The Sixth Annual Italian Renaissance Costuming Challenge

April 14 to August 14,  2016


While being a historical costumer for many years, I consider myself a novice to Italian Renaissance clothing, having attempted only two other Venetian dresses before. The first I did complete and the second, a twisted Venetian with a Carnivale theme, still languishes unfinished due to fitting issues and missed deadlines. I hope to have neither shortcomings by challenging myself to compete in IRCC this year.

I’d like to create an outfit of approximately 1578. I chose this date because of the height of the bodice on the overgown. I will be creating it out of a red and gold patterned fabric.I plan the following for each layer:

Layer 1: Camicia made of white cotton voile. I intend to use Jen of Festive Attyre’s tutorial on creating a camicia for this piece.
Layer 2: Under-skirt, not sure what color yet
Layer 3: Over-dress with sleeves, made of red fabric with gold print with split front, ladder laced.
Layer 4: Partlet, embroidered stars on sheer fabric.
Additional Items: I also intend to make a standing collar, Flag Fan and Wired Hair (not sure if this counts as an accessory).

Glynnis Vance
Maryland, USA

May Update

Due to other costuming commitments, I didn’t get as much done this month as hoped. However, I did finish my Venetian chemise. I used Jen Thompson’s “How to make an easy Italian Chemise” instructions on her website Festive Attyre, which are excellent. Other than using the full width of my 55” fabric for both body pieces, I used the measurements as written in the instructions. The chemise is made of a cotton voile, and I used French seams throughout, and put a cuff on the ends of the sleeves.

In addition to the chemise, I was able to start working on my flag fan. I bought a decorative trim at a hardware store to use as the sticks of the fan. Since the trim has a flat back, I thought it would be easier to place the fan between the sticks as a means of attachment. I’d read that walnut was a luxury wood, so I decided to make the sticks a dark brown. I tried a leather stain in Saddle Tan, as well as Burnt Umber paint to see which would give the best color. In addition, I tested a wax finish in gold as both a highlight and a main color, just in case I preferred gold. I decided that the leather stain gave the most beautiful, almost velvet look to the sticks. I’m very pleased with it, and think that once the fan is assembled and the sticks have a slight wax finish it will be perfect.

For the fan itself, I intend to embroider a dragon on one side and a camel on the other. The flag fans at the time tended to have poetry and verse on one side, but I wanted something that would be especially meaningful to me. To me the dragon represents drama, fantasy and geekery; the camel represents, essentially “feeling the fear and doing it anyway” - experience gained from a long ago trip to Morocco.

I decided to tambour embroider the images. While tambour embroidery didn’t become popular in Europe until the 18th century, it had been used in India, the Middle East and what is now Turkey long before then. Because of the influence Turkey had on Venice, I thought it not entirely impossible that tambour embroidery would have been seen in Venice at this time. I’ve not done tambour embroidery before, other than a brief class at costume college a few years ago. This has been a learning experience. And while I only have part of the wing and head of the dragon done, I’m pleased with it so far and looking forward to seeing how it turns out.

June Update

This month I finished the embroidered outline of the dragon side of my flag fan - and then realized that I didn’t like how the edges looked a little shaky due to the holes in the netting. I also tested the fill stitch I wanted to use, and it wasn’t as smooth as I would have preferred. So, I decided to chain stitch the gold thread and then couch it down onto a piece of voile. Unfortunately, my wrist has started giving me a lot of trouble, so I didn’t get very far with that. But I’m overall much happier with the outline as it is. And I think the voile will result in much smoother filling stitches, as well.

Due to the wrist issues, I realized that I’m really not going to be able to do all the star embroidery on the partlet that I’d planned. So, I decided not to make a new one, and will instead use one that I have in my final photos. Since it won’t count towards this competition, I decided to make a saccoccia.

I looked at the research that the wonderful Anea has on her site, The Anea Files. I also looked around at images of paintings and compared some of the characteristics to the 18th century pockets I am more familiar with. Armed with this information, as well as some pre-embroidered silk fabric, I set about making a pattern for a 16th century saccoccia.

First, I traced my 18th century pocket (below, left) made from a pattern in Linda Baumgarten‘s Costume Close Up. Then noting that what I was going for was smaller, I cut off 3.5” from the top of the pocket pattern, and an 1.5” from the bottom corner. Using a flexible ruler, I curved the pattern to be rounder on the bottom. After lengthening the opening by an 1” I was ready to cut out the pattern.

I cut two solid pieces, intending to use one to line the sheer maroon embroidered silk - but then realized that if I used the maroon fabric behind the embroidered fabric, the embroidery design would be lost. After testing out a gold fabric, I decided to use a green fabric behind the top layer because it added a complementary depth of color. I then decided to add beading to the pocket. Most of the saccoccia I have seen have couching as an embellishment, but I wanted to add a bit of sparkle to my pocket. Gold glass beads were added to the tips of all the leaves.

My experience with 18th century pockets showed me that I would need a separate space for my phone and money - I just don’t like it jumbled about in the bottom of a pocket- so I added two pockets to the inside back of the saccoccia. After that I bound the opening with velvet ribbon.

I was going to bind the edges to sew the pocket together, but looking at the images again, I realized that most of the saccoccia in paintings do not have binding around the outside, but instead are sewn right sides together and turned out. After doing this I used more of the velvet ribbon to bind the top and make the tie. I’m super pleased with how nice it looks and I cannot wait to use it!

July Update

I made it most of the way to my goal for this month, so I’m overall pleased with my progress.

I finished the dragon embroidery on the voile. I think the background needs to be filled in with something, so I’m planning on couching down a pattern of some sort - still working out the details. I think that the final construction of the fan will go fairly quickly, so I’m willing to spend a little more time getting the embroidery more fully complete.

The petticoat is finished. I used a rose pink silk taffeta from my stash, and padded the hem with felt. The trim I chose is a golden tan (called saddle) velvet trim that I hand stitched down. I’m really pleased with how the padding makes the petticoat stand out from the body.

I knife pleated the waistline, and used a closure I read about on Laura Mellin’s Extreme Costuming site many years ago - a set of three eyelet holes, hand stitched. I didn’t account for how small I ended up making the waist band, so I needed to off set the holes, resulting in a sort of zig zag pattern, but the closure works fine, threaded with ribbon.

I spent time finishing up the embroidery on the partlet I’m using. I have to say, I’m not that happy with it for this outfit, so I may end up making another partlet. I’m kicking around some ideas.

I then took out a couple of old patterns and compared them for the bodice. I made some adjustments to try to account for the problems encountered with my Carnivale themed Venetian that still sits unfinished. After cutting out test fabric and trying on the bodice, I was happy with the fit, so I went straight to fabric.

Originally, I was planning to use the fabric with the red ground and gold pattern, but upon rolling it out, I was struck by how beautiful the side with the gold ground and red pattern looked. After looking around to see if this coloring was ever used, I found a detail from a painting on Bella’s site, from the 1560s. Feeling confident that it wasn’t completely wrong, I moved forward with the bold choice of using the backside of this fabric for my garment.

I spent time trying to match up the pattern on the front pieces of the bodice, and am pretty pleased with the result. I cut a canvas layer, and marked out my ladder lacing based, again, on the research done by Jen at Festive Attyre. I chose to use plastic ties from the hardware store as the boning to support this lacing, cut, filed and inserted them into the front of the bodice and then stitched the bodice fronts to the back.

Marking the ladder lacing.

Stitched ladder lacing.

Inserting bones.

And that was when I remembered that I needed to cut down the back of my bodice because it’s patterned too high. Sigh. So, while I’m pleased with how the bodice looks, I will need to make this adjustment before finishing off the edges. It also means that my centered fabric pattern on the back will not be as complete as I would like, but it will be full enough. I knew that fitting went far too well, too quickly!

My goal had been to have the bodice and skirt finished for this month’s update, so that I could focus on sleeves and the remaining accessories in the final four weeks. I’m close enough that I feel I will be able to have a complete outfit, and finish the competition, so I feel positive about this month’s progress.

August Update

Lots of progress this month! I didn’t really realize how much I had left to do, but working steadily helped me finish.

Flag Fan
I’m completely satisfied with the fan. I love it so much. I finished all of the embroidery for the dragon side of the fan. I added a border and a background. I ended up using a different lace for the border; I had a white lace that I liked the pattern of, but not the color, so I painted it a brownish gold. Instead of the camel that I originally planned for the other side of the fan, I ended up going with a quote from a Take That song, since flag fans often had lyrics on one side. I then mod podged the fabric and lace to paper stock, placed it between the pre-painted and waxed sticks and stitched it with gold thread. I glued the sticks together above and below the flag sections and finished the ends with wire wrapped pearls.

