The Seventh Annual Italian Renaissance Costuming Challenge

March 1 to June 30,  2017



Michigan, USA

I have made four Venetian style gowns over the last six years. I wear them as a performer with the Carnevale Della Muse at the Michigan Renaissance Festival in Holly, Michigan. All gowns were inspired by historical paintings and documentation - most from the Realm of Venus. Artistic license and modifications are made for comfort and durability while performing outside for 8-10 horus in Michigan's unpredictable weather.

This current project will consist of: silk partlet; corded petticoat - with a possible overskirt; gown in the Venetian style with detachable sleeves; detachable shoulder ruffs as the accessory - however this may change or be added to as the project moves along.

The Complete Outfit

First I want to wish everyone luck for those of us who made it this far. I have never participated in a costume contest of this nature. Buona Fortuna!

Second—I know I know—I mis-read the rules and didn’t have my hems completed by June 30. (Insert expletive).
Oh well. On to the update.

As stated before these are my layers:

Layer 1: Corset, complete.
Layer 2: Corded petticoat, complete. Extra: Underskirt, incomplete.
Layer 3: Gown, incomplete.
Layer 4 Accessories: 1. Partlet, complete. 2. Set of wrist and shoulder ruffs, complete

[Note: Michelle also made another corset, but since no progress photos were taken it cannot be counted]

From my stash: I have added to the ensemble hair jewels/combs, veil, pearl earrings, rings, and strands, and a gold and pearl girdle.

Layers 1 and 2: Corset and Corded Petticoat. Complete

Layer 2, Extra: Underskirt. Incomplete

Layer 3: Overdress. Incomplete

Layer 4 Accessories: Partlet and Set of Wrist and Shoulder Ruffs. Complete

Final Update

Much progress has been made since the last update. My goals were to actually complete the ensemble by June 30, 2017 because that is when I thought the contest deadline was. Then I reviewed the contest requirements and I quickly realized that just a progress update was due by then—and the final project was due July 15, 2017. I am including this update with my layers from the inside out. Bolded items are for this competition.
This includes:
-Cotton tank top (purchased)
-Split bloomers (already had and NOT pictured)
-Corset - Complete
-Corded petticoat - Complete
-Chemise/Camicia (made 2 years ago)
-Silk organza partlet - Complete
-Striped Overskirt - Needs hem. Incomplete.
-Gown/Sleeves - needs bodice straps sewed in and sleeves need finishing. Incomplete.
-Wrist and Shoulder ruffs - silk organza. Complete

2. Bodice for the gown: I continued to work on the bodice for the gown.

Continuing from where I left off last month, I was able to complete the inner most layer that would be the structure for the ladder lacing. I used chalk to mark the boning channels and sewed those up between two layers of cotton duck. The next layer was linen from my stash and then the stabilizer backed fashion fabric. Each layer was sewed together at the side seams. Then the completed layers were sewed together along the top edge and down each side front. Trim and press seams and turned right side out. You can see the gold band of silk next to the lacing layer – that is there to disguise the black fabric of the cotton duck.

Next I measured, cut, and inserted the boning into the channels (heavy duty cable ties). I finished the bottom edge with bias binding. I just didn’t have enough fabric to make my own. The test fit revealed that there was just too much gap for my liking. Which presented an opportunity for a design change! I added a horizontal striped strip of the fashion fabric (backed with cotton duck and another set of boning. The bodice straps are there just not sewed in, yet.

3. Skirt for the gown: I have done cartridge pleating by hand and I’ve used pleating tape. I leaned towards the pleating tape for this project for time and I thought it would look pretty sweet with the velvet. I was right on both counts. I made an allowance for a finished edge along the center front split as well as a flatter finish at the front as well. This is where knowing your center and ¼’s helps space everything out nicely. I hand sewed the skirt to the bias edge of the bottom of the bodice. I will save the bottom hem marking and bodice strap attachment to the front once I can put the entire ensemble on with shoes.

Still needs some tweaking!

