The Second Annual

Italian Renaissance Costuming Challenge

April 15 to August 15,  2012

Susan Malovrh

Susan Malovrh
Wisconsin, USA

I started sewing at age 12. I enjoy making quilts, doll clothes, and Renaissance Faire wear. I am just starting to do historical garb. This will be my second attempted Italian outfit.
My inspiration is from a fresco at Villa Barbaro, Maser by Paolo Veronese of women of the Giustiniani family called Figures Behind the Parapet.

I plan to make a camicia, petticoat, overdress, and partlet.

Well , Iím off to a slow start but the reason I entered was so I would make time to sew myself a new outfit and to try some new techniques. I need to quit reading sewing Blogs and just get started. I tore out the camicia from white linen on the first day of the challenge and have started hand sewing it with waxed linen thread. It will be interesting finding out how long it takes to hand sew as I machine stitched one of these in 2 hours the morning of an event . I havenít quite decided how I will finish the neckline. Iím thinking of trying smocking and/or needle lace. The petticoat will also be done with the white linen.

I found the pretty blue damask fabric for my gown at a thrift store and will line it with some blue cotton. I have started a mock up to check the fit of my pattern. I plan to try a pleated skirt. I will experiment with knife pleats and cartridge pleating instead of just gathering it. The sleeves will be my biggest challenge with this project so I need to leave enough time to do them justice. The consensus is that they are cutwork though I had toyed with couching the design. I have a nice piece of silk chiffon for the partlet backing and some gold beads and chenille type yarn for it. If I find I have extra time I would like to make a silk parasol and a zibellino.

I found a beautiful white gold brocade curtain panel at a thrift store and decided to use it for my corded petticoat instead of linen. I cut it into 6 A-line pieces and machine surged the seams. I machine sewed a couple of button holes in the waist center back added a bias tape casing and threaded a ribbon though it. I then sewed a cotton strip to the bottom and used my zipper foot to spiral encase about 75 feet of cotton rope.


I have been working away on the camicia and am pleased with the results but still have more Iíd like to do on it. I used Anabella Wakeís version of a Venetian camicia based on the Dorothy Burnham ďCut My CoteĒ camicia and tore the linen into the various pattern pieces. Using waxed linen thread, I back stitched the seams and then finished them by turning the edges in towards the center creating a heart shaped tube and whip stitched along the top edge. I then used Eithniís Magic Veil Stitch to hem the neck and sleeves. I have started needle lace on the sleeve edges by making thread loops and covering them in buttonhole stitch. I hope to do smocking on the lower sleeves. The neckline is currently gathered about an inch from the edge creating a top ruffle. I may decide on a different finish when I try it with the dress.


The gown is started though my first attempt at the bodice was a failure. Iíve made necessary changes and am moving forward with a much better fit. I have the pattern drafted for the partlet and have been playing with the sleeve design. The next month will be busy indeed!

I have been working on my bodice. I started hand sewing hemp cord between a layer of cotton canvas and wool while on vacation and finished sewing channels by machine and threaded the remaining cord through with a safety pin. A lining of cotton twill was machine stitched on and the 3 layer unit is trimmed to size. I stitched the double row of ribbons to the lined side for the ladder lacing. I just need to finish stitching the outer layer and it will be ready for the skirt.

Final Update

For the skirt I took 3 widths of my fabric and machine stitched them together. I zigzag finished the upper edge, turned it under 2 inches, cartridge pleated, and attached it to the bodice with button hole thread. I did a padded hem by adding a 3 inch teal colored felted wool strip to the bottom and turning ii up and hemming.

For the sleeves I sewed tubes of fabric for the tops. I traced scallops using a thread spool onto a strip of fabric, machine sewed on a cotton lining, turned them, and added the center bead trim. The bottom of the sleeve was a tapered rectangle. I sewed the scalloped piece to itís top and then the tubes. I encased the top edge of the sleeve tubes in a bias cut strip of the fabric. The sleeve is stitched onto the bodice at 2 inch intervals with beadwork along the top leaving gaps for the camicia to be pulled through and completely attached under the arm. The sleeves were hemmed and the dress is finally finished!

Returning to the camicia I finished a single row of needle lace on each sleeve and then put in 8 rows of smocking gathers. I back smocked them as I liked the look of plain cartridge pleats on the outside. I did a 2Ē hem in the bottom of the camicia. I added another row of gathering stitches to the neck edge and sewed the gathers to a piece of grosgrain ribbon leaving a half inch ruffle along the top edge. I wish I had made the sleeves wider so I had more fabric to pull through the sleeve puff slits. Pulling the neck ruffle through the slits where the sleeves are attached help keep it in place. This is a photo of the camicia sleeve smocking.

To make the partlet I drafted a pattern by draping myself with Glad Pressín Seal plastic wrap and drew on it with a permanent marker for the front. It worked great! I used my duct tape dress form and newspaper to draft the back. I then traced it out on tissue paper and put in the lattice lines. I put a base tissue paper layer, the pattern tissue paper, and a layer of tulle into a wooden hoop and sewed the chunky chenille style yarn and beads through it all. When I completed the lattice, I removed the hoop and pulled the threads through the tissue. Iím guessing fabric tubes of silk velvet were used in my inspirationís partlet. The yarn doesnít quite have enough body to remain laying straight and it was hard to catch the center strand in the yarn while sewing them down, but all in all the finished partlet has the look I was going for.

I attempted mimicking the designs on the top of the bodice with yarn and added a pearl in the middle of each. They look a bit more like flowers than I was aiming for. I considered doing the lower sleeves in the same manner but was worried they would snag on everything and be even hotter than they are so I opted to leave them plain. 

Accessories for my outfit included a girdle made by spray painting a Christmas tree bead garland gold, a piece of gold chain from Wal-Mart and thrift store roses, pearl necklace, drop pearl earrings, and finger rings.

I adapted Simplicity 3782 Elizabethan costume pattern for this project. I hit a snag on the 4th of July when I finally had a day to concentrate in the bodice construction and the pattern was nowhere near fitting. I solved the problem of my barrel shaped body verses hour glass figure pattern by turning the back upside down and recutting the arms eye.

The last four months have been quite an experience for me. It was my first attempt at recreating an outfit from a medieval picture. I read lots of sewing Blogs and learned historic sewing methods even though sometimes I just had to guess at how things were done. New to me were cartridge pleats, roped hems, padded hems, corded bodice, needle lace, smocking, and making a duct tape double. The camicia was completely hand sewn and I worked on it the full 4 months. That sure makes me appreciate sewing machines! I did find sometimes that hand sewing was an advantage such as when adding the outer layer of the bodice over the bulky roped innards and with the cartridge pleats. I LOVE the look of cartridge pleats! I enjoyed working with the natural fibers of linen and wool and discovered how nice it is to hand sew with waxed threads. I met my goal of finishing a new outfit for myself in time for the Renaissance Fair. I like the fit and support of the corded bodice and how the stiffened hems bell the skirts and make walking more comfortable. Iím glad I had the opportunity to be in this challenge.