The Third Annual Italian Renaissance Costuming Challenge

April 14 to August 14,  2013

Clare Drake
Western Australia

Clare Drake

My name is Clare Drake, known in the SCA as Gwyneth ferch Aeddan. I have been in the SCA for many years but just recently started to really enjoy making clothing and aiming for a little more accuracy. I love 16th century Italian styles, especially Florentine, for their beauty and practicality for a warmer climate. By day I am an engineer and a bookworm. I live in Western Australia. For the IRCC3 I will be making my two-and-a-half-th Italian renaissance dress (my second is only half made at this point). 


I found some pink damask on sale which is calling out to me to make a version of the dress shown in Andrea del Sarto's portrait c1517 'Woman with a Basket of Spindles'. I also plan to make a camicia, mantellina and balzo.

I found some pink damask some time ago at a price I couldn't refuse, even for a mystery fibre. It seemed to me to be calling out to be the Spindles dress.  I have included in the photo the cotton voile for the camicia, and some chocolate coloured cotton velveteen I plan to use for a mantellina. I did not find many overgarments shown in portraits with this style of dress, but this portrait shows one style that appeals to me.

I have cut and assembled the camicia according to Bella's guide How To Sew A Venetian Camicia. The extant camicia on which it was based has a neckline a bit higher than many which seemed to suit the Spindles portrait. I made the gussets extra large to hopefully ensure there's enough room for the higher neckline. The neckline looks to me like the "Gather Pleating method - without neckline frill" example from the article so I plan to smock the neckline as suggested. I also plan to pleat the lower sleeves like the portrait of Judith on the same page to fit more easily under the tighter lower sleeves of the gown. I think the light cotton voile better approximates the look of the period extra-finely woven linen than the modern linens I've found. 

So far I have assembled the camicia using French seams, and I am part way through sewing a very narrow hem by hand for the neckline and sleeves.

I have put together the bodice of my dress, attached temporary lacing strips to ensure it fits, and now just need to try on again to check the shoulder strap seam before turning it and sewing eyelets. I used two layers of cotton drill and some light cable ties as the support layer - I need the support and I'm more concerned about achieving a good look on the outside than accuracy on the inside. 

As I 'm now in Italy I'm sharing a photo of me in the Galleria dell' Accademia in Florence.

June/July Update

I've finished the body of the dress. I machine sewed the body around the bottom and arm edges, turned it, and hand basted and then stitched the lining on the inside. I really liked this approach as I could minimise hand sewing while still making it impossible for the lining to roll to where it's visible around the neckline. Unfortunately it didn't get me out of hand sewing 28 eyelets!

I'm very happy with the fit, it is comfortable and supportive while still showing the curved shape evident in the portrait. The waistline has turned out a little lower and the shoulder straps a little more on the shoulder than the portrait, both of these are compromises I'm OK with in order to make the dress easier to wear and a little more attractive, especially as both of these features can be found in other portraits of similar style. Next time I would cut a little less off the front of the armscyes.

I like the ruffled neckline of the camicia but I seem to have not left enough space under the arms for the neck to sit as high as I'd intended. I'm not sure how to fix that.

On to the sleeves!

Final Update

Layer 1: Camicia
I completed the camicia by pleating the sleeves as planned like the painting of Judith. It makes it much easier to fit the sleeves under the tight fore-sleeves of the dress. I initially back-smocked the neckline gathers, but I wasn't happy with it and and later sewed a thin band onto the inside, which improved it. 

Layer 2: Sottana
I created the sleeves with help from Danielle's Italian Showcase. I used a full 150cm width of fabric for the upper sleeve, with an interlining of stiff woven interfacing (full width) and a lining of the pink cotton as the base. I gathered the outer fabric and interlining and sewed them onto the lining at the top and the forearm piece at the other end. I then hand stitched the lining to the outer fore-sleeve and also tacked the seam allowance of the upper sleeve to the lining just below the elbow.

I cut the skirt with several inches extra at the top, which I folded over to give the pleats some more body, and 6 inches extra at the bottom which I folded over twice to help the hem stand out. I box pleated it to give a similar look to the portrait with the mantellina, as the waistline of the Lady with Basket of Spindles isn't clearly visible. The skirt and sleeves were then whip stitched to the bodice.

I made the bodice side-lacing to enable an uninterrupted back and front neckline and also allow me to dress myself. I left a couple of inches of the sleeves unattached either side of the lacing to allow the lacing to be loosened to take the dress on or off. It's worked very well and is completely hidden by the large sleeves.

Layer 3: Mantellina
I drafted a shape with the help of an existing short rapier cloak and cut it out of the velveteen, some soft cotton lining, and some wadding. They were simply sewn together and then turned and the opening hand stitched. The wadding gives the velveteen a thicker look, more like the fur of the original. I closed it with a brooch for the pictures but I might later add a hook and eye.

Layer 4: Balzo (incomplete)
Despite some very helpful suggestions I could not work out how the soft, snood-like balzos in similar portraits were constructed. I tried out a couple of methods and the closest one is shown in the photos. I padded a wire circle with wadding and sewed a calico base over it and covered that with de-lustred satin. It's not finished as it didn't end up fitting when covered and the fabric turned out to be too stiff for the pleating. I'd like to try again sometime with a more supple fabric and using a stiff interlining and wadding base in a snood shape. For the photos I wore an existing crocheted snood and laid the unfinished balzo on top - I'm surprised it stayed there!

Overall I'm very happy with how much like the original portrait the dress has come out!