The Fifth Annual Italian Renaissance Costuming Challenge

April 1 to July 31,  2015

Lynda Fjellman
Washington, USA

I have been playing in the SCA for 30-plus years and experimenting with Italian Ren clothing for much of that. Lately I've been making Spanish clothing, but decided to visit Italy again for a while to enter your challenge. I center my clothing on 1500.

I plan to make a camicia, gamurra and outer layer (called habito in Spain), but I'm not sure what they called them in Italy. In addition, probably cloth stockings, slippers, partlet or neck scarf of some sort and headdress. Possibly a fan and /or handkerchief, some jewelery, and some other stuff suitable for the at home clothing I have in mind. I have included a couple of images to give you the idea of what I have in mind. I will be using linen for the camicia and habito, and wool for the gamurra. I will be weaving the braid for the habito from silk using a rigid heddle. The stockings will probably be wool though I haven't picked out the fabric for them yet, and will be weaving the garters for them as well. The slippers will either be fabric and leather or all leather.

April Update

I'm going to include information on the fabrics I use including pricing, sometimes, and where sourced as I find these things to be educational. Even though we are writing for a world-wide audience, some are still potentially useful. I buy online frequently if I can't find what I need locally, and perhaps others might like to see as well. Cut out the extraneous bits as you see fit.

Most all sewing on all pieces is machine sewn for long seams that are inside.(If they don't show) All finish work and hemming is by hand (except where noted). I have a lot of repetitive motion injury and currently am recovering/suffering from a thumb spica on my holding hand. This considerably limits how much hand work I can do, and so I ration it to places where it makes a difference in looks or use.

My (period) thoughts on this outfit are:
I am almost 60 years old and have been married for 30 years. As an older woman who is well beyond newlywed status, I am entitled to a few new garments every year (according to sumptuary laws and rank). I live in the country on our estate most of the time, doing all the housewifely things that every upper-class countrywoman in 1500 would be doing. I don't go to court often so this dress is intended to be a useful sort of everyday dress. My status and finances allow me to choose by my taste and I prefer high quality for utility rather than showiness. Sometimes I decide to embroider my garments, (or have my sempstresses do it), but sometimes I prefer plain. I do like expensive colors though.

April 6 made patterns and cut out stockings.
April 8 finished sewing the stockings. Might decide to add lace or embroidery around the tops, and embroidered clocking at ankles later. Fancy work will depend on time and my hand.
April 8 started weaving for garters.
April 10 finished weaving garters, set aside to find or make just the right buckles and ends. Cut out camicia.
April 11 started hemming camicia pieces and faggoting edges together.
April 19 finished fagotting and hemmed camicia, almost done, just need to decide on sleeve edging now. Thumb pretty sore now so will stop doing sewing and switch to weaving.
April 20 setting up rigid heddle weaving for braid for habito.
April 21 on, weaving, This will take a while. It's spring here, I'm doing a lot of gardening.

Stockings: red worsted woven in a fine twill. Not quite a gabardine in texture. This fabric is woven by Pendleton Woolen Mills and shrinks very little. I have no idea what sort of sheep they use for their fabrics, but their garment weight stuff, whether woolen or worsted, is fine, light, and really hard to shrink. (it is only moderately scratchy as well). When washed and dried, it also has a reasonable amount of stretch so works well for stockings. To prepare the fabric, I washed it in the washing machine and dried in the dryer. This only fulls the fabric a bit, maybe a couple inches a yard loss. I will continue to wash the stockings in the washer for their useful life, but hang them to dry. They are sewn with silk thread in a matching color.

Since I live close to one of the Pendleton outlet stores, I can sometimes pick up remnants for as little as $3.00 a yard, so that is pretty hard to match. However, I have purchased very nice wool gabardine from Fashion Fabrics Club online for as little as $7.00 a yard, and it is hard to get nice fabric anywhere for better than that.

Garters: woven on a rigid heddle loom in wool. I am using some old stock Maypole brand Willamette yarn. This is a fine two ply worsted wool that was marketed for weaving.

