Original origins

Today we find ourselves concluding Day 5 of #CoBloWriMo and the prompt is Origin Story. Well, for better or worse, everyone was given a rather hefty dose of my beginnings in my Intro post earlier this week. Still haven’t had enough, you say? Well, here’s a tad more…

I had a unique sense of fashion starting at a young age. And an early (and still ongoing) obsession with hats… We were living in San Jose when this was taken – I often wonder what would have happened if I’d grown up as a California girl. This picture makes me a bit glad I didn’t!

What feels like a long time ago, in a town not so far, I learned to sew. Hardly shocking, but my interest in sewing, and learning to sew, has always been driven in part by wanting to make historical costumes. Admittedly, I love just about all types of costume (maybe except the dripping in fake-gore kind) but I have always been drawn to historical clothing – Victorian bustles, Civil War era hoop skirts, Colonial powdered wigs, Titanic era hats, corsets of all types and as many different types of petticoats as you can cram in a steamer trunk.

I tried my hand at acting in grade school and middle school and the ‘dress like a character‘ assignments were always my favorite type of book reports. When I got to high school, the directors for the Drama Club shows weren’t particularly encouraging towards my acting ability or singing voice so I took the hint and figured out the next best way to wear the pretty clothing was to be part of the costume design team that was making it!

My dressmaking classes started at the same time I joined the Drama Club (Coincidence? I think not.) When I was done learning the basics, I quickly progressed to working on costumes for shows in my free time and making semi-formal and prom dresses during class time. Apparently shiny fabrics have also always held some allure! Musicals I worked on included Damn Yankees, Bells are Ringing, and an itty-bit of costuming for The King and I. There were also a number of non-musical dramas and comedies, but as I wasn’t a cast member and they were done on a high school budget in the early 1990s… I couldn’t tell you the name of a single one! I did have a passable alto voice (or at least enough to show up to class and get a passing grade) as a member of our newly created Show Choir. (This was way before the tv show Glee made that stuff cool.) Despite some really terrible (but fun-to-sew and typical of the time) costumes, I still love to sing and I’m pretty sure I’ll never be able to unlearn Under the Sea from The Little Mermaid as a result of all those rehearsals.

It was also about this same time that I discovered the Newport Mansions after a day trip with some girl friends and started to imagine wearing historical costumes away from any curtained stage. And for resources, having a theatrical shop in the center of my hometown didn’t hurt either and I still have two of my high-school era purchases:

Cover of book: Patterns for Theatrical Costumes by Katherine Strand Holkeboer 1890s ballgown pattern

Katherine Strand Holkeboer’s book, Patterns for Theatrical Costumes, got lots of use over the past 25+ years although not quite as much in recent days. On the other hand, the Old World Enterprise’s 1890’s Ballgown pattern is still uncut in its envelope and I still believe someday it will be made up into the amazing dream gown I dreamed of as wistfully-romantic and costume-dreaming sixteen year old. Is two and half decades too long to wait? I think not… perhaps 2017 is the magic year!


Introductions… and a bit of back story!

So here we are on the official Day 1 of CoBloWriMo and today’s prompt is Introduce Yourself. Well… I’m not sure I could fit that into a single post, after all, isn’t that the whole point of writing all month long? (And then hopefully beyond then!) But in keeping with the spirit of the group, here’s a wee bit about me.

If we step inside the way-back machine… and take a trip all the way to the few months before the 1990s began, you’d find a younger me busily learning to sew in my Clothing I class at my high school. Yep, I’m one of those rare but lucky few who attended full dressmaking and tailoring classes as electives while attending a public school. And if that wasn’t enough to cement my love of sewing, my teacher, the lovely Mrs. C. was also the advisor for the AFS Club (which ALL the cool kids were in – LOL!) and it was with that same AFS club that I first traveled to Colonial Williamsburg. Now I had always loved historical costumes and had done my fair share of dressing up when younger, but it was that visit to Virginia that really pushed things over the top.

Can you guess where I spent the majority of my visit? (Aside from The Cheese Shop, of course.) Yes, indeed… the Milliner’s Shop. How predictable, right? I apparently was too enthralled to take too many pictures, except this gem… don’t you just love my misspelled but clearly enthusiastic caption?

While not surprising that I loved this shop in 1991, what is so impressive is how much research has been and continues to be done by their amazing staff over the many years it’s been open. The Milliner’s Shop still inspires and enthralls historical costume enthusiasts!! (And probably many other high schoolers on summer field trips, too!)

Fortunately, there are no pictures of me wearing the fabulous pink cotton elasticized mob-cap that I purchased at Yorktown during the same trip. Yep. Times have changed my friends…

Fast forward a few years, and you’d find me making costumes to wear while larp-ing at NERO events. And no, I’m not the least bit embarrassed to admit it! (They’re now big enough to have a Wikipedia page – who knew?) To be fair I did prefer dressing as a pretty princess (or rather as one of the princess’ handmaids) to looking all crazy like a giant praying mantis creature. As I look back at my costuming and sewing experiences… this one cracks me up the most – it was silly crazy fun for weekends at a time and definitely led me down the path of immersive costume events. It just turns out I like actual history better than pseudo-medieval fantasy! But sorry… no photo evidence ;o)

By 1999, I had worked for a small costume shop, spent countless hours trying to recreate historical garments (some better than others) for events and outings with friends, switched from LARPing to SCA, started to collect some original historical clothing, amassed a respectable costume library, had a few opportunities to study clothing in museums, and last but not least, joined a RevWar reenacting group. I’m pretty sure it’s been nothing but a slippery slope since then!

