have volume 2 available.

For those of you who don't know who Martha Pullen is, she is the founder and editor of "Sew Beautiful" magazine. She also has a big business in heirloom sewing and quilting supplies, sewing books, and TV sewing shows

For historical costumers, here's the run down on the books to give you an idea of whether or not you'll like them.

First of all, they are much heavier on children's clothing than most costuming books. There are between 50 and 60 items featured in each book and they are split about evenly between adult and children's/babies' clothing.

Second, since Ms. Pullen founded her business on heirloom sewing, there are a LOT of things with lace and/or embroidery.

Third, there are almost no men's clothing at all.

Fourth, most items are featured in a 2-page layout. One large, full-page photo of the item with a 1/2 to 3/4 page description that includes 1 or 2 small detail shots. There are 5 or 6 items in each book that are given a 4-page spread with more photos and detail.

Fifth, there are small drawings of some of the embroidery patterns from the items in the back of each book. The drawings can be enlarged for use in hand embroidery and re-creations of the items. There is also a mention that Ms. Pullen sells a CD with the embroidery patterns for machine embroidery.

Finally, the items featured are mostly between the late 1890s and early 1910s. I'd say at least 3/4 of the adult clothing falls in this time period. (except for the DAR museum book)

Comments and criticisms on particular books:

The Kent State Museum

I've always wanted to visit the Kent State Museum's costume collection, so I was very excited to see these books.

They have a couple of dresses from the 1820s, but most things fall into the time period that I mentioned above.

Descriptions of the items are good, sometimes giving dimensions of lace or trims, etc. They also mention things that sewers like to know, such as bodices and sleeves cut on the biases and things like that.

My only criticism is that the dates are sometimes hard to find for each item. Each description starts with a quote from a period magazine or book that relates to the featured item. The date for the quote is clearly given. But sometimes these quotes are several years off from the actual date of the items. You must read through the first paragraph of the description to get the clothing's date.

But that's a small quibble and shouldn't deter you from getting the books.

The DAR Museum

This entry in the "favorite places series" is a little more spread out time-wise and gender-wise.
There are several men's waistcoats from the 1700s and up to the 1830s.

The women's clothing is also earlier than those from the Kent State books. One item from the 1700s, 5 from 1800-1820s, 5 from 1830-1860s, 4 from 1870-1880s, and the rest from later.

The date for each featured item is found right at the top of the description. The items are separated by age and gender. All of the children's clothing is at the front, then women's clothing and then men's clothing at the back.

The descriptions in this book are a little more geared toward what was going on in society and fashion over-all than the previous books, but still have some of that construction info that we costumers love.

The Vintage Collection of Martha Pullen vol 1

Ms. Pullen collects white clothing with interesting lace and embroidery. So that's what you'll find in this book. The vast majority are white. And out of the women's clothing, only 1 item is earlier than 1900.
This book, like the others, is split evenly between adult and children's clothing.

It also has 2 pillows and 2 embroidery scraps featured in addition to the clothing.

Unlike the others, which were written by curators of the museums mentioned, this book was actually written by Ms. Pullen. Since her main interest is in sewing, the descriptions in this book are more geared toward sewers. She gives much more nitty-gritty detail about the construction than the other books in the series.

For example, here's a paragraph from the description of a woman's camisole from c.1900:
"The padded satin stitch flowers and bow design on this particular piece were worked on both fronts of the camisole and again at the center back. Hand scallops formed with a buttonhole stitch were meticulously worked all the way around the neckline, down both sides of the front, and around the armscyes. A strip of a beautiful Swiss beading, through which ribbon is run to cinch in the camisole, defines the waistline. Eyelets worked in sets of two completely around the neckline serve the same purpose; ribbon is woven through them to pull up the fullness and to tie the camisole closed at the top. The bottom was finished with a 1/4 inch wide hem secured with a running stitch. The seams are French, and the whole camisole was made entirely by hand."
The pictures aren't as interesting for me, because of the white, white and yet more white! of the items, and because of the narrow time period featured. But the construction details mentioned more than make up for that. I might have bought the second volume at full price just for that, except that it's out of print and used copies I've found are way too expensive.

