The Eighth Annual Italian Renaissance Costuming Challenge

April 1 to July 31, 2018


Hastings Sanderson
Utah, USA

I'm a textile artist and mother of four. I love felting and block printing and playing with fibers and textures. I've been sewing for almost 3 decades now. Thanks to the first IRCC and my decision to "just make one Italian gown," I have been having loads of fun researching and sewing Italian Renaissance dresses for going in 8 years now.

I have been wanting to do a dress inspired by Livinia Fontana's Portrait of Laura Gonzaga for some time. The gorgeous green and silver is so striking. I changed shape drastically a few years ago with extensive weight loss and have avoided doing heavily fitted clothing for some time, so I'm both excited and trepidatious to give the doublet gown a try. The plan is to do an embroidered camicia, a sottana, the veste, the hair net, girdle belt, and a set of necklaces plus possibly either shoes or gloves.

The Completed Outfit


My pictures were taken at the Provo Castle Amphitheater, part of the Recreation Center for the Utah State Hospital. It is on the National Register of Historic Places in the US, built in 1936 as a work project by the WPA during the Great Depression. It is constructed entirely out of stone with battlements and towers and a stage where local theater productions are sometimes presented (one was in rehearsal when we took pictures so only the outside of the buildings were available.) We hold at least two SCA events a year at the site. It is about as close to an Italian Renaissance scene as I can manage in a high mountain desert.

Layer 1: Camicia, plus extra item 1, Drawers

Linen camicia with lace insertion and embroidered cuffs, complete. Cuffs and lace were purchased and camicia was entirely machine sewed with a machine insertion stitch and butted construction.

Green velvet breeches block printed with scale/feather pattern based on a design from the Trevalyon miscellany, incomplete due to lack of photo of completed item. Block was cut from linoleum, fabric was stamped by hand. Knitted drawstring. Metallic trim was applied by machine and all sewing was done by machine.


Layer 1, extra item 2: Corset, plus extra item 3: Farthingale, plus extra item 4: Partlet

Silk corset, complete. Machine sewn. Hand bound in ribbon with knitted laces and hand done eyelets.

Silk farthingale based on the Alcega pattern, complete. Machine sewn. Handmade trim. Knitted drawstring.

Partlet, complete. Entirely hand sewn with green insertion embroidery at shoulders. Based on the shape of bavari patterns in Elizabetta Parasole's modelbuch.

Layer 2: Sottana, plus extra item 5 underskirt (incomplete).

White silk sottana, complete. Bodice was hand-sewn and pad-stitched. Boning channels in interior layers and long seams in skirt panels were machine-sewn. Cartridge pleating done by hand. Trim applied by hand. Purchased trim was cut in half and edged in green by hand. Bodice laces are knitted. Gold and silver studs were added to the bodice and skirt by hand.

Purple silk petticoat, incomplete. (Complete, but I neglected to send a completed photo of it before the deadline so didn't include it in final photos.)


Layer 3: Overgown

Green velvet doublet fitted overgown lined in silk, complete Primarily machine sewn with some minimal hand finishing in the baragoni and collar.

Layer 4: Accessories

1 & 2: Silk and rayon woven garters and knitted cotton stockings, both complete. Garters were woven on a rigid heddle loom and embellished with silver hand embroidery. Tall custom fitted socks with fold over cuffs constructed top down.

3. Velvet and leather slippers, complete Entirely handsewn. Slashed upper embellished with embroidery. Saddle stitched to leather sole. Handstitched eyelets and knitted laces with felted pink cashmere insoles.

4. A suite of jewels including a caul and jeweled band, carcanet, and girdle belt. The caul was hand beaded with pearls and silver beads. hand sewn to a linen lining and stitched onto a silver band. The flower findings were hand painted, had brass findings shaped to the curve and crystals added. The band was epoxied, the necklace and girdle were wired and strung.






First Update

I spent most of this month working on fitting my dress. Not having a good pattern has been what has kept me from making an Italian dress for the last three or four years. As I've said before, I had a bunch of weight changes over the last few years and so have been really hesitant to fit anything to myself.

I started out trying to use the Bara Method, but got too frustrated and had a mental block, so eventually went back to my standard method of measurement drafting accompanied by draping. As my dress is both late and Bolognese rather than Venetian, its a bit of a different silhouette for me.

I used the kirtle and low cut bodice of silk (F.59A) from Alcega as my jumping off point for the shape. I knew I wanted to use the shoulder strap from this. and needed a much longer front point than I have done previously. Once I got the pieces drawn out I modified it to be a side-back lacing bodice rather than a front closing, trimmed the back lower, and removed most of the curved top of the center front.

I went round and round on how I wanted to stiffen this dress. Did I want a pair of boned bodies under it? Did I want a farthingale? Was that too much structure for the look I am going for? Would glue stiffened canvas and pad stitching be a better choice? I finally decided that since this was a mockup, I needed to be able to try it on now without underlayers. So I chose a self supporting dress with interior boning between two layers of canvas, a layer of wool felt padding to smooth, a lining, and silk fashion fabric. I actually used the silk for the outer to line as well. This was because I had a lot of it. Obviously wasting silk like that that would not have been a historical choice.

I have never used reed boning before, but I picked up several bags (more like a large pile) of basket reed at the thrift store last summer and have always wanted to try using it. I cut it into the general lengths I would need for boning then soaked it in water for about 20 minutes to straighten it out of the coils it was in. These were lightly sanded and shaped and put into machine sewn boning channels in the canvas. I used an awl to poke lacing holes, and used long shoelaces to lace it for fitting. I tried on these interior layerss multiple times, made adjustments, redrew the pattern and then cut the silk outer layers..

The silk was just wrapped around the interior layers, clipped to round the curves, and tacked into place by hand. Then the lining edges were folded over and stitched to cover. I've tried other methods, but bodices really do turn out better when stitched entirely by hand. I was also a bit concerned about pulling the striped silk I was using out of shape and hand sewing lets you manipulate the fabric so much more easily. Since I want this to be a mockup for the sottana that goes under the gown/veste I drafted a really plain, straight sleeve. It is just two layers of silk. I trimmed the cuffs in vintage lace and pleated some of the same lace to the top of the sleeve just to give it a bit of interest.

The skirt is a plain rectangle that I pleated to be about the size of the bodice and then tucked up under the edge so I could cut a curve to match the center point of the bodice. I wanted to keep the stripes even at the hem and this seemed the best way to do that while fitting it on myself. I then unpleated it, cleaned up the cut and made a better more even curve. The top edge was folded over a strip of felt and cartridge pleated onto the bodice. While I like the hip spring, even with a pretty large amount of fabric, the skirt is not nearly as full as I would like. Obviously a petticoat or two will help that, but I'm leaning towards making a farthingale for a more formal shape. Experimenting with that is May's first project. I have a petticoat started and the farthingale cut.

I wore the mockup to a local SCA event and it did its job. I found out all the things I want to fix on the pattern before cutting out the final sottana. The shoulder strap angle isn't quite right and the straps are a bit too long. I need to take a bit out of the back as well. I thought I had made it small enough, but when laced on, my sideback lacing overlaps. That got worse after a bit of wearing as the dress stretched a bit. I do really love the line of the center point though. It curves over the hip well and the proportion came out how I wanted it.

The final sottana is going to be cut out of a lovely white silk that has green embroiderery on it. I'm trying to decide if I want to paint/stamp it to match the gold scrolling design of the painting more closely, so a few paint tests are in the works.

The other project I made progress on this month was a set of woven garters. I have a child's mini loom I have been playing with a bit. I had hoped to use it to make the fringey trim that is on the undersleeves of the portrait, since a trim with fringe on both sides isn't something I've located. I definitely need to practice my weaving however. I've done tablet weaving and other warp faced weaves before, but not plain weaving. It has definitely been a learning experience. Not that I am particularly good at weaving anyway, but the thin weaving thread is showing all my inconsistencies. The first garter I did is pretty bad, but about 3/4 of the way into the second one I'm feeling a little more confident. I don't think I have remotely enough time to weave the trim for the dress, but I will at least come out of this with a functional accessory.

Next month I'm focusing on finishing pieces, now that I'm happy with my patterns. I've got drawers cut, my camicia cut, the farthingale cut, and a pair of bodies cut. Hoping to make significant progress on those and the sottana so I have June to work on the gown. At the very least, I now have a wearable dress and a working pattern, so I already consider this round of IRCC a success.


Second Update

Best laid schemes often go awry is apparently my theme for May. Finishing projects I started last month didn't exactly happen as planned. I cut a few things, tested a few things, stared at a few more things, travelled lots more than planned and didn't finish much.

The two things I did manage to do this month were getting garters done and making stockings. After looking at the garters I started last month, I decided I disliked the color, was not happy with the selvedges, and wanted to start again. This time I used a 4-ply artificial silk/rayon yarn with a deeper color and a lovely sheen. The thicker yarn wove better while it's loosely twisted structure made ideal fringe at the end. Just to add a bit more sparkle, I blanket stitched along the edges with a metallic thread. I had planned to embroider the body of the garters with my motto, but ran out of thread much more quickly than I thought, so stopped with the border and called them finished.