Camicia: I've chosen a firmly woven vintage piece of Irish linen it is fairly even in weave and about 65 ends per inch. It is woven at 36 inches wide with a barely thickened selvage that lends itself to using as an edge. I purchased this stuff off Ebay a couple years ago at only $10.00 (US) a yard. This stuff is probably a bit heavier in the hand than the nicer period smock weight fabrics, but should work well for an everyday shift that is intended for regular use and laundering. I'm using 120/2 linen lace thread to sew and hem and a coarser linen lace thread (lost label) of maybe 60-2 for the faggoting. I've found that linen thread meant for lace is smooth enough to use for hand sewing, and is quite strong enough.

The habito I haven't picked the fabric for this yet, I have several choices in hand. The braid is being woven out of old stock silk thread size F (thick buttonhole twist) in pink, grey and yellow. The pattern will be very subtle, but the thread has a nice sheen. It will look like heavy ribbon when finished.

My camera isn't good for closeups so either I need a new camera or I'll have to think about scanning or something for close shots. Hope these pics are ok. Nothing is quite done yet.

May Update

Well, it has been busy this month, but not so much on my project. (my garden is looking nice though). I bought a new camera this month and can't download the software onto this computer to get the pictures off it, so I haven't as many pictures as I ought. They will be coming later. The woes of modern technology, I have to put the software on my hubby's computer, which is on my bucket list of things to do. I do however have some pictures that I took last month with my tablet that should have come in with April, but I forgot about them. Unfortunately, the tablet doesn't have a good macro on it either (which is why a bought the new camera) so up close pics are a bit out of focus.

Pattern of stocking

Fitting for ankle piece of stocking

Fitting of seam up back of stocking

Side view of ankle showing seam

Bottom of foot

I set up to weave the ribbon I was going to insert into the seams on the habito but I have decided that I don't want to work on that. So, I have decided to make the habito with some other seam treatment. Unfortunately, I haven't decided what yet. I did get the fabric for the habito though. I was trying to decide which of the fabrics I have in my stash to use, when I saw some lovely linen batiste, that has the crispness of voile. I think it will work nicely to make one. Meant to use some of what I have in hand, but there you go. On habitos: I've been looking at paintings, and I think I will have to do an actual study on habitos. There are quite a lot of them out there.

The camicia is still in its almost finished condition from April. I still need to finish the cuffs. I've been thinking about possible treatments on the neck edge of the camicia, doesn't really need anything, but pretty is nice.

I chose which of my fabrics from which to make the dress. I had several nice weight wools from Pendleton Woolen Mills. They use a wonderful wool for their dress weight fabrics that barely shrinks. (no idea what kind of sheep, they use Columbia's for their blankets) I used one selection for the hose last month, this time I'm using a nice red/burgundy/murrey color with a sort of crepe weave. (The picture of the skirt does not do the color or texture of the fabric justice.) I have the pieces all cut out and have started assembling the bodice.

The whole bodice, selvege in front

The skirt of the dress cut out

The skirt of the dress cut out

I'll have to get crackin' as I have a lot of eyelets to do when the bodice and sleeves are sewn. Besides, I want to make a few other little items like slippers, fan, head wrap, partlet, pockets or some other things suitable for daily wear.

June Update

Well, It doesn't look like I got much accomplished but sometimes thinking is everything, and eyelets take me a long time as my hands suffer if I do too many a day.

I finished the cuffs of the chemise, so that is done. I did a simple straight line smocking over the gathering stitches at the wrists, and made some needleworked buttons. The closure is finished with needleworked loops, and that finishes the chemise. I won't put any other work around the neckline. If I decide I need some more "fancy work" I'll make a partlet.


Sorry about the button pictures being blurry, I didn't realize they were that way till it was too late to make more.

