The Fourth Annual Italian Renaissance Costuming Challenge

June 1 to September 30,  2014

Courtney Whalen
North Carolina, USA

I'm a history buff and mom of three young children ages 6, 4, and 11 months, so life is a bit like a circus around here.  I learned how to sew some basic projects from my mother as a child, but didn't use those skills often until I had my kids. I am not a sewing novice, but I am definitely new to Italian Renaissance costuming.

After a trip to Florence in 2012, I've been very interested in the women of the Medici Family. I plan to make a "veste" style dress similar to those worn by Isabella de' Medici in her Allori portraits of the 1570s.  I will make a camicia, underskirt or sottana, a veste with separate sleeves, and a partlet, handkerchief and saccoccia as my accessories.

June Update

Despite school being out and having all three of my kids at home, June has gotten off to a great start. So far, I have challenged myself with pattern drafting, pad stitching, cartridge pleating, and hand-bound eyelets, none of which I have done before. It's taken some practice, but I'm excited about my new skills.

I have found two portraits that are the basis for my inspiration. The first (left) is the Portrait of Isabella de' Medici Orsini and son Virginio by Alessandro Allori in 1574. The second is the Portrait of Bianca Capello by Scipione Pulzone.

I decided to start the beginning of the month with the first layer. I used Jen Thompson's pattern for the camicia. I wanted to play around with my sewing machine's decorative stitches on the cuff and neckline. My 4 year old decided to help me sew.

After the camicia was complete, I went straight into some accessories with earrings and a pearl necklace using fake pearls and some glass beads I'd had in my craft closet for years.

The sottana was my first foray into pattern drafting. I used Janet Arnold's Patterns of Fashion 3 for the Eleanora of Toledo burial gown and an Elizabethan corset I'd made previously for measurements for my toile.

Once I worked up the nerve, I cut into my fashion fabric and my lining material. I used a cotton drapery lining for my lining since I already had a roll of it. Free is good when you have 3 kids. My fashion fabric is definitely synthetic, but it was on sale and within my budget.

My dogs are thoroughly confused with my sottana skirt layout.

The bodice of the sottana has an interlining of canvas for stiffness, and I've also attempted some pad stitching for the first time to hold its shape a bit more.


Once the skirt and lining was all stitched together, tried my hand at cartridge pleating. I ended up needing to pad the waistline with some grosgrain ribbon I had in order to get the desired stiffness of the pleats.

As the first month of the challenge is ending, I am starting on making eyelets by hand on the sottana bodice. It will be laced at the side back using spiral lacing.

This has been a great learning experience and motivator so far. I am looking forward to pushing myself further as the challenge continues!

July Update

Even though I've been working steadily, it feels like I haven't gotten much accomplished in the month of July. I knew a vacation would take its toll, but I seriously underestimated the time it would take to finish all the sottana eyelets by hand. That would be 44 eyelets total! Phew! Glad that part is done now. Once I got the eyelets finished, I was able to finish cartridge pleating the skirt and hand sew that to a waistband. I applied my trim to the sottana bodice and skirt by machine. Finally, I was able to quickly stitch the skirt to the bodice by hand. I am currently pinning up the hem in order to sew that in the next few days.

I am also working on the lacing for the sottana. I'm using random ribbons from my craft closet in the pictures just to see how it fits. I am almost done with one lacing cord, which took me most of the 6 hours to and from the beach for family vacation. It's a five piece braid using embroidery floss in cream and gold.

These pictures show the hem pinned up. I need to work a little more on the fit of the bodice in the back- it's a tad wide up by my shoulders. Apparently I forget what my true measurements are and feel like I should add more just in case. I am so thrilled with my trim though! I stumbled upon it after looking at every trim and ribbon twice at a local fabric warehouse. I think it matches my portrait of Bianca Capello quite nicely.

I am a little behind the schedule I set for myself, but I am hopeful that I can make it up in the next month of the challenge.


August Update

I feel much more accomplished at the end of this month than I did at the end of July. I started with making a partlet using Margo Anderson's pattern located here. The lace I used for the collar is a little flimsy. I may play around with starch or pull it off and try something different. For now it works.


Next I went for the skirt of my veste or over-gown. I used the same pattern as I did for my sottana (Eleanora de Toledo's burial gown in Patterns of Fashion) except I split the front down the center to remain open.

Here is the skirt all put together with the lining (the back and side gores are lined with cotton drapery material, while the front gores are lined with a matching synthetic lining material). My son decided to steal the skirt just as I was snapping the picture.

After my skirt was put together, I went to work on the bodice. My math skills escaped me for a few days, so I decided to try using a commercial pattern that I already had with a similar style bodice. I cut out a toile using the pattern, but decided I hated it once I tried putting it together.

I made some adjustments by attaching the front and side sections together. Then I chopped off the attached collar. I drew my own after looking at several styles in Patterns of Fashion. This is what I ended up with.

Once my pattern was worked out, I cut all the pieces I needed. The back section is lined with the white drapery lining material, while the front and collar is lined with the matching synthetic lining material. I used canvas in between my damask and lining for stability.

Once the bodice of the veste was complete, I added the trim. Then I cartridge pleated the skirt by hand, and hand stitched it to the bodice. All other sewing on the veste was done by machine.

Next month I need to sewn on hooks and eyes for closure, hem the veste skirt, and then work on sleeves. Now it's time for a much needed birthday vacation to the beach.


September/Final Update

September went by faster than I expected. Between a week at the beach, training for a marathon, and going back to work part time, I was a little concerned that I wouldn't get my sewing finished. I am happy to report that it is definitely finished, although I did change some of the accessories from what I had originally planned.

For the month of September, I was able to finish another long strand of the five piece braid of embroidery floss to be used as a lacing cord for my sottana. I also had enough to make ties at the cuff of my camicia.


I spent a good portion of time drafting a pattern for the baragoni and sleeves of the veste only for it to end in disappointment. Clearly I need some more practice with paned sleeves, but with just a few weeks left I resorted to using the sleeves of a commercial pattern. The sleeve lining is the same material as my sottana. I used a sheer stripe material as the outer sleeve to give the same appearance as my inspiration portraits. The sleeves are machine stitched except for the cuff hem. The baragoni was also part of a commercial pattern that was machine stitched, stuffed, and then sewn onto the veste by hand.


And because I despise hemming, I put that off until the very last minute. I decided to take the lace collar off the partlet that I had previously made in August. The fit wasn't quite right, so I lengthened the collar, sewed it back to the body of the partlet, and felt a little better with the end result.


I also quasi-made one final accessory. I took an old metal belt, took off several of the end links, and spray painted it gold. I used an old jeweled pin of my mother's, pinned to the vest where the girdle closes.

Because I was running out of time, and my remnant fabric barely had enough for a hem, I ended up machine stitching the hem of the veste. It's not my preferred method for finishing a garment, but it had to do in a pinch.

Layer Photos - Layer 1, Camicia


Layer 2, Sottana


Layer 3, Veste


Layer 4, Accessories (Necklace, Earrings, Partlet, Girdle)

Only the bottom necklace with the green crystal beads is one that I made. The other necklaces were jewelry that I already owned.

I had a lot of fun participating in the contest. I had no idea that I could accomplish so much being just a hobby seamstress. Thank you again for putting on the costuming challenge!