The Ninth Annual Italian Renaissance Costuming Challenge

April 1 to July 31, 2019


Linda Thompson
Western Australia

Hi, I've been in the SCA for over thirteen years and usually do early period and England, though the last few years has seen me drift towards the beautiful Italian Renaissance and Eastern. I've tried the challenge twice but ill health usually forced me to bow out after the first month, though I did succeed in making a gorgeous saccoccia the first time. I'd say I'm still a bit of a novice and have only done a couple of renaissance before. Most of the materials will be coming out of my stash and what I collected for previous challenges, as I still haven't used it.

Hopefully, I'll end up making a compilation 1530-1550 style gown or something like this image (see right). My layers will be: 1. chemise and partlet; 2. underskirt and gown; 3. cape. Layer 4 / Accessories: any 4 of these - fan; flea fur / zibellino; muff / manizza; hair accessory and jewellery.


(Updates listed in reverse order)


The Completed Outfit


Layer 1: Camicia

All hand sewn. There’s something very soothing about handsewing. My camicia is based on images of extant textiles that include insertion lace along the seams. I used a light weight linen and found some lovely lace in my stash that was reminiscent of insertion lace patterns. Having only one reel I used it on the sleeves, shoulders and side seams.

I patterned the camicia off one I had which was trapezoid in shape, and used white silk thread to sew it together. I messed up cutting the neckline and fixed it by sewing bias in the corners and then covering it with a wider, similar style lace. I also made up some pretty sleeve cuffs but they ended up too short and I left them off. I may add them later as an open cuff with a button closure.

Lessons learned

Do not sew with a sleeping cat on your lap, as a soft fur baby, purring gently will also send you into slumber.

I’d also change the neckline, by not making the back so low.




Layer 2: Underskirt / Falda

All hand sewn. Again with the handsewing, when I have a perfectly good sewing machine. Oh well, it is satisfying.

I used a light weight linen in a gorgeous mustard yellow and, using linen thread, ran two lines of running stitch across the top and lightly gathered to my waist measure at the time. I then sewed it to a band of the same material, sewing one side and then folding it over the gathers to sew the other.I erred here as the blind hem ended up on the wrong side and the very neat hem stitch came through messy on the other but I had no inclination to change it, so just chose the neater side for the front. Erred again when doing the hem as it ended up on the wrong side and as tired as I was, I just couldn’t leave it like that. I ended up just cutting it off and rehemming it on the correct side. For the side seams I used a technique I was not familiar with but that was used at the time, a flat felled seam. It didn’t turn out as it should have as I ended up with three lines of stitches instead of two but I did learn from it.I used hook and eye closures at the waist and raised the hemline 6cm.

Lessons learned

Don’t sew while tired and unfocused or things will end up backwards.

I learned the 'do's and 'don’t's of a flat felled seam.

And ALWAYS try on things, don’t just hold it up to your waist and think hey its too long I need to cut off a few inches.Fortunately I measured it and it was just a few centimetres off, tried it on and it was nearly perfect.




Layer 3: Sottana (Incomplete)

Sleeves: complete: all hand sewn. These needed precision, as I’ve not made proper sleeves before, especially not striped sleeves so I was very careful making them. Though they turned out gorgeous. Baragoni: incomplete - not really started. Sottana skirt: machine sewn - incomplete. Pleats done. Hemline - half done, as I had the felt but not the black drill.

The sottana started out life as a quilt cover, so I only had so much to work with. I learned many lessons making this as i had to do everything twice.
First mistake, folding it over and cutting it in half. It did not cut straight. Second mistake, only cutting off about a meter for the bodice, which I thought was plenty. Oh how wrong was I, especially with the patterned material. I sewed the two pieces together and ended up with 4m 20cm for my skirt. Pleated the top by eye and was only a couple of cm off the correct measure. I decided to put a skirt guard on the skirt but I haven’t done this before so I just sewed some felt along the bottom. Then it went bonkers as I pinned the side seam and found it shorter on one side than the other.

Only solution was to restart, so I cut off the top and bottom line of stitches and spread it out again. Measured and cut to straighten the edges and sewed bias to the top, which I should have done first time around. Redid the pleats even better second time around. I also cut off 80cm for the bodice front piece so I could centre the pattern. However in evening the material, it was shortened and was now out at least 10cm. The solution for this was to create a seperate skirt guard and sew it to the bottom. This is all I managed before the deadline.

After deadline I completed the skirt. I finished hemming the skirt guard and used the flat felled seam for the side. It turned out much neater than on the underskirt. I also left an opening at the side for a pocket and used a hook and eye closure at the waist. I also had to adjust four of the pleats to bring it in two inches after losing weight. Bodice is incomplete.

Lessons learned

Measure, do not guess.

Cut carefully and accurately the first time.

Always try on during construction, for proper fitting in case you lose weight.




Layer 4: Accessories



1. Reversible Muff

All hand-sewn.






2. Set of Necklaces



Incomplete: Headwear

This headband was meant to be worn with a caul but I didn't complete it by the deadline.








Fourth Update: July Progress


Items completed this month

1. Camicia

I now have a completed camicia. It was all hand sewn. Even though I have a perfectly good sewing machine, I did not use if for the camicia.

Working on the sleeves, I pulled threads to make sure it was even on all sides, then trimmed the fringe. I managed a tidy, small hem with a simple running stitch.

Observation.... do not sew with sleeping cat, as you will also fall asleep. Kept nodding off with only a few more stitches to go until the end. Luckily didn’t have a major mishap but I seem to have missed a couple stitches. After that I put it away and joined Lucycat in sleep.



I dug around in my stash and came up with a reel of cotton lace that reminded me of an insertion stitch. I used this between the hems on the long side and at the top where it will join with the arm hole. Hoping there’s enough as I only have the one. The lace was sewn to the outside of the sleeve.



The second sleeve was sewn using the same techniques but in a different order, top seam, sides then lace, leaving the cuff end un-sewn, as something odd happened with the first one and they didn’t match (even though they started out identical).

I finally cut the main body of my camicia, using another as pattern. It’s going to be short. Sewed the side seams/hems and then attached the sleeves (still hadn’t worked out the neckline at this stage). Used the last of the lace on the side seams sewing it the same as on the sleeves. For some reason I didn’t do any underarm gores.

I finally worked out the neckline for the sottana bodice, so I now have a neckline for my camicia. Cut it out and hemmed the edges, only to realise I’d cut the corners wrong. So now I had to figure out how to limit the damage as it’s rather fine linen. Went with sewing bias tape at the corners to reinforce them and since my sewing is somewhat messy I used some of the wider lace I’d found for the cuffs around the neckline.







Back to the sleeve cuffs and I used a bit of lace that looked similar to the one I used on the seams, only wider. I couched gold along the edges and sewed gold thread through the centre. Two gorgeous cuffs made, only to
discover they are too short for wrist bands. Maybe open sleeve cuffs - later. Leaving them off for now.




2. Underskirt

Completed, all hand sewn. The hem is up 6cm. Hooks and eyes have been sewn to the waistband.




3. Set of necklaces

Two necklaces are complete. Everything was from the stash.

Main necklace

There are several portraits showing this type of necklace, with either chain or pearl.




I chose pearl in order for it to be seen, as the gold chain blended in too much.





Secondary necklace








Items not completed:

1. Sottana

I did not get this finished. It was machine sewn.

The sottana started out life as a quilt cover, so I only had so much to work with. Lesson learned: you really really have to measure material. DO NOT GUESS.

I had all sorts of trouble, from the skirt hem going bonkers to an uncooperative bodice. My first mistake: I did a lousy job of cutting it in half so one piece ended up wider than the other, and didn’t find this out until I’d sewed them together.

I did get lucky pleating the skirt however, as I did it by hand and eye and was out by only a few cm from the correct measure.

And then it all went screwy again as the hem was wonky and didn’t match up. I used some wool felt in order to make a skirt guard, again something I have no practical experience with, so I didn’t really know what I was doing. I folded up a small hem and used the felt to cover it to the edge, thinking it was straight.

Then came the side seam and I planned to start from the top so I pinned the seam together, only to find it about two inches short on one side. Argh??
The skirt was the correct length so far and then when it hit the bonkers bit it became too short.

Discouraged, I threw it to the side to work on something else as I still needed some accessories and was still working on the camicia but I kept going back to it trying to think of how to fix it and what in my stash to use.

Sottana bodice

I haven’t really made a proper bodice before, so getting my head around the principles of how to make it eluded me. A class at the May Baronial Collegia was for a fitted bodice and even though I came away with a part fitted mock up, it still needed a lot of adjustments that I wasn’t able to figure out by myself. I learn by observation and by the numbers tutoring and I didn’t have that available, so It was really hard for me to try and work it out just using pictures. I eventually ended up using other garb to make a pattern for the bodice but it still needed adjusting to make it what I envisioned, though I did finally end up with something.

Centring the pattern and realising I did not have enough material (well I had enough material to do a back piece but only enough for the front piece of the front, no shoulder straps or right under side) hmm what to do?

When I restarted the sottana skirt, it measured in at 4m20cm which allowed me to cut a panel of 80cm off (without too much difference to the volume once pleated) and centered correctly to do the front of the bodice with sides and straps as my second mistake was originally only cutting off about a meter for the bodice, without actually measuring how much I would need in order to centre the pattern.


The lining of the bodice

Centering the pattern


Making adjustments on my doppelgänger


New front piece


Sottana sleeves

All hand sewn because they required precision, slightly incomplete.

Are they going to be detachable, or am I going to sew them into the bodice of the sottana under the baragoni? Can’t decide, brain has gone meh.

These are the first ever proper sleeves I have made. I now understand why I don’t like doing sleeves, they are sneaky and evil. I not only chose to do proper sleeves but used striped material and beaded trim. I was insane to think they would be easy, for I have no experience with sleeves or stripes.

First off, do not trust your paper pattern, DO a mock up with scrap first, it is vital.

In May, my Barony held a Collegia and one of the classes was drafting a sleeve and I learned much from it. I did end up with a sleeve pattern to my measure and took it home but didn’t really check it. Excited to have a pattern, I made up two sleeves in a patterned cotton for another dress and what I got was two right sleeves that didn’t fit at all.

Sticking my pattern back together and measuring it, I realised the pattern was my exact measure, there were no seam allowances and I’d forgotten to turn it over to get the second sleeve.... ah well, at least it wasn’t the good stuff (I only had just enough for that).

Praying to the stitching gods that all will be well, I cut my fabric. Then used the sleeves to cut some linen lining.



Now onto the beading...

Second mistake. I had three and a half meters of lovely beaded trim and unwisely thought, hey that should be plenty to do the sleeves. Oh how wrong was I, it wasn’t even enough to do one sleeve. Measure and measure again and even if you measure get at least half again the amount you need and if you guess, get at least 3 to 4 times as much. I actually had to raid three Spotlight stores to find enough to finish the sleeves.



Once beaded it was onto the lining with linen left over from the underskirt which was rather simple. Then came another tricky bit with matching up the stripes from the inside, doing the seam with a backstitch for strength.







Turning them back the right way I discovered my third mistake: the stripes didn’t go in a perfect circle. Not sure why but probably didn’t cut the material on the correct line.

The seam looked slightly messy too but I found some soutache in the stash to cover it.

I now had two gorgeous sleeves.




Now how to attach them to the shoulders....

This is where you do not listen to Medievally disinclined older sisters. My older sister was visiting and I was showing her everything I had made so far, especially my gorgeous sleeves. When I explained that they were detatchable sleeves, she asked if I used Velcro to attach them to the shoulder straps. I was mortified and stunned that that was her first thought and quickly disabused her of the notion saying we used ribbons, buttons and eyelets.
Okay, some might use Velcro on things but I do not!

And so, do I attach my sleeves to the dress under the baragoni, which I have half an idea how to make?



Sottana skirt

Now, in the last few days, I have completely restarted the bonkers sottana skirt. Fortunately there was only a small line of stitches holding the pleats, so I just cut that line off and respread the material.

That done I could clearly see the bonkers bit at the hem side. There was an even smaller width hem over the felt, so I just cut that off too.

I folded it over, measured the shorter side and and cut it to that width along the whole length. It is now totally even but only measures 93cm which is at least 10cm too short (but it is straight and equal) but not sure what to use to fix it with.

I was also able to do a neater job of the pleats this time.

I found a couple of remnant cards of black bias in the stash and used it at the top of the skirt to keep the fray at bay (really should have done that first time around) and to give the pleats some backbone as it looks way neater. The bias tape was only 1cm out at the end, another bit of luck from the stash gods. They did however let me down, when I went looking for something to place at the hem side to lengthen it.


I stuck my tape measure to the table, marking the length needed and then folded the skirt in half and marked the middle, then from middle out folded the pleats and adjusted along the tape measure.



I still had the felt but no black drill (until I nipped into Spotlight), so only half of the skirt guard counts.

I only got 1m and cut it into 20cm lengths, then I machine sewed the felt to the drill and then joined them into one long strip and sewn it to the hemside. It gave me the extra length I needed.

The yellow is the felt (ran out of time to fold up and hem) as my brain was clammering at me to do other stuff.

This late I will have to leave it unfinished or I’ll end up making a bigger mess of it...




2. Headband

I needed the gold beads from the incomplete headband I made earlier for my necklace, so I needed to make a new headband (hey, a girl can change her mind). Everything is from my over abundant stash....

I started with the copper wire and ribbon to make the adjustable band, sewing the ribbon to the wires with a piece of stabiliser between the two pieces of ribbon. Then I sewed on the gold and pearl necklace, followed by two pearls between each space.



