The Fifth Annual Italian Renaissance Costuming Challenge

April 1 to July 31,  2015

Jeanne Clifton
Massachusetts, USA

Greetings! This is my first entry to the IRCC challenge and also my first ever attempt at Italian Renaissance clothing. I have been sewing my own fantasy garb for renaissance fairs and LARPs for several years, but in the last few years I have begun to focus more on period research. Most of my experience with historical costuming is in the later medieval period (1100-1400) and firmly English, so this is going to be an interesting challenge for me. I am a literacy specialist at a University but also live in the past when I can; I am a member of the Society for Creative Anachronism as Lady Elena Hylton, also my masterís thesis was on medieval folklore and as an undergraduate I studied Old English and medieval literature.

My outfit will be a Florentine 1480ís upper-class woman's ensemble inspired by the works of Ghirlandio, composed of a camicia, a gamurra, and a giornea. My accessories will be a tablet-woven girdle, a fan, a reta, and a pouch.

I have partially finished tablet-weaving the trim for the gamurra (it is still on the loom and only the first 12 inches have been woven so far). Everything else will be started after April 1st.

April Update

At the start of the month I was still working out a few details for my main garments so on April 1st I decided to start with my accessories.


First I decided to try my headgear, a reta based on the one seen in Ghirlandio’s Birth of Mary. In Herald’s Renaissance Dress in Italy 1400-1500 this type of head covering is described as "knotted nets of silk or gold threads, which often incorporated pearls and sometimes other gems" (177). I chose this type of cap for two reasons, first because I thought it was lovely, and second because women often wore their hair "curled in long tresses" underneath their reta (as seen in the Birth of Mary, left), which is a hairstyle I think will work well for me (Tortora, Survey of Historic Costume. 4th ed. 159). As I am recreating an unmarried/recently married woman's clothing and the image is seen in Ghirlandio, despite my own age of 28 I feel this is an appropriate hairstyle to match the headgear and ensemble.

While I looked at numerous sources I could not find any description beyond "knotted" to explain how retas were made, and knotted could describe many different techniques. It is quite possible that the gold net was made through traditional netting techniques using a shuttle, but looking at the crosses in the knots in some of the larger retas in paintings (see Giovanni Ambrogio de Predis' Portrait of a Woman and Portrait of an Unknown Woman) they do not look like netting knots, at least for the large, square grids. I felt that any method I chose would be based somewhat on guesswork, so I decided to focus primarily on recreating the look of the painting using exclusively hand work and period (or imitations of period) materials.

I was inspired by the descriptions in Herald and others of gold thread knotted by hand and I wanted to capture the glint of gold seen in my inspiration painting. As such, I used faux metallic gold embroidery thread and knotted it in 3/8th inch squares to create my net. I also bound the piece in hand made black velvet bias tape as that was my best guess as to the fabric used in the piece, then used stem stitch in metallic thread to add the gold outlines. While the technique is purely conjecture, the finished netting does look very similar to both the piece seen in the inspiration painting by Ghirlandio as well as the netted caps seen in several other paintings, including Bartolomeo Montagna's Saint Justina of Padua and Francesco Da Cotignola's Portrait of a Lady. A full breakdown of my materials, methods, and guide can be found at my page.

First I used paper and tape to create a two-piece form to match my head shape, inspired by the method seen at Dawn's Dress Diary. I went a different route though and after forming it to my head I then used the paper as a base to attach my other materials to directly, instead of creating a flat pattern. This allowed me to add several additional creases on the top edge to better fit the pattern to the curve of my head. I created my own black linen ribbon for my base structure by whip stitching the edges of strips left over from another project with black silk thread. Then I basted this to the paper form in the pattern I wanted my cap to take.

For the gold net first I used a ruler and marked out a 3/8 inch grid on each of the two pieces. Looking at the painting I estimated the 3/8 inch size by blowing up the magnification on the detail from Birth of Mary until the head in the painting matched the size of my own head and then used a ruler to measure the spacing of the gold netting, roughly 3/8-inch squares. Once I had sketched out my pattern for the threads to follow I used two strands of gold passing embroidery thread and covered the first set of diagonal lines. I was very worried that during the knotting the threads would slide around too much, so for the second set of threads I twisted the ground threads so that they would have a little more hold on each other. I occasionally poked pins through the paper to hold the threads in position over some of the more rounded sections on the top side.

After both sets of ground threads were laid I switched to a single strand of passing thread and twisted it around the base grid, knotting it at every cross of the grid, first in one direction and then back in the other so that the net was secure in both directions. This made up the majority of the time spent on this accessory due to both the difficulty in keeping the threads in place while they were being knotted and also the nearly five hundred knots which had to be tied as I went. After finishing the piece I realized I probably could have saved some time by doing a larger grid instead of 3/8 inch squares, but I really liked trying to stay as true to the inspiration piece as possible and I think the extra time was worth it.

Once I had finished the netting I then braided three strands of 26 gauge brass wire and couched it down onto the form at the top and bottom lines to provide structure to the finished piece and to keep it rounded to fit my head. This was not originally part of my plan, but after I cut away the paper form the cap did not want to follow the curve of my head enough so I added the wire for stability and shaping. Braiding the thinner wire meant that I got a little more structural support and also that the wire was easier to couch due to the spaces in the braid.

Next, I took scraps of leftover velvet and used them to cover the linen support. I first made the velvet ribbon for the center band by measuring the length of the center line (11 inches) and then hemming both sides of an 11 inch long 3/4 inch wide strip down to 3/8 inch wide. I pinned this to the center line and whip stitched both sides down to the existing black linen support. Then I used the 1.25 inch wide strips to create velvet double fold bias tape (pressed with my fingers to avoid crushing the velvet pile) and used it to bind the top and bottom edges or the reta, completely covering the base linen structure.

Finally, to recreate the look of the gold outlines against the black seen in the painting I took two strands of the gold passing thread and did a stem stitch along all of the borders. This was surprisingly challenging as the gold wrapped thread kept catching on the velvet, so keeping the two strands even was a struggle.

I am incredibly happy with the finished piece. It sits beautifully on my head, follows the shape perfectly, and is very comfortable. The wire provides structure and the velvet has a good deal of friction against my hair, so it actually stays on by itself. Once I do my hair properly I will also be able to use straight pins to hold it down more securely for going to events. The finished piece looks incredibly similar to the inspiration painting in my opinion, which makes me very happy with how it turned out.

Next I began to work on another other accessory, a pouch to carry my mundane items in when I wear my ensemble out. My understanding is that the saccoccia (a common Italian Renaissance pouch style) does not come into play until somewhat after my period, so instead I decided to make a simple velvet pouch to accompany my outfit. While the women of Ghirlandio's painting do not seem to show any means of carrying their things, I do not have a retinue anytime I go out in public and do need something to put my wallet and cell phone in. As many of the late medieval/early renaissance pouches that I have seen in plain velvet have either bobbin lace, gold work, fingerloop cord, or something decorating the sides/seam lines I decided to do add metallic thread embroidery. The shape and goldwork is inspired in part by several extant pieces labeled by Larsdatter as "Drawstring purses with goldwork, from the patrimony of Hermann von Goch, c. 1398". While this is early for my piece, the rounded shape can be seen (along with what looks like it may be goldwork along the sides), in The Visitation, from the Book of Hours of Étienne Chevalier and :"Catherine of Cleves Distributes Alms" The Hours of Catherine of Cleves c. 1440. Many other depictions across various European cultures from 1300-1600 show this rounded style, often ornamented with goldwork at the seams for the upper classes (see Larsdatter link above), which makes me feel confident to add this as an accessory to my garment.

My pouch is made from black cotton velvet, sewn with silk thread and embroidered with imitation gold passing thread. The cotton velvet is a substitute for the silk velvets seen in period, both because of the inaccessibility of 100% silk velvet for me and because of the short and dense pile used in this cotton velvet which emulates the look of silk velvets in period. The seams are sewn with silk thread as seen repeatedly in Elizabeth Crowfoot’s Textiles and Clothing 1150-1450. The thread for the gold work is a mylar imitation-gold due to the cost of real gold thread, the same that was used in creating my reta.

I based my pattern for the pouch on the images seen in Larsdatter. After two mock-ups using paper I determined that 3 shield-shaped patterns created the rounded look I saw in a photograph of extant pouches. I then laid my paper pattern on my velvet and cut it to fit, adding in seam allowance. The seams are hand-sewn in running stitch with silk thread, as documented in Crowfoot, Arnold. The velvet was pinned together at the seams (gently so as not to scar the fabric and leave pin marks) and worked from the top down to the point. Once all three seams had been sewn I then pressed the seam allowances open with my fingers and hemmed with a single fold hem.

As I wanted the goldwork to continue to the very top of the purse I decided to embroider the seams at this point rather than after I finished the top edge. I played around a bit and decided on a reverse double open chain stitch for the gold work. I don’t enjoy the process of a regular chain stitch so I tend to do the stitch reversed. For the gold to really pop I decided to do a double chain, where you get twice the amount of gold showing and I think it creates a smoother line. Finally I decided to do it as an open chain stitch because when I first started with a closed chain stitch it kept wobbling between the two seam edges and would occasionally disappear into the seam a bit. This combination keeps almost all of the gold thread visible on the top of the fabric (in keeping with the use of gold thread in period embroidery), stays even across the seam line, and creates an interesting visual effect. I also decided to use two strands of gold thread like I used on the stem stitch of the reta to give the gold even more weight and visual pop. While I greatly preferred the look of the two threads, it did create challenges to keep both threads at an even tension as I embroidered. Overall though, the technique was very fun once I got the hang of it. I did need to work in very small lengths of the gold thread (about 12-16 inches) for it to behave, and occasionally I snipped the ends to keep them from becoming fuzzy and sticking to the fabric. This embroidery was the most time intensive part of the bag, taking about twelve hours.

