The Fifth Annual Italian Renaissance Costuming Challenge

April 1 to July 31,  2015

Hallie Larsen
Arizona, USA

I am a national park ranger with degrees in biology and archeology. I have always loved costumes, but only in the last few years have tried my hand at sewing them. I’ve attempting a few Italian Renaissance outfits, but still feel a beginner learning the basics.

I am planning to create an outfit based on the 1480s paintings by Domenico Ghirlandaio of the women of the Tornabuoni family such as Giovanna’s portrait.
Layer 1: A camicia in the style of the 1480s made of light weight white linen.
Layer 2: An under-dress or gamurra with sleeves in a silk patterned fabric.
Layer 3: An over-dress/gown or giornea without sleeves in a silk patterned fabric.
Layer 4: Accessories: jewelry, hat, and belt—also a mantello possibly

April Update

Also called gamurrino, camora, zimarra, camurra, zottana, gonella or zupa (see also sottana). Considered to be the basic version of a woman's gown. In 15th century Florence it was probably the generic word for "dress", because it was worn by all levels of society, and could be made of any type of fabric (Frick 2002: 309). Up until the 1450's the garb could be worn alone, and the sleeves were of the same fabric as the dress, but later on it was custom to wear an out-of-doors garb overneath, and the sleeves could be separate and of a richer fabric (Frick 2002: 309, Herald 1981: 217), or not worn at all. It was usually unlined in the 15th century (Herald 1981: 217). Making a gamurra required 10-15 braccia, so gamurras with richly made fabrics therefore formed a direct indication of the economic value of a woman (Woods 2007:42).—Anéa’s Files.

My inspiration images are paintings by Florentine artist Domenico Ghirlandaio. These include Portrait of Giovanna Tornabuoni (1488) and several frescos in Cappella Tornabuoni (1487-1490), as well as Davide Ghirlandaio’s Portrait of Selvaggia Sassetti (1487–88).

Gamurra Skirt:
The fabric for the gamurra was chosen based on the various paintings, geometric designs in gold and red tones. The fabric is from a vintage sari, part of a lot from India in my stash. I used cotton thread in the same color family, all hand-stitched. Indian fabric had been imported from India to Italy since the Roman Republic, made both in silk and cotton. Silk was also spun and woven in Italy even prior to the 12th century.

I’ve finished the skirt of the underdress, except for any trim I might use and attaching to the bodice. I seamed one side together with a welded rolled seam and created box pleats with a running backstitch out of the vintage sari. I kept the decorative end for the bodice which I will start next. I am debating the trim on the bottom of the skirt as it is pretty with merely the print itself.

May Update

May has been busy for me, but the outfit slowly evolves. I’ve worked on a couple of pieces including the gamurra, the camicia, the mantello, and necklace.

For the camicia I used a handkerchief weight (3.5 oz) white linen, soft after its first wash, and used a hem and a running backstitch to create the arms. The arms are tapered toward the wrist, providing a little fullness near the shoulder to peek out but hiding under the fitted sleeve of the gamurra to come.

The mantello is a lightweight taffeta, reversible in teal and dusty rose with a gold venise lace trim. I sandwiched the trim between the two colors and hemmed them together as a bag. It is taking forever! The lace doesn’t want to stay in place. The mantello was inspired by one worn by a woman on the right in Dominico Ghirlandaio’s The Birth of John the Baptist (1486-1490) in the Tornabuoni family chapel in the church of Santa Maria Novella in Florence.

The necklace is based on one in Bastiano Mainardi’s Portrait of a Woman (c. 1480). Like the painting I used bicone crystal beads, choosing clear and a carnelian hue. I used silk thread. I’ve finished the bead section, but will add a pendant next.

I’m nearly finished with the bodice of the gamurra to which I will be attaching the skirt I made last month. The shoulders had to be pieced due to the vintage sari I am using. That is something done back in the fifteenth century, too, as older outfits were recycled into new fashion so I didn’t feel too bad about it. I need to line the front where I will be attaching the lacing rings as the silk is very lightweight. I didn’t want to line the entire bodice as I am trying to keep it cool for the region in which I live. The bodice is influenced by the Davide Ghirlandaio portrait of Selvaggia Sassetti (1487–88).

Cutting the bodice

Bodice front

Bodice back

Lacing rings

June Update

This was a very busy and complex month for me. I had to work on another outfit for work representing the 1880s. It was funny vacillating between the two eras while living in another! I did get some work done on my chemise and jewelry as well as a belt to go over the giornea.


I had a difficult time deciding what to do with the neckline. For the 1480s the camicia necklines were fairly low-key, with a narrow decorating trim or just a simple finish of the same material. I used knife pleats for the body of the camicia centered in the middle of back and front. I added a very narrow binding of the same material along the edge to finish the neckline. I added a very small cotton lace to the edge of the sleeves and neck.


Based on many of the pendants in period portraits particularly ones in the paintings by Domenico Ghirlandaio and Davide Ghirlandaio, I chose a bronze metal for the base and findings, natural tear-drop freshwater pearls (scavenged from earrings which are less expensive than buying entire strings of pearls as I only needed six), and carnelian cabochons (a popular gem for centuries in the region that reflected the orange to red stones in the paintings of the time. The carnelian also goes well with the orange-red of some of the glass beads of the necklace string described last month. I was thinking of matching earrings, which I still may do later, but in 1480s you really don’t see earrings in the portraits like you will in the next century.


