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)

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!