Once the embroidery was complete I then switched back to working with black silk thread to complete the construction of the bag. I folded over the top edge and secured it with a whip-stitched single fold hem as the fabric was not prone to fraying. Then I marked out where I wanted my eyelets to be and used an awl to start my holes. As my awl is tiny I then widened the holes with a pencil until they were at the size I was looking for. Once complete I bound the eyelets with black silk thread and my pouch was done!

I am very happy with how this came out. While the first start of the goldwork is not quite the same as the rest, that is the only thing I would change about this piece. In fact, I think I will also use this as my pouch for several other pieces of garb just so that I have an excuse to wear it sooner.

May Update


For a belt I decided to tablet weave a silk piece inspired by several extant girdle patterns from the Museum of London finds seen in Crowfoot’s Textiles and Clothing 1150-1450. (no 423, 404. pg 137 -138) and Peter Collingwood's The Techniques of Tablet Weaving. I looked at various images of girdles in paintings, such as Claudia Quinta by Neroccio de' Landi as well as Virgin and Child with an Angel by Luca Signorelli and Portrait of a Lady by an unknown Florentine painter. We have extant tablet woven girdles from the period done in several styles, such as the tablet woven brocaded belt from Venice, c. 1450 found in the Victoria & Albert museum. While wool is also period for this style, the grand dresses seen in Ghirlandio's paintings are the most expensive ensembles of the day, and as such a woven girdle for the outfit I am creating would be made of silk, not wool. One such girdle is described in Frick’s Dressing Renaissance Florence as "crimson silk in a satin weave" (127). With the numerous descriptions of girdles found in period accounts (double-faced, twills, plain weaves, brocades, tabby weaves, simulated samite, simulated satins, simulated velvets, and simulated damasks) it is generally assumed that there were substantially more styles being woven this period than we have extant pieces of (Crowfoot 130-138). Looking at various Italian paintings I was unable to find any that showed a girdle in sufficient detail to judge the exact weaving technique. The description in Frick as well as descriptions of extant pieces in Crowfoot led me to use a pattern based on an extant piece from an earlier period, King Philip of Swabia's belt from his tomb (13th century) - called S and Z twinning (Collingwood, 116-119). While this is earlier than my period and not Italian, it seemed to fit well with what Crowfoot describes as 15th century fashion for tablet-woven girdles, "subdued monochrome colors which often resemble satin, velvet, or satin damask" (134).

All 4 holes are threaded in a single color, SZSSSSSSZZZZZSSSSSSSZ, 5 forward, 5 back, shuttle in the same material, moderately hard beat (see Introduction to Card Weaving for an explanation of these terms). This pattern was created through a little bit of trial and error - the selvage edges (SZ,SZ) on the outside edges balance the weave to keep the belt from twisting on itself, and the 5 forward/5 back was determined by trying reversals until I created a block pattern that I liked. The end result is a lovely basket-weave pattern that is monochrome and very subtle, and where the light catches on the silk it is stunning.

While silk would be the appropriate material for something of this quality, 100% silk thread is very expensive for the thickness appropriate for this project and I was already over budget. As such, I instead used a 75% silk 25% linen blend that I found on sale within my price range. It was not the color that I was looking for initially, but I figured I could dye it for far less than it would be to purchase real silk in the color I wanted. I ended up loving working with the silk/linen blend; it had the softness and sheen you get with silk but the linen gave it an excellent durability and weight. It wove up beautifully.

There are several period ways of finishing the weaving for use as a belt. Many images show a buckle being used, but the only buckles I found that looked appropriate were out of my price range. Fortunately, as seen in the images and links above, there are many pictures of belts in the period worn by wealthy women which are simply finished plain and then tied together. As such, I decided to follow that method for finishing and tying the belt.

When the band was complete I trimmed the ends, stitched the weave shut, and hemmed the edge, creating a finished belt. I love the monochromatic pattern; it gives a very subtle and elegant effect. I may end up dyeing the belt depending on what color I pick for my giornea, but for now it is complete.

May Update 2

For my underwear layer I made a pleated camicia (an Italian chemise). This was entirely hand sewn using period techniques, fabric, and thread. While no extant camicie from this period exist, looking at several of the late fifteenth century pleated pieces from the Lengberg Castle archaeological finds as well as various extant linen smocks and chemises from the sixteenth century provide extensive material to work from. Several of the Ghirlandaio paintings show what appears to be pleats at the neckline at cuffs of camicie, which inspired me to create a pleatwork camicia for my underwear layer. Lengberg Castle finds include extensive amounts of pleatworked shirts which pre-date 1485, demonstrating the use of pleatwork underwear in fifteenth century Europe.

While not Italian, in "How to Pleat a Shirt in the 15th Century" Archaeological Textiles Review No. 54, Nutz and Stadler state that there is a substantial Italian influence on the Lengberg garments due to the site being situated so close to the Italian city-states (87). As such, a pleatwork piece seems like an appropriate choice for my camicia.

