The Fifth Annual Italian Renaissance Costuming Challenge

April 1 to July 31,  2015

Jan Hunnicutt
California, USA

I have been sewing since I was a teen, and that was 30 years ago. Five years ago I began making outfits for staff at an event with a medieval theme. I discovered the Realm of Venus site and quickly left the Dark Ages for the Italian Renaissance. This will be my first time in the IRCC, but I do not qualify as a novice.

I plan to make a working-class woman's outfit based on the paintings of Vincenzo Campi, such as The Fruit Seller, approx. 1580s. The layers will be: a camicia; a petticoat, possibly corded; the outer gown; and accessories of an apron and partlet. Recently I've become addicted to making thread-wrapped buttons. I hope to find a place to use buttons in the outfit.

April Update

Most of the fabrics for my garments came from my stash. I stacked them together in preparation for April 1.

On April 3 I had the whole afternoon free. I chose to start with the apron. The fabric used appears to be linen it is quite stiff, not a fine weave. It lent itself beautifully to hand sewing. I cut the rectangle for the apron and two lengths for the ties, then ironed the raw edges under on the sides and the bottom, then turned the fabric one more time and ironed it. I then sewed the sides and the hem with small stitches.

Hemming the sides and bottom

Waistband cut and pressed

The waist of the apron did not look good flat, but the thick fabric would not gather well. I experimented and decided on a series of small open darts (dart tucks) every 2 inches.

With the darts pinned in place, I backstitched the waistband to the front of the apron and then whip stitched together the raw edges of the apron and waistband.

The two apron ties are each 28" long and 3.5" wide. I used the sewing machine to zigzag the raw edges. I ironed under the seam allowances on the apron ties, then ironed the ties in half lengthwise. With wrong sides together I sewed the end seams. Then the ties were turned right sides out and ironed, and the edges were blindstitched together. The ties ended up about 7/8" wide when finished.

Finally, I sewed the apron ties into the waistband, wrong sides of the waistband together. The waistband was turned right side out, then folded under and hand stitched down on the wrong side.

The Campi paintings do not show aprons with embellishments, embroidery or lace.

I also whipped up a loose pocket - saccoccia - from my coral fabric underskirt. The fabric content is unknown. It looks like a cotton/poly blend with a loose weave. I cut two each of the coral and white cotton muslin fabric lining. Using the sewing machine, I sewed the coral fabric together, front to back, and then sewed the lining pieces together - and promptly recut and resewed the lining to make the pieces fit inside lining. Having the two bags together made it difficult to work on the center opening in the front. I cut the coral fabric on the bias and around the opening, but it is quite bulky. The saccoccia is small and it's difficult to get my hand inside. Let's call this one a mock-up.

The second saccoccia assembly was made using the method found in Dawn's Dress Diary 1480s Florence - Saccoccia. The outside fabric is dark brown pintucked taffeta. The lining is cotton. Working with both pieces of the front, I made the slit and bound it with black triple-fold seam binding, using the sewing machine. I covered the bias tape with a black velvet ribbon along the opening on both sides, continuing the ribbon down to the bottom of the bag in an inverted V shape. A piece of the black ribbon was sewn in for the upright piece in the middle of the inverted V. Along the opening I tucked under the black velvet lace on both sides. The velvet ribbons and lace were attached by hand sewing.

Then the both the back pieces were sewed by machine, wrong sides together, and the raw ends zigzag stitch finished. At the top, the front fabrics were turned to the inside and hand stitched. The back is folded down on the outside and hand stitched to form a casing for the waist tie.

The cool roof scene painted by Alessandro Allori (1535-1607) for the maidens' quarters of the Palazzo Pitti in Florence shows a woman with a saccoccia which has decorative buttons along the opening. I will finish this saccoccia with buttons and the waist tie. The roof is discussed here.

I made three black thread-wrapped buttons using an over/under pattern and sewed them on the saccoccia.

I am quite pleased with this saccoccia. The fabric is rather elegant for a single working class outfit, but it will be hidden under the gown.

The underskirt is made from a fabric which seems to be a cotton/poly blend. It has a loose weave and a soft hand.

All raw edges in the underskirt were zigzagged by machine and most of the construction work was done by machine. The underskirt is made of two rectangles of fabric, selvedge to selvedge, sewn together at the side with French seams. The final line of stitching on the side seams was done by hand so that no machine stitching would be visible from the outside.

The waistband is stiffened with iron-on interfacing. The skirt panels are knife-pleated into the waistband,with the center front flat. I sewed the waistband to the inside of the skirt by hand.

Also this week I put together a strip that will be a ruffle on my partlet. I hemmed the outside edge by hand.

The skirt was hemmed by hand. I decided on a stiffened hem, or doppia. Anea's files provided excellent guidance on this.

The stiffened hem is a strip of black linen folded around a strip of gray linen. There is a channel at the bottom of the black linen which has cord threaded through it. This channel shows at the bottom of the skirt. The black linen was sewn to the skirt by hand.

