The Fourth Annual Italian Renaissance Costuming Challenge

June 1 to September 30,  2014

Kathy Whitaker
Georgia, USA

My SCA name is Dianora di Cellini. I have been in the SCA for 29 years and my persona is early sixteenth century Venetian. I plan to make a chemise, a petticoat, a ribbon tie dress, and several accessories. Hopefully these include a capelet, a flag fan, a handkerchief with bobbin lace trim, and jewelry. While I am planning to use bobbin lace that I made I have not started it yet.

June Update

I knew going into this competition that June would be a difficult month to focus on projects because of my teaching load, so I decided instead to work on preparation – I worked on fine-tuning my dress pattern, getting the right slope for my capelet, samples of bobbin lace, and so on. This is important for me, because unlike so many of the talented folks here I am NOT a seamstress. Sewing is difficult for me, so I see this as a kind of personal challenge.

My plan is to make a chemise, a ribbon-tied dress, a capelet, a flag fan, a hair bag, and either a muff or a zibellini. Although I love the ribbon-tied dresses, I’m toying with the idea of making a dress like the one in the “Venetian Lovers” portrait by Paris Bordone, with the high waist and really low bodice top. I guess I’ll see what the fabric wants to be when I get ready to cut it!

Because of this, I am working kind of backwards, working on my dress first, then accessories, then undergarments. I’m doing those last because I would like to put some lace on the chemise, but don’t know if I’ll have time to finish it. So at this point I have found all of my supplies, and I have several projects in the prep stage. No photos – I’d rather wait until I’m working on the actual garments. But there will be plenty next time!

July Update

Hi! I hope everyone is moving forward and not letting time get away from them!! I surely wish I could say that about myself. Time continues to be my biggest issue, but I feel like I’ve made a lot of progress.

Although my fabric was begging me to let it become the dress from Bordone’s “Venetian Lovers,” I think I’ve brow-beaten it into accepting that it will be a ribbon-front dress. Fine-tuning that pattern has been a challenge, trying to keep the flexibility of the bodice (i.e., no boning) while maintaining the straight edges in the front. I managed it beautifully in my test dress – now I’m just a bit afraid to cut the fabric for the challenge dress! The sleeves are an old gold brocade, and will tie on.

I have put together the chemise – it is a raw silk that I chose because you could not see through it. I thought that was important with this dress – you see more of the chemise than you do in other styles, yet the women are fully covered.

The capelet was originally to be made of fur. However, the fur that I bought was just too thick and “fluffy” to match the portraits I was using for inspiration, so I have ordered velvet. The pattern is finished, just waiting for the fabric. 

I have just about finished the petticoat, and there’s a (not very good) picture here. There is no fraying on the side – that’s a garment behind it sticking out. The fabric is a soft green with a raised pattern that looks like embroidery (not real embroidery – that’s beyond my skill set!). It’s also wider than the picture – I had to fold it back on itself to fit the hanger. It is not hemmed, because I want to see how much volume it adds to the dress – if it doesn’t hold its shape well enough, I will add a rope to the hem to give it volume. 

I am also working on the bobbin lace that will go on my muff. I’ve included a picture of it as well.

I look forward to more completed items and fewer bits and pieces next month!

August Update

Well, as of this month I have three items fully finished – underskirt, camicia, and a pair of sleeves. The others are in progress. Still pushing forward – we’ll have to see how it ends up!

My camicia is made of silk. I wanted something a little heavier since the ribbon-front dresses have an opening in the front, so it couldn’t be sheer of any sort. And this just hangs beautifully. It goes a bit past my knees – since some pictures seem to who them shorter rather than floor length, I thought that was the way to go, especially living in the south. Example portraits show wide, fixed necks and wide sleeves without cuffs, so that’s what I did for this challenge. However, I know that width will drive me crazy at times, so the sleeves have a narrow casing at the end for a thin ribbon that can be added later.


The sleeves are an old-gold brocade, a really pretty color. They are meant to tie on (at least one portrait shows tie-on sleeves) and, like the camicia sleeves, they are wide and open. Because I’m still working on the dress, I’ve photographed them pinned to the chemise.

The capelet remains in pattern mode. I still can’t find a fur or velvet that’s just right. I may end up back where I started with my original fur. The dress itself is also in pattern mode – I’m having a bit of a panic about cutting the fabric. Oh well – this too will pass! One more month!!! “Think she’ll make it?” “It would take a miracle!!”

September/Final Update

For this challenge, I wanted to focus on the 1520’s ribbon-front dress. I have been analyzing this dress for a while, trying to figure out exactly how it was constructed. I wanted all of the elements to be form the same time and place. The problem I came up against was trying to keep everything documentable to the 1520’s Venice. Items I had wanted to make, such as a flag fan, were actually not seen until later. The layers I made include a camicia, an underskirt, an over-dress with sleeves, a mantellina, and a necklace.

The camicia is made of raw, heavy silk. I wanted it to be opaque, since there is no under-bodice with this dress. Going by the portraits of this style, some of the sleeves were full, and the neckline was gathered into a band, so that is the way I made my camicia. I also made it calf length rather than full length, as seen in some portraits.


The underskirt is a heavy, stiff fabric. Originally I was going to stiffen the hem with rope or padding, but even after several washings it maintains its shape and stands out on its own. Therefore, I left the hem plain. I didn’t want any more bulk in the front, so I gave it a flat front panel before I began pleating. The waistband is hand-finished. It is a beautiful green color with a raised pattern that unfortunately is hard to see in the photos.


The overdress is a dark teal and olive-bronze brocade. Again, the richness of the color does not show well in the pictures. This is the second time I’ve made this pattern, and each time I do it I change something for the better and then find something else I need to change! The trim around the neck and front is done by hand. The sleeves are a gold brocade, and left wide as seen in some of the portraits. At least one portrait shows tie-on sleeves, and that is how I made these. 


Dress fabric's true color.

Bodice front

Bodice back

I have found three pictures of mantellinas from the 1520s. One of them looks like a modern fur cape, but the other two have interesting shapes and dags. They appear to be velvet. This was the most fun piece to make. My husband helped with the draping, and the pattern is new to this competition. It is a warm brown velvet with a heavier cotton lining.



Finally, another difficulty was in finding accessories. When you study these Venetian portraits of this particular style of dress, there is very little decoration or accessorizing. I did find two examples of necklaces in one (there weren’t even any earrings!), and made a version of the shorter one. My version is a small pearl choker with a gold and green glass pendant.

I had a great time doing this. It was, for me, a personal challenge. I know I am not a good seamstress, although I try, and I hope through participating in this sort of activity to become better. I love seeing what everyone does, and learn so much from it. I’m already thinking of how I could do it better next time!