The Second Annual

Italian Renaissance Costuming Challenge

April 15 to August 15,  2012

Hastings Sanderson

Hastings Sanderson
Utah, USA

I've been playing in the SCA for about 3 years now and sewing for about 30. Last year was my first Italian ensemble and I am totally hooked. Getting to stretch myself and try new techniques has improved my costuming so much already, and I've been looking forward to this challenge with a great deal of excitement. I'm a mother of 4, with twins about to turn 2 and sewing keeps me sane.

Project blog:


My proposed outfit is going to be an open-bodice Venetian from around 1570-80. Last year I did a pretty strict version of a single portrait. This year I want to switch it up and am looking at ladder lacing dress, for inspiration, but the primary design source is a miniature, Travels and Adventures of Carlo Maggi.  I'm so excited to try out shoulder ruffs. The plan is to make a corset, petticoat, ladder lacing dress, and a suit of ruffs.

Image from Starlight Masquerade.

I haven't gotten much accomplished so far with my dress, but I sure do like looking at the materials. The bright rosy gold and teal blue are just so cheery. They also happen to be the colors of my bedroom when I was about 6, so they seem really playful and fun to me. I've got a good portion of my materials assembled; with a gold brocade for the main dress, a vintage silk herringbone ribbon for the trim, a light blue linen for the petticoat, crystals and blue jasper and pearls for the jewelry, red minks to make a pair of matched zibellini, a silk/bamboo blend yarn for the knitted stockings, and an icy blue pigskin side to make gloves from. 

Just to get going and have a project under my belt, I made a pair of matching bracelets like those seen in a variety of portraits including this one of Isabella Canossa by Veronese. My husband makes chain mail jewelry and helped me learn the 1/2 Persian weave since those in the paintings seem to be made using it. I had a set of more decorative pearl clasps, but decided to use a basic toggle so they were easier to put on.

I've been doing some research on impresa and emblems and decided it would be fun to make a tournament shield for this competition (since it is the sort of "tournament" I participate in) based on one in Andrea Alcieto's Emblematum Liber and in a portrait of George Clifford by Nicholas Hilliard. I made mine using papier-mache, as would have been done at the time. It took most of the week for it to dry, but I've started sanding it and should get my motto and picture painted some time next week. I'm not sure if it will count towards my points, but I've sure had fun designing the art and making the sculpture and it is going to look great on the wall of my sewing room.

The other progress this week has been on my cappotto. As I already have a large outdoor veil, a mantellina, and a couple of zimarre, I wanted to make a different type of over layer that I hadn't tackled yet. I settled on a sleeved, short cloak based on the extant one of Don Garzia de Medici.  I'll also be doing a bonnet as well, similar to the extant piece. The woman in orange coat and matching bonnet in a mural by Nicolo dell'Abbat at the Palazzo Poggi  was irresistible, and once I settled on an orange cotton brocade I've had in my stash for awhile for my cloak, I knew I wanted a bonnet to match.

I drafted the cloak and sleeves and got the cloak cut out. I also made thread-covered buttons and matching frogs. I am using the same cotton brocade as the orange, but in blue, for the guards/trim and have been ironing bias all this morning. I'm not sure if I am going to pink them like the extant piece yet or not. I'll be couching them into place with a gold cord for a bit of sparkle. 

I plan to knit stockings and finished making a swatch and calculating the pattern, but haven't made much progress on them yet. I also cut a mock-up of my corset, and have linen cut for my camicia, just need to decide on what sort of insertion I am doing for construction. Lots of stuff started, but not much finished yet. I'm excited by the project though and can't wait to see how this ensemble shapes up.

I haven't gotten very much done in the last couple of weeks, but I'm making some progress. I sculpted the cornucopia of my impresa onto the tournament shield and painted my motto of Magis est Melius (More is Better.) I have a love of bright color, over the top embellishment and general tendency to be larger than life so it seems to fit. Impresas are Italian (it means device) and the first published book of them, as well as my inspiration for the shape was an Italian jurist named Andrea Alciato. My other inspiration portrait, however, is English. I wanted to ensure that the tourney shield felt more Italian as well as represented the sentiment it portrayed. I therefore took design inspiration from period decorative pieces of majolica and included my heraldic colors of Azure and Or. I'm really pleased with the general effect. 

Couching on the cappotto continues if slowly. I went for an instant gratification project related to it, however, and made the bonnet to go along with it. Still need to curl the ostrich plumes and I might add a bit more sparkle. I'm also considering making a pearl caul to wear with it so it doesn't look quite so masculine. I might also make one with a taller crown in blue to go with the cappotto as well, just for variety. 

I started working on jewelry and did a long necklace of blue jasper with gold veining and gold tone metal in a very loose interpretation of the one in Moroni's Portrait of Isotta Brembati. It has a pendant and can be worn down or I have made a brooch with bows to hold it up on the bodice. 

Most recently, I finished the mock-up in wool felt of the gloves I plan to make out of blue pigskin leather. The material isn't particularly documentable, since it would have been more apt to be kidskin or an alum tawed rather than tanned hide. The pigskin is a nice weight and easy to work with and I have it left over from a previous project, even if the color is a bit crazier than the browns that would have been more apt to be used. I have tried to do a very period shape, however. I drafted the pattern myself and took my first stab at doing a draped thumb. I'm so very thrilled with the fit of the thumb. The fingers are a little off in thickness because of a cutting mistake, but the pattern is sound and the mock-up a success and with a little more care I feel like the leather pair should turn out great. Can't wait to sew them up and see how it goes.

I experimented with Cennino Cennini's 15th century methods for block printing linen fabrics as discussed in Il Libro dell'arte and made 2 yards of printed linen. Cennini mentions that the fabrics done in this manner are appropriate for "children's skirts" so I figured they would be reasonable to use for my underwear. I did a basic outline of the heart/seeblatt from my heraldry in a dark blue on light blue linen. He describes how further colors can be painted in after the block printing is done and I tried that out. As the original yardage had about 300 stampings and it took me about an hour to paint the details I wanted in gold on about 12 of the motifs, I settled for fully painting a small piece. That piece became my soccaccia. The rest of the yardage became my drawers. They're trimmed with a bit of cotton lace and ribbon. I did hand bound eyelets for the waist tie.

I also made a manniza (muff). It's a faux fur inner with thread-worked buttons worked over wooden beads and topped with small turquoise beads. I used a pattern from Giovanni Ostaus' 1567 book La Vera Perfettione del Designo and cut it out in a thin pigskin suede for appliqué and stitched it on with a thick blue silk for contrast. 

I made a couple more pieces of jewelry. My major design inspiration is Montemezzano's Lady with a Squirrel. I adore the little bows on the earrings and the 3 pearls dangles so I made a pair similar. My new set of pearls are a little different since I wanted to make a nice necklace in order to my Golden Maple Leaf (Artemisia's AoA level arts award) so it has a pendant. I did do the basic pattern from the portrait with 4 pearls and one gold spacer. I thought it would be cute to use gold acorn beads since the portrait has a squirrel and my heraldry uses a lot of vair (symbolic for squirrel fur) so it ties in (at least in my goofy brain.)

I've been working on my petticoat bodies quite a bit over the last week. They will eventually be an Effigy style pair of bodies in red cotton canvas with an orange pattern bound in red pigskin suede. I'm highlighting the orange pattern by using a fiery orange silk for the petticoat. It will have wide guards of the canvas at the bottom to tie it all together. I drafted the corset pattern from a conic block of my body made using Missa's instructions at Sempstress and am really happy with the fit. So far I have the corset cut, the channel's stitched, and the boning in (all 130 of them-- there's an incentive to lose weight and be a smaller size if ever there was one.) I am cutting the tabs and binding it this weekend and then have bunches of eyelets to stitch for the front lacing and the points to attach the skirt.

I also decided to try my hand at sculpting a fan handle as a break from cutting and shaping boning. I had considered trying lost wax casting but then realized I wasn't up to that level of expertise. It's certainly on my to do list for a few years down the road though. In the meantime, I am using polymer clay for this attempt. I built an armature over a wooden stir stick using tin foil and have been sculpting it using a fan handle design by Lelio Orsi held in the British Museum as my inspiration. I decided to keep the basic layout and shape but substitute my own symbols. It has my seeblatt and Apres (a mythical beast that is a bull with the tail of a bear) from my heraldry. I'm substituting gryphons (the heraldry of Artemisia) for the grotesques on the sides and am putting an Amazon in the place of the mer-boy. So far I have the gryphons blocked in, the Apres sculpted, and the bottom done with one of the seeblatter. I had originally made a clay ring at the bottom but decided to swap it out for a screw in metal ring for more stability. I'm liking how it is going but the progress on it is slow.

I feel like I've spent the last month with my petticoat bodies in my hands, working on them pretty much constantly. They just gobbled up time. I'm rather pleased with the final results though. I did a version of the Elizabethan Effigy stays with several modifications to work with an Italian dress. The back is low cut, rather than being the racer back of the extant piece. I also moved the seam from the side back to the side in order to work with the shape of my body. I think these are going to work really well with the late style of my of dress and its extreme lines.

I made the bodies with two layers of a printed cotton canvas from my stash boned with duct ties and bound with a soft red pigskin leather. The petticoat is orange Dupioni silk lined in a deep peach linen. The guards are the canvas used for the bodies edged in red grosgrain ribbon to echo the leather binding. It is cartridge pleated to a waistband of the canvas. I usually stiffen with rope or felt, but felt in this instance that five rows of canvas and ten rows of ribbon plus the accompanying stitching made the skirt stiff enough. There are eyelets at the top of each tab to point the petticoat on to the bodies, the matching ones on the petticoat waistband, the ones to secure the shoulder strap, and the ones to tie the petticoat closed. I'm really glad the bodice is ladder laced and I won't need to do a bunch more eyelets on the dress. I'm really tired of eyelets.

The petticoat bodies are the bulk of what I've gotten done in the last several weeks, but I have completed a couple of other projects. I finished the sculpting on my fan and put it together, then had my sons play croquet in the living room with it and a soccer ball. So, I got to reassemble it. It looks the same from the front, but the back isn't as clean as I'd hoped. I ended up putting a piece of brocade covered fabric over the repair and attaching a mirror. I hope it looks like that was the original intention.

My other small project was an intaglio signet ring. This was my first attempt at gem carving and I can't wait to try more. I was inspired by this sketch by Durer and this signet in the V&A museum, as well as several other pieces. I used a traditional method of hand files and an emery slurry for the majority of the work to carve out the seeblatt from my heraldry on a jasper cabochon, but the final finishing was done with a Dremel tool and a diamond bit. It certainly went faster, but I'm glad I tried the other way first. I mounted the intaglio into a purchased bezel setting using plumbers epoxy and surrounded it with small glass pearls. In testing it out on clay it looks like it is going to stamp nicely.

I had planned to do two zibellini to wear around my neck as documented in Tawny Sherrill's article "Fleas, Furs, and Fashions." While there is written evidence for this type of jeweled fur, there is no visual evidence and I couldn't get a good idea rolling. I eventually started sculpting, hoping something would happen. What happened was I made a single head that I really liked and decided to settle for the single fur to be worn off the girdle, or on the shoulder. I used a vintage stone marten fun recycled from a stole. I have several others if I ever do get around to making that double fur like I'd planned. 

Apparently I really love lace and just never knew it. I don't wear modern lace, but am head over heels in love with the figural and geometric patterns of reticella, punto in aria, and bobbin laces. I have a new shopping addiction and have been justifying it by sewing with at least some of it. A vintage reticella from the 1930's and a bobbin lace I bought last year seemed reasonable substitutes for those used in extant pieces and I combined them with some linen panels to make an apron. I used a 4 heavyweight appliqués and a scrap I got from a grab bag at the local heirloom sewing place as well as blue silk left over from the dress I made last winter based on Lorenzo Lotto's "Lucretia" to make garters. The inspiration for them is Ludovico Cardi (Cigoli's) 1610 painting of Joseph and Potiphar's wife.

