The Fifth Annual Italian Renaissance Costuming Challenge

April 1 to July 31,  2015

Vickie Johnson
Montana, USA

I am a member of the Society of Creative Anachronism (SCA) and I have been playing with a Norse persona. It is a period and style I really connect with BUT I have been attracted by Italian Renaissance costuming for awhile. I have sewn for years but this will be my first time to be working in this period and style. I planned to enter the IRCC a couple of years ago but missed the deadline to enter. I had worked on my pattern and cut out a mock up which is still in pieces in a box…sigh…

My outfit:
Layer 1: Camicia in lightweight white linen
Layer 2: Under dress with detachable sleeves in red linen
Layer 3: Loose Qvergown without sleeves in black lightweight wool
Layer 4: Jewelry, Veil/Head covering, Partlet, Stockings & Garters

April Update

After entering I was looking back through my inspiration photos and found the one I originally wanted to recreate a few years back. I had purchased teal and purple linen for this garment and then got sidetracked by another photo using red and black. But after doing a little thinking I decided to revert to my original plan. I really have wanted to have a purple and/or teal outfit and I believe I will be more comfortable in a more casual outfit where the red and black would seem dressier and therefore I would probably not wear often. I only attend a few SCA events a year and they are usually more outdoors and not high courts. (I like elements in both to use in mine.)

1. Girolamo di Benvenuto (1470-1525)

2. Vittore Carpaccio (1465-1526)

This is my fabric. I am using the white lightweight linen for the camicia and I may use the gold brocade for some accents somewhere. The sleeves will be reversible and I will still do an over-gown and if I do not have anything else with enough material, I will use the black wool as planned.

I am using a purchased pattern for the bodice and sleeves but will alter to suit the style I chose. I had prepared pattern pieces to use a few years ago and had started a muslin fitting piece. In the time since I first purchased the pattern, I have lost about six dress sizes but am too lazy to go back and retrace the pattern pieces and cut a new muslin mock-up. I just altered by trying on and taking in where it was needed. I think this is going well so I will redo my pattern from this and put together a new mock-up that I will use as a support under piece (ie:slip) of a firm cotton.

I started doing the front band of the camicia using a trim and embroidering over it. I will add some tiny pearls and/or beads after it is attached and I am finished pressing it. You can only see the front band in the pictures so I deduced the fancy work would only be done in the area you could see it for practicability reasons.

I guess I will need to get the bodice together so that I will know how to adjust the neckline gathers of the camicia…didn’t think of that before… I may do a mock-up of the camicia just to see how to make it work. I can use it for a nightgown.

I also just thought about making the whole garment reversible but I am not sure if I have enough fabric to do 2 skirt pieces. Ah well…

Pattern pieces for original mockup with some modifications on the sleeves for slashing and embellishment.

The refitted mockup. The front will be one piece for the support dress but the main dress will be two pieces and will lace up. I am luceting black cotton cord to be used for lacing the sleeves and bodice lacings. I have not altered the mockup sleeve yet but will need to fit it down to the smaller size. Also need to figure out how to attach to the bodice.

Now for the main reason for me to wear this period of garb…the JEWELRY! I CAN bling up my Norse garb some but not like this…

And here is a PILE of stuff that I can work from… TOO many choices!!!

Final April progress list:

  • Finished fitting original mockup and cut out support garment from that pattern
  • Cut out camicia and pressed
  • Cut out bodice and reversible sleeves pieces
  • Cut out linen hose

May Update

Well, I have accomplished much and documented little.

This month I have been on vacation for about the last half and did not bring or prepare enough for this report. I will not return home until late Sunday evening so I decided to submit what I have without complete photo coverage.

My main project was my camicia this month which I sewed completely by hand. (I had already added the trim to the band in April.) I used the basic pattern of rectangles and triangular gores. The fabric is a bleached lightweight/medium weight linen which has been sewn together using a linen thread. The wide neck (that is gathered) was misleading and felt like there would be too much fabric so I cut the body perhaps a bit smaller than most but did not want to have tons of bulk underneath my outer layers. It fits well but I definitely needed the underarm gores for movement. The neckline is still pretty wide even after gathering because I do not want it to be seen except in the front. Right now it feels like it would slip off my shoulders but I believe it will be great when laced under the tighter bodice.

*Notes to self- I wished I knew how to do black-stitch on the neckline as I admire the other entrants who have and might have been a good idea to do some insertion lace with the extra trim used at the neckline.

I did overkill on the topstitching of the gore seams where they attach to the sleeve pieces. I used cotton perle embroidery floss which made the stitches more pronounced. I like this approach on my Norse clothing but I feel I should have used a finer silk or linen thread and made the stitches look finer. I will one day do another camicia and feel it will be more refined because of what I learned with this one.

I planned to bring my outer sleeves on vacation and begin to embroider them while on sightseeing road trips. First, I would not have been able to work in the car bumping over the roads but the main reason is I left the sleeves at home, probably laying on the bed where I took pictures of them before finishing packing. I have drawn up a simple design and will used black silk thread and maybe even small pearl beads for the design. The wrist and the sleeve cap will have topstitching and the eyelets for tying the sleeves to the bodice will be stitched with the same black thread. The design I have at home is simpler so may revert to that considering time. (Trying to punt, I bought a small linen handkerchief in an antique shop we visited the other day intending to practice stitching but did not have the right size embroidery needle and only got near a craft store yesterday to buy one so that did not happen!)

I have been able to work on cording while traveling so I am almost done with what I will be using for the sleeves. I now need to make the longer piece for the bodice lacing.

Sleeve pieces at home still laying on the bed.

Lucet cording to lace up forearm area of sleeves

Sleeve design

I did sew a shift/slip together by machine and need to do the hems and facings. The design is based on the infamous bath house shifts but there are other art references to this type of an undergarment. I machine sewed the seams to aid in the support purpose. I wanted a snug fitting undergarment to hold me all together without needing to wear my bra as I do not want any bra straps sewing! I made the neckline wide and low as the outer bodice neckline. The fabric is white cotton/linen as pure linen still feels scratchy next to my skin. The bottom hem and arm and neck holes will be rolled and hand hemmed.

I also pinned the gore inserts into my white linen stockings but did not bring them along on the trip to work on as I was worried they would get dirty! This is not a slacker report but more like a comedy/tragedy of errors? I am still excited by this contest!

I am waiting on an order of sheer silk for my parlet and for the veil which is probably there at home already and will become part of my June projects...hand stitching rolled hems...yay?

June Update

First up is my slip/support garment that I reported on last month. After spending lots of time on this, I do not think it will give me the support I would like. I did sew the main seams on the machine for strength and used the French seam technique but I sewed the arm and neck holes with a hand rolled hemming stitch.

I used the same pattern as my dress bodice which does lie wide on the shoulders. As I tightened up the side seams, the neckline got a little bunchy so I did make a couple of small darts to take that in.

Not an epic fail but a bit of a disappointment. I just hope that I can get the support through the bodice as I have not planned to stiffen it with any interfacing.

I cut out my partlet with a combination of ideas from others and the look I am going for with my inspiration photo. I am using a silk chiffon but I would have liked to find something sheerer but still available in the time period. Unfortunately that has been beyond my knowledge and acquisition skills!

Even though not as sheer as I wanted, it was a big challenge to hem. I tried to do a small rolled hand sewn hem but as I worked and pressed with my fingers, the hem flattened out and is wider than I planned. (I think I am seeing a pattern of disappointment here!) I did not finish the sides yet as I wanted to do ties on the side but think it will lay better if I actually have a more stable hem so am considering a ribbon/bias tape around the bottom. The stable hem will also keep the hand hemmed edges from curling…I hope? So back to the think tank!


This is also the fabric I am using for my veil but so far it is just a cut out square…BECAUSE…

...I spent the majority of my hand sewing time on my stockings. This pair is from a lightweight linen and are fitted better than the mock pair I made in the past.

A finished stocking… fits pretty well except a little baggy through the instep and the upper part of the leg…will need garters!

And to assure you that I am eventually going to have collared clothes to wear over the top of all this white…

I started the embroidery on the upper sleeves. I've changed the colors again and will be using teal, purple and white silk thread for the stitching and some pearls. I had planned on using black thread and did not like the starkness on the teal fabric. However I then may have to rethink using the black lucet cord for tying on the sleeves and use purple instead? Still pondering. The design is morphing as I stitch (which is usually what happens to me) but will still have the diamond shapes with some vines and leaves added.

I took apart a pair of drawers I made after the last time I planned to enter as they are too big. Have cut them down and will add a smaller waistband and reattach the embroidered hem bands. I really liked the bands and want to reuse them. The drawers cannot be part of my entry as they are an old remake so I will leave them until I get more work done on the rest of my outfit.


July Update

I am disappointed in myself that I did not get my outfit pressed and better pictures. I do not have a very good camera and I am having a friend who does photography take the pics of me in the outfit for my final submission.

