The Third Annual Italian Renaissance Costuming Challenge

April 14 to August 14,  2013

Hallie Larsen
Arizona, USA

Hallie Larsen

I am a national park ranger in northern Arizona. This is my second entry to the Italian Renaissance Costuming Challenge. I am still very much a novice in sewing and creating Italian garb (this would be outfit number two). My inspiration is the painting Portrait of a Woman by Bernardino Campi (Italian, Cremona 1522–1591), 1560s, which is in the collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. From my own observations and suggestions from others, the clothing looks like a white sottana with embroidery under an iridescent blue zimarra with gold trim and short sleeves. There is a sheer white, embroidered partlet, and she holds a red, white, blue, and black feather fan with a gilt handle on a chain attached to her girdle. The lady also wears a sheer striped velo [veil].


My layers include: 

Layer 1: drawers of white linen with linen ribbon ties. 

Layer 2: a white cotton summer under-dress with red and blue trim. 

Layer 3: an over-dress in blue and gold twill with gold gimp trim. 

Layer 4: a partlet and/or fan

I am definitely having a slow start, mostly getting all my materials gathered, washed, etc. I also had some custom fabric printed, for which I needed to get the blessings of the patterns designer.

I am working on Layer 1: Drawers

Inspiration: embroidered linen drawers or calze from Museo del Tessuto, Prato

Documentation of Italian Renaissance ladies’ drawers includes illustrations, paintings, descriptions, and inventories (such as those of the Duchess Giulia Varano of Urbino and those of Eleonora di Toledo). The extant pair was made of natural linen embroidered in blue, lined with natural linen. The waist and legs were closed with blue linen ribbon. Check out the great page about these drawers at the Realm of Venus.

I am using a pattern I made and have used before. As I am not good at embroidery, I had the fabric printed (for trim rather than the entire item as it is fairly expensive!) on natural cotton. The 16th century design was charted by Claudette Pomroy, and used with permission. The main layer and lining will be light weight natural linen. The linen ribbon was made in Belarus on a flax farm. I am using a running backstitch, all hand sewn.

This skirt is making me crazy. I keep making decisions that are wrong. But at least it is nearly finished! I measured and cut, deciding to make the skirt first with a waistband before attaching it to the bodice. With a double fold seam, I attached the halves of the skirt (shouldn’t have as I need a split in front, but forgot). Using a backstitch, I hemmed the skirt with cotton upholstery thread. After levelling the skirt, I made large box pleats and attached it to the waist band, which no longer needs the ornate brass hook and loop I bought. Or…does it? I think I will go ahead with the clasp as then I can use the skirt for other outfits.

Raw box pleats

Bottom hem

Trim for bottom hem

June/July Update

Getting the underdress going. Finished the skirt except for the trim. The fabric is a white cotton poplin sewn with matching cotton thread, mainly using a running backstitch. I doubled over the hem and seams to finish the edges. To attach the skirt to the waistband, I used box pleats. They’ll look prettier when I iron them! Overall, I’m pretty happy with the skirt, including the small train. I’ll be adding the trim this week. 

I’m working on the bodice, starting with the sleeves, which will be attached with ribbons at the shoulder. Due to the overdress, I am making the sleeves very simple on top. The lower section still needs trim and slashing. So far, so good!

I also finished my drawers, except for the trim. I was hoping to use the patterned fabric, but ended up going with nice crisp 100% linen. Being in the Southwest, I need cool layers. The drawers are unlined; the legs have draw-ribbons that are also 100% linen, ivory and blue. The waist drawstring is a plaited cotton cord.

Other items: I brought out my natural reed material to soak before using it for a base for my feather fan. It is being inspected by the one-eyed pirate cat Addie. She is the official inspector for the entire household.

Plans for the bodice: inner layer will be 100% light weight linen, stiffening middle will be cotton canvas, outer is the white cotton poplin. I will be using a back opening with spiral lacing. More trim will be added, too.

Final Update

My inspiration came from the painting Portrait of a Woman by Bernardino Campi (Italian, Cremona 1522–1591 Reggio Emilia), 1560s, located in the The Metropolitan Museum of Art. It appeared to be a summer outfit, perfect for me as I need one for the events in Arizona! I thought it was an unusual outfit. In the end, I’ve decided that I don’t have the figure for this period, but love the outfit itself. I need to finish a few details—mostly due to running out of trim—and hope to make the partlet and chemise to go with the dresses. So please ignore the Rubenesque model and the messy living room!