While in period the outer layers of clothing were made by male tailors, the linen under layers worn by both men and women were mostly made in the home, and often even by the lady of the house. The wife of the powerful Lorennzo de' Medici, Clarice Orsini (part of the most powerful and wealthy family of the time) wrote her mother-in-law asking her to send Clarice "twenty braccia of linen cloth so that I can make camicie for these children" (Frick, Dressing Renaissance Florence, 41). Numerous other extant letters reaffirm wealthy women making the linens for their husbands, children, and themselves. This makes me smile, as it is quite possible that the camicie worn by the women in Ghirlandio's paintings were made by the women in the paintings or their mothers, and that these women would soon be making camicie for their own families and households. This is one of the reasons that the camicia is the part of the project I was most looking forward to, as I felt it was the closest to a shared experience I would get to the women I am attempting to emulate with this outfit.

The fabric is thin white linen, with a thread count of approximately 50 threads/inch. This is in keeping with the thread counts seen in Nutz's analysis of the Lengberg Castle pleatwork finds, especially the linen shirt labeled find no. 386 which had a thread count of 17-21 threads per centimeter (41-53 threads per inch) (84, 85). In the late fifteenth century the camicia was long and voluminous to allow for folds at the neckline as well as puffs in between the laced openings of the sleeves (Birbari, Dress In Italian Painting 1460-1500. 40, 41). To create this effect, I used a raglan pattern where the sleeves create the shoulder line, as found in Mistress Rainillt's article "Evolution of the Italian Camicia," seen in the Spalliera Panels The Story of Griselda Part II Exile, and cited in Tortora's Survey of Historic Costume 159. The camicia does not have gores to add width due to the massive amount of material used in the pleating. The body pieces were as wide as the selvage width (54 inches - though finished size was 53 as the selvages were thick and needed to be cut off) and 48 inches long while the sleeves were each half the selvage width (27) wide and 32.5 inches long. The non-pleated width of the neckline once sewn together was 156 inches wide.

The camicia is sewn with white silk thread, as documented in Crowfoot's Textiles and Clothing 1150-1450 (152). While linen thread would also be historically accurate and was more common, I already owned white silk thread and decided to work from my current stash. For the seams I used the run and fell method, as this is seen in both extant fifteenth century pleatwork shirts as well as a late fifteenth and several mid-sixteenth century English smocks (Nutz 85, Janet Arnold Patterns of Fashion vol. 4 113, 115, 116). I tried to use very small stitches for this to keep the construction more in line with period sewing techniques. I averaged 10-12 stitches per inch for both sets of running stitches based on Crowfoot's statement that most of the extant running stitches show a stitch length of 2-3mm to be usual (156). My felled seam is 1/8th inch wide as documented in Arnold (113). This was the smallest I have ever made a felled seam (and was slightly terrifying to attempt at first - cutting so close to the edge of the seam made me paranoid) but it ended up working out very well as I was able to pleat on top of the seam without any issues. The very small stitches also were somehow much more time consuming than my normal eight to ten, but I was very happy with how they were practically invisible in the finished seam.

I began the pleating by using two needles (using silk thread for strength and smoothness) to pick up a few threads every half inch. I selected this length based off of several of the Lengberg castle finds, especially find no. 121 which was dated 1440-1485 and made out of very fine linen. It had 1.4 cm per pleat, but I decided to go slightly smaller and use .5 inches (1.27 cm) due to using slightly less fabric (Nutz 85). Once the neckline was pleated I gathered it to create my neckline. After a little bit of maneuvering I decided the fit looked the best at 38" so I tied off the gathering threads at this point, divided the neckline into equal sections to keep the gathers consistent, and measured a 1.25" by 38.5" linen strip to use as my backing band. I based the band and the way I attached it to the pleating on Nutz's analysis of Lengberg Castle find no. 430.02. where the band is "sewn onto the pleats with a running stitch, the fold fastened with whip stitches, then folded over the edge of the pleats and the border then folded in once more and sewn to onto the other side of the pleats again with whip stitches" (81).

Following these instructions I laid out the band and did a small running stitch to attach the pleats to the band, being careful to pick up each pleat individually as I went (just over 300). Next I whip stitched the fold of the band to each pleat, so that each pleat in the front had one running stitch and one whip stitch securing it to the band. I was initially curious why this method was used as it seemed to add a wasted step, but once I completed the running stitch I realized the pleats could still move more than I liked and did not lay completely evenly. Fortunately the whip stitch on the exterior helped them to even out nicely. Finally I folded the band over on itself, folded the raw edge under (effectively creating double-fold bias tape, though not cut on the bias), and whip stitched the back side of the band onto the pleats. In total this meant that each of the over 300 pleats in the neckline required 5 hand stitches - 2 gathering stitches, 1 running stitch, 1 whip stitch in the front, and 1 whip stitch in the back. The pleating at the neck in total took an entire week of daily sewing to complete (and gave me a bit of a panic attack when I realized I was nearly half-way through May and had only done the neckline).

Once the neckband was complete I pinned the sleeves and body panels together, leaving space in the armpits unpinned, and figured out my gussets. I had never made raglan sleeves before so I was unsure as to what the gusset size would turn out to be, but after some trial and error I decided the fit was best with 6" square gussets. Once I had the gusset size it was time to go back to lots of tiny running stitches to attach everything together. I stuck with the documented 10-12 stitches to the inch and completed all of the running stitches first. Once the garment was sewn I then went back and flat felled everything with the 1/8" seam.

When the garment was completely sewn it was time to pleat the wrists. I followed the same process (gather, running stitch, whip stitch, whip stitch) as I had used with the neckline, but pleated to a 1 x 8.25" band. I did slightly alter the depth of the pleats from 1/4" to 1/6" as there would be fewer inches of gathered fabric per inch than the neckline had (3 to 1 instead of 4.1 to 1) and I thought the increased number of pleats would look more consistent with the neck. It did increase the number of pleats in each cuff to just over 75 and was a bit more of a challenge to get to lay evenly, but I love the delicate look of the finished pleats.

Finally, I decided to go with a double-fold hem, sewn in silk thread with a hem stitch, with a depth of 1/4" as seen in Crowfoot which listed average depths of such hems at 6-9mm (1/4-1/3 of an inch) (157). While the 16th century smocks seen in Arnold tend to have smaller hems, I thought it would be better to stick with a 15th century resource where possible.

This garment has by far the most research I have ever put into a handwork project before. While I adore researching period techniques I have never made something by documenting all the individual steps the way I did here. It was far more time intensive than I had originally guessed, with approximately 6800 hand stitches going into the piece (after working out the math, I now feel a little less bad about it taking an entire month to complete the project). However, I am incredibly pleased with how much crisper the pleats look compared to the gathered smocks and chemises I have made in the past, and the small seams look beautifully delicate on the thin, semi-sheer linen.

Next, time to start the gamurra!

June Update

A lovely vacation followed by a nasty cold meant I was a little behind this month, but hopefully I will catch up quickly.


The gamurra was the under-gown/home dress common in Florence in the 1480's, and can be seen extensively in the works of Ghirlandaio. While no extant gamurre exist, the numerous paintings provide an excellent place to start from (an excellent collection of primary visual sources of period gamurre can be found at Festive Attyre). My gamurra is made of red cotton velvet, based on research from Frick's Dressing Renaissance Florence. While silk velvet would have been what was used in period, cotton velveteen has the short, dense pile that is associated with the period velvets, and 100% silk velvet is not available to me (Frick 2, 96, 98). I chose red because, well, red is my favorite color, but also "Red was by far the favored hue of the clothing of this Renaissance city . . . being used in Florence for silk velvets, damasks, and the best quality woven fabrics" (Frick 101). While many of the period velvets incorporated brocading or voiding to create a pattern, an undergown of "plain crimson velvet" is still described in Frick, confirming the more simple fabric and color as appropriate (194).

I started with the bodice by modifying my current 4-panel bust supportive gown pattern. By the 1480s the waistline was near the natural waistline just a little on the high side, so I will set the waist somewhat higher than I normally do as I find the positioning of the waist tends to make a substantial difference in the final period "look" of a recreated gown (Birbari, Dress In Italian Painting 1460-1500. 21). I also cut the neckline lower in back to match the period paintings better, and took out 3/8ths of an inch off on each side of the bust to account for the 1.5 inches or so to show the camicia. This took a good number of mock-ups, and I still ran into some issues part way through the process and had to make some substantial fitting changes after I had started the sewing.

It is hard to determine exactly how bodices were stiffened in this period. As best as I can tell the most documentable period method would have involved quilting using cotton fibers. While a few decades post period, Orsi-Landini in Moda a Firenze states regarding the techniques found in the bodices of undergowns that "the padding of the garment was obtained by an internal layering of the fabrics, the doppia, made up of a felt and two types of cloth, one stiffened the other finer" and then cites sources for both linen and cotton (84). This bears a strong resemblance to Frick's description in period of the required supplies for a late 15th century bodice except there instead of wool felt you see " cotton wool for quilting the bodice" (127). As the details can be found across multiple sources and periods in the same location, this seems like a likely method for recreating the period technique so I used a combination of a damask lining, a canvas layer, and wool felt pad-stitched together, to create my stiffener.

While "cotton wool" is referenced in Frick (cotton batting), I could not find 100% cotton batting in time for this project, and as the more detailed (though post period) Moda a Firenze is quite similar to Frick's description, but uses wool instead of cotton, I decided to use wool felt as my padding. I did adhere to Frick's listed materials though and only using three interior layers and the velvet fashion fabric - velvet, felt, canvas, damask (listed from exterior to interior). I have found references to silk, wool, and cotton being used as lining so I used cotton damask as my take on the lining fabric boccaccino (Frick 127, Herald 210, 220). I choose pad stitching as my quilting method based on advice from my mentor and also after seeing it in several garments in Arnold's Patterns of Fashion 3 (18, 39, 106). Once the 4 bodice pieces were pad-stitched together I then added the velvet fashion layer on top, hemming over the exposed edges. This left only the velvet and the lining visible.

