The Second Annual

Italian Renaissance Costuming Challenge

April 15 to August 15,  2012

Debbie Mac Rory

Debbie Mac Rory
Dublin, Ireland

I am living in Dublin, Ireland, and as by the definitions outlined on the competition pages, I am an experienced seamstress, having previously made wedding dresses and being accomplished with corset making, and having some knowledge of pattern drafting. But I am a novice Italian renaissance costumer as I have made no Italian renaissance costumes to date.

As I haven't planned any costumes like this before, I hope this is an adequate description of my planned outfit. I am basing the outfit I want to make on a number of 1560's Venetian portraits that I've found, and I was going to combine elements of these to make my chosen outfit. So layer one will be a camicia, layer two will be a petticoat, layer three will be an overdress. Layer four I am hoping to make a parlet and fan, and as many other accessories as I can get away with. All of these will be as embellished as appropriate as I'm able to complete in the time.

Well, I'm off to a slow start to to an internet outage that effectively halted all my research until about a week ago. But here goes.

My primary inspiration is Paolo Caliari (Veronese), 1560s: Portrait of a Woman, from the Realm of Venus website. There's so many things I love about this dress that I'm hoping to re-create, such as the cutwork sleeves and the long pearl necklace and brooch. 

I've chosen a wine coloured taffeta for my gown, as I simply adore taffeta above all other fabrics. I also picked out a little old gold coloured embroidered organza that I plan on using for the partlet. As the embroidery is quite sparse, I'm planning on adding additional period flowers to this. 

As to the progress on that I've started on my camicia, though I've been given pause for thought when I re-examined the portrait I'm working from and realised it's not a black-work edging, but a white lace edging. I'm assuming this is a form of reticella or simpler cut-work lace, so I'll be finishing my camicia with a narrow plain band to act as a base for the needlework.

And so I've something to do on the move, I've started working on a pair of stockings, based on the funeral stockings of Eleanora de Toledo. I'm knitting these with wine coloured lace weight wool, and while the going is slow, they're coming out beautifully.

After finally getting my camicia hemmed and the neck edge finished, I was able to move onto the underskirt. The underskirt was made of four panels, which were then box pleated to provide bulk and lift to the overskirt. I padded the hem of the skirt with wool cloth to help support the weight of the skirts and stop it tangling about my legs. The skirt at the moment is undyed linen, but I was planning on dying it brown and embellishing the hem with embroidery to make it suitable for a variety of dresses.

I've also started on the embellishments for my dress, choosing to begin with making my lace cuffs. As I've not tried reticella lace before, I didn't fell confident in trying to copy the pattern in my inspiration portrait, so instead I chose a pattern from Renaissance Patterns for Lace, Embroidery and Needlepoint by Federico Vinciolo. I reversed the white on black image using a light box and attached the image to some card for support. I'm using white linen thread for my gimp cord and silk thread to make the stitches.

I've now completed the bodice for my gown, which is composed of four layers - fashion fabric, which is the burgundy taffeta, wool and buckram for strength and stiffness and a pattern cotton lining, which I know is very un-period, but I can never resist putting my own stamp onto a bodice or corset in this way. After the first fitting I had to redo the front pieces to insert more stiffening to encourage the lacing strips to sit right and give a better look overall. I think I may need to adjust it again to improve the front shaping, but I'll attach the skirts first to evaluate how their hang changes the fit.


To finish off the bodice, I made just over 3 metres of cord with a lucet, as I didn't have any matching ribbon, and thought the cord might give better grip. While I had the lucet to hand, I made up another metre or so of cord to lace up the skirt, and because I couldn't resist a little embellishment, I added beads from my stash to the ends, and am converting them to imitate woven buttons.

With the bodice complete, I was able to estimate the amount of fabric I'd need to give a generous pleated skirt. So 6.4 metres later, my fingers may never forgive me, but I'm very happy with the skirt. I'm also glad I waited till the skirt was attached before making any more adjustments to the bodice, as with the weight of the attached skirts, the bodice is sitting perfectly now. Just the hemming to go and I'll have a finished dress!

And with the bones of the dress complete, I thought it was about time I started on some of the garb embellishments. I began with the necklace, copying the one shown in my inspiration portrait. The brooch was a lucky find from a local costume jewellery shop. I popped the centre jewel out and replaced it with a red glass jewel. I then strung choker and long lengths of pearls to attach to the brooch, also attaching some loose round and drop pearls to the brooch. I have a matching pair of purchased drop pearl earrings and a selection of costume rings to go with this, which should complete my jewellery needs.

To finish off the dress, I drafted a sleeve pattern and drafted a cutwork pattern based on the five petal and diamond design on the sleeves of the original portrait. While I was doing this, I was struck by the seemingly gold detail on the cutwork edges, so I decided to finish the edges of the cutwork with gold embroidery cotton with a metallic thread for sheen. Naturally, such close work has to be inspected by the resident pussy-cat.


To complete the jewellery collection, I put together a girdle with "gold ouches" and "gold" and pearl beads. The ouches were formed by taking a cast of a button from my stash, then casting copies in polymer clay, baking them, and painting them with gold leaf paint. I then used red and green glass paint to imitate enamelling. The gold beads were fake beads of just the right size from my stash painted with gold leaf paint and strung with real pearls. I made a small wire hook to use as a closure for the girdle. To decorate the end of the girdle, I used a purchased necklace charm which I opened to be able to place a pomander ball inside in. I decided to make up a simple pomander recipe and used bruised lavender flowers and orange peel rolled into a beeswax ball. 


Continuing with accessories, I completed the absolutely must have of my wardrobe, a saccoccia made in the same material inside and out as my bodice, and trimmed with black luceted cord in the manner of the saccoccia seen in the detail of "Birth of the Virgin" by Alessandro Allori.

I also decided to make a flag fan inspired by the pattern shown in the detail of "Mars undressing Venus" by Paolo Veronese. I recreated this design using directional satin stitch with embroidery cotton with metallic thread. I stiffened the embroidery with buckram, then sewed the fan to a gold-painted birch rod which was capped with pearl beads.

Final Update

The last two weeks of the competition were dogged with problems for me. Firstly, and possibly the worst, I discovered I'd miscalculated my time and had a week less than I thought. So when I then ran out of thread for my sleeves, and my local shops wouldn't get any more in in time, I put them to one side to continue work on my stockings only to discover that my knitted stockings had run away on me. I began work on a pair of silk stockings, but when friends managed to source and mail embroidery thread to me, I decided to try and get even one sleeves cutwork completed.

So in summary of my garb: 

My first layer was my camicia, made using a cotton-linen blend fabric. I drafted the pattern from an online tutorial, and assembled the garment using modern construction techniques. 

My second layer was a linen underskirt. The skirt pattern was a modified Reconstructing History pattern, and was machine sewn. The hem was padded with wool cloth, and the skirt closure was made with hand sewn eyelets and hand made lucet cord. I also added some sewn buttons for embellishment at the ends of the cord. The finished skirt was dyed to bring it to a deeper brown colour more in tone with the fashion fabric of the dress.

My third layer was my dress, composed separately of bodice, skirt and sleeves. 
The bodice pattern was drafted by hand and the fashion fabric was layered with wool cloth and buckram to create the required stiffness (alas, my own weight gain has worked against this somewhat). The bodice was then hand sewn, and a double line of ribbons added to support the ladder lacing. I created some more lucet cord to lace the bodice, so I could ensure a matching coloured cord.

The skirt pattern was also hand drafted, taking into account the bodice points in front and back. The skirt was cut from one continuous piece of fabric, so the single seam lies at the back of the skirt. The waistband of the skirt was also padded with wool cloth to add body to the hand-sewn cartridge pleats, with the rest of the seams and hems of the skirt machine sewn.

The sleeves were drafted according to historical techniques, with the seam at the back of the arm rather than the underarm and due to time constraints the sleeves were machine sewn. With the pattern drafted, I designed the cutwork pattern, based on patterns observed in the original painting. The cutwork was completed with gold embroidery cotton with a metallic thread, to copy the hint of gold seen in the portrait. The buttons for the sleeves were constructed by taking a silicone mold of a suitable but too shallow stash button, forming buttons from polymer clay and painting them with gold leaf paint and a dot of ruby paint. These polymer clay shapes were glued to a similarly gold painted button shank and sewed into place at the top of the sleeve. The buttons are attached the bodice though a ribbon stitched to the inside of the strap that allows the buttons to be secured without the ribbon being visible.


My fourth layer were my accessories:

With the competition pocket being the second one I've made, I know it's the one "must have" item of my garb. This pocket pattern was drafted from scratch, and made with the same fashion and lining materials as the bodice. Yet more luceted cord featured here to embellish the saccocia.

Flag Fan
The flag fan was embroidered in the same gold cotton embroidery floss and metallic thread combination as the sleeve cutwork. The directional satin stitch was directly inspired by the highlights shown in the inspiration portrait. 

Girdle and Pomander
The ouches for the girdle were made in the same manner as the buttons described above, and were assembled with real pearls and gold painted beads. The pomander ball was a modified necklace purchase and was filled with a simplified perfume ball of beeswax, lavender and citrus zest.

The brooch was purchased but modified to more closely resemble the brooch in the portrait. The pearl necklace was hand strung and was closed with a clasp for comfort. The earrings and rings were purchased.

Unfinished Items
Items I didn't manage to complete were the knitted wool stockings, which were based on a pattern of Eleanora de Toledo's funeral stockings, and the silk fabric stockings, the pattern of which was hand drafted and were planned to be completely hand sewn.

The reticella lace that was started to finish the sleeves ended up being put to one side, as larger project demands took over. I think overall I did not schedule enough time to a new technique.


Also, although the cutwork on the second sleeve was completed, the embroidery on the left sleeve was not completed before the deadline.