The Seventh Annual Italian Renaissance Costuming Challenge

March 1 to June 30,  2017



Connecticut, USA


I have been sewing for 8 years now, focusing on mid-16th century Florentine women’s wear. I have taught classes on these topics at Pennsic and Costume College. I completed my first Italian outfit during IRCC 2 in 2012, and withdrew from IRCC 5 in 2015. I hope to complete IRCC 7, despite a heavy course load at school.

I intend to make a sottana and veste as an original work, rather than a reproduction of a painting, therefore I do not have a particular inspiration that I am working from. As far as handwork goes, this garment will be mostly machine sewn, but I hope to couch gold cord along the sleeves, but have not begun yet.

The Complete Outfit

Layer 1: Calzone/Drawers

The drawers are entirely hand sewn from a self-drafted pattern. It was my first time flat felling seams, so I made a mistake in one area when I turned the seam allowance to the wrong side. They were successful, however. The tie is my first attempt at weaving.

Layer 2: Sottana/Dress

The sottana is hand and machine sewn from herringbone cotton. The pattern is based on Eleonora di Toledo’s burial gown, however the bodice was drafted using techniques from Alcega’s tailor’s manual. It still needs work because the skirt front is still too long, the sleeves did not get trimmed, and I didn’t have time to add the tuck which will shorten the gown. I may also add more hide glue to the bodice interlining for extra stiffening. Nonetheless, I’m very happy with it.

Layer 3: Overskirt

The overskirt is an imitation of the skirts seen in a few paintings, typically of servants. Though this gown is not intended to be a servant’s, I wanted to explore the look. The skirt is polyester satin, with trim fused and machine sewn to hem and waistband. The ties were not completed, so the skirt is pinned in place.

Layer 4 Accessory: Soccacie/Set of Pockets

I wanted a matching pair of pockets, one for each side-back skirt opening. I used heavy orange polyester, with a cream cashmere lining (because it was handy). The pockets are machine sewn, but feel luxurious!

Despite my slow start, I’m happy I managed to complete the challenge, even if it still needs some work to make me completely happy.

Final Update

Since I slacked so much, I had to get three layers completed in the week before IRCC closed. I cut out the skirt from a pattern based on the Eleonora di Toledo and Pisa gowns. However, I used the full width of my fabric for the front and back, rather than two 22” panels. I stitched the skirt together by machine, utilizing the selvedges as much as possible. The remaining edges I treated with Fray Check to prevent raveling. I applied a facing to the waist, and hemmed the skirt opening using a blind hem stitch.

The trim caused me a huge dilemma. It was too wide for the bodice, but the perfect color combination. I decided to trim the edges and use them later. Every method I tried to treat the trim with failed. It frayed horribly. I finally read something online about fusible interfacing, so I decided to give it a shot. The only product I had handy was actually double-sided iron-on adhesive, so I cut it to size and applied it to the bodice. Turns out, the heated adhesive helped the stiff trim curve around the shoulders of the bodice and provided a very crisp appearance. The trim on the bodice needs to be hand stitched in place still; currently, it is held in place by the adhesive. I also applied the full width trim to the skirt using the adhesive, but I top stitched the trim down by machine on each edge.

I used the loop half of a large quantity of loop and toggle clasps as lacing rings and made several stitches over each loop with embroidery floss to secure it. After the trim was in place, I closed the bottom edges of the bodice using the same blind stitch for the lining.

The skirt received a burgundy facing to secure the padded hem. This was stitched in place by machine with a blind hem stitch, which wasn’t nearly as blind as I hoped. Still, the machine stitching is not very noticeable from the outside. Lastly, the skirt was gathered and whip stitched to the bodice edge using strong perle cotton.

The sleeves were seamed, then bound with the same burgundy satin. The stitching is rather sloppy, by my standard, but they are finished. The sleeves are pinned in place.

As an accessory, I made a pair of cashmere lined pockets. I have previously made a single pocket, but wanted a matching set. I had a heavy orange fabric, but nothing to bind the edges with, when I noticed that the cream wool would match nicely. I got creative in my construction, but it was successful.

My last item was an overskirt as layer #2. I wanted to make an overskirt similar to those seen tucked up on servants in Federico Zucchari’s 1579 fresco in Rome and Jacopo Bassano’s Supper at Emmaus. I used the same burgundy satin as the facing to make a rectangular skirt, gathered to a waist band.

Third Update

I didn’t get much done this month, but the bodice lining is blind stitched in place, excluding the bottom edge. The bottom edge is still open so I can insert the removeable hide glue interlining. The front interlining is tightly woven linen, sandwiched between two pieces of wool to prevent glue seepage. The interlining will be inserted into the bodice and basted closed so it can be removed for future cleaning of the gown. The back interlining is only a double thickness layer of wool.

The idea of using hide glue to stiffen my bodice was based on trials by fellow IRCC entrant, Meg Duffy Vaughn. I used roughly 1 part glue to 2 parts water to reconstitute the hide glue in a glass jar. I put a pot of water on med-low heat, then placed the jar of gelatinous glue into the pot of water (like a double boiler) until it also reached 140 degrees F and was gooey and honey-like. I placed the linen on top of a piece of wool, then painted the glue onto the linen with a paint brush. I used my hands to smooth the two fabrics together, then laid another piece of wool over the glue and left it to dry. The leftover hide glue was frozen for future use.

Second Update

This month, I was heavily focused on a project for my school costuming class, but I found time at the very end of the month to get started on my sottana. Starting from a sloper pattern by The Modern Maker (linked below), I drafted a pattern for a sottana bodice using my custom bara tapes. I repeatedly modified and tested the pattern until I had a great fit.

For the final fitting, I constructed the interlining of my sottana using heavy weight muslin and cotton canvas. I roll-pinned the fabrics together and used a zigzag stitch to secure the pieces. The eye side of hook and eye tape was applied to each edge to mimic lacing rings, allowing me to test fit the toile.

After the final test fitting, I did a bit more tinkering and then I cut the bodice and lining from a pink, herringbone cotton that I purchased in Italy last year. This cotton is finer and smoother than any I have found in the United States. It has a slightly stiff hand and feels luxurious, even though cotton is not considered the “best” fabric for 16th century costuming.

To construct the bodice, I wrap the seam allowance of the exterior around the interlining and use a running stitch to secure the fabric. The lining is then placed over the interlining and the seam allowances are folded under and blind stitched. This is easier said than done, and I have not yet completed the bodice construction.

First Update

I had hoped to get some embroidery done in advance, but was unable to begin before the official start date anyway. However, I have made progress on my entry, by sewing a pair of drawers. I drafted a pattern based on a pair from the Metropolitan Museum of Art and recorded in Patterns of Fashion. Instead of simply scaling the pattern, I scaled the pattern and then compared it to my custom bara measuring tape (see image). The bara tape is the system used in The Modern Maker to construct garments, based on Spanish tailors’ handbooks. I noticed some similarities that allowed me to come up with a custom pattern to fit anyone based on their bara tape. After some additional testing of this pattern, I will be posting it on my website.

I hand stitched the drawers using back stitch and whip stitch. This was my first time doing a flat felled seam, as I usually use a French seam. The Met pair that I based my drawers off of were flat felled, so I decided to give it a go. I made a mistake in one spot where I turned the fell to the ugly side of the stitching (the back side of the back stitch), but otherwise, it turned out well. I am considering adding some embroidery around the center front and leg openings, as well as adding some cotton lace to the hem of the legs.