Crowfoot states in Textiles and Clothing 1150-1450 that running stitch was the norm throughout both the later medieval period and into the renaissance though areas under high stress were often back-stitched to provide additional strength (155, 156). Running stitch and back-stitch are also commonly seen in the gowns of Janet Arnold's books, further confirmation that this technique was used both pre and post-period. As such, I backstitched the bodice together and used running stitches for the other seams. To hold everything together during the backstitching I basted the layers of each piece together, basted the actual seams together, and then backstitched everything together and hemmed the raw edges under.

Based on the paintings where I was able to get a close-up view of the lacing I decided to go with lacing rings instead of my usual eyelets - another first for me which was exciting. I picked up some jewelry fittings and stitched them on, using the paintings as my guide for location and spacing. While offset, spiral lacing was common, I also saw a large percentage of evenly spaced lacing rings as well and decided that would give me more options for styles of lacing, and I sewed on one every inch.

One technique for making lacing cord for garments is tubular tablet-weaving, something I had never tried before but which is documented in Crowfoot’s Textiles and Clothing (135). I had some extra crimson silk thread left over and I decided to experiment. I used nine Z threaded tablets with two holes threaded and only passed the weft through left to right, pulling tightly after every beat. This made the weaving curl over on itself and seal into a tight tube. It was very fun and I love the finished look, which is great as I had been looking for a more period method of making lacing cord. I think I will actually warp up my loom again and make some more to use as the lacing for the sleeves as well.

The sleeves, sleeve linings and skirt have been mocked up and cut out, and pinned together but not yet sewn. Fortunately these should take substantially less time than the bodice and I should be able to complete the gown and start on the giornea and shoes soon in time to complete the challenge next month! I will be attending Pennsic (a two-week long summer SCA event) during the end of July and into August where I won't have internet access, so I need to finish everything and take my pictures a few weeks early. Wish me luck!

July Update

I finished my gamurra!


There seems to be some debate over how the skirts were cut - rectangles, rectangles with gores, trapezoids, etc. but looking at various paintings and playing with draping my fabric I decided to go with 4 panels, each with one selvage edge and one slanted handsewn together with running stitch and then felled, with a top edge 1.5 times the length of the bottom. This created a hem of a little over 5 yards and an unpleated waist of just over 3 yards. According to Birbari in Dress In Italian Painting 1460-1500, skirts were either gathered or pleated onto the bodice (21). I used slightly flared pleats to give a triangular effect, to achieve the profile seen in many of the Ghirlandaio paintings and as documented in Birbari (52, 53). I did not line the skirt as they seem not to have been lined in period (Herald, Renaissance Dress in Italy 1400-1500 217, Frick 127). Once complete the skirt was backstitched onto the bodice. I hemmed the piece based on Crowfoot's finds that silk was often hemmed using a double fold technique and using silk thread (Textiles and Clothing 1150-1450. 157). I was going to add a hem stiffener, but the velvet was so thick I was worried it would become too stiff to fall in soft folds if I did. A simple double fold hem worked out well and gave some substance without looking stiff.


For the sleeves I made a two-part sleeve, as described in Birbari (20, 69) and Herald (193). I draped a basic fitted sleeves and then moved the seam to the back of the arm, cut out the elbow, and took 3 inches off the sides, as this was my best guess for how to achieve the shape I saw in paintings. I like the look seen in many of the Ghirlandaio portraits where the sleeve is only attached at the top of the shoulder and chose that method for setting the sleeve into the arm scythe. Birbari references that where it was possible sleeves sometimes used permanent cords instead of lacings for ease of use, something I decided to try (77). Because the cord was going to be sewn down in many places I decided to use the silk tubular tablet woven cord I had made for lacing the bodice as it is a documentable method for making such cord and the color and sheen went well with the velvet. For linings for sleeves that I have found references for lesser quality plain silks and taffetas, as well as cotton or linen so I decided to use the same cotton damask that I used for lining the bodice and running stitched the two together before turning out and whip stitching the edge closed (Herald 210, 220).

The sleeves are a combination of several different paintings showing laced sleeves, with ladder lacing at the top (Portrait of Giovanna Tornabuoni, Ghirlandaio, Left), the cords holding the two parts of the sleeves together (Portrait of a Lady by an unknown Florentine painter, Centre), and stationary cords allowing the bottom sleeve piece to show lots of "pouf" from the camicia (Herod's Banquet, Ghirlandaio, Right).

It took over eleven feet of my hand woven lacing cord to complete both sleeves and I still ran just shy and will have to steal the last two eight-inch laces for the wrists from the second length of cord I am weaving up. Fortunately I can weave while watching TV - once I finish what’s currently on my loom I’ll be at 23 feet so far!

I had never made a dress in this style before and was draping everything from scratch so I had been rather terrified that it wouldn't come out right, but I am really excited with how it looks all together. I am also ecstatic that I have officially completed an entirely handsewn outfit between this and the camicia, a first for me. While I might make a few changes next time I am overall very happy with the finished gown.

