The Third Annual Italian Renaissance Costuming Challenge

April 14 to August 14,  2013

Bettina Berns
Bonn, Germany

Bettina Berns

My name is Bettina Berns, I live in Bonn, Germany. Since I have finished my studies in 2007, I have been  working for the German pension fund. When I was a girl, I loved sewing dresses for my dolls. A few years ago I rediscovered having fun with sewing and started sewing historical dresses. My first attempt at a renaissance dress was in summer/autumn 2010.

Since green is my favorite colour and I do not own a green dress yet, my project for the challenge should be a green dress. I would like to do a shirt, an underdress and the over-dress itself (in green damask). The over-dress should have a v-neckline with lacing, so that the underdress is visible. I have not decided yet about the accessories, I would like do to either a pair of gloves, or a small hat. Below are my inspiration portraits.


I decided to start my work with the shirt/chemise. I took some beautiful, champagne coloured Dupioni silk for it and some matching coloured lace from the antique store (unfortunately, I do not know how to make lace myself). The pattern is from Butterick. I changed it a bit, because it is for men and my shoulders are smaller and my neck too. Originally, I wanted to do some black-work on the chemise, but since I am not sure, whether I will finish all four layers in time, I decided not to do so.


After finishing sewing the camicia, I started to work at my kirtle. Since I could not find a brown brocade for it, I decided to buy 3.5 meters of brown linen at the local cloth store, which was on offer. I copied the pattern for the bodice from period patterns no 41. I changed it a bit, because I wanted to have the closure of the dress more in the back. (You will see, what I mean, when I am ready with that piece. I do not know how to describe it.) I cut every piece of the bodice three times: two out of the brown linen, one out of an uncoloured linen which is a bit stronger than the brown one.
I also cut out the pieces for the skirt of the kirtle (using no pattern at all). And I copied the pattern for the skirt of the gown and cut it out four times.

Then I returned to sewing. I sewed the uncoloured pieces of the bodice onto the brown ones by herringbone stitching.


Then I sewed the pieces of the kirtle's skirt together. This time I did a bit of cheating, because I used the machine for the long seams. I guess, it won't be seen. I did the hemming by hand again.

Afterwards I pinned the lined bodice pieces to the skirt, doing some small box pleats and knife pleats and sewed them together.

Since I am using linen, not brocade, for the kirtle, I decided the kirtle needed some embroidery in order to look more 'expensive'.

So I surfed around the world wide web for some inspiration and then designed a pattern, first onto paper, then copied onto "Vlieseline". (Is there an English word for it? I do not know), which will dissolve in  water when I have finished the stitching.

I chose a wonderful yellow linen yarn, which I normally use for comb weaving, for the stitching. Since it is hand-dyed, it is unevenly coloured, so it is going to look - I hope - quite lively.

I am going to do stitching at the front of the kirtle's bodice and also on the shoulder straps.

July Update

Since my last update I was able to finish working on the kirtle and starting with the third layer for the challenge. I finished the embroidery at the top of the kirtle and added a small line of embroidery at the bottom of the kirtle's skirt.

The kirtle is to be closed by lacing. So I made eyelets by pulling a wooden, sharpened stick through the cloth, and fixed the eyelets using buttonhole stitches of the same linen yarn, which I used for the embroidery at the front. I made matching cords for the lacing out of the yellow linen yarn and some brown woollen yarn.

Furthermore, I started sewing the gown: I cut out the sleeves, two times out of the green damask, two times out of a light green cotton (for the lining), and sewed lining to fabrics. I also started sewing the four pieces of the skirt together.

So, I am still in the game and quite excited, if I will be able to finish it all!

Final Update

Since my last update, I cut out the rest of the pieces for the gown out from the green brocade, and also out of some uncoloured cotton for the lining. I sewed the lining of the skirt into it and added a stripe of woollen cloth inside, to produce a nicer shape when pleated. First time in my life I did cartridge pleating! To be honest, I am quite proud of myself, because although doing it for the first time the pleats do look nice, don't they?
In fact, the method itself wasn't as difficult as I expected it to be, but its quite hard work and my fingers almost hurt afterwards. I also started sewing the parts of the gown together.


In then sewed skirt and top of my gown together and hemmed the skirt. Additionally I decorated the dress with a rest of a trim I still had in my trunk, and a row of tiny little glass wax pearls. I also added trim and some pearls at the end of my sleeves plus some embroidery with rose-coloured cotton floss. Furthermore I sewed tiny little metal-flower-rings onto sleeves and dress for closure.

Because I could not convince myself to make holes into the dress, I decided to look for metallic applications like in one of my inspiration pictures. I was lucky enough to find something similar in an online store for "dirndl"-sewing - you know,
these traditional Bavarian dresses - and bought 40 pieces of them, because I like them that much. I think they will do pretty well with the whole style of the dress, even though I doubt, that they are really "period".

Ah, yes, and I knotted the cords for closing the sleeves and attaching the sleeves to the dress. I intend to decorate the ends of them with big green glass pearls.


I really succeeded in finishing my fourth layer/the accessory for the challenge: a pair of leather gloves with white cotton lining. After copying the pattern onto the leather, I cut out the pieces for the hands, the thumbs and additional gores with a cutter. I chose yellow leather first, but unfortunately I cut two left hands at first, so I had to do it once more and since there wasn't enough yellow leather left I took a piece of artificial brown leather.

The gloves are hand-sewn on the left side and then turned inside out. The lining is cut longer than the outer leather, I wrapped it around , so it can be seen on the outside. I also sewed the rest of the trim from the overdress to it. I am not so satisfied about how the fit me, but nevertheless, they look quite nice.


So, to sum up, my completed outfit is made up of:

Layer 1: The camicia
Made of champagne coloured dupioni silk, finished with lace of the same colour at neck, cuffs and bottom, collar slightly decorated by a bit of black-work; to be closed with hooks and eyes at the neck and hand-sewn buttons at the cuffs.

Layer 4: Accessory
A pair of gloves in brown (artificial) leather, lined in white cotton, decorated with the same trim like the over-gown, completely hand-sewn.

Layer 2: Under-gown/gamurra
Made of brown linen, hand-embroidered at the front, the shoulder-straps and the bottom line with yellow linen yarn, hand-sewn eyelets and hand-knitted cords for closing the dress at the sides; bodice consisting of three layers of linen for extra stiffness.


Layer 3:
Made of green cotton damask, lined in white cotton, v-neckline, skirt cartridge pleated, closed with hooks and eyes in the front, decorated with a woven trim and a line of pearls round the neck. Plus a pair of sleeves of the same cloth, lined in light green cotton, closed and attached to the dress by hand-knitted cords with green glass-pearls at the ends, also decorated with trim and pearls at the cuffs, and a line of rose-coloured embroidery at the open parts.