The Eighth Annual Italian Renaissance Costuming Challenge

April 1 to July 31, 2018


Ellen LeGros
Louisiana, USA

I am a high school English teacher by day and an SCA garb sewist by night. It is mostly in the last three years, however, that I have begun to truly gain confidence in my sewing skills. In the SCA, I play Celtic, Roman, and Viking, with only one venture into Italian Renaissance, so I am definitely an Italian Renaissance novice costumer.

I recently purchased Margo Anderson's Italian Renaissance patterns, and will use this pattern set to make a 1540 Florentine outfit. I plan to make a square neck camicia as the underwear layer. An underskirt in a gold/tan silk. A sottana in red cotton velveteen with velvet trim. A gold and pearl hair net and braided hair piece. Should I feel ambitious, I may make a partlet, under pants and girdle.


The Completed Outfit

As a new-to-Italian Renaissance costumer, I have to say that I learned a tremendous amount in this process! My previous foray into the Italian Renaissance consisted of a chemise and 1490’s front laced dress. The previous dress, in addition to being much simpler in design, was completely done using the sewing machine and a purchased pattern. This dress required so VERY many layers to look right, as well as a huge amount of hand work that really pushed my skill set into unknown territory.

What I learned: I have discovered that my one embroidered facing did not prepare me for the amount and intricacy of the embroidery required for this outfit, and that I am not sure I have the patience to ever be an expert embroiderer. As I veered away from the purchased pattern into pattern drafting territory, I discovered that I really enjoyed it and the fit was so much better! I’m a convert!

I got fairly proficient at hand sewing, but still love my machine. Maybe we can compromise? No VISIBLE machine sewn seams?


Layer 1: Drawers, plus extra item 1: Corset

The drawers are completely hand sewn and embroidered using Margo Anderson’s Italian Renaissance Lady’s Underpinnings pattern. The drawers are a midweight linen, sewn with a running stitch, then clean finished by whip-stitching the seam down. I added a purchased metallic gold trim to the leg and crotch opening and made eyelets to close the waist. I zoomed in on the inspiration portrait and traced the embroidery on water dissolvable paper, and embroidered the legs and crotch opening with cotton embroidery thread in red, blue and gold.

The corset was drafted using the Elizabethan Costume website instructions. I cut it out of a heavy white denim and extra heavy duty interfacing, and padded it with two layers of Warm & Natural cotton batting. I did the channels by machine, and boned the corset, including the tabs, with heavy duty cable ties. (I melted the ends to eliminate sharp points.) I cut out my gold patterned silk and bias bound the corset in hand made bias tape from the gold silk, added eyelets, and laced it up with store bought cord.

Extra item 2: Roped Farthingale

The roped fathingale is made from a canvas weight linen using Margo Anderson’s Italian Renaissance Underpinnings pattern. I did the seams by machine, then hand finished them. The channels for rope are done on the machine. I used too narrow of rope (3 lengths of ⅛ inch rope instead of ⅜ inch rope) and the underskirt does not stand out as much as I prefer, but some starch helped. The waist is white cotton twill tape, closing in the back with a hook and eye fastening. It is extremely comfortable to wear, so I may leave it as is.

Layer 2: The Under-Skirt

The under-skirt was sewn from a mid-weight linen. I cut out two rectangular panels from the width of the material, and hand sewed and finished the seams. I gathered the waist into a band with two side closings. I experimented with padded hems and trim, but ended up cutting them off. The hem is machine sewn using black twill tape turned under as a casing for rope to add a bit of stiffening. I like the color with the red, but will have to sew a new underskirt if I add the correct rope to the farthingale, as the hem is not big enough to fit over a roped farthingale of that width. I had hoped to have time to sew a new gold silk underskirt to match the corset, but did not have time.

Layer 3: The Dress

The dress is constructed of red cotton velveteen using a modified pattern from Margo Anderson’s Italian Renaissance Wardrobe. I drafted a bodice, lengthening the front point, narrowing the straps and lowering the neckline to match the inspiration portrait. I used the mockup as interlining and layered it with velveteen and red linen, bias binding the whole thing in red silk bias tape. The internals are machine sewn, but all visible seams are hand finished. I chose to do a clipped and frayed silk bias binding at the neck, as it is a period finish. I hand made eyelets and used a purchased cord to lace it up.