Starting a button

Working side of button over bead

Working side of button over bead, view 2

Top of half worked button

I have the bodice of the underdress sewn. As before, long internal seams are machine sewn and outside work is by hand. The neckline is piped as I find that makes a really nice edge. It also allows me to pull in the neckline a bit to lay more smoothly around my shoulders. I have hollows there that are extremely hard to fit. The neck edge is stab stitched just behind the cord in the piping to give a tiny bit of detail and hold all layers in place. The armscyes are turned and hand sewn from the outside. When finished, the tops of the sleeves will be stitched into the tops of the armscyes. This will be an overhand stitch that will be easy to pull for laundering or changing the sleeves. The lining and interlining were cut to size and the "fashion fabric" was folded to the inside and stitched down. There is one line of boning down each side of the front, to go between the eyelets and the edge. I don't need much in the way of support or compression, but a line of boning on either side of the opening stabilizes it and keeps it from scrunching. Gives that nice smooth line. I use cable ties for the boning as they are cheap and have the same rigidity as whalebone (baleen. I have a piece of baleen from Alaska and have handled Victorian corset stays). I punched a tiny hole in each end to stitch them to their channel, to keep them from migrating. All that is left of the dress is the eyelets down the front of the bodice, attaching the skirt and sleeves, and hemming. Yeah, I'll tire my hands out, but I won't be using them for any handwork at the war, so they will get rest.

Inside bottom front of bodice before stitching

Inside bottom front of bodice

Back of bodice with armscyes finished

The sleeves are sewn and have their eyelets, and I have started fingerloop braiding the ties for them. I need to put the chapes onto those I have finished and that will be it for the sleeves, other than stitching them to the armscyes across the tops. I'm headed for AnTir/West War next week and so will have lots of time in the truck to sew those things that are easy in a moving vehicle.

Sleeves finished and ready to be stitched to bodice

Top of sleeve showing lacing

Top of sleeve showing lacing, inside

The skirt will be gauged onto the bodice. You can call it cartridge pleating, but the pleats are small, maybe 1/4inch. You finish the edge to be gathered, and run lines of evenly spaced running stitches along it, parallel to the edge. These you pull up to the desired length, even out the spacing of the "gathers" and sew the pleats to the foundation along the tops and bottoms. (Typical of cartridge pleating, but tiny).

Since it is going to be hot this week, I decided to make a fan. The base is a dowel and card stock, with wire bent to make the hinge/swivel. The top is an L that fits into a hole on the top of the dowel and is glued to the cardboard. The bottom is a ring that fits around the dowel and is also glued to the card. The covering is glued on, in this case, a black cotton brocade that I had a scrap of. Then the edge is clipped close and edging attached. I could have used either wheat paste or hide glue in period, but "Tacky Glue" is what I used as I don't have a gluepot set up right now, and I don't have any flour. I just used a scrap of cardboard, as they had paper and card in period.

The stick is sewn on and glued on the ends. If I have time, I might put some needlelace around the sides. Some of the extant fans are woven from straw, some are parchment and some are paper. But even though there are a number of extant flag fans, they *are* somewhat disposable items. I can't even think how many fans I've had in my life. I have some that are years old, and I've had some that didn't last a year. This one swivels on the pin and ring so it will fan 360. Nice for friends sitting in court. It doesn't take much energy to operate. When designing/making/using a fan, you certainly don't want it to *create* more heat than it disposes of.

Card and stick of fan showing mounting ring and pin

Stick of fan showing ribbon being sewn on

Fan showing mostly finished decoration

Fan assembled

I'll be setting up a few other little projects for that 12 hours+ of driving time next week, but the pics will have to wait till the end.

I purchased some nice linen tape from a company in Japan, which sells on Etsy. Moderate price, very quick shipping, quality goods. What more can you say? I will be using this in the seams of the habito instead of the silk tape I was going to weave. That dress will take up most of my handwork time next month and then the project will be done.

I'm intrigued by the Baegert painting with Saint Veronica in the central foreground (left, Web Gallery of Art). She's not Italian, but the dress she is wearing isn't essentially different from the ones I've found elsewhere. The other two women next to her are also wearing the same type of dress only one is green and the other yellow. Fuel for my thesis on habitos.

Well, other than a few fingerlooped ties for the sleeves, I'm down to the eyelets and attaching/hemming the skirt on the underdress, AND making the habito. I've certainly had fun doing this project. Glad I decided to do it. Maybe next year I'll get all my apprentices to commit.

So on to that overdress (and whatever other little projects I think up on the way). I'll be starting the habito very soon using the fabric and trim I've picked up for it.

July Update

Woo hoo, we are done! Here is the final product from the bottom up.

The stockings are done, and the garters to hold them are as well [photo below]. I put dress hooks that I purchased on the ends of the garters to make a tidy end and close the garters on my leg. I decided that I needed slippers so I made a pair of soft leather ones. These are comfortable for me to wear inside or briefly outside, but I wear overshoes or pattens over them when I must walk outside in them for very long. There are a number of pictures of this type of footwear in portraits and scenes during this period.

The basic method is to make a paper pattern by tracing an outline of your foot and then patting a piece over the top of the foot, fitting it to the outline. Use care when cutting the top opening(where you will put your foot in) as if you have fitted the vamp with a high opening and then later cut it lower, your shoe won't fit closely. Several fittings are needed till you get a nice close fit that won't gape.

Then you cut the fabric or leather and sew the vamp (top) to the sole. Since these are simple indoor slippers I used light leather (about upholstery weight) for the vamp and soles. I stitch them completely inside out with a small seam and then turn them right side out. I generally double the heel counter area to make it stiffer as it is uncomfortable to have the heels soft and smooshy.

Place foot on paper and draw around adding shape of toe if desired

View of tracing of sole

Adjust shape of sole by smoothing lines and reshaping toe

Start top by patting paper around foot shaping it to the top of the foot

Mark line at bend in paper following pattern of sole underneath

Cut vamp top for shape of opening and readjust shape overall

Cut out pieces and check for fit, adjust if necessary

Final pattern

Slipper toe being sewn showing easing of vamp

Slipper inside of toe showing the right amount of easing

Slipper half sewn

Front half to slipper sewn getting ready to sew heel section

I chose to make the uppers grain side out and the soles flesh side out. I thought that the smooth side inside would make them somewhat easier to put on and take off and the suede side on the outside of the soles would make them less slippery. I put a decorative lace around the edge of the vamp.

Slipper half turned to show inside of heel ready to be sewn

Slipper all sewn before turning

Slipper one right side out the other before turning showing heel counters

I finished the chemise a couple months ago, and have worn it a couple times and washed it as well.

My apprentice suggested I do a cheesecake picture. . .

Last month all I needed to do was the eyelets down the front and attach the skirt and hem it. To finish the dress, I cartridge pleated the skirt to the bodice. Flat pleats, box pleats and cartridge pleats are all used circa 1500. Since cartridge pleats add a nice "poof" at the waist, I like to use them. These are very small with the gauging about 3/8ths of an inch. these pleats are sewn both inside and out so there are two lines of stitching holding the "ends" of the pleats to the bodice. This causes them to stand out better, and adds security. I've had my hem stepped on more than once. My pleats rarely pop.

Dress pleat layout

Dress pleats sewn on inside showing lining strip on skirt

Dress sewing pleats from outside

As I was using some fabric that I already had, (and that was a remnant when I purchased it) I was limited in the amount of fabric I had to work with, so the skirt isn't as full as it might be, but it is full enough for an everyday dress. I used as much of the fabric as possible, the remnants are just the cut outs from the sleeves and bodice. I decided not to line the whole skirt, as I get much too hot, but I interfaced the underside of the pleats with a nice soft wool flannel and used the same for the wear strip inside the hem.

As a wealthy countrywoman recently come from Spain, I decided that I would continue to use the tucks in the skirt that are very popular in Spain, and I am comfortable with. Maybe I will start a new trend in Tuscany! (Besides it allows me to hoard the extra length in the skirt in a way that I can use later if needed due to shrinkage.) I hemmed the skirt with a wear strip. This is the same wool flannel I used to interface the pleats. This hem treatment is similar to that on the Eleonora de Medici dress, but without the fringy strip.

Last month I worked the eyelets in the sleeves, this month I worked them down the front of the bodice and finished fingerloop braiding the ties for the sleeves and front of the bodice. I made eight fingerlooped braids to close the sleeves (four each sleeve) and one double length one to lace the bodice and a short one to keep the waist closed. I also made four short ones for the shoulder decoration on the habito. Probably made thirty feet or so in all. I like using fingerloop braids rather than lucet ones as they are much stronger and less stretchy. (I'm not convinced that lucets as we know them are strictly period anyway). I finished the laces with metal chapes to make them easy to put through the eyelets. I stitched the tops of the sleeves into the armscyes and the dress is done!!

