The Eighth Annual Italian Renaissance Costuming Challenge

April 1 to July 31, 2018


Josie Welch
Christchurch, New Zealand


My name is Josie Welch and I am from Christchurch, New Zealand. I have been involved in the Society for Creative Anachronism since 2002 where I am known as Signora Onorata Elisabetta Foscari and reside in the Barony of Southron Gaard. I started to make an attempt at more historically accurate clothing in 2004 after receiving a postcard of Bronzino's Lucrezia Panciatichi. I have made a number of 16th century Florentine and Venetian gowns since that time. You can see some of my other outfits here.

For this challenge I want to make the dress in Bartolomeo Passarotti's Portrait of a Lady. This dates from around the 1560s and shows a lady (possibly from Bologna) in Northern Italian dress. I plan to make a camicia, a brocade sottana with sleeves and a green silk overgown. My accessories will be a zibellino, a girdle, a partlet and a set of hair jewellery.

First Update

My first month of IRCC sewing has focussed on my camicia and the bodice of my undergown. I have chosen to hand sew and embroider my chemise which has been enjoyable but time consuming!


I have utilised elements of the c1575-1600 linen smock (camicia) in the Boston Museum of Arts that features on page 110 to 111 of Patterns of Fashion 4 or can be seen here.

My version is simplified in terms of garment and embroidery pattern design to fit in with the time limits of this challenge. My camicia is also made of a cotton lawn rather than linen as I could not find a linen fine enough for this garment.

I made use of the wider modern fabric to simplify the pattern. In the original the body of the camicia is made up of multiple pieces. I have chosen to only make two body pieces, one for the front and one for the back. These will be joined by a side seam. I have included an underarm gusset as in the original that fits between the body and the sleeves.


I chose to hand sew the camicia by hemming each piece of fabric. I will, once I have completed the embroidery, whip stitch the seams together to make up the garment. I also used the fabric horizontally so the selvedge runs along the top and bottom of the body pieces so I do not have to sew these.

I decided to use pink silk thread for the embroidery, as in the original, as I thought it would contrast nicely with the black undergown. I used the embroidery pattern on page 111 of Patterns of Fashion but greatly simplified the design. I used the floral motif only on the corners of the gussets.

I am part way through embroidering the bands down the length of the sleeves. I chose to put the bands on the sleeves rather than the motifs on the original as I am planned to make the 4-paned ‘Eleanor of Toledo’ sleeves to wear with the undergown. I thought having the bands of embroidery lined up with the openings in the sleeves would show this off nicely.

I am not embroidering the body of the camicia as it will not be seen. Judging by the amount of time it has taken to sew the bands so far (I have completed 2 out of 8 so far) I would only be making the chemise for this challenge! I have not done any blackwork for nearly 20 years and never in the context of historical dress. I am really pleased with how it looks!

Undergown (sottana) bodice

The pattern I used for the undergown (sottana) is based on the pattern for the velvet ‘bodies’ of Eleanora of Toledo that are included in Patterns of Fashion c1560-1620 pages 102-104. I am aiming to make my undergown a 1550s Florentine dress that can be worn independently of the over dress so this is the perfect pattern for this. I have adapted these to make the closure spiral lacing at the centre back (rather than hook and eyes at the front) as I find this gives me the best support and shape. Another major adaption I made for support and shape was to use cable tie boning in the interlining. There is no evidence of boning being used in 16th century Italian dress but we have very few surviving examples and it is used elsewhere in Europe at second half of the 16th century (see the pair of bodies from 1598 on page 112 in the same Patterns of Fashion).


I have chosen to use boning as unlike Eleanora, I am not a small woman, and I find that the boning gives me the fashionable flat front of this period of dress with the necessary bust support. I machine sewed the boning cables. I hand sewed bias binding on the edge of the bodice as it keeps the boning in its place and gives the over gown a nice finish.

I was very excited about the interlining fabric I found as it is a linen/cotton canvas which reminded me of references to tela sangallo, a linen buckram, listed in Eleanora of Toledo’s wardrobe accounts, with some sottana entries and was possibly used for interlining here (page 223 and 251 of Moda a Firenze.) Caroline Johnson in The Queen’s Servants mentions a canvas made of hemp canvas used for the interlining of early Tudor bodices in the early 16th century (page 15). I found that the fabric I had provided much better shape and support than any canvas I had used previously!

I have so far covered the canvas interlining with a layer of cotton corduroy. While not documentable, I have found on previous dresses that this layer stops the ribs of boning from showing through as much on the finished dress.

The outer fabric of this dress is a black damask and I have attached the outer layer to the bodice, but still need to make so tweaks to get it to sit properly. There are a number of black gowns worn in Italian portraits of this period, and many examples of brocade dresses. It is not inconceivable that they were dresses of both. There is a portrait of Guilia Gonzaga in Moda a Firenze wearing a coat of black damask (page 114). I am going to add a thin gold trim to the bodice, sleeves and skirt of the sottana.

My plan for the next month is to continue with the camicia embroidery and finish the sottana.

Second Update

This month has been mostly focussed on my sottana. In my last update I was only going to put the single row of gold braid on the dress but then inspiration (in the form of a giant roll of black velvet ribbon) struck. I decided to hand sew on the black velvet ribbon around the neckline of the bodice and then hand sewed a row of the gold braid on either side of it. The bodice closure is a row of eyelets down the centre back. The eyelets are metal- as a support layer I find that this makes them last longer. I will sew around them at some stage.

My next job was to make the sleeves that go with the sottana. I want the sottana to be able to be worn on its own without the overdress thus giving me the option of two different outfits. I decided to make the four-paned sleeves from the Bronzino Eleanor of Toledo dress. To construct this I took a normal sleeve pattern and divided in to four lengthwise. To each of these pieces I added 1.5cm seam allowance on each side and 10cm at the top for the fold.

To give the sleeve some body I interlined the brocade with a light canvas and lined it with cotton. I zigzaged each piece to stop them from fraying and then machine sewed the pieces together on the side. I then machine sewed the velvet ribbon to both edges of each piece. I then handsewed the gold braid to sides of the ribbon. I hand finished the top and bottom of each piece by hand and created the fold at the top by folding the extra 10cm and whip stitching it to the top of the panel. To sew the sleeve together I bought eight large and 48 small Katherine Parr ouches from Truly Hats and hand sewed these to join the sleeves together. The large ones I used at the top of the sleeves where they will have piece of braid loop around them to join them to the bodice.

I also made a three-gore panel skirt for the underdress. I find the gores give it a better shape. I put a gathering stitch in the top of it and then whip stitched the gathers to the bodice. There is a row of the velvet ribbon and hand sewed braid around the hem. I will put a tuck around the hem to shorten it slightly and give it more body.

Embroidery on the camicia has continued. I have completed one sleeve and have done row on the other one. Next month I will be working on the goldwork for the over dress!