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.

The Completed Outfit

Layer 1: Camicia

The camicia is entirely hand sewn, using mostly whip-stitch and some running-stitch. It is made from cotton lawn and cotton lace. It is hand embroidered in pink silk inspired by the pattern on the extant camicia on pages 110-111 of Patterns of Fashion 4.

Layer 2: Sottana

The sottana is made from black poly/cotton brocade. The bodice layers were sewn together by hand. The skirt was pleated and sewn to the bodice by hand. All gold trim was sewn on by hand. The sleeves are four panels which are joined together by ouches at intervals down the arms. They are attached to the bodice by a loop of the gold trim and an ouch.

Layer 3: Veste/Coat

The coat is made and lined in silk and trimmed with a wide woven gold trim and gold rickrack The pearl and garnet beading on the trim down the length of the coat and the sleeves was done by hand. The sleeves are slashed.

Layer 4: Accessories

1. Partlet: The partlet is made from a silk/cotton blend and is hand embroidered with an ivory cord couched in a diagonal design on the front and top of the back. The partlet itself is handsewn together using whip stitch.

2. Coif: The coif is also made by hand with strips of braid woven together in to an oval to form the base. Pearls are hand sewn on to the the braid and then the whole coif is sewn together by hand.

3. Belt: The belt has a velvet ribbon and petersham base which was hand sewn together. Metal plaques, cameos and ouches were hand sewn on the ribbon to decorate the belt. It is closed by a trouser hook and bar at the centre front.

4: Jewellery: The pendant for the necklace was made from a thrift store find which had a period replica ouch glued in the centre. The necklaces were strung with glass pearls and garnets and closed with a toggle and circle clap.




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!

Third Update


This month was very busy with work and so I have decided to rethink my outfit so I can complete it with my sanity intact. I have decided that, rather than make the separate green overdress, that I would make a coat like the one seen in this portrait of Eleanor of Toledo.

One of the reasons I have chosen this is that it fits in nicely with the style of my black sottana and therefore I will make my outfit 1550s Florentine rather than Bolognese. I also have some stunning purple-red silk I’ve been hoarding which will work well for this layer.


I finished the chemise this month as I completed the last line of embroidery and put it together. I am very pleased with this garment as it is 100% hand sewn. I had previously hemmed all the pieces before I embroidered it. I then whip-stitched all the pieces together to create the finished garment.

I ran two rows of gathering stitch around the neckline to pleat it in to the lace neckband. I made this neckband a square by mitering the corners and then whipstitched the top of each gather to the lace.

I finished the cuff in the same manner but just sewed the lace together to form a cuff. The original had a gap with a tie but I find it sits better under the sottana sleeve if it is one continuous cuff.

The original had a lace edging around the bottom of the chemise so I did the same on mine.


I created a padded roll to go under my bust when wearing the sottana. I have no proof that anything like this existed in period aside from the fact that the Elizabethans used padded bum rolls to shape skirts. I have found in the past that due to my shape, as I am larger in the bust and hip but smaller in the waist, creates a gap in the lower part of my bodice. I have had a lot of slippage in that area if wearing this style over a long period of time. Hopefully this roll will give me a bit of extra support!

It is made entirely from cotton (due to finances, accessibility and heat) to make it easily washable, which it will need to be as it will absorb sweat. I put ties on each end so it can be secured around my body and sewed a tie in to the inside of my bodice so I can secure it there too. This makes it removable so I can wear it with other dresses. First testing of this has been successful!

I also finished the sottana by sewing the hem tuck in. I did interline this tuck with a thin cotton batting to give it more body. I did this by machine for reasons of time.

I am really pleased with how the camicia and sottana sleeves work together. The embroidery clearly peeks out from the gaps down the arm.

Accessory 1: Belt

I decided to make a belt with plaques on it like the one seen in the first Florentine portrait (see below, left) as I found some really pretty earrings on special. I took the earrings apart so just the filigree centrepiece remained. I decided to create a base for the belt of petersham and black velvet ribbon as this would carry the weight of the metal, sit nicely around my waist and be easy to do up. I handsewed the three layers (front and back velvet and centre petersham) together. I had some cameos, as seen on the second Florentine portrait (see below, right) with gold surrounds and extra red and black ouches from Truly Hats which I added to make up the belt. I hand sewed each piece individually on to the velvet base. I used a trouser hook and bar as a closure.

The belt is completed and I am very pleased with how it sits on the dress.

Accessory 2: Coif

In many portraits, including my inspiration image for the coat, Eleanora of Toledo is seen to be wearing a hairnet or coif. These are usually made of braid in a fretwork pattern with pearls sewn at intersections of the braid. I decided to make mine match the partlet I will make, with a similar cross hatch design sewn on a white background. I had a silk/cotton all ready for such an occasion. While the cotton content is not entirely appropriate for this period, it does give the fabric more body and durability than a straight silk. It is also a really lovely weight for partlets and coifs as it is sheer but still provides coverage.