4. Wrist and Shoulder Ruffs: This was a fun little project that is 90% or so hand sewing. I wanted them to be on the smaller size because my 20th century brain would play a clown theme song every time I saw them—and the bigger I saw—the LOUDER the song got. I also wanted to use the silk organza that was used for the partlet.

I found several examples and how-to’s for ruffs. I used this nifty online calculator for a ruff. Well, mostly used it as a general guideline. I started with the base of the ruff using linen. I measured my wrists (and shouders) and added a few extra inches for ease and space for attachment. Sewed right sides together and turned inside-out and finished edge/press. Then I made a double layer of silk organza ribbon that I serged with a rolled hem with metallic thread in the upper looper (same technique that I used on the partlet). This is where the formula comes in handy—basically you need a lot more ribbon that you realize.

Marking the attachment points on the base is very important. I used ¼ inch increments along one edge and marked the opposite edge-but offsetting it by a 1/8 of an inch and then continued marking every ¼ inch. If you were to draw a line from one side to the other it would be a Z pattern. Using two needles (one for each side) you sew the first point and the move to the opposite edge point (it’s offset)…. And continue along the length with a few whipstitches to the next mark. I will emphasize that keeping the ruff at a 90-degree angle to the base is important for it to “stand up”. At one point I was curious how many stitches I was doing and I started calculating them—two stitches for each mark—four whipstitches to the next mark—over 8 inches of length—4 marks per inch, and THAT’S when I knew I needed a break!

VOILA! Wrist and shoulder ruffs. Snaps will be used for attachment once sized.

5. Sleeves - I started with drafting a pattern using some measurements long my arm. Cut it out of scrap muslin, adjusted and went to figure out cutting placement. I would have loved to have the sleeves reversible: horizontal stripes on one side, vertical stripes on the opposite side. Alas, I will not have enough gold striped fabric left for that. Here are some sketches and ideas.

Over the next two weeks I will:
• Finish the hems on skirts
• Sew in bodice shoulder straps
• Tweak the placement of each layer for best fit
• Get photos in a better setting with all accessories.

I never posted my inspiration photos for this ensemble-here are a few:

Stripes, falling ruff partlet, wide V shaped front, shoulder and wrist ruffs.

Third Update

This month I worked on two projects - a new corset and the bodice of the gown. Apparently my perfectly fine corset is a wee bit tight (not sure how that happened)! I used a commercial pattern and altered it to be a front-closing for ease of dressing in the morning on site.

In my stash that I started with I made sure I had extra cotton duck for errors and just such emergencies - so no extra fabric was purchased. I also used silver dupioni silk so that my corset will match my corded petticoat-my character Francesca is quite the diva. Like many of us, I use heavy-duty cable ties cut to fit for support. I stared with a toile for fit purposes, enlisted the help of my Partner in Crime Tracy to help with the adjustments, and once that was set I went full steam ahead with the final corset.

Then I ran out of grommets for the shoulder straps, but that is easy enough to catch up on. Then I put that sucker on... and lo and behold - it’s too BIG. Yeah - that is how it’s gonna be. This happened to me when I took a Victorian corset class as well even with the instructor measuring and fitting me.

Moving forward, I chose to start the bodice of the gown. I used a custom drafted pattern for a previous gown and made a slight adjustment to the waist. Inspired by the striped silk and all things Venetian (more is never enough) I revisited a chevron element to go with the underskirt. This was a challenge, but doable. I took my time and did some hand tacking before using the sewing machine. I cut two layers of linen (we always have linen in our stash-right?), a layer of cotton duck, and the outer/fashion layer. I will attach the shoulder straps later because I needed to be frugal with the striped fabric. And, yes the chevrons are in OPPOSITE directions from the front to the back—because VENICE!

I set the layers aside-and I decided to use a stabilizer on the fashion silk because anything cut on the bias will warp if you look at it crossed-eyed.

I remember using the double row trick for the ladder lacing and focused on that foundation layer. I used a strip of cotton duck on each side /innermost layer. Then I applied two rows of flat para-cord to make the channels for the lacing. I spent some time making sure the chalk marks lined up and used contrasting thread—it may look messy, but it works. Then I figured another layer of duck was in order so that I can sandwich cable ties to help strengthen the bodice.

I will continue the bodice work and the skirt of the gown. TICK-TOCK!

Second Update

This month was not quite as productive due to a surgery and spending time on a cosplay for Motor City Comic Con. This month I focused on the under-skirt. The fabric is a metallic silk blend that is quite thin. I hoped to incorporate a chevron feature. The sketches are my ‘thinking on paper’ process. The red paper is wrapping paper that I was using to make a pattern. That whole measure twice (or five) cut once theory was in full force. Plus, I am using this fabric for the bodice of the dress-and no room for error with the yardage that I have on hand.

In the end, I could only manage a front panel with a chevron cut-out. My other option was to make a horizontal striped skirt.

This is before I sewed it up-knowing that I need to be careful to match the stripe!

I attached - but didn’t finish - the waistband because I’m not happy with it. I am pleased with the match on the chevron and I like the horizontal stripe next to it. I believe I can make the closure so that I can choose either look under the gown. Also, I most likely will need to fit it to my new corset (which I didn’t want to do, but it’s necessary). The hem is also not complete but was wetted down and the skirt is hanging. Since the chevron piece is on the bias, I knew the hem needed to hang because it would stretch out. I’ll hem it later once I have all my layers complete.


First Update

This month I began with sketches based on the fabric that I had purchased and then incorporated it into a design inspired on several images from historical paintings and sketches. Considerations that I always keep in mind are (in no particular order):

1. I must be able to dress (and undress) myself with little or no help.
2. Comfort-I often wear the ensemble for 10 hours at a time. Much of that time is on my feet and I have to be able to MOVE—carry items and bend down.
3. Comfort is on a sliding scale of weather unpredictably-The run of our 7 weeks of performances includes 90+degrees with 100% humidity, rain (torrential at times), mud ruts, frost in the morning to mild temps in the afternoon, and on a few occasions near freezing temps throughout the day.
4. Distinctive Venetian style from the Elizabethan styles of court (we are not part of court) that has a WOW factor.
5. A complete ensemble goes from the tip of the head to the feet-accessories and attention to all of these details. I wear the gown—it doesn’t wear ME.

This is the fabric washed and hung, ready to be made into a new gown, and a preliminary sketches:



Project Piece 1: Silk Organza Partlet with a Falling Ruff

Inspiration photos for a falling ruff partlet:


The Mock-Up

I used the free pattern from Margo Anderson’s website and began with a mock up. I used some cotton that I had in my stash and faux organza before I cut the embroidered silk organza. I also wanted to play around with the neckline and the ruff construction since I had never made a ruff before.

The Finished Partlet

This is the silk organza that I serged with a metallic gold thread in the upper looper. I would have preferred to have metallic thread in the lower looper as well, but that was NOT happening after several re-threading attempts.

Project Piece 2: Corded Petticoat

I wanted a new petticoat and have had success with a previous corded petticoat. I chose a silver metallic linen fabric because I wanted to move to cooler colors (my other petticoat is gold/cream). Many resources show this type of support under gowns in the place of hoop skirt..errr Farthingale. I used measurement from my old petticoat as a basis for the new one. Basically you sew up the side seams to form a big tube that is longer then the final skirt. I did do some very basic math of ~1 inch of fabric for each cord X how many cords I wanted and then added a hem allowance to help with the correct length of the skirt.

Starting at the bottom I folded up a hem allowance and then started sewing cotton clothesline cord (pre-washed and dried) near the bottom and worked my way up. I had to purchase a narrow zipper foot for Sven (I name my sewing machines-the serger is called Sergio). Every once and a while, I would try it on and see how well it seemed to flare out/stand up. I ended up with 24 cords in total, nearly double what my other petticoat had.

I wanted to have more support in this petticoat because my skirt will be black velvet (I know that is not in my sketch—I change my mind as I go. I use wide band sew on velcro for the closure on the waistband (cotton duck is sandwiched in the wide waistband for support). I also added a strap/hook for my car keys that I keep on me during the day (secured and out of site). These are design choices for a performer knowing that I sacrifice historical accuracy for convenience.

Progress shots:

The finished petticoat and partlet: