CoBloWriMo Day 8: Vocabulary

My day job is in education which, like many professions, is rife with acronyms.  Boy, do we ever love our acronyms.  From CCSS, to IEPs, to NCLB, our jargon is not very outsider friendly and newcomers have a steep learning curve that they are expected to master rather quickly. There are even acronyms that have passed out of use that some of us who’ve been doing this for a while are still familiar with (SDAIE) and others that are specific to only certain schools (JMMS).

Historical costumers, or just costumers in general, seem to have been cut from the same cloth.  You might hear friends talking about being wiped out after attending CoCo2018, but they are already making plans for attending CC36.  They have a whole pile of UFOs they need to work on at home, but the DH needs a button sewn on his pants.  You’ll also hear a LOT of us talk about the affliction of CADD, which seems to affect costumers from everything from the SCA to the ICG and beyond.

Feel free to add your costuming acronyms to the comments below!


CoCo(year): Costume College–an educational conference held the last weekend in July in Woodland Hills, CA.

CC(number): Costume Con–a convention focused on both historical and scifi/fantasy costuming.  Changes location every year, but usually held in May.

UFO: UnFinished Object

DH: Darling Husband

CADD: Costume Attention Deficit Disorder (not intended to demean or offend anyone who actually has to deal with ADD or ADHD) refers to the seeming inability of costumers to focus on one project at a time.

SCA: Society for Creative Anachronism

ICG: International Costumers Guild


And, just in case you are curious about the teacher acronyms…

CCSS: Common Core State Standards

IEP: Individualized Education Plan (for students with special learning needs)

NCLB: No Child Left Behind Act, which was replaced with Every Student Succeeds Act.

SDAIE: Specially Designed Academic Instruction in English (these strategies are still incredibly important, but they are not being addressed in staff development as SDAIE–we now tend to discuss them in terms of designated/integrated ELD instructional strategies)

JMMS: The acronym used for the name of the school at which I currently teach.

CoBloWriMo Day 7: Made for Someone Else

My ideal post for this topic would be absolutely blank.  But you know that’s NEVER how it goes.  As soon as people discover you sew, they start asking, and it takes more willpower than I had as a young 20-something to say no.

So, yeah, I’ve had my share of prom dresses, sun dresses, wedding dresses, but even the ones that I really wanted to want to make, I did with at least a twinge of resentment.

I don’t mean to be mean, but sewing is my hobby.  I do it for fun.  I have a more than full time day job.  When I come home and can manage to put work aside, I really want to be sewing something for me.

Then I had kids.  Talk about having your world turned upside down…on purpose.

So, pretty much the only people I now sew for (much stronger willpower and absolutely no problem being seen as a witch) are my now four-year-old twins.  Because, yeah, they are stinking adorable, especially done up in historical digs, and they are too young, so far, to tell me they don’t want to wear this stuff.  Eventually, I’ll have to draw a line, or they will, and there will only be new costumes for them if they are at least willing to help with the construction, but for now I’m kind of getting a kick out of making historical garments in miniature.


CoBloWriMo Day 6: Book Recommendation

I can’t.  I really just can’t.  You can’t seriously expect an English teacher who is also a costumer to recommend just ONE book.  Ain’t gonna happen.  I will, however, limit myself to the books that I pick up most frequently.

Most of my costuming library.

  1. The Cut of Women’s Clothes by Norah Waugh: This is one of the few books that I got really early on that I still refer to very frequently.  I like that not only is it a sort of overview of fashion over the ages, but that you get to see what the actual pattern pieces look like–how they were shaped and where seams were placed.
  2. Costume in Detail by Nancy Bradfield: This is the other book that I got when I first started that I still constantly turn to.  How wide were the skirts? What shape were the bonnets? Where were the closures?  So many questions can be answered in those sketches.
  3. Corsets and Crinolines by Norah Waugh: Another great resource for determining shape and seamlines.  Incredibly helpful on boning placement as well.
  4. All of the Janet Arnold books as well as the Jean Hunnisette books.  I purchased all of these right around the same time.  Even when I’m not using them for the patterns themselves, I refer to them while working in order to double check shape and seam placement.
  5. Seventeenth-Century Dress Patterns, edited by Susan North and Jenny Tiramani: This book series seriously raises the bar for costuming resources.  Not only do you get beautiful, up-close photos of extant garments, but you also get a step-by-step breakdown of how the garment was constructed.  This was incredibly helpful when I was working on my recent 1660’s gown.
  6. Costume Close-Up: Clothing Construction and Pattern 1750-1790 by Linda Baumgarten and John Watson with Florine Carr: This one sat on my shelf for a long time before I was ready to really jump into historically accurate construction for 18th century.  During my last 18th century project, the book lived on my sewing table.