After I cut out the coif pattern I then drew the cross hatch pattern on the fabric and hand sewed gold ribbon across the lines. At the intersections of the ribbon I sewed a pearl. I hemstitched the edge of the coif and then ran a gathering stitch around the bottom half of the coif. I find that this provides room for the hair but no extra poof of fabric on top of your head, which looks odd and is incongruent with the images. I cut on the bias a strip of fabric from the white fabric as a band and then whip stitched the edge of coif on the this band, folded the band in half as binding and then whipstitched the other half down. Along the top and bottom edge of the band I sewed a row of pearls. On the front edge of the band I sewed some small round gold medallions between the rows of pearls to add extra bling. The middle four of these medallions have a cinqfoil on them which is part of my SCA Heraldry. The coif is also 100% handsewn and now completed. In the photos I secured it to my head with some pearl and gold bobby pins I purchased

Here is the outfit as it stands.

My final elements to complete next month are the partlet, the coat and some jewellery.



Final Update

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

The final month was focused on making my coat, partlet and jewellery. I also decided to make another coif as I was not happy with the one I had made.


I decided I wanted a partlet to be in keeping with 1550 Florence and luckily found this portrait on a costuming page. I especially loved the embroidery on it and decided that was what I wanted for mine.

The partlet is made out of an ivory silk/cotton. I couched an ivory satin cord in the trefoil design with silk thread. To create the design I printed out the picture and turned it in to a pattern which I drew on the silk with my Frixon pen (removable by ironing the fabric).

I chose to put the design only on the collar, top half of the front and top of the back. This is for time reasons as I was hand embroidering it. It is also the only area of partlet visible under the dress. I hemmed each piece by hand after embroidering it and then whipstitched them together to create the garment. I sewed a thin lace on the edge of the partlet and the collar. The partlet is tied under the arms with a ribbon tie.

The partlet is worn under the sottana and usually without the cat. This is Aramis who 'helps' me sew.


I kept on looking at the coif I made last month and not really loving it. I did however love the coif that Eleanora is wearing in this portrait detail.

I had a lot of a gold braid that worked nicely in terms of tone with my outfit. I didn't think it would braid nicely as in the Eleanora image but I still wanted a textured effect so I decided to weave the braid together to create extra texture.

To do this I pinned my coif pattern to a cushion and used this to provide give the correct shape as I wove the braid over the top of it and sewed the ends to a piece of petersham. Once I had the woven braid to the correct shape I cut out a piece of gold silk organza the same shape and tacked it to the woven section. I basted these together. I felt that this would give the weaving more stability and help it keeps its shape. I then hand-sewed a pearl to every second join in the weaving so it covered the coif. I box pleated the bottom of the coif and sewed a gold piece of bias binding around the edge of the coif to finish it and keep the pleats in place. I sewed two rows of the same braid over the binding. To decorate those I sewed on three ouches I had left over from another project and two of the garnet/pearl beading clusters I put on the coat.

For a first attempt I am really pleased with how this turned out!



As mentioned the previous month I decided to make a coat to go over my sottana based on the purple coat in one of the Eleanor of Toledo portraits.

I already had a coat pattern from a wool coat I made several years ago. This was based on a pattern in the Tudor Tailor.

The fabrics I chose were a garnet coloured silk and I found a thinner silk in a slightly darker shade for the lining. I had a wide gold braid to trim it with. I decided to bead the braid with some large garnet beads with small plastic pearls around them. Plastic pearls as I could buy a lot of them for $40 and they are lighter than glass ones so don't make the garment too heavy.

I sewed the body of the coat together and machined on the braid at the front edges and back. The garnets and pearls were all handsewed on. There is hook and eye tape down the front so the coat can be closed if necessary. I prefer it to sit open.


I really like the slashing on the sleeves in the Eleanor image. Once I cut out the sleeves I attached the central row of trim. I drew on the lines of the slashing on with chalk and then cut it using a quilting rotary cutter. I had drawn on chalk lines to indicate the ends of the slashing. I looked at these and decided that I really liked the shape and that some extra trim would really accentuate the slashing. I had some vintage gold rickrack in my stash so I used that and machined it on but hand sewed down the edges by the braid.

I then attached the sleeves to the coat and added an extra band of trim around the top of the sleevehead. The Eleanor image has two but I was running out of braid at this stage.

I beaded the central trim and the joins of the rickrack with garnets.

I attached the lining by hand to the coat. I added more trim to the collar and along the shoulder seam. I didn't bead the collar as I thought the beads would get caught in my hair or partlet.

I hemmed the coat by hand. You will notice that it is shorter than the dress. My other coat is floor length and feels like a dressing gown. I thought having this shorter would allow the hem of the sottana to be seen and look a little more elegant.


I liked the combination of a longer pearl necklace with a shorter pendant. There is similar combination in my coat inspiration image. I wanted to use garnets as well as pearls however to match the beading on the coat.

I found a circular pendant in a thrift shop but it looked a bit too wreath-like for me to want to wear it in the SCA so I got the same ouch that I used on the hat and super-glued it to the pendant. I then attached a pearl drop to it using a earring wire.

I made a long and short necklace of garnets and pearls with a toggle clasp. The pendant I put on the short one.

The earrings were a flight of fancy. I bought two cameos with gold and pearl surrounds at a steampunk market to match those on the belt. I attached these to earring hooks.

This was a fun afternoon!