The Third Annual Italian Renaissance Costuming Challenge

April 14 to August 14,  2013

Celeste Wheater
Western Australia

Celeste Wheater

I have been playing in the SCA for just under 3 years now, and sewing for about 2 and a half of that – it took some time but now I can’t seem to stop! I tend more towards hand-sewing, but that’s mainly because I have a bad habit of killing sewing machines...

I have recently began to lean towards the late 15thC and really want to start exploring the style – the IIRC seems a good excuse to stop my procrastination! My planned outfit will be in the style of the clothing worn the tomb effigy of Beatrice d’Este. It will consist of camicia, a dark red velvet gamurra, a giornea in the Florentine style, and either a zibellino or beaded reta. I can't quite seem to decide, but suspect it will come down to which I am happiest with.

While I was originally going to make the dress for the local large camping event for my local SCA group, I have realised that it's not going to happen. Instead, I am making it out of a deep navy velveteen I managed to score at Rowany Festival this year and will hopefully be wearing it to the Bal d'Anaela later this year.

For my layers, I have planed to make a chemise (in a more period pattern than my current one), a gamurra after Beatrice d'Este's burial dress, a loose giornea, and accessories, hopefully including a reta, 'flea-fur' and flag fan - especially the later as I have been procrastinating about making one for some time now!

The first few weeks have been spent gathering materials and very slowly constructing the gamurra as this is likely to be the most time-consuming piece. I have come to the realisation that between this, the feast I am 'autocrating' (running) in July, and Real Life, the other layers will probably need to be at least partially machined. 

I have decided to make the giornea out of a cream poly-cotton brocade and am tossing up lining it with some pretty purple habutai (a pain to cut), black wool, or some deep red shot cotton-silk blend fabric which has a lovely stiffness to it.

Once I have the gamurra basically constructed I will be able to start work on the other layers as the appliquéd gold-work will make it a lot less portable.


The last couple of weeks in May were spent mostly on other things! However, I did manage to get the main part of the chemise constructed, patterned and made a mock-up of my giornea, and the gamurra’s skirt is now one piece!

I am so proud of my giornea pattern – it’s only a simple thing, but I haven’t really made any adjustments to my toile before and it worked first time! Also, the last time I wanted to make a front-closing dress I nearly did my head in trying to work it out. So very happy about this!


However, mundane events this week now mean I cannot afford to buy 120+meters of gold cording to couch down on the Gamurra and have led to a re-think of the outer layers. Basically, I now need to make something much simpler. I am taking ‘The Betrothal’ and ‘St Justina of Padua’ as reference points for the gamurra/giornea. I will be making beaded trim to go around the edge of each garments neckline. If I can finish that properly in time, I will check to see if I have enough gold cord left over from my test-piece to cross-hatch the sleeves for the gamurra.

The camicia will be pleated with a plain band holding the pleats in place. I have pinned them for the photo to show what I’m trying to do.

June/July Update

I haven’t gotten much progress this month as I have been focusing on learning to delegate the hard way for my first feast – however, I have managed to complete the bodice of my gamurra and am now ready to attach the skirt. I have also drafted the sleeves pattern and am ready to test it on the lining fabric. I have sourced the materials to make a flag fan and flea-fur...but can’t make up my mind about what else to create for the fourth layer! Either way it will certainly be a last minute rush to complete it all.


Final Update

As I left pretty much everything to the last minute this month has been a busy one! I managed to get everything done with 6 and a bit hours to spare and spent the remaining time cleaning up the massive pile of Stuff which had accumulated next to my chair over the time.

The first week was spent concentrating on the gamurra (and rescuing it from my Jack Russel terrier) after which I spent a couple of days trying to find the pattern I had drafted for the giornea before giving up and re-doing it. I then quickly made the sash while I spent some time trying to figure out how to make the sleeve. 

The sash was made from two very failed sleeves left over from a previous project which were pieced together into a tube and machine sewn. I then made a couple of tassels for the ends to pretty it up a little 

Getting the seam to run along the back of my arm stumped me for a while until I eventually stumbled over the Curious Frau’s Blog who suggested using a piece of string to get the curve – I took the idea and cheated slightly by pulling an old sleeve apart and using it to mark the length and the high/low part of the curve rather than measuring it. I then used the string to figure out where those points should be and ended up getting it pretty close the first time. I then made my mock up out of the lining and marked it at the high & low points of my elbow (where the joint sat against the sleeve when my arm was straight and bent) – and hello, presto! A sleeve was made!

I then went back to the giornea, cutting it and the bodice lining out. I attached the shoulders together bother the neckline and then the side-seams and whip-stitching the arm-holes together. I then put the skirt together (I love my sewing machine – it laughed in the face of velveteen!) and knife pleated it before attaching it to the bodice. I then added the trim and went to work on my 3 remaining accessories.

