The Ninth Annual Italian Renaissance Costuming Challenge

April 1 to July 31, 2019


Amber Gordon
Florida, USA

I’ve been sewing since I was 10. I’ve only made two garments that are historical, and only one that was Italian Renaissance. So I am a novice.

I have been obsessing over the pink Eleanora Di Toledo portrait by Bronzino. Set in 1543. It’s ambitious, but I love it so much.

The layers I am attempting are a camicia, underskirt, sottana, partlet, girdle, hair net.

I have already assembled the trim for the partlet, by attaching fine blue ribbon to double picot trim. I am in the process of stitching out the sottana trim on pink satin with a file I digitized for my embroidery machine. I intend to finish the edges with soutache when I apply it to my sottana. My guess is that I will need a yard of pink satin cut 3 inches wide and sewn together to get enough trim for sleeves, hem, and bodice. I have also started doing gold/blackwork trim for the camicia.



The Completed Outfit



For my final photos I visited The Ancient Spanish Monastery in Florida, a medieval building transported from Spain and re-built again, brick-by-brick. It was beautiful there. My only regrets is that I did not remember to slash the piping before my final photos. I plan to do that in the future.

Layer 1: Camicia

I roughly drafted this off of a square neck men’s smock with trapezoidal sleeves in Patterns of Fashion 4. The black work trim was hand stitched, the seams were originally hand stitched, as were the insertion seams. Insertion seams remained hand-stitched, but my hand stitching wasn’t strong enough on the remaining seams, so I machine stitched those. Gathers in the sleeves, fastenings, and the edges of neck and sleeves were hand stitched with trim.



Layer 2: Petticoat with train

I drafted the bodice pattern using the bara method and The Modern Maker. Then the bust area shape was freehanded using The Tudor Tailor example, and the skirt was made following the Eleanora De Toledo burial gown in Patterns of Fashion 2. The side seams in the bodice were stitched with a machine and all the rest was made by hand. Laces and aiglets were store bought.



Layer 3: Dress / Sottana

The bodice was drafted using The Modern Maker. The skirt was drafted using the Eleanora De Toledo Burial gown in Patterns of Fashion 2. The sleeves were drafted using The Modern Maker and then altered for fit. The trim was digitized by myself then stitched on an embroidery machine and
then hand-couched onto the dress. The shoulder and side seams of the bodice were machine stitched. The three panels in each sleeve were stitched and bagged out using a machine. The rest was hand sewn, including joins in the sleeves where the aiglets were attached, trim. All the skirt seams and hem and facings were hand sewn. Pearl aiglets were made by hand. Ribbon ties for the sleeves were bought and stitched by hand to the sottana and sleeve heads.





Layer 4: Accessories

1. Hair Net / Rete

Trim was made by hand, stitched together by hand, beaded with pearls by hand.


2. Partlet

I pinned this pattern onto a dress form, I did not use a pattern or draft it from any sources. The double picot trim and satin ribbon were joined by machine. Junctions were stitched by hand, ribbons to join underarm and center front were sewn by hand. Pearls were seen on by hand.


3. Girdle

Chain, tassel, and gemstone pieces were all bought and assembled by hand. Pearl tassel came pre-made.


4. Shoes / Pianelle

I trimmed two recycled pairs of shoes, glued the soles together, then wrapped with silk fabric by hand. I couched trim by hand. Trim was bought, not made.






(Updates listed in reverse order)


Fourth Update: July Progress


Items completed this month

1. Sottana

I want to say a big thank you to all the people who helped me find the right research and advice for making this project.

After finishing the bodice I sewed grommets with buttonhole twist and then lined it in linen. Originally the point was longer, but I made it shorter after trying out the girdle belt. I then began working on the skirt. Originally I was making my seams incorrectly. I looked it up and corrected my mistake. Knife pleating the waist did not give me enough flounce to keep my girdle belt in place. So I interfaced the gathers with cotton velveteen.


I whip stitched it all except for the point, then added trim down the center, and completed whipping the point to the bodice.

Then I realized I needed five inches more of fabric at the hem. I hid the join in the pleat.





I interlined the hem with felted wool. Then added the piping/self facing. It gave it a wonderful stiffness. The trim was then couched on.



I finished up my second sleeve. I chose to make these sleeves as three pieces instead of four which was too wide. The poufs at the top were made by making rectangles of fabric, pleating it, and whip-stitching it to the sleeve head. Then folding over and securing the other end to look like a pouf.




In the portrait you can see little bows keeping her sleeves on. I decided these were not points, but rather three pairs of silk ribbon laces that were tied and then the ends tucked into the sleeve. I stitched these to the sleeve and strap. The sottana is complete.


A sneak peek at one of the final on-the-body shots of the sottana, showing the sleeve on the body


The completed sottana



2. Shoes / Pianelle / Pantoufle

I had the chance to make some pianelle or pantoufle. These were roughly based off these pantoufle (see below, left), before I realized they were wooden!

“A detail of a painting by Zucchi, showing Bathsheba and others bathing. These pantofles seem to be carved out of wood, but no evidence of any kind of covering can be seen. It is possible that the vamp may simply have been nailed to the wood itself, but that seems unlikely considering the detail on the vamp.” —Francis Classe

The pianelle were made by wrapping spare dress fabric around two shoes glued together to form a slight platform.


Zucchi, Jacopo, The Toilet of Bathsheba, after 1573,
Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Antica, Rome








Third Update: June Progress


This month I focused on finishing the partlet and girdle belt.

