The Fifth Annual Italian Renaissance Costuming Challenge

April 1 to July 31,  2015

Tracy Bossinger
Wisconsin, USA

I have been sewing for many years, and ventured into historical sewing several years ago. My current focus is on developing an Italian persona for SCA purposes. I have done a total of two and a half Italian outfits (one is currently in progress) - one for last year's challenge, one before that from a commercial pattern, and the half currently in progress.

This year I am looking to outfit a male, from the time period 1440-1450. This includes the following layers: Layer 1- Underwear: camicia (shirt) and/or mutande (drawers). Layer 2 - Farsetto (doublet) and calze (hose). Layer 3 - Gonella/cioppa (overgown). Layer 4 - Accessories - belt, pouch and hat, possibly shoes or overshoes or a mantello (cloak). My inpiration pictures are: Francesco del Cossa, Allegory of April: Triumph of Venus; Domenico Veniziano, Adoration of the Magi; Domenico di Bartolo, Extension of the Privileges by Celestino III.

April Update

Building off the research found here, I started the first layer for this outfit.

The camicia is mostly rectangles and squares - here they are just cut out. The folded triangle is the neck gusset, the sleeves are at the top near the scissors and yard stick, the mess to the right is the pieces for the body, and somewhere else in there are the collar and underarm gussets. I’m terrible at taking progress pics, so didn’t get a better shot of all that.

Here I have pinned the neck gusset in place, preparatory to sewing one side down. I wanted to do it that way rather than measuring and cutting because I never get things to work out with rulers.

And here I’ve stitched the side down, and cut the body piece.

Then I got involved in sewing and forgot to photograph, so this is after the second side is stitched down, and the other sides turned under to finish, pinned in place.

Neck gusset from the inside after stitching down.

And the outside.

Here the shoulders are sewn, with the shoulder seams pinned for felling, and the collar is pinned in place.

Inside of finished collar.

Finished collar from the outside, no sleeves.

Hemmed camicia with sleeves.

Part two is the mutande - underwear. The document I’m using as a basis for the outfit proposes two conjectural ways to make the mutande. I wound up using a combination of the two. I cut three rectangles of fabric.

The two larger would be the legs, and the smaller would be the seat gusset. I did, however, bring the seat gusset to a point in the crotch area, since as it was the garment was going to be swimming on the wearer. This is what it looked like all pinned up.

Here is the finished front.

And back:.

For closing, I thought about a drawstring, but have had terrible luck installing them in the past, so I thought a sort of belt & loop thing might be better - a moment of insanity and one I may fix if I have time.

So I made loops, and attached grosgrain ribbon for ties.

And this is what it looks like when worn.

Both garments are entirely hand-sewn. Seams are run-and-felled throughout, except at hems, and the front crotch seam on the mutande. I forget the proper name for that one, but the seam itself is backstitched, and then the seam is opened to both sides, and each side is stitched down with a running stitch. Things I learned and would change for future ones: insert a gusset at each shoulder seam where they meet the collar - when he’s wearing it, it sits strangely at the shoulder seam. Everything else is fine with the camicia. The mutande need a lot of work, but for a first try, I’m not too upset, and since they will be hidden under all the other layers, I’m not overly concerned with fixing them at the moment. The legs look good, but I think I would make the upper portion longer to fit better over the backside, and possibly switch to a drawstring closure. I am happy with how the combination seat/crotch gusset went - it’s roomy enough to allow him to move (important when boffer fighting and just being a boy).

May Update

Due to reluctance on the part of my victim/model (and with permission from Bella), I have decided to change course midstream and create an outfit for me (a much more willing subject!). I need serviceable work type clothing, so that will be the focus of the remaining time I have in the challenge. I also do not have much in my stash for this, so that will be another challenge. I found these and a couple of more pieces of linen-ish fabrics in my stash, and will have to make a run to the fabric shops for other layers. These are the suitable fabrics I have so far.

The white linenish stuff will become a coif, apron, and camicia. The black linen will be a lining for the blue and grey fabric - eventually to become an overdress. I have no fabric at the moment for an underdress, so will have a good excuse to go shopping!

I’m planning something along the lines of Domenico Ghirlandaio’s Portrait of a Lady for its simplicity and because I’ve been in love with her little coif for a while. This portrait seems to support the full underdress idea I have in my head, as opposed to just the overdress over camicia seen in this portrait: Agnolo or Donnino del Mazziere, Portrait of a Young woman.

So, with having a severe lack of time to really start a big part of this outfit, I started with the coif and an apron, just because I need one for working in.

I took the coif pattern as a starting point from this website, after having found an article on wearing a coif, here, and thinking it looks a bit similar to Girlandaio’s lady’s coif.

