The Second Annual

Italian Renaissance Costuming Challenge

April 15 to August 15,  2012

Christa Gordon

Christa Gordon
Colorado, USA

I have been sewing and participating in the SCA for 18 years now. I have been focusing on Italian gowns for the last five years, before that I did a lot of Tudor and Elizabethan. I enjoyed myself so much last year I couldn't wait to jump in again. I hope to be able to top the gown I made last year as well as try some new patterns and techniques.

I adore the style of the late Venetian ladder laced gowns. I am still working on creating the perfect gown in this style, maybe this one will be it! My outfit will consist of drawers, camicia, petticoat, gown and handkerchief. If I have time I have a whole list of little extras I would love to create, and who knows maybe this year I will actually get my ruffs done in time!

Project Blog:

My inspiration for this years dress is taken from Pauwels Franck (Paolo Fiammingo) Venetian Women ca. 1595. I fell in love with the woman in gold on the left side. It has all the elements I love, the ladder laced front, ruffs and fabulous jewelry.

I was given some fabric years ago as a gift and I think it would be perfect for this gown. Since my sewing machine died during the last IRCC I have yet to replace it and have been borrowing a friends machine off and on over the last year. At the moment I am without a machine so it looks like I will be doing most of this by hand. Which will be a great challenge in itself for me.

My 4th layer is done, I tried weaving for the first time! I went ahead after a lot of reading on the web and tried card weaving (also called tablet weaving), it was a lot of fun! I made my own pattern using the ermine off of my device and was able to make them reversible! They took about 6 hours from setting up the loom to being finished.

I was inspired by this pair of garters from the museum of fine art in Boston. Italian dated 15751600

I am currently 35 hours into an embroidery element in which I gave gold work a try. I am still trying to figure out the finer points of working with the gold thread but I don't think it's bad for a first try.

Things have been slow going. I have cut all the silk for my camicia and hemmed it all. Now I am joining all the pieces with black silk thread using a fagot stitch, I have quite a few more seams to go and then I have to decide if I want to do embroidery on the neckline and cuffs.

To break up the never ending camicia project I tried my hand at making some metal bracelets. After Hastings pointed out on her blog the many portraits of women wearing a pair of bracelets I had to check my inspiration portrait and lo and behold- there they were. I used 28 gauge wire doubled for each strand, and did a 4 strand braid alternating putting a bead on the 2nd and third 3rd strand with a braid between then finished it up with a clasp and bead cap. I love them they are very delicate and lovely.

The camicia is finally done! It is made of this diaphanous 8mm Habotai silk. It is all sewn by hand. Each piece was cut then given a rolled hem that was then fagot stitched together with black silk thread.

I have also finished two necklaces to go with this outfit. The shorter one of large pearls and jet beads and the longer, made up of two sizes of pearls, gold filigree beads, jet and coral. Both are strung on silk thread and hand knotted.

On the cuffs I created my own design made up of half of a pomegranate and half of a compass rose (elements from my heraldry) with some scroll work. I used a reverse chain stitch for the embroidery.

To close the cuff I used two pearls and embroidered button loops.

I'm making it a point to track my hours worked on each project this year as a lot of folks asked me how long each element took on last years projects and I really didn't have an answer. According to my time tracker I spent 94 hours and 18 minutes on the camicia.

Over the last month I have been hard at work on the dress. Everything, except the boning channels, was sewn by hand. I have also started to add some pearls to the bodice.


I have also been playing with wire learning new jewelry making techniques: a  wire circlet to go with the bracelets I have already made, a few rings, and two styles of earrings.

Work continues on, I am now trying to focus on some of the smaller projects I want to finish. The heraldic parasol, to replace the one my son broke last year, and several bits of embroidery in various stages of completion. I am also trying to decide if I want to make a short cape or a petticoat for my last required layer.


Final Update

Layer 1
Silk camicia: all pieces finished by hand with a rolled hem. Then stitched together with a fagot stitch with black silk. The cuffs are embroidered with a reverse chain stitch with elements of my coat of arms, a compass rose and pomegranate. It is then finished with pearls for buttons and hand sewn button loops.