You’ll notice that all of my recommendations pretty much focus on books that contain patterns and are intended to help you with properly constructing a garment for a particular era.  I have MANY other books that I also go to for inspiration, but so much of that sort of thing is also available online nowadays that I don’t think they are absolutely essential pieces in my library, though I do still love browsing through them when I’m looking to start a new project.

A few more costume books as well as my crochet and knitting library.

CoBloWriMo Day 5: Origin Story

Eek, I’m only on day five and already falling behind, so I’ll try to keep this short and sweet.

I first learned very basic hand sewing when I was a child.  It was my mother’s strategy to keep me busy while she sewed.  By the time I was nine, I was sewing basic projects on her Viking sewing machine that had two different speeds so that I could plod away on the slow setting.

A dress my mother made for me (circa 1980, I think).

I continued sewing throughout my adolescence and even brought my little Kenmore to college with me one year.  I was still just making the odd dress or skirt now and then.  Nothing too complicated, and I still didn’t even know there was such a thing as historical costuming.

It wasn’t until my first year teaching, the 1999-2000 school year, that I stumbled upon a whole new (to me) world through the pages of the Simplicity pattern catalog.  I spotted their costume version of an Irish Renaissance dress (you probably know the one I’m talking about), and had this sudden thought that I could make the costume to help me introduce Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet to my students.

My mother is wearing my very first attempt (see, I said you’d recognize that pattern), and I am wearing my very slightly improved second attempt (bet you recognize that pattern, too).

And, oh what a rabbit hole that one decision has led me down.  Making the costume made me want to wear it somewhere else.  I don’t quite remember how I found out about it, but I ended up attending my first Ren Faire the following fall.  Shortly after, I joined the Greater Bay Area Costumers’ Guild and started dabbling in all sorts of different eras.  I discovered the world of Costume Blogging while it was still in its infancy and still cherish many of the people I met then, even the ones I still have not met in person.

While I do miss the small, tight-knit community that we used to be back in our LiveJournal days, I am constantly awed and inspired by those who continue to be added to our numbers.

One of the things that I hope this month of blogging achieves for me personally is to help me reconnect with those who are continuing to blog on different platforms and to discover voices that are new to me.

CoBloWriMo Day 4: Favorite Era

It seems like one of the first, and most frequent questions I get as a costumer is “What is your favorite time period?”

It’s a simple enough question, but so difficult to answer.  Most of the time, I demure and simply say that I’m a “Jill of all eras, master of none” although that’s not quite true.  I’ve been doing this long enough that I’ve gotten better and more prolific in some eras.

Mid-Victorian is one of those eras, though that’s mostly because I have far more opportunities to wear these dresses.

For a similar reason, I’ve made quite a few 18th century costumes, although it hasn’t been until my most recent quilted petticoat and jacket that I feel I’ve started to become more historically accurate for this time period.

But, when I think about the question seriously–which dresses do I really have the most fun planning and constructing–I’d have to say that my current favorite is the naturalform silhouette.

*Note: There’s a dress missing from both my mid-Victorian section and my 18th century section.  I couldn’t readily find a picture of either dress without other people in the photos.  Also, I’ve put the photos in the order in which I constructed them so that you can see the progression as I honed my craft.

CoBloWriMo Day 3: Extant Garment, but not

Okay, so I’m going to cop out of this one today.  I’m just not at that point in any project where I’ve got images of an extant garment on my mind.  Frankly, I rarely use extant garments as inspiration, but rather already have an idea, painting, photo, or fashion plate as my starting point.

Since I don’t have something pretty to blog about, I decided to do some modern sewing today and show that off instead.

I recently purchased the Miramar Dress, Top & Tunic pattern from Scroop Patterns (which I wrote about yesterday morning, thinking I might get to this soon).  Yesterday, I printed the pattern, assembled the pattern pieces, and washed my fabric.

So, once I sat down today to actually sew this, I discovered some absolutely amazing things about the pattern.

First off, I actually don’t remember the last time I worked with a knit…oh, wait.  I have a dim recollection of wrangling some stretch velvet back my Lord of the Rings costuming phase.  There’s a part of my brain that is definitely convinced that working with knit fabric is vastly different from what I normally do, and is vaguely afraid of those differences.