I tried to show the reversible sleeve and I did an underskirt of the purple since I discovered I had to leave the dress open in the front to be able to lace from the front. Another design problem of trying to rework the pattern I started with. Period Patterns #41 View VI

I did not finish the outer gown but it is not what I really want... so the purple skirt becomes the 3rd layer and the dress is now my 4th outer layer. Note to self...linen was not the best option but I am pretty happy with the over all effect.

PS LOVE my jewelry the best!!!

Final Update

(Scroll below for details)

Layer 1: Camicia

Lightweight linen completely sewn by hand and front band lace embroidered over for extra texture. (I may add front and back gores to give more fullness in the leg area for walking, etc.) Pattern based on many layouts provided by earlier costumers.

Layer 1, Extra Item: Under-camicia/Support

Also made a support garment/slip of a cotton/linen blend based on the Bathhouse Keepers illustrations in the in the margins of the Wencelslaus Bible. I did not like the extra layer and it really did not support the bust as well as I would have liked so will not wear with the outfit. May use for a sleeping dress.

Layer 2: Under-Skirt

Was not able to provide progress and final photos in time for July submission and will not be eligible for points.

Layer 3: Over-gown

This has detachable/reversible sleeves of teal linen and a bodice and sleeves lined with purple linen. Completely sewn by hand with hand embroidered eyelets on the front bodice and on each sleeve for attaching to bodice and lucet cord for the ties and front drawstring. I hand-lucet all the ties and cords for my garment. When I dress Norse I call them my “Viking Bungee Cords” so I am not sure what to call them now…”Renn Ropes”? I used them to tie the bodice closed, tied the sleeves to the bodice and the off white pair were used for stocking garters until I make some nicer ones. I definitely need help with lacing the bodice it seems and I need better support underneath but not sure which direction I should take for that. This is an AWFUL garment to try and get yourself dressed in…especially when it is hot!!!

Possibly will still line the skirt of this overdress but with something lighter and silkier than another layer of linen. The dress already lays very heavy on my body. I think I may take the skirt off and take out some of the gathered fabric to make a sleeker less bunchy look. I did do cartridge pleating of sorts but because of the amount of fabric, it looks like gathering except that the gathers stick out from the bodice like cartridge pleats should do. Also I complained heartily about how much work inserting gores and gussets are but that is nothing compared to lining sleeves!!! I see why when a lady gave a sleeve to her champion it as such a big deal

The sleeves are embroidered with a simple design of my own but based on designs I have seen in various artwork of the era. I used some cotton, linen and various widths of silk thread embellished with a few pearl and gold beads. I guess the type of simple work I did to embellish my garment is not showy as a lot of Italian Renaissance outfits I could have emulated but I feel better suited to the simplicity. I am still torn over whether to topstitch around the sleeve caps and arm holes of the bodice and decided not to attempt it before the competition was over in case it ruined the look I have wanted to achieve. I may never topstitch! Musing in the garden one beautiful afternoon…

Layer 4: Accessories

1. Partlet

Silk chiffon, hard to sew and hem and I really did not figure out how to have it fit as well as my inspiration photo. And it has been a bugger to keep tucked in as I struggle to attach my sleeves and get myself dressed. (It is not an easy dress for putting it on by oneself.) I do plan to do another and use silk gauze as was suggested by one of the other entrants. Sewn by hand because there didn’t seem to be any other way. I was thinking about the purpose especially of the more see-through partlets. The logical thought might be that it would protect the fine expensive fabrics of the main garment but I imagine they also served as a bit of coverage so that a woman of that era could look a little sexy and yet demure at the same time.


2. Stockings

Cotton/linen blend. Based on a 12th century pattern and sewn completely by hand. They are a bit baggy so I will make some fingerloop garters for them for future wear. I would love to knit myself a pair of stockings but it would take me all year!!! The shoes I will wear are a bit orthopedic because of feet and legs having nerve damage so I will not be flashing my saggy legs around a lot! Although when I wear my snazzy drawers I will have to flash a leg or two!


3. Jewelry

I think what I usually notice first in the portraits of this era is the jewelry and embellishments of the garments. I have completed two necklace options and have another one planned. This is the easiest and my favorite part of my outfit!
Option1: Pendant made of Fimo clay with a flat back pearl earring for the center and vintage metal beads and cultured pearls. The thin strands of glass pearls will tuck into the bodice and look like trim on the partlet. Option 2: Pendant of vintage pin and earring parts with filigree metal beads and some old pearl beads…the pearls are not real but they are weighty and probably glass. The necklace clasp is from a vintage necklace as are the larger pearl beads.

I was not able to finish a veil so I used a fun dresser scarf that I found at an antique store and used my funky looooong hat pins to secure it to my bun in the back!