I cut three panels in the correct skirt length, used one panel to cut the gores using Margo Anderson’s pattern and machined the seams, then hand finishing them. I used cotton batting and the skirt material to create a waist facing, attached it to the skirt top, then gathered the skirt. I whip-stitched the skirt to the bodice and added hook and eye closures to the openings. I used the same cotton batting to pad the hem. I created four inch bias tape from a Sari and attached it to the hem, turning it and leaving about ¼ inch of the blue showing.

My embroidery skills are not good enough to do justice to the design I intended, so I attached by hand a purchased gold trim. The sleeves were created and trimmed with the gold trim. I then made scalloped bands and used a gold crochet thread to do a decorative stitch on the edges. I chose not to add the metallic flowers seen in the portrait, because I could find anything that looked quite right. I attached the sleeves with the same metal shank button and thread loops with which I closed the sleeve cuffs. I attached the entire sleeve to the shoulder straps at 4 points, as seen in the portrait.

Layer 4, Accessories: Partlet, Hair Piece, Veil, and Set of Jewelry

1. The partlet was completely hand sewn from a silk organza. After cutting the partlet into a rectangle and narrow hemming it, I pinned the shoulders to fit, then sewed and flat felled the seams. I sewed a store bought satin ribbon in white to the bottom to make a casing, and used a purchased narrow white cord to make a drawstring to cinch it.

2. The hair piece was made using purchased hair and a bridal headpiece blank. I braided the hair, sewed it to the headpiece circlet and then wrapped the entire thing in a purchased white organza ribbon. I then strung pearls on a double length of jewelry line and through trial and error, strung the pearls into the swoops and triangles seen in the portrait. To create the jeweled pendant, I cut a gold filigree piece to shape, cut the shank off a button and glued the entire thing together with jewelry adhesive. I attached the pendant with a jump ring, and added hair pins to the pearl strand to keep it in place.

3. The veil is silk chiffon, entirely narrow hemmed by hand and simply attached to the fake hairpiece with handmade veil pins topped with blue glass beads (purchased at an event years ago).

4. The jewelry is a set consisting of a necklace, earrings, and bracelets. All are pearls strung on jewelry line. I created a pendant for the necklace by cutting the pin off the back of a brooch I found at a thrift store and adding a pearl drop. The earrings are pearl drops attached to gold jewelry wire loops.


The camicia was cut out, each piece narrow hemmed by hand, and whip-stitched together (all but the sleeves.) The neckline is square, and trimmed with a metallic gold trim. I couched down two lines of gold crochet thread and then used cotton embroidery thread to do a zig-zag stitch. I traced my embroidery design on water-soluble paper and pinned it to the neckline. I traced my embroidery design in rows down the sleeves, but only had time to couch gold crochet thread to one row. The cuffs have the embroidery design traced on them, but are incomplete.

The girdle’s jeweled elements are glued together, and I purchased gold spiral hair pins to try to create the spiral links. The spirals are made of spring steel and are fighting me, however! At the very last minute, I found some ouches on the Truly Hats website (where I bought my trim) that are absolutely perfect and purchased enough to make a girdle. Since I did not get them in until the day before the competition ended, I did not have time to attempt it.




First Update

This month began with Easter vacation from school, and I literally spent 10-12 hours a day working on my entry. I am moving a little slower that I would like because of school: essays, mandated testing and graduation are all piling up. I had a vacation at the beginning of the month and school ends the 3rd week of May, after which I will have two months of free time to finish.

Outer layer: Dress

I used Margo Anderson’s Italian Renaissance pattern to create two drafts of a bodice for a 1540’s dress. I even managed to create two that fit pretty well, completely lined, interlined and with handmade lacing holes.

However, I was not happy. They simply did not look right on my body, and both gaped oddly at the neckline. Worried, I measured how much scarlet cotton velveteen I had left, and decided that if I was frugal, I had enough fabric to draft and create a second bodice.

For the new bodice, I went back to the portraits I was using for inspiration and decided that the two red velvet dresses that I was most in love with were actually from the 1560’s and the shape of the bodice was different than the bodice I had drafted.


Using the new portraits, I redesigned the bodice.  I moved the straps over so they were not only narrower, but on the very edge of my shoulder point. I then widened and lengthened the bodice dip in the front so it more closely matched the portraits.  I decided at this point to attempt to create a bodice that closely mimics the Zucchi painting, and went with a straight neckline.

To create the bodice, I took my measurements and traced the lines for each size, then did my best to connect them so they followed the lines of the portrait.  I am a size 12 in the narrowness of the shoulders, an 18 in the bust, and a 20 in the waist, but my back of neck to waist measurement is a size 8, so this took several attempts! 

Once I had the desired fit, I traced my sloper onto tracing paper, and created a pattern with and without seam allowances. I then used this to create a bodice of an underdress.

I cut out the interlining from heavy cotton duck, the lining from tan linen, and using Warm & Natural cotton batting and Pellon 70 Ultra Firm Sew-in Interfacing, I padded the entire thing, sewing channels about ½ inch apart. I used the interfacing as a modern substitute for glue stiffened linen, which is likely what would have been used at the time.

I then traced out the pattern on a gold floral silk that I plan to use for the petticoat. I folded the seam allowance over the edge of the bodice and whip stitched it in place.

I then put lacing strips on, to test the fit, and realized that it was not as tight as it was. Over the course of the month, as I worked on the bodice on and off, I had also lost 15 pounds. I used the bodice to give me the neckline I needed for the camicia, and decided to save the final dress construction until the end of the competition to ensure it would fit correctly.

Underwear: Camicia

I used two extant museum pieces (1, and 2) to draft the pattern for my camicia out of a handkerchief weight white linen. It is basically a T-tunic with gores and puffy sleeves. I added a four-inch underarm godet because I have very broad shoulders and did not wish it to pinch.

I then turned under all the edges and narrow hemmed each piece. I whip stitched each piece together, except for the sleeves and cuffs, and cut a small neck hole. I tried on the camicia with the bodice pinned in place over it, and traced the neckline with a fabric pencil. I cut out the neckline and narrow hemmed it using a whipstitch. I added a store bought white Venise lace to the neckline, but am not sure that I care for the effect.

In the meantime, I created an embroidery pattern for the sleeve cuffs and neckline. I zoomed in on the portrait and tried to re-create a pattern that came close to that visible over the neckline. I drew it out on tracing paper. I have a glass topped desk that I use as a light board.

I also plan to embroider four lines of embroidery down each sleeve, based on the neckline pattern.

The embroidery on the dress looks very similar, if not the same, as the pattern on the camicia, so this image is the bodice embroidery. I have a 100 yard roll of gold cord that I will couch onto the bodice. I will then embroidery the rest with cotton or silk thread, depending on what I have more of in my stash.

I will be embroidering the camicia this month, cutting out and cording the underskirt (petticoat), and trying to teach myself to knit. As it is, I crochet, but I found a knitting pattern for Eleanor of Toledo’s silk stockings on Ravelry that I may attempt if all goes well. And there you have it- April’s update in a nutshell.


Second Update

This has been a super busy month for me, with final exams and graduation. I feel like I got very little done.


I have completed a partlet that looks very similar to the one in my inspiration portrait. It is silk organza and hand sewn. I’m not thrilled at the shoulder, and plan to make another one this week with a more fitted pattern.


I have been working on the embroidery, though honestly, I’ve unpicked as much as I’ve embroidered. I tried metallic embroidery thread and it shredded horribly and did not look right. I then bought a very pretty gold thread, but it is too narrow. I ended up using a gold crochet thread, couched down with the pretty gold thread. The neckline is about 1/3 done. I’m working on the sleeves.


I’ve been working on a mock-up of an underskirt, with a stiffened hem. I plan to complete the mock-up, which is 90% done, and the actual underskirt this month.

Third Update


I have not given up on my camicia, but the embroidery is being a bit uncooperative. For the underwear layer, I hand sewed a pair of linen drawers and embroidered them with cotton embroidery thread as practice. I used Margo Anderson’s pattern, and hand finished the edges. It did not turn out as nice as the last one, but I was babysitting a twelve- and one-year old kids, so I may have been a tad distracted.

I used the same embroidery pattern that I drew out for the camicia, drew it onto water soluble paper, cut and pinned in place. I outlined the entire pattern in gold thread, then filled in the flowers with red. I washed the drawers when I was done, but am not thrilled that the paper did not dissolve completely, forcing me to use pins to pick out clumps of paper. I found that the gold was too light and hard to see, so I ended up couching gold cord over the outline, and it was better. My husband told me I looked like Mrs. Klaus and that it was adorable. I decided to add a pop of color with navy embroidery thread, and now they are very patriotic. Oh well! I may line the back if I have time as I hate the messy ends of the embroidery. For now, though, I am done.

I also cut out a second camicia from cotton voile that I plan to cut the neckline for and trim with lace once the dress is complete, just in case I do not finish the embroidery on the one I started originally. I have some delicate cotton crochet lace that I bought in a natural color and then painstakingly bleached white.

Farthingale and Under-skirt

I made a roped farthingale using Margo Anderson’s pattern. I used a heavy canvas weight linen, 1/8” cotton drawstring and twill tape for the waist. If I were to do it again, instead of tripling the rope in the channels, I would use 3/8” clothesline or rope instead. I sewed the channels closed, leaving an opening. I staggered the openings so there were no odd bulges. I then measured each channel, tripled the cord and threaded it through using a safety pin.

I didn’t seem to flare enough, so I added a few more rows to the bottom. After starchin it isn’t bad, but it does not stand out as much as I would like. I measured my waist, and cut out twill tape, pinned it closed around my waist and pulled the skirt under the waistband. I marked the top of the skirt at the line and trimmed the excess fabric. I then sandwiched the skirt between two pieces of twill tape, sewed around all the edges and added a hook and eye.

I did not care for how the green underskirt looked after cording it, so I cut off the trim and hem, took out the rope, pressed it, the red-hemmed it with twill tape and cord. For now, this will go over the roped farthingale as an underskirt.


I went a little crazy on the accessories, but once I had the supplies and tools out, it was quick.


I wanted to match the portrait, so I needed fake braids as my hair is short, pearl headbands and a veil. I may try to make the metal headband as well, but if I do not have time, I think the final product turned out pretty well. I bought two hanks of hair online for $5.99 each and combined them. I braided the hair and sewed it onto a circlet form I found in the bridal section. It is two wires, with a mesh middle and covered in white cloth. It blends nicely with the sheer ribbon I used to disguise the stitches and mimic the hair taping. Once I sewed the braid on and wrapped it in ribbon, I attached metal combs to the wire piece.

To create the pearl head band, I created a string of pearls that almost wraps around my head and ends in two necklace loops so I can hairpin it in place. I then went back and threaded another piece of stringing wire through the head band and created two loops of pearls on the sides. There was lots of trying on and a few mishaps involving a fifty-pearl pick up. When the loops looked satisfactory, I took the tails and created the triangle front and ended the wire with a circle clasp.

To create the pendant, I took a button from my stash, clipped the loop off the back, and used jewelry cement to attach it to a filigree finding from my stash. I trimmed the finding to be smaller than the button, but left the top and bottom loop. I added a jump ring and a pearl drop and attached it to the ring on the front of the pear head piece.

Lastly, I pulled a yard of white silk chiffon I had in my stash, hand hemmed the cut edges, left the selvage and will pin it to the top of the head piece. I think it looks pretty close to the portrait.


In the portrait, the lady wears a pearl necklace with a jeweled pendant. I bought a jeweled pin for a couple dollars on Etsy and cut the pin off the back. I added a pearl drop to the bottom, a jump ring to the top, and added it to the simple pearl necklace I created. I think the necklace is a smidge too long, so I make remake it shorter.

The lady’s earrings are a simple gold wire with a pearl. Easy enough to use small gold earring loops, attach a pearl and voila.

I had several other portraits on my Pinterest board and was rather taken with a pair of earrings that had a ribbon bow. I took the same earring wires, bent them into the correct shape and sewed a tiny red bow to them. I made little drops from red jasper and pearls, and they can be switched out on a whim. To go with these earrings, I made a necklace of red jasper as well.

While the lady in the portrait has a gold bracelet of some kind, I decided to make two pearl bracelets instead. Her rings are beautiful, but I found a cheap ring that is a lapis cabochon in a plain gold band. It’ll do, I believe.


The girdle in the portrait looks like jeweled findings linked with spiral twisted wire. My husband, who does metal work and casting, said the twisted wire ideas I have will not work, but he can show me some chain mail weave that may come close. In the meantime, I found 30 findings for cheap and bought lapis lazuli, garnet and moonstone cabochons. I used jewelry cement and made 10 of each color, and they are ready to be linked.


I was not pleased with the fit of my partlet at the shoulder, so I pinned the excess fabric at the shoulder back, cut it, them seamed it together at an angle. The fit is much smoother. I used satin ribbon to bind the hems and white cord as a drawstring to tie it in place.

I have not started the dress, but I have now completed the underwear (partlet), underskirt/roped skirt, and accessories portions. Now, the hard part- cutting into my fancy fabric!

Final Update

(Bella: please note that Ellen has provided me with all the required in-process shots. Due to this being a busy time for me with study and assignments, I have saved time by not using all of them in this update, but will of course be using them for evaluation purposes.)

This month I completed a corset and a dress.

After much thought and examination of my inspiration painting, I decided to draft a sleeveless pair of bodies using the Elizabethan Costume website. I made it without straps to cut down on bulk at the shoulders. Once I drafted the pattern, I cut it out in white denim from my stash and extra firm interfacing. I then padded it with 2 layers of cotton batting and machine sewed boning channels. I used heavy duty plastic zip ties to bone it and melted and shaped the ends to eliminate sharp edges. I then cut out my silk pretty fabric and basted the entire thing together. I made several yards of continuous bias from the silk and bias bound the whole thing by hand. I added hand made eyelets and was pleased with the results.

I then tried on the test bodice and was most happy with the new fit. I cut out my red velveteen and red linen lining and used the test piece as interlining. I sewed all three layers together using the construction notes in Margo Anderson’s Italian pattern, including making red silk continuous bias binding to finish the entire thing. The internal seams were machined, but all visible seams are hand done. Unsure quite how to do the facing in the portrait, I chose to do clipped and frayed silk binding for the neckline, though now that I did the sleeve tabs, I have an idea and will probably go back and redo it at some point. Once I fit the bodice the final time, I hand made eyelets to spiral lace the bodice.

I then discovered that I was a tad short of material for the skirt, so after much matching, I improvised a bit. I cut three panels the width of the material (44”) and 46” long (my waist to floor plus an inch or two).

I took one of the panels and cut the two gores as per the pattern, and was only shy about seven inches total in the two other panels combined. I sewed the skirt gores to front and back, then the side back seams, leaving about nine inches open. I clean finished all the seams by hand, including the side back opening.

I used cotton batting and red linen, cut in strips and basted to the waist, as a facing to add some support to the gathers at the top. I then zig zagged a string and gathered the skirt to the bodice bottom. I whip stitched the skirt to the bodice by hand.

I used the same cotton batting at the bottom to create a padded hem and cut bias tape out of a blouse piece of a sari that I had in my stash. I sewed the facing on the machine, then turned and hand hemmed the facing to the inside of the skirt, leaving about 1/4 inch of padding and facing to show at the hem.

I didn't get my trim until very late (July 30th), so I had to hand sew the trim to the bodice. I love the trim, but think it needs more white. I may eventually sew pearls or white accents to the trim.

For the sleeves I modified a pattern for a puff sleeve base to create the short sleeve, and used the one piece sleeve pattern from Margo’s pattern. I lined both with red linen, turned them and blind stitched them closed. I sewed metal buttons to the sleeves and made a thread loop to hook over the buttons. I then cut a strip of material about 5 inches long, and hemmed both ends under 1/2 inch. I folded it, right sides together, and traced 2 inch half circles. I sewed around them, clipped, turned and pressed. I then used a thin gold crochet yarn to make decorative stitches around each scallop. I whip stitched the scallops onto the sleeves and attached them to the dress with metal buttons and thread loops. After trying it on, I suspect the white puffs of camicia at the shoulder may be false, but will have to see after I wear it, how uncomfortable a bunch of material is at the arms.

While done, I’m never really ever done with anything. For instance...

*I haven’t found the perfect floral shaped bead to put on the scallops, so I’ll keep looking and add them when I find something.

*I may attach the long sleeves to the dress permanently and create false puffs under the half sleeves if I wear it and think it would look better.

*I may change the neck facing to look more like the portrait.

*I’ll probably create another farthingale using plastic tubing (I created one with hoop steel but wasn’t happy with the look).

*I’ll also probably create a different underskirt, to have some variety. Overall, though, I would say that I am DONE with the dress.