The Third Annual Italian Renaissance Costuming Challenge

April 14 to August 14,  2013

April Maybee
Indiana, USA

April Maybee

I have been sewing since I was a small child and drafting and sewing Renaissance inspired clothing off and on for...oh, the past 37 years or so. I'd call myself experienced but not advanced. While my primary interest is in making garments which present an image I feel is correct for the time and place I am portraying, I am also interested in period materials, cut and methods, and the interesting choices in interpreting those methods which our modern resources make possible. As always, I expect to learn a lot from participating in the challenge and I hope this year will be one in which I actually finish all my layers!

Layer 1: An embroidered linen camicia and drawers embellished with drawn-thread lace, faggoting and embroidery.
Layer 2: An under-dress/petticoat.
Layer 3: An over-dress, and possibly a cape based on this extant example.
Layer 4: A white linen partlet embellished with drawn-thread lace inspired by the sleeves in this portrait.

You can find my blog here.

I have been working on the drawn-thread lace work for my camicia. Using the pulled linen threads for the stitching, I have completed the front panel and almost all of the back panel. I intend to finish the drawn-thread work on the back panel and sleeves and hope to begin the accompanying embroidery prior to the start of the event.


Layer One: In progress

I have made some progress on my camicia. All of the purely decorative pulled thread work is done, I have begun the hemstitching to prepare the side edges of each piece for insertion-stitch joining, and--after a couple of false starts--I have figured out the scale of my embroidery for this piece and begun laying down the basic structure of the pattern by working the first pass of the connecting stem and offshoots in running stitch. It will become double running stitch when I work the second pass. (At which point I will be working all the details of leaves and acorns, too).

As you can see, I am not a 'press everything beautifully and stretch it carefully in a frame' kind of girl. I enjoy experimenting with how little I can get away with from the land of proper needlework equipment while still coming out with a passable product. I also tend to just bundle all my fabric and thread into a plastic bag, shove it into my purse and work on it during lunch and other spare moments. Thus far I've learned that a small frame is very helpful when I am working the acorns and leaves, but is otherwise unnecessary. The plastic bag is absolutely imperative!

Layer Four

For my first accessory project I've made a set of brass hair pins with an acorn finial. You can see my supplies and the process in the photo. While the double pronged hairpin with wavy legs is not a period style as far as I am aware, I think they are lovely and not the least bit jarring once they are in my hair. Both the wire and acorns are brass and am satisfied that such a pin could have been made in a similar manner from similar materials in period and I love knowing that the pins will not simply slip out of my hair within minutes. Plus the acorns match my embroidery. How cool is that?

Finally, for my second accessory I have begun carving a fan handle from an inexpensive wooden 'craft' candleholder. There is not much to see at this point but you can expect pictures to start appearing on my blog (link above) soon!

What I have been working on for the past month? I confess I have mostly been waiting on tenterhooks for my set of Italian Renaissance patterns to arrive. Not that it is at all reasonable to expect them, but that doesn't stop a girl from hoping! In between bouts of running to check the mailbox I have been working on the embroidery on my camicia. I'd worked several repeats of the pattern when I realized the scale was too large so I took them out, reduced the size by half and started again. The half-scale version looks much better but takes a lot longer to do. So long, in fact that I have decided to just do the outer edges at collar and hem for now. If those sections are done I can assemble the whole and then fill in the rest as I have time. Right now it seems quite likely that time will be after the challenge ends but I hope to get all the visible portions done.

I've also been working on my version of Orsi's lovely design for a fan handle. I started with a craft wood candle holder, altered it by carving, then adding more wood pieces, hardware and sculpted additions of plastic wood. I've realized that the plastic wood I purchased cannot give me the level of detail I want so I will next be adding a layer of air-dry paper mâché sculpture material. We'll see how it goes.


June/July Update

I was feeling like I hadn't got anything done this month until I collected together my project pictures and realized that I've gotten a lot done!

First off, the veil: the most interesting thing about my veil is the shape. I've made both rectangular and semi-circular veils in the past but I was inspired to try something more complicated by the intricate shapes of period Spanish veils in extant tailors patterns. The illustrations of Italian and Spanish veils look much the same when worn and I've longed been intrigued by images of Italian veils with long ends which are somehow twisted and fastened behind the neck.

Starting from a rectangle of fabric slightly taller than I am and 110" wide I cut off the corners of the bottom half in a free-hand s curve, reversed the pieces and hand sewed the edges together. After making an attempt at hand finishing the edge of the veil I decided that machine sewing would be necessary and made several passes with a zig-zag stick to finish the edges in a manner reminiscent of the textured strip of the fabric. I then braided together the loose ends of the sewing threads to give my veil a little extra length and make an easy to tie cord.

The pile of veil fabric showing the hand sewn seam

The full veil stretched out behind my apartment, for scale

I think the veil is quite successful but I may try it again in the future with a simple arch cut and flipped instead of the s curve. I'll have to see how it looks while worn.

I also continued work on my fan, sculpting over the wood and plastic-wood form I had made with paper clay. I had not worked with paper clay before and I think it is marvellous stuff! I was able to get a version of the original drawing that I feel pretty good about.

Which I then painted with gold spay paint and covered with gold leaf Rub n' Buff. Another product I used for the first time and now love! I used six ostrich plumes (three black and three white) of two feathers each and 3 single white feathers to fill the holder. Each was curled, arranged in the holder and secured in place with wadding. This wadding was shredded paper in my case but would probably have been wool in period.

My new fan demanded a girdle to hang from so I took a length of chain and attached some more of the same brass acorns I used in my hairpins. You will note that my girdle has two hooks, one to allow me to put it on easily and change the drape to suit different gowns, and one to carry the fan.

I have also begun on the skirts for my sottana.

Final Update

I have been working on my sottana of late and it is clear that I will not be able to complete the bodice at the same standard of historical accuracy (or at least historically informed and experimenting-ness) as the skirt and still meet the deadline for the IRCC3 so I have decided to be content with a work in progress for my layer two. I have temporarily faked a bodice so that I may wear the skirt of my sottana for the final photos.

My challenge project consists of:

Layer One: A white linen camicia with drawn-thread work in white, and blue silk embroidery of acorns worked in double running stitch on almost even weave cloth by the counted thread method. I still have a long way to go on the embroidery. Incomplete.

Layer Two: A printed linen sottana cut and sewn by period rectangular construction methods and hand stitched in period style. I even made the little clipped trim. Only the skirt is completed and presented for consideration. I a particularly pleased that I actually used the fabric in the multiple directions which occurred when I cut the triangles. It took a pretty extreme commitment to authenticity! Incomplete.


Layer Three: A mantle. Somewhere along the way I became obsessed with Caravaggio's image of the Pentitent Magdelen and decided I wanted to replicate the image, therefore I made a plain rectangular mantel. I still intend to recreate the portrait after my sottana is finished. Complete.

Layer Four: 
  • A set of brass hairpins in the shape of acorns.
  • A set of jewelry ornamented with acorns consisting of girdle and matching bracelets and hair band.
  • A veil, the cut of which was inspired by period patterns.
  • A sculpted fan handle inspired by the work of Lelio Orsi with curled ostrich feather plumes in two colors.


All complete.