I found what appear to be either lace backed with fabric or embroidered stomachers that fill ladder laced opened bodices in a few portraits. They include this one from 1560  and this one from the 1590's.  I decided I wanted to try making one so that I had more options for how the dress looked. I recycled a stained table runner in to a stomacher to go with the bodice. It is backed in two layers of twill and two layers of the same material as my dress so it has a bit of body, but it isn't heavily stiffened. While I haven't found anything written on Italian stomachers yet, English ones ran the gamut from ones heavily stiffened from buckram, horn and whalebone to ones with no stiffening at all. I think this one will be kept in place sufficiently by the lacing, but I can pin it to the corset if necessary.

My husband and kids bought me a large white canvas parasol for Mother's Day and I shifted my original plan to do either another recovered silk one or to try using the suggestions on how to make parasols from scratch that Melissa Jones included with her "Over and Above" entry. I was totally blown away by her parasol and the research and still hope to try a few of these, but having a giant parasol all ready to paint made my decision for me. I fell in love with Christa Gordon's parasol from last year's IRCC and knew I wanted to use my heraldry, but mine doesn't translate to this project as well as hers does as it has a single large charge in the center. I decided that trying to paint the Apres (a heraldic monster that is a bull with the tail of a bear-- don't ask) was not going to work well with the ruffly center and large finial of the parasol, so I decided to sculpt a topper instead. Then I painted my orle of seeblatts around the edge and included my impresa "Magis est Melius-- More is Better." I edged it with gold trim and made some little tassels for accent. I may add more fringe or additional tassels but am going to live with it a bit first.

A much smaller project than my 3 foot wide parasol was 2 sets of hairpins I put together. I was inspired by the recent find of one of Catherine de Medici's monogrammed hairpins as well as a bodkin/hairpin held in the Wiltshire Heritage Museum. To do the monogrammed style I rolled a sheet of copper as if I were making aiglets and then attached silver plated initial pendants I got on clearance at the craft store. I clipped off the rings from the top and filed them down a little then epoxy glued them on top of each other to give an intertwining look. The P and T of my SCA persona name don't have the lovely curves of Catherine's C, I'm afraid. For the bodkin style set I clipped off the bowls of some small demitasse spoons and then ground and filed them to points. Both sets are gilded with a one step gold leafing product.

Last, but not least is the bodice. I did 3 different mock ups and hope I got a reasonable fit. I'm trying for the pointed back, bodice strap almost off the shoulder, and low cut back of the Venetian bodice, and it has not been very much fun to fit. Most tips for getting the low strap to sit correctly recommend cutting the back higher, but the portraits just don't support that. I did put some bones in the dress, in case I'd like to wear it with the corset at some point. My justification for this is that girls of my size have to wear extra foundation garments to get the same look smaller women get easily so an extra bit of support isn't a bad thing. After the frustration of fitting I cheated and used grommet tape for my lacing strips. I did find a nice blue tape though. I still need to decide what braid I'm going to do for the laces and what color. The skirt is cut and I've started pleating it. I'd really like to finish it this weekend, but that might not happen.

August is jam packed with family obligations, so I hope to finish the dress up quickly and wrap up my other half done projects so I can not stress at the last minute, especially as I will be out of town just before the deadline of the competition.

Final Update

The last month has whizzed by. I'm not sure how many times I've managed to surface for air, to be honest. I have determined that Pinterest is a very, very bad thing when it comes to costume inspiration. Rather than seeing something I like and then forgetting about it, all my random harebrained schemes are neatly organized and accessible. Case in point are these two pairs of cutwork slippers that have been staring me in the face. I pinned this pair at the MFA 14 weeks ago  and this one three weeks ago  I really had no choice but to try making them. 

I adapted my slipper pattern to a latchet style, added some hearts and slashes and off I went. The first try is a little wider than I'd like and I want to make the vamp a bit pointier next time so my giant feet look a bit slimmer, but on the whole I'm really happy with the attempt. What is truly hilarious is in real life I'm not a shoe person. I own 3 pairs of mundane shoes. I have matching shoes for each of my 16th century dresses, however. I'm plotting a pair of slip on mules, pantofles, whatever they are called, to wear with them in addition to the chopines I made last year.

