The Sixth Annual Italian Renaissance Costuming Challenge

April 14 to August 14,  2016


I have been sewing Italian Renaissance dresses off and on since I joined the SCA about five years ago. I have been watching the IRCC for a couple of years and am finally joining with the thought to finish an entire outfit with accessories instead of just a dress and camicia.

My inspiration for this challenge is the fresco by Giovanni Antonio Fasolo, c1565, in the Venetian Province of Vicenza. I adore the decorated camicia sleeves and have wanted to make one in this style for a long time.

My planned layers for the project:
Layer 1: Camicia with embroidered sleeves
Layer 2: Under-skirt
Layer 3: Gown and sleeves
Layer 4: Partlet, handkerchief, stockings, and girdle

Crystal Tice
Iowa, USA

I began the embroidery on one sleeve before the challenge began as it takes me forever to embroider. There will be seventy motifs between the two sleeves and each motif takes me an hour at minimum.

May Update

My linen hose are finished. I had to start from scratch on these as I had never made them before. I read a few articles online, looked at a few books, shrugged my shoulders and went for it. Then I had to go back to the books to figure out what exactly I was doing wrong. I got the leg to fit quite nicely, but the feet were a mess. I ended up with four different drafts before I made my finished pair. I wanted to go with something that didn’t have a seam at the bottom and the gussets on the sides gave me a hard time.

I finally decided to go with the version in the Medieval Tailor’s Assistant book and have my gussets separate from the other pieces. On the third draft, I realized I made my foot pattern huge and that was causing some of my problems. One more draft was made to make sure the adjustments worked. They did, for the most part. I am not terribly happy with the outcome, but I like do like them.

The hose are hand sewn with a flat fell seam up the body so that it looks nice when the tops are folded over. Those are my modern garters holding up the hose in the picture.

I also cut out all the pieces needed for my bodice. I am using the same linen for the lining and the outside fabric. The inner layers on the front are canvas. The method I use puts boning only along the front edge. I use several layers of canvas to provide the stiffness needed.

I started off the challenge with 15 out of 70 embroidery motifs done for my camicia sleeves.  I miscounted a little bit…  I had thought that I had 35 motifs on each sleeve when the count is actually 41 motifs on each.  As of this update, I have finished 30 out of 82 motifs.

June Update

This month I finished the embroidery for one of my sleeves! Whoo! At this point in a long project, I normally would have meant to take a day or two off from embroidering as a break and ended up realizing I hadn't worked on anything a few weeks later. Luckily, I kept on task pretty well and started the second sleeve only a day after I finished the first. Unfortunately, life got in the way between doctor's appointments and getting ready for Lilies War - my SCA kingdom's week long war - and I didn't get as much embroidery done as I wanted to. My current count is 48 out of 82.

I managed to almost finish up my gown and sleeves. I also discovered that dark fabric is a pain to photograph. I picked a deep blue because I fell in love with the fabric when I ordered it for a different project. It is also fairly close in color to one of my inspiration pieces from the Fasolo fresco.

I failed to take pictures of the canvas of the bodice being sewn together but they were quilted together and then quilted to the lining. I sewed a channel on either side of the front and inserted plastic boning. The outside pieces were then sewn to the lining around the front edge, neck, and armscye. A new trick I have been trying is to then turn the front pieces inside out and push the straps of the back piece through the arm straps of the front and then sew. I have found that this creates a much nicer seam than the different ways I had tried before. After the straps were done, I sewed the wrong sides of the sides together and then flipped them right side out. I think next time I will treat the sides as one piece instead of a lining and an outer fabric. It looks okay, but it was a bit clunky to get into the right spot. But it does hide the raw edges this way.

I ended up having to pick apart my straps and shorten them a little bit. They were a little bit loose the first time I laced up the bodice. I still think they are a little bit looser than they should be, but any shorter and I may not be able to get my arms through the opening.

I purchased eyelet tape for the lacing rings. While I have gotten faster at sewing down eyelets, I knew I wasn't going to have time to fuss with it and went with the easier option. I first folded over the tape and sewed it to itself - that is the funkiest line in the picture. Then I lined up the tape so that it sat on top of my boning channel and sewed down both sides. I grabbed a random piece of cord for lacing as I haven't finished the lucet cord I'm working on.

The skirt is made up of four yards of linen. I normally use three to cut back on cost and frustration of trying to pick up that much fabric when walking up stairs while holding something. I am always holding at least one handful of stuff while wearing long skirts and trying to walk up stairs. It's a fact of life. I cartridge pleated the skirt by hand with two lines of doubled thread. Once I was done pleating, I attached the skirt to the bodice and machine sewed it in place. My dear husband helped me to mark the skirt to length and I hand sewed the hem. I also hand sewed the opening at the front of the skirt.

The sleeves were cut from a pattern I used to make a previous pair of sleeves and machine sewn. I still have to go over the top of the sleeve with bias tape, attach hooks and eyes to the top of the sleeve and the bodice straps, and attach a hook and eye closure to the wrist. I might add in a hook and eye to the skirt opening but I am not sure it is needed.