So, this is the coif cut out, and then with the sides pinned for sewing:

And then because I’m really, really bad about taking pictures while I’m working on stuff, here is the sewn coif so far.

I still need to play with wearing it properly (possibly with additional hair to supplement my natural hair), and/or adjusting that little bump at the top. I think the ribbon I have to gather the bottom is also too wide, so will be playing with that for adjustments as well. Otherwise, when I try it on, it gives a similar look to the first portrait, so far.

So, with that bit of progress, I moved on to the apron, since I had the fabric on hand and wouldn’t have to get too creative (as opposed to the fabric I dug up for my camicia - story when that happens), figuring I could get a large portion of that out of the way for now as well.

This is the uncut fabric, from which I evened the edges, and cut a strip for the waistband and ties.

I hand sewed narrow edges on the selvedges, then pleated the top and hemmed the bottom. These are the pleats pinned to the waist/tie piece before that was backstitched to the top edge:

And my dress form modeling the apron (with assistance from a munchkin since I couldn’t actually tie it with all the pins in).

I still need to finish the tie/waistband and the bottom hem, and I’m thinking of sewing a pocket for my cellphone and other little items behind the pleats so they’re accessible but not showing. I may also do something neat to the edge of the coif (and actually have cut another to play with if I have time or can’t get this one to work the way I’d like it)… headgear is my weakness, but this was simple enough that if I can actually manage to wear it properly, I think I’d like to do several to have on hand eventually.

June Update

So, when I left off last month, I had most of the apron done, and seam finishing to do on the coif. I decided I wanted a pocket on the apron, so I would have somewhere to stash necessaries while keeping my hands free (impossible with a basket, and this I couldn’t set down and lose!!).

This is the “template” marked out on the fabric for the pocket.

I did a continuous lap placket on the planned opening for the pocket:

Then hemmed the whole thing, and sewed the long edges together:

Here it is pinned to the apron’s wrong side (which really should have been the right side, but I did it “wrong:”

And sewn in place:

From the outside, it isn’t visible at all.

Next I finished the seams on the hat (they hadn’t been tucked under and felled down yet), and because I didn’t like how floppy it was when I tried it on, I thought about putting a wire in the face edge of the coif. I mulled over several options, one being to slide the wire in the hem, another to use buttonhole stitch to set the wire on the edge without opening the seam, or using the second one I’d cut out when I did this one and wiring that one with either of the above. For some reason (I’ll blame the fact I do most of my work after 10 pm), I decided to forgo the wire on this one and just do buttonhole stitches on the edge, with Venetian picots (instructions from _Elizabethan Lace_ by Gillian Dye).

These look like this:

And amazingly, I noticed that these firm the edge up really nicely - like this:

The right side is done, and has a nice curve to it, while the left side is still floppy. This translated to a lack of smooth fit over the center part of my head when I tried to wear it (even taking into account my lack of hairpiece to stuff it with). Here is the finished hat, and you can see the felled seam at the top - I also tacked down the pointy bit at the back peak of the coif so it didn’t stick up so far when I wore it. The fit is much improved after this, though I still need to replace the ribbon with something finer and make a coil of hair to add to mine under it.

In between bouts of buttonholing and picoting (even a word???), I cut out the bodice pieces - interlining, lining, and main fabric.

Interlining (sturdy cotton) fabric with my toile pattern (the one section of the shoulder I had to piece - hey, it’s period!!):

Lining (black linen) and toile:

This is the interlining and lining fabrics pad stitched together… two front sections:

Back section waiting to be stitched together:

Toile and lining used as a pattern for the outer layer fabric (grey/blue herringbone linen - lovely stuff!). Also the sleeve pattern (done with a combination of adapting an existing sleeve pattern and draping - mostly for the slash):

To assemble the bodice, I folded all layers’ seam allowances under and sewed the layers together close to the folds...

...using a stab stitch:

And looks like this on the outside:

Then I whip stitched the fronts to the backs at the side back seams:

And pinned it on my dress form (which I have sadly squished out of shape… she doesn’t tolerate squishing the way I do):

The above pictures are before I finished the bottom hem, which I did not take progress pictures of - I just tucked both raw ends to the middle, and stab stitched through all the layers to give a finished edge.

The sleeves are a single layer of fabric, just the grey/blue linen. I hemmed all around the edges (except for the seam at the wrist), and then did the slashes. I have no idea if this is a period thing or not, but I sewed facings down on either side of the two slashes, on the right side of the fabric (one down the arm from mid-upper arm to several inches below my elbow, and a horizontal slash at the elbow). Then I cut the fabric, and brought the facings to the wrong side, tucked the raw edge under, and sewed it down.

