The Sixth Annual Italian Renaissance Costuming Challenge

April 14 to August 14,  2016


I have been sewing since 2010 and doing historical costuming since 2011 when I ambitiously decided to make a Tudor court gown for the Renaissance Faire. Most of my Renaissance costuming has been English thus far although I have completed one Italian costume prior to this challenge.

For this challenge I'm planning on a 1490s ensemble consisting of a camicia (shift), gamurra (gown), and giornea. For accessories, I'd like to make some jewelry and a pocket.

Stephanie Thorpe
Florida, USA

May Update

Between registering for the challenge and the official start date, I worked on purchasing my fabrics. The top is a cotton blend burgundy fabric with a diamond pattern for my giornea. I’ll probably regret the choice of such a heavy fabric in August when it’s time to take final outfit photos but I fell in love with it. Next is a blue linen for the gown and a burgundy linen for a petticoat. It’s probably not a good sign that I’ve already added an extra piece that I want to make for the challenge but I do love wearing petticoats. I also have some grey wool for my pocket that is left over from another project. I’m still looking for camicia fabric but I definitely had enough to get started.

I decided to start on the petticoat first to test out a new cutting layout and new hand sewing techniques. Usually, I just pleat 3 yds or so of fabric to a waistband but I tried a pattern with gores and I rather like the effect. I also decided to handsew the entire petticoat. I used a running stitch for the long seams and hand finished them by trimming one side, folding the longer side over top of it and slip stitching it down.

I then knife pleated the skirt to the waistband and attached with a back-stitch. I still need to hem it but I’m going to wait until the gown is done so I know what length to hem it. I was pleasantly surprised at how fast it stitched up but I haven’t decided how much of the rest of my ensemble I want to hand stitch.

Next, I started work on the gown. I used an existing bodice pattern from an English gown and shortened it to get the raised waistline I wanted. For the inner layer of the bodice, I used some cotton canvas. I used six steel bones on the bodice front for a bit of extra support.

I then cut the outer layer, folded the seam allowance over and catch stitched it down. Then I cut the lining fabric (some linen cotton from my stash), folded the seam allowance down and slip stitched it down. Next up is sewing it all together and then eyelets.

June Update


I can't believe it's been another month of the Italian Renaissance Costuming Challenge already! I had grand plans for progress this month but some things came up so I didn't have as much sewing time as I wanted. But I still did complete some things for this challenge.

My first goal for this segment of the challenge was to hand sew all of my eyelets. I actually did them at an event so they went pretty fast! And I got to talk to some of the other ladies about how I make my costumes so win-win.

One of the things that put a bump in my sewing plans is the fact that our moving date got shifted from late September to mid August which is right at the end of this challenge. So in addition to extra moving related activities this month, I'll be loosing quite a bit of time at the end of the challenge too. So I decided to do a bit more machine sewing than originally planned. I did handsew together the panels of the skirt together but I assembled the facing and attached it by machine. The skirt is just two 60" widths of linen sewn together. I used the selvages as the edges so no need for any sort of seam finishing.

I ran one row of running stitch across the top of the skirt and gathered to make tiny cartridge pleats. Then I hand stitched the skirt to the bodice and hemmed the skirt to finish the dress.

So far, I'm very happy with how the dress is turning out. I still have to get a lacing for the bodice and make sleeves but so far it looks really nice.

I also finished my petticoat which needed a hem and a hook and eye closure at the waist. I'm very proud of the fact that I hand sewed this piece 100%. I don't do that very often, but when I have time, it is very fun.

Next up, I started my pocket from a bit of grey wool I had left over from another project. I love my pocket pattern because the pocket ends up being large enough to hold all of my mundane things like cell phone, keys and money.

I've sewn up most of the pocket by machine but will be hand applying trim once I decide on which trim I like best. I always have such a hard time deciding on trim options! It's too hard for me to visualize the finished project.

