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.

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 2 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.