A CLOSET FULL OF COSTUMES & A CUPBOARD FULL OF TEA:
MEET VALARIE LABORE
Goose Mother: I’d like to introduce Valarie LaBore. She is a member and past President of the San Diego Costume Guild, Costumers Guild West in Los Angeles, and considers herself a historical costume interpreter. She also dabbles in reenactment. Valarie, also a skilled amateur photographer, shares an online photo chronicle of many costume events. Even if you are not a costumer, you will enjoy seeing the lovely and sometimes strange and inventive costumes the artful have composed. (link provided below)
Valarie, please tell us how you became involved in sewing and costuming and precisely what was it that caught your interest in costuming?
Valarie LaBore: Like most children, I loved dressing up and not just at Halloween, or so my mother tells me. One Halloween, she made a gorilla suit for me when I was about five or six years of age. I won First Place in a costume competition in my gorilla costume, or more correctly, my mother did; she should be credited as she made the costume. However, I do remember a pilgrim costume I liked and my favorite one was an “I Dream of Jeannie” costume.
A little over ten years ago, a friend of mine and I started going to afternoon tea rooms. We decided we wanted to dress up in Victorian attire; gowns, long skirts, white blouses, big hats. We had fun doing this as we wandered through antique malls searching for hats and antique clothing. I recall one rather “froo-fy” pink hat I purchased. This particular hat piqued my interest in researching what era it actually came from. It turned out it belonged to the 1950s era. Obviously, not Victorian. However, the owner of the Rose Tree Cottage tea room, Edmund Fry, was delighted by our attendance in costume.
I was just starting to get comfortable using a computer and I learned more about the clothing of the real Victorian time period. Thinking back now, my vision was actually Edwardian. I was horrible at history in school. I found a couple Yahoo Groups specifically for historical costuming and there began my search.
I had basic sewing skills that I learned in high school, and some from my mom. I recall being frustrated that it took me so long to make something that my mother could make in one day. Mind you, my mother drafted her own patterns and often sewed for others. I was also a stick figure so I’d pick a pattern closest to my size and make that. If it fit, great.
Now, as an adult and quite a bit curvier, I discovered I had no idea how to make a pattern fit me outside of taking in a few inches on a seam. I hadn’t been taught how to do this. I also hadn’t sewn any clothes in over 20 years. At about the same time, I also began catering afternoon teas in people’s homes as a side business and I wanted to wear something Victorian. My first actual costume was Simplicity’s 9723. It’s really a cute pattern but I didn’t understand the pigeon breast blouse that was attached to the skirt, and just made the jacket and skirt as separates. (she laughs) I’m looking at that photo now and see I’m wearing a Victorian hat with an Edwardian gown.
Goose Mother: Yes, I think these are common mistakes by new costume enthusiasts and that’s how we all learn.
Valarie LaBore: Through the Yahoo groups, I learned of a Dickens Festival that was to be held in Riverside, California. This was not too far from me, so my same friend and I decided to make costumes and attend the Festival. Once again I fell back on my comfortable pattern company, Simplicity, and made their simple Dickens costume of a cape and full skirt. (Simplicity 8910) Another friend of mine made me a wonderful black bonnet to go with it. While walking around the Dickens Festival I saw so many gorgeous costumes and it lit a fire under me. I’d never seen anything like this before. All the ladies looked so pretty. I think once you see some really good costumes, it inspires you to want to do better.
Goose Mother: What is the best advice you can offer to someone who is interested in costuming and just starting out?
Valarie La Bore: I firmly believe in looking at as many historical gowns as you can in order to educate your eye, whether it’s the style, or the accessories or hairstyles. Really examine them; study them.
Goose Mother: Where have you found the best information for learning about period costumes?
