The Second Annual

Italian Renaissance Costuming Challenge

April 15 to August 15,  2012

Hannah Fuhriman

Hannah Fuhriman
Wyoming, USA

I have been sewing since before I can really remember, and have been insatiably sewing Italian Renaissance garb for several years now. My SCA persona is Florentine and so Florentine garb is usually my focus, although I have created a few Venetian gowns as well. So I'm not a novice, but there are always new things to try!

Project blog:

For this year's challenge, I propose to make a version of the gown in Bacchiacca's Portrait of a Woman with a Book of Music, c. 1540. I'm planning on making a camicia, the gown, and a short cloak as my first three layers, and then experimenting with an accessory or two that I have not yet successfully attempted, such as a balzo and gloves.

The J. Paul Getty Museum

I have refined my plan a bit since starting, and it may yet be changed in some ways by the end of it.

Layer One: camicia based off Vincenzo Catena's 'Guiditta' from the 1520's. I will be making this out of muslin, for comfort and affordability. I will also use up some of my miscellaneous cotton flosses and do some embroidery on the sleeves using period motifs of flowers and hunting hounds.

Layer Two: pair of bodies and petticoat based off both Alessandro Allori's 'Woman at her Toilet' from the 1570's and Eleanora's burial pair of bodies. I'll be making this out of some lilac colored linen.

Layer Three: the gown mention in the portrait at top. This will be made out of light green cotton velvet with leather appliqué. The lower sleeves will be black velvet lined with silver gray rabbit fur.

Layer Four: I definitely want to make the balzo and sash to match, and I have materials for the partlet, necklace and maybe I'll try my hand at a pair of gloves.

So I have had a rather slow start this year, but I have had a chance to start on two of the more time consuming bits of my project; the appliqué on the gown and the embroidery on the camicia. I have finished the appliqué on the back portion of the bodice and have the appliqué for the front part of the bodice cut and placed and ready to sew. I am using a very soft garment leather and it is very easy to sew through and I am very pleased with how it is turning out so far. I got the idea of using leather for the appliqué from a doublet shown in 'Patterns of Fashion' which is leather appliqué on a silk. It comes out very clean, especially around all the little sharp corner and I don't have to worry about folding under or fraying or any of those nuisances.

I have finished my petticoat and pair of bodies. The petticoat is trimmed with some vintage percale binding I had in my stash and some sturdy silver gimp I scored on Ebay. There is also a small tuck around the bottom of the skirt, just above the trim, as seen in period examples, one being the skirts on the ground in Lorenzo Lotto's 'Susanna and the Elders' 1527. The petticoat fastens on both sides of the waist with buttons. There are also ties fastened to the waistband that tie through eyelets in the waistline of the bodies, such as in Alessandro Allori's 'Woman at her Toilet'. The bodies also lace shut, but have a front opening and are shaped like those of Eleanora's burial bodies. There are 29 hand bound eyelets on the bodies, and all the cords are made with a lucet.

I have slowly been making progress on the camicia. The embroidery on the sleeves is finished, and I am currently working on rolled hemming the edges of the pieces and fussing with the pleats on the cuffs.

I have finally finished my camicia. The sleeves are entirely done by hand, but when I got to the body I became impatient and finished the body, neckline and bottom hem by machine. All the pieces are hemmed and then joined with herringbone stitch. I used two colors of thread while joining the sleeve pieces and just one when joining the body pieces. The embroidery is done using various colors of cotton floss I needed to use up. The floral motif is a 'typical Elizabethan motif' from 'A Schole house for the Needle' by Richard Shorleyker (1624) via 'Blackwork Embroidery' by Elisabeth Geddes and Moyra McNeil. The hunting hounds are adapted from a pattern I found in a printed out 'Modelbuch' I acquired a while back. Its more 'whimsical' than my usual choice for embroidery, but I like how it turned out. The pleats on the cuffs and around the neckline are sewn down to strips of white cotton bias tape, and there is also a drawstring in the neckline to adjust the pleats and fit when worn with particular gowns. I haven't seen any evidence of that in period, but often have the problem of having the camicia top sticking out too far or not enough above the neckline on the gown, and I am hoping this will remedy the problem and allow me to wear this camicia with more versatility. The cuffs close with four buttons and four handmade button loops each. This camicia is 100% cotton, due mostly to me wanting it to be very light and comfortable and also wanting to reduce excess cotton materials from my stash, such as the floss and bias tape. Not my fanciest camicia, but I'm still very happy with how it turned out. 

I have also experimented with making jewelry and concocted this necklace and very simple drop type earrings. The style of earring is typical for the 1500's in Florence, the necklace isn't based off of any example in particular. The beads are just simple glass and metal beads from Walmart, nothing too expensive or meaningful for my first real attempt at jewelry making. However, I am very happy with how they turned out.

I have finally finished the bodice for my gown. It is interlined with medium weight linen/cotton blend and wool flannel which I pad stitched together and lined in black cotton velveteen. It is sufficiently bulky and stiff without bones or cording, especially since I need very little support in the bodice area. There are side-back spiral lacings through a total of 22 eyelets that I worked by hand. A laurel recently suggested to me that I should use button hole stitch when binding eyelets, instead of whip-stitching, so I attempted that this time and am not sure I like it as it seemingly increases the diameter of the eyelet and makes it 'stand up' instead of blending into the fabric. Maybe with further practice I will be able to refine this method of eyelet binding. Due to the layout of the trim, I placed my shoulder seams in a different place than usual and this has resulted in some bunching at the top of the shoulders that I have yet to resolve. I'm hoping with some steaming or with the attachment of the sleeves that the bunching will flatten out. Otherwise it fits wonderfully and I am quite happy with it. Next step is starting on the skirt.

I have been working on the sleeves for my gown. They are two pieces each: the baragoni, and the fur-lined lower sleeve. The baragoni are pleated to strips of some more vintage bias tape I had to use up, and then basted to the linen/cotton lining to keep the rows in place. I have step by step photos of the whole construction process on my Blog.

The lower sleeves are velvet lined in rabbit fur. I am still very new at working with fur, and really should have had about two more rabbit skins than I had. Instead of squaring off the furs and joining them together to create a bigger piece to cut from (which is what I now wish I did) I basted down the skins to a base of linen, and did a really patchy job trying to cover everything. My initial thought behind that was to keep the thin rabbit fur from tearing and ripping and stretching. Now that I have done it this way, I would really like to eventually try this in a proper fur and use the method I mentioned above. But, alas, must learn somehow. I then sewed the velvet to the fur right sides together, and then turned it, finished the opening, and then made the slashes. I finished those with button hole stitch. I then whipstitched the seam and turned the top edge down. 

I still am trying to determine the method I want to use for attaching the sleeve parts together. Looking at the portrait, I am musing that that little random dangly bit on her left sleeve was mayhap a tie, if there were ties on the baragoni and rings on the fur. It would work if I had used silk fabric for my dress, but with my bulky velvet I don't think a tie out of that would be able to be run through rings. So, still debating on ties or hooks and eyes or just tacking the upper and lower together.

I have also been working on a balzo and the embroidery for the matching sash or poste. The soccaccia and matching garters are also almost to the cutting out stage. My mantello is hemmed, hoping I have time to make a fringe all around the edge. The gown is finished except for the hem and trim around the bottom. Still on the list to start is the stockings, slippers and partlet. The deadline rush is nearing!

Final Update

This year’s dress is not very cohesive in time frame, as I took inspirations from different Italian regions from all over the 1500’s, and tried new things or things that suited my fancy. I was unable to finish the embellishing on several pieces (skirt trim, mantle fringe) or even start on a few things that I would have liked to do (gloves, slippers and stockings) , due to having a very busy few months this summer, but I hope to finish completely sometime this year.

Here’s a breakdown of what I have done:

Camicia (layer one); based off a portrait from the 1520’s. The original was likely made of linen, but I made mine with cotton for comfort. Constructed with insertion ‘herringbone’ stitch by hand, after edges of pieces were rolled hem, some by hand and some by machine. Embroidery is also hand done in period ‘holbein’ stitch, and there are four handmade button loops on each cuff, made using a buttonhole stitch over looped threads.

Petticoat and Pair of Bodies (layer two); based off of two period sources, made from linen and cotton. Mostly machine sewn with hand finishing, hand-bound eyelets and lucet cord.

Gown (layer three): the cartridge pleats are self padded (by double folding the velvet by several inches at the top of skirt panels instead of adding wool) and finished prior to attachment by hand to the bodice. Interior seams are machine sewn; all visible stitches are hand done. The smocking/pleating on the baragoni, eyelets and appliqué are all done by hand as well.

Mantello: made from lightweight wool in a large elliptical shape with slanted arms slits, all hand hemmed and finished.

Sash: the ends are embellished with hand embroidery, scraps of velvet ribbon, herringbone stitch and silk fringe, the tubular sections are stuffed with scraps of wool, interior seams are machine sewn and visible stitches are by hand.

Turban: as seen in several Florentine portraits; hand hemmed with handmade silk fringe along one short end. I also sewed a comb to the hem center front to keep the slick silk on my slick hair. I attempted a balzo three separate times using three different methods and never came up with one that worked right or fit right.
Necklace and Earrings.

Garters: woven on an inkle loom, not sure as to its presence or practice or if there was anything similar in renaissance Italy at the time, but it is a new craft for me and I decided to go ahead and weave some that matched since I ran out of silk fabric to make the garters I originally planned on.

Soccaccia: trim is sewn down by machine, and interior seams are by machine, the rest of the topstitching is by hand. I wove a tie/waistband which runs through a pocket at the back of the soccaccia.
Partlet: basic partlet, completely hand sewn in black silk chiffon.