The soccoccia was another fairly quick item to make – I used one I made last year as a template for the size. I used a couple of scraps of the silk left over from the sleeves and a small piece of blue velvet ribbon to make this item. It is hand sewn and I have used a pretty piece of cording for the tie as in portraits where the saccoccia are visible, the ties often are not. This suggests to me they are either pinned on or tied using a thin cord. As I intend to use mine for items such as my phone or camera, I have used some tasselled doll-house cord found in my stash.

This was a surprisingly complex accessory! I started off by making the buckram by raiding my linen scraps which were roughly cut to size. The largest of these was then stretched onto an embroidery frame and generously covered on one side with glue before laying another scrap on top of it which was then also coated in glue and so forth. These were then placed in a warmed oven (turned off) to dry. The cover was then made (first zigzagging the edges of each piece for strength) and slid onto the buckram base and sandwiched between the 2 pieces of moulding used for the handle. This was then glued and thrown in the oven again to dry before painting the handle gold. I have wanted to make one of these for a while and am really happy with the result.


I had wanted to make a zebellino for my fourth item, but couldn’t figure out how to do it out of faux-fur in the time I had left as the ones I was referencing did not have the masks that were used later on. 

Instead I made an amethyst and glass-pearl necklace. This was the first necklace I have ever made and is one of the many firsts I achieved in this project! It’s assembled from a string of glass pearls and one of amethyst from my stash onto some thick embroidery thread and seems to work quite well. And then I was done!

Summary of Layers

Layer 1: Camicia
This ended up being the item that gave me the most trouble, conceptually. I had wanted to try and create one with the pleats above the band but couldn’t get it to work the way I wanted it to and ended up in a pile while I did the other layers. In the end, I just pleated the camicia into the band using some bias tape from my stash and some green tape for around the wrists. The long seams are machined on this, but the rest is hand sewn. I am happy enough with most of this – but I think I may need to raise the back by an inch or two as I would like to use this one for winter events.

Layer 2: Gamurra with detachable sleeves
So this layer ended up completely different to how I’d imagined it back in May! Due to time and finances, I had to forgo re-making the Beatrice d’Este burial gown completely (though that one is still on my wish-list ) Instead, I have used some pretty silk I tripped over at the markets as trim and for sleeves.

The dress is made from a dark blue cotton velveteen and hand sewn apart from where the skirt has been joined onto the bodice as my hands were not up to sewing through that many layers! Back stitching was used on the skirt seams as it’s my favourite and I tend to put my feet through them otherwise – the hem is quite wide for the same reason. The front of the neckline has been beaded with small faux pearls and gold-coloured seed beads. The bodice has been lined with a layer each of felt and canvas to help shape it as well as the lining and is tightened with small lacing rings. The 4.5m skirt has been box-pleated onto the bodice and is slightly longer at the back to help with the drape and I’m really happy with the way it turned out.

The sleeves on this were a lot of fun to figure out! These were attached to the dress with small strings tied through rings attached to the bodice. The only thing which I would change about these are the strings as the blasted things keep sliding undone.

Layer 2 extra: Under-skirt
I also made an underskirt out of some silk gifted to me for my birthday because I wanted a new one to match the outfit.

Layer 3: Giornea
The giornea is made from a deep maroon cotton velveteen and is very warm! I did the entire dress in two days, so the long seams on the skirt and where it is joined onto the bodice are machined on this one, but the rest was hand sewn while watching Star Trek. It has the same trim around the neckline as the gamurra but was beaded the entire way around. I feel the trim helps tie the two layers together, and there are several examples of this in the artwork of the time (i.e. St Justina of Padua by Bartolomeo Montagna 1490’s & The Betrothal, 1490). The dress is closed with a piece of plaited trim like in The Betrothal and seems to work surprisingly well!

I wish I had enough knowledge of leather working to make a belt for this one, as I think that would lift the whole outfit. This layer has turned out pretty much as I had imagined and I am very happy with the way it has turned out.

Layer 4: Accessories
  • Beaded Necklace
  • Flag Fan
  • Sash
  • Pocket/Saccoccia

Overall, I am really happy with the way this outfit has turned out. There are a few little things I wish I could have changed (the ties on the sleeves and the camicia neckline) but I think that it all works really well together once on and I have learned so much! Going forwards, I would like to learn finger braiding to replace the sleeve ties and I will probably pull the camicia apart in order to raise the back of it slightly. I have learned to modify my toiles, how to make buckram, how to make a simple string of beads and managed to use a saw while emerging with all body parts still attached. Also, I have learned how to deal with my innate break-all-the-technology talents! I would have liked to have made the zebbelino but may do that next year instead.

Should this competition be held again next year, I would choose a more achievable outfit (in terms of both time and money) to start with and also break the competition up into smaller goals as I think a lot of my troubles were caused by leaving so very much to the last minute. I think I would also choose fabrics more practical for the West Australian climate – velveteen is beautiful, but not made for a desert-state’s weather, unfortunately. I am happy at how little I actually needed to buy for this project in the end – the piece of silk I used for trim cost me $4 at the markets and was pretty much the only thing I used that wasn’t from my stash.