All-in-all, I'm glad I bought these books. The photography quality is good, the usefulness of the descriptions varies, but is overall good as well. Definitely worth more than the $7.95 I paid for each of them.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Teslacon (part 4): and the rest...

Not gonna talk much on this one.
Just gonna show pretty pics that I took of other people.
(Mostly from Thursday before I got lazy.)

Hubby with a steampunk dalek made mostly from an old washing machine. Note the mustache

A dead barbershop quartet that was serenading in the vending room.

A lovely author named Lisa that we had a nice time talking with.

And finally, a few pics from the Masquerade Ball:

Teslacon (part 3): the male perspective

I thought I'd make a little post about my husband's costumes, even though I didn't make them.

Here's a close-up of my hubby:
Yes, he really is as ornery as he looks! ;)

His character was an airship gambler. That's the steampunk version of a riverboat gambler. So he sewed card suit charms on his hat. The side you can't see has a pair of cards stuck in the hatband that he informs me is called the "dead man's hand". He made the hatband himself (with the help of a friend) out of copper flashing and parts from an old grandfather clock.

Here's the full-length version. The pants and shirts that he wore were all hand made, and the vests and accessories were purchased to go with them.

One day he wanted to have me paint his face for the photo session. The first one went up too far on his forehead and ended up being covered by his hat. The second photo was the final design that he wore.

Teslacon (part 2)

So here are my other costumes from Teslacon. I went very heavy on the red and black because I already had pieces from my Madame Red costume and I re-used my neo-bedouin outfit.

So this is what I wore on Friday:

I wanted a kind of mad scientist/Victorian lady look. I took my Madame Red skirt and built on that. There's a band of plastic test tubes sewn around my hat (which I bought at Naka-Kon because it was the right shade of red!) The test tubes are filled with things that I scrounged from my craft room - pearls, stones, glass micro-beads, metal chains and variegated copper foiling. It got quite a few comments. :)

For the top, I wanted an old-fashioned, asymmetrical labcoat-style closure. You can't see it very well in the photo, but there is a triangular flap that snaps across the shoulder and down to the center front point. But I wanted it to fit with the Victorian bustle. I looked all over for a good pattern and found that I already had one - Truly Victorian's 1883 tail bodice pattern.

I had to re-do one of the front panels so that it had the right closure, but otherwise it was perfect!
The fit wasn't so hot because I only had a few days before the convention to get it done.

(How many other costumers are frantically sewing up to the very last second? I see you out there looking guilty!)

Because I was cutting it so close, I didn't make a mock-up.
The sleeves are much too loose as a result. I'll have to redo them. And I think I can finesse the bust area to be a little smoother, too.

It ended up being not quite as "labcoat-y" as I wanted, though. (Yes, I know that's not really a word.)
The water-soluble marker that I used to mark the center line down the front wasn't quite as soluble as advertised. I was left with a faint line down the front.

There was much screaming and gnashing of teeth when I discovered that!
Okay, maybe not so much teeth-gnashing, but there was some throwing and cursing.

I didn't have time to redo the whole thing. (Last minute, remember?)
So I grabbed a bunch of decorative braid that I had left over from a previous costume and used it in a military-style effect to cover the little (giant!) boo-boo. Then I trimmed around the wrists and around the tail.

It turned out all right, I thought. It was very eye-catching among all of the browns and muted colors that are typically used for Steampunk.

And I wore my neo-bedouin outfit on Saturday.

Not going to say much about this one since I've already talked about it in a previous post. I did wrap a different turban to go with the red and black theme this time. Added some beads and a Japanese hair ornament stuck into it, too.

This is me hamming it up for the camera, pretending to be regal and the queen of my alien planet.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013


My husband and I went to Teslacon for the first time this year. Teslacon is one of the largest steampunk conventions in the Midwest.