My newly tasseled peacock silk parasol in all its glory along the Newport coast.

Not to gloss over the past 18 or so years, but it’s truly been a lot more of the same over these last two decades. I’ve been fortunate to work in history museums as a staff member and as independent costume consultant, my library and clothing collection has only grown larger, and although I no longer do much reenacting, I have expanded my wardrobe (and knowledge) to eras beyond the 1770s. These days I spend most of my time teaching sewing, both modern dressmaking and historical costume. It also seems I’ve gone a bit back to my roots, as ‘pretty princess’ seems to be my favorite type of event to plan, sew, and dress for – whatever the century! There’s always a tiara within reach just in case….

So here we are, back in 2017… and with a quick follow-up to yesterday’s post. I really am all about tassels lately and after having so much fun with my parasol at last month’s event, you can be sure they’ll be making regular appearances in my repertoire going forward.

Stay tuned for further sewing shenanigans, past and present. This little trip down memory lane has reminded me of all sorts of fun projects I’ve done or want to start that I can’t wait to share!




Raindrops on roses

Remind you of a song? Well, with the witching hour approaching and being a bit tired, I’m putting aside my planned costume-specific post to take up today’s CoBloWriMo prompt: 5 things that make you happy. So here’s a few quick thoughts on some of my favorite things!


Handsewn eyelets… yep, you read that right! There’s something therapeutic about creating those little circles in a layer (or four) of fabric without breaking any of the woven threads. This example is from an 18th century stays tutorial. Seeing it again almost makes me want to start a new pair of stays. Almost…


Antique & Vintage Costume Books… oh, the hours I can spend poring over their contents and drooling over the illustrations! This yummy example is in my private collection and is a Ladies’ Tailoring sample & sales book from 1909-1910. The fabric swatches are amazing and the designs are super details. Fabulous for eyeing and touching! I’ve been fortunate to come across a few books and magazines from as early as the 1890s to add to my shelves and also have many more digital or repro copies, thanks to Google Books & Ebay. One of my go-to e-books is a 1911 dressmaking guide by Carrie Crane Ingalls. Yes, the first name caught my attention at first but after making many petticoats, underclothes and skirts from her instructions, she won me over with her attention to detail and thorough explanations.


Costume Lovin’ Friends… because of course pretty clothing is best enjoyed in company! Yes, researching, planning, stitching, and wearing a new costume is a wonderful journey and one that I love to be part of but it’s always more fun to grab some friends for an afternoon of shenanigans in costume. Better yet if there’s a road trip and a great meal involved. And while photos always help capture the moment (and would add some extra imagery here) many of my favorite memories were created without a camera in sight and I’m so thankful to have a great group of costuming friends to play with! (Although to be fair, this particular photo is helpful in reminding me to shorten my petticoat 😜)


Sterling silver thimbles… and other old-fashioned sewing tools – I just can’t get enough! They just make me happy to see them on my finger, on a shelf in an antique shop, in my work basket, and yes, even pretty photos on Pinterest. I truly enjoy hand sewing and while costuming full-time several years ago I was often stitching 8+ hours each day. I mastered the art of using a thimble (or at least remembering to use one) and have been partial to sterling thimbles since then. The soft metal warms and better molds to my finger with each wearing… so much so that I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve found myself walking around the house (or out running errands!) with a thimble still stuck on my finger hours after I’ve stopped sewing!

And last but not least:


A cup of Earl Grey tea… yum! Need I say more?

So while raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens are also wonderful, these are a few of MY favorite things!

Back on the (blogging) bandwagon

Isn’t it funny how a small coincidence can have a big impact? After not being particularly active or following the Historical Sew Monthly very closely on facebook, I was in binge reading mode when I saw the following post:

facebook post suggesting idea of coblowrimo

What? An excuse to get back to writing? An excuse to write about costumes? An excuse to meet other like-minded sewists? Yes, please and thank you!

So, here we are on the very eve of day one of CoBloWriMo, or rather a moment into it, and I actually have some plans in place to carry me through at least the next week of writing. Please stay tuned dear readers… it may be a bumpy ride, but at least we’re headed in a forward direction! The next few posts will see me catching up on details from some 2015 and early 2016 completed projects but I’m also hoping to finally get some patterns drafted for sharing, too. Fingers crossed that this motivation continues ;o)

In the meantime, here’s a few sneak peeks of some favorite finished pieces… with details to follow of the related shenanigans in the coming days!

