The Fifth Annual Italian Renaissance Costuming Challenge

April 1 to July 31,  2015

Fiona Cousins
Western Australia

I'm really loving all the new skills I'm trying since my first challenge in 2013. I'm back again after not completing last year due to personal reasons but ready and raring to go this time. I still consider myself a novice to Italian styles as it isn't my usual area and have only attempted from this era for the challenge. Looking forward to having a go and learning more things, and really, really excited to be inspired by everyone else's work.

I'm planning on the usual underthings: chemise, drawers, hose as well as a posh frock and accessories. I want to include a partlet and some jewellery, maybe shoes as well as I've admired others work on these. I'm going to try something new and different this year, totally step out of my comfort zone so cross fingers it all goes to plan, at the very least I will learn what not to do.

April Update

I had been raring to start this year and so far have done a lot, so I'm hoping I don't lose momentum. This year I'm dressing a cloth doll, mainly because I want to and I've never made a cloth doll before, but also because fashion dolls were in use during this time, and I've just taken it one step further with attempting a scale model of a full outfit. I made the doll body from a pattern in a book, first one I've ever done and it was fun, she won't be the last.

Fun as it is, scaling things down is a big pain as well, it is hard to keep the integrity of the patterns and shapes when going smaller, so I've done a lot of trial-and-error pattern making. Maths is my friend. So far I've done a mock-up dress, which fits well for my cloth lady. I based the pattern from Patterns of Fashion, and tried the smallest hooks and eyes I could find, but even then they are too big; so that is something to work on to solve. The bodice is cord-boned which gives it a nice shape without too much stiffness. I'm happy with the fit of the bodice: it looks a bit high but the cloth lady has a high waist so it sits right on her. The hem is corded and sits out nicely.

I've also done a mock-up of a pair of drawers, which look quite nice and give her some modesty. All these are hand sewn and although initially might seem easy its actually quite fiddly, especially flat-felling the seams!

I'm now attempting, because I'm a glutton for punishment, knitting silk stockings based on the Eleonora ones. The picture shows the yellow tension sample and the start of the red silk, which would be my 13th start attempt at the pattern. I'm not having a fun time translating circular patterns to flat ones, and keeping some sort of scale as well, plus I'm using size 1.25 mm needles and 3 strands of silk floss. It is a giant pain, I want to quit but I CANT LET THE SILK WIN. (Insert manic twitch here).

This doll will be gifted or donated as I have made a decision to make the majority of things to give away from now on. It is a really big challenge for me to do this doll, as you can see I haven't gotten the courage to do the face yet.

Next on the list will be a chemise and deciding on the gown, that is of course if I survive the silk stockings....

May Update

So this month I've been suffering from the plague, which put a damper on any serious sewing for most of the month, and all the marking I'm doing, pesky work!

The unknown lady is still headless and gown-less but I've been working on a camicia for her. Silly me, I thought being rectangles this would be easy to scale down but still there is the proportions to consider. I've been working of the pattern from Patterns of Fashion 1 and using a ratio to work out the scaling down. I also decided that the pieces needed some embroidery, so using a single strand of silk I've been working on a scaled down version from the book. It is a right pain, the hardest part is transferring the design. I've been using a light box and my finest water soluble marker but even then it's tricky. Starch is my friend here as well, makes doing the embroidery a lot easier.

I also pulled three threads from the pieces to do the hems: one as a cutting line and the other two as fold lines. Works a treat in neatly folding those little seams. I'm planning on joining the pieces as described in POF1 and maybe even trying to do some miniature lace for the neckline, but that will depend on how my eyesight holds out.

Now, the silk knitted hose. Why did I think this was a fantastic idea? I've had nothing but issues, knitting on tiny needles with silk embroidery floss isn't the easiest thing in the world. It frays and splits and behaves very badly. It also takes up a LOT of floss, even with it being split into 3 strands. I've had to change to yellow as I have more yellow silk floss than any other colour. It looks good so far, apart from a couple of loose patches which I will sort out later on...NO MORE UNDOING AND STARTING AGAIN!! I'm determined to WIN THE SILK WAR!!!! Once the pattern becomes obvious it is a bit easier to knit. I'm dreading the shaping section though. This is probably the 20th or so attempt, I gave up counting.