In paintings belts can be seen sometimes over the giornea below the bust line. The belts often appear to go over the front, but under the back allowing the graceful fall of fabric behind the wearer. I am not a weaver - perhaps I will learn in the future - so I chose a woven jacquard with a medieval inspired pattern in sepia, black, and tan. The buckle is bronze and reflects the style of mirrored pieces with a hidden clasp. I sewed the buckle onto the fabric with upholstery thread for the extra strength. The buckle was cast on molds created from period buckles (not by me although I have done casting in the past, I just don’t have the set up for it anymore).

July Update

Ending the month with a nasty summer cold. Between the heat and feeling terrible, I managed to nearly finish with just a few more things to pull together for the end of the month and the final photographs.


Like the other layers I want to keep it light, the summer version if you will, based on the breezy blue version at the center of Domenico Ghirlandaio’s Presentation of the Virgin at the Temple fresco (Cappella Tornabuoni, Santa Maria Novella, Florence). Inspired by the fabric of the giornea in the Portrait of Giovanna Tornabuoni and the far right of the fresco from the chapel called The Visitation—also by Ghirlandaio—I found an old silk sari with a floral scrolling pattern in the gold and red colors of this outfit.

One end of the fabric has a bit of a different design so I will use that for the front bottom of my giornea. I measured the front length to the bottom of the bodice part of it. I tapered from there on either side to the shoulders and then cut a low neckline mimicking the V-shape from many of the 1480s portraits and paintings. I left a bit of a train on the back, cutting the remaining material into gores to add to the back for additional fullness. I pleated the top of the back together to meet the harrower shoulders of the front. The train can be pulled up and hooked onto a button to shorten it so it doesn’t drag as seen in the few back views of such outfits. I used a simple flat gold braid around the neckline as trim.


I finished the necklace by linking the pendant to bronze connectors at either end of the beading section. The clasps can detach the entire pendant to change out if I like or link together to just wear the beads. I’m very pleased!


Finished the sleeves of the dress with openings along the base for camicia poofs (or poofs I will add later!). The openings are broken with a merlot satin rattail cord ties, the same I am using for the lacing of the bodice inspired by period images, as shown in the details from two paintings.

Final Update

(Scroll below for details)

I am very happy to have a summer weight outfit for our Southwestern renaissance events! I imagine that the Mediterranean climate—even during a time that had lower temperatures overall—would encourage the use of lighter materials during the summer. This is my take on a summer by the Italian sea during the 1480s. I was inspired mainly by Domenico Ghirlandaio as well as his brother Davide and other painters of the period. Over all the waist is higher, light layers of sometimes different patterns make for a very interesting time for fashion. Everything is hand sewn. Stitches used include running and running backstitch, French knots, and whip stitch. I finished everything except the mantello, but I wasn’t sure of that from the beginning. My layers are as follows:

Layer 1: Camicia

My camicia was constructed of natural white handkerchief weight (3.5 oz.) 100% linen sewn with matching cotton thread. Based on the rare glimpses of the camicia during this time, the only ornament is a simple little cotton Cluny lace along the wrists and neckline. Although it does peek out at the front of the bodice, shoulder and underside of the sleeve, the camicia is sleeker—not as full—than ones in the future. I used a basic construction including gusset squares under the arms, doubled-up box pleats along the neckline, and not full length.

Layer 2: Gamurra

My gamurra is made of vintage sari silk in gold, tan, and orange-red sewn with matching/”goes-with” cotton thread. I was attracted to the geometric design similar to the sleeves in the inspiration portrait. I used box pleats at the top of the skirt and attached it to the bodice. I made eyelets at the top of the sleeves and shoulders for attachment with a merlot silky rattail cord. The camicia peeks out of the open bottom length of the sleeves which have more of the rattail cord. The lacing rings are brass with the cord that matches the ties on the sleeves. I strengthened the silk beneath the rings with two layers of linen. The lacing style is the cross-over type shown in the inspiration painting, but went wonky in wearing the outfit. I wore my belt over the gamurra when not wearing the giornea.

Layer 3: Giornea

The giornea is of vintage sari silk in gold, orange, and red floral scrolling pattern sewn with matching/”goes-with” cotton thread. I let the front just drop straight from the shoulders with a trim is a simple flat gold metallic braid around the neckline. The back is pleated along the shoulders to create more fullness as well as gores added along the sides down to the train. When the wind isn’t blowing it around, the train spreads out into a wide base. I sewed two jeweled buttons onto the back to pull up the train for a shorter length as needed using the merlot rattail as the loop.

Layer 4: Accessories

1. Belt

I finished a belt and necklace as accessories. The belt is a woven jacquard with a floral design in complimentary colors to the outfit. The brass buckle is cast (not by me) based on period pieces, and sewn onto the belt which I tapered a bit at both ends using a heavy upholstery thread for strength. I am wearing it over the gamurra and/or over the front of the giornea but going beneath the back of the upper layer.


2. Necklace

The necklace is of orange-red and clear glass bicone beads on doubled silk beading cord; I mounted the bronze pendant with a real carnelian cabochon and dangling natural freshwater pearls. I may make matching earrings later, but there aren’t earrings in most of the period paintings. I used the same merlot silky rattail cord to tie up my hair and pinned it simply as shown in many of the period portraits.

In the end, I am pleased to have finished what I planned. I like the look of the outfit and it is quite comfortable.