I've already got my giornea partially sewn together and my last accessory mostly done so *crosses fingers* I should be able to finish everything before I leave for Pennsic in less than three weeks!

Now back to the giornea!

July Update 2

Bonus item - Drawers

After finishing the gamurra I started to get project fatigue something fierce. I’m proud of my first completely hand-sewn outfit, but I had not realized how much longer it would take to sew everything by hand compared to machine sewing (silly me, I know). I decided I needed a mental break and machine sewed up a pair of drawers to wear under my dress. They are loosely based on the pattern from Janet Arnold’s Patterns of Fashion 4 (106) “c.1600 pair of drawers” and cut out from some leftover 5 oz. linen I had in my closet . I whipped them out in a single sitting and realized how much I have missed my machine. I did finish the hem by hand just because I like the feeling better on my skin and I decided to pretty them up a bit with a dash of embroidery, just a line of stem and outline stitches each along the bottom of the legs.


I realized I rather desperately needed shoes, as if I was going to make an entire ensemble then I probably shouldn't wear my Target sandals with them. I had never really worked with leather before, so I was a little intimidated to get going. Fortunately a wonderful friend gave me some advice on how to make turn shoes mostly on a sewing machine, so I gave it a try. I was inspired by paintings such as Carlo Crivelli's St Catherine of Alexandria, as well as several of the Ghirlandaio paintings (especially those of the Tornabuoni Chapel) which seemed to show a low/non-existent heel, flat sole, and looked well fitted to the skin but without any real decoration. This seemed like a potentially attainable shoe even for a beginner like me.

The pattern was made by drawing around my foot on muslin scraps with a pencil, draping, lots of swearing, and 3 mock-ups in fabric. My method was a combination of techniques seen in Morgan Donner's Sewing Party and Reproducing a Late 14th Century Shoe (while slightly early it still shares a lot with the 15th century ones I am making). Once I had a pattern I cut it apart, laid it on some red leather I have had for ages with no idea what to do with it, added seam allowance, and cut everything out. I then stitched it together primarily with my sewing machine and did the finishing work on the side seam by hand. I trimmed the seams, soaked the shoes in water, turned them right side out, and put them on my feet to dry.

I was incredibly happy with the result and have already worn them once. I am also glad that I did not try to hand sew my first attempt, as after walking around in them at an event I realized I needed a little extra space in the toes, so my next pair will be an even better fit. I highly recommend trying shoe making; it was so much less intimidating than I thought it was going to be.


This was a bit of a challenge for me to try to figure out. There is one extant giornea that I have been able to track down, but it is a man's giornea and earlier in period. While the fashions were somewhat similar, the neckline and fullness of the men's giornea is significantly different than those worn by women. Instead I decided to try to pattern one based on what lines I see in paintings, especially the Portrait of Giovanna Tornabuoni, by Ghirlandaio as you can see the repeating pattern of the fabric and infer the shape somewhat.

Birbari describes the pattern as "a segment of a circle," which is similar to what I was guessing was the pattern is seen in pieces such as Ghirlandaio's Birth of the Baptist (Right). Looking at that painting as well as the Giovanna Tornabuoni portrait I noticed that neither showed a visible seam at the shoulders, something that gave me a starting point on my drafting. I also followed the lines of the pattern over the slope of the shoulders and guessed that a simple slit in the center of the fabric at the neckline would probably allow the fabric to curve over the shoulders like that while still creating the gentle folds seen in the paintings.

I don’t have a mannequin or a person to be a model for me so I used the “pin, cut, & pray” method with my lining fabric, draping it on myself in a bit of a guess and placing pins where I thought the cuts should be, looking in the mirror, and cutting down until it all looked right. It took a while (and was rather terrifying), but I ended up being very happy with the resulting pattern as I think it looks and drapes like the paintings.

For fabric I chose a cream/bronze fabric with a small geometric damask pattern based on descriptions in Frick (3, 99) and Birbari (48). I have found numerous statements that a giornea would be lined, and a contrasting lining appears in many period paintings (Frick 126, 172), so I used a dark mulberry fabric I had in my stash which showed up well against the fashion fabric. Both fabrics are synthetic due to silk damasks being very pricey.

I evened out the lining fabric that I had used for the draping and laid it over the cream damask to use it as a pattern. I then pinned the heck out of it as it was very stretchy on the bias, and running-stitched the two pieces together inside out along the sides. I then hung it on a hanger to rest for two days to see if the bias would stretch enough that I would have to adjust the hem. Fortunately the hand running stitch/backstitch combo I used seemed to work well and everything still looked even, so I running stitched the hems as well. Next I turned it rightside out through the neck hole and pressed the seams flat. To close the neckline I folded the raw edges under slightly and whip stitched the two layers together as I would be covering the whip stitches with gold as part of the embroidery on the gown.

