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.

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.