The Ninth Annual Italian Renaissance Costuming Challenge

April 1 to July 31, 2019


Kairi Clark
California, USA

I have been wanting to do this since the first year, and either forgot, needed a dress in a certain timeframe, or was just busy. I'm SO EXCITED! I have been making Italian Renaissance costuming for almost 30 years, and have enjoyed the growing body of research the internet provides. I'm a mom, anthropology and education student, and member of the Guild of Santa Maria. We do the run of small faires in Northern California.

I'm making a new camicia, pink woven patterned silk blend underskirt, pink silk gown, and a slate/dull red shot silk overdress trimmed in silver. I'm starting on the handmade buttons now. I also plan on making several of the accessories on this list: a really fancy lace partlet, a pair of green leather or felted shoes, plum hose, chopines, new bloomers, new caul or hair bling, a pocket, or a flag fan. I never know what in my stash will inspire me on any given day.

My outfits are based on these two, and many other, portraits: An Unknown Man and Woman (once called Vasari and his Wife by Sophonisba Anguissola) and a full-length group portrait of three figures, said to be Contesa Constanza Machiavelli and her two daughters.

(Updates listed in reverse order)


The Completed Outfit


My photographer Deanna and the grounds of Castello di Amarosa in the Napa Valley, California, really made me feel like I WAS Dona Maddelena. A little girl tourist asked me “Do you live here?” and I answered “Yes, of course I do! That’s my bedroom up there!” Our photo location had an old Roman bathtub!

After climbing to the ramparts of the castlello, my gown was very wrinkled because I had to hold it all squished up in one hand so I didn’t fall and break my neck in a Very Period Way To Die. My zibellino belonged to my great-grandmother. I put a black rinse over my usually pink hair and added black false braids and taped them all in together with my real hair with silver petersham ribbon, and secured a strand of pearls for decoration. I wore pearl drop earrings, and my long pearls and ring are signs of station in the ladies’ group in my guild.

I even made a friend (which was why my pearls were cattiwhompus the rest of the day). His name was Albert. We tried to get a dignified portrait with a dog, like so many of the Allori paintings. Albert had other ideas on that.

At the end of the day, though, I was just a tired Dona who wanted a nice bath in peace.


Layer 1: Camicia

Handkerchief weight linen/cotton. Completely hand-sewn with cotton thread and embroidered in herringbone stitch with pink perle cotton. The front neckline is trimmed with metallic silver lace that matches the partlet. I’m wearing a tanktop and shorts! Really! The shift is very wrinkled because after being worn under the sottana, I realized I didn’t have any back pictures.



Layer 2: Underskirt

Silk blend fabric, machine-sewn with cotton bias tape top binding and ties. Worn over a previously made quilted petticoat, red cotton stockings, and pink pinked clogs.



Layer 3: Sottana

Pink shot with gold silk dupioni. Skirt and bodice separate. I know whip-stitching the skirt to the bodice is more period construction, but I like the versatility to use my skirts across several time periods, or as underskirts for various outfits. The skirt is completely machine-sewn, with machine embroidery on the waistband where it won’t be seen, trouser hooks and eyes and coat hooks and eyes hand-sewn on. The bodice is six layers: silk outer, cotton quilt batting sandwiched between two layers of coarser linen, cotton canvas with zip-tie boning, and white linen lining. Basic construction is by machine: pad-stitching, boning channels, basting layers. Silk was wrapped around the foundations and stitched on, and lining was hand-stitched in. The trim was applied by machine. The lacing strip eyelets were hand-bound over brass rings, lacing rings were hand-applied and then removed when they did NOT work, and new outer silk eyelets were bound with cotton embroidery thread.