I'm still making up my mind on a gown, I have some scrap silk which might work but I'm undecided still.

June Update

Well it has been a very, very busy month with work taking over everything: exams to mark, reports to write, term 3 to organise. I spent a lot of my 'crafting time' (aka slobbing in front of the tv) marking or sleeping from exhaustion. I did finally settle on a gown to make for Ms Headless, but whether I get everything done on time is going to be, well, interesting. At least I will have a week of holidays to try to get it all done.

My camicia making has stalled. I went 'looking' in my sewing room for the gown fabric and as a result the pieces for the camica have been eaten by the dreaded Stash Monster. I'm hoping they show up during the long-overdue clean up but if not, poop.

I've stuffed about trying to work out shoes, I did the plastic-duct tape patterning and had a play with some scrap thin and oh so soft white leather. I've never made shoes so my stitching leaves a lot to be desired. I'm happy with the overall style as a start.

I also have mucked up an underskirt. Mucked up as in stuffed up. I used some scrap burgundy taffeta thinking it would have enough hand to 'foof' out nicely, and yes it does. Too much 'foof'!!! So I'm going to try again with something softer and do the trusty cording and padding of the hem instead.

I started on the gown bodice pieces, I have chosen this gorgeous emerald green taffeta left over from making my daughters ball gown. It is just divine, and synthetic, and I don't care. I free hand sketched the gold pattern based on portrait gown, and after attempting to trace it on without success traced the design on to some water soluble stabilizer and chain stitched the design on. I'm loving it sooo much!

I used a single strand of DMC gold stranded thread and waxed each piece to help in embroidering. Didn't really help much as I discovered. I stitched an outline of the bodice piece as well to help with construction. I'm going to do a back bodice and sleeves in the gold embroidery. I have a cunning plan to tackle the design on the skirt, cross fingers it works out.

Now, knitted stockings. I don't want to talk about it. All I will say it that one worked out fine but it used up all of my yellow thread. I'm not beaten until the deadline.... curse you silk!

I've still got a lot of work ahead of me, and I really need to put a head on the doll, she is having an identity crisis and is feeling a little bit Anne Boleyn....

July Update

Well, things haven't been getting done, and as per usual it will be a mad rush to get enough pieces finished. I've had to redo the under-dress/sottana, as the first purple one was too high for the over-gown. I used some pink linen that used to be a blouse that I got from an opshop and the last of the velvet ribbon. I corded the bodice and cartridge pleated the skirt to the bodice. For lacing rings I used the eye part of the hook and eye and sewed them between the lining. I will use some fingerbraid to lace it up. I gave the bodice a pointed front to help support the overgown better.

As for the overgown, I finished the gold embroidery on the back. I doubt that I will get any of the skirt work completed, but there are some portraits around that have bodice bling only so that's cool. I totally forgot about sleeves, so they might just get a bit of embroidery...maybe.

I still haven't found the original camicia pieces, poop! So today's mission is to get a new camicia done, sadly it will most likely be plain.

I've also nearly finished a partlet, made from some scrappy origin-unknown crinkly poly- chiffon (gasp!!). I sprayed and ironed, sprayed and ironed a starch solution (laundry starch powder mixed in water) to make the chiffon stiff enough to make sewing it easier. I tacked down the edge of each piece then sewed together with silk thread. I'm going to assemble the partlet with red silk as per the inspiration portrait. I do have some really fine, soft, drapey white silk but there was no way I was going to stuff about with tiny pieces of silk!

The shoes are all cut out, waiting to be assembled. I ended up cutting up a leather riggers glove for the leather as it was a bit thicker than the scraps I had planned to use.