I finally finished my inner most layer, completing the camicia. I considered several types of decoration, but finally settled on making basically the exact same smock I made last year. I love my lace inserted camicia and have worn it with everything. It is especially nice when I give in to the heat and take the sleeves off my dress. With all the lace, I still look dressed up. Even if I am technically in my underwear. The neckline for this one is a little closer than last year and it has an integral frill rather than being caught into a twill tape edge. The pattern of the lace is also different, but that is about the sum total of it. Boring and uncreative, but I know I will wear it and love it.

Because this is my first ever attempt at an open-bodice Venetian style dress, I haven't made up my mind about my position on how they were worn. I did make a stomacher/stays cover and corset, but I also made the dress boned enough to be worn alone and figured I may as well complete the last piece to try out all the possibilities. I made a sleeveless under-camicia so I could wear the pair of bodies under the camicia but not directly on the skin. It is really basic construction with rectangles, side gores, and straps. 
I loved the sentimentality of the rosary I made last year, but I wanted to do something more accurate this year. I originally wanted to make one like this Italian rock crystal one with gilding and paintings inside each bead  I got some glass cabochons and a diamond tip drill bit. I got as far as drilling 4 cabochons and painting one and decided that it would be a beautiful project. Later. I had bitten off a lot more than I could chew. So, back to the drawing board. 

In looking for a different rosary to make I found this one made of emeralds on Chris Laning's Paternoster Blog.  It is listed as German, but she has a supposition that it might actually be Spanish. Either way, I was in love. The large gauds are just so eye catching. I assembled mine of gold veined blue jasper in two sizes, bead caps for spacers and large gold tone beads with a tassel on the end.

Since I was making jewelry, I moved on to the jeweled girdle. The jasper I'd intended for my girdle had already found its way into different projects and my husband declared I'd long since blown my dress budget, so this was made with a rummage through my bead boxes. I'm completely unable to resist clearance so there was a surprising amount to be found there. Especially since I'd finally embraced the switch to an Italian SCA persona and all the things I'd been hoarding to encrust Russian clothing became fair game. I had quite a few sets of chandelier connectors that went from three strands to one and some that matched that went from three strands to three. Playing with the texture created by dealing with these and the need to make the right length using limited findings made for a very fun belt.

 I used 3mm glass pearls and blue glass beads with gilding to do the sections with the connectors and then used larger pearls with the same glass beads for the in between sections. Everything is strung on head pins and lengths of wire, and I am already very pleased at its total lack of jump rings. Even when I solder them they come open. Even the little bit I've worn it so far has convinced me that this construction is much sturdier. I do want to possibly tack it into place on the dress or make or get a pin that will keep it in place on the points of the dress so it follows the line of the waistline better, particularly in back. I finished it off with a small gold frame that I eventually intend to put a miniature of my husband in. Just as soon as I paint it. Eventually and some day seems to be a theme here, but I really am pleased at all I got done in the short span of the competition. 

The first thing I ever sewed, at age five, was the hem on a handkerchief and I've got a soft spot for them. When I found this 16th century example of a handkerchief with lace at the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM2008_9891_21) I was even more determined to make one for my outfit  (I can't get the direct link the The ROM to work.) I had visions of interlaced hem stitch and drawn-work. Then I got derailed when I found a beautiful drawn-work blue linen handkerchief. My work wasn't anywhere near the delicacy of it and it perfectly matched the blue of the ostrich feathers in the fan. So, I settled for adding a little border of needle-lace and pearls to stamp it as my own. 

Next up was ruffs. I freely admit I was absolutely terrified by them. I've never made ruffs. I couldn't find much online about how shoulder ruffs were attached or if there were differences in how they were constructed. Most tutorials and mentions I found were theatrical, and I really wanted to try something more historically accurate. 