Layer 3: Gown

Gown of red/blue crosswoven silk blend (which kind of oddly looks plum in sunlit pictures). Bodice and skirt facing lined in red silk dupioni, remainder of skirt lined in red linen. Silver wide purchased trim. Sleeves of white silk dupioni and narrow silver wire purchased braid. Ties of silver and white purchased braid, with attached silver aiglets. Six silver buttons hand-woven over ceramic beads, button loops hand-crocheted and then spun/plied to be slightly more robust. Long seams and basic construction, and hem of gown by machine. Bodice lining hand-stitched in, collar visibly prick-stitched for structure. Skirt cartridge-pleated using tape, hand-sewn to bodice.






Layer 4: Accessories


1. Partlet

Made from lace that feels like a rayon/poly blend. Metallic silver lace trim that matches the camicia, peach satin ties. Completely handsewn.




2. Girdle

Girdle made with glass pink and white pearls, silver filigree beads, and pink stone beads. Purchased clasp and pearl tassel. Strung on silver grey embroidery thread.


A million thanks to my awesome photographer Deanna Dyson, my long-suffering hubby who took pictures of me, laced me up a million and twenty times, and dealt with silk fluff and thread all over the house for months, and my friends that I never saw in the last few months. This has been one of the hardest times of my life with my mom dying at the beginning of this contest and I wish she could be here to see the end result. I am trying hard to see the beauty in the clothes I made, not the mistakes, and I relish all the things I learned and pushed myself to try. Next year I am aiming for no drama during the contest period, and a completely handsewn gown. Thank you, Bella for an awesome opportunity and good luck and love to all the other contestants!





Fourth Update: July Progress


That’s it, we are done, I can’t believe I finished. I sewed almost every non-working minute in the last month. I’m amazed by all the work everyone else has done! Yay us!

When the calendar turned to July 1, I realized stuff was getting real and it was crunch time. This month was super productive.

Items completed this month:

1. Under-dress

The bodice is about 50/50% hand / machine sewn; the skirt is 100% machine sewn except for the hooks and eyes, and the sleeves are 80% machine sewn. Some trim was applied by hand.

I started out the month on the pink silk bodice. I drafted it after my favorite orange silk bodice, with some minor adjustments at the center back neckline to help the shoulder straps stay up better. The bodice is five layers: lightweight linen lining, cotton duck canvas, thin cotton quilt batting, heavy linen canvas, and pink silk. The cotton batting was machine pad-stitched to the heavy linen, and the boning was attached to the cotton canvas.


Bodice pattern

Bodice layers

Bodice padding

Bodice padstitching


One of my aims this year was to learn new techniques and try new methods. I tried a new kind of boning. I have always liked plastic contractor’s zip ties, and I found some with holes in the middle. I realized I can sew them in and keep them from shifting around or poking. They are very quick to whipstitch into the casing. I used pink packaged quilt binding / bias tape for stay casings, stitched then down to the canvas. There were 7 bones in front, and one in the bcenter back. I tried a few different stitching techniques until I found the one I liked best. The bones feel more secure than any other bodice I have ever made.


Boning holes

Boning uncovered

Stitched boning

Finished boning


I made lacing strips just for fitting the bodice, but then decided to try making lacing strips instead of eyelets (trying something new, right?). The eyelets were made with an awl, and stitched around a brass drapery ring with pearl cotton embroidery floss. I thought it would be easier to replace them if the eyelets ripped out or easier to change if my weight went up or down. I laced up the lining of the bodice and was very happy with the fit.


Eyelet strips

Covering eyelet strip

Eyelet strip sewn

Side boning


Fitting eyelet strip


Bodice lining fit


Bodice lining back


I sewed the silk to the lining and interlining, added side bones,
and laced up. The silk pulled and gapped
and I was kind of heartbroken.


I realized I needed to close the insides, where the pink silk was,
and added lacing rings on the inside. Another fail.
If possible, it was even uglier than the first try.


Plain eyelets

Bodice fitting

Lacing rings

Ugly eyelets


I realized I needed tension on the outside and ordered pretty lacing rings that would show on the outside. In the meantime, I pleated my skirt into a waistband, hemmed the sides, sewed the sides together, and added flat hooks and eyes on the waistband. I didn’t have anyone to mark the hem, so I compared it to my orange skirt and hemmed it at the same length. The skirt is extremely light, crunchy and floaty. I was in love and amazed at the little effort put into the skirt in comparison to my recalcitrant bodice. I even put a little flourish of machine embroidery on the pink waistband.


