The Fourth Annual Italian Renaissance Costuming Challenge

June 1 to September 30,  2014

Mackenzie Morgan
Michigan, USA

I’m one of those people who has a habit of making juuust enough clothing to not be naked at Pennsic, so making an actual outfit meant to all be worn together will be…interesting! My current garb closet is a mishmash of things, so I’m leaving it up to Bella whether I count as Italian Ren novice, having given her an inventory of relevant items. So far, I’ve been surprised to find that people encountering me in gas stations on the way to and from SCA events think I’m in religiously observant dress when I wear garb, meanwhile cashiers who see me in my usual somewhat-religiously-observant dress think I’m going to the Renaissance Festival. Ahem.


I’ll make a camicia, a burgundy wool gamurra (I’m saying gamurra not sottana because sottana only makes sense to me after the zimarra and veste come in), mantello (not sure on color), and a partlet and pocket. I might throw in a hanky, since I can’t have too many of those, and maybe an apron. It will not be a noble’s outfit. It will be something I could wear as a functional outfit working in a kitchen or the garden. I’m looking at the little people in Bacchiacca’s “The Preaching of St John the Baptist".

June Update

I spent this month studying paintings and Anea's photos of extant dresses, then trying to make the Tudor Tailor's pattern work for me. Florentine shoulders are almost off-shoulder, though, so this didn't work. Then I tried to find my copy of Jen Thompson's pattern and ended up tracing one of my dresses to muslin to tweak from there. I finally got the shoulders looking more like the paintings.

So for, I've cut out the interlining from two layers of heavy linen and started pad stitching. The back doesn't need to be so stiff, so the stitches are larger, but the front has tiny stitches and will take a while.


July Update

This month, I finished pad-stitching the interlining (linen on linen) for front and back of the gown bodice. Then I sewed a medium linen lining to that (using linen thread) and put the wool fashion fabric on the outside and hemmed it down all around with some dark red silk thread I had on-hand. I whip stitched it together at the shoulders.


Onward to the gown’s skirt, I cut two panels 45” long across the 63” fabric (selvage to selvage) and hemmed one cut edge of each before pleating it to the waste of the skirt. That’s 124” (after seam allowance) of skirt to 26.5” of bodice. There are normal box pleats in front and triple box pleats in back. Del Sarto’s Pietá with Saints shows box pleating. 


While on a plane to go to the North American Science Fiction Convention, I finished hemming and sewing together some sleeves I’d cut out ahead of time, and started on eyelets on the bodice. Tip: bone awls can go on airplanes just fine.

During the sci-fi con, I finished the eyelets. Finally, I cut the side slits (for getting in and out and accessing pockets), hemmed them, added a buttonhole bar, and did the bottom hem.

I wore it at that event a week ago.

This week saw a break from Renaissance stuff because I need something easy to throw on and do chores in at Pennsic, and thus threw together a St Clare of Assisi dress and a side-less surcoat (which basically amounts to a full-coverage apron, IMO). I really hate doing Pennsic with so few chemises (I have one ok-ish not-really-finished Italian, one drawstring faire-ism, and one English smock t-tunic thing, and those latter two are unbleached fabric, so they look extra bad—they only get worn at Pennsic). It’s getting to the point where I feel embarrassed by my awful camicie, because I spend so much time on gowns and then the camicia ruins the look. So, I think this week I will be cutting fabric for two new white camicie, and I will machine sew one to wear at Pennsic and take the other one in pieces to Pennsic to hand sew there for the IRCC. Maybe. I need to sew a dozen pockets this week for my aunt’s merchant booth. I’m heading to Pennsic on August 1.

After looking at paintings from the 15-teens and 1520s, I realized partlets seem to have gone out of fashion at that point, but under skirts are in. So layer 2 will be an under skirt and the gown becomes layer 3, and I need to rethink layer 4.

August Update

First off: New declaration of layers!
1. camicia
2. under skirt
3. gown
4. garters

This month started off with a trip to Pennsic. I didn’t actually get any camicia made before Pennsic, but I did pre-wash/pre-shrink the linen and take it with me to Pennsic. While there, I got it cut and did most of the hemming.

I also did a lot of shopping. There was a fabric merchant known for her lovely wools and silks going out of business (so she could go back to school), and everything was 20% off.

