The Fifth Annual Italian Renaissance Costuming Challenge

April 1 to July 31,  2015

Susan Malovrh
Wisconsin, USA

I have been sewing since I was young and enjoy costuming, quilting, and making doll clothes. I love entering this challenge as it gives me a deadline to complete some of the many things I want to make.

I need a dress to go with the balzo I made for the Turning Heads challenge. I hope to complete a pair of bodies, an underskirt, and a green velvet gown in the 1530's style with big puffy sleeves. I also want to make a soccoccia, girdle, necklace, and gloves.

April Update

One of my inspiration pictures is Woman by Giovanni Antonio Boltraffio.

I got some beautiful green velvet at 80% off when our local fabric store went out of business. I'm using Period Patterns no.41 Italian Renaissance Gowns as a starting point. So far I've cut out 3 panels the width of the fabric for the skirt and the massive upper sleeves. Since the fabric is only 45" wide I'm hoping to get another skirt panel out of the fabric after I cut the bodice.

I've been wanting a soccocia for some time and finally got to work on one. I cut a pattern from newspaper approximately 9" x 15" and then cut 2 out of some upholstery fabric and 2 out of cotton for the lining. I put right sides together of one outside and lining. I stitched the front slit and then turned them right side out. Next I stitched the outside 2 layers right sides together and then the lining layers. Once it was all turned and pressed, I enclosed the top edge in a piece of bias tape and stitched it together to make the ties.

May Update

I started on my gown bodice this month by cutting a canvas interlining and the lining. I then sewed boning channels in the bodice front and cut cable ties for the bones.

A Pinterest search brought me to this page, to get me started on a must have accessory. I found a suede fabric remnant that looks like leather. I started by tracing my hand on paper without the thumb. I placed the pattern on the fold of fabric and cut out one glove then reversed it for the other. I tweaked their pattern image for the thumb hole placement, gussets and thumb patterns. After cutting all the pieces out I started hand sewing the outer seam and up the pinkie finger. I soon moved to the sewing machine and did the majority of it by machine. I hand stitched some of the finger tips to get them smooth. After all the gussets were sewn and the side seams done on the thumb pieces, I put the gloves on to line up the thumbs in the holes. I hand stitched the thumb pieces in and turned the gloves right side out, folded down the top edges and hand sewed the hems.

I'm pretty proud of the finished product.

June Update

The month of June flew by much too quickly. I continued to work on the gown bodice and hand sewed the side seams of the skirt. My main focus has been the farthingale. I adapted Simplicity pattern 2621. It consisted of front and a back rectangles and 2 triangle shaped pieces on each side.

I found a taffeta like fabric in my stash with black flocked scrollwork. After machine sewing the seams I made a casing by turning down the top edge twice and machine stitching it down. It's ready for a drawstring cord. I cut black velvet fabric on the bias to make the casings for the hoops and am sewing them on the outside as seen in many Spanish paintings. I machine stitched one edge on the first 3 rows and have a couple more to go.

I found a basket weaving kit at a thrift sale and decided it would be perfect for my hoops only to discover that they were precut pieces and not a big coil. I set to work with wood glue and clothes pins and doubled the pieces while staggering the cut ends. I will find out in the next few days if this will work or if I'll need to get something else.

I also settled on a girdle type after seeing large tassels on the ends of some in artwork. I was gifted some lovely tassels last year which will work perfect. I bought some matching upholstery cord and removed the edging and then untwisted in preparation of "weaving" it. As usual the last month will be extra busy trying to pull it all together.

July Update

I've continued working on my gown, girdle, and farthingale. I was planning to make a pair of bodies using broom corn I grew for the "reeds" but decided to make a high necked camicia as so often shown with my style gown. I used the sixteenth-century German hemd/chemise pattern from Cathrin Åhlén.

I tore rectangles the full width of the fabric from a piece of linen in my stash and half width pieces for my sleeves. I cut an 8 inch slit in the center front. I machine sewed the top twelve inches of the sleeves to the front and back pieces forming a "tube" and then hand felled the seams. Next I hand hemmed the top edge and center front opening. After lightly marking a half inch grid with a pencil on the inside along the top I gathered four rows along the neckline and back smocked it leaving the top inch to form a ruffle. I used two pearl button and some thread loops for a front closure. After trying it on I discovered the sleeves were way to short so I sewed on another 7 inches. I tried it on again to locate where the 5" square underarm gussets should go, then machine sewed the side and sleeves seams and hand felled them. After hand sewing a narrow hem on sleeves, I turned it inside out and marked a grid for the sleeve cuff smocking and finished them like the neckline. A hand stitched narrow hem on the bottom finished the garment.

So with just days to go I'll be rushing to finish everything and get my final update in. I'm enjoying the process and especially like seeing what everyone else is getting done.