Center pleat

Finished seam




To finish I attached trim to the bodice, lacing loops, and fixed lacing on the bodice. DONE!! WHOO!


Bodice finishing



Wonky eyelets


Dress trim


Final eyelets


Pretty lacing rings


Fancy eyelets



Under-dress complete



2. Gown


When I began thinking about the gown, I came to a really stark realization that I really had no idea how to cut the collar that I wanted. I thought I knew, but it was going to take me hours and hours of drafting to get it right. Late night, two weeks before the deadline, I ordered the Italian Lady’s doublet pattern from Margo Anderson. It was amazing and I 100% recommend it, plus it came in only two days. (I have no affiation, just like to give props where they are deserved).

My lacing tabs had not arrived yet, so I started thinking about my sleeves. I was originally going to do pink sleeves, but realized most of the portraits had embellished white silk sleeves. I still might do pink sleeves one day, I have extra fabric. I love interchangeable sleeves.

I had a little over a yard of white silk in my stash, and pulled it out. I measured the sleeves in the doublet pattern, cut one out of muslin - it was perfect - and I cut them out of silk. I tried samples of different slashing techniques, both on-grain, cross-grain, and bias- and they all looked like I had been dragged backwards behind an oxcart. Never mind.

The sleeves were very straightforward - two piece, unlined, curved. I added a band of linen around the top for stability, silver braid on the seams, and added silver ties to attach them to the bodice. I added silver tips to the ends (in the car while helping my kid move house) - they make a very fun tinkling sound!


Terrible slashing

Sewing sleeve

Sleeve strip

Adding tips


I start on the gown. It fits almost right out of the package. It has three layers - turquoise cotton from stash, red silk, and changeable red-blue silk from Malaysia. My hubby got it on a business trip ten years ago and I have been waiting to make something spectacular. The collar is pad-stitched with wool flannel and it is super bendy and malleable. The long seams on the gown are hand-sewn but most of the finishing is by hand, like attaching the lining, sleeve caps, buttons, and collar, as well as the prickstitching on the collar.


Collar back padding

Collar layers close-up

Collar layers

Collar under-layers


Gown layers


Gown lining


Red silk lining


Shoulder lacing rings


The skirt was cartridge pleated and attached. I cheated and used pleating tape, but it was attached by hand.


Cartridge tape

Inner cartridge pleating

Gown inner


Narrow or wide trim?


Wide trim being sewn on


Complete gown and outfit, front


Complete gown and outfit, back


Gown is 80% machine sewn. Cartridge pleating, prickstitching, buttons, and attaching lining by hand.


3. Girdle

I had an afternoon to kill without a pattern or lacing rings, so I went to the fabric store and got some beads for a girdle. I have never beaded before and really enjoyed it! I put a knot after every silver bead to keep it from disintegrating if it broke. It is strung on silver embroidery thread, and has a clasp at one end and a tassel at the other. I also used the same package of beads to add a little something to the buttons I made previously. Girdle is 100% hand-strung.


Bead sequence

Filligree bead

Finished girdle

Button embellishment





Third Update: June Progress


Well another month has flown by and I haven’t sewn as much as I had hoped. Fortunately most of my hand-sewing is behind me and most of the rest will be by machine.

Items Completed This Month:

1. Camicia

I finally finished my shift; I was waiting to cut the neckline until I cut the bodice for my dress. I always cut the necklines just a little too big and unfortunately this was no exception, It is much better that most of my other shifts, however, and doesn’t fall off my shoulders. I hand-hemmed the opening and I had a scrap of lace left from the partlet that was the perfect size for the front of the shift. I hand-stitched it on. This lace makes me swoon. This is my other helper, Luna (below, left).

The next picture is terrible, taken at night in my hallway (below, centre). I would have liked the camicia a little longer; I should have gotten another half yard of fabric.

