The Second Annual

Italian Renaissance Costuming Challenge

April 15 to August 15,  2012

Heather Morgan

Heather Morgan
Washington, USA

It feels like I have been sewing for a lifetime, but it has really only been 4 years. In that time I have gone from using rather incorrect commercial patterns and copying random pretty elements of other outfits I saw, to drafting my own patterns close to extant examples and trying my darnedest to look like I stepped out of a painting. I have mostly done outfits of the middling sort, and would like to use this contest as an excuse to make something extravagantly lovely for myself.

I have always wanted to make a late period male outfit for myself. It is something I have no experience in and should be a very fun challenge. I am plan to make a shirt, doublet, pants, hose, and fur-lined overcoat. Possibly also a hat and shoes. If I get really ambitious, I will make a matching skirt to the doublet so that it could be turned into a female outfit as well. Giovanni Battista Moroni is my main painting reference.

My 'Dress' Diary: 

I am making an outfit based off the portrait of Don Gabriel de la Cueva by Giovanni Battista Moroni. I have spent the last week or three very closely looking at his portrait and finding as many similar elements in other paintings from 1550-60 in Italy as I could. I drew lots of pictures, and wrote notes on documentation resources, possible trim ideas and techniques, and if I have the time and motivation for it, the various accessories I could potentially make. 

A huge resource is the burial outfit of Pietro of Aragon III; he is wearing a doublet nearly identical to my reference image! His outfit also includes similar pants, hat, and shoes. My intended outer garment was a big fluffy overcoat as seen in several other Moroni paintings, but I think that I will make the black short sleeved over-doublet/jerkin my new layer 3. I would still like to make the fur lined coat, but the jerkin is higher on my priority list: it's just too nifty!

Materials wise, I have plenty of white linen for the shirt, some lovely red silk I got at a good price a month ago, a very small bit of velvet that I hope to squeak out pants with, and some dark red/brown leather to make my shoes. I still need black wool to make the over-doublet and hat though.

Since the challenge began, I have started drafting the doublet pattern on my new, completely unexpected, and free dress-form that miraculously is almost my size (thank you to my fiancé's sister!). I have flirted with making a doublet pattern before, but have not ever ended up with something I was quite pleased with. Hopefully this time will be different! I will be wearing a strapless set of stays under my doublet to try to flatten my bust and smooth out my curves, creating a shape that will hopefully be a bit more masculine and a lot easier to make patterns for. 

I have also made a pattern of my foot for the shoes, and started hand hemming the edges of my shirt pieces so I can use openwork stitches to sew them together afterwards.

After drafting my doublet pattern on the dress form, I was still too scared to start cutting into the pretty red silk, for fear that the pattern would somehow end up being terribly wrong. Fortunately, I already had a doublet scheduled for reconstruction and I decided that this would make a perfect opportunity to test out the new pattern. The victim was a doublet I had made for my boyfriend, but was just too small for comfort on him. I seam ripped the whole thing apart and cut my new pattern pieces out of it. I was able to reuse the collar, sleeves, and skirting pieces after a bit of resizing. The result was a successful full mock-up of the doublet pattern, and I get a new doublet to boot!

Alright, there were no excuses now, I had to start cutting into my pretty red silk. If it was this hard to cut the pattern out, I hate to think about slashing the whole thing later! I got the top layer of silk, the red linen interlining, and the canvas interlining all cut out, and marked with lines of chalk where the trim would go.

Speaking of trim, lets discuss that for a moment. Don Gabriel's red sleeves have some element of decoration between the rows of slashing, but it is difficult to make out. Since the burial outfit of Pietro of Aragon III is nearly a twin of this one, I decided to go with the same method of decoration between the slashing. It looks like rows of velvet trim, twisted into a spiral and backstitched flat against the doublet. I have never seen anything like them before, and thought it was really clever once I realized what was going on. 


I bought 25 yards of the standard velvet trim found in fabric shops and got to sewing. As it turns out, stitching down this spiral trim takes forever. It took me about 3 weeks to get the trim all attached, and then, of course, there was not enough to finish the sleeves with! I made a run back to the store, but was only able to get 2 more yards. Booo! I decided to finish the sleeves and put some trim around the collar, but the skirting and the seams will have to stay bare until I happen to find more. With the trim (mostly) done, I sewed the doublet together and found that it fits quite nicely! I had to make a different sleeve pattern from the mock-up, to avoid a big seam going up the front of my arms, but otherwise it is the same pattern as the blue mock-up.

Next is buttonholes, buttons, and lining for the doublet. And slashing at some point, which I have avoided thus far, knowing that I would be handling the pieces a lot during the trimming process, and didn't want to fray the silk more than necessary.

I got the white silk lining sewn into the red doublet, and after puzzling over what buttons I wanted, made and attached buttons down the front. I based my buttons off of the crimson doublet on page 20 of Patterns of Fashion by Arnold, an English doublet I believe, but they had the nice flat profile I was looking for. I made them almost the same way one makes round fabric buttons, but with a tiny disk of cardstock (the closest thing I have to pasteboard/16th century cardboard) in the middle to encourage the flat shape. Then I embroidered around the edge and plopped a nice big knot in the center. I am very happy with how they turned out visually, but we will see how they hold up with use. 

I got a hold of some nifty black wool in a weight I liked and started making the over-doublet/jerkin out of it. I fidgeted a bunch over the sleeves, trying to decide if I wanted to go with my original idea of a one piece sleeve, or two pieces (puff and cuff). Currently I have the one piece pattern sewn on, and while it looks close, I think that the panes are a bit too long, so I might end up turning to the two piece pattern anyways to make them shorter. 