The back shows the messy sewing, so I made some trim from leftover material from the sleeves and sewed it to the back to neaten things up and added gold braid to the sides.



At the ends I placed a gold bead and a few links of chain. It bent into shape nicely. Top and side views below, ignore the wig pins.



The headband is incomplete. I was going to add a coif or snood or maybe netting to it. The wig wasn’t long enough to make braids with.






Third Update: June Progress


Item started but not yet completed:


Everything is from the stash or was bought pre challenge.

  • Light weight Linen (prewashed)
  • Needles
  • Threads (silk and embroidery)
  • Cluny lace

Part hand sewn, part machine sewn. I started with the cutting out or rather ripping the pieces, so all edges are straight. Sleeves and main body (going to be short).


Neckline not yet cut (need to be really careful there).


Started the sleeves first, this is the wristband.



And yes, that is my supervisor Persephone. I had to give her the hem I’d cut off my underskirt as a bribe, as she thought the white band was a marvellous new toy.


I mounted the band on my smallest frame but the tension isn’t right, so I may have to make a smaller frame, or put smaller dowels on this one, to make it thinner.

I also started on rectangular sleeves with a rolled hem on all sides to stop any further fraying, using Gutermann silk thread, as it’s a fine cloth.


Ongoing item:

Underskirt / Falda

All hand sewn. I started the top band at Pencampwr (SCA camping event). I used my Tudor Tailor linen thread to do a running stitch, with a backstitch every ten or so to prevent the gathers from gathering.




I folded the band over the gathers, then did a neat upright hem stitch (which was supposed to be the inside hem) but I sewed the blind hem on the wrong side and the stitches came through on the other side beneath it, making it look messy and I didn’t have the energy or inclination to change it.


So the neat side with the lovely upright hem stitch became the outside.



Next came the hem as it was easiest to sew before doing the side seam. I did a lovely hem using a simple running stitch, again with a backstitch every ten or so to prevent gathering or puckering, Persephone even managed some lap time.




I finished it and shook it out, only to find my lovely hem on the outside of the skirt....really need not to sew while tired... oh well. I needed to go to sleep but my brain refused to shut down while I was focused on this mistake, so cut the offending hem off and then re-sewed it on the right side and make it much neater.


Onto the finishing seam and I went with a stitch I haven’t used before, a flat fell seam. I thought to use it on the underskirt as an experiment, as I plan to use it on the outer garb and any mistakes made will be lesson learned. I used a short backstitch this time and followed the instructions as per Google. The two edges sewn together, fold one side back and cut the other in half. I messed up here as I cut it too close to the edge, leaving no fold over. Ended up folding it over and then over again, ending up with three rows of stitches instead of two, though I did end up with a somewhat neat seam.




At the top of the seam I left 10cm loose, just folding double and hemmed to create a split.




I’d also left 7cm either side of the band to create tabs for the closure, finishing them off with small overstitches and closing the ends with a blind stitch. No closure yet, still thinking, just pinned for now, although even that is period.


A very serious lesson learned: try on your creation, DO NOT simply hold it up to yourself, it is an illusion. I did so and thought it was at least five inches too long but then I had used the width of the material without cutting any off. However, when I measured it with tape to see how much needed cutting off, I realised it was the correct length.... Duh. I put it on and it was only about an inch over long. Hmmm what to do - cut off and re-hem or something else? I'm undecided and I can’t undo if I change my mind, so being left as is (for now).




Second Update: May Progress


Rule 1. Do not put things in safe places, as you won’t find them until months end.


Items started but not yet completed:

1. Underskirt / Falda

Hand sewn. I found my lovely mustard linen, washed it in warm water and put it in the dryer to ensure extermination of clothes/pantry moths. Shrinkage wasn't too bad (3.5m to 3.2m). I used full length and cut a waist width from another smaller length.

I began with a double length of stitches, using my thumb as a guide from the edge, once and then again, (stitches about 1cm apart). The second time the litany of under, over, under, over, under, over and gather through kept me from reversing the stitches.

Once the lines were done it was simple to lightly gather the waist and then pin the waist band to the gathers and sew across. I used linen thread I got from The Tudor Tailor shop and the handmade brass needle I got from a stall at The Battle of Hastings markets.



2. Headwear

There are numerous portraits that show pearl headbands and wrapped braids.

Anonymous Lady, c16th
Pulzone Scipione

1555-1560 from The Family Gaddi
Sofonisba Anguissola

Lady with book

Everything from my stash:
linen thread, size 8 glass pearls, size 10 gold beads, gold S-shaped spacers, cream ribbon.

On the left is without the spacers. It didn’t
hold right so I restarted, to include the spacers which I salvaged from an op shop necklace in my stash.

The completed headband, the first part of my headwear piece.


My hair isn’t long enough for banded braids, so I’m making a false hair piece. First task was combing out all the knots in the wig, which took a while.





First Update: April Progress

I spent the first half of April in hospital undergoing procedures, tests and being seriously stressed out, so I didn’t really get started until mid month.

I haven’t really made anything new for the last couple of years (started but not finished) so I began with something I thought was easy, the muff. Little did I know, nothing is ever easy or simple. Although from one point of perspective it did start out easy - everything came from the stash.


Item completed this month:

A Reversible Muff

The Italian muff became a fashionable item in the later part of the 16th century. There are listings for muffs (manizza in Italian, Snuffkyn or Snoskyn in English) in ladies wardrobes, being made of velvet, silk and embroidered with gold and silver thread, decorated with pearls and lined with fur.

There are several illustrations and portraits showing what appears to be a muff of tubular construction, some with fur at the ends and others with embroidery, though some of the patterns are indiscernible.


Half of my muff is based on this image from the portrait of Minerva Anguissola (Milwaukee Art Museum), 1564.


The other half is from the illustration above, taken from "Winter costume of Venetian noblewomen and wealthy ladies" in Cesare Vecellio's 'De gli Habiti antichi et moderni di Diverse Parti del Mondo,' 1589-90.


There is also this extant item in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, described as an Italian muff c1575-1600. Black silk velvet embroidered with gilt silver yarn, salmon silk lining filled with cotton batting.



My materials:

  • Purple velvet [which decided to play hide and seek when I put it in a safe place]
  • Brown/beige satin with gold/ silver embroidered motif [that I got in England]
  • Wool batting
  • Mink [which had developed a severe case of clothes moth and cat envy)
  • Beige/silver braid (just enough)
  • Silver knot buttons. [ from the English stash]
  • Silver embroidery thread
  • Black silk thread

This was entirely hand sewn. Simple start: cut rectangle master pattern, cut material to match. Sew the short sides together face to face (did I mention that I decided to make it reversible?)

When I couldn’t find the velvet I planned to use, I decided to make it from the satin. Then I found the velvet and since the satin was already cut but my design was for the velvet I went duh, use both and make it reversible.

Cut wool batting slightly shorter than the length and width. Place wool batting between velvet and satin and sew batting to velvet along the length. Turn to right sides.



I added the braid and buttons to the short edges couching with the silver embroidery thread, adding two loops to a side and buttons to the opposite, offset to each other. The ends I treated with a bit of melted beeswax to seal and prevent fraying.

I used a paper clip to keep the twist tight.

Truly lucked out, with just enough braid as I didn’t take the button loops into account when measuring.



Next were the mink pieces. They were looking a little ratty and I found clothes moths making a snack of them. I really wanted to use them and so removed the old silk lining and wool batting leaving the bias around the edges to use to sew onto the muff sides. I fumigated and then froze them for a couple of days before thawing and use.

With the nasties hopefully beyond resurrection I was able to sew the mink pieces to the sides and clean up the edges with a little bias tape. This did not go quite to plan as I ended up sewing one fur the wrong way and had to unpick and start again.



I was also taught a very important lesson at this time: do not ignore your cats' cuddle time. While playing (sewing) fur that is not them, they will get jealous and they will get revenge.

I ignored the warning signs. Both cats had given the mink a good sniff and batted at them a few times before walking away when the pieces didn’t respond. Persephone came back later for cuddle time and half climbed into my lap where she saw the mink on my lap, (being sewed to the muff) and looking at it and me before walking away. I didn’t think anything of it until this morning when the muff wasn’t where I left it. It took me over an hour to find out where she hid it, so I could get it finished.


The completed Italian muff (manizza). Reversible.


On a side note, I found the good linen I was planning on using last year and got it out of the stash. Unfortunately I left it near the sewing machine on the dining table with the rest of the material I’m planning to use. When I started to check on it for my partlet and chemise, I found that clothes moth larvae had invaded.


They were on the linen, silk velvet, silk for my sleeves and quilt cover for my dress. I spent a frantic half hour picking them off, fortunately there seems to be no holes in anything. I plan to wash everything anew and seal it all in a plastic container with a moth killer to fumigate and hope for the best.

Which means I’ll likely be working on more accessories during May.

Update: my material is safe. They were pantry moths not clothes moths, which is why there were no holes. Rewashed all and dried in hot dryer to kill eggs and any missed larvae. So I can start on the chemise and partlet this month.