Also, I'm so proud, I've sculpted a head for a zibellino, I have a thing for bats so I made it a bit more bat-like. Also did the same for a fan handle. I've used pre made paper-mache and stuck jewellery loop stick things to hopefully be able to attach the fur and the chain bits. I'm quite pleased with these, a new skill tried! To be painted gold soon.

I've scrounged around the sewing room and found enough small pearl beads to make a necklace and a cross charm, so that will be easy to get done.

Overall, I will be struggling to complete everything on time, but I do have until midnight Friday so a mad sewing evening will be occurring here!

Final Update

(Scroll below for details)

May I present Isotte, finally with a face and unruly hair. :-)

I would have loved to have had the time to really style Isotte up, but I ended up just replicating the original portrait to some extent. I even have a little cardboard chair for her to sit on. She looks very pleased with herself.

It's been a really fun, but technologically challenging IRCC this year! I've been so inspired and in awe of all the amazing things made this year, I love this challenge as I get to be in the same group as all of you.

Layer 1: Camicia

I lost my first pieces of linen camicia pieces during a clean up so I had to hurriedly make another. I used a soft lawn and silk joined each piece. The pattern is from POF and was a pain to scale down. Now it is done I'm glad I didn't use the linen as I don't think it would give the right amount of drape for this scaling. I'm wishing I'd chosen a much paler pink silk to join the pieces. I crocheted a trim around the neckline and cuffs in pink silk as well. Using a tiny crochet needle and lots of squinting! Not a period way of making lace but I had to improvise for this small size, and the time I had to do it in.

Layer 1, Extra Item: Partlet

I patterned it off the portrait and used a scrap of crinkled chiffon that I had. Red silk stitching on the seams and collar gives a nice finish. I deliberately cut it so it didn't close in the front, I wanted the partlet to be open like in the portrait.

Layer 2: Sottana

I made a pink linen sottana for the under-gown, I used rope to 'bone' the bodice and sewed the eye part of the hook and eye to use as lacing rings. Loads of little cartridge pleats later and this sits out very nicely and gives a nice shape to Isotte. I ran out of time to make the silk lacing cord I had planned so I've just used some cording in the interim. I had to cut the bodice lower in front to accommodate for the over-gown.

Layer 3: Over-gown

Oh boy do I love this! I embroidered the front and back bodice pieces and used the same lacing ring method as the sottana, this time with side back lacing. I really, really wanted to get all the embroidery done but I just ran out of time. The sleeves are simply rectangles for the lower section and strips for the foof on top. It looks fine, but I just keep imagining the sleeves with gold embroidery. I only loosely stitched the sleeves and skirt on as I plan to remove them to complete the embroidery. I had to keep the shoulder seam open in order to dress Isotte, so I have added some cord ties. Same with the sleeves, they needed to open at the wrist in order to accommodate her hands.

Layer 4: Accessories

1. Fan

Handle was moulded from paper mache and painted gold. The fan is knitted 'feathers' wool that was a variegated pink and white. It kinda knitted up into stripes. Much easier than feathers or fur.


2. Zibellino

Oh I love this. Paper mache moulded face painted gold. The fur is knitted from 'Fur' wool (I hate real fur) and feels so soft! I didn't get time to add the chain or the pearls to the ears but I will.


3. Shoes

After many tries I finally got the shoes to work. I ended up using leather from a riggers glove. I stitched the pieces with my sewing machine unthreaded to make the holes in the pieces. Then I hand stitched with waxed linen thread, using a blanket stitch then turning right side out. Tied with a piece of cord as I didn't get time to make the laces.


4. Hairpiece

This is just a hank of the hair that I used on Isotte, wrapped with velvet ribbon and gold chain. It gives a nice hairstyle to her, although messy I think it suits her. I probably could have braided the hair and been a bit neater but actually I think I prefer her wild locks.

I think Isotte looks lovely, my very first doll ever and I've learnt a lot. Mainly it is very difficult to miniaturise things without losing some of the features, like fit, drape, stitching. I've also learnt that is it soooo much fun figuring out how to do things!