The Fifth Annual Italian Renaissance Costuming Challenge

April 1 to July 31,  2015

Angela Ketley
Queensland, Australia

I have a love of historical clothing from many eras and am part of a living history group set in Italy in the year 1480. I entered the IRCC last year but it ended up to be very bad timing for me. This year I hope to do better.I haven’t started any handwork yet, which probably isn’t a good thing since I thought a great accessory would be a hand spun, hand woven apron. Ah well, such is life, but this year there WILL be a camicia. I know I said that last year (and for many years before) but this year I actually mean it.

This year my entry is a dual challenge and was inspired by the manuscript challenge, where entrants have 12 months to copy an outfit from a manuscript (or fresco or statue etc) as closely as they can. My inspiration is the images of Giovanna Tornabuoni. My four layers I plan are: a linen camicia, a red wool gamurra, red and gold silk brocade sleeves and a yellow silk giornea. Accessories I plan are a fazzoletto, possibly another pair of sleeves (the ones I never made last year) and let’s not mention the apron idea. Oh, and did I mention a camicia?

April Update

Well, it’s time for the first update! I’m sad to say my progress has been a bit slow this month and I have been VERY lax about making progress pictures but there have been some wins. First, let’s take a look at what I’m hoping to take over the finish line with me. Basically… this. Yup. This.

But first, let’s backtrack. I mentioned I had some wins, well, here they are.

Some may think that they are some not-so-great photos of some mostly hemmed pieces of linen on the floor, but to me they’re more than that. They are the start of the first camicia I’ve made since 2008. Yes, the one I’ve been saying I WILL make since about 2009. If I take anything over the finish like this year it WILL be this camicia. I know I said that last year but this year I have cut out a bunch of rectangles and hemmed them. It was the first thing I did. See? There’s a win!

Essentially this is constructed from five rectangles and two squares. Two body rectangles, one for the front (pictured) and one for the back, two sleeve rectangles and two square gussets. I’ve hand hemmed the edges on all of these except the hems of the body rectangles and the cuffs of the sleeve rectangles. The final rectangle I’ve cut into triangle shapes which will be the side gores. This I haven’t hemmed yet. Once they are all hemmed I will sew them together with a whip stitch. This done I will cut and hem neckline, cuff and hems.

The next thing I started (because I can only work on a camicia for so long) is my gamurra. I was planning on sourcing some silk fabric for this but got distracted by some beautiful wool I found in a shop. Wool is next to impossible to find where I live so you bet I bought it. It is a very light weight, something again I haven’t really had the chance to buy before. Then I got fabric guilt and felt like I had to use the fabric I had rather than buying more for this challenge. After all, if I use this wool then I can buy more silk guilt free!

The pattern I made in the month before the challenge. As I still plan to make the silk undergown, this will be a more modest style bodice that closes in the front and has a relatively modest neckline.

I usually make my gamurre bodices by cutting out the lining the finished size, the fashion fabric including the hem allowance, hemming the pieces and whip stitching them together. This time I am trying something a little different. First I cut out pieces from some brown scrap linen and the wool fabric without seam allowance. Then I cut out pieces from white linen and the wool fabric with seam allowance. I placed the white fabric first, then the brown and then the red. Next I quilted these layers together with tiny backstitches.

You can see how fine the red fabric is in this photo and just make out all the layers.

I am still quilting.

The back pieces are done. I’ve already sewn the fashion fabric over these so you can’t see the quilting.

On the front pieces one is quilted and waiting to have the fashion fabric basted to it.

The second front piece is still a work in progress.

Once all pieces are quilted and the fashion fabrics basted I will treat all layers as one, place the right sides together and sew the seams with a running stitch. Then I will iron the seam flat, iron to one side, fold under and sew that down to produce a strong seam.

This is my progress so far this month, next month I will really have to get cracking! Also, take more photos!