In my last update I mentioned perhaps making a new partlet because I wasn’t entirely happy with how the embroidery turned out on the dragonflies. But, I stayed with the partlett I’d already made instead of doing a new one. I was considering making a ladder lace partlett, but was wondering about the appropriateness since I was planning on making a set of ruffs. I found confirmation that wearing a ladder lace partlett would not be correct on Oonagh’s Own site discussing her set of ruffs. It was nice to know that I wasn’t just overlooking the use of ladder lace partlett with ruffs, in my research. Gold lace was used to trim the front edge of the partlett to finish it off.

I did not end up cutting down the bodice in the back. I found that I’d centered the pattern in such a way that cutting it down in the back would result in the pattern being cut off at the top. I decided to live with it, and moved on to the sleeves and skirt.

I had barely enough fabric left to get the full three panels for the skirt that I wished to have, but I’m so glad that I eked it out. Again, I used felt to pad the bottom of the skirt. I also added it to the top of the back of the skirt to plump out the cartridge pleats.

I spent time trying to line up the sleeve pattern with the bodice pattern so it would at least seem harmonious across the body. Then discovered I cut the sleeve pattern upside down! Ah, well. The sleeves still look great. Originally I’d bought a trim that was mostly gold with some red which looked nice with the fabric as I originally intended to use it. After flipping the fabric to the side with the gold ground, the trim didn’t work anymore, so I needed something else for the front and back seams. I braided crochet yarn in dark red and gold with metallic thread running through it. The balance of mostly red looks wonderful against the fabric, and the metallic thread gives it just enough shine. I added lace trim to the bottom of the sleeves to simulate cuffs.

Then I made the buttons for the top of the sleeves from a gold metal bead, wrapped in more of the red crochet yarn and topped with a red glass bead. I love the buttons so much! I’d tried thread wrapping a wooden round bead first in just the gold crochet thread, but it was too plain. The slightly smaller metal bead works better and adds the right amount of shine to the buttons.

Set of Ruffs
I started by making the shoulder ruffs first. They are made of stiff cotton organdy cut 2” wide and folded in half, with recycled metal wire from a wired ribbon sewn to the top under the cream colored lace. The bottom is bound in white linen and has white ribbon ties. I used the same fabrics for the neck ruff, but cut the organdy 6” wide. I used a hair crimper to shape the ruffs. I actually made the neck ruff too large and round - it looked more like an English ruff than a Venetian one. I re-pleated it to fall more in a straight line, and used a double row.


I also made a rebato for the neck ruff - but it ended up not being necessary. It was made from recycled hanger wire, held together with cotton thread. I really struggled with it, trying to get the curves right, but it did thwart me a bit, so I’m glad I didn’t need it in the end. The ruff was stiff enough to stand on its own at the back of the bodice.

For my hair I made little hairpins with pearls for the front braids. This was really simple, just threading the pearls through hairpin and bending them to hold the pearls in place. For the back of my hair I used some hair I’d previously braided and wrapped with pearls around a bun of my own hair. I wish I had not run out of time to make wired hair for hair horns.

Shoes - I recently purchased embroidered shoes from India that are not right or left lasted.

The Finished Outfit

Layers 1 and 2: Camicia and Under-Skirt

Camicia: White cotton voile. This was completely machine sewn and has French seams throughout.

Under-skirt: Pink silk with gold velvet trim.

Layer 3: The Dress...

Over-dress with sleeves: Gold fabric with red print, split front, ladder laced. Cartridge pleated by hand. Hand made buttons. Hand made and sewn trim on sleeves.

...and with the Set of Ruffs

Layer 4: Accessories

1. Flag fan. Hand embroidered. Hand painted. Hand pearled and wrapped in gold thread.
2. Saccocia. Machine sewn. Hand beaded.
3. Partlet. Hand Embroidered.
4. Set of shoulder/neck ruffs. Machine sewn body, hand sewn to linen base.

That’s it for the outfit. Thank you, Bella for this wonderful opportunity. I’m so pleased with my new 16th century Venetian gown, and this competition has been the impetus to make it happen.