The Sixth Annual Italian Renaissance Costuming Challenge

April 14 to August 14,  2016


My name is Mandy L’Estrelle. I’m from Perth, Western Australia and I’m an IRCC addict. It’s been five years and I haven’t been able to give up the habit yet so here goes for a sixth year. I love sewing Italian garb and each year I try to extend my knowledge and skills and also to encourage others to do the same.

My outfit this year will be a mashed up historically based but influenced by Tim Burton’s Queen of Heart gown from Alice in Wonderland. I am still deciding on the final design but more than likely around 1570 Florentine. I am also hoping to use as much from my fabric stash and buy as little as possible for the project.

Mandy L'Estrelle
Western Australia

May Update


This month has been so full with my daughter's wedding, travel and illness I have hardly been able to find a spare hour to sew, but I am very happy to say I managed to complete a very simple chemise.

I selected some lightweight cotton voile for this chemise, as I am allergic to linen and I wanted something quite light, I also found some white cotton lace in my stash. I used a chemise I had made before as a simple pattern. It involved a straight centre piece with gores on each side to give fullness, and straight cut sleeves.

I decided to insert lace down the sleeves, and also to pleat in the fullness of the sleeve at the wrist rather than attach separate cuffs. Around the end of the sleeves this gives a nice ruffle effect and I have attached a half width of the lace to give a nice finish.

The square cut neckline is finished with a band of the lace. I managed to finish the chemise with just one and a half inches of lace to spare! As I have made this design of chemise before I know it is one that sits well with the gowns and is comfortable to wear.

Next, on to the sottana, once I decide which fabric to use!

June Update

The continuing lurgy has really knocked me over and is still hanging on into its second month. I have also been very busy running an event and planning another to be held very soon, so my progress has been again a little slow. My inspiration portrait is by a follower of Bronzino.

I started by tweaking my regular bodice pattern a little to see if I could gain a better fit, the sides are on more of an angle and the front point is sharper. I slightly shortened the back again to attempt to get a smooth wrinkle free back but as my spine curves funnily I doubt I shall achieve it but thought I would try.

I cut the bodice and lining from some black silk from my stash, the two internal layers are from denim as that was what I had on hand and having used it before it holds the boning quite well and gives enough support.

I also changed my boning pattern with only the middle of the front straight up and down, I then slightly angled the rest to give a little more comfort and movement, also to give a little more of the conical shape which is hard to achieve given my natural shape.

The banding on the bodice and skirt are made from black velveteen, which I sealed the back of with normal PVA glue to prevent fraying. The patterns have been cut out entirely by hand using a craft knife which took about 40 hours of work all up. I had intended to also cut the skirt guards however given the fact I am behind in my challenge timetable already I don’t think it will be happening.

The bands for the bodice and skirt have been backed with some light gold silk to make the pattern stand out. The bands are edged with a narrow trim to finish them off all of which were attached by hand sewing.

The skirt on this gown I based on the burial gown of Elanora de Toledo. It has the two triangle gores on each side and is flat pleated onto the bodice leaving a flat section at the front. The back has a very small train as my consort has not yet learned the art of not treading upon them. I am really happy with the shape of the skirt and will need to consider what sort of under-skirt to make and wear underneath to best show its shape.

At this stage I am undecided what sleeves to make for this sottana for when it is worn without its soon to be made over-gown, but I do think there maybe some cutwork on them.

I am really pleased with the overall fit and have conceded my wonky back may never give me a nice foldless look.

The next step is to finish the hem with velveteen skirt guards and then move onto the partlet and over-gown and jewellery and accessories...all the things!

July Update

Well it’s been another full-on month, with so many other activities taking away from my sewing time but I have managed to get quite a bit done.

I finished off the black silk sottana with a black velveteen skirt guard, lined in wool felt, to give it the extra hold and weight it needed. It now moves nicely and the small train is hopefully not enough to trip up my consort too much.

Awaiting a better image.

The next piece I have moved onto is the ruby red silk over gown. I procrastinated over this piece for a long time until I was looking through my books for inspiration and actually found it! I came across the portrait Margaret of Parma by Antonio Mor and was taken by the apparent loose backed gown she has on.

In Patterns of Fashion volume 1 pages 9-10 it is discussed that this semi fitted style gown is similar to the pattern found in Burguen f168. The design of the pattern fascinated me so I drafted up a pattern in calico and pinned it to my dressmakers dummy.