Facings pinned, waiting for sewing down:

Sewing in progress:

The stitching on the right sides with the facings makes a nice gap in the fabric so I can see where to cut it:

Facings turned inside:

And one sewn down:

I went back and forth between the sleeves and these. This was a bit less than halfway through all the eyelets - there are 28 on the bodice. I have reinforcing rings at the backs, and the stitching is done with silk thread. I am so in love with how nice the silk is to work with - I wish I could afford to use it for all hand sewing!!

Eventually, all the eyelets were done, and one sleeve completed:

I still have to hem the wrist opening, and add eyelets to the vertical slash. It is also simply pinned to the bodice at the moment, since I haven’t decided yet if I’m going to have them fully detachable or make them set in at the top of the shoulder. The only thing for sure right now is they will not be fully set in because I want to be able to shoot my bow in this dress (and lift things over my head - it is to be a work dress, after all). I also am not sure if I will lace it the same as it is on the dress form at the moment, or if I will figure out ladder lacing. The right sleeve is hemmed all around at the moment, but the slashes are not finished.

The safety pins at the slash are where I will be putting eyelets - that may happen when I get bored with stitching the slash facings on the right sleeve. I still have to cut the skirt and attach it to the bodice, but I figure if I don’t get the sleeves done, I never will - sleeves seem to be my weak point for some reason.

Still to do: low necked-camicia and an under-dress or skirt (likely a skirt for time's sake). Still mentally thinking about the camicia (using stash fabric, and will have to be creative), and have some lovely black/natural linen that will become the under-skirt. Also pondering some sort of embroidery to embellish this, but that will have to wait until the other layers are done (and as a friend of mine said, “It’s a WORK dress; it isn’t supposed to be fancy!! Embroidery doesn’t HAVE to happen.”

July Update

This is the skirt all sewn together, with pleats pinned to the bodice.

Sewing the skirt on to the bodice. Lots of layers.

I left an overlap at the opening of the bodice, so that there would not be a gap when I laced the top up (or have to make eyelets in the skirt sections) - I later put a couple of hooks and eyes to make sure the skirt opening doesn’t pop open.

Attachment of skirt and bodice from the outside.

Front view, pinned closed on my dress form.

Back view, with hem just pinned in place.

I made my camicia. The fabric was some that I had gotten from my grandmother’s stash. It has some stains & scorch marks on it, so I had to get creative with the layout for piecing my camicia. It also has my great-grandmother’s initials on it, which I did want to keep, and did in the final product. I do not know what kind of fabric it is, but given how old it likely is, I expect it is some sort of natural fibers.

Two shots of the cutting layout I drew on the fabric - I was a bit too conservative with the length, trying to make sure I had enough fabric, but I think it worked out OK.

Pieces pinned over the dress so that I could start sewing them up.

And all the major seams done. Hemming wasn’t done at this point, and I neglected to get a photo of it on the dummy after they were finished.

Final Update

(Scroll below for details)

Layer 1: Camicia

Completed, entirely handsewn from unknown (probably) natural fiber fabric.

Layer 2: Under-dress

Not completed, not attempted

Layer 3: Over-dress

Completed, entirely handsewn from linen herringbone fabric with cotton interlining in the bodice and linen lining, including twenty-eight bodice eyelets and eight sleeve eyelets.

Layer 4: Accessories

1. Apron with pocket

Completed, entirely handsewn from linen and linen/rayon fabric.

2. A Coif

Completed, entirely handsewn from linen and linen/rayon fabric, plus hand done picot trim in cotton thread.

Things that worked:

The trim on the coif was a very pleasant surprise, stiffening the edge nicely without the need for any sort of wire or such. Silk thread for the eyelets made them super-easy to do, as well as nice and slide-y for the lacing to go through. I also loved the method I found for stitching the interlining/lining to the outer fabric, and will be doing that again in the future.

Things I learned that need improvement:

The skirt doesn’t need as much fullness, so for my next “work” type dress I will not be using as many panels for the skirt, and the pleats will not be as full. The coif sizing needs adjustment, even if I don’t play with the proper hairdo underneath (also something I didn’t get to attempt for this). The sleeves are a touch mis-sized, as is the bodice (ever so slightly), and I think that has to do with the construction method I used, which will be something else to play with. The camicia should have been longer (found out why when doing the artistic photo shoot and the camicia rode up beneath the dress… not flattering OR comfy!!), and the sleeves could use some adjustment, though that could be made worse by the not-so-great fitting oversleeves. It’s all stuff to play with and find out what works better.