The Third Annual Italian Renaissance Costuming Challenge

April 14 to August 14,  2013

Holly Jo Alford
Iowa, USA

Holly Jo Alford

I am retired and have plenty of time to get myself involved with costuming for Renaissance fairs, Halloween, and theater. I adore Bella Lucia's Realm of Venus site as the "go to" place for Italian Renaissance costuming research, and the technical and artistic generosity available there to share.

My entry in this year's challenge will be a man's suit of clothes from circa 1496 after Vittore Carpaccio's painting - 'Arrival of the English Ambassadors'. My elements will include a shirt, doublet (+sleeves) and hose, a surcoat, and an "interesting" hat. 

My first update is rather paltry, but it is progress. I have chosen my model man for this project and Matt has graciously accepted. I have decided to use the commercial book of patterns by Katherine Strand Holkenboer, "Patterns for Theatrical Costumes" as a basic starting point for my outfit. We will start with a plain shirt of white muslin for the first layer. My projected outfit is based on a combination of clothes from Vittore Carpaccio's painting c1496 Arrival of the English Ambassadors.


My first layer of the challenge is complete! My gentleman has a simple cotton shirt with tiny band collar and cuffs. I hand finished the shirt only on the parts that might show, and machine finished everything else. I caused myself some consternation by forgetting that the patterns in my book don't come with seam allowances, good to know for the next layers!

June/July Update

My update is rather paltry again this time, however, everything has been decided upon, gathered together, and is ready for construction. 
I'm trying to use materials already on hand (and/or on the cheap!) so I'm using some bed sheets, and I'll use garden twine for lacings. The very latest in recipes, sports, and local news will be used for my patterns. The color scheme is red, black, and dark gray.

Final Update

I've finished a completely reversible coat! I decided an awful lot of the men in my picture were wearing black and red overcoats, that maybe this was a fashion craze and/or frugality at its most clever. I used two poly-cotton bed sheets and the Chamarre pattern from Katherine Strand Holkeboer and commenced to modify. I cut individual armpits for sleeves, but upon further examination there seems to be shoulder seams and possibly set in sleeves. So I cut shoulder seams - then just decided to make a case for set in sleeves!

I thrashed around and got two separate coats assembled and put together, then thought I was so close that I would go ahead and try to make the coat completely reversible. That went pretty well till it came to the sleeves - originally I had them hemmed at the cuff - but I couldn't quite figure out how to get the whole coat from outsides in, IN! so I ended up slip stitching the front opening (the original turning point) and the cuffs. But hey, I did it!, my first reversible thing ever!


As the deadline approached I decided that maybe the hosen were beyond my tailoring skills (at this time) and that we would use purchased tights for the outfit instead. I settled on a man's short pleated tunic listed in my pattern book as a courtepy, a garment that looks like it comes low enough to eliminate the need for codpiece. (I'm squeamish - I don't know my model that well....) and in a fit of laziness I decided to not line it.

So apparently late-night sewing decisions don't work very well for me.... I think I wanted to make this tunic longer for modesty, then shorten as needed - except I didn't make the back longer, du-oh! Also, I decided to line the tunic/courtepy after all to give me something to stick the pleats to. I reinforced around the neckline for the lacing holes.

I used a highly scientific measuring method (like the proper amount of whisky - three fingers!) and aesthetic proportional judgment (eyeballing it) to get the spiral lacing panel just right. I used an oversized sleeve pattern from some other tunic and simply carved away the parts that didn't look like Teddy Roosevelt, (Oh, no wait, that's Mt Rushmore) that didn't look like 1495 sleeves. I used some of my sister's braided garden twine for the cord. And we'll throw on the coat all Italian casual elegance.


Here is Mister Large Nogging (Big headed? Fat headed? Pig headed? No, Large Noggin....) My wig/hat stand needed some bulking up so I added a dish towel to get the proper noggin largeness for my gentleman model. I then made a long tube and stuffed it with poly-whats-it pillow stuffing and fit it to the noggin as a sort of headband hat brim. Then I cut a top for the hat and slip stitched it to the top of the tube. Finally, I made a drape to hang from the side of the hat and decorated the drape with a hair barrette (looks like brooch!). 


I finished off the outfit with a 1970's era chain hip belt  - borrowed from my long suffering sister ;-) - for my gentleman's chain of state. Ta-Dah!!!


To sum up, my completed gentleman's costume elements were: 

Layer 1: A simple shirt made of bleached muslin with tiny binding at neck and wrists.
Layer 2: A courtepy tunic made of no wale corduroy, bed-sheet lining, and garden twine for spiral lacing and sleeve jumps.
Layer 3: A completely reversible coat made from bed-sheets of two different colors.
Layer 4: A hat made of bed-sheet material, pillow stuffing, and a hair barrette. 

I had planned to attempt hosen but did not get them started (much less finished) and used purchased tights for the final photos. I draped a chain belt across the chest to look like a chain of state, curled my hair in a page-boy style, grabbed my great grandfather's sword, and took the photos in a haunted house! 

Final results: I loved this challenge, I got to make something new and different, I got it made on the cheap!, and it turned out quite believably period looking and is comfy to wear. I also learned to be even more careful about getting garments the RIGHT SIZE for other people, hence I am the final model and not my Lord Volunteer (Thanks anyway Matt!) 
The final pictures were taken in the mausoleum room at Skellington Manor, Rock Island, Illinois (USA) with the kind permission of the Steens.