The Second Annual

Italian Renaissance Costuming Challenge

April 15 to August 15,  2012

Malinda Godwin

Malinda Godwin
Arkansas, USA

I have been sewing since I was a young child. I have been associated with the SCA for nearly 20 years. In that time I have done several 'Italian style' dresses though never any with proper undergarments though I have attempted a few accessories.

I am planning to base this on several Eleonora di Toledo pieces
Layer 1 based on Janet Arnold page 102 the pair of bodies/corset/petticoat bodies
Layer 2 petticoat
Layer 3 red dress I've seen referred to as the Pisa dress that I once saw in a travelling exhibit
Layer 4 partlet and/or snood from the Bronzino portrait of Eleonora with son

For my outfit, I chose to recreate what is referred to by Janet Arnold as the velvet bodice or ‘bodies’ worn by Eleanora of Toledo in which she was buried in 1562. According to Arnold, it was referred to as ‘velluto chermisi’ or crimson velvet. There was no trace of any type of sleeves or any indication that sleeves were ever attached nor is there any trace of a skirt though stitch holes exist at the waist. It was fastened at the front with hooks and eyes probably 18 pair and would have been lined in linen. It is unknown if there was any type of stiffening agent such as bents which would have been attached to the lining. According to Arnold, it could have been a ‘corset’, a ‘pair of bodies’, or it could have been a ‘petticoat bodies’ supporting a petticoat or an underskirt. It had two seams at the back Hooks were stitched under the right front and eyes on the left. In an article by Sarah Lorraine on ‘Bodies, Stays, and Corsets, she has an image of the bodice and points out the existence of small gores at the back seams.

I started with the descriptions and illustrations in Janet Arnold, I then applied these to a modern corset pattern (Simplicity 2621) and from there made the minor modifications necessary to fit my figure. 

After achieving a working pattern, I constructed what I refer to as the ‘under’ bodice of red/crimson velvet and linen. There are small gores at the back waist and 18 pairs of hook and eyes with the hooks on the right at the center front for closure.

Since my fabrics are fairly stiff and currently maintain the shape needed to produce the silhouette of the dress shown in the painting of Eleonora di Toledo and Ferdinando de’ Medici by Bronzino I have added no extra stiffening at this time.

The red velvet stays (‘under’ bodice) has undergone through several revisions after wearing included being interlined with linen. I am hoping that after this reworking of the armholes that it will be complete.

I have now made a camicia out of lightweight cotton with the four rectangles, using square gussets, and a straight binding strip for the neckline. I am realizing how important the ‘proper’ undergarments are with this project having never before done them in ‘proper’ fabrics and style.

I have made a mock up of my petticoat in a large blue patterned fabric and am almost ready to cut my velvet.

I have also begun work on the trim for the petticoat.

I have been working on various parts of my project.

The snood is under construction with the pearls partially placed. It made of gold mesh strips sewn together and then the outer edges wrapped with more gold cord and pearls are being individually attached. I’m also starting work on a coordinating partlet.

The trim is coming along though very slowly but 5 motif repeats are now done. In 1560’s Florence, it would have been made using vergole, which was made of silk wrapped in a strand of gold and then couched down with another gold strand, as is the case on the ‘Pisa’ gown. As I’ve marked in the enlarged image below. My own attempts at replication are the next three images.


I am also working on cording made out of more size 10 crochet yarn by the lucet method.


In regard to the planned corded petticoat this is what I achieved following the directions on under the Tips section by Lisa Satterlund. My corded petticoat has 15 ridges instead of 14 and I used 108” wide fabric from which I cut out gussets to achieve the taper. I also used a plastic cord of .105 diameter instead of rope. This is what I got.

Of more import is that after reading Moda a Firenze 1540-1580 (Eleonora version) by Roberta Orsi Landini, I have come to realize that this piece should not be part of an outfit based on Eleonora di Toledo and/or the red ‘Pisa’ dress.

I have a red silk that I intend to use to make a zimarra to complete the layers of my outfit so that all layers can work together as a single outfit. Moda a Firenze says zimarre were based on caftans and similar I’m working on using the Turkish morning gown of silk pattern in Juan de Alcega’s Tailor’s Pattern Book. I also have a friend’s Spanish morning gown to use as a reference.

In 1560’s Florence and the surrounding Duchy, the petticoat is actually in the form of a full gown or dress to be worn indoors. In fact both the red ‘Pisa’ dress and Eleonora burial gown as described in Janet Arnold’s Patterns of Fashion should in fact be considered petticoats themselves.

Indoors these petticoats were often the outer layer or worn beneath another gown. If one was going out they would definitely have added another layer likely in the form of a Zimarra

My plan now includes: 
Layer 1: red velvet stays (which are complete) and the camicia 
Layer 2: the red velvet ‘Pisa’ gown/petticoat
Layer 3: red silk Zimarra
Layer 4: golden net snood and probably a partlet

My petticoat is based on the extant Pisa Gown. Moira Brunori (Conservatore di Tessuti e Costume, Pisa) has done a lecture on the extant Red ‘Pisa’ Dress. A link to this lecture can be found in the bottom section of an event flyer, here
Unfortunately the lecture is in Italian and non-reproducible. I cannot understand most of the words but the slideshow is informative with many excellent images.

Slide thirty-one shows a comparison between the Pisa dress and Eleonora’s burial gown. Both dresses have four modified rectangles forming the front and back. The main differences are in the construction of the sides. The Pisa gown has 3 sections completing the sides for a total of ten sections. With minor modifications for personal sizing, I have cut my velvet in the same basic layout except for not extending the back into a train.

Back layout

Front side layout

Full side layout


A single large triangle starts shortly below the waist to form the back section of the side. The side of the front was made with two pieces. 

With the exception on side closures done and hemming, the main body of the petticoat is now assembled. Sleeves are still to be added.


I have sewn the base for a zimarra. I have based it on the Turkish morning gown patterns in Alcega.

I got the sleeves for it cut out and took a picture before assembly. The sleeves are my best interpretation of Alcega (not a modern version) and there is also the curvature in the shoulder seams as depicted though I failed to capture a layout image.

I also Made a set of earrings similar to those in the Bronzino portrait.

We'll see what happens, as I've never tried anything not modified from a modern pattern (or pre-made full sized historic recreation pattern). Trying to create patterns from web images (Brunori), small images with confusing legends (Alcega), and even good scaled pattern images of extant articles (Arnold) is something I've never tried before.

Final Update

My petticoat did not get completed. The handmade trim for the petticoat did not get finished, so I have substituted it with something similar composed of a ribbon between two thin braids. I arranged the trim following the same pattern as found on the 'Pisa gown' with a double width on the skirt.

I ran out of thin braid and time so the sleeves and hemline will need to be completed at a later time. The side lacings are also unfinished eventually the holes will be embroidered and laced with lucet cord.

The Zimarra is complete. It is based on the portrait of Eleonora with her son Francesco (fig 18 Moda a Firenze), and the Alcega pattern for a Turkish gown of silk (without the hood). It is made of silk with handmade frogs composed of cord and thread wrapped wooden beads. I might make and attach more frogs later but for now I consider it finished. The trim and frog style is based on another portrait suspected of being Eleonora wearing a red zimarra (fig 48 Moda a Firenze). For some reason the shoulders of the zimarra look a different color but it is all one fabric.