This pattern is definitely designed to allay those fears.  The instructions begin with suggestions for how to stitch the garment depending on what sewing machines/stitches you have access to.  The pattern is literally only TWO pieces with only five seams to sew.  Once the majority of the seams are sewn, there are incredibly excellent instructions on how to make any needed alterations before finishing the garment, including how to bring up the neckline (which is a HUGE plus for me–I hate too low necklines).

Luckily, I have a serger that is fantastic with knits, so the majority of the top was put together in about half an hour.

Unfortunately, I do not currently own any ball point sewing machine needles.  Dun, dun, dun.

Cue sewing hysterics and cursing.

When it came time to sew the hems on the sleeves and bottom edge, I had to rethread my needle no less than a dozen times.  I was very near tears and cursing like a sailor.  If it has been later in the evening, I probably would have poured myself a glass of wine.  As it was, I really wanted to get this done before going to pick my kids up from preschool, so I powered through.

Anyway, if you are looking for an incredible alternative to a t-shirt, get yourself over to Scroop Patterns and buy this pattern.  It’s a digital download, so you can start on it immediately!

For now, I’m out of fabric that has the required four way stretch, so I’ll need to go shopping, plus I need to pick up a ball-point needle…or, wait.  I think I might actually still have some stretch velvet left over from my Elvish phase…

CoBloWriMo Day 2: Current Project

Well, you’ve caught me at an odd time with this one.  Since I just came back from Costume College, it means I’m sort of in between projects right now.

I just finished my Ter Borch gown:

I’m in the middle of adding a page to the blog with a write up on the research and construction process.

I suppose I’m sort of still working on my 18th century quilted petticoat, but I’ve worn it twice as is already and can’t really work on it while it is so hot at home.

And I haven’t really decided what to work on next.  My son has been requesting a “pirate” outfit (18th century costume) since I didn’t get his done before going to the pirate festival and then got wrapped up in the sewing I needed to finish for CoCo.

I also need to do some modern sewing with work starting soon.  I recently purchased the Miramar Dress, Top & Tunic pattern from the Dreamstress and would like to make up a few of those for work.

And if I don’t make myself a decent apron soon, I’ll no longer have any modern clothing without cooking stains on them.  I’m thinking that the apron might take precedence since I need to make a few batches of plum jam this week with the plums from my tree.

Introducing CoBloWriMo: Day 1

Sporadic posting has sort of been the story of my blogging life.  Honestly, it’s never been a matter of not knowing what to write but more a matter of lack of content and/or lack of convenience: during the school year, I’m just not as productive and it takes more effort to post on my blog because it involved uploading photos to my computer first.

However, an online costuming buddy of mine decided to join CoBloWriMo (Costume Blog Writing Month), and I figured, why not?  Never mind that school starts this month and, as a teacher, I’m going to be pretty busy come August 14th, but let’s give it a shot anyway.  Besides, I just got back from Costume College and did a ton of work on my most recent project, so I should have plenty to post about…after I manage to upload those photos.

If you are new to reading my blog, feel free to poke around a bit.  Even though I’ve never managed to post very frequently, I’ve been doing this sort of thing for a VERY long time, so there’s lots to see.  I’ve been sewing almost my entire life, or at least as early as I could hold a needle and thread, and machine sewing since about age nine.  I started costume sewing in 2000 and started this website shortly after that, though it wasn’t originally in a blog format.  It feels a little odd, like bragging, but I’m now a master level costumer, having been part of a group that won best in show at Costume Con in 2008.

I took a bit of a break from sewing in general when my twins were born four years ago, but now that they are a little more self-sufficient, the projects are in full swing again.  And, yes, I do sew for them on occasion.  The most recent of which was an 18th century sack gown that I draped for my daughter.  Unfortunately, my son is still eagerly awaiting his costume, and now that I’m back from Costume College, that may be one of the projects I get started on soon.

The Making of a Scottish Kertch

Eventually, I’ll write a post about this whole project, but for now, I figured I’d at least post a bit about the head covering I’m wearing to my next event.

Before I’d even thought about what I’d be doing with my hair, a friend mentioned that many married Scottish women continued to wear a kind of kerchief as a head covering well into the 18th century.  That sent me off onto a bit of research which lead me to an essay by Mara Riley entitled “Before the Clearances: 17th and 18th Century Scottish Costume.”  About three quarters of the way down the page she includes detail images from a painting by David Allen entitled “A Highland Wedding at Blair Atholl.”  The fourth image down ended up being my favorite image of those I came across, so I decided to attempt to reproduce that look, even though it’s a good 40 years later than the event I’m planning for.