July Update, Part 2

I used the nice sheer crisp linen and ribbon for the habito I mentioned previously. I washed them both to preshrink and cut them to size on the grain. The whole thing is rectangular construction. Some of the over-dresses I call habito look like they are cut rectangularly, and some look like they are using the more modern model of round armscyes. With an unfitted overdress that pretty much takes the place of an apron, it either could be used effectively.

Each raw edge was hemmed and I left the selvedges intact. The selvedges are at the side seams and sleeve ends. I used the linen ribbon as a seam treatment, by faggoting it into all the seams and overlaying it over the shoulder seam and around the neck and hems. I decided to put a bit more decoration on the neck edge by leaving the seams open at the neckline, and putting eyelets in so I could tie them together. I fingerloop braided cords for the ties. I don't have any pics of habito with this kind of treatment, but there are chemises with this sort of decoration.

Underarm gussets being hemmed

Closeup of faggoting in process

Closeup setting sleeve into shoulder piece

Sleeve showing faggoting in process

I considered the neckline and sleeves for a while until I decided how to piece them. One of the reasons I left this garment for last. I had the possibility of a V, square or round neckline. Some pictures look like they are put together "raglan style" and some have definite armscyes. Some have gathering in the armscyes from the neck to the shoulder seam and some are smooth. So that leaves the field pretty much open.

I ended up cutting a small piece to use over the shoulder as though it were needed for a standard armhole. In retrospect, I could have cut the sleeves longer and gathered them at the spot I wanted the shoulder trim to go. The end result would have looked pretty much the same.

Neck and shoulder closeup

Entire sleeve

Feline seal of approval




I made a pair of pockets as they are very useful on a day to day basis. I've been wearing them at every event I've been at since I made them. They are simple constructions of cotton twill in a light jean weight, handsewn and threaded onto a tape. This way the waist is adjustable, and I can choose to wear one or both. I generally like to wear two as I feel lopsided if I have everything hanging on one side. It's amazing how much you can carry in those pockets.

Beekeeping hood

As a woman who lives in the country and takes an active hand in the day to day running of an estate, I also keep bees. So I made a beekeeping hood. I've been keeping bees for a while now and have been researching period beekeeping techniques for a while as well. I finally found some (period)pics of hoods that I like the looks of and look like they would have good visibility. Period beekeeping and modern are VERY different and visibility is much more important now than it was then.

I chose tarleton for the screen material, this is a heavily starched cheesecloth type fabric that I happen to have on hand. It has a fine enough mesh to keep bees out, but is sheer enough to be able to see well. I placed this into an inexpensive wood embroidery hoop, and stitched the whole hoop into the front of the hood. The hood is made from the same cotton twill as the pockets. It is cut on a standard hood pattern, but roomy, both to hold the screened ring in front and to be loose over the head for comfort. I put three stays (plastic, similar rigidity to whalebone) on the top of the head in front to help support the ring. I like the shape and size of the hood as I can pull it back so my nose is on the screen to get the screen close to my eyes so it is easy to see through it, and I can still tip it forward to keep the bees off my nose, if they get nasty. It is long enough over the shoulders that the bees aren't going to crawl up inside easily if worn outside, or I can put it on and tuck it into the neckline of the habito for better coverage. With laces around my wrists the habito makes a pretty good beekeeping dress as well.

The last things I've made are a rosary, necklace, and headcloth. These are very small things for labor, but add a lot to the ambiance.

The rosary is strung on thick linen thread and is made from imitation or reconstituted amber beads. Amber was a popular choice for rosaries in period. Not the most expensive choice but nice enough. A Lady might use such a thing on an everyday basis.