Items completed this month:

1. Partlet

I didn’t start with a specific pattern for the partlet, I just traced it out with the trim and then cut pieces and pinned them onto the dress form in the criss-cross fashion in the painting. The trim was made beforehand by machine stitching the thin blue satin ribbon to the metallic gold double picot.



Once it looked about right, I tacked every junction. Then I could take it off and start stitching the pearls on. It was actually easier to keep everything from snagging on the dress form. I used the neckline of my camicia to gauge where the pearls would stop. My concern is that if the whole partlet had pearls it would be a tad bumpy.




Once done I stitched blue ribbon to each corner and tied them together at the width they needed to be to fit my size.



2. Girdle belt

The girdle belt was fairly simple to assemble. In the portrait we do not see a girdle but Eleanora Di Toledo wears a girdle in other portraits. What was more of a challenge was that the skirt on my sottana was pleated to the bodice, and this was not giving me enough bulk to rest my girdle belt on, in a way that would keep it at the right place. I adjusted the point and gathered the skirt instead. I reinforced the gathers with cotton velveteen to add some more structure. Better.

I recycled an old necklace for the closure and some rings. The jewels came from Etsy, as did the chain and pearl tassel. Using wire cutters I cut the rings in the chain and inserted my jewels.









My remaining tasks will be completing the second sleeve, making enough trim for the hem, applying the trim, pleating the skirt, and facing the skirt hem with clipped silk.




Second Update: May Progress


This month I focused primarily on finishing the camicia, rete, and underskirt.


Items completed this month:

1. Camicia

The camicia only needed blackwork on the sleeves and gold cord at the neckline. I chose to not do insertion on every seam, for the sake of time needed elsewhere.

Here it is completed.


2. Reta

I was quite puzzled initially by what is going on with Eleanora’s reta. Is it a reta? Is it her braids? Looking closely it appears to be the same trim as her partlet, but it is more substantial than the double-picot trim I chose for my partlet.

So I decided to experiment and make my own. I had spare gold cord from my camicia and some yarn. I was thinking about how soutache might be made and I alternated wrapping the gold cord around two sections of 5 strands.

When braided, this trim looks very much like the portrait.


For research I couldn’t find anything quite like this. The closest I got was the detail from a Moroni portrait (below, right). It has a thicker look to it and shows how the hair lies underneath. And also this earlier Italian sample (below, left) with a thicker band and criss cross formation at the back.


I decided the criss cross pattern at the back would look great because it would match the partlet. So I started weaving strips of the trim into the braid. Then weaving more strips perpendicular.



Once positioned correctly I stitched everything together and added a lot of pearls. A lot.



And here it is completed over my taped hair. It requires no securing if you tape your braids slightly larger than the circumference of the reta. It was an amazing feeling and quite comfortable!



3. Underskirt

For the underskirt I chose to do a skirt with a bust that cuts below the bust. This is shown in a couple of paintings below and in the book The Tudor Tailor.


Lucretia. Early 16th century, Ambrosius Benson.

Judith beheading Holofernes. Late 16thc, Caravaggio


The bodice is interlined with heavy cotton twill and lined with linen.


For the skirt I used Patterns of Fashion 3, which details the construction of Eleanora’s burial gown. I chose to cut my fabric to 20” widths because it was actually easier to achieve a longer train by piecing.

The entire underskirt is hand sewn besides the side seams and center back seam of the bodice. The seams are rolled then whip stitched together for strength.

The hem is padded with cotton velveteen. I also added a tuck. The stitches are covered with couched gold soutache.


And added grommets for lacing the front closed.




First Update: April Progress

This month was fairly productive. I focused mostly on the bodice and camicia, needing the bodice neckline to determine the neckline of the camicia.

Items started but not yet completed:

1. Camicia

For inspiration on the camicia I chose the extant piece labeled #11 in the book Patterns of Fashion 4. This camicia has slightly gathered trapezoidal sleeves, and is Italian in origin. I made it square neck as in the portrait, added ruffles at the cuffs, and gussets at the waist and center front to accommodate better fit on my hips. I cut and stitched together my camicia, and I have a few bits of detailing on the cuffs and some gold cording to couch at the neckline.

I ended up scrapping the embroidery I had done and went with the same pattern in a more yellowish metallic gold to better match the other elements of the dress. I’m now finishing the blackwork plus signs in vintage black silk thread. Couching gold cording to the ruffles looks really nice. On the sleeves I also did insertion seams and a simplified motif of the one at the neckline. I’m not entirely sure I have the time to do insertion on all seams, if I have a chance I’ll go back to it.



2. Dress / Sottana

I drafted the sottana bodice using the bara system in the book The Modern Maker II. For the bodice interlining I recycled a cotton twill bag I had. I used two layers and pad stitched wool Melton in the center front for body. I cut and stitched the pink silk to the outside and added bias to the neckline. Bones (large zip ties) were inserted into channels at the sides where laces will go. I started cutting out my embroidery I’d stitched out and couching it like appliqué. Then I framed it with gold soutache. I’m working on the sleeves now. And adding the eyelets with pink silk buttonhole twist. Mostly I need to keep making far more trim for the sleeves and hem.




Very little has been done on the partlet other than pinning where the lines will go. And I’ve been looking quite a bit at her hair. Originally I thought she was wearing a rete, or snood, but I’m not sure anymore. Even up close I see braids, but not any criss-cross lines of a snood. Perhaps it is just braids and s strand of jeweled pearls as a head band? I will have to think more about that.

I also started making pearl aiglets for the sleeves.