The Eighth Annual Italian Renaissance Costuming Challenge

April 1 to July 31, 2018


Kathleen Zanardo
New South Wales, Australia

My name is Kathleen Zanardo and I live in the Blue Mountains near Sydney, Australia. After admiring the IRCC for a couple of years I've now decided to enter my own Italian Renaissance outfit. I have been sewing clothes since I was young but this will be my first-ever attempt at this type of sewing, so I am entering as a novice.

I have pored over paintings by Italian Renaissance artists and been inspired to create an outfit of a Florentine noblewoman of 1500 - 1525.

My layers will be:
- Camicia with redwork embroidery - Underskirt - Dress with detachable sleeves - Apron

The accessories will be:
- Partlet - Headscarf with embroidery and fringing

My camicia, dress, partlet and apron will be based on Sanzio Raffaello's "La Muta" (1507) and a wrapped headscarf based on Giuliano Bugiardini's "Portrait of a Young Woman"(1525).

First Update

I got off to a hasty start this month as I was only at home for two weeks before heading overseas on a holiday. My plan was to be busy on the sewing machine while I could, and then take hand sewing away with me.


The first layer to be started was my camicia. I chose a lightweight white cotton lawn. Although many camicie were made from linen I feel that it is appropriate to use cotton as it was very common in Italy in the 16th century where it had been manufactured since the Middle Ages.

I wanted to sew the camicia based on the period loom width of 28" (71cm). As my lawn was 52" (142cm) in width I firstly cut it in half along its length to reproduce the original narrow width used in the 16th century. Then I cut a front and a back piece each 71 x 100cm, four side panels each 36 x 100cm, two sleeves 71 x 80cm, and two gussets 23 x 23cm.

I proceeded to sew up the pieces. Firstly I sewed the side panels onto the front and back pieces. Then I attached the gussets and sleeves at the edges of the body pieces. I then flat-felled all the seams.

The Raffaello painting shows the detailed handwork on the camicia. To begin the decoration I sewed a border of redwork blanket stitch along the edge of the neckline. Historically blackwork embroidery was the most common choice for the embellishment of a camicia. However redwork was also popular and I have chosen this colour as I feel it will be a lovely complement to the colours in my dress. The embroidery thread is Semco in a deep rust red colour.

The camicia is partially completed.


Although no underskirt is seen in the Raffaello painting 'La Muta' I wanted to include one as it is an appropriate addition to a woman's ensemble of the early 1500s. To give the correct silhouette to an Italian Renaissance dress, an underskirt was worn underneath. The underskirt had a conical shape which was reinforced by the addition of canes or hemp cord.

The fabric I chose was a mid-weight cotton blend in a dark teal colour. The cord is a 6mm pure cotton sash cord.

Firstly I cut two pieces of the fabric into tapered forms which fitted at the waist and were 100cm at the lower edge. Extra length was added to allow for the cord channels that would be sewn in later. After sewing up the side seams I drew horizontal lines onto the fabric. I pinned the cord into channels and sewed them closed.

After finishing the hem and waist band it was time to make a side opening with a few eyelets and a cord. I made four eyelet holes, two on each side of the waist band. Then I used embroidery thread and hand sewed the eyelet holes with blanket stitch. The dark blue cord is purchased.

The underskirt is complete.


The Raffaello painting shows a delicate sheer partlet with a hint of decoration along the neck edge.

The fabric I chose was a white chiffon. I drafted a pattern by draping scrap fabric around my shoulders and, with a family member’s help, drew onto it to work out the best pattern.

Once the partlet was cut out I sewed the edges with a hand-rolled hem. Four white ribbons were sewn to the underarm points. Lastly I decorated the neck edge with hand-sewn braid edging stitch using a white embroidery thread. This stitch creates a row of small loops, each secured with a knot.

The partlet is complete.

Second Update



My headscarf is based exactly on the one seen in the painting "Portrait of a Young Woman" by Giuliano Bugiardini. Embroidery embellishes each end of headscarf and it is finished with fringing.

I chose a white cotton muslin and a golden tan embroidery thread for this accessory. I cut the muslin to 220 x 50cm and machine hemmed the scarf on all four sides.

I calculated the proportions of the embroidered design by comparing it to the proportions of the woman's face. Once this was established I drafted the design onto graph paper and then traced it onto the muslin with a water soluble maker pen.

I attached a temporary piece of calico to each end of the headscarf to make it easier to place in an embroidery hoop. I embroidered the design using back stitch.

The fringing was attached one strand at a time (which involved threading the needle every time!). After attaching the fringing I trimmed it to an even line.

The headscarf is complete. The finished headscarf is placed with one end above my forehead, then it is wrapped around my head twice, and one end hangs down the left side.