The fit and line was exactly what I was after, so I went ahead a cut it out of my precious ruby red raw silk which I have been hoarding for a long enough time. I had to cut it with the grain going across the body instead on downward as I would have liked due to the narrow width of the fabric. The hidden back lacing panels I cut from two layers of denim plus two layers of black cotton fabric, which I also used to line the over gown.

I was left with just enough silk to create the hanging sleeves and tabs for the shoulders. The trim I selected to use on this gown is an equally precious one as it was gifted to me by my mentor laurel. I purchased some frog closures for the gown but they were a very bright red which did not suit the fabric. To make them more subdued and closer to the ruby of the silk, I watered down some black ink and sprayed them. It took several coats to get them to the colour I wanted.

The edges of the gown have been finished by hand couching some red and gold cord. I have the gown hanging for a few days waiting for the drop to setting then I will be finishing it off by hemming and attaching hooks and and eyes and frog closures.

The detachable undersleeves are what I am working on presently. I did cut a pair from some gold lattice fabric with the intention of beading them. But once I started on the bead work I decided I didn’t like them. So back to the drawing and cutting boards and I am now working on some lattice woven cutwork sleeves in black silk, in the same design as I made for last years competition. I spent a lot of hours yesterday cutting the silk with a chisel and then had a late night weaving one of the sleeves. I hope to have these sleeves finished in the next few days. They will be detachable from the red gown by lacing rings.

Next up will be two partlets, one that can be worn when the gown is fastened right up to the neck (see Sofonisba Anguissola portrait, left) and another to wear when it is partially open ( see Allori portrait, right).

I am also awaiting delivery of some ouches to make the belt and necklace. I am planning on making them similar to the ones in Portrait of a Young Lady by Sofonisba Anguissola. Also on the planning board is a hat and perhaps a fan. The next month is going to be rather busy trying to get it all done in time!

August Update

I have been working almost non stop on getting my IRCC goals achieved, it really sort of took over my life for this last couple of weeks but I am so please to say I finished it all. With the exception of a painted parasol, but I had only really toyed with idea and not planned it out properly.

First item I completed was the under-sleeves which I had started last month. I finished the hand weaving of the slashes, lined them with some red cotton fabric, added the braid and spent about two days adding tiny red beads to the braid. They give just a hint of red but really added to the sleeves nicely. The sleeves also have hand made and slashed binding at the wrists, and hand made ties, with nice gold aglets attached to the ends so they may tie on to the over gown or be removed if not needed. I have sewn in lacing rings to the over gown for ease of attachment.

For this outfit I decided I needed two partlets, one to be worn if I closed the over gown right up to the neck and another to wear if I wished to wear the over gown slightly open at the neckline.

I started with a basic partlet pattern that I had drafted, but ended up completely cutting it to pieces and redesigning it as I went. I used a simple white cotton fabric for the partlet, as I can’t wear linen close to my skin at all.The first partlet I made was to be worn closed. sadly my hands are not behaving well right now so hand embroidery was definitely not an option so I used a decorative stitch on my sewing machine in a red cotton to give the neck ruffles a little colour, this embroidery also follows down the front opening of the partlet, but on reflection I realise this bit was a waste of effort as it is not seen at all.

The second partlet, is an open necked style falling ruff. I chose a much lighter weight cotton for this one, and soon wished I hadn’t as it was a lot more difficult to work with and my aching hands made me pay for every hand stitch. I hand rolled the edge of the ruffle and couched on some gold cord to give a little colour. I like the style but I think I didn’t make the ruffle long enough to give a decent effect so I will remake this partlet at a future date even though this one is perfectly fine.

So I have I have always wanted to make a spiffy tall hat and well this outfit definitely lent itself to one. I have never made a hat before of this type so working with buckram, patterning and construction was a real trial and learning curve for me. I have previously bought a hat so I spent a lot of time looking carefully at its construction, researching in books and online how to make this style of hat.

I began by cutting out the brim in two layers of buckram and sewing wire around the edge, really really carefully with my machine so as not to hit the wire and break a needle! The crown was the most difficult piece to get to the right shape and there was a lot of pinning and trimming until I got it to the size and shape I wanted.

The hat is covered with the same black silk I have made my sottana from and it is lined with the same red cotton I lined the undersleeves with. The internal bad is a length of wide twill tape, and the hat band is black and dark red velevet ribbon with an offcut piece of the trim from the over gown. The feathers are black, off white and blood red. I have also hand sewn black velvet ribbon around the edge of the brim to give a nice finished effect.