The first thing I noticed was that this particular version of the kertch definitely seems to consist of two parts–roughly a folded square over some sort of under cap.  Since it was much clearer what was on top, I decided to play around with that first, especially since I already have a large square scarf in my wardrobe.

Problem 1: My current scarf, at 39″ square, was too large.  If tied under my chin, the sides were too long to look like my inspiration image.  In my research, I discovered suggestions that the kertch should be exactly one yard square.  My issue with a blanket statement like that is that everyone is a different size, even our heads!  In the modern day head covering community, many of us lament that we have too large a head for scarves to wrap and tuck nicely as they do for other women.  I could really use an extra three or four inches on all my scarves.  Yet, wearing my scarf with a long tail hanging down looks a little odd and overwhelming on my 5’3″ frame.  I’d imagine that these same differences of size and proportion would have plagued our ancestors as well and that a woman would have tailored her kertch to her size, proportion, and sense of style.

Problem 2: What on earth did this woman do with the tails?!  Typically, this type of scarf leaves rather long tails from the diagonal part that is draped over the head.  If tied at the nape of the neck, tails left down can still be seen; alternately, they can be tucked into an under cap or wrapped back over the head to create a sort of band.  This last seems to be the preferred style for reenactors.  When tied below the chin, the tails should quite visibly hang down in front, which you don’t see in this image.

It’s possible that the kertch was tied and then the tails somehow tucked up behind.  I’m not entirely sure how they would be secured (they probably aren’t long enough to tie again behind the neck without being uncomfortably tight or bulky) or if that just wouldn’t be an issue–who cares if they come untucked.

Problem 3: The knot.  What knot?  There is almost no bulk at her neck.  It could be artistic license (was a great big bulky knot at the neck ever considered flattering?) or it could be a very fine fabric or it could possibly be pinned.

Problem 4: The part that I loved the most was also going to prove challenging, that adorable little fold that gracefully angles from the back of the head to under the chin…while the front edge of the kertch is caught underneath at a completely different angle.  This suggests that the front edge (with the tails) is secured somewhere other than under the chin!

My Solutions

Problem 1: Through trial and error, I eventually discovered the size square that gave me the proper look of the inspiration image by sort of working my way down from the 39″ one I currently own.  I suppose I could have used math, but that is most certainly not my forte; one I realized that I was NOT looking for the measurement of the diagonal of the square, but some other odd angle further back, I was completely out of my depth and resorted to cutting down a large square until it worked.

Problem 2: Part of this particular problem for me was that I didn’t quite have the right fabric in my stash.  I have a cotton voile that is probably the right weight, but doesn’t have the correct drape or hand to it.  I don’t have any fine wool, and my finest linen is just a tad too heavy.  I ended settling for the linen with the internal bargain that when I eventually invest in some nicer linen, I will remake my kertch.

Since I was using a heavier fabric than I think my inspiration image was, I decided that the tails would have to go.  I did not come to this conclusion lightly.  I sat in front of that mirror for a good half hour trying to figure out where those silly tails might have gone.  Everything I tried with my fabric either left me feeling like I had a boa constrictor around my neck or did not give me the proper drape and angles.  There was nothing for it but to get everything else looking the way I wanted it to, and then to chop off the tails.

Surprisingly, this didn’t give me as odd a shape as I thought it might.

Problem 3: Easy. With this fabric, it’s going to have to just be pinned, and even then, it isn’t going to look as dainty as it does in my inspiration image.

Problem 4: This is where it got really tricky.  At first, I thought the tails might actually be tied at the nape of the neck, which would also have been a neat little solution to the tail issue, and that the fabric then draping down was brought around and pinned in front.  This solution ended up being very tight around the neck; there just wasn’t enough fabric draping across the back to then be pulled around to the front and still drape nicely over the shoulders.

Next, I tried pinning the front in place and then pulling a section further back to the front to pin.  However, once I got the pins low enough to be covered by the fold, I was back to the same problem as tying behind–pinning that low trapped too much of the fabric down so that I no longer got the nice flair over the shoulders.

What seemed to work best, given my fabric, was to carefully tuck the front edge under as I brought the folded fabric around to the front.  I still feel like the drape is a bit off and not quite the right shape from the front, but it is definitely close and might be even better in a finer linen.

I purposely left the under layer for last, partly because I thought I knew for sure that it was simply a coif, that it would be easy enough to find a pattern for one, and yet would still take a bit more time and be a bit more fiddly.

Once I really started to look at coif patterns, though, I realized that very few of them come so far down on the forehead as in the inspiration image.  In fact, I couldn’t find any that came down beyond the hairline, which meant that what I originally thought would just be a little bit of tweaking was going to take a bit more effort.  However, in my search for coif patterns, I stumbled upon a page about coifs on The Marquess of Winchester’s Regiment in which the author describes the use of something called a “cross cloth.”

So, okay, the webpage is focused on head coverings from a hundred years earlier, but considering that the Scottish head coverings of the 18th century are already far out of fashion elsewhere, it might stand to reason that the cross cloth style of garment might have carried forward as well.

The beauty of the cross cloth is that it is an incredibly simple yet essential element of head covering, similar to what head covering women still use today.  No matter how simple or elaborate the wrap, there is always a firmly attached, grippy cloth headband that keeps everything in place.  Today, we use stretch velvet that fastens with velcro, but linen also has a bit of tooth to it that, as I discovered, can also serve to keep a larger, heavier head covering in place.

So, the cross cloth is a simple triangle of fabric with ties to fit the head.  I made mine as a square that was hemmed into a triangle because I didn’t want a stitching line right across my forehead.  Then I just sewed cotton twill tape to the corners for the ties.  Even with upper part of the kertch sitting so far back on my head, it felt very secure.

Scroop Patterns: Fantail Skirt

As someone who sews fairly regularly, it’s incredibly exciting and honoring to be asked to become part of someone’s pattern making process.  I can’t often take up the call for pattern testers due to my schedule as a full-time teacher and mom of twins, but for once, everything seemed to line up and I got to test the newest offering from Scroop Patterns, the Fantail Skirt.

This was the first time I’d used a digital pattern, but I didn’t have any problems on that end.  I will say that, in the future, I think I’ll look into getting the pattern printed at a store that can do the larger format, as trimming the pieces and lining everything up before even being able to cut out the pattern pieces wore a little thin, and this wasn’t even that big of a pattern.  Oh, and this is where it’s super helpful to read all of the “before you print” instructions–I was able to print JUST the pages that I needed, since I was just doing the modern skirt, so I didn’t need the historical pieces nor the directions for either skirt, since I could just look at those on my device as I sewed.

After printing the pattern, the biggest dilemma was choosing my fabric.  So much of my stash is either reserved for historical projects or doesn’t really suit me anymore (or wouldn’t suit this particular project).  I decided to use a fabric that technically could have worked for something historical but that has been languishing in the stash for far too long and simply needs to be used.  The only potential drawback is that it is silk, so I’ll need to commit myself to taking some of my wardrobe to the dry cleaner regularly, something I’ve astutely avoided up until now.  I was convinced by reminding myself that I’m a grown woman and am old enough that should have some nice things in my wardrobe that require occasional trips to the dry cleaner.

The fabric looks black in this picture, but its actually a very deep navy.

Once that decision was made, the rest was easy.  The pattern went together beautifully, and while there were a couple of hiccoughs with the instructions, those have been corrected for the final version of the pattern, which is the whole point of pattern testing anyway, right?

The finished skirt is SO much fun to wear.  I ultimately decided to lengthen it, as I don’t tend to wear knee length skirts very frequently and worried that if I made the shorter length, I just wouldn’t wear the skirt very often.  (This did happen with a different skirt that I absolutely love, but just don’t want to wear very often because of how short it is.  By modern modesty standards, it’s just fine, but for my comfort level, it just doesn’t work.)

I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about the sewn-down pleats for the modern version (I really like how the historical version looks), but realized that this really does work better for how I tend to wear modern clothing–with my shirt untucked.  The open pleats wouldn’t show and would just add bulk at the back of my shirt.


Please excuse the funny face and the odd angle. Taking these on my own was a bit of a challenge.

Couple final notes:

  • I received a copy of this pattern for free as a pattern tester.  The test pattern was incredibly well done and the few errors that the testers did find have been corrected in the final version.
  • The measurements for the final garment are spot-on!  I chose one size down from my actual measurements just because I KNOW that I need a slightly tight waistband on my skirts in order for them to feel comfortable.  Know your measurements, know how you like your garments to fit, or make a mock up.
  • Also, please note that I am a plus-sized woman, and the skirt fits beautifully.