The Third Annual Italian Renaissance Costuming Challenge

April 14 to August 14,  2013

Kathryn Bell
Kansas, USA

Kathryn Bell

Hello, my name is Kathryn Bell, and I am a Presbyterian minister living in southeast Kansas wondering where to get a good cup of coffee around here. I fear that makes me sound much more square than I suspect that I am. I have been sewing since I was a tot, but it has developed over the years. I am not particularly new to Italian Renaissance clothing as well, but there is always so much more to learn. A few years ago I was able to play with the Commedia Volante group in Southern California for a season, and had much fun living in this stuff and watching how others made their own outfits. So no, I don't have an excuse to wear this outfit, but I love making these things, and this is a good excuse to let my obsession express itself.

So on to the outfit. I am trying to mostly use things I already own such as antique laces from grandma, old sheets and a lovely brown I bought for a garment like this years ago.

My plans for the various stages are as follows:
1) Camicia with lace inserts.
2) Brown kirtle/sottana with side back lacings.
3) Veste with a fabric I don't have yet but. Probably black or a blue to go with the brown.
4) A ruffed partlet to go under the veste.
Maybe another partlet of a lacy variety.
An apron. 
Maybe a pocket.

I've started some thoughts and a hide glue experiment on my blog here, if you are interested.

The last month has consisted of half of a vacation, a funeral-zilla (zillas aren't just for brides anymore) and a dead squirrel blocking the sewer line that I had nothing to do with (local squirrel mafia is who I blame), but things got done. There was drama with the camicia, but the human prevailed!

I have also started on the bodice for the sottana, but that's at the baby stages yet. I am using hide glue to stiffen the bodice, so we'll see how that goes. First off I will be pad stitching a lot. A lot a lot. I need to check my thread supplies. 

So that's where we are for right now. More recent stuff and my background research is on my blog (link above) if you are interested in seeing more.

And here's a gratuitous picture of Lucia taking the show.

And we have layer two of my outfit! I put together a sottana from all of the lovely paintings I've seen of women wearing them. I should put all my inspiration together on my blog, but I love this basic dress.


I am not entirely satisfied with the puckering on the bodice, but I worked so hard to get it where it is that I'm just going to chill about it. The bodice is all hand sewn, by the way. More details and pics on my blog (link above).

I think Iíll try some boning on the front, but the hide glue stiffening experiment worked quite well I think. And I really do like the side back lacing place done spiral. Iíve only done one dress side back before but the rest have been front lacing either spiral or Venetian ladder of insanity to get straight. I just really, really like this garment. But from the ďwhat I learnedĒ files: no matter how cute, Iím never using this flimsy a fabric again. Just... no.

Next up? A fabulous veste out of black velvet. Oh, yeah!

June/July Update

Well hello again! It's time for layer 3! Well, most of it. It was time to do the veste, but first I had to get a family reunion out of the way and then another week of complete slack. Ah, well.

Several years ago I used Jen Thompson's partlet pattern, and so I used that partlet as the base for the pattern that I then draped onto my form, Gretchen. Note, some fabrics stretch on the bias, but canvas and felt do not. That took a bit to figure out. Here's the partlet pattern, except that I don't have a back seam.

The first cut without any seam allowance was the felt which happened to be navy. Then I cut canvas (brown) and velvet (black) and basted it all together with hot pink thread which I took out when the entire garment was finished.

The velvet I used, by the way, isn't the best, but I got it for $8 a yard, and it's there. Next time I'll go for a sturdy velveteen, but this was fine for now.

Then I took buckram and pad stitched the heck out of it. Honestly, though, except for around the collar I'm wondering if I really needed the buckram. The pad stitching was ace, though.

Kitty bomb!

The shoulder and side seams were done on the machine because I couldn't really see whip stitching through velvet and on those curves. I did stitch down all of the seaming and edges, though, and then put a black light canvas lining on that I whip stitched all the way around.

The decoration on the front is historical process if not totally period in design. I raided grandma's old lace collection and pulled out some black lace that's at least 100 years old. Even though it has flowers not of period design, re-using stuff from way back totally is, and it was free, so I'm going with it. I also wrapped all of the buttons (they look like the center of poppies!) and made button loops sized around the end of a salad-serving spoon to get the right diameter. I am going to re-attach the buttons, though, because they're pulling out since I didn't do a hitch or sew them in to reinforce. Is that called a hitch? Or a shank? Whatever - wrapping thread around the part between the button and fabric. That. And I didn't have time to hem the skirt and I think I need to adjust the tip. I also think I need to felt the hem or do something else to give better body, but whatever. It's good for now.

Oh, and I put lace around the camicia's neckline.

Here's how it turned out all together:


Next up? Hem, baragoni, ruff, handkerchief, apron. Maybe some shoes. Maybe. (What is possessing me to make shoes???)

Final Update

I set out with two images in mind and think I did a decent job making replicas I'm happy with. To give some background information, though, I didn't make the fanciest or the most poor of outfits. I was thinking of some middle class wife or daughter of a merchant. So I intentionally did not get fancy with details. I just wanted a basic outfit that someone would wear around the house or out on a normal day.

The Four Layers

  • Chemise with lace at the neckline (Layer 1)
  • Brown sottana with side lacings and experimental hide glue stiffening (Layer 2)
  • Black velvet veste (Layer 3)
  • High ruff with a v-neck to fit inside the high veste collar (Layer 4)
  • Apron (Layer 4)
  • Slippers (incomplete, Layer 4) 
  • Shoes (not necessarily to wear out of the house) (Layer 4)
  • Handkerchief (Layer 4)

I completely hand-stitched a loose chemise with a lace neckline (heavily starched) to mimic this effect in the final product which can be found in several portraits.


The Sottana
From several portraits it appears that a chocolate brown sottana was common under black vestes
While some of these images were from after 1600 or so, they were the best and most detailed examples I could find of a simple, brown sottana like that which appears to be under the veste.
The bodice of the sottana is entirely stitched by hand while the skirt is machine stitched and attached by hand. I will never use a fabric that thin for an under dress again, but the shimmer of the fabric is lovely. More details are in the previous report on the garment.


The Veste
Next came the veste. More or less I was going for something similar to this painting.

The bodice is hand-stitched as previously described except for the shoulder seams because I didn't want to be bothered with that blasted curve.

The sleeves I'd always planned on cutting slits in, but I didn't have time and the fabric wasn't nice enough for that much work. I drafted up this sleeve pattern (the wrists became smaller and this is only half). And I found images of plain-fabric sleeves, though the gold decoration down the inside seam appears to be standard, so I did put that decoration in.

The skirt is machine sewn and hand attached, but I found that I had to take it apart and add some stiff, 'Gryffindor' taffeta fabric to poof it out well. I do like this garment.

The front opening has some black lace (found in Grandma's hundred-year-old stash) and I hand-wrapped some buttons. I tried a few methods of wrapping, but loved this one because from the top at least they look like the center of a poppy.

The baragoni (shoulder rolls) I don't really want to talk about. I had no idea what I was doing. I liked the rounded look of the tabs in this painting. But since I had little to no game-plan I ended up making something from the Tudor Tailor book.

Well, I took that idea and scalloped the outside edges. Then things happened with buckram, and in desperation I buttonhole stitched the edges and closed up the tabs and the end. I stuffed white fabric in the middle, attached them and called it a day.


I needed a ruff, and took inspiration from several portraits. I used Noel Gieleghem's instructions that can be found here. The ruff was made by machine except for the cartridge pleating. I used a lot of starch in the process and a conical curling iron for setting the ruff. The basic partlet pattern under the ruff is from what I used to start the pattern for the veste. Then I used four lengths of fabric that I thought was 60 inches wide, but I think it's 45 or so. Go figure. I used buckram to stiffen the collar, but considering the portraits, next time I will use handkerchief weight linen and nothing near that stiff in the middle. Also, I used the recommended 3" for the ruffle, and for this that was too much. That thing is just too big kind of all around. Oh, and I'll do it by hand.


I winged this one a bit. Basically I wanted to do some pulled thread work and figured out how to include it. While I didn't exactly copy them, apron images are here and here and here and here and several here. All hand-stitching on this one, though I didn't have time to figure out how to finger-loop the tie.


Ok seriously not everyone could have been wearing chopines all the time. I mean, I have a lot of heels, but on an every-day basis I wear ballet flats. So thus the adventure begun. I called in for reference help from my friend Paco (I know him as Pax) Smith. He sent me a photo of cute slippers which I tried to replicate. But to me they looked a bit like 'isotoner' slippers. I don't know - I just didn't love them. So I started working on another option.

And they turned out not too shabbily. I need to get a proper tie on the top of them, but there you go. Here's the pattern and the shoes. Yes, I wrapped my foot in duct tape to make the pattern.


I started thinking that I would do drawn thread work, but that was taking forever, so I took a cue from some paintings and hemmed a handkerchief and made rather adorable tassels for the corners. This can also be seen in the original inspirational photo for the veste. It was just too cute.

What I learned:
  • The stiffness of the sottana is ok on its own, though a bit more than needed. Pairing it with the veste and the buckram within was too much, though. I think that I might try taking the hide glued fabric and a layer of felt out of the sottana.
  • Stiffer fabric for making shoes helps.
  • Natural fabrics for realz (though on this project I don't mind too much since I was saving money and learning so much)

The whole project was quite fun. But I will admit that the first thing that I did after finishing the sewing was to clean my kitchen. It was a bit consuming. But it was worth it. Thanks!