Several of the garments in Patterns of Fashion 3 (thank goodness for her up close photos!) have trim that looks tablet woven, using a rather thick string as the weft. That thick string makes the weave have a nice bumpy texture, and allows for some stability for the picots on the edge. I warped my little loom and tried it out. I think I have something close, although I should have used an even thicker cord on the shuttle. I wanted to use this as the black trim for the over doublet, just like Don Gabriel's, but I have a feeling that I am just not up for making 10+ yards of this. I might have to fall back on some store bought trim, and use the yard I already made on something else. I think I could use in in the hat band.

Speaking of the hat, I am halfway done with it! It's made of the same wool as the over-doublet, and is based off of the similarly structured velvet bonnet of Don Garzia de Medici. I put no foundation material in the brim, since I think that the wool had plenty of body on its own to stand out nicely. The crown is pleated into the brim, although looking at some other 16th century Italian portraits such as that of Giovan Angelo Annoni, I think that gathering is just as period, and might work with this fabric better. I still need to make a hat band to match Don Gabriel's black spiral one.

I have been trying to think of how to do the pants (call them breeches, slops, pluderhosen, trunk-hose, or whatever else you like, but I'll stick with pants to make it simple), particularly in regard to how they mesh with the hose. As far as I can figure, there are several period options, such as:

1. Lacing one's hose to the bottom cuff of the pants.
2. Wearing full hose underneath the pants.
3. Wearing socks with good elasticity at the top and hoping they stay high enough to not show skin.
4. Wearing pants that go all the way to the knee (like ‘Venetians’ do, or with the use of canions) and gartering your socks up at the knee. This seems to be a very common re-enactment option.
5. Sewing the hose to the pants, making them into one garment.

It looks to me like Don Gabriel’s pants end mid thigh. It is possible that the small bit of red showing beneath that is a canion, but I decided that it might be interesting see how full hose under the pants worked out. Making said full hose was an interesting adventure, but seems to have resulted in success. They are not perfectly smooth and wrinkle free, but as I keep reminding myself, neither are the hose you see men wearing in 16th century portraiture. 

Next came the pants. Taking a good hard look at how much time I had left and all the things I still wanted to accomplish, I decided to forgo the velvet panes on the pants for now, since I can always add them on later. For now, I have fluffy, rather silly looking but accurate pants that match the outfit. I am a little displeased with how the hose color looks against the pants color, but I am hoping that the slightly darker red velvet panes will bring them together. If not, I can always make separate short hose to go overtop the full hose. Or perhaps dye the hose a more suitable color.

The shirt is mostly done. All the separately hemstitched pieces have been attached with insertion stitches. All I need to do now on the shirt is add buttons and loops to the collar and cuffs. I have decided to go with separate embroidered collar and cuffs, so they can be safely removed before I toss the shirt in the washer after wearing.

Final Update

Finally done! As always, there are things I wish I had time to make, and there is more work that could be done on the outfit (a codpiece comes to mind) but I am very pleased with how the outfit looks as a whole.

I love the look of the slashed sleeves. I am not convinced that it looks quite like the original though. Perhaps they used a slightly thicker and sturdier silk; mine is quite thin and fine. I learned how to do a proper tailor’s buttonhole stitch for this project and while it takes a bit longer than the blanket stitch I was using before, it really does work better for the purpose, and looks very spiffy. 

I am in love with the portrait miniature necklace! I made a tiny painting based off of a picture of my SO, and I am told the image is a recognizable likeness (yay!). I really like the lace on one of Nicholas Hilliard’s miniatures who happens to be wearing a similar necklace/miniature of his own, and thought it was a lovely idea, so I added lace of my own. It makes for a rather dandy accessory now, with a big notable bow behind my neck!

To cover a small bit of iffy trim on the back of my over doublet, I stitched the very last 3 inches of braid I had over it in the shape of a heart. The bow covers it in my final images, but I took a picture of it afterwards. I really love the heart, it makes me smile. The bit of picot trim I made did indeed end up on the hat, though there is not much contrast between the two. Perhaps later I will undo it and put a band of red silk beneath it to make the picots stand out more. I didn’t have any more of the fine lace I used on the necklace and drawers, so I purchased and sewed some coarse but attractively pointy lace on the garters.

One of the more notable parts of the Don Gabriel portrait is the interesting embroidery on the collar and cuffs, but for the purposes of this challenge, I had to be sensible and go with a simpler design than the original. I made a separate pair of collar and cuffs for ease of laundering later.

A final list of completed objects:

1. Layer 1: A shirt with every seam hemmed by hand and then openwork insertion stitches used to connect each piece together. Four strand braided band ties with tassels over knotted ends. Wrists close with pearl button and buttonhole stitch worked loop.
2. Layer 2: A red silk doublet with slashing and twisted ribbon trim. Hand bound buttonholes and embroidered silk cloth buttons. Band of eyelets to point to pants.

3. Layer 2.5: Red silk pants. A hidden pocket in the side of the pants. Eyeleted top band to point to doublet. More hand worked eyelets to close the front.

4. Layer 3: An over doublet made of felled wool with braided trim. Hand bound buttonholes and thread covered buttons.

5. Layer 4: A black woollen cap with gathered crown and hand woven picot trim hatband.

6. Silk ‘ribbon’ and lace necklace with hand painted miniature portrait.

7. A pair of detached cuffs and collar with red silk counted stitch embroidery. (Above)

8. A set of full hose made of red wool, with hand bound eyelets and ribbon ties with simple handmade brass aglet. (Above)

9. A pair of silk garters with lace. (Above)

9. Drawers with lace on the bottom hem. Worked buttonhole and hand cast pewter button (monogram consists of the letters RMDV, the shared initials of my SO and I).

I had a lot of fun with the challenge, and I am very pleased with the outfit I got out of it!