The necklace is coral beads strung onto silk thread. Coral was considered very protective, and often given to children, but there are numerous pictures of women wearing simple beads of coral. I've been looking into jewelry closures for a long time now, and ribbons or strings are the likely closure on necklaces when they couldn't slip over the head. So I strung the necklace with little rings on each end that I could thread a ribbon through. I don't have any evidence for the rings but they are useful and a reasonable guess. There aren't very many bead necklaces (or rosaries for that matter) that can be reliably counted as not being restrung somewhere along the line so we are sort of on our own with paintings to decide, and the pictures don't say very often. I've included a simple pendant (purchased) to wear on the beads when I want a dressier look.

The headcloth is a simple strip of linen that is long enough to wrap around my head and pin into place around my hair. The fabric is from an old kimono length that is handwoven. (Possibly ramie, fiber unknown) I rolled hems on the ends and that is it.

Final Update

(Scroll below for details)

I had a lot of fun doing this challenge. It allowed me to stretch my "sewing muscles" a bit and work on some projects that I have been thinking about for a while. I am going to be looking into the Habito as an overgown more throughly in the future.

Layer 1: Camicia

This was entirely hand sewn. I used the selvedges where they were useful and rolled hems on all the pieces that were cut then faggoted the whole thing together. I put a bit of smocking at the cuffs and a handmade button and loop to close the cuff. This garment is linen sewn with linen.

Layer 2: Dress

This is made of wool partly sewn by machine and finished by hand. The long skirt seams, side seams, and part of the neckline seam is by machine. All interior and exterior finishing on the bodice is by hand, as are all eyelets, cartridge pleating and hemming. I fingerloop braided the strings used for tying the sleeves and closing the bodice. (I think of using the machine on internal seams that don't show as if my stitcherwoman Mistress Singer did those long boring seams for me.) The hem is faced on the inside with another piece of wool to add body and as a wear layer that can be removed and replaced if necessary. This dress could easily last ten or fifteen years of regular use if I don't let the moths get to it.

Layer 3: Habito

This garment serves as an overdress/apron. I think they were a lot more common than we realize as it is a homely sort of dress and many women would never consider having a portrait painted in one. You tend to find them in genre scenes. My version is made of the finest linen I could find, and it still isn't as sheer as the two in my documentation from the beginning. Either they were able to weave much finer linen than is currently available(very probable) or they are made of some other fiber. Some of the other Habito I am currently looking into are opaque and many are colored as well. Linen with linen ribbon sewn with linen thread. All cut edges were hand rolled and all seams were faggoted with the ribbon between the edges of the fabric. For a tiny bit of decoration at the neckline, I left the seams open and put eyelets with ties in to make a bow at each shoulder, front and back.

Layer 4: Accessories

1. Fan

I used a remnant of damask that was just large enough to cover both sides of the flag for my jumping off point in making the fan. I then glued the ribbon(chosen to match in color and contrast nicely in pattern) around the edges of the flag and stitched the ribbon spirally around the stick. The fan works and is nicely decorative.

2. Stockings and Garters and 3. Slippers

Stockings are wool sewn with silk. The main seam is machine sewn and then finished by hand. All raw edges were stitched down to make the seams flat inside for comfort.

Garters: I wove the garters of wool, on a rigid heddle loom, and attached a (purchased)bronze dress hook on one end to close them. I made them long enough to tie if I choose, but they wrap around my legs three times using the hooks and close nicely so I like them as they are. I always like to wrap my garters more than once as that adds considerable flexibility and makes them more comfortable.

The slippers are leather, hand sewn inside out and turned. I used heavy duty thread to sew, but didn't check to see if the fiber was period. I decorated them with a leather drawstring around the vamp, which also helps to snug them if I wear thinner stockings than the ones I made.


4. Beekeeping Hood

Made of cotton with a screen of heavily starched gauze type fabric (tarleton). All hand sewn with linen thread. I decided to add this one as I keep bees and it occurred to me that the Habito would make a pretty good beesuit. I've been contemplating making a period bee veil and this was an excellent chance to make one.


Non-counting accessories:

Paternoster: I used amber beads to make this very important accessory. Many portraits at this time show the sitter holding a rosary, so I decided that I needed one. They are strung on coarse linen thread with smaller beads on the tassel.

I also hemmed a bit of linen for a headwrap as no proper lady goes out without something on her head, and strung a necklace of coral beads. Just so the final pictures would be nicer.