My other completed project for this month is a pair of stockings. I started them five different times in different yarns. Green rayon, purple wool, and eventually a green mercerized cotton. They took a lot more yarn then I thought they would, so the final material is more a matter of what I had on hand in the right quantities than a considered choice. They were done starting at the cuffs working top down and fitted to my legs as I went.

Making stockings is one of the few times I am convinced I would like to be shorter. Long legs make for lots and lots of yarn. Since I've started stockings at least four other times in the past, finishing these is a big goal complete. Lots of room for improvement, but I'm happy with the start.

Other things going on this month include me patterning and cutting out a pair of velvet slippers. I'm basing them on a yellow extant pair in the Rijksmuseum. Eleonora's inventories indicate she had at least 10 pairs of green velvet slippers so I'm counting myself in good company. I'll be cutting and stitching buttonholes for the foreseeable future since each slipper has 12 rows.

I took my fitted sottana bodice pattern and adapted it for a pair of front lacing bodies to attach to a boned farthingale and cut the interior layers to try them out. I also started a simple cartridge pleated petticoat in purple silk so I can try a couple of different approaches to the underlayers.

I'm still not certain what will give me the silhouette I want. I know I'm pushing time, but am hoping next month has fewer setbacks is sewing and fewer things happen in my personal life that slow me down.

Third Update

Shoes, caul, and a pair of bodies completed are the big news for this month. I have several other things that are a day or two from done, but next month is definitely going to be a race to finish.

Everything this time around seems to require me to make and remake things three or four times and the velvet slippers were no exception. I had used the sole pattern from the last pair of leather slippers I made several years ago and they turned out too big. In my picture you can see just how off they were by comparing the original sole which is under the trimmed sole I used for take two. I cut those down and then the quarters and vamp of the upper didn't fit anymore.

I was trying to keep the vamp as close to the shape I originally cut as possible so I didn't have to redo the decorative buttonholes, but it ended up losing some of the shape so they don't match the extant pair as closely as intended. I had to completely re-cut the quarters. I did eventually get the fit sorted out, but I've decided I much prefer working in leather rather than velvet. It much more forgiving for shoes.

The slippers are made similar to a turnshoe, which is the same technique as was done in period. While lasted shoes were being made, the soft indoor slippers that were intended to be worn with an overshoe still used the older method. Once I had the fit sorted out, I used an awl and punched the holes for stitching. The holes are made at an angle so they go out the side and there is no visible stitching on the outside of the sole. Since I don't have a stitching last, I attached the upper to the sole by inserting pins in each hole and anchoring the fabric to the leather. If I had used leather I would have punched the upper with the awl as well, but with the fabric, even using three layers, it wasn't necessary.

Once the fabric was smooth and even I used a saddle stitch to attach the tops. If this had been a regular turnshoe I would have gotten it wet and then turned it right side out. With the velvet that wasn't going to be useful, so I just was slow while I turned them.

I had bag lined the upper pieces, but decided to do a decorative stitch along the top edge to unify the look. I also did eyelets for the laces in the lachet. I had planned for ribbon laces, but don't care for the look once I got them in. I was also worried that they would interfere with the overshoes once I got them made.

Since I've been knitting cording rather mindlessly while watching TV lately, I just grabbed some of that, crimped aglets on and instant shoe laces. I finished the slippers by cutting insoles from pink cashmere. I have a large stash of felted sweaters for other projects, so I just took a sleeve, traced the sole and trimmed them to fit. They cover the interior stitching and add a tiny bit of padding.

Now that the slippers were done I decided I better get to work on the pantofles to wear over the top. I've made choices before and carved pine for the platforms, but wanted these to be shorter, lighter, and more comfortable to wear. All the tutorials out there have you start with a yoga block as it is the most accessible way of obtaining cork for a hobbyist. Unfortunately, the maximum dimensions of yoga blocks around nine inches long and I have large feet. So no yoga blocks for me.

I thought maybe I could get a pair of wedge sandals cans cannibalize them for the platforms. Unfortunately, most use a resin inner with a small veneer of cork. Even if I just accepted the shape, they wouldn't cover well and there is no way to tack into them as I planned.

What I eventually decided to do instead was to laminate my own blocks of cork. I purchased cork tiles from an office supply store, cut them in half and layered them using wood glue. They've had a few days to dry under weights and I'm pretty pleased with the results. I've only just started shaping them.