Valarie La Bore: My favorite research tool is the internet. Costuming is a very social activity and we all like to share what we find on the internet. All the costuming friends and connections I’ve made over the years tend to share wildly amongst each other. You can spend hours searching museum collections online, but with a connection to hundreds of other costumers, we all manage to find some great objects and it snowballs. I’ve been saving photos for years on my computer for learning how certain pieces should look, what accessories go with each era and, in the last few years, more attention to the details on the trims. I’ve often been worried that my poor computer will again crash and I’ll lose all those precious photos. So I was happy to discover Pinterest and am using that as a storage area for them. And I don’t mind sharing them with others. Pinterest-TimeTravels
I’m not discounting using costume books for research either. My favorites are ones showing real clothes and photos of ladies wearing them. In fact some of us recently started up Pinterest albums listing all our costume books. Pinterest-TimeTravelsLibrary
I have a lot of books but playing on the computer is more fun. In the past 10 years since I started in this hobby, the world of costuming changed dramatically with more people having access to the internet. Our own small costume guild tripled in size in just a few years after more people found out about us with the chatter going on. I still remember discovering that there were hundreds of costumers out there just as crazy as I am!
Goose Mother: Should one focus on just one period or era when first starting out?
Valarie LaBore: (she lets out a hearty laugh) I’m the last person you should ask that of! We have something we call C.A.D.D.; Costume Attention Deficit Disorder, which means you can’t pay attention to one particular time period at one time. I get distracted by new pretties, and soon I’m working on an 1880s bustle dress, an 1860s new pattern, and a 1910 corset. My favorite time periods run from mid 1770s to 1918, and I love the big butts of the 1880s bustle period. So, if you find yourself easily distracted by different time periods, join the club. We are all a little crazy here. But, to answer your question, there’s no real yes or no answer to that. It’s very personal to each person what they like. They may like the narrower silouette of Regency, which are much easier to make and requires less fabric, or they may want to jump in right away with a very complicated gown. My best recommendation would be to find out what kind of events are in your area, whether its a Civil War reenactments or Victorian bustle or Regency teas. I’ve made a few gowns I really don’t have anywhere to wear them because we don’t have that time period event here. But they’re great to add in fashion shows. So a little planning is required.
Goose Mother: Does period costuming require learning more and/or different sewing skills?
Valarie LaBore: It does. Unless you just want to make generic-styled costumes using modern techniques, closures, and all in one piece. Period clothing had layers, and underpinnings that created the shape of each era. And, they’re very fitted, almost to the individual person, so sometimes it’s hard to even share your gown with someone else unless they’re the same size. I still use my modern sewing skills but differently, and things didn’t go together the same way they do today. However, I am famous for “fudging” and if I can’t figure out how it’s supposed to go together, I figure out my own way to make it work.
Goose Mother: In your opinion, what is the most difficult part of sewing a costume?
Valarie LaBore: For me personally, it’s understanding the directions of how to construct something different, or the correct way to alter and fit the garment to you. This goes back to my early sewing classes that lacked that teaching. If I have a piece in front of me, such as a completed bodice, I can see how it was pieced together. But you can write directions and tell me verbally till your face turns red, and I just don’t get it. Granted, I’ve improved over the years with practice but whenever it’s a new era or different kind of construction, I’m back to Square One again. I know I’m not the only one like this, while others have no problem with understanding the directions.
Goose Mother: Where should one seek help or assistance regarding this endeavor?
Valarie LaBore: What helped me the most was finding other costumers to learn from. In the beginning it was very hard because I didn’t know there was anyone out there. It was suggested to me that I take sewing classes, but those involved modern clothes. As the costuming world opened up to me, I found others who could help, and lots of sewing forums specific to the time periods I was interested in. The Truly Victorian pattern company, which specializes in 1830-1905 styles, has its own forum where either the sisters running it will answer your questions and are very helpful, or there’s always other costumers on there that have made it, or had the same problems. Its nice to know we all are in this together.
To Be Continued …..
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(1693 words, 7 images, estimated 6:46 mins reading time)