It was fun! But I was so lax in taking photos that I hardly have any. And most of those are from the first day. I'll put some up in a future post.


For now, I'll post pics of mine and my hubby's costumes from Thursday (Halloween, as it happens).

Here's what we were walking around in:

 And here's the professional shot (from Realtime Portrait Studios): 
My, aren't we adventurous-looking?

And here's what I wore for the Halloween masquerade ball:

Tres dramatic, no?

Friday, August 23, 2013

Kwakwaka'wakw Dress

Kwaka what?

When I first got the book The Worldwide History of Dress by Patricia Anawalt, I found a couple of pictures that really struck me as interesting. One was the black and red yelek that I talked about a few posts ago. Another was a potlach dress from the Kwakwaka'wakw tribe of the Pacific Northwest.
Here's a wikipedia article about them:

(However, as a librarian, I urge you to take anything wikipedia says with a grain of salt.)

The dress is canvas with hand-painted designs. According to the book, those are stylized wolves.
The back is the same as the front. The neck and wrist are edged with grey fox fur. (Recycled from a very old vintage coat that was given to me.) There are abalone shells around the neck. The fringe around the bottom is actually from cotton mop heads!

This is the last of my Costume Con 31 costumes that I'm going to post. I actually wore 1 more - I went as Ada Lovelace to the Friday Night Social. But I neglected to get photos. :-(

(Photo by Don Searle)

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Super-Villain Wedding

Just wanted to let you guys know the fun project that I'm currently working on....a Harley Quinn wedding dress!!!

My nephew inherited (at least on a smaller scale) my love of costume. He's getting married to a nice girl in November and they decided to have a super-villain wedding. Isn't that a fun idea? He'll be wearing his favorite Joker outfit, they asked me to make the bride and maid-of-honor's dresses.

Here's what the bride wants:
Minus the funky hat, though. :-)
It's by deathtoll1912 on

I'm adapting Butterick 5662 for the top.
I've got the outfit made up in muslin right now for fitting.
Gonna work on the bride's maid's dress tonight, then have them both over for fittings.

By the way, the maid of honor is going as Poison Ivy. :-)
I'll use the same corset top pattern in green with appliqued leaves around the edges. Her skirt will be straight, with smaller swags than the bride's dress.

I'll post pictures of both as I go along.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

The Titanic Outfit....Big Hats are the Best!

This costume is one that I made last year for the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic. The traveling Titanic exhibit was in town at the time and there was an entire weekend full of lectures and events. (Including a 10-course recreation of the last dinner!)
This is the outfit that I made to attend the exhibit and lectures. 
I used Simplicity pattern #8640 (which has since been discontinued). It's their version of Rose's blue tea gown from the movie. I made the yellow version on the left, but made a few changes to the pattern.

 For one thing, I made the tunic a little longer because it seemed a bit short to me. And I used a LOT more lace. I love my lace, you know! ;-)
I made a little matching draw-string purse to go with it, and wore it with a pair of pink gloves that I inherited from my husband's grandmother.

You can't see the shoes in these pics (taken by the supremely nice Don Searle at Costume Con 2013) , but I wore a pair of nude-colored dance character shoes with louis heels like these:
Very comfortable, although not completely historically accurate.

But my favorite part of the outfit was the very big hat!
If you want a really impressive 1910-1915 day outfit, bigger is definitely better when it comes to hats.

I found the hat at Dillards. I took off the generic white bow and added my own stuff. I started with a silver wired lace ribbon. Then pleated a pink ribbon to add at the base of that. I curled white, light pink and dark pink ostrich feathers and added them next. Then I created rosettes from the ribbons and used them to hide the base of the ostrich feathers. One last little feather glued on to the front of the rosettes completed my hat.

I've gotten a lot of use out of this outfit. I made it for the Titanic exhibit in 2012, wore it to Costume Con in May of 2013 and then wore it again to the Scott Joplin Ragtime Festival in Sedalia, MO in June 2013.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Neo-Bedouin....Did I spell that right?

So here's a costume that I kinda threw together for Costume Con.

I made the coat a few years ago just because I found a pic I liked in The Worldwide History of Dress by Patricia Anawalt. It's called a yelek, a female coat first introduced into the Syrian area around the 1830s.

I'm wearing baggy black trousers and a turquoise top which matches the coat's lining. The slits in the side of the coat let an Indian dupatta scarf peak out like a skirt. It's too bad that pics can't capture the sparkle of the scarf with its sequins and goldwork.

I've wrapped a long scarf turban-style around my head. For accessories, I just grabbed a bunch of ethnic-style jewelry that I had and topped it off with a great leather bag that I bought at Naka-Con from Crimson Chain Leatherwork.

Since I'm a face painter, I took my black face paint and went with Moroccan-style designs painted on my face to look like harquus.

So the only thing I actually made for this costume was the coat. The rest was purchased and re-purposed. But it was really fun to wear!

(Photos are by Don Searle.)

Monday, June 17, 2013

Delayed....yet again!

So I had *finally* started talking about how I made my 1775 francaise for the competition.

Unfortunately, it looks like I'm going to have to pause yet again.
It's a good reason, really!

You see, I met this couple at Costume-Con in the historical masquerade. The gentleman was dressed in a VERY good late 18th century suit so we took a few pics together. The lady was the one that created the incredibly detailed (and hand-embroidered) outfit. They were so nice!

It turns out that he is the editor of the Virtual Costumer - the quarterly online costume magazine put out by the Silicon Web chapter of the International Costumers Guild. I love that magazine and have all the back issues saved on my ipad.

He has since informed me that the August issue is focusing on Regency and Georgian periods. And he asked me to write an article about how I put together my francaise!!
Fangirl squeal!

So I'll be putting those particular blog posts on hold until after the issue comes out, naturally.

In the meantime, I think I'll start posting pics of the other costumes that I wore to Costume-Con this year.

Here's a couple of sneak peeks:

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Engageantes? What are those?

I started backwards on the dress…

I didn’t jump in to the dress construction right away.  I started with the accessories. Huh?

“Why?” you may ask.

Well, thank you for asking.

I was kind of putting off doing the stays, which intimidated me. And I couldn’t do the dress until I made the stays.

So I started with the accessories.

First up:
Engageantes (or sleeve ruffles)

(Close up of a painting from the MET)

These sleeve ruffles were made of lace like this one from the MET:

or fine embroidered cotton like these from LACMA:

They were basted to the end of the sleeve and were removed for cleaning or switching to a new dress.

They are cut in a wavy pattern and the ends are stitched together. Then the top is gathered and basted to the end of the sleeve. The skinny part fits in the crook of the elbow. The long part hangs down in the back.

Most of the ones that I’ve seen on the museum web sites appear to be around 39-44” long and around 8-9 inches wide at the widest part. By the 1770s they had multiple layers, 2 or 3. I decided to make mine with 2 layers. A 9” wide one and a smaller one about 6-7” wide. 

I thought about getting a pre-embroidered cotton and making the ruffles out of that. But I *really* wanted lace. Such beautiful silk taffeta deserves it, but I figured that I’d never find a good enough lace for a price I could afford. The lace had to be at least 9” wide. And it had to be soft and drapey. Most lace today is stiff and scratchy. And I needed about 4-5 yards.

Then I decided to try searching for cotton lace on etsy and I found this:


Looks soft enough to gather.
Seller says it’s soft. Seller says it’s cotton (probably with a synthetic background, though). The pattern is a little heavier than most 18th century examples I’ve seen, but not outrageously so. I honestly know next to nothing about lace, but it looks good to me.

And it was only $12 for 2.5 yards.

So I took a chance and ordered 5 yards.

I waited for the shipping from China, tracking it all the way.

Then it finally came!