I also purchased the linen for my camicia. I'm glad I ended up waiting because I got some on sale. Due to my new moving date, I'll probably do most of my camicia by machine but I hope to have it and my pocket done before the next update.

July Update

I feel like I was quite productive this month despite being rather busy with planning a move and trying to declutter before packing. Anyways, my first goal for this month was to finish my first accessory, a pocket. I ended up trimming it with some green velvet ribbon from my stash. I don’t know that green really goes with the rest of my outfit but as this will be worn under my gown, nobody is going to see it and I like green.

The ribbon was applied by hand after the main construction of the pocket was complete. It wasn’t until after I’d sewn and pressed my pocket that I bothered to look at my old pocket to see how I’d made that one. Last go around, I was smart and applied the trim before construction so the raw edges were finished nicely inside the seams. Oops! So I had to fold under the ends of the ribbon at the seam. It doesn’t look as nice but I guess that’s what I get for not paying enough attention! I folded over the raw edges on the top of the pocket and hand sewed a length of ribbon over it to finish the edge and make a belt. And the pocket is done!

My next goal was to make my camicia this month. Not going to lie, this was a part I was not that excited about making. I am not one of those people who loves making underthings and I’d just made a gorgeous linen camicia last year and have barely worn it. But, really, you can never have too many sets of undergarments and I did already have a tutorial handy to follow. I used Festive Attyre’s camicia tutorial.

I decided serge all of my seam allowances on the camicia and do the bulk of the sewing by machine. I do a lot of outdoor events in the heat and love just being able to throw my under layers in the washing machine after an event.

Look! A gusset! If only my geometry teacher had made me do equations with camicia pieces, I would have enjoyed math so much more.

The thing that I knew I wanted to change from my last camicia was the neckband. It came out too wide and all twisty and lumpy. So I decided to make a very narrow neck band this go around. The neckline was machine gathered and then machine sewn to the neck band. I finished the inside of the neck band by hand.

So far, I have also hemmed the camicia by hand. The only bit left to do is finish the sleeves. I haven’t decided whether to gather them to a wristband or to just hem it and leave it open. Once I make up my mind, it’ll be a quick finish.

I also started on my giornea. I used a tutorial by Cathelina di Alessandri to make this garment. I liked that it was simple geometric shapes that would be easy for me to draft and sew up. Since this garment is not that complicated, I’ve been able to finish the main construction by machine very quickly. I’ve decided not to line my giornea because it’s quite heavy already. This leaves me with a lot of edges to finish prettily since they can be seen while the garment is being worn.

The center front and center back edges are selvages so I’m just slipstitching them down by hand. The neckline, shoulder seams and outside edges, I’m finishing with bias tape made from leftover linen from my petticoat which is almost an exact match for the giornea fabric. The bias is sewn to the edge by machine and then folded over and slipstitched by hand to the inside of the garment.

Looking forward to the next (last!!) month. I need to finish my camicia and giornea. I also realized this week that while I have fabric for sleeves, I haven’t really given much thought to the design of the sleeves. Definitely need to work on that! I also still want to do some sort of jewelry to go with this outfit. I’ve not made jewelry before but if I have time, I do want to take a stab at it.

August Update

Finished all of my sewing! There were quite a few loose ends to wrap up this month. First up, I need to finish the sleeves on my camicia. A quick hand stitched hem did the trick. It pretty much looks the same as my last photo of it except the sleeves are hemmed.

Next up, I buckled down to finish my giornea. Getting an even hem turned out to be a bit difficult without a dress form or hemming buddy! I also ran out of matching bias tape so I finished the hem with a bit of black bias tape from the stash. To finish it off, I added a hook and eye closure to the bottom of the v neck to keep the front closed. It also looks very similar to the last update.

After going back and forth on sleeve design for a bit, I decided on a one piece sleeve that had a slit up the arm from the wrist to elbow. I really wanted that poofy camicia peaking out look and I thought this design would be do able to draft from my existing sleeve pattern.

I ended up making a 3 inch opening for the slit that narrowed to a point at the elbow. I decided to sew down both ends of the ribbon rather than opting for loose ties that could be done up in bows. Bows are a bit fiddly for my taste and my husband hates having to tie up a bunch of bows for me.

I made up the sleeves very similar to the way I made the bodice except they did not need an inner foundation layer. I handstitched the layers together and attached the ribbons to the lining layer. Then I whipstiched the back seam closed from shoulder to elbow. The sleeves are entirely hand sewn and I will be attaching them with pins. Since the climate I live in is quite warm for most of the year, I’ll be wearing the dress without sleeves most of the time so pin on sleeves work really well for me.

That left me with just accessories to finish. I really wanted to take a stab at making my own jewelry. I’d never made jewelry before but Italians sure have some great jewelry! I had a bunch of faux pearls in my stash so I decided to make pearl earrings and a necklace.

Most of the portraits from the 1490s show a hairstyle that covers the ear but simple pearl drop earrings were popular throughout the Italian Renaissance so I figured I couldn’t go wrong with those. Plus I don’t have long enough hair to do the cover the ear style. I picked up a few bits to make the earrings plus some jewelry pliers and got started.

It was so easy to make these earrings! And they turned out so pretty that I may just have to wear them with my everyday wardrobe too.

I also wanted to make a matching pearl necklace. I have other pearl necklaces already but none that quite matched the color of the pearl earrings. I wanted to hand knot the necklace because I thought it’d add to the authentic feel even though I’m using faux pearls. There’s definitely a bit of technique getting the knots to cooperate and turn out nicely but it was pretty easy to finish while watching TV. Then I added a toggle clasp to finish it off.

The Finished Outfit

Layer 1: The Camicia

Made from 100% linen mostly by machine. The sleeve and bottom hems were sewn by hand. The seams were finished by serging so I can wash it by machine.

Layer 2: The Dress/Gamurra

Made from 100% linen and a cotton canvas interlining for the bodice. This layer is mostly handsewn including the eyelets. The outer fabric and lining of the bodice were sewn to the interlining by hand. Both the bodice and skirt were assembled by hand. The skirt was hemmed and sewn to the bodice by hand. The sleeves were constructed entirely by hand. The only steps that were completed on the machine are the boning channels and assembling and attaching the skirt facing. It is lightly boned with 6 steel bones.

I have to say that while the slitted sleeves with camicia poofs looks very pretty, they are a pain to get on and get situated. Next time, I’d definitely pleat the camicia sleeve to a band or make one with a slim sleeve and add faux poofs to the dress sleeves.

Extra Item: The Under-Skirt/Petticoat

Made from 100% linen entirely handsewn a combination of backstitch, running stitch and slip stich. The seams were flat felled. I used a gored pattern instead of my usual rectangular one and it definitely gave the skirt a nice swoosh.

Layer 3: The Over-Gown/Giornea

Made from a cotton blend mostly by machine. Some of the seam finishes were done by hand.

Layer 4: Accessories

1. Earrings

2. Necklace

3. Pocket/Saccocia

The earrings were made from faux pearls and some jewelry making bits.

The pearl necklace is made from the same faux pearls and was hand knotted.

The pocket is made from 100% wool and some poly velvet ribbon from my stash. This piece was constructed by machine. The trim and velvet ties were attached by hand.

Overall, I’m very pleased with how this challenge turned out! Completing this challenge has been on my costuming bucket list and it feels amazing to have completed it. I’m glad I pushed myself to do more handsewing in the beginning of the challenge. I really do love the look and feel of handsewn pieces even if I don’t have the time or energy to do them all the time. I was able to try some new things including jewelry making and I’m very inspired to try some drawn threadwork after seeing quite a few other entrants use this technique.

Now I just have to wait for it to be cool enough to wear this whole ensemble to an event!