The Second Annual

Italian Renaissance Costuming Challenge

April 15 to August 15,  2012

Kelly Prim

Kelly Prim
Virginia, USA

I am just past a novice at sewing and fell in love with Italian Renaissance clothing when I was pregnant with my son due to it's beauty and versatility at such a dynamic time of my life. When I'm not sewing or thinking about sewing I am enjoying my time with my husband and son (who is now a year and a half) and I work at an elementary school.

The outfit I am planning is an ensemble dating to about 1480 with a chemise, an under gown made of pumpkin colored linen, an over-gown of a brocade orange (the pattern of the fabric is straight out of a painting so a synthetic material is a concession to the look of the layer), I may end up with several accessories including a pocket, a necklace, or a lace cap. I may or may not incorporate embroidery into this ensemble. Time will tell.

I have been sewing for about 8 years and doing period sewing for around three years which was just prior to joining the SCA. I decided I loved early Italian Renaissance for two reasons. It is easy to make things look pretty, and the high waistline accommodates a baby bump( which I had).

The parts of the ensemble I will make are:

Camicia- chemise, this is started already but wonít be my only underwear layer. I hate tiny pleating and I know the whole thing will end up being laboriously hand sewn.

Under-gown- gamurra, this will be in pumpkin colored linen and made plain so I can wear it during the day. The main challenge is the fitting as I will be closing it up the front with metal clasps and then lacing it on both sides so that it can be used while pregnant (again hopefully).

Over-gown- this will be patterned orange brocade which is documentable to the period. Please see below. The over-gown will only show a tiny portion of the under-gown just at the front.

The ensemble I am going to make is loosely based on this painting of a woman in yellow by Allesso Baldovinetti (ca 1465?). Notice that the dotted fabric is very similar in both paintings though a different color. Both are in the warm color range. My fabric is of a similar color and though synthetic was such a great match to the pattern I couldnít pass it up. The second painting (below) is a detail by Carlo Crivelli.

Drawers- these will be made of natural color linen( which is less see through-y) with reproduced embroidery on the leg bands. Lots more to come on this soon.

There will be two accessories:
First is a pocket depicted here because I need a pocket and it looks like fun, and because I just happen to have some gold silk that works well. I realize this isnít a particularly complex project but it is a great little addition to a period wardrobe. This detail is from the "Birth of the Virgin", ca. 1595, Alessandro Allori (Santa Maria Nuova, Cortona).

Second is a lace cap which will be quite a challenge as I donít know anything about lace-making so I will be blatantly cheating and using something store bought and "finagling it".

The first picture is the lace cap I found closest to the lace I could find in a store. The shapes seem to be distinctly geometric. Iíll be connecting strips of store bought lace together to form the cap. The cap out of cotton voile to the side is how I arrived at the amount I needed.

The pouch/pocket is finished. I had so little fabric I used some linen to bind the edges to the opening. They were out of black velvet ribbon so I used brown and it creates much the same look. The top ended up being pieced from the triangular bits cut from the top and sides when I traced the pattern. I'd really like to make another one of these as they are easy and fun. I'm quite satisfied with the result and look forward to using my new pocket.

The gown and over-gown are both coming along well though there have been a few harrowing moments turning in seams. All the hidden seams are done by machine but all the sewing you will be able to see is done by hand, including when I get to the part where I start on the thread bound eyelets for the lacings on the sides. The first image below is the over-gown showing some of the layers next to some gorgeous silk I will use for attachable sleeves for either over-gown or under-gown. It gets pretty hot here in the south eastern US, so in the end I decided not to have sewn in sleeves for the over-gown but to attach them in way which I'll have to figure out later. I just know it needs to be different. The second image is the linen under-gown bodice. If I hold it up to me it DOES fit but you won't be able to see this til I get it finished. Both over and under-gown are lined with cotton and interlined with cotton canvas.

I had a chance to make some nice jewelry to go with this outfit. It is taken from this painting by Bastiano Sebastiano Mainardi (Italian artist, 1466-1513) Portrait of a Lady. I already have something that matches but I wanted another one that I had made myself.

This last image is of the embroidery on the cuff of what will become my new renaissance drawers. The embroidery goes slowly because I have a number of other projects for my SCA group to do with various deadlines so it may be a while before I get to add much more about the drawers.

It's been a while since a lot of progress was made but I've managed to break the back of the embroidery. Between flying to and from California, vacationing with my husband's family and the recent stormy weather along the east coast my time has been a bit taken up. The embroidery on the cuffs of my drawers is coming along well. One cuff is done with the color fill-ins and then the gold outline gets couched down over the ink lines. Somehow I'll get it done. 

The good news is the the Pumpkin dress as I have come to call it is all put together. The skirt was pleated in, the lining sewn down and the hook/eyes went on. All that is left are the lacing holes on the sides for adjustability, the hemming, and sleeve attachments. Then I can move on to the overdress. More to come soon.

It has been a crazy two weeks but I have managed to get a little bit done. The gown is done minus the sleeves which I am working on at the moment. The lacing holes took a long time but at least I know they'll hold up for a long time. The embroidery and the lace cap are at a standstill but will come along quickly once I get the over-gown done. Here is the gown both front and back. The fit is great and it goes on really easily.


Here I am working on the hem of the over-gown. The back has a bit of a train so I don't want the edge to get too frayed and picked too quickly. I have been sewing for people who are in the SCA and have an event next week so I am being diverted from my own sewing for the moment. However by next week I'll be back to the challenge and ready to wrap this up. Happy sewing everyone!

Here is a picture of the first stages of the sleeves I'll be using for my dress. This is the orange silk you saw earlier and they are patterned after the painting Girl with Cherries by Ambrogio De Predis in 1491. It is easy to see her sleeve construction except for the upper sleeve back but notice how you can see just a bit of the chemise through the back. I believe the sleeve has a gap that is spanned by cords just like the lower sleeve. That is how I have connected the sleeve together. They aren't quite done so I will wait til they are all put together and on the finished gown to show you.

This photo is of the braid I am making for the over-gown to trim both the back and front. There is an excellent tutorial on braids at The Renaissance Tailor site. The over-gown is done but I have had to wait to get good pictures of it when I can show it off appropriately. I revised my original idea of using a silver metal clasp at the front to hold it together and now I will be making a belt instead out of the orange silk. The over-gown has some hidden laces in the front but a belt will be much prettier to make it look put together. Here is a picture of the belt all cut out. Not all belts had decorations on them so this will be a plain belt.

The cap has finally been started but the work goes slowly. It's like weaving two spider webs together. Not my forte. It has gone faster than expected though and I should be able to finish before the 15th which is frighteningly close.

The drawers are coming along very slowly. I have sped up my embroidery skills with this project though and now feel very comfortable with satin stitch. Now for some couching in gold metallic thread. One thing that makes me really happy is that I got my inspiration from this very website from the workbox pages.

I must get back to the lace and 'broidery now. See you all on the 15th!

Final Update

Despite continuous sewing and embroidery it came right down to the line. Here are the pictures of the finished lace cap.

The camicia I mentioned way back never did materialize. I was lucky to finish the drawers which turned out better than I ever hoped so at least that is my under-layer. I detest gold-work but love the way it looks when it's done.

Some detail shots:

Now that this is over maybe we can all go back to doing something relaxing................. like sewing.