A small portion of a white apron can be seen in Sanzio Raffaello's "La Muta" (below, right) and appears to have a red waist tie. Although I have never seen this colour combination, I chose to make the apron this way to be authentic to the painting.

I chose a heavy-weight white cotton fabric which I cut to 85 x 100 cm. The two sides and the lower hem are turned over twice, pressed and machine sewn. The top edge of the apron is gathered and attached to the waist tie. The waist band colour I used is dark blue.


Upper-class women of the 16th century often wore aprons to showcase their hand-sewn needlework. Amongst this class of women aprons were not intended for practical household work. In this vein I chose to decorate the two bottom corners of the apron with cutwork. I drew up a simple geometric design of a square and two triangles, and then traced the designs onto the apron's lower corners.

Firstly I sewed running stitches along all the outer edges of the design and then filled them in with satin stitch, all using white embroidery thread. Lastly I took a pair of small, sharp embroidery scissors and cut away the fabric from the centre of the shapes.

The apron is complete.


Third Update

The Camicia

This month I continued working on the redwork embroidery. The camicia in the Raffaello painting has finely detailed embroidered borders at the neck and sleeve openings, as well as a band around the upper sleeves. After earlier completing the blanket-stitch along the neckline edge I now
worked on the pattern of crosses and dashes as seen in the Raffaello painting. I embroidered the pattern onto a small band which I then hand stitched onto the gathered neckline of the camicia.

The cuffs of the camicia have an interesting chain-like design. I embroidered this design onto two cuffs and stitched four small hand-twisted cords in place which will be the fastening when finished.

In the Raffaello painting the upper sleeves of the camicia, which show between the sottana and detachable sleeves, have a band of embroidery in a figure-of-eight design. I drafted this design on graph paper and the commenced the redwork embroidery onto the sleeves of the camicia.

The camicia is incomplete.


The sottana I am making, which is based on the Raffaello painting, is a typical dress of the Florentine courts of the early 16th century. It has a wide, square neckline with narrow shoulder straps. The upper edges of the sottana are trimmed with bands in a contrasting colour.

The fabric I chose for the sottana is a heavyweight upholstery fabric in a wide stripe of two shades of rusty red. Although this is a modern-day fabric I chose it as I felt it had the colours and quality of a Renaissance fabric. In the 16th century different shades of red were achieved by using a dye called cremisi. It was obtained from the dried scale insect kermes vermilio which fed on the sap of evergreen oak trees in the Mediterranean. Better quality cremisi was obtained from the East where it was traded via Constantinople.

An interesting fact is that the English word crimson is derived from the Italian cremisi. Different shades of red could be achieved depending on the quantity of dyestuff used. Two shades that I imagine could be used to describe the colours in my sottana are bruschino (a shade of dark red) and pavonazzo (a brownish red which literally means peacock-coloured. However it does not mean peacock-blue but rather the colour of the pea-hen.

I drafted my own pattern by using the draping method on a sewing mannequin and I'm happy with the fit. The bodice has a lining of dark blue drill fabric and an inner layer of the same. I stitched vertical lines of cotton cording inside the bodice to give extra firmness and support.

As the technique for setting in a sleeve had not been perfected, sleeves were made separately from the dress. The sleeves, known as maniche, are attached to the bodice (imbusto) using ribbons. The fabric for my detachable sleeves is a mid-weight dark teal cotton blend, the same fabric I used for the underskirt. They are lined with pale grey bemsilk. The ribbons are dark blue grosgrain.

The long skirt is attached to the bodice in a straight waistline as was the style of the early 1500s. After folding the skirt fabric into knife pleats I then attached the skirt to the bodice using hand-sewn cartridge-style stitches using embroidery thread.

The edges of the neckline and shoulder straps are trimmed with wide dark blue cotton taping, which I hand stitched in place.

The sottana is tightened onto the body at each side using lacing. I hand-sewed 20 eyelets using embroidery thread. The twisted cords, known as a cordicelle, were hand-made using a combination of dark red wool and blue embroidery thread. I laced up the dress using the technique of ladder lacing which was used across Europe from the 14th to the 17th centuries. This style of lacing creates the look of horizontal rungs on the outside of the garment. The two ends are tied off using a half-bow which are neatly tucked out of sight.

The sottana is completed.

Calzone (Drawers)

Calzone were first worn by the Spanish and later became adopted by the Italians. It is believed that Lucrezia Borgia, the Duchess of Ferrara, (1480 -1519) made calzone fashionable in Italy.

My design is based on an extant pair of late 16th century Italian calzone which are elaborately decorated with embroidery and crochet.