That desire was at odds with the fact that I wanted to use a super sheer fabric, however. I settled on silk organza and some lightweight but pointy lace. I then cartridge pleated the bands of organza into linen neckbands, following Noel Gieleghem's really excellent tutorial on 1570's ruff construction.  He also suggested using hairspray to set the organza rather than attempting the starch. I'm not really happy with what I did. They just don't have enough body. Part of that is probably due to the lack of a supportasse, but I'm not sure how that would be attached with the low back neckline of the Venetian gown. I know part of it is also my lack of experience setting the ruff and possibly not enough heat. The big ruff needs work, but the little shoulder ones are a lot of fun and with a few more attempts at setting them, I'm hoping they improve. If not, I guess I need to get some lightweight linen for another attempt.
I am, however, really pleased with the partlet. I used an embroidered organza for this and it already had a shaped lace edge so I didn't even need to hem. I just patterned a basic shape using my body block and added a ruffle at the neck. There are ribbon ties at the bottom edges. It all seemed far too easy, so I decided to add little gold bezants/rosettes along the edges as I'd seen in several portraits from my target time period. I has some findings with 5 lobed hearts in my bead stash and topped them off with glass pearls.

In order to match my original color inspiration, I needed to make a silk sash. The hardest part of it was trying to decide what to do to make the sash more than a plain length of fabric and matching the crazy color of my ribbon trim. I finally found a nice silk Dupioni in the peacock teal after haunting fabric stores for months and took a trip to the big needlework store a couple of hours away in order to match the thread. At least thread matching was the excuse I used, mostly it was a great excuse to visit friends. In order to weigh the silk down down and keep the bottom of the sash from flipping up, I attached some tassels and some pearl and gold-tone beads. I spiced up the length of the sash by trying out a new embroidery stitch and doing an interlaced herringbone insertion stitch with gold cord woven into the herringbone. It is a really fun stitch and I want to do more of it, but next time I'll be using a lighter thread for the interlace so it doesn't distort and shows the full beauty of the stitch. 

I had grand plans to knit stocking this year and knit my gauge swatch, but that was about how far I got. I am green with envy over Debbie Mac Rory's skill with knitting needles and her Eleonora stockings. Playing to my strengths, I went ahead and used the pattern for linen hose I drafted last year and made another pair. Because I'm such a color freak, they are orange with blue and orange trim and a bit of lace. the orange ties them in with my petticoat and I'm hoping the blue of the trim with the blue of the garters ties the petticoat into the drawers. the blue shoes also have orange ribbons in the latchets to further try to bring the disparity together, Even if the attempt to match doesn't work, who will ever see my bright and clashing undies? Unless I flash someone. Which will probably happen.

Sometimes I shock myself and the sweet-bag set that I threw together at the last minute is in that category. I was more than a little upset that after taking the trouble to draft the gloves and make a full mock-up in felt, I misplaced the pattern. I really, really, wanted to finish them and was very excited for them. I decided to just be done and not make anything else in the final week since I didn't have time to redraft the gloves and make the leather pair. Then I ran across a lace sweet-bag while browsing the collections at the metropolitan Museum  AND it is Italian. I have wanted a sweet-bag for quite awhile but wasn't ready to commit to the time requirement for the embroidery. I made a black-work coif a few years ago and it took me about 400 hours. It was lots of fun to do and I learned a great deal, but it is a huge amount of time. So, the sweet-bag has never quite happened. The lace/macrame Italian bag, however looked like something I could get the appearance of with materials I had.

 I was lucky enough to snag a few yards of beautiful reticella trim a while back and it has been sitting in my stash while I tried to think of a great project where it could be displayed and really seen rather than just edging something. This seemed to be it. I tacked the lace into place on a gold wool and lined it with silk. Then the fun started. I love, love, love buttons and tassels and the particular style of tassels used on sweet-bags have been something I've wanted to make for some time. Once I got going I didn't want to stop, and inspired by other extant sweet-bags I made a pincushion. Then an holder for my stiletto inspired by extant knife sheaths. Then a needle-case. Then a needle-book and a scissor keep. The last two are more modern style sewing tools, but they are easily tucked away into the sweet-bag. I've got some shell thread-winders to add and then I'm all set. I can't wait to use the ensemble.

