The Fourth Annual Italian Renaissance Costuming Challenge

June 1 to September 30,  2014

Ruth Loes
Washington, USA

As I have been sewing for decades, I guess I am not a novice! I’ve been a member of the Society of Creative Anachronism for most of that time, and enjoy creating things for my 16th century persona, 'Gabriella Margaurite Simonetti di Ruccellai. I am excited to take part in the contest! Thank you, Bella!

Inspired by several Licinio portraits, the minimum I plan on completing is: an embroidered pair of drawers; a gown in the style of 1530’s Italy, a cappotto or Dutch cloak, and a balzo. I hope to be able to add other items within the time allotment. 

June Update

June 1, 2014
Annndd, they’re off!

I decided to start with one of the required items, an undergarment. After starting a pair of drawers during my previous attempt  - Bella’s first IRCC - and coming up with a complex 16th based acanthus leaf design, (which are still not finished!) I realized I needed to simplify the design I was attempting. I took the design from an extant pair, and simplified it down. This keeps the main elements of the 16th century design, but allows me more time to actually get them finished!


I traced out the pattern using my basic drawers pattern I have developed based on these. As a large woman I find wearing a pair of brache under my gowns a must for comfort. Again, keeping to my ‘Comes from the Stash’ rule, I used some 3.5 oz. linen I had purchased some months back in an off white. During the month of May, I pre-washed the linen so it would be ready to go. The pattern is basically two legs, possible 4 gusset pieces and a waistband piece. Prepping to cut the pieces, I realized my fabric was wide enough, so I chose to eliminate the gussets to avoid additional thigh irritation. I based these on the simpler style of a pair I have worn multiple times at SCA camping events which are quite comfortable. After cutting, I serged the edges to prevent fraying, and then machine stitched the leg seams, and the crotch seam for stability; these are underwear after all, so will be laundered often. I left approximately a 10” opening. Then I started hand stitching all the seams flat-felled. I hand stitched the crotch seam first, and the opening, then the leg seams.


How excited was I to start? I brought the drawers to work and stitched on my breaks and lunch!

Drawers, hand stitched opening.

Drawers showing outside of seams after hand sewing.

The waistband has two buttonholes hand made for the draw-string. I can’t imagine that the extant ones opened anywhere but in the front, so that is how I am sewing mine. I decided to do the embroidery so that when each leg is hemmed, there is a backing or facing to the lower edges. This is twofold – one to protect the backside of the embroidery itself, and to provide a heavier weight to the lower legs, so they do not ride up as much on my heavy thighs. No panties in a bunch for me! I located some metallic tatted looking lace edging in the Narnia that is our garage, and I will use that on the leg hems.

The drawers are completed except for the decoration, and already my ADHD “Squirrel!” is acting up-after doing the hand stitching on the drawers, and starting the embroidery for the lower legs, I wanted something ‘complete! So I started an accessory; a silk belt pouch with my SCA personal badge on it. I was inspired by a 17th century pouch, and several made by others in the SCA. 

Bag to hang from belt, gold thread and tassels, the Netherlands, early 17th century. At the Hendrikje Bag Museum

After having drawstring bags with cording drag at my belts, I decided to make the one with the double strap. I pulled out a scrap of red (my signature colour!) silk dupioni and went through my trims and things. I had red cording, I had red tassels. Back to the stash; and I had some ‘what was I thinking’ quilting cotton for inner lining. I drafted out my pattern, cut everything, serged all the edges and turned the tubes for the straps. And THEN I realized that to get my badge design on the flap, I was back to embroidering! (you all probably saw that coming!)

I drew my horse head directly onto the silk, and worked on and off for a couple days straight; embroidering while watching TV on the weekends and during my breaks at work. Using DMC cottons, and satin and chain stitches, I finished the design for my badge: horse head erased argent, collared gules.

I wanted it to look more Arabian, my favourite horse, but it turned out ok. I believe I got just the right amount of shading with the satin long and short stitching. One row of couched metallic thread around the edges, machine stitched together, and the pouch is now done. I am excited because I finally have a nice pouch that doesn’t pull my belts or girdles down, and it has my badge on it. But that is a bonus to having done the whole project without buying anything!!! The tassels, cording, fabrics, and threads were all just taking up space in my sewing area! Win! Win! Situation!!

July Update

Well, with some ‘real life’ issues this month, I didn’t get as much done as I had planned, but still am feeling good about what has happened.

Regarding the hand embroidery, which is not really my strong suite, I have just finished the band for one of the lower legs on the drawers, and started the second one! It takes me so long to do! But I am happy with the way it looks.

I got my underskirt cut out, a red and black iridescent dupioni silk - yes from “the Stash”. The seams are stitched and most of the hand flat-felling is done on the seams. It is being gathered onto a waistband, and I plan to use a large ‘period-looking’ hook and eye for closing. I also found a small piece of wool in my stash, so I am cutting it into strips to put into the hem. I didn’t get a photo as shots I took just show a huge rectangle of silk!

The gown I am creating is based on a couple Licinio portraits, in the style of the 1530’s. Again, using fabrics from my stash; I am so excited with the space made from 8 to 9 yards of red velveteen ‘going away’ into a real something! As to my gown, I got the whole bodice drafted and cut out; the velveteen, the twill and linen canvas for inner support, and softened, pre-washed muslin for the lining. 