I then began to embellish the giornea with the time I had left. Records of the embroidered overgown designed by Francesco Castellani include references to the use of pearls, silken gold thread, silver thread, and small silvered ornaments (Frick 119). Other embroidered overgowns are described as "embroidered with pearls and rubies" especially seen at the "neckline, hem, and openings" (Herald, 184-185). This was the layer most predominantly decorated with expensive trims, embroidery, fur, and jewelry, so I tried to really focus on making this layer pop (Frick 163).

As such I decided to use lots of pearls and imitation metal-wrapped cord to decorate my giornea. Inspired by the two lines of gold seen at the neckline of the giornea in Ghirlandaio’s Presentation of the Virgin at the Temple I first braided gold-wrapped cord to add texture and couched it down over the seam of the neckline. The gold-wrapped cord is a mylar version of the period material, thin strips of hammered gold wrapped around a thread core, and is used as a substitute for gold couching thread in historical embroidery. Then I couched down two lines of the same cord slightly out from the first cord, creating a channel as seen in the paintings.

Looking at paintings such as Herod’s Banquet I decided to sew down large faux-pearls every half inch in between the sets of gold cords to add to the decoration at the neckline in keeping with the descriptions of pearling in Frick. A letter from a Florentine mother to her son, advising him on designing his bride's gown, states that "if the fabric is not adorned with pearls, one must decorate it with other trifles" (Frick 163).

As such I also sewed smaller faux-pearls in the center of the quatrefoil motifs of the brocade. This was my first time beading anything on this scale (or anything at all really) and it took longer than I expected, but I really liked the look of the small pearls to brighten up the brocade and they also held the bag lining of the giornea in place nicely and gave the fabric a great drape. I did go back and use a little bit of marker to color the white thread from the pearls on the inside of the lining so that when the giornea moves and the lining is visible you don't see the thread. There are 76 large pearls at the neckline and approximately 350 small pearls throughout the fabric.

I also wove up two sets of what were supposed to be trim for the gamurra’s neckline. Unfortunately the color did not work for either as well as I thought it would and I decided not to use them. The first was the gold colored silk that I had started before the beginning of the competition. The pattern was a combination of the trim seen in Leonardo’s Ginevra de' Benci and an extant find detailed in Crowfoot (133), a warp twisted pattern creating a striped effect despite all the threads being the same color. While I liked the color up against a small sample of the mulberry velvet, when I put it against the entire piece I just didn’t like the way it looked. I then tried warping up a simple diamond pattern similar to the one seen in Ghirlandaio’s Portrait of a Young Woman but had the same problem of it just not looking right against the velvet. I am slightly sad neither can be used for this, but I figure I’m bound to come across something to use them for eventually; they would probably make a great set of garters each when I make hose.

Now I just need to put everything together, take some nice pictures, and send in my final write-up! This has been an incredible experience and I am so happy that I participated in this challenge. It gave me the encouragement to try a bunch of new techniques I’d never done before and to research a completely new time period/location for me at a level I had never before aimed at. The other entrants have been absolutely inspiring; I’m now obsessed with Italian and want to try a 16th century doublet gown next!

Final Update

(Scroll below for details)

I am so excited, I finished in time!

Layer 1: Camicia

Linen with silk thread. Entirely handsewn, 1/8th inch wide flatfelled seams, 450 pleats, running stitch, whip stitch, hem stitch and gathering stitches.

Layer 1, Extra Item: Drawers

Linen, cotton and silk thread. Machine sewn seams, hand hemmed. Hand embroidered with stem and outline stitches in silk.

Layer 2: Gamurra

Velvet, wool felt, canvas, cotton damask lining, sewn with silk thread. Entirely handsewn. Bodice: Padstitched, hemmed by hand over all edges, backstitched together, raw edges turned under and sewn down. Lacing rings hand sewn on. Lacing cord is 11 feet of handmade tablet woven silk cord. Skirt: Sewn with running stitch, seams sewn down with prick stitch, pleated and attached to the bodice with backstitch, hemmed with hem stitch. Sleeves: Running stitched together, turned out and whip stitched closed. Hidden handsewn lacing ladders on the upper sleeves, ten cords permanently sewn down connecting the two sleeves and the bottom sleeve halves, lacing rings sewn to wrists. Sleeves whipstitched to bodice. Cord for sleeves is just over 12 feet more of handmade tablet woven silk cord. 23+ feet of lacing cord total used for the gamurra.

Layer 3: Giornea

Synthetic damask, sewn with silk thread. Entirely handsewn/hand embroidered. Fabric and lining running stitched together, turned out and neckline whip stitched closed. Hand braided metallic gold cord couched down, flat metallic gold cord couched down, hand beaded with over 400 large and small pearls.

Layer 4: Accessories

1. Reta

All handsewn. Handmade velvet ribbon, handsewn linen base, hand netted in gold, embroidered in gold.

2. Pouch

All handsewn. Running stitched, hem stitch, handmade eyelets, embroidered in gold.

3. Girdle

Hand-woven, hand finished.

4. Shoes

Machine sewn, hand finished.

Now to frantically pack for Pennsic! Thank you again for such a fun challenge, I learned a ton and tried so many new things. Can't wait for whatever's next!