This next item doesn't look like much, but I knew it was really important to the overall look. While I have waist length hair and it is relatively thick, There's no way I have enough to do the giant braided buns with the soaring "horned" front that is the iconic Venetian hairstyle. Besides that, having made a few hairpieces in the past, I know having a premade hairpiece makes hairstyling go considerably more quickly. 
I bought a couple of packs on 'Kankelon' braid (the inexpensive synthetic hair) from the beauty supply and went to work. I used a widely spaced net as a base and cut a large circle. Then I cut a slit in it and stitched it into a basically cone shape so the entire piece is slightly cupped and will sit over my natural bun. I braided the hair and started coiling it on the circle, tacking it into place with a strong upholstery thread. Then I added gold cord and pearls. I also stitched toupe clips to the underside so it can be easily attached. You can see the underside of one I made last winter, and that is the one my hairdresser decided to use for the pictures to match the extreme height of the front of the 'do. Since she won't always be around to do my hair for me, she showed me another way to do my hair myself. There's not quite as much shape to the front, but it is more easily accomplished for me and the smaller hairpiece I just made will be a better match for it.

Oops, almost forgot the lace cuffs. This is another project I blame Pinterest and my love of late night browsing of museum collections. I found these lovely extant Italian lace cuffs in the Met about 16 weeks ago. While I know most people just tack lace onto the edge of the sleeves, I wanted to try doing mine as a separate piece. It also gave me a great use for the leftover bits of lace from the vintage table runner I used to make my lace stomacher from. I laid the fragments out on a backing in tearaway stabilizer and used the satin stitch of my sewing machine to connect them and basically create a fabric from the loose lace bits. It was considerably faster than trying to remake the lace by hand. I then added pearl buttons and button loops. 

After all the time and effort that went into my sculpted feather fan and the size of it, I wanted a smaller fan that I didn't need to be as careful with when throwing all my stuff into a bag to take to events. Flag fans were almost disposable in some cases with rebus, poems, and pictures on them, at least according to contemporary descriptions, like Thomas Coryat's published in 1611. 

" For whereas the fanne consisteth of a painted peece of paper and a little wooden handle; the paper which is fastened into the top is on both sides most curiously adorned with excellent pictures, either of amorous things tending to dalliance, having some witty Italian verses or fine emblemes written under them; or of some notable Italian city with a briefe description thereof added thereunto. These fannes are of a meane price." 

So, a paper flag fan seemed like a great idea. I wanted it to be something very me, so I chose one of the few fragments of poetry left to us from the ancient Greek poetess, Praxilla of Sikyon. I've chosen to have my persona named after her. The lines are from a hymn to Adonis:

Most beautiful of things I leave is sunlight.
Then come shining stars and the moon’s face.
Then ripe cucumbers and apples and pears.

I also love pears and they rank right up there as the best things in life in my estimation as well. I chose a woodcut from Historia novi et admirabilis by the Swiss botanist Johan Bauhin, published in 1598 and drew it and inked it and painted in a bit of color then added some lace and ribbon and a few of the gold findings used in my partlet. The stick is a metal cafe rod I picked up for under $3.

We're getting to the end of things, I swear. just the veil and the cappotto to talk about. The veil is super simple. I thought about doing a more elaborate edging, but as I wanted a figured fabric (I was looking for a stripe, but ended up getting a lattice look) the lacy edging didn't really look right. I settled for a simple hem and then weighted the corners with tassels. That seems to be a theme here. There really are a large number of tassels in this project. I like them and they are fun and I hope they belong where I put them and they don't seem out of control. Lots of lace too, so maybe there is a balance.

Last but not least, I'm back where I started with one of the first projects I began and one of the last ones I finished, the cappotto or Dutch cloak. Lots and lots of couching later I finally finished it. It tops off the outfit as my final layer (not to mention brings the crazy blue and orange found in my shoes and stockings to the outside of the outfit).