Paper Roses & Other Pretties

It’s been great fun to pull some of my antique clothing collection out and take a closer look lately. I can’t believe I’ve been collecting for 10+ years and that I’ve actually managed to amass a few nice things during that time.  My 1790s bonnet has been particularly fun to discuss and study and it reminds me that I’ve spent time hunting for sources of paper & cloth roses in the past. (You know… for when I get around to reproducing it!)

Here’s a closeup of the bonnet’s original roses:


While hunting through old notes it seems that any suppliers I once found have since ceased to exist. So of course that led to a whole new round of searches for paper, cloth, and velvet flowers.

My current favorite for duplicating the paper roses are the 1 1/4″ mulberry paper roses from Wild Orchid Crafts. While not an exact match they have the right amount of petals and curved petals detail.

For the lavender velvet forget-me-nots, I’m leaning towards the navy velvet bunches from Doll Artist’s Workshop. The diameter and velvety-ness is great but I haven’t found a good color match and there’s an extra petal. I’m tempted to try ordering one of creamier colors to see if they’d take to being hand colored. Vintage (via etsy or the like) is probably the better way to go and a quick search brought up a few viable options.

The cloth roses, which are probably linen, have been the most troublesome to find a reproduction source for. Based on what little I know about milinery roses – it’s likely that punches similar to those used for the paper flowers were used on sized linen.

I’m liking this YouTube video as rose-making tutorial:

It has a rather clever technique using a basic cookie cutter shape for the template. I’m now wondering if some of the heavy-duty scrapbooking punches would work if the linen was lightweight enough… And of course if it had been spray starched to within an inch of its life! Hmm… Some fabric rose crafting is in my future I think!

Cameras, costumes, and craziness, oh my!

It’s approaching midnight once again but as I write tonight, I’m in picturesque Frazer, PA for the 2nd Dress University conference. The conference ended with a wonderful Tiaras & Jampagne Party a few short hours ago and now I’m enjoying a few minutes to reflect on all I’ve learned and seen since Friday evening. Oh… and also putting my feet up and enjoying not wearing uncomfortable period shoes for a change!

One of the amusing (and ironic) things for me this time is that I didn’t wear a single new costume all weekend. All that sewing I had done on the elizabethan/tudor smock & coif… no showing yet! I decided that the kirtle needed some more work so those lovely new linen items stayed packed away. Instead I spent time in 1770’s dress, regency dress, 1825-ish dress and 1840-ish dress… none of which I’m particularly drawn to but I just happened to have plenty to wear!


A bit bedraggled by the end of the day – but still a fun dress to wear. 1825-ish cotton/silk blend gown based on an extant example at the Andover (MA) Historical Society

Not surprisingly, what was much more fun was seeing what everyone else was wearing… and that of course resulted in some serious costume envy! Seeing all the amazing bustle dresses reminded me that yes, I really do need to try some 1870s & 1880s fun very soon. And B.C.’s parasol class… stunning! Never mind the vintage lovelies that she was wearing – all those parasols were also drool worthy – and her tutorial for recovering them was so easy to follow that I can’t wait to get started.

One of the last sessions today had G.S. & M.D. presenting some costume-shot related camera tutorials and I doubt I’m alone in saying that some of the tips and techniques are mind-blowing and easy-to-do all at the same time.  I often borrow my dad’s Canon Rebel XSi and sitting in on the presentation today made me much more comfortable with the camera. It even prompted me to find a quick video spelling out which buttons are which on my particular model:

I admit I need to practice more (a lot more!) but it was fun taking the camera off ‘auto’ and trying some different settings even if it was just an hour or two of afternoon wanderings and then again at the party.

The clock keeps rushing to twelve and I’m in need of some sleep so this mantua maker won’t be staying up much past midnight tonight! Thanks to V.A. for organizing the conference and the Shenanigan Society Ladies for a great time once again. Look forward to more merriment in the coming month…

A picture worth 1000 words


Not sure which is mote out of place - shoes, chicken, or linen shirt?

Then again…. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder! Yesterday was a gorgeous sunny day and I spent the early evening sewing an 1820’s shirt while sitting on the patio. And yes, that is a chicken sitting beside me.

I’ve always had house cats and while cats are notorious for wanting to lay in the middle of sewing projects, fabric and patterns… I’ve never personally had cats that did any of those things. The tagline for my business was even “at the sign of the two cats” because my two girls were sweet and always around but never in the middle of things.

Enter the chickens. Yes, we have a lap chicken…. That’s Tomasina, our black Minorca hen, sleeping on the chair next to me. She tried to climb into the midst of the white linen shirt but I was having no part of that! I’m not sure what we did to end up with a pet chicken that needs to be in the middle of what we’re working on… but it certainly makes for some interesting photo ops!

Oh, and the shirt did get finished. but only after the chickens were put back in their coop and I moved the sewing indoors!

A new page… from an old book!

It’s midnight… or a bit past, and that’s a good a time as any to get this started! I’m working backward through my costuming projects to get dress diaries and the like back up online. With any luck, some new projects will be forthcoming as well. Let’s see where this endeavor leads, shall we?