I’m quite pleased with this camicia. It is so soft already and I think it looks really pretty. I also added a pink glass pearl on each sleeve as a button (below, right), and tucked it into the hemstitching to fasten.






2. Partlet

My partlet was inspired by the many Italian portraits of women with stunning lace collars, and when I found several women with all-lace collars, I knew exactly what I wanted.






The partlet was also completely hand-sewn. I drafted it off of the online pattern generators found on Truly Hats, from the Tudor Tailor, and from previous partlets I have made. It needed the shoulder areas cut down because my previous partlet stuck out too far on my shoulders and peeked out of my shoulder straps. I did two fittings before cutting this one. I simply cut out the fronts and backs on a fold after making sure the lace pattern was where I wanted it, then cut the collar and lining out.






I hand rolled-hemmed the edges of the whole partlet, with instruction from Ami Simms’ YouTube channel.

When I started to attach the collar, I realized it was really floppy and wouldn’t stand up well. I was thinking I was going to have to put collar stays in, or line it like you can see in one of the paintings. I had some netting at home, and decided to try that, since it was see-through, There are actually six layers of netting to stiffen the collar (You can see it in the picture of the collar), and it went together very easily. It gives the collar a very flexible, malleable stiffness and I love the way it came out, I will probably interface all my collars with it from now on. I also padstitch/quilted it down along the design of the lace to keep it from shifting. It is pretty much invisible. I stitched the collar on and slipstitched it closed on the inner side.




I hemmed the bottom and stitched a ribbon on to tie under my bustline. I found a really pretty ribbon that is partially satin and partially grosgrain. I hope it stays tied well.




I love how this came out and it is so girly and delicate. The camera really doesn’t capture the lace. I will get some better pix in daylight for the final pictures. It’s definitely the fanciest item my character has ever worn and she is just tickled over it. I can’t wait to see it under the pink silk.




So we are in the home stretch! In the next month, I need to finish my gown, overdress, and any other accessories I want to make. I also need to help my daughter move house, finish settling my mom’s house, and go to my 30th high school reunion. Wish me luck- and good luck to everyone else! I am so excited to see your finished results!





Second Update: May Progress

Month two. Life still in crazy flux, not a lot done. I got a few more buttons stitched, and all the side seams and gores of my camicia (more about that later).

Item Completed This Month:


I finished my underskirt- HOORAY! It’s the first full piece I have finished for the contest. It’s a very light, crispy taffeta-like texture. I was seriously excited when I found the fabric on Etsy, I had been looking for maybe a year for fabric I really loved. I discussed it with my costume director, and we were both concerned it was too small a pattern, so I went looking for extant pieces. I found this dress (see right) and was struck by how similar the pattern was. It is from the mid to late 1500’s and is in the Palazzo Reale in Pisa.

I contacted the seller to make sure it was real silk, and she assured me it was. I ordered it, and when it got here I was both very excited and super disappointed - I did a burn test and this was definitely not 100% silk. It does have a burnt-hair smell, so it is partially silk, but it also gets ashy and beads up. I would say it’s silk/rayon/poly blend. I decided not to use it for the whole dress, just an underskirt and sleeves.

It was very easy to machine-stitch a skirt after spending a whole month on a $%@? shirt. I made the underskirt with separate front and back waistbands that tie around the waist. I like to be able to access pockets. Now here is where I have to make a dirty confession: I am a TERRIBLE pleater.

I know there are many wonderful tutorials and magic mathematic formulas to get perfect pleats, but frankly, I divide my fabric in quarters, pleat the first quarter, and copy it three more times to make it all match. I don’t even measure with anything other than my knuckle width- I do it all by eye. Do as I say, not as I do. I marked ½ my waist width on each of the front and back waistbands and pleated the first quarter. Then I simply folded the skirt in half and copied what I did the fist time.

I did the same on the back part of the skirt, just copying the first eyeballed pleats I did. I baste them down on the machine, being sure not to catch the under pleats and make them wonky.