Drawers: (see below) split crotch made of eyelet fabric, hand sewn. It's a Victorian pattern but one I have used before and I find them very comfortable and useful. 

Layer 2
Petticoat: pre quilted fabric. Cut into two panels with ties.

Layer 3
Dress- All hand sewn except for boning channels. Lace cuffs are hand made bobbin lace, using 62 pairs of bobbins, 12 Thread covered buttons to compliment the fabric and lucet cord for lacing, made by hand. The bodice and sleeves are decorated with four different sizes of pearls that have to have each one stitch one at a time. The shoulder ruffs are made with ribbon, tulle and lace sewn onto a band then slip stitched to the shoulders. I couldn't find pins that could hold up to all the layers of fabric, this way they will not shift but can easily be detached and put on a different gown. Although next time I am going to try to get the ruff pleats a bit longer. 

Layer 4
Parasol: hand painted trimmed with handmade tassels with embroidered heads with buttonhole stitch.

Stockings: linen all hand sewn. Embroidered with the intertwined M and R which is my makers mark in black silk, using a chain stitch.

Garters: reversible black and white with ermine spots, inspired by my coats of arms, first time trying my hand at any type of weaving.

Handkerchief:  done with a drawn thread technique and cotton thread. 

Needle book: velvet with gold work, my first time trying metal embroidery. Embroidery inspired by my coat of arms. Finished with two handmade tassels with embroidered heads.

Signet ring: 'Sculpey'  oven-bake clay made to look like red jasper carved with the intertwining M and R.

Short, medium and long necklace:  with pearls, jet and coral hand knotted on silk.

Jewelry: 3 clover earrings - first time playing with a jig to do some wire work; circlet - again woven wire work with pearls to match the bracelets; S curve earrings - wire work with pearls; circle ring - first attempt at using wire to make a ring; single pearl ring; three pearl ring.

Bracelets:  first time playing with wire woven bracelets with pearls.

Paddle fan: silk stretched over a wire frame painted with my coat of arms, handle sculpted out of cold porcelain.


Feather fan: handle sculpted out of clay to look like a roman column.

Girdle:  pearl and gold beads, findings created with wire and my jig. The M&R pendant is cast pewter brushed with gold embossing powder.

Partlet: with neck ruff- machine sewn, store bought lace, wire edged ribbon and tulle. The dress just felt like it was missing something to complete the look. 

Muff:  fur reused from the sleeve of an old Tudor gown, embroidered with the intertwining M and R then outlined in pearls all hand sewn. With handmade tassels with embroidered heads and thread covered buttons, also made by hand.

Rosary: coral and pearls with a handmade red and black silk tassel.

Apron:  linen with embroidered bib using reverse chain stitch and black silk thread.

Zibellini: tail of an old fur stole with a sculpted head 5 hours 13 minutes.

Veil: gold silk veil with a hand sewn rolled hem. Needle lace corners with a pearl edging, all done by hand.

Embroidered shoes: I designed fabric with ermine spots then embroidered the pomegranate and compass rose in silk. All sewn by hand.

Chopines: carved foam covered in suede with embroidered M & R in gold silk.


Red brocade shoes: this was my prototype for my ermine shoes, I have never made shoes before and I wasn't sure if I could figure out how to get them to look the way I saw them in my head. I figured if I was going to spend all the time doing a mock up I should make them go with the outfit so they can be worn when they are finished. All hand sewn. 

Pocket: using fabric printed with my inspiration portrait and lined with fabric painted with my coat of arms. All hand sewn. 

Sweet bag: left over fabric from the dress, handmade lucet cord for the drawstring and handmade tassel with embroidered head and thread wrapped button toggle. 

Scissor fob: to hold scissors, using scrap fabric from the dress, a button that was a token from a friend and a tie made from a handmade thread covered button and tassel. 

Pincushion: left over fabric from the dress, stuffed with Polyfill and a handmade tassel with embroidered head.


Unfinished: I had hoped to do a metal thread embroidered pocket but sadly there just wasn't time.