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.

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: