A Letter to Costuming/Living History Newbies

I had a lovely conversation with some lovely people over the weekend. We discussed how far a lot of us have come since starting our journeys into this obscure land of fabrics, threads and ribbons…. and I have been thinking about it nonstop. I wanted to write a letter specifically to those who are just now venturing- or feel like they’re just now venturing- into this hobby:


Newbie Amber in her first “18th century” outfit ca 2009… I later found out those two tabs were not accurate but hey- we all start somewhere!

Dear Costuming and Living History Newbies,

I am so glad that you are coming to join in the fun and creative pursuit that is the costuming world. We welcome you with open arms and hope to help you achieve your own brand of awesome. We hope to support you when you have to rip out all the seams you *just* stitched over the last two hours and tell you that it’ll get better. It can be one of the most memorable and fun hobbies to be part of. We’re so excited to see what you create!

The costuming world can be a very intimidating place. Beautiful pictures are posted on facebook, instagram or blogs and sometimes your insecurity will eat at you. Don’t listen to the “I could never be that good” or “It’s too expensive” or other negative internal dialogues that creep into our brains. So before you start beating yourself up or feeling down about what others are working on remember the following:

Making ANYTHING is a process of research, practice, proper tools and TIME. It takes TIME to practice, learn, understand the mechanics of making clothing. It also takes TIME to gather the proper tools and materials to create a well done ensemble. It takes TIME to research your possible construction methods. You probably won’t do everything perfectly in the first go.

I have been sewing costumes and clothing for almost 10 years now and it’s only been within the last year or so that I feel like I can handle a sewing machine properly and easily… My machine stitching still looks a little wonky sometimes, which is why I prefer to handstitch. On the other side of that… the only reason my handstitching is even is because I’ve been fortunate enough to spend summers and the last 3 years handstitching(as a business) three to sometimes eight hours a day! All that practice adds up.


These tiny stitches have been practiced regularly for 7+ years! They certainly didn’t look like that when I started.


There is a time and place for everything. Just because there are no events around you where people dress up in silk and eat a fancy dinner doesn’t mean there can’t be. PLAN ONE. Just do it. Do your due diligence and contact places that might be happy to have an event like that. It may take time and a little bit of cash from the guests, but you won’t regret the photos or the unforgettable experiences you can muster.

BUT PLEASE KEEP IN MIND- There is a time and place. An encampment might not be the best place for your fanciest of fancy silk gowns. A venue may not be able to accommodate or allow specific costumes or any costumes at all. A 1770s themed event might not appreciate an 1860s ensemble. An event might only be for hanging out in fancy clothes and not doing a First Person interpretive teaching experience. Etc.

Ask questions. Google. Read books. Peruse blogs. Go to museums. Use the library. There are so many amazing resources you have at your finger tips that many who started out in this hobby didn’t necessarily have access to. WE CAN ONLINE SEARCH MAJOR COLLECTIONS FROM AMAZING MUSEUMS. We have it so easy, anymore! Understand the difference between “first hand research,” “second hand research,” and “inspirations.” All of this research will help train your eye to the obscure world of fashionable details.



Specificity is the sole of narrative. When you ask a costumer a question, please be specific. There are too many caveats to answer a broad question of “I’m making an 18th century gown, what do I need to do?” It takes years to research and understand what is going on in historical garments. There is no possible way we can answer such a broad question concisely or in a way that might make sense to you….And some answers might not make sense to you at all, yet. That’s where research comes into play. Take all of the pieces you’ve found and weave them together. Discuss with others what you’ve found and you’ll find a new tidbit along the way that’ll aid your overall understanding and eventual “look.” All of this is a JOURNEY. New research comes out all the time and sometimes thwarts what we thought we knew. Never say never, and never say always! History might just contradict you soon.

You are your own worst critic. This goes for life itself but especially in clothing we make to be seen in. As long as you’re a nice person and aren’t mean to others, most likely no one is going to notice your uneven stitching at the armpit or even think to bring it up. And you know what? You don’t have to talk about your mistakes if you don’t want to. No one has to know.


When I first made this jacket, I didn’t realize the construction of 18th century jackets usually isn’t done with an en fourreau style back….. but now I know that remaking gowns into jackets and other garments is something that was done, so it’s plausible that an 18th century jacket might be constructed this way- but not recommended if you were to make a brand new one.

Make sure every tip you give or receive is in the spirit of constructive criticism. Don’t take it personally. Most people want to help, even if it doesn’t seem like it’s phrased that way. If you’re looking for constructive criticism, be ready for a flood of help. And that’s just what it is: BEING HELPFUL. Your growing skills are not a reflection on you as a person.

If they’re being a butt about their “advice” then leave the conversation. What they may be saying might be true, it might not. Take it seriously, but not personally.

There can be limitations. Time, money, resources, skills, health, body shapes are all limited in different capacities for each person. It’s okay to make substitutions. It’s okay to accommodate these limitations and substitute with other things. Keep within the realm of your goal and you’ll be able to create a thing you’re proud of.

Also on that note, be aware of your skill level and keep your projects to a challenging, but attainable, goal. There’s no way I would have been able to tackle the Purple People Eater dress even just a few years ago. It would have been a total fail. The extra details were able to be added only because I’ve built the foundational knowledge of how to make a garment well; so stepping up the embellishment game was just the next level….. AND It’s okay to not “be there” yet. We all started at a very different place than we are today. You got this.


This is my first ever historical dress. I developed my own pattern, but had no idea how sleeves worked because I had never done it before so I did these weird ones. My limitations at the time were knowledge base and time- but I later remade the bodice into the photo below!


Once I honed my skill level a little bit, I was able to make a historical reproduction of a gown at the Met. It took 3 years to take it from the top photo to this one!

Find your community. With the advent of the internet, we’re able to find people across the entire globe who have the same niche interests as you do. I never would have met ANY of the fine gents and ladies I’ve been able to befriend if it weren’t for blogs, facebook or instagram. I honestly wouldn’t have known people do this kind of thing. YOU CAN FIND YOUR PEOPLE.

OH…. General social rules still apply when you find them… or you meet an instagram idol. Just because you follow someone on instagram does not mean it’s okay to run up and feel up their costume without introducing yourself first or feeling like you’re “besties” because they replied to your comments. You can still be a well behaved human. Take time to get to know people personally and organically when you find your people and everyone will be happy in the end!




We all just want to have fun. We all have different reasons why this hobby is enjoyable, don’t ruin it for others. Does someone enjoy being insanely historically accurate? GREAT. Don’t put them down for preferring to handstitch or wanting documentation for their event. Does someone enjoy looking like a fashion plate and being extra? GREAT. Don’t tear them down for creating a fun outfit to wear and having fantastic pictures. Remember, if you’re thoughtful, nice and mindful of others you should be in the clear.

All in all, we’re happy you’re here and can’t wait to see what amazing things you create! Keep on keepin’ on. And happy sewing! ❤ ❤ ❤





1780’s Ruffled Silk P’cote

YAY!!! A two-fer! This project has been on my list for a while now. I’m glad to have finally ticked it off the list AND have it qualify for the Historical Sew Monthly! Let’s revisit the list again, shall we?

The Must-Do List of 2018

Finish Yellow 19th Century Ball Gown
Add more trim to Green Check 19th Century Gown- Will post about this sometime soon!
Finish Regency Stays- Busk Pocket, add real straps
Add Buttons to Black Regency Gown- Literally just the buttons.
Fasten Straps to Regency Petticoat- I have to re-find the scraps for that one…
Re-Make Wool 18th Century Petticoat- Complete re-do
Trim White 18th Century Petticoat- I need a flounce to lengthen it!
Trim Pierrot Jacket- Just needs the ruffle on the hem
Hem Ian’s 19th Century Shirt

Hm, well… I was hoping to get more done in the first month, but I suppose those two things plus mom’s purple dress is actually a lot of stuff to do in a month’s time.

Anyway, back to this project: I made this white silk petticoat in preparation for a Burnley and Trowbridge workshop I attended in 2013. I decided to hem it at “walking length” but it looked goofy-as-all-get-out in pictures. I’ve worn it a few times since then and have never been happy with it. The last time I wore it (probably in 2015) I decided I wouldn’t wear it again until I lengthened it with a flounce…. It’s been a while.

And full disclosure… I finished it yesterday… So technically it’s the January challenge but I was 5 days late! Sorry.


Uggggggghhhh, that first photo! I’m so glad I took the plunge to do the ruffle.

The Challenge: January: Mend, Reshape, Refashion.

Material: White silk taffeta from B&T

Pattern: None? Just a ruffle addition 1.5x fullness


You can’t escape the baby…

Year: 1780s

Notions: Silk Thread, Pinking Chisel

How historically accurate is it? I would say 95%. The entire petticoat is handstitched and the pinked edge of the ruffle is done with an antique pinking chisel then a small ruching channel gathered and attached with running stitch. I’m sure there’s probably something I did non-HA but I don’t know what it is!

Pretty, pinked goodness.

Hours to complete: For the ruffle addition, it took me approximately 5 hours to finish- unfortunately that was over 4 evenings because I have a baby and babies make things harder to accomplish in quick time.

I love any silk that’s squished. Makes it look like whipped cream!

First worn: For these pictures!

Total cost: $30 for the 2 yards of fabric it took for the ruffle.

Takeaway: As I was putting the lovely ruffle on, I decided I also want to redo the pleating and waistband because it’s BAAAAAAAAAAAAD. It’s one of those things that you look back on and think… WTF PAST ME!? Eventually I’ll get to that. I have to bleach some linen tape first…. Onto the “Must-Do List” it goes, again!

Purple Wool 1908 Gown: Project Details



TL;DR: The dress is finished and my mom is beautiful. The Ohio Historic Costumers tea was a great success and we met a lot of awesome people. I’ll post again when we’ve taken proper photos of the gown, as the day was way too rainy to do a decent photo-shoot.


Pretty cool comparison photo, if I do say so, myself.

Other than perfecting fit, most of the difficulty in this project was the fiddly bits. Around 16 hours were devoted to soutache alone- AND I DIDNT FINISH ALL OF THE DESIGNS. I had never had any experience with it and was surprised at how much I enjoy applying and manipulating the braid to get a pretty design. On the reference image the front of the dress is basically encrusted in soutache braid, then there’s a large design at the knees, 3 straight rows and wiggles on the skirt, wiggles and straights on the sleeves (and at the cuff) and the front of at the bust. I managed to get *most* of the work on the bust done, but ended up leaving off 2 of the straight rows on the skirt, the wiggles at the cuff and the large panel at the knee. I estimate finishing that will take at least another 8 hours. Very pleasing, but very finicky detail work.


Interesting tidbit: I clocked my average application time to be about 1 hour per yard of soutache~ pinning/manipulating time included. However, I used about 22 yards, so I’m not sure what went super fast? I do feel that I would have finished all of the design had I not had to go out of town for 3 days for a board meeting and retreat for the Southeast Ohio History Center. That set me back along with only having ordered 16 yards of soutache at the beginning. OOPS!


Detail of those ever-so-faint scallops

The other time consuming element was the scalloping of the front panel. I didn’t notice this detail until I was about to cut my fabric pieces. The gown in the photo appears to be a tone-on-tone color scheme so it definitely went unnoticed at first. I opted to do an applique technique of the wool onto large, 4″ wide (folded in half) bias strips.

I *did* decide to use modern iron-on interfacing on the scallops since the gabardine tends to ravel. I found it very interesting that the drape of the front panel improved immensely after this application and smoothed the edge wrinkles that were ever-so-slight, initially. I applied the soutache braid before whipstitching the lining to the backside. The scallop stage of the garment [less the soutache work] took about 5 hours to complete with the lining.

