The Third Annual Italian Renaissance Costuming Challenge

April 14 to August 14,  2013

Debbie Mac Rory
Dublin, Ireland

Debbie Mac Rory

My name is Debbie Mac Rory, and I am from Dublin, Ireland. I have been sewing for many years and since my return to the SCA a little over a year and a half ago, I have learned and created many items inspired by Italian Renaissance costume. My ambition for this challenge is to create a Renaissance hunting outfit inspired by the portraits and fashions of 1570's Florence. 

For my first layer, I have made a pair of cotton drawers. I drafted the pattern based on samples in the Met museum, while the embroidery, done in split stitch, is based on samples from Janet Arnold's patterns of fashion.

With my cat Suzie's approval, I am currently working on a simple skirt made with a silver-lilac brocade, which is lined with linen for body. Unfortunately, there isn't enough brocade for a full skirt, so I am constructing a false back of lining with a wide brocade edge.

Finally, I have begun work on a modified Kivrim patterned tablet weave to trim my veste, using wool yarn. The green is quite close to the wool I'll be using for the veste, while I hope the purple yarn will help to bring out the lilac in the brocade.

May was a hectic month for me, so progress has been slow. However, I have gotten my skirt finished, though I have decided to add a narrow waistband for comfort in the closing. 


I have completed my double Kivrim braid, approximately 3.5m length in total, to frame the front opening of the veste. I'm hoping that the purple in the braid will help bring out the lilac in the skirt. I've currently got a single Kivrim braid on the loom, just using green wool, which will be used to embellish the bodice seams and decorate the sleeves. 

I have also drafted a 4 piece pattern for my bodice, and am experimenting with vaguely period methods of stiffening linen to use as as stiffening for the bodice of the veste. I'm experimenting with home made clothing starch, wood glue and cellulose in the form of wallpaper paste to achieve this. 

And lastly, I have also drafted a fitted pattern for an Italian bonnet. I plan to make this with black brocade fabric, lined with linen and interlined with homemade felt, so I can ensure my interlining is of correct and period thickness to support the shape of the hat.

June/July Update

After my linen cardboard test, I decided to go with the PVA solution, as this was giving the stiffest linen and was least likely to crack or degrade with use. I cut the linen to size before coating each layer twice with the solution and covering the pieces with poly-cotton lining to ensure the edges wouldn't attempt to poke out through the wool. 

I've since gotten the bodice assembled and skirt attached with the side back seams are laced with lucet-ed cotton cord. Unfortunately, it wasn't until this point that I realised that there was a problem with the fitting of the bodice, so I'm going to have to rework the pieces. This will also give me an opportunity to redo the skirt pleating, as I'm not entirely happy with how it's sitting at the moment. 


For my final layer, I'm making a zimarra, re-purposing an old curtain for the cause. The coat has been assembled by draping, and the photo shows one sleeve just pinned into place so I can picture the final look. I plan to trim the edges of the coat with white fake fur and to close the coat and sleeve with some buttonhole stitch woven buttons, which have been topped with pearls.


For accessories, so far I have made a partlet in the style of the one which appears in the portrait of Isabella de’ Medici. The partlet is made of crisp cotton and is tied by means of a wraparound ribbon.


I have also completed my bonnet. The fabric used is a synthetic brocade, lined with linen and the interlining used was buckram for the brim and handmade felt, three layers thick and well full-ed, so give the bonnet its required body. The hat is trimmed with a shop bought brooch and two pheasant tail feathers.

Final Update

Layer 1 - Drawers
For my first layer, I made a pair of drawers with a pattern I drafted myself based on extant examples. I used cotton lawn to make the drawers, and used a pattern from Patterns of Fashion to embellish. The embroidery is done in split stitch with variegated red cotton embroidery floss.

Layer 2 - Underskirt
My underskirt is a simple brocade skirt with a false back, that is, only the back hem has brocade and the rest is cheaper white fabric. The skirt is lined with black linen and has a hand sewn eyelet and ribbon closure. 


Layer 3 - Veste
I chose a veste style dress for my third layer. The veste is made of green wool, and lined with black linen. For stiffening the bodice, I constructed linen cardboard by layering linen with diluted PVA glue, as a modern equivalent to period glues such as rabbit skin glue. The bodice front is trimmed with tablet woven double kivrim pattern, made from 2 ply wool. A single kivrim pattern tablet woven band adorns the sleeve caps. The sleeve itself it made from black linen, and the sleeve caps are made with green wool lined with black linen. The sleeve cap sections decorated with the tablet woven band have a strip of buckram inserted to provide body in the sleeve cap. The sleeves are attached to the bodice by ribbons tied along the bodice and top of the sleeve. The veste bodice and side seems are laced with cotton lucet cord. The veste bodice, sleeve and sleeve cap were made from drafted patterns.


Layer 3 Extra - Zimarra

I made up a loose zimarra from an old curtain, and embellished it with ribbon in two widths. I made a total of 21 woven buttons, topped with pearls, for the zimarra, attaching them to the coat with buttonhole stitch. I also used buttonhole stitch to create buttonhole loops for the buttons, allowing sleeves and zimarra front to be fully closed.



Layer 4 - Accessories
1) Partlet - I drafted a pattern for a simple partlet with a ruffled edge, which would stand above the edge of the veste bodice. The partlet is closed by a wrap around ribbon which ties in the back, allowing the partlet to overlap slightly in front. The fabric used was a medium weight cotton fabric.

2) Leather bag - The leather bag was based on extant examples of hunting or hawking bags. The leather was hand sewn with waxed thread, and the main bag and pouches are closed with three strand plaited 2 ply wool and wooden beads to allow the braids to be pulled open quickly.

3) Italian style hat - I drafted the pattern for an Italian style hat, and constructed same with brocade and linen with linen. The hat brim was stiffened with buckram, while body was provided to the crown of the hat with hand made felt. The hat was embellished with a store bought brooch and two pheasant tail feathers. 

All items and all layers in my entry were hand sewn and all patterns hand drafted. More detail can be found on my Blog, in which I discuss a lot of my mistake and findings as I made this gown in more detail.