The Third Annual Italian Renaissance Costuming Challenge

April 14 to August 14,  2013

Heather Lionelle
Colorado, USA

Heather Lionelle

I'm new to Italian Renaissance costume, but have always loved the dresses. This challenge is my motivation to construct one for myself and get some SCA garb in the deal. I'm currently inspired by Bassano's Concert, specifically the woman in red at the piano. Originally I hadn't planned to do a partlet, but I love the pattern on this one and the overall feel of this dress.

I have completed a pair of bodies. The outermost layer is a white fairy frost quilting cotton and the lining is a green linen. I did have to piece the fairy frost in the back. I used scraps and that was the only way to make things work.
I was going to do the whole thing turned, but decided the neck line would be difficult to get trimmed just right and sewn correctly so I bias bound the neck line and over the turned seams. The eyelets for the side lacings are hand sewn. These are my first attempt at sewing eyelets by hand.

My husband and I were able to attend a Venetian themed event a few weeks ago so I spent a lot of time trying to get the over-dress "done enough" that I could wear it for the event. I have to un-sew a bunch of sloppy 1AM sewing, make some modifications, and the hem was glue basted, but I was able to wear the pair of bodies and the over-gown at the event.

It's been busy here gearing up for summer. I have so many time sensitive projects on my plate that I have not made any new tangible progress so I am documenting progress that I haven't yet reported.

This is the inside of the bodice. I can't remember who has popularised this method for ladder lacing, but I found bits and pieces of the technique around the internet. I loved getting to use a scrap of pretty ribbon that I had no idea what to do with and hoarded anyway. I also stitched down a ring at the top and bottom to anchor the yarn I used to lace with. Apparently I didn't do enough stitching on the top ring and the split managed to work out of all the stitches. It actually wasn't a big deal since the channels in the ribbon were small enough that the ring couldn't slip out. I didn't find out about it until we got home after the event.

Here is the nearly completed bodice. The sleeve straps still need to be stitched in, but have been marked for placement and tested at an event. For some reason after I put the skirt onto the bodice it has begun to hang funny creating some bunches in the center front. I think I need to take the skirt off and redistribute the pleats to put more weight in the center front. I had left a space flat as I had heard stories of skirts "eating" girdles, but I had to sew the slit closed when I wore the gown and think I will be happier with more skirt there.

June/July Update

I don't have much in the way of tangible progress to report. I did go back and hand stitch some places where the bias binding didn't get caught by the machine on the pair of bodies. I've also been working on designing the embroidery for the partlet. This month's picture is of the silk organza that will be embroidered and then turned into a partlet.

I have yet to decide if I should machine embroider the partlet or do it by hand. I'm thinking that I may machine embroider the large parts of the motif and then do the swirls/scrolling work that fills in between motifs by hand. I intend to hem the edges all by hand with a modified appliqué stitch.

Final Update

Being totally new to Italian Renaissance clothing, this has been a really fun journey for me. I made the patterns for everything myself and did most of the fitting by myself as well. The next projects on the list will be some things for my husband and son. During the course of the challenge I completed the following four layers: 

  • Layer 1: Pair of bodies
  • Layer 2: Underskirt
  • Layer 3: Over-gown
  • Layer 4: Partlet.

Pair of Bodies
The pair of bodies is lined in linen, the outermost layer is quilter’s cotton and there is one layer of linen in the middle that was cut on the bias of the fabric. The edges are all bias bound. It laces side-back with a spiral lacing. The eyelets were all sewn by hand.

The skirt is made of linen. The hem is machine stitched blind hem with a piece of felt encased in the hem to add weight and body. The top is cartridge pleated (correctly) and whip stitched by hand onto two waistband pieces. The waistband was made to sit at my natural waist perfectly, but since it is in two pieces with a casing for a drawstring, if I change weight a bit I will still be able to wear it or loan to friends.

I chose a nice Tencel fabric for the over-gown. It isn’t historically accurate, but it is washable, heavy side of light weight, and had a beautiful hand. Also, I didn’t want to spend too much on the fabric since I wasn’t certain what I was doing having never made Italian Renaissance clothing before. I aimed for a Venetian style low neckline with ladder lacing in the front. In the back I attempted to put a small “v” where the bodice meets the skirt at the middle as seen in many portraits of Venetian ladies.

I had thought I was going to put cartridge pleats in the skirt, and I ran the gathering strings for it. Unfortunately I didn’t pay attention to instructions and bound it inside the gown’s bodice layers and ended up with something more akin to gather-pleats. I did figure it out correctly for the underskirt. I turned the inside of the bodice lining and stitched it down on the inside by hand. There are two pairs of hooks and eyes that secure the silt in the middle front of the skirt opening. The hem is hand stitched with a blind hem stitch and encases a piece of felt to give the skirt more weight and fullness at the bottom. The bodice is one layer of Tencel (outermost) and two layers of linen for extra stability. The middle layer was cut on the bias as I did for the pair of bodies.

I didn’t have time to make a new camicia for this gown so in the pictures you see one that I started and completed in February (over the course of about two weeks) before the challenge began and debuted at the Outlands Queen’s Prize 2013. There are approximately 35 hours of machine embroidery in the sleeves. The embroidery designs are the first designs I digitised myself. I’m quite happy with how they came out.

This piece is made of silk organza. All of the seams are stitched by hand. The shoulders have a French hem that was tacked down on one side. The outer edges are all done with Ethni’s magic veil stitch. I have to admit that the silk was actually really fun to sew by hand.

The embroidery is machine stitched with a metallic thread. Eventually I would like to go back and add some swirling/scrolling vines or something by hand, but I just didn’t have time before the end of the challenge to add it. I also want to go back and add some pleated ruffles around the neck of the collar.