The fabric is white lawn which I cut into a two legs plus a square gusset. I drafted a pattern for the decorations based on a simplified version of the extant pair. The first task was to sew a border of blanket stitch onto which two rows of crocheted picot stitches were added. Next I stitched two borders using chain stitch and then filled in the design using running stitch. The colours I used are meant to compliment the colour scheme of my entire outfit - blue, crimson and mustard yellow.

A waistband holds the gathered top of the calzone. I hand-stitched two eyelets and made a soft twisted cord from twisted embroidery threads. I also did a small amount of embroidery along the edges of the front opening, as in the extant pair.

The calzone are completed.


Drawstring Bag

The next item I chose as an accessory was a small embroidered drawstring bag. Renaissance women often carried small embroidered bags which held sweets, spices, petals and herbs to improve their scent and to ward off illness which was believed to be carried by bad odours. I took my inspiration from an extant 16th century bag.

My bag is made to compliment the colours in my entire outfit. Firstly I made the knitted body of the bag. The yarn is a 4 ply cotton in dark blue and I used size 10 knitting needles. Each side of the bag measures 16 x 15cm. A centimetre from the top I made six holes on each side using eyelet knitting stitch. Each piece was then pressed and tacked onto a base of fabric.

I then had the enjoyable task of sewing the embroidered decorations using satin ribbons and embroidery threads in a design based on stylised flowers and stems. I played around with a variety of stitches to create a nice assortment (thread-wrapped ribbon, lazy daisy stitch, French knots, gathered ribbon rosettes).

Once all the embroidery was completed I stitched the two sides of the bag together and lined it with pale blue bemsilk. The cords for the handle and drawstring were made by plaiting wool and ribbon together. I made five tassels for the bottom, two of which extend from red wooden beads.

The drawstring bag is completed.



Final Update

(Bella: please note that Kathleen 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.)



I continued working on the camicia this month. I finished the redwork embroidery on the upper sleeves as well as attached the cuffs to the gathered sleeves. The camicia is the item of clothing that has taken me the most time, and also the item that I like the most.

The camicia is completed.


I wanted to make a sleeveless giornea that was the typical fashion of Florence, in keeping with the other items in my outfit from around 1525. With the increased development of luxury fabrics the wearing of a giornea was another way to display the wealth of a 16th century Italian woman. Most often the fabric was silk, linen or wool.

The fabric I chose was a heavy-weight cotton blend with a textured surface. I found the fabric in a second-hand shop and I imagine it is an upholstery fabric. Its colour is a saffron yellow which was called lutéo in Renaissance Italy. This colour is the same yellow as the embroidery I used in the headscarf so I feel it keeps the colours in my entire outfit coordinated.

The simple design of the giornea was fairly easy to draft. It has narrow shoulders, a fitted upper bodice, and a wide hem. I added a deep V neckline at the front and a gore at the back to create fullness. It is open at the sides to display the sottana.

Once the giornea was cut out and sewn up I made a belt in the same fabric. A clasp buckle I have owned for years made a lovely centrepiece.

The decoration of the giornea started with hand-stitching in blanket stitch around all the the edges, but not the hem. I also did blanket stitch around the edges of the belt.The cotton yarn is a tawny yellow, the colour being called leonato in Renaissance Italy. To further decorate my giornea I got my inspiration from a painting by Andrea Piccinelli (see below). In this painting of an Italian lady her giornea is covered in small tufts. This is not a style of decoration I have seen before so I assume it was not widely used. But it does date from the correct period and the artist lived in Florence during this time so I feel it is an apt choice of decoration for my giornea.

For further embellishment of my giornea I appliqued two stylised flowers in a vase to the bottom front corners near the hem. They are attached with hand-sewn blanket stitch. I got the inspiration from an extant 16th century Italian textile (the 13th from the top, here).

The giornea is completed.

Pianelle (Shoes)

Pianelle were slipper-like shoes without a heel. They were usually made from calf or goat hide. They are a type of turnshoe because the shoes are put together inside out, and then was turned right-side-out. I got my inspiration from a pair of extant Italian shoes.

I bought a brown leather handbag from a second hand shop and cut it into sheets of usable leather. To make a pattern I decided the best way was to draft one from a pair of shoes I already own. I stretched fabric over the shoe and pinned it to the sole, then drew markings. These pieces of fabric became my pattern which I drew onto the leather.

I cut all edges (that wouldn't be stitched) with pinking shears to look like the extant pair. I sewed up the leather on the sewing machine which, I'm happy to say, didn't break my machine. I turned the shoes right-side-out and found they were a great fit!

I decorated the leather by hand-punching small diamonds and crescents with lino-cutting tools and a hammer. Some shapes cut the leather away to leave a hole. Others were partially cut to create a flap of leather. I had firstly placed a block of wood inside the shoe.

The final touch was to plait two laces with tassel ends to tie up the shoes.

The shoes are completed.