July update, Part 2

As usual, the last few days of the four month challenge were a flurry of sewing. As I put the wood hoops into the farthingale I decided they were too brittle so added a strip of plastic boning also. It was a disaster as they cracked anyway. I pulled them out and after searching the hardware store for something to substitute, I settled on electric fence wire. I inserted them into the casings after repairing tears from the first attempt. I interlocked loops in the ends and wrapped them with tape. When I tried it on with the gown they didn’t give the right silhouette so I took the wire hoops out and made them smaller. When I reinserted them it gathered the skirt and worked out fine. After sewing the casing ends shut and inserting a cord in the waist band it was completed.

For the gown I cut the velvet to fit the front and back bodice lining and interlining pieces. Shoulder seams were machine sewn together and then I machine stitched around the neckline with right sides together and turned them right sides out. Moving on to the sleeves I really did a lot of two stepping (you know two steps forward and then one step back). First of all I had cut them out the first month using a pattern with the period method of having the seam on the upper back but I had decided to make the dress laced closed down the side so needed to make an under arm slit but first I cut in on the wrong edge and had to sew it back shut. With the right sides together of the velvet and cotton lining I sewing a four inch slit where I wanted it to be open under the arm. I saw in one portrait a puff of the white camicia peaking out under the arm and interpreted that as having been left open for ease of getting into the gown.

I then wanted to make sure the big sleeves had enough support to puff out nicely and sewed three lengthwise strips of plastic boning to the lining. Nope- took it out and tried some quilt batting between the layers and that didn’t look right either so I just did the cotton lining. I sewed the right sides together on the original sleeve seams and then turned it right sides out. I hand gathered the upper and lower edges. The lower sleeves velvet outer layer and cotton lining were sewn together on the bottom edge and then the side seams right sides together and then turned with the upper sleeves gathered edges machine sewn into them and the lining hand sewn on. The gathered upper sleeves were them machine sewn to the velvet outer layer and then the lining hand stitched down. The velvet was rolled over and hand stitched to the bodice facing/interfaced pieces side seams and bottom edge.

I used one width of fabric panel for the front of the skirt and two for the back. I serged the top edge of the skirt after I turning under the side seams about six inches down from the top for ease in getting into the gown and a way to reach into my saccoccia. Next I serged the top edge of the skirt, and turned it down about ½ inch and ran a hand gathering thread to cartridge pleat the skirt. I did 3 stitches in each pleat onto the bodice.

I sewed eyelets down the bodice sides and used a ribbon to spiral lace them. I turned the bottom 1/4 inch twice and hand hemmed.

I finger chain stitched two pieces of cording for the girdle to about my waist length and then switched to an alternating half hitch stitch. The ends of the cording were glued into the wooden tassel top. For jewelry I strung glass pearls on a piece of wire, inserting the teardrop pearl from an earring in the center and worked the wire ends back through the beads when they met in back. It is large enough to slip over my head. More teardrop pearls were strung onto wires for earrings. I liked the way the girdle turned out so decided to use some satin cord and did the alternating half hitch leaving a space so it looked like a chain and added a cross.

Final Update

(Scroll below for details)

I truly enjoyed being a part of the IRCC5 this year. Things went smoother after all I've learned the past few years and through what the others have shared. I love how this gown turned out and it fits so comfortably. Sewing the velvet was a new experience as it wants to slide all over even when I pinned every inch. I had much better luck hand sewing than machine sewing it. The camicia went together like a dream. My only regret is that I machine sewed the seams to save time. It would have only taken a few more hours to do it all by hand. I tried making some machine black work bands for the neck and wrists but wasn't happy with the results after having done some real blackwork in a past challenge. I will continue to look for a special pattern and hopefully someday add the blackwork bands-- or not as I want this one to double for a planned German gown.

Layer 1: Chemise

Layer2: Farthingale

Layer 3: Dress

Layer 4: Accessories

1. Saccocia/Pocket

2. Gloves

3. Girdle

4. Set of jewellery

This photo was taken wearing the hat I made for the Turning Heads mini-challenge this past February.

Changes I would make on this outfit would include interlining the lower sleeves and making them a little narrower on the gown, the camicia front and back panels could have been narrower so there would be less fabric gathered into the neckline, the gold corded necklace should have been shorter so the cross fell on the green bodice instead of past the girdle, and the gloves could use some tweaking for a better fit in the fingers. I cut the velvet bands for the farthingale on the bias so it would curve around better but I had major issues with them fraying even though I serged the edges before sewing them down. I may have had better luck with them cut on the straight of grain.

Once again I am grateful that Anabella Wake has given us this opportunity to try new things and improve our skills and thank her for all the work she puts into making it happen.