The Fourth Annual Italian Renaissance Costuming Challenge

June 1 to September 30,  2014

Bettina Berns
Cologne, Germany

My name is Bettina Berns, I live in Cologne, Germany. When I was a girl, I loved sewing dresses for my dolls. A few years ago I rediscovered having fun with sewing and started sewing historical dresses. My first attempt at a renaissance dress was in summer/autumn 2010. Since then I have been producing more and more dresses. Last year was the first time I participated in the IRCC and I would like to try again this year.

I intend to do a camicia, an under-skirt and a dress. Additionally I would like to sew a partlet, a doublet and a cape. As for the dress I would like to make one which looks a bit like something in between the picture of Isabella Canossa and this painting of Judith.
I have a dark blue cotton jacquard in my stock which I suppose would do quite nice with this.

So, good luck and loads of fun for every participant and thanks for you, Anabella, that you took the burden once again to organize the IRCC!

June Update

I had 1.80 metres of some white cloth in my stock of which I don`t even know which fibre it consists of, but for this years project I decided to use mostly pieces of cloth I already own. So I cut out two big rectangular pieces for the body of the camicia, two smaller ones for the sleeves and two quite small square pieces for the underarm gussets and sewed them together. Afterwards I did the hemming of the sleeves-ends, the bottom and the neckline and added some bobbin lace everywhere. Until this point work was finished quite fast, because I was lazy and did it all by sewing machine.

A few weeks before the competition started I found an explanation on how to do smocking, and because I really wanted to try it out, I decided this year's camicia should be a smocked one.

Using linen yarn I started producing cartridge pleats at the neckline and the sleeves of the camicia, this time handwork.

On the right side of the cloth I added embroidery with some hand-dyed orange wool yarn I bought at a medieval market last autumn. The contrast of the coloured embroidery and the white cloth really looked nice and so I added also some simple line of embroidery into the bobbin lace. 


After finishing the embroidery, I removed the linen yarn at the left side of the cloth. Thus neckline and sleeves become a bit elastic.

And so: tadaa! First layer finished! Sorry for the bad picture, I hadn't anyone there to help me with it now and the camicia wouldn't stay on a clothes hanger and I couldn't taken a picture without wearing it.

After finishing the camicia I started working on the bodice of the dress. I took a sewing pattern of Elizabethan underwear and changed the pattern for the corset a bit, because my dress shall have a v-shaped front opening with ladder lacing, and not a closed lacing in the back.

I copied the pattern onto white cotton, cut the pieces out and sewed them loosely together, then marked where I wanted to remove cloth, undid the sewing, cut again, sewed together again and so on. It took me four times until I was satisfied with it.

Then I copied the pieces onto a rest of grey cotton and cut them out and sewed them together.

Afterwards I pinned both layers of cloth - the grey and the white one - together and started sewing channels for the boning I intend to insert to the bodice of the dress.

Although I did the sewing of the channels by machine I have not yet finished this work. I didn't believe it would be so difficult and last so long, but nevertheless I do not intend to give up.

July Update

As I had already supposed, this month was mostly busy in painting and wallpapering the walls of our new apartment, and with first packing and then unpacking our moving boxes. So, sadly enough, there is not so much progress I can tell you about.

In the first half of this month I cut out the four pieces for the skirt of the dress and sewed them together and I cut out the woollen cloth for the cape and started sewing the trimming on. In the last two weeks I couldn't do anything more, but yesterday I happily rediscovered the two moving boxes continuing my sewing machine, my sewing box and also the material for my IRCC project in the mess the moving company left us in. So I am going to pick up work again and try to make up for the lost time!


August Update

This month I started my doublet. For the bodice I used the same pattern as for my dress, but lengthened it for about two centimetres. The sleeves pattern was also taken from the same commercial pattern. I cut out every piece of the doublet out of untreated cotton and some middle blue piece of cloth - don't ask me of which material, I don't have the slightest idea, because it was a present from a friend, who tidied out his stock. I made seven trapezoid pieces of the blue cloth for the "skirt" of the doublet. I lined them, the collar of the doublet and the ends of the sleeves with tiny pieces of grey cotton I had still left and - until now - couldn't decide to dispose of. I had these trapezoid pieces sewn overlapping each other onto the bodice of the doublet.


Sewing together all the pieces of the doublet took me quite a long time, because this month I wanted to use my sewing machine as little as possible. I used it only for the long seams of the sleeves and for sewing the skirt's pieces onto the bodice. All other seams and hemming were done by hand.
I had to open the back seam three times to adjust. I am still not satisfied about the fitting of the doublet, but now it looks at least wearable. Now looking at the doublet the colour combination between the blue and the grey cloth seems quite nice to me.


Furthermore I started working on my partlet and decided to take bits of pieces of green cotton to take for the lining of my cape, but until now there is not much to show you about this.

So for September I need to: 

  • finish the doublet with hooks and eyes or buttons and loops to be able to close it
  • sew the partlet
  • cut and sew the underskirt
  • finish my dress
  • line the cape and add a collar

Sounds horrible and I do not have the slightest idea how to finish it all in the next thirty days but still: I am not ready to give up.

September Update, Pt 1

I finished my cape today!

During July I had already cut out the outer part of the cape. Because the green cotton - which I had chosen for the lining of the cape - merely consisted of small pieces of 50 cm maximum width each, I now had to sew several pieces (five in total) together to gain enough width for the whole cape.

After sewing these pieces together I pinned them to the woollen outer part, pinned some more of the trim to the bottom of the outer side of the cape and sewed these three layers together by hand.

Afterwards I cut out the collar from the dark blue wool and once more from the green cotton, added the rest of my trim and again sewed everything together.

At last I sewed the collar into the cape.

The only thing missing now is a clasp. I couldn't come to a decision yet whether I should use a cord, a woven band or a metallic clasp. I am not quite sure about which way would be more "period". So I think I'll decide that later.

September Update, Pt 2

I finished my first partlet ever! 

I started with a small rectangular piece of white satin jacquard with a small geometric woven pattern. I made a cut into the side, which I chose to be the front and cut out a round hole in the middle of the piece of cloth. I sewed two narrow but long pieces on both sides of the hole in the middle to form the basis of my collar.

Then I took the rest of the lace (about 2 metres) which I had used for the camicia earlier. I created a narrow piece of the satin jacquard as long as the lace by sewing for smaller pieces of it together. Then I sewed the lace onto this long piece of cloth and hemmed it afterwards, using a facing of white cotton. For the facing I used the machine; the rest was done by hand.

I put this long band into forms of eight and sewed it together, bit by bit. After that I sewed the whole thing onto the base of my collar, again bit by bit.

When I finished this, I added two metallic pairs of hooks and eyes from my stock to be able to close the collar.

I also added a long string of white satin, which I pulled through the channels I had sewn at the outer ends of the whole thing, to be able to close the partlet at the bottom. I tried to take a picture of it while wearing it in front of the mirror, but today it seems, I am not able to handle my camera, so I will send this picture later. For the moment, this is it, but I am still working on the dress and the underskirt. So, hopefully, there's more coming soon!

September Update, Pt 3, and Final

Since my last update I managed finishing the underskirt. I sewed it together from several brown and yellow pieces of linen cloth out of my stock and did some box pleating. You can close it with cloth ties in the back.


I also managed to finish the bodice of the dress including the ladder lacing. This was really tricky and I studied several ideas to solve this all around the internet. It was one of your showcases, that finally helped me to find out how to do it.


As you can certainly guess from this I did not succeed in finishing the whole dress.

My initial plan was: 

  • layer one: smocked camicia

  • layer two: underskirt

  • layer three: dress with v-shaped ladder lacing in the front

  • layer four (as accessory): partlet

Additionally I wanted to make a doublet and a cape.

Okay - here I am with the pictures of my completed first layer: the  camicia. It is made from white cloth of which fibre I do not know, hand-smocked with bright yellow embroidery yarn at cuffs and collar, adorned with a white cotton crocheted lace.



Now here coming the pictures of layer two: the underskirt made from yellow and brown linen in broad stripes, with small box pleats, to be closed by ties in the back, and hemmed with a broad piece of yellow linen cloth.



Ok, here are the pictures of my doublet, which I would like to call my third layer, because I could not finish the dress within time. It is made from a blue - whatever material it is - cloth and collar, cuffs and skirt are lined in grey cotton, the rest in natural white cotton, to be closed in the front by hooks and eyes.



These are the pictures of the fourth layer:  the accessory - the partlet - made from white jacquard with a honeycomb pleated collar to be closed at the neck with two silver spangles and under the bust with a satin ribbon to wrap around the bodice and tie in the back.



These are the last pictures of the finished bodice of the dress, front and back, and from the cape, front and side.


The Bodice of the dress is made out of four layers of cloth: two inner layers of grey and white cotton including the boning channels, the lining in dark blue cotton and the outer side from dark blue jacquard with a very tiny geometrical pattern. For the boning I took modern steel bands. The bodice can be closed in the front by a ladder lacing, leaving the v-shaped front open.

The cape is made out of dark blue wool, lined in grass-green cotton and decorated with (industrially woven) trim.

So thank you again to all participants of this years competition, it has been an inspiring challenge until now and I am still looking forward to see all the wonderful results. And thanks a lot again to you, Anabella, for all the trouble and time you taking to manage the IRCC.