I know I need more text to support all the rest of the pictures, but am not sure what to say other than don't look at the back too much. I don't have enough mirrors in my house to see my own back, and my husband and the friend who took the pictures didn't mention that the corset was showing. Nothing like showing a "bra strap" for the embarrassment factor. I don't think it is an issue with the cut, just needs to be adjusted better and the dress pulled up a bit. Sort of like my petticoat hanging down from last year. It is all I see in the pictures when I look. This year I guess I have the back picture and the droopy top lace in the front.

I really appreciate the motivation of this contest. I cannot express how much I have learned doing it. I have cornered more than one person, in a variety of skill levels, and basically told them they have to try it. Having the deadlines as well as the support of a group doing the same thing you are has been a wonderful experience. It has made me stretch myself in directions I never knew I could go. It has made me try new skills and go back to old unused ones and use them again. I am floored by the talent of my fellow competitors and inspired by their creations. Looking at the diaries of this year and last is basically a shopping list. "I'll take one of those, and one of those, and I NEEDED one of those!"

I set out to really challenge myself this year and do a dress that I was frightened of. I was scared of the construction details as well as how my body would look in it. If I hadn't committed to it aloud and in public, I can pretty much guarantee there is no way I would have finished it. I am so glad I did. I feel unbearably regal and elegant in it. I have never worn a train in my life and having this one is such fun. It is amazing what a train and some ruffs will do to give dignity to even a dumpy goofball like me.

So, I guess that is it. I finished it! I want to wear it down the street and hold a little personal parade, but as it is 100 degrees F outside, that is going to wait a few months. I need to pack it into the closet and dream about December when I can wear my new gold court gown and feel like someone who doesn't have to make dinner for four young children each night and drive a minivan but instead can step into a gondola and a bit of magic in Venice.

The "Cliff's Notes" of the outfit

A) Linen camicia with lace insertion. Hand sewn insertions, hand pleated
B) Orange silk and red canvas full petticoat bodies. Machine stitched boning channels hand bound in red pigskin with hand worked eyelets. Machine sewn lined petticoat with hand worked eyelets and cartridge pleated waist and hand applied ribbon trim.
C) Open bodice Venetian dress of gold cotton brocade. Machine sewn long seams with hand applied ribbon trim, and padded cartridge pleats. Sleeves with beaded rosettes.
D) Cappotto and matching bonnet with feathers. Hand braided frogs and thread worked buttons. Hand couched gold cord along hand applied bias trim. Cartridge pleated wool lined hat.

Extra accessories

Papier-Mache tourney shield. Hand sculpted and painted.
Gold cotton windowpane veil with handmade tassels.
Fur lined muff with leather cutwork appliqué and thread-worked buttons
Paper flag fan with drawn and painted pear with calligraphy poem
Sculpted feather fan
Painted parasol with sculpted 'apres' finial and hand sewn tassels
Zibellino with sculpted head and beaded girdle drop
2 sets of hairpins, filed, assembled, and painted
Strung blue jasper and gold necklace
Strung pearl necklace with acorns and maple leaf pendant
Assembled chandelier pearl earrings with silk bows
Signet ring with carved intaglio gem
Set of bracelets in half-Persian weave
Beaded girdle belt
Sash with interlaced herringbone embroidery, tassels, and beading
Beaded rosary with hand tied tassel
Lace sweet-bag sewing set with buttonhole tassels, interlocked braid and thread-worked buttons. Scissor keep, needle case, needle-book, stiletto sheath and pincushion
Handkerchief with pearled needle lace edging
Lace stomacher
Lace cuffs 
Linen apron with hand sewn insertions of lace and pleated top
Machine sewn cotton under-camicia
Machine sewn silk garters with hand sewn appliqué of lace
Hand sewn linen stockings with hand applied purchased lace and trim
Cutwork latchet shoes
Block printed machine sewn drawers with hand done eyelets
Suit of silk organza and lace shoulder and neck ruffs. Cartridge pleated into linen bands
Hand sewn organza ruffled partlet with beading
Block printed and painted machine sewn soccaccia
Braided and beaded hairpieces

I think that's it. Either way, it is time for a nap and a rest after a whirlwind 4 months of creation. Thanks again to Bella and all the other entrants who inspired me by their beautiful things. Can't wait to see what gets made next year!