From her I got the blue and yellow wools in the photo (not in the photo: the pink silk taffeta that will one day be a 1570s veste). Those will each be a pair of cloth hose, but I don’t know if they’ll happen during this challenge. Something I didn’t mention when I signed on? This challenge is ending less than 3 weeks before my wedding, and I still need to sew the dress! So it’s possible I’ll stop at 4 items even if there’s time left. Also in this photo you see some wool of a color that might be green or brown or grey depending on the lighting. That will be my under skirt. I think there’s more than I need, so the remainder might be another pair of cloth hose. I really want to have mosquito-proof lower legs going forward. I ordered wool felt to do a doppia (stiffened hem), but I’m not actually sure of evidence for them in the 1510s/1520s. Finally, there’s .5oz 60/2 red silk. This will be a pair of garters.

I dithered on how to do the garters. Eventually I checked the wardrobe accounts at the end of the Eleonora book and found an entry for red taffeta garters. They’re described as “1/2 grave” but I don’t know what that means. The whole page is in Italian, and the only meaning for “grave” I found in an Italian dictionary was “solemn,” so I’m rather confused. I found that “grave” is the old name for “kilogram” but not THAT old. It’s an 18th century word. If anyone can tell me what this description meant in 1540s Florence, that’d be great!

Taffeta. So I need plain weave / tabby silk. Some weavers suggested I just use a rigid heddle on my tablet loom. This didn’t work well. The warps were closer together on the edges than in the middle. So I tried using a 12” long reed I happen to have with it, and that worked even worse. If I have to hold up the heddle with one hand and the reed with the other, I don’t have a hand with which to throw the shuttle! Sunday evening, I finally tied up the treadles on my floor loom, removed a bolt so I could assemble the cloth beam brake *correctly*, and scoured the basement until I found the big spring that goes on the warp beam’s tension brake. The Saturday 8 days prior was my first time weaving on a floor loom, when someone taught me to warp. Adventure! I also started building a warping board on Sunday.

Here’s my practice tabby with cotton.

And just in time to send this email before the holiday weekend, I finished binding the neck and cuffs on my camicia. I haven’t put eyelets into the cuffs or made finger loop laces for the camicia yet. I probably won’t do that before I go to Renn Fest for my birthday on Monday. I am going to try to sew the underskirt while at my family reunion, though, so I can wear all three major layers on Monday.

I also did a search for 1500-1550, Italian school on the Web Gallery of Art looking for women’s shoes. I’ve concluded that the Florentine painters are really lacking here. I did find one Tuscan painting (Siena) from 1509 with shoes visible. Other than that, it’s mostly Venetians or Emilio-Romagne. The good news is the men’s shoes look the same regardless of where they’re painted in Italy, so I suspect the women’s do too.

September/Final Update

On September 6, there was an SCA demo in a neighboring barony, so I made it a goal to finish by then, especially knowing I had to switch gears for my wedding soon. I finished sewing a pair of hose the morning of the demo (on the drive there, in true SCA fashion), but I didn’t have any garters with me, so they ended up going on display to tell visitors about how socks were made before the 1550s. For the hose, I did a hot wash and dry on the green wool left over from the under skirt. My fiancé pinned the muslin for me to make a pattern from.


I did try to weave a pair of fine silk taffeta garters. I was not successful. After 6 of the 30 warp threads snapped, I decided I needed to declare the 4 items I’d made so far “enough” and finish. The silk is still warped on my loom, but I need to do some experimentation. I’ve seen some weavers say they’ve had this problem using 60/2 silk and metal heddles with the recommendation to switch to string heddles, and I’ve had other weavers I know say they’ve never had this problem. These aren’t heddles that I bought new (they came with the loom), so maybe they’re rough or rusty. Or maybe it’s the reed (carbon, not stainless—rustable). 

I also decided to attach the sleeves to the gown. I came across one only person in several group shots who looked like there were laces at her shoulder, and added reinforcing stitches to the corners of the gown’s neckline, as found in Eleonora di Toledo’s burial gown.


And this is the finger-loop braid and eyelets for the skirt.

Here is the finished outfit:

Layers 1 and 4: Underwear and Accessory


Layer 2: The Under-skirt:


Layer 3: The Dress: