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.


(Updates listed in reverse order)


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. Rete

I was quite puzzled initially by what is going on with Eleanora’s rete. Is it a rete? 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 rete. 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.