The Ninth Annual Italian Renaissance Costuming Challenge

April 1 to July 31, 2019


Hannah Fuhriman
Colorado, USA

I have been sewing all my life and, in the past, have considered myself fairly proficient in Italian Renaissance costume. In the last five or so years I have sewn very little and what I have created has been more costume-related than historically accurate. I’m hoping that this year’s challenge will help to inspire me once more!

I am planning on making a Venetian ensemble based on those in “Mores Italiae”, being particularly inspired by this woman in blue. I am planning an embroidered camicia and possibly a pair of blue silk drawers for the first layer, blue silk gown for the main/second layer, a white velvet/brocade zimarra for layer three, and for the accessories I would like to make a veil, a partlet, and either a fan or zibellino. The materials are all from the stash, excepting the blue silk for the gown which is my sole splurge for this ensemble and on order.

For extensive handwork begun prior to the challenge’s commencement, I have been working on the embroidery for the camicia on the sleeve panels. The linen has been ripped into panels for years, but will still be trimmed to size once the challenge begins.


(Updates listed in reverse order)


The Completed Outfit




I completed seven items for this year's challenge.


Layer 1: Camicia

Entirely hand sewn and hand embroidered (part prior to challenge start, part after). Panels joined by hand, dyed lace to match.



Layer 1 Extra: Venetian Breeches

Entirely constructed by hand and finished by hand, cloth buttons made, slashed and trim sewn by hand.



Layer 2: Gown

Constructed by hand and machine, all finishing stitches by hand, faux puffs/sleeves beaded by hand.



Layer 3: Zimarra

Constructed and finished by hand and machine.



Layer 4: Accessories

1. Veil – hemmed by hand, lace joined to edge by hand.

2. Zibellino – sculpted and painted clay head, stitched together and beaded by hand.

3. Partlet / Coverciere – constructed, embroidered, and beaded by hand.



Notes upon wearing: I'm super happy with how each component of this outfit turned out, but they need some adjustments to go together. The camicia neckline is just a tad too small to sit where I would like it, and the partlet doesn't want to stay in place with the gown.

I'm very happy with how the gown turned out, and how it fits, but I will probably be making an additional petticoat in the future to go with it to give the skirt more fullness.

Upon having an assistant pin the sleeves into place high up on the shoulder straps, I made the realization that doing so also makes the strap appear narrower, which is a trick I may use in further creations to add the look of the almost non-existant shoulder strap seen in portraiture.

I also splurged on the silk charmeuse for the gown, and though I love it, I'm not sure I would use a similar material again. It is perilously delicate and difficult to keep unwrinkled and even harder to photograph!




Fourth Update: July Progress


Items completed this month:

1. Partlet

This last month was a lot of finishing. I finished the partlet. I think, in the end, I did not embroider as much as originally planned, but it was enough. I then beaded it with glass pearls and hematite beads. It has a lovely subtle sparkle between the hematite and the metallic thread.




2. Gown

I finally got some plain muslin to line the gown’s skirt. The skirt is made from three panels of silk, the width of the fabric, and flat lined with the muslin. The seams were sewn by machine, and then I went back, trimmed the seam allowance of the muslin and whip stitched the edge of the silk to the lining.

The pleats are padded with a strip of wool, and I concocted a blend of cartridge pleats and knife pleats and whip stitched the skirt to the bottom edge of the bodice.

The hem is padded with another strip of wool, and covered on the inside with a strip of linen. I intended to trim the hem with blue velvet ribbon, but decided that it would clash with the gold lace on the bodice and sleeves and mess with the elegance of the look I was going for.


My downfall usually starts with sleeve points, ribbons, ties, what have you. I like wearing the gowns without sleeves over a camicia, and don’t like having either eyelets or excess strings hanging about (my own weird problem, I’m sure).

So I made the conscious decision to use pins to secure the finished sleeves to the gown’s shoulders, which, fortunately, is a period option! I went out and found tiny sequin pins just for the job. They hide very nicely under the faux puffs on the shoulders.



The gown is complete, and I am super happy with how it turned out!




3. Zimmara

The zimmara is complete as well. All I got for extra embellishment was adding a strip of trim along the edge. I started by hand sewing it on with more metallic thread, but ultimately gave up and finished it by machine. I decided it could live without buttons.

I spent two hours last night combing out the wig I want to wear with it for the final photos and have a location planned out for this next weekend for photos!





Third Update: June Progress


Items started but not yet completed:

1. Gown

This month I started first with the gown. I had several main inspirations, the first initially being this image from Mores Italiae, and then this detail from a Veronese fresco (1561, below left). My sleeves were inspired by the ones in Portrait of a Gentlewoman in a green velvet dress (1550, below right) by a follower of Veronese.



My fabric is a navy blue charmeuse silk. The bodice is interlined with two layers of linen and lined with a third layer. I first finished the boning channels, boning, and then whipstitched the outer silk around the edges of the interlining layers. I went around and folded the edge of the lining in between and then whipstitched it into place.

For lacings, I used lacing rings sewn to the inside front opening, and sewed the rings at both top and bottom. This seems to be the easiest thing for me for ladder lacing. I then hand sewed the lace along the top edge.



I based my sleeve pattern on a pattern for a Florentine round sleeve. The sleeves are lined in some beige scrap dupioni from the stash. I first sewed the lining to the outer around the perimeter of the flat pieces, then turned them right side out. While they were still thusly flat, I created faux puffs with scraps of habotai and some bronze beads. I have no evidence for such faux puffs, except for the wild speculation that the puffs on the sleeves in the portrait are too even, neat, and small to be the camicia-pulled-through sort. Once the puffs/beading were complete, I whipstitched the sleeve seams, added lace, and a set of hook and eye to each wrist.


Sleeves, back seam

Sleeves, puff construction

Sleeves, detail

Sleeves, completed

I then ran into a snag as I discovered I did not have as much lining for the skirt as I thought I did. So the dress is now on hold while I wait for finances to allow purchase of the rest of the fabric I need /or till I break down and decide to use something else from the stash that will not match.



2. Partlet

The next thing I started – and also have not yet finished- is the partlet. It is inspired by the one seen in Francesco Montemezzano’s Seated Woman with a Kerchief and Lap Dog (below, left). It is made from silk organza and I used french seams on the sides and shoulders. The front edge is finished with a narrow bronze silk ribbon, the same as I used on the drawers. I assembled it completely by hand, and once finished, I moved on to attempting to replicate, somewhat, the star-shaped motifs seen in the painting. I’m using cotton floss and metallic sulky for the embroidery. So far I have four stars complete, with at least half a dozen more to go.



3. Zimarra

The third thing I started and did not complete (see the theme? *cringe*) is my zimarra. I fretted over what sort to make for quite a while, having barely 2.5 yard of the brocade I wanted to use. I wanted to pattern it after the numerous Turkish-style robes the Italians favoured, but found little evidence for them being worn over gowns. I ultimately decided to go with a knee-length zimarra like the ones depicted many times in images from the period, with short sleeves and a yoked back.

The outer is synthetic brocade, I paired it with some synthetic velvet that I’ve been holding onto for way too long. I sewed the large inside seams by machine, and then flat lined it with the velvet, whip stitching it into place along the inside seams and stab stitching the outside edges. The three paned sleeves are pieced from scraps, and right now the bottom corners are just tacked together. As of right now, the garment is functionally wearable, but I am intending to add trim and other embellishments during this next month.


Zimarra, internal


Zimarra, sleeve pieces


Zimarra, internal seam

Zimarra, current progress




Second Update: May Progress


Items completed this month:

1. The Camicia

This month I primarily focused on completing my camicia. I used this image from Cesare Vecellio’s De gli Habiti antichi et moderni di Diverse Parti del Mondo as my main inspiration.

The camicia is made up of eight body panels, two sleeves, and two gussets. I hand hemmed all the pieces and then joined them with insertion seams. I wanted to try something other than the herringbone insertion stitch that I have used in the past. I started by joining each set of pieces with a fine ladder of stitching using cotton crochet string and then going back through and using what I believe is a drawn threadwork technique to make it look a little lacier.

I made the front panels about three inches shorter on top than the back panels. The sleeves are inserted into slits made in the two side panels. The neckline is then cartridge pleated to size. I whip-stitched a length of silk ribbon to the pleats on the inside for reinforcement. Its not pretty, but its also not seen from the outside, and gives me peace of mind about the pleating busting open.



Way back at the beginning of month one I dyed the lace for the bottom of the camicia. I sewed it to the bottom with a running stitch, with the thought of it being easy to remove should I need to wash the garment, to avoid any possible dye-bleed.

The camicia is now complete. It is embroidered, constructed, and finished entirely by hand.


2. The Zibellino

This month I also made my first ever zibellino. I made two at once; the second one is for my daughters’ and doesn’t count for this challenge. I only made the top of the heads. They are sculpted out of sculpey. I added some metal rings to the noses and used glass pearls for the eyes. Being the lucky recipient of many acquaintances “oh, you sew? Here’s a box of my grandma’s random crafty/sewy stuff” boxes, I had in my collection two unset swiss blue topaz that I also set into my zibbie’s head. All this was before baking.

After baking, I used some brown acrylic and bronze metallic paint to give the clay some texture and less of a clay look. I used the brown in the “deeper” portions of the sculpture, and the metallic paint to highlight the higher points.



I then moved onto the pelts. I wrapped the heads in black velveteen, whip stitching it as tightly as possible, and running the thread through the pelt to secure it. As my mink had some sort of form in the head, I proceeded to hammer it flat. I then attached the clay head through several stitching holes I had made in the clay prior to baking. I added more glass pearl beads to the velvet. Voila!



The zibellino is complete. Although I have a ring to attach it to a girdle, I’m intending to use it at a free floating accessory since I will likely not be wearing a belt of any sort.


Next comes the gown!



First Update: April Progress


I began by organizing my materials into piles for the other major projects:
1) habotai silk, passementerie trim, and silk ribbon for the partlet and veil, 2) purple linen, blue dupioni, and silk ribbons for the Venetian breeches,
3) blue charmeuse, blue wool, muslin, and trimmings for the gown, and
4) brocade, velvet, and trimmings for the zimarra.

Items completed this month:

1. The Veil

I adore the long flowy veils shown in many images of the time. I had in my stash several yards of silk habotai and found online five yards of tarnished antique passementerie trim. I realized five yards of trim would not be enough to trim the entire perimeter of the size of veil I desired, but I really wanted to use it on a veil. I stumbled upon two images of veils which definitely are trimmed along the sides and bottom but don’t necessarily appear to be trimmed along the top edge: the newly-wed Venetian woman 1581 from Habitus Varium Orbis Gentium and in this image from Cesare Vecellio’s Habiti Antichi, Et Moderni di Tutto Il Mondo 1598.



The veil is a long rectangle hand-hemmed along three sides with the selvedge along the fourth. I then joined the gold lace to the bottom and sides with decorative tacking points about every centimeter. The lace has some definitive and lovely weight to it due the metal threads, and I am in love with how it plays with flowy silk.

The veil is finished, and sewn entirely by hand.

2. Venetian breeches

I moved on to the Venetian breeches (layer #1), using Pietro Bertolli’s 1591 engraving of a Venetian courtesan wearing men’s breeches under her gown as my main reference. There are also several examples of breeches, not necessarily drawers, being worn under the camicia, and so I am intending these as my first layer.



I based my pattern off of the 1615’s Venetians in the Germanisches Nationalmuseum Nurnburg, as found in Janet Arnold’s Patterns of Fashion 3. Although the extant version is dated slightly post-period for my ensemble, examples of a similar article are the 1581 Venetians (Calzoni) of Cardinal Flavio Orsini.

Although the extant 1615’s pair is interlined with wool, I decided to forego that layer in the interest of lightness. The inter-lining is linen and the outer is blue silk dupioni that I’ve had in my stash for years. The lining is pieced together from scraps of gold and purple habotai I had in the stash.


I knew I wanted to slash the silk, and decided on the diagonal pattern of slashing in order to fit the pattern onto the allotted silk and still have the slashes lie on the bias. I cut the inter-lining first, and then the silk on the bias, and basted the layers together. I then marked for the trim and made it from coiled purple silk ribbon with a row of gold silk ribbon stitched down the center of the rows with simple embroidered x’s. I was worried that all this would be crazy time extensive, but once everything was pinned down, I made progress much faster than expected. This method of trimming was inspired by the trim on the extant guibbone of Pietro of Aragon, 1552.


Once the trim was complete, I slashed the silk in parallel rows and gathered the resulting strips and stitched them down to the linen lining. Here I was roughly inspired by the slashed satin lining in the extant gown of Dorothea Sabina von Neuberg, 1598.

I then assembled the venetians by hand. The lining is stab-stitched into place along the knees. The waistband is a strip of double folded silk; the original had linen interlining, but again I forewent this for lightness. I inserted a placket of linen into the front opening and sewed in three pairs of hook and eye for the closure.

The original pair had openings at the knees, but I felt this unnecessary for my personal use. However, I still wanted some sort of decoration at those points and went ahead and made a few cloth buttons. They are from the same blue silk dupioni, with cotton floss and glass beads. They turned out a little rough, but I’m considering them a warm-up for the buttons I intend to make later for the zimarra. I made seven buttons, two for each knee and three for the front closure, they are all decorative in nature.



The venetians are now finished. They are completely constructed, trimmed, and finished by hand, minus the initial machine basting prior to trimming.


Items started but not yet completed:


Prior to the challenge’s beginning, I completed the embroidery on both the sleeves, eight body panels, and had started on the first gusset for the camicia. Once the challenge started I went ahead and finished up the embroidery on the gussets and I’ve begun trimming and hemming the pieces between other projects.


Plans for May are to finish the camicia and begin working on the gown.