Inspired by Vincenzo Campi's The Poultry Sellers for the partlet/shawl/pinner, whatever you want to call it. The embroidered linen partlet/shawl/pinner may or may not make the final cut of the four accessories. The underskirt and saccocia are complete. The camicia is one from my closet, but I will be making one for the IRCC. The apron may get embroidered. The soft cap I just finished and have not written up.

The coral underskirt now has a guard of black linen over the hem. The guard was sewn on by hand.

May Update

The partlet/pinner in the photo is pre-embroidered fabric which I found at Joann's. The base fabric is linen. I cut it into a triangle and hemmed the edges under, then put a line of whip stitches along the edge with black crochet thread. I put on two rows of crochet to finish it. The hem on the underside is covered by a strip of black fabric.

The soft cap is made of a dark red velvet, 85% rayon and 15% silk. The brim is interlined with stiff canvas and the edge of the brim has a slender wire in it to stiffen the brim. This was sewn by machine The crown is one layer of fabric gathered & sewn onto the brim, then covered with bias tape. This was done by hand. I made a length of cord with a lucet from cotton crochet thread in a matching color and wrapped it twice around.

The working women in the paintings of Vincenzo Campi appear to have camicie that are white. They do not look like unbleached linen. I used white cotton muslin for this simple camicia. All raw edges were finished with a zig-zag stitch on the sewing machine. The long seams were all done by machine. The camicia went together quickly with the aid of the sewing machine. I have been doing more hand sewing than I had planned on for the IRCC, and hand work is slow. I used the Diary of a Renaissance Seamstress site for guidance.

The camicia bottom and sleeves were hemmed by hand. Once I was satisified with how the neck of the camicia was gathered, I sewed on the neck band by machine, then sewed down the inside of the neck band by hand. There is a lucet cord threaded through the inside of the neck band for further adjustment. Although the Campi paintings showed camicie without embroidery, I did embroider a simple design on the neck band. There is a line of V's along the neck band, and the long stitches of the V's are held in place with a stitch across. I used coral DMZ embroidery floss.

I used Margo Anderson's partlet pattern from The Elizabethan Working Woman's Wardrobe for the partlet. The raw edges of the white cotton muslin were finished by machine. The shoulder seams were done by machine. The pieces have rolled hems, done by hand.

Vincenzo Campi's paintings of working women do not show embroidery on the inside of their collars. A close-up of The Fruit Seller does show lace on the ruff. My math skills are not good enough to calculate the length of fabric needed for the ruff, so I prepared quite a long strip of fabric and began folding box pleats. I basted the ruff onto one collar piece, cutting the ruff to the proper length when I reached the end of the collar. I used the machine to sew the ruff into the collar pieces. I then sewed the ends of the collar and sewed the collar to the partlet by machine. I turned the ruff right side out and sewed the inside seam by hand. I used white pearl cotton crochet thread to crochet a lacy edging on the ruff. The collar ties and waist tie were crocheted using the white cotton pearl crochet thread. .

The partlet in progress.

Preparing the ruff fabric.

Ready to sew collar to partlet.

Completed partlet.

June Update

Two more pieces of the outfit are finished. I crocheted a snood in a color that exactly matches the soft cap. (Pattern on Ravelry). I braided crochet thread to use as a gathering cord on the snood.

The sleeves are now finished. These sleeves are a single layer of fabric, suitable for northern California's hot temperatures. The long seam was machine sewn. The rest was done by hand. The shoulder has a rolled hem and lacing rings. When worn over the camicia sleeves, a narrow hem was needed at the wrist, only 1/2". There is a 1" opening at the wrist seam which is closed by a button and loop. The button is a thread-wrapped button. The loop was made with a lucet using the same DMC embroidery floss as was used on the button. In order to have variety, I made three pairs of sleeves, using the coral of the underskirt, the cranberry linen/rayon blend of the gown, and black linen.

June Update, Pt 2

My plan was to complete the bodice in June. Well, it is almost finished, after much blood, sweat and tears. It was mostly done on the sewing machine. The outside fabric and the lining are a linen/rayon blend in a cranberry shade. The interlining is dark red cotton canvas which is pad-stitched to cotton muslin. The canvas and muslin were trimmed to just below the sewing lines.

I revised a pattern for this bodice and did not test it first with a quick muslin mockup, which was a mistake. Instead, I did all the work on the interlining and basted it to the lining, then sewed up the side seams and tried it on. The bodice was four sizes too large.

So ... back to square one. A revised pattern was drafted, and this time I made it up in muslin and got the fit worked out. Upon overlaying the new pattern on the original lining/interlining pieces, I found the front pieces could be trimmed down and used. The back piece had to be recut to get the correct width at the shoulders. I cut and assembled the outside pieces. To fit the lining/interlining I made temporary lacing strips: heavy felt doubled over & stitched together with lacing rings sewn on. I pinned this on to the lining/interlining, then adjusted the side seams and front opening until the fit was quite good. There are boning channels at the front opening. Half the month gone, and my son and his girlfriend arrived two days later for a three-week visit.

In looking at the project at this stage, it was obvious that the easiest way to get the outside fabric attached to the lining/interlining was to flat line it. I brought the edges of the outside fabric to the inside, rolled the edges to hide the zig-zagged raw edge, and sewed it down by hand. The shoulders were the last to be done so that I could adjust the length there. When the flat lining was finished, the bodice looked quite handsome, inside and out. There are plastic zip ties in the boning channel.

Next, the guards. I decided to keep it simple, since there was only one week left. I've referred often to Catarina's page on the Showcase, May 2008and I like the way she placed the guards, so I went with the same style. I cut bias strips from black linen fabric and ironed them into guards with a width of 7/8 of an inch. They are placed 3/8 of an inch from the fabric edge. The guards were basted in place, then sewn down by hand. The front corners are mitered. Two strips were added going down the back in a wide V, which is yet to be sewn down.


Lacing rings are the only things left to do before pleating on the skirt.

July Update

The third layer is complete, with the skirt now sewn to the bodice. Most of the work this month was done by machine, but anything that can be seen on the outside was sewn by hand. The skirt is two widths of fabric with the selvedge edges sewn together with flat fell seams. I decided on box pleats for the skirt. In the center back of the skirt there are three box pleats that are doubled, which allowed the skirt width to come out even with the bodice.

After experimentation on how to attach the bodice and the skirt, I decided to sandwich the skirt between the bodice layers and sew it to the lining/interlining layer by machine. The bottom 1/2 inch of the stiff lining/interlining was left free below the skirt attachment, and I turned that bit under and hand sewed it. The outside fabric was turned under and stitched directly to the skirt fabric.

The bodice now has lacing rings spaced for spiral lacing as demonstrated by Jen Thompson.

The hem of the skirt is padded with a strip of pink felt that is an inch and a half wide. The hem is sewn by hand.

July Update, Pt 2

The dress is now finished with a guard at the hem. It is made from the same black linen fabric as the guards on the bodice. The skirt has a lovely flow to it.

Final Update

(Scroll below for details)

I achieved my goal: I finished all items planned for the challenge. It was fun to experiment with new items and techniques. I am thankful that my outfit is a simple working woman's outfit. I doff my soft cap to those IRCC entrants who have done all hand sewing and extensive hand work.

In this challenge I used Margo Anderson's pattern for the partlet, but created all the other patterns myself. It has been a learning experience. It seems that I spent as much time doing internet research on options for constructing each garment as I did actually sewing.

Anything that is visible on the outside of a garment was sewn by hand. Interior seams were sewn by machine.

Layer 1: Camicia

It was mostly done by machine. The neck band was embroidered by hand.

Layer 1, Extra Item: Partlet

Much of the work on the partlet was done by machine, but any visible stitching was done by hand. The handwork consists of crocheted ties, a crocheted edging on the ruff and simple white embroidery on the inside of the collar.

Layer 2: Petticoat

It was mostly done by machine.

Layer 3: The Dress

It was mostly done by machine. On the bodice, the outside fabric was folded to the inside and sewn to the lining/interlining layer by hand, the guards were sewn on by hand, and the bodice was hemmed by hand. The skirt was hemmed by hand and the guard was sewn on by hand.

There are three pairs of sleeves in coordinating colors. On each sleeve, only the long seam was sewn by machine. The shoulder hem is rolled. There is an opening at the wrist for ease in putting the sleeves on, and the wrist closes with a thread-wrapped button and lucet-cord loop that I made.


Layer 4: Accessories

1. Apron

The only machine work was finishing the raw edges. Everything else was done by hand. The edges are rolled and hemmed. There are pintucks at the waist.

2. Saccoccia

I used the machine to sew it together. The decorative work around the opening was done by hand and I made three thread-wrapped buttons to go along the opening.

3. Soft cap and snood

The soft cap was done mostly by machine, with the finish work being done by hand. I made a lucet cord to wrap around where the top meets the brim. I crocheted the snood in an attempt to hide my non-period hair.

4. Pinner

The pinner was not something I planned on. My research included looking many times at the paintings of Vincenzo Campi. On a trip to the fabric store a pre-embroidered fabric jumped out at me. I was struck by the resemblance to the pinner in Campi's The Poultry Sellers. It was easy to construct, simply a triangle of fabric with the edges finished. I did a blanket stitch around the edge and then crocheted an edging around the pinner. The fabric is a bit too sturdy, though. It does not drape well.


Thank you, Bella, for sponsoring the IRCC. It was the Realm of Venus site that introduced me to Italian renaissance clothing. Over the years the site has been an invaluable resource. Being a part of the IRCC5 was a rewarding experience. I appreciate how the entrants support each other and the feeling of camaraderie that has developed.

In addition to links noted in my updates, I referred to the working-class outfits by Carol Salloum, Heather Morgan and Caterina in the Showcase, and Mandy L'Estrelle's soft cap in the IRCC2.

Thanks to my long-suffering husband, who gets photo credits for the outfit being worn. He wishes I had never fallen down the rabbit hole of Italian renaissance clothing.

Location credits for the camicia and under-skirt: St. Francis Winery in Sonoma Valley, California.
For the full outfit: Castello di Amorosa Winery in Napa Valley, California.