My Layers:
Layer 1: drawers of white linen and blue lace with linen ribbon ties
Layer 2: a white cotton summer underdress/sottana with red and blue trim
Layer 3: an overdress/cotta in blue and gold twill with gold gimp trim
Layer 4: a feather fan with a gilded wooden handle

Layer 1: Drawers
Inspiration: embroidered linen drawers or calze from Museo del Tessuto, Prato Second Half of the Sixteenth Century - 1630 as seen in I Mestieri della Moda a Venezia dal XIII al XVIII Secolo (The Crafts of the Venetian Fashion Industry from the Thirteenth to the Eighteenth Century).

I did play with the idea of making the drawers out of fabric that mimicked the embroidery on the extant calze, but I decided to go for a lovely white 100% linen with no lining for a cool option. I used a white plaited cotton cord for the drawstring at the waist and a decorative natural and blue 100% linen ribbon for the legs. The pattern of my blue venise lace reminds me of some of the period lace. I used matching cotton thread, mostly a running backstitch. I kept them below the knee, which is not a particularly flattering length for me, but I won’t be flashing them around in public!


Layer 2: Underdress/Sottana
In the portrait, the main dress is white with either embroidery or appliqué and twisted blue and gold cord as trim. As I’ve decided that this is a summer dress, I decided to go with a white cotton poplin. Cotton was used during this period around the Mediterranean, while not often seen in northern Europe and especially not in woolly England. The waist line is behind the girdle in the portrait, but I created a pointed front, albeit not as deep a point as seen later in the century. The neckline is square. The sleeves have diagonal slashes down the arms with tabbed wrists. While I was able to put on the silk blue and red trim on the arms, I wasn’t able to put any on the wrists having run out! In the painting the shoulder detail can’ be seen, hidden by the short sleeves of the overdress, but I wanted to keep it simple so attached with white plaited cotton cord tied in little bows. The bodice has two layers, cotton outside and a natural cotton canvas as a stiffening interior—I think I will add reeds later as I obviously *cough, cough* need some more support. The back closure features staggered eyelets (created with a satin stitch in white silk floss) with spiral lacing using the same cord as the shoulder bows—in the photo, my hubby failed to notice that the top had loosened so please imaging that pulled together! The skirt is box pleated and has a train that I can pin up as seen in this painting. The sottana is all hand-sewn with white cotton thread, the trim attached with a gold cotton blend thread, mainly using a running back-stitch. The sottana will be great when I make a chemise for it later!


Layer 3: Overdress/Cotta
My overdress might be called a “cotta”, based on Anéa’s wonderful glossary: “Considered to be the summer version, or lighter version, of the gamurra. It describes a woman's basic gown, often with sleeves of another fabric than the dress (Herald 1981: 215). It is believed to be a bit fuller in cut than the gamurra, possibly because the thinner fabrics used had less give than the thicker wools and brocades (Herald 1981: 215).” With shorter sleeves and a full cut, this will be perfect for the heat of Arizona! The fabric used is a cotton twill, two-toned blue and gold, very silky, iridescent, and horrid for snagging. The color choice was based on my inspiration portrait. The trim, which I want more of to continue the design later, is gold cotton gimp, in a grid pattern on sleeves and upper front bodice. I used matching cotton and cotton blend thread, mostly in a running backstitch. The skirt and back of bodice have box pleats - a period choice. The cotta will be held together with a girdle.


Layer 4: Feather Fan 
All kind of fans were used in 16th century Italy, including flag fans, feather fans, foldable fans (rare), and paddle fans. Laws were passed to keep the fans as plain as possible. For example a 1522 law forbade “fans of lynx and ermine with handles of gold and silver encrusted with jewels and pearls”. 

The fan in my portrait is a feather fan with red, white, blue, and black fluffy feathers on a gold handle with an acanthus base. The end of the fan will be chained to a girdle. I used 18kt gilding on wood for the handle and dyed ostrich feathers, secured between matching carved inlays with white glue.

Overall, I like what I did and learned this time (e.g. that I like to make eyelets!). I know now that I probably will not go for this style again as I look like the Stay Puff Marshmallow Man in it. I wish I had a better place to take pictures. I will be making a chemise, velo with hairpiece, jewelry, and girdle to go with this outfit. I look forward to being cool in the heat of an Arizona gathering!