I am so pleased with my first effort of making this style of hat I learned a lot and can’t wait to make one for my consort to wear.

Having decided rather last minute that I really need an underskirt to go under this outfit, I rummaged around my fabric stash and found some red cotton to quickly make one up.

I cheated with the gathering using bought fabric tape and simply attached a waist band that ties together to give an easy wear piece. However after attaching the felted skirt guards and the trim around the bottom, on trying on the skirt it was too long, of course this was an issue as it meant taking it all off again! So instead I added a tuck about where the trim is, I have seen these tucks in portraits before and it was anice simple solution to my length issue.


I fell in love with all the jewellery on the Portrait of a Young Lady by Sofonisba Anguissola and thought this outfit was the right one to try to emulate it. I purchase a number of ouches from Truly Hats. and also a quantity of different sized glass pearls.

I began with the belt, and as it was proving to be very heavy I decided that rather than stringing the pearls and ouches I would create a fabric base and sew them on. This worked really well. I had to also create openings in the side seams of the over gown so that the belt could tie together underneath and not ruin the line of the full back of the gown.

Next I made the shoulder chain. I was worried it may be too much like a fealty chain for a non-peer of the SCA to wear, so I consulted some friends who are peers and they all assured me it was OK. The tricky part of the shoulder chain was getting the arc to sit nicely, I achieved this by using two different sized pearls, smaller ones on the inside and larger on the outside, which created the needed curve. I strung the ouches and beads on tiger wire for strength as again this piece is very heavy.

The necklace I created features a pendant I also purchased from Truly Hats which matched the ouches. I realised I wanted to hang a drop pearl from the bottom of the pendant, so I bravely used a dremel to make a hole for this to attach to. My young daughter was very impressed with Mum using a power tool! Again I strung the pearl, spacers and red glass beads on tiger wire for strength.

Lastly I made a quick pair of earrings from the left over red glass beads and some more drop pearls.

I am totally over the moon that I have managed to complete the IRCC for a sixth time even with losing so much of the four month to other commitments and ill health.

The Finished Outfit

Layer 1: Camicia

Based on period examples, own drafts of the pattern.
Cotton fabric, cotton lace.
I love the pleating around the cuffs as it is very comfortable and allows me to push my sleeves up to the elbows as I usually do in the summer months.

Layer 2: Under-Skirt

Very full cotton skirt pleated using tape, hand finished around the waistband. Features trim and tuck above along the hem, also felted and line hem, similar to some seen in portraits.

Extra Item: Dress/Sottana (with Partlet 2)

I am so glad I chose to make two partlets as they give completely different looks.
The first closed partlet gives a nice formal look and the second open partlet allows for a more relaxed look.

Both are based on a pattern I drafted myself,.

The open partlet has a lot of hand sewing including adding the gold cord right along the edge, which was incredibly fiddly!

Dress/Sottana (with Partlet 1)

Layer 3: Over-Gown

The red over gown was an incredible amount of work. From drafting the pattern from one in Burguen to the beading of the frog closures and hand couching many metres of cord to the edges, it took almost 3 weeks to make.
I am so in love with this piece, it is surprisingly comfortable and I am so pleased that this beautiful red silk I hoarded for so long and some of the lovely gold trim gifted to me by my mentor laurel, is now a piece it deserved to be.
I believe I have mastered the art of the hidden back lacing panels with this gown.

The entire gown is lined in black cotton fabric which helps the lay of the gown a lot as the silk was quite light.

My undersleeves are the same design I made last year, but through practice are much improved in fit and quality.

They employ many different sets of hand work skills. Firstly the drawing up of the pattern takes a long time with all the slashes needing to be drawn onto the pattern so they may be cut accurately. Second, the actual cutting the slashing using a mallet and chisel, isn’t as simple as it sounds to cut through silk without it moving or tearing. Next is the hand weaving of the cut pieces, very fiddly and hard on the fingers, take many hours to complete both sleeves. Then add the trim in between the rows of weaving and all the hand beading of the trim. Lastly the cuffs are finished with hand made and slashed bias binding tape. A lot of hand work goes into this layer.

Layer 4: Accessories

1. Hat

2. Shoulder Jewellery

3. Necklace and Earrings Set

4. Belt