Wait…”that package is too small for that much lace” was my first thought.
But it wasn’t. The lace was just THAT soft and drapey that it was folded up into a very small envelope.

You just can’t believe how soft and flowy this stuff is!

Here's what it looked like finished.

The lace may not be exactly period, but aren’t they yummy?

The Fabulous Fabric

Okay, now that Costume Con is over, I can start posting all of the entries that I wrote way back when I started this blog. You remember --- that's why I started this whole thing?

When I talked about it, I put up the intro and talked about the pattern (which I ended up not using actually).
Now on to the things I wrote back then:

Got the fabric! Yay!!!!!

Beautiful, smooth, shiny, crisp ….
So many adjectives, so little time.

The color isn’t as peach as the picture appeared on the web site. It’s more of a beautiful cross between peach and baby pink. “Pinch” or “Peak”, maybe? (grin)

And it’s nice and tightly woven, too. Just like a good taffeta should be. No raveling at the ends at all. I showed it to some costumers here and one of them said that it looked almost plastic because it was so smooth and reflective. No slubs on this silk!

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

The Hips Don't Lie

So I'm finally able to get back to where I started with this blog - my competition costume for Costume-Con 31! I started to blog about the whole process, but then thought that I shouldn't reveal everything before the convention.

Now the convention is over, so here it is:

It's all hand-sewn using period techniques. I won best workmanship for the Journeyman category and an honorable mention for my documentation. Nothing for presentation, though. Phooey! (pout)
I guess I know what I have to work on now, huh? Although I did get a couple of really big laughs. I came out and started dancing to harpsichord music. After about 30 seconds, disco lights started flashing and Shakira's "Hips Don't Lie" started playing & I boogied down. :-)

That's where the title of this post came from - it was the name of my entry in the competition.
I thought it was appropriate given the hoops. There were 2 other women in the competition with even bigger panniers, though.  Mme de Pompadour's gown was more elegant and Marie Antoinette's was more over-the-top, but I think my dress was prettier. (I even did the "pretty, pretty princess" dance the first time I put it on.)

And, hey.... check out the hair!!!:

 It took about 45 minutes to get my hair up in that style. Another lady in the competition (the Marie Antoinette) had a similar style. Hers was a wig, but it was even taller than mine! I was limited by the length of my hair, but I honestly don't think that I could have gotten it any higher by myself. I could have had longer hair, but my arms couldn't have reached any further. (grin)

Over the next several blog posts I'm going to detail the whole process of the costume from start to finish, so I'll talk more about how I did the hair later.

(BTW, the convention had a great photographer so I got a lot of good professional shots of most of the costumes that I took. Check him out at

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Sweet Lolita, or Anime Convention day III

On the third day of the convention, I did a green and white sweet lolita style.
Sweet lolita is the most popular and well-known of the lolita styles.
Think Madame Alexander doll dresses on real girls.

Sweet, young, lacy and pretty.

I didn’t need a pattern for the skirt. A simple circle skirt would do. But what about a top?
I looked through my stash of patterns and found this one from Simplicity - 

I used a pretty mint green & white cotton to make the version shown in blue above.

I had some various white cottons at home, so I cut out a circle skirt the length of the petticoat I had purchased on line. I found some fabric made of alternating strips of lace and eyelet, so I made an under layer around the bottom. Then I pinned the top layer up in swags, sewed them in place and trimmed the whole thing with a green ribbon to match the sleeve bows.

Then I made an Alice bow out of the mint green fabric, some lace and the emerald green ribbon. Sewed it to a headband & voila!

Oh, I also wore my early 18th century reproduction shoes (the style is called "Pompadour") from American Duchess. They are painted green and white.

And I didn’t even remember until a few days before that it would be St. Patrick’s Day when I was planning on wearing it. Happy accident with the colors!
Sorry there’s no professional shots of this one. The photographer wasn’t there the day I wore it.

 I got professional photos! I wore the outfit to Costume Con 31 this weekend and was able to get pics. (From FantaScenes Photography...great guys!)