I used a really soft cotton bias tape to form and bind the waistband, and continue out into the waist ties.

Then I simply hemmed the side seams before sewing them, so the seams are felled, then hemmed the skirt.

To wear the skirt, you slip it on, tie the back ties around your front, wrap the front ties around your back and bring them to the front and tie.

See? It has slits for POCKETS!!

(Long day, I’m disheveled)



Ongoing: Camicia

I’ve been watching too many Bernadette Banner vlogs and really felt inspired to up my hand stitching game. I tried to keep my stitches very small and neat thy look better in person than in the pictures. I hemmed the side seams, then whip stitched them together. When you pull the fabric taut, it opens out flat any you get a very comfortable seam against your skin under stays or a bodice.

The camicia will be finished this weekend, I should have plenty of time to sit and hand stitch at Valhalla Renaissance Faire. It’s up in South Lake Tahoe and absolutely beautiful.

Next month, I need to get motoring! Summer is an easier time where I work, so I will be able to get much more done. Ciao!

First Update: April Progress


This first month has definitely been a challenge. My mom died in April, and I spent most of the month out-of-state taking care of her, and then organizing her affairs, and then trying to recover and get my own life back together after being gone a month. I also had to make a quilt for a wedding and a kilt for my hubby. I only have a tiny amount of work to show, but I’m actually really proud of it.

Item started this month but not yet completed:


I finished the two sleeves of my camicia. I have sewn two shifts completely by hand now, and wanted to challenge myself a little more, so I decided to make embroidered open-work seams. I did a little too much research on Google and Pinterest, and finally decided to do something simple for my first try. I’m using a very lightweight linen-cotton blend. I would live in linen constantly if I could. I’m just making a rectangular cut shift that I don’t use a pattern for - I just tailor it to my measurements. First, I hand- hemmed three sides of the sleeve. I had a lot of help from my attending sewing assistant, Warble.


I decided to hemstitch the wrist opening and pulled threads out of the warp. I didn’t count them, just eyeball them. I think it was about seven threads total I pulled out. I just held one sleeve up to the other to compare and see if they were even.



I am not precise about counting threads - which is why I hve never done any counted blackwork on my garments. I just eyeballed grouping threads together, and followed a hemstitching tutorial from online. I really like how it gives a slightly lacy, open look to the hems.




Unfortunately, I went a little crazy on the first sleeve and forgot I hadn’t tapered it to the wrist yet, and hemstitched waaaaay more that I needed. I’ll just call it practice.


After hemming, I went back on the web and found a herringbone stitch tutorial. I wanted to do something REALLY fancy, but my embroidery skills are not yet up to some of my other crafting stats, and I once again decided to keep it simple. I’m stitching all the visible seams on the camicia in openwork. I think it is pretty and kind of sexy and it will help keep me cool in California summers. It took a few tries, some needlepokes and bleeding, and a little swearing, but I got it. I was kind of surprised how much faster it went than sewing a running or backstitch, and it made sense suddenly why people did seams this way. This is really my favorite part of historical costuming- the experimental archaeology part. I feel connected to the seamsters through the years that had special ways to sew their seams that was quick and pretty. That was a lot of talking for not much sewing.



I have also worked on the wrapped buttons which I started (with permission) before April 1st. I only have the wrapping on about six of them completed. They are silver pearl cotton and metallic over ceramic beads. They will likely also have a pink accent and a pink pearl on the end of each button when they are done. It takes about an hour to do each button. Next time I will try to have beads the same color as the threads, it will make wrapping a little easier. I like learning things as I go! I also made one button with plain old embroidery thread, and I kind of like that one better- but I want this to be a showpiece, and I think the metallic will be more eye-catching. I’m making little shanks at the bottom so I can make the buttons removable for cleaning, instead of sewing them onto the garment.



Next month, I will finish my shift, my pink pattened underskirt, and hopefully dive into the bodice of the pink gown. I’d also like to work on my stockings before it gets too hot. It’s going to be a busy month!