I also cut the sleeve pieces. The sleeves involved multiple measurements up my lower arms, to create the lower sleeve pattern, and then an entire width of the velveteen (approx. 44-45” wide) for the upper sleeves. I chose to make the sleeve lining one piece, attaching the gathered upper sleeve to the lining piece, and then hand tacked the lower sleeve over the gathers. I left an opening at the wrist, where I will be putting a button or two. But I have not decided on thread covered buttons, or stuffed velveteen buttons to match the gown. I have to admit, I stopped working on everything else to do my favourite 1530’s sleeves. Behold, the gigantic sleeves of doom!

I have also got all my materials gathered for my balzo, so hope to start that soon! I am still so excited to be taking part in this; thank you so much Bella!
[My pleasure! - Bella]

August Update

After feeling like July was so unproductive, I tried to jump right back into the thick of things. Helping my best friend go through all her fabrics uncovered a partially finished wool gown I had given her to cut up. It is a really nice wool flannel we keeping figuring someone can use! She gave it back to me, and I planned on measuring it out to see if it would work for my Cappotto or Dutch Cloak.

I was limited by the fact that I had originally machine stitched wool guards at the hem, so that would cut into the total fabric available; it turned out that I would have enough to do the shorter sleeves as shown in the 16th century illustrations of women from Naples. Another project out of the stash! 

Utilizing the Medici Archive site someone recently posted about, I poured over the photos of the cloak of Don Garcia, and roughly figured out what the cloak shapes needed to be based on the views of Don Garcia’s cloak. 

Then, I laid the wool skirt out on the floor, took up my trusty tape measure and chalk, and marked the wool! I ended up with small areas where I had to use the seams of the skirt, but piecing is period, right?! I cut the backs, fronts, short full sleeves, and bands for the sleeves, collar and upper sleeve openings.
Now, lining. I pulled out the red silk dupioni left from my underskirt I am working on, that I had planned on using for contrast on the cappotto, and there was enough to line the cloak and sleeves! Quickly cut that out. Only downside, now I needed to find something else for the contrast. Back to the stash, and lo! Another yard or so of a 54” wide red silk, definitely enough to cut into bias for the contrast around the circular hem. Cut the silk into 3” wide strips for long continuous bias. By the way, making continuous bias in silk is kind of a pain. (at least it wasn’t a slippery satin finish!)

Then I folded and pressed one edge. It seemed to take forever! But then the contrast was ready to be stitched on. I chalked out the line for the trim, and machine stitched the upper edge, then folded it down. Then I pinned the lower edges, the mitred corners and let it hang. I started hand stitching the silk contrast lower edges. 

The bias has been tricky! Despite repeated stitching and ripping out, re-stitching and re-ripping out, I have had some trouble getting the angles to all match. After the third time ripping out the stitching on one of the slit openings, I decided to just go with it; perfection is not going to happen! Of course, after all the trouble with the angles of the design on the hem openings, I foolishly decided to copy that same design on the sleeves! Glutton for punishment!!! At least the collar is just flat bias strips!!! My Cappotto is now ready for the lining and buttons, and will be done! 


Now on to the last part of the IRCC 4!!!

September/Final Update

Well, I didn’t get all the things I had hoped to created, ( yes, I got a tad over-excited) but, I ended up with:


A pair of hand embroidered drawers. I am really thrilled with how they turned out! I love them!

A red silk underskirt, decorated with a wide, metallic trim. A rustle-y red silk petticoat!!


A 1530’s style gown of red velveteen, based on a Licinio portrait, with my favourite giant upper sleeves. The gown was inner-lined with a cotton twill, and lined with a linen canvas. I hand-made the eyelets on the side back openings, and hand stitched the neckline to the lining. With the super full 1530s upper sleeves, I set in the upper half of the sleeve, and leave the bottom open, finishing both the bodice edge and the sleeve edge with linen bias hand-stitched to the inside. This gives me the peek of the camicia out the bottom, similar to other paintings.


A wool cappotto lined with silk; trimmed with bias silk strips hand tacked on. I completely lined it to the edge, and now realize I could possibly turn inside out and wear it with the silk on the outside. Double score!


A silk saccoccia hand embroidered using silk thread. This was my first attempt at using silk threads; I loved the feel and how it looks! Although I think it rivals the metallic threads as being a super pain in the butt when trying to separate the threads. I traced my design out on the silk, and chain stitched the design, with some metallic floss couched down along the edges.

A silk hand embroidered belt pouch with my personal badge on it. Unfortunately, I didn’t get my beaded belt/girdle made, so the final photo is me holding it.

As to the photos; my best friend was unable to help me out, but got her husband to do it. Note to self, remember when having your friend’s spouse take pictures he will not say things like; “did you want to put on some make-up? Or comb your hair?” Please ignore the horrible person in the photos, just look at the fun stuff she made!!

I had two personal goals throughout the IRCC 4 challenge; the first was to actually finish the contest. I had entered Bella’s first IRCC but didn’t finish it through. This time, I made it!!! Yea! One of the best parts of Bella’s contest is that I personally challenged myself to do many new things, learning a lot while ending up with some lovely new items. Did I mention how much I love my new drawers?!

The second, and more important, was that everything I made was from my sewing stash. And with the exception of purchasing the silk thread I used on the saccoccia, everything - EVERYTHING - was pulled from the stash o’ doom! 
Thank you again, Bella for setting this up, for creating the entrants page and posting all the updates; and but mostly, for giving us the opportunity to challenge ourselves to do this!! Bella, you rock!!