Since I figured I needed to work on items that were not going on my feet, I shifted to my planned hair ornament. While the portrait looks to have a jeweled hair net over hair taping, my hair is still pretty short and I wanted something with more coverage that wouldn't require me to use false hair. I started with a vintage doily with cutwork.

I trimmed off the edge of the doily and then beaded it. It's lined with green linen and a small casing is stitched around the edge as part of the finish. I stitched the front section to a wire band and threaded ribbon through the casing so it could be gathered up into a bag, but also be adjusted around a hairstyle for a snug fit.

For the jeweled band, I layered vintage enamel flower shapes, dapped some brass findings into cup shapes and used them as settings for large crystals. They're epoxied together and I used enamel paint to add color. They are then both glued and stitched to the headband for security. I plan to use the same enamel bits in the other jewelry to unify it all and make it a set.

Next up was the pair of bodies. I cut them out last month, so it was time to actually stitch them. The inner is cotton canvas and I decided to use a thick corded green-gray silk for the outer. Boning channels were machine stitched due to time. I have had several corsets I have made turn out to be more like insect carapaces rather than graceful garments, so I'm always leery of heavily boning things, but I also wanted support. While I had used wide flat basket reed for my sottana mock-up, I also had quite a lot of thinner round reed that is closer to broomstraw, so I decided to give that a try. I soaked it and inserted bundles of it in the channels and I'm super pleased thus far. It's both stiff and supple.

Rather than cutting bias binding, I decided to give binding with ribbon a whirl as I have rolls of pink velvet ribbon and I plan to use it on the farthingale that I want to make to match the bodies. It went on pretty well. I need to steam or iron it to flatten it a bit, but the finish is pretty good. Eyelets were also done in pink and I made more cording, also in pink, crimped aglets on and made bodice laces and points for tying on the farthingale. I don't currently have a camicia and petticoat that fit, so those are next up on the to-do list, but the corset thrown over my clothes fits pretty well. I'm excited to wear it with the proper garments.

There's far too much left to do, but I finally feel some momentum, so here's hoping it comes together.

Final Update

(Bella: please note that Hastings 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.)

As I had finished the corset in June, the next item I tackled was the farthingale. It is a heavy corded greenish gray silk with pink velvet ribbon to match the corset, boned with reed. It is entirely machine sewn, but I did make the green and pink trim I used to edge the ribbon. It is knitted from cotton and silk weaving thread. I thought it would both be pretty and add a little more stiffening to the skirt, much like adding rope to a skirt.

I used the Alcega farthingale pattern modified to match my proportions. As I am over six feet tall and plus sized, I end up with a bottom hoop measurement of 120". It sounds far too full and I worried that it would seem too bell like, but I'm really happy with it, and the shape is conical as it is supposed to be. I added a little more reed after the pictures to make the shape a better ovoid without the angle I was getting due to not enough overlap of the reed. I may add yet another piece of reed as the veste is quite heavy and I don't know if it will hold it out or not. The only way to tell is a few more test runs wearing the garments, but I was afraid to ruin anything before the challenge was over.

This is the first farthingale I've ever worn, as Italian dress didn't use them until very close, to 1600, but as the rest of the outfit follows the extreme shape of the late silhouette, it made sense to try. It really does have a very different fell to wear than a corded skirt or padded hem. I'm not sure if I like it yet, I'll have to wear it a few more times for longer periods of time, rather than just around the house. Another planned improvement after the challenge is over is adding eyelets so I can lace the skirt to the corset and make it into a single garment. I ran out of time to do that refinement.

Next up was working on the velvet drawers. There are several examples of velvet drawers in noblewomen's inventories and since I had a small amount of velvet in green, I decided to go that direction rather than linen or silk I wanted to do embroidered drawers, but I knew I didn't have time for that, so decided instead to use a pattern from a pattern book of the period and block print it. I chose a pattern for a nightcap from Thomas Trevelyon's Miscellany (The Folger Library has their copy of the book digitized here. I liked that it tooked like scales and was a simple repeating pattern. I cut the block from linoleum and tried several different inks and paints. I usually get a much clearer print when I paint. The velvet didn't print well at all and I printed it upside down from what I had planned, but I think it still makes nice texture.

(Note: as this photo of the completed item was not received by the deadline, it will count as incomplete.)

For my other underwear layers I decided to do a camicia and a partlet or bavari. I had a pair of embroidered cuffs with grapes that I had purchased a few years ago, but had no collar embroidery, so I decided to match the grape pattern with a vintage filet lace and use that for the insertion.