There was a lot of research that went into how to get the beautiful drape of the gown and with the portrait labeled “Secession Portrait” from Hungary I wanted to make sure that there wasn’t anything that was regionally specific or symbolic to the outfit. [Keep in mind that my historical knowledge is primarily focused on 1750s-1820s and 1880s; so, have a passable knowledge of the others] What I came to find out is that “secession” was an artistic movement in Europe that included the new wave of Art Nouveau and started in the late 1890s to the “Belle Epoque” time period we think of today. When you look at a lot of the famous design houses from that time period like Margaine-LaCroix, Caillot-Seours, and even just looking at art from John Singer-Sargent, you start to see more and more form fitting styles come in vogue, rather than the ruffly, lacy get ups that were so popular around the turn of the century. I think the reference image is definitely in the same vein… Princess cut, extremely well fitted, and ornate elements that aren’t terribly showy.

I hadn’t worked with bias-y drapes prior to this, so there was a lot of apprehension going into such a project. Overall, the wool was very forgiving if I did anything wrong, because it didn’t show it. The fit was impeccable and despite being so tailored it also has a “soft” feel to it. There are only 3 whalebones (yes, real ones) in the bodice of the dress, but they are thin and only help to smooth out the center back and side seams, since they were the ones that wanted to creep up the most. I also opted to add a lining to the bodice part and faced the hem with organdy; these elements helped keep the seams from widging about while sewing on machine.


The hat was a cheap wool felt floppy hat from Walmart that I blocked to make larger. My mom then used scraps of things I had around my studio to trim it out. It turned out so pretty; even if it took until the wee hours of the morning to finish. It definitely complimented the look, as the look at passers by kept saying how much she looked like she stepped off the Titanic. I’d call that a success- they got the era right!


Gown guts!

All The Purple Wool…

It’s everywhere. In my thoughts before bed. In my mind when I wake up. On my computer screen. When I talk to my mom. On my cutting table. On my dress form.


AHHHH!!! I can’t escape!

The title of this post should really be “1908 Gown Progress: Post 1” but I thought that was too boring. This week I did a pattern draft, mockup, and fitting for the gown I’m making my mom. The dress has to be finished by Jan 26th so I’m wasting no time working on it.


Secession portrait, around 1905. The portrayed: Bezdek Teréz. Photographer: Bergtraun Dezső. Losonc, Vasuti utca 10. Hungary (Today Slovakia, Lučenec)

The fabric was cut last night and will be hanging out” on the form for a couple days since most of the pattern is on the bias (at least that was the only way I could figure out how to drape it!) For your information: 5yards x60″ is juuuuussst the right amount for a princess line Edwardian gown IF you’re less than 5’4″…..the more you know!


The next step of this will be to sew up the gown, let it hang again, alter if needed then add the fancy bits- I’m doing my own decorative pattern since I suspect a lot of those motifs are relevant to something that I’m unaware of. My mom chose this lovely lilac soutache to go with the purple wool and I can’t wait to do up the design.


This gown has a few techniques I’ve never used before:
Soutache Braid.
Reinforced seams.
Super fitted.
A design I did not choose.
^^^ All of these could be my undoing. Wish me luck!

In other news, when y’all are looking at my instagram and see this:


This is also happening on the sidelines.


Don’t worry, she loves it in there.

Our house is slowly being taken over by large baby-related things! AHHH!

What’s up, 2018?

Gosh, it’s a new year again? Jeezy-Pete’s!

Every new year comes with some [sort of] resolutions. Honestly, I don’t like to call them that but that’s what they are! Last year my strugglebus was the “Must-Do” List, this year is… the Must-Do List. In addition to that, I also want to try to keep up with the Historical Sew Monthly; with the goal to be much more strategic and PLAN what I would like to do. This is also necessary when you have a baby, otherwise nothing– and I mean NOTHING– will get done……………………………So what’s the plan, Stan?

The Must-Do List of 2018 

Finish Yellow 19th Century Ball Gown ALREADY DONE HAHAHAHA
Add more trim to Green Check 19th Century Gown- Will post about this sometime soon!
Finish Regency Stays- Busk Pocket, add real straps
Add Buttons to Black Regency Gown- Literally just the buttons.
Fasten Straps to Regency Petticoat- I have to re-find the scraps for that one…
Re-Make Wool 18th Century Petticoat- Complete re-do
Trim White 18th Century Petticoat- I need a flounce to lengthen it!
Trim Pierrot Jacket- Just needs the ruffle on the hem
Hem Ian’s 19th Century Shirt

^^^These items are intended to be finished by the end of the year (sooner than later) and should be incorporated into my plans each month. I’ve already got a good start! The Yellow Ball Gown was finished just a couple days ago for a ball that just happened! Can’t wait to have pictures, though it didn’t turn out how I wanted was hoping it would.

What’s going on, 2018?

HSF Challenge: Mend, Re-Shape, Re-Fashion= I have a few in mind, and I really should check off something on my MDL (like the White Silk Petticoat) but I kind of want to do something with my yellow cotton bustle dress. I made it 4 years ago and would like to fit into it again/refashion it so it isn’t so bland!
6: JASNA Dayton Ball= Yellow Dress!
27: Ohio Historic Costumers Tea= 1908 ensemble for my mom 🙂 If you’re in Ohio and would like more information on this event- I’m the organizer! The event is private, so please message me for any questions or if you would like to go.


HSF Challenge: Under= Pocket Hoops. I plan to go to the Francaise Dinner in March, so I need to make up some hoops for that. I also need new stays, but I doubt that’ll happen before this.
Other projects: I may start working on a quilted petticoat to match Felicity’s! I would love it to be finished by the time I go to an 18th century event this year.


HSF Challenge: Comfort at Home= Regency Peignoir. I have some lovely white ikat and want to make this peignoir, but I’m not sure I have enough! If not, I’ll make a shorter one in plain white.

V&A Peignoir

1812-1814 Ikat Peignoir, T.798-1913 V&A

17: Francaise Dinner. I’m going to be making up a lovely chine into a saque-back and if I’m lucky, have some fantastic fringe to add to it. I’m super excited about this project above all others this year, I think.

HSF Challenge: Buttons and Fastenings= 1920s dress. I really, really, really want to do a 1920’s ensemble with a ton of buttons. These are some of my inspirations:

21-22: 1803 Muster, Cincinnati
28: Great Greenbriar River Race (triathlon) I really want to do it this year!

HSF Challenge: Specific Time= Edwardian Lawn Dress. I’ve always wanted one and I feel like this year is the year!

HSF Challenge: Rebellion and Counter Culture= I’m kind of stumped on this one as to what I want to do. No decisions yet, but these are quite intriguing!


Paul Poiret – Robes sultanes d’intérieur – 1911

TBD: Edwardian Luncheon. I really REALLY REALLY want to host an Edwardian Luncheon somewhere in Ohio, complete with croquet and bocce. I’m currently working on finding a venue.

HSF Challenge: Sleeves= ?? This is the month I’m going be clamoring to get JAF ready. No plans as of yet.
13-15: Jane Austen Festival- Louisville KY. I’ll be at this event again with the Virgil’s Fine Goods store! No real plans for clothing as of yet, since I’ll be spending most of my time working on stock.

HSF Challenge: Extant Originals= Green Corded Bonnet. This has been on my to-do list and I’ve already made up the pattern and have the fabric- I’ve just gotta make  it 😉


“Bonnet ca 1800’s”, MFA Boston, 43.1585

HSF Challenge: Hands and Feet: 18th Century Baby Shoes- Anne will need some, after all!
1-2: Fair at New Boston. I’ll likely be focusing on items for Anne, rather than me. She’ll need a new regency dress, cap and bonnet!

HSF Challenge: Fabric Manipulation= Tambour Kerchief OR Block printed Bedgown. We’ll see!

6-7: Feast of the Hunter’s Moon. I would like to have a short cloak and bonnet by the time this one rolls around. I’ll also have to make sure Anne is warm in her 18th century stuff.

HSF Challenge: Purses and Bags= 18th Century Sewing Bag. I would like to make a fun sewing bag for events. I never have anything to put it away in!

HSF Challenge: Neglected/UFO= We’ll see what this one ends up. If I missed a challenge or need to finish something, this will be the time to do it!