July Update

This month I focused on getting my embroidery done. I was starting to get worried that I wouldn't get it done in time and projects were starting to get backed up behind it. I took my embroidery with me to war but didn't work on it at all. It was so hot and muggy I was afraid my blue tracing marks would disappear in the open air. Even kept in a plastic bag, some of the motifs started to fade. But I was able to finish off all 82 motifs! Oh my gosh it's done! And now I don't know what to do with all my free time...

I hand sewed a small hem on what will end up being the neckline portion of the body panels and the sleeves. The wrist hem of the sleeves was also handsewn, just a little larger, and the pieces are machine sewn together. There is a two inch overlap where the sleeve and body panels meet. The plan is to gather the neckline into ruffles with cartridge pleats. The extant examples in Janet Arnold's Patterns of Fashion had embroidery on the gussets but I decided not to go that far. Part of the reason was that I couldn't figure out a good design placement. The other part was, well, after over eighty hours of embroidery, I didn't want to add in another ten hours.

The other piece I started this month was a drawn thread handkerchief. A dancer in one of the frescos is holding a handkerchief. You can't see many of the details of it, but that's okay, I just wanted to make a fancy handkerchief. I am using linen and regular poly sewing thread. This is my first attempt at a second line of drawn thread embroidery and my first at a rolled hem. I am liking the rolled hem but oh my gosh it takes forever. I found a great tutorial online that seems to be working for me.

August Update

It's all done! Yay! I ended up having to rush through this month after dealing with some illness issues, but it's all done and I now have a complete outfit! I really wasn't sure I was going to get this all done, but I'm glad I powered through and have a completed outfit.

I used two lines of cartridge pleating on the neckline of the camicia. I left a bit across the top to act as a ruffle. After pleating, I pinned the neckline to a piece of measured twill tape and then machine sewed the pleats down. The first time, I messed up my measurement and the neck was too small and just didn't fit the look I was going for. I carefully ripped out all the stitches and redid them. The pleating had to be redone as well since my gathering cords wouldn't unknot. Thankfully the second time around went much smoother. The hems on the sleeves and neck were done by hand previously. The hem on the bottom of the camicia was done by machine as I was quickly running out of time by that point.

The skirt is made of a cotton/poly blend in a beautiful shade of mint green. I had a very hard time cutting into this fabric as I kept thinking of different things it could be used for. But I finally bit the bullet and pulled out the scissors. The skirt is made up of two panels gathered by hand and attached to a waistband by machine. I added a hook and eye closure to the skirt opening. I had contemplated doing eyelets by hand and having a cord as my closure, but I thought that it would be easier to add additional metal eyes as my weight fluctuates instead of hand bound eyelets. My dear husband marked the bottom of the skirt and I hemmed it by hand.

This is the first time I have made a partlet and I'm not sure why I tried so hard to avoid it previously. I started off with Margo Anderson's Elizabethan partlet pattern and found that it wasn't giving me the look I was going for. I started shaving off a bit in the front and on the sides until I managed something that looks a bit closer to the fresco images.

The partlet is made from a gauze weight linen and machine sewn. I tried to roll the hems like I was doing for the hankie, but my hands just weren't up to it. So into the sewing machine it went. I wanted something that could be tucked into my dress for Court or could be put on in the morning and removed later as the day went on, so I made ties to go under the arms. The ties are bias tape that I bought thinking I would use it for the hems, but I managed to get the curve to turn okay on it's own. I'm not quite happy with the partlet on its own, but it gives me the look I want under the dress.

To finish off the sleeves, I added a hook and eye fastener to the wrist. Purchased lace was whip-stitched into place and tacked down in certain sections so it wouldn't flop over the first time I moved my hand. I used a strip of the same fabric as a facing across the top of the sleeve, folded it over, and sewed it down by machine. The hook and eye tape was machine sewn to the sleeves and dress straps and then whip-stitched at the edges. The fasteners are set a little too close together to really puff the camicia out between them, but I am planning on only using every other one to get the correct look.

I love the thought of drawn thread embroidery. I love the look of drawn thread embroidery. I do not love the hand cramping that follows drawn thread embroidery. But beside the minor pain that lessened as I figured out how I should hold the piece, I'm fairly happy with this hankie. This is my first piece of drawn thread work that included two lines of drawn threads and the four sided stitch. This is also my first real tiny rolled hem – and the rolled hem was really the pain in this project. Will I do it again? Absolutely.

The fresco image showed a hankie with tassels, so I absolutely had to have some! The tassels were made of perle cotton wrapped around a credit card and then sewn to the corners. I'm looking forward to fluttering my hankie in the future.

Girdle Belt:
The glass and metal beads for the girdle belt were all purchased and strung on fishing line. I used a closure set from my stash for the ends. I attached a bigger tassel to the circle end as my belt end. The other end will be hooked into the belt at whatever spot I need it at. I didn't want to put in an actual spot for the hook because I am sure that I will need to use a different spot every time I wear it.

The Finished Outfit

Layer 1: The Camicia

Layer 2: The Under-Skirt

Layer 3: The Dress

Layer 4: Accessories

1. Partlet

2. Girdle

3. Handkerchief

4. Hose