Most of the camicie I've done in the past have had gathered and smocked necklines, but in looking at the various extant smocks, there are actually quite a few with square cut necklines and gores added for fullness rather than the large rectangular panels gathered to size. Since the silhouette of the finished outfit has a somewhat slim fit, I went this direction.

Having done camicie with lace insertions in the past, I also knew I like having bands of lace on the sleeves. It just feels fancy. This is another item that was done completely on the machine, but I tried to use a less modern assembly technique I hemmed each of the pieces of linen and then used a machine insertion stitch to butt the two pieces together. While it isn't hand done, I really like this style of construction. It is comfortable to wear.

I did sew the bavari entirely by hand. I have wanted to try out a different pattern for a partlet than the rectangular ones I've done before. There are a large number of bavari patterns for lace in a variety of modelbuch.

I settled on one by Elizabetta Catanea Parasole. The book it is from, Ornamento Nobile Per Ogni Gentil Matrona, Dove si Contiene Bavari, is nothing but partlet patterns. The shape I selected has the advantage of having an integrated collar so construction is a little more specified. I took my doublet pattern and designed the bavari pattern to fit within it while using the shapes from the modelbuch. The book is available at the BAF. Once the pieces were cut out, I hemmed them by hand. I did a twisted insertion stitch in green silk at the shoulders and the collar pieces are whipstitched together.

I've been working on the sottana in bits and pieces throughout the challenge, with the pattern and mock-up being made early. Then I spent what seems like forever modifying trim for it. I had wanted to weave the trim, but was worried about time.I settled on taking a wide silver purchased trim and cutting it in hand and then crocheting around it with green silk to make the two toned trim I wan looking for. I'm not as happy as I wanted to be with the results. It has the right colors, but the portrait really looks like the trim is fringy and fluffy and mine doesn't have quite enough texture. It did take a lot of time though. Not my smartest use of resources. Then I stitched the trim on by hand.

I still wasn't as excited by the sottana as I was hoping to be, so I decided to add some gold. I did some stitched on pearls, but was concerned that there might be too much dimension for an underlayer. What I finally settled on was using scrapbooking brads. They're very like using rivets and the add sparkle and exture, but aren't too lumpy.I used an awl to make small holes in the silk without cutting the fabric and then inserted the brads. I've got gold diamonds, silver domes, and gold rounds on the bodice and trimming the skirt. It went a long way to making me happier with the sottana. The dress itself is the pattern I made for the brown dress I sewed the first month. Its a sideback lacing dress that is boned with reed and lined with the same silk. The skirt is cartridge pleated on.There are interior layers of canvas and wool. It has handmade lacing cords and handsewn eyelets.

Over the top of the sottana is the veste. I drafted a doublet pattern using a combination of the shapes from Alcega and the draped sottana and corset patterns. I had planned to try the Bara method, but didn't have time to practice, so it was sort of piecemeal patterning.

I also noticed, once I got it patterned, that the veste in the portrait I've been using for inspiration doesn't actually close in the front. I cut the front of the veste in a large curving V so that it would stay open and expose the underdress.

I had planned to use silk, but a friend brought over a green cotton velvet at the last minute and I cut that out. Its outrageously heavy and this has become a winter outfit now. Because of the weight of the velvet, I only put a single layer of canvas interlining in the doublet and a layer of silk for lining. Then I used the same silk to bind the edges, hem, collar, and armscye as well as the tabs and panes of the baragoni.

The portrait has small rolled tabs at the shoulder edge, then large flat panes, then diagonal panes and then large tabs. I didn't do the diagonal panes, things were just getting too heavy. I want to try again in silk. And I need to add some puffs of white to the large panes especially for the final look. Or maybe shorten the panes in the long run. I do like the first set of little tabs on the shoulder edge a lot.

I finished my suite of jewels with a carcanet, pair of bracelets, and girdle to match my caul. I used the enamel flowers I had constructed, and added them to pairs of heart findings turned sideways and layered with filigree with some further pearls added. Then these were strung on wire and large crystals, pearl ouches, and more pearls were added.

I'm a little sad that I didn't get my overshoes finished, especially after gluing all that cork together, but the major pieces I had planned are complete. I spent most of July dealing with a detached retina and eye surgery that had me adapting my plans on a day to day basis, I'm really pleased that I finished at all. Something about having all the work of the past few months no longer up and a faded picture with no links was more motivating than I could have imagined. I'm pretty excited to have finished my first IRCC since its second year. Now I just need to bribe a nice photographer and get some great final pictures.