May Update

A little happier with my progress so far this month. First I got cracking on my bodice. I finished quilting all the pieces of my gamurra bodice then sewed the fashion layer on the outside. Finally I sewed the pieces together using a small running stitch, trimmed down the seam allowance, double folded this over and stitched it down.This is how it’s looking at the moment, as you can see I haven’t done the neckline or waist yet, but I have done the armholes. I will wait until I get some lacing rings to close the bodice and do the neckline and waist on me, the bodice doesn’t fit on my dress dummy (Cecil) as her boobs sit too low and don’t squish like mine do. I have ordered lacing rings but while I wait for them to arrive I put the bodice on hold.

The next thing I did was work on my fazzoletto. I had made a pattern before the challenge started.

All I had to do was cut it out in silk and hem it. Here is the finished product. I hemmed it using silk thread and a decorative stitch. I figured as the silk was so sheer you’d see the stitches no matter what, I might as well make them look good.

Next thing to do was the skirt. I worked out I had enough for five panels 120cm long which I would cut into two trapezoid shirt pieces and roll pleat onto the bodice. After I cut out four panels I only had 110cm of fabric left. Oops. Fortunatly I did some calculations and worked out I still had enough to do single knife pleats, which is what I will do. I cut each of the four panels into two skirt panels.

I then sewed them together, straight edge to slanty. My trick here is to put the bias edge on the ground and place the straight edge on top and pin. This way when I sew I can just follow a thread on the straight edge and my stitching is straight.

A stack of panels later and I needed to cut a rough hem. The mat you see in the above picture of me cutting the skirt panels is all the room I have in my house, so off to good old mum’s to lay the skirt out. Here it is. You can see the stringline of where I’ve marked the hem of the skirt.

The last thing I’ve been working on is a giornea pattern. I’ve never been happy with my old pattern so every weekend I’ve tried to dedicate an afternoon to draping a new one. I went through three major designs and nearly an entire bolt of 140 wide calico and finally I think I’ve found a good one. My considerations were that I wanted the smooth fit over the bust but lots of deep folds in the skirt (enough for the opening to disappear in the folds when standing still), a design that hung nicely in the back and a design that could be cut out from the narrow fabric in period. Here are my results.

It’s made from 140 wide fabric, the same as my brocade. I believe historically they simply would have pieced the fabric and we definitely have evidence of them doing so. Due to the afore mentioned boob issue, this doesn’t fit poor Cecil as well as it fits me, it is much smoother over my bust. This giornea will take about 6.5-7 metres of fabric to make, depending on the length of the train (6 metres assuming no train and narrow hems) and I will need just as much lining as fabric. I could use less if I was happy to cut it into period appropriate strips and piece it or have half the dress with the pattern upside down. I decided just to go for broke and order more fabric.

That’s all for now, I hope for my lacing rings to arrive soon so I can get on with the gamurra. I don’t fancy my chances at cutting the giornea out in my small space so I will have to wait for extra fabric to arrive then make the treck back to my parents’ house. Maybe I should get back to work on my camicia? I look forward to seeing everyone else’s progress!

June Update

Things are starting to come together. I had a few camera issues this month so not as many photos as planned.


First I managed to make two trips over to my parents’ house to cut out my giornea. After perfecting the pattern I cut out the pieces in the fashion fabric, laid them over the lining, stitched round the edges and cut out the lining. Basically. Not so basically is that the fashion fabric was wider than the lining so I needed to piece the lining before I cut it out, and there was pattern matching that I wanted to get just right.

My main sewing was on the camicia and the gamurra. I managed to finish the hemming of my camicia and started whipstitching it together I love this method, it makes inserting the gores under the arms a breeze!

I managed to essentially finish the gamurra. First thing I did was sew on the lacing rings, once they arrived. I ordered a few different types, and when I say a few I mean a lot...

...and I decided on these ones.

After a trial on some scrap fabric, I decided to sew them on with gold thread.

Here is the front of the bodice.

And how it looks inside out.

Next was to work on the skirt. I needed to finish the skirt seams. First I ironed them flat. One seam edge was selvedge, the other was bias cut and starting to fray a bit so after ironing them flat I trimmed off the fraying bit.

I then ironed the selvedge edge over the bias cut edge and stitched it down with running edge, thus covering all raw seams.

I pleated the skirt and sewed it to a scrap of linen. I normally finish t edge of the skirt and whipstitch the edge to the bodice edge, but because the fabric is so fine I worried that the stitches may pull through, so instead I just laid right sides together and sewed it on.

Here is my almost finished dress, in these photos the skirt is just pinned on as I was checking the height.

The brown hanging down was the left over linen that I used to reinforce the skirt top, I have since cut that off. I have also hemmed the dress.

Now, I’m back to sewing, I have our major event of the year the weekend after next and I want to have my camicia and giornea finished!

July Update

I’ve been very busy since my last update, sadly (for this challenge) most of what’s been keeping me busy hasn’t been on sewing. I have, however, helped my partner set up our first business so it was time well spent. That said, I am pleased with the progress I managed to make.

First, I finished my camicia. Yes, finally! Finished, done, worn, success! Now why didn’t I get that done five years ago?

I also finished my gamurra: it just needed the lacing rings for the sleeves to be sewn on.

I also finished my giornea. I mentioned in my last update I had cut it out, which I did at my parents place. Due to camera issues I don’t have as many pictures of the cutting out as I would have preferred.

First step was to refine the pattern pieces.

Here is the front pattern piece, the ruler indicating the straight grain and the F representing the front and the S representing the side.

Once the pattern pieces were finalised, I laid out the fabric right side down.

I cut the first piece, then used that as a pattern for the other side so as to match up the pattern nicely.

Then I laid the pieces right sides to the right side of the velveteen (which required piecing) and stitched them around the edges.

The fashion fabric required piecing in places too.

I then cut out the lining. Next step was to sew neatly round all the edges, clip them, turn in the right way and press. I then whipstitched them together. Here you can see me finalising the neckline and yes, those suns are on the BACK of the dress, not the front, lol!

Next thing to do was the hem. I do my hems two ways, generally. Either flat on the ground, or get my mum to pin it while I’m wearing it. Well, I had no time to visit my mother so Cecil had to stand in. As soon as I put the giornea on her I was very excited, it draped beautifully!

I was also very nervous as cutting a hem can be a make or break kinda thing. Doing this hem was more nerve wracking than cutting the fabric out! I delayed by taking a few more photos.

And when I couldn’t delay any longer I started working on the hem. I worked in stages, cutting the shape first and then perfecting it. Here I am about to cut the final hem.

And cut!

Here is the centre back of the hem with the piecing.

And a front view of the hem taken with Cecil raised higher than I stand (because the hem is to be to the ground once hemmed). There is a small train in the back which I didn’t take a photo of.

Next step was to hem the hem. I just used a simple double fold.

Then my giornea was done and ready for my major event, the Abbey Medieval Tournament
Photo Copyright: Dreamcoat Photography

Other things I completed were some new fingerlooped ties for my sleeves (which you can just see in the folds of my camicia in the picture above) and a new paternoster. Actually, I made a LOT of paternosters, but to sell as part of our new business, I liked one of them so much that I made another for me to wear as part of this outfit.

I also started some buckled leather garters but have not finished them.
I haven’t even started my sleeves for this outfit, though here is the fabric I chose.

I also have enough of the red wool left to make sleeves. I’m really disappointed I didn’t get the sleeves done, the sleeves I’m wearing were made last year and go nicely with the outfit, but they don’t count for this challenge. Without sleeves I haven’t really completed an outfit so I’ve come really close but not quite crossed the finish line of having a completed outfit.

That said, I’m really pleased with what I’ve accomplished. I’ve done some firsts this year, such as a giornea I’m finally happy with, a gamurra with a quilted bodice (and one made out of wool), and I’ve finished my camicia, which though not the first I’ve made is something I’ve been needing to do for years. I’m really happy the IRCC5 gave me the drive to get done what I got done.

Final Update

(Scroll below for details)

It has been a lot of fun being involved in the IRCC5. It really helped motivate me to complete what I needed, that and a major event in July. My last day of sewing for this competition was actually the 8th of July and I wore what I had ready at the Abbey Medieval Tournament held that weekend. I was planning on coming home and completing a few items, including sleeves, but I didn’t. Partly because I was very busy with unpacking and there was a lot of work to do for out new business we set up, partly because I was too lazy. Though they are just an accessory, an outfit isn’t complete without sleeves. It’s like making a Victorian dress and forgetting the hat. For this reason I am wearing my gold sleeves made last year in some of the photos, so I don’t look odd or undressed, but they are not to be judged. Everything is handsewed, I had an argument with a sewing machine that I lost when I first started sewing so everything I make is by hand.

Layer 1: Camicia

I’m really pleased I completed this as it’s been on my to-do list for some time. I’ve made many a outfit for this time period, so this time I wanted to do something a little different with each layer. For my camicia I changed the pattern slightly by making the front body panel slightly wider than the back. I made the camicia out of a lightweight 100% linen. When I cut the rectangular panels I got a straight edge by drawing a thread. I then hemmed all the pieces by hand and joined them with a whip or overcast stitch. This creates a strong and durable seam. It means if one piece ever needs to be replaced (such as the underarm gussets) it is very easy to do. The thread I used in this camicia was 100% cotton quilting thread which I often use instead of linen thread. The camicia is too light weight to take a photo of on me so Cecil had to stand in.

Layer 2: Red Gamurra

In the interests of doing something different the bodice for my gamurra is quilted and all up consists of four layers. The fabric is a fine, lightweight wool. Wool in general is very hard to get here so when I saw it I snapped it up. The overall weight is nice, but I feel the thread count is a little low. I’d love a fabric with a higher thread count but a similar weight. All the seams on this were sewed together with running stitch, the seam allowances trimmed (where needed) and double folded and stitched down. I just used plain old Guterman thread for this sewing. I’m really pleased with the stamped brass lacing rings I found for this. The bodice is laced up with a fingerloop braid.

Layer 3: Giornea

I’ve never really liked the giornea, preferring the cioppa, but when I saw this fabric in 100% silk… well, what else was I to do? What I did that was new for this layer was I completely revamped my giornea pattern and what I learnt was that if I had narrower fabric I could have used less fabric than I did. If I had cut my fabric down into a period appropriate width I could have used less than I did, but I had enough piecing to do on the lining so I just ordered more fabric. I toyed with having an open or a closed front seam as both were done in period. I went with an open front, but if I want I can easily sew it closed. When I cut the fabric out I tried as much as possible to get the motifs match where they were on the original portraits. This is lined with cotton velveteen because I can’t afford silk velvet and most silk velvet, well, isn’t silk. The layers were sewn together, turned, whip stitched together then I did the neckline and hem.

Layer 4: Accessories

1. Fazzoletto

I’ve been wanting to make one of these for years. I’m please I finally got around to it. Patterning it wasn’t as hard as I thought. This fazzoletto is 100% silk, both in the fabric and the thread. Because the hemming stitches would be seen I did a decorative hem.


2: Paternoster

To be honest this didn’t take long, but it’s nice to have a new one. I intended on making more accessories. The sleeves I’ve mentioned were one of them. An apron was another. By the time the challenge started I had given up any expectation of making the apron, but I’ve made a start on it, pictured below.

Yes, no points for an apron still on the spindle! But I’m really pleased I’ve done what I have and hope to finish the sleeves at a later date. I’ve really enjoyed the opportunity to participate and reading the other entrants entries! Thank you to everyone for your encouragement and support and of course many thanks to our glorious host without whom there would have been no competition at all!