The Ninth Annual Italian Renaissance Costuming Challenge

April 1 to July 31, 2019


Penelope Millar
Virginia, USA

I have been interested in Italian Renaissance culture and clothing basically my whole life, starting with an interest in Venice inspired by loving Vivaldi’s music. (I used to play violin.) I participate in the Society for Creative Anachronism and have been sewing my own clothing for that since the early 2000s. About 5 years ago I decided to focus on creating more historically accurate clothing and started researching 15th century clothing in more depth and Realm of Venus was a great help then.

The outfit I am planning to make is in a 1480s Florentine style, inspired by Ghirlandaio's frescoes although not copying any specific outfit in them. I am planning to make a new camicia, a blue gamurra with sleeves with silver trim and possibly embroidery, a silver brocade giornea. For my accessories I plan to make a pocket (I have needed one for a while), a white linen hat, and a necklace. Hopefully I will get to all of the accessories.


(Updates listed in reverse order)


The Completed Outfit


Layer 1: Camicia

I am wearing a tank top and shorts underneath in the camicia only shots for modesty. This layer is made of light-weight linen. All the main body seams and edging were machine-sewn, the pleating at the neck was hand-sewn. I realized after checking initial photos that it wasn’t on evenly, so the back photo was shot later.



Layer 2: Gamurra

This layer is made of linen with a cotton canvas interlining in the bodice. The side seams of the skirt and seams between lining, interlining and exterior of the bodice were machine-sewn. The rest of the work was done by hand. I’m actually a little frustrated with the fit of the back- it was completely fine in our tests and I’m not sure where all the wrinkles came from.



Layer 3: Giornea

The giornea is made of a cotton damask and cotton bias tape to trim the edges. This is the only garment where all of the sewing was done by machine.



Layer 4: Accessories



1. Pouch

This is made of leftover linen from the gamurra. The initial seams of lining to outside were machine sewn, then the rest of the work was done by hand. Shown here over the camicia where it would have been worn.




2. Set of Necklaces

The coral bead necklace is made of dyed coral, a mix of real pearls (the rounds) and faux (the oblongs) on a beading wire with a metal toggle clasp. The other necklace is black cord with the pendant made of a faux pearl and dyed composite stone bead.


3. Set of Rings

The rings are made of silver-plated 20 gauge copper wire and a variety of beads.







Fourth Update: July Progress

I had originally thought I would sew the camicia first, but decided to start on the hardest item (the gamurra) and work my way from there. This isn't exactly in order of when I did things in July, but in order of layer. I went back and forth between the gamurra, sleeves, camicia and giornea for most of the month.

Items completed this month:

1. Camicia

The main construction of the camicia I did on the machine, sewing the square arm gusset into the sleeves, then attaching it to the body and sewing down the sides. I mentioned in an earlier update the offset between the front and back neckline and sleeves being different - that is pictured below. Then I finished all the raw edges, not only zigzagging the seams but also doing a quick machine hem on the neckline, sleeves and hem. If I'd been feeling slightly less pressed for time I probably would have hand-sewn the neckline.



Next I needed to pleat/gather the camicia neckline to match the neckline of the gamurra. In the past I have usually measured the neckline of the gamurra and created a band or tape in that length and then either pleated or gathered the neckline onto the tape/into the band, evenly spaced around. The problem that I have noticed with this in my old camicie is that it leads to them being too tight over the shoulders. The actual distance of the neckline is not evenly divided between the front/back and the arms. So this time around I decided to pleat it onto four separate tapes, one each for front, back, and each shoulder. This will hopefully ensure a more comfortable fit. I used the finished gamurra to find the size of each band, including lacing it up and putting it on for the front since there is a gap in the front center. I chose knife pleats for this since on the front and back I was taking about 50" of fabric down to about 10". In future I think that cartridge pleats are probably a better choice and will look more like the portraits. The arms ended up having more just periodic tucks than real pleating.






I hand-basted the pleats to the twill tape bands so that I could put the camicia on underneath the gamurra and check how the two necklines interacted before sewing them down fully. That looked all right, so I sewed the pleats down more firmly with a running stitch on top and bottom of the band. Finally, the camicia is done!




2. Gamurra

At the beginning of the month I was in the middle of sewing trim onto the gamurra. I finished sewing on the trim on the bodice. Next, I hand-sewed a rolled hem on the skirt. Finally, I sewed a line of the same grey velvet trim from the bodice all around the hem, covering up the hem stitches. The gamurra is finally done! I had predicted this would be the most labor-intensive part of the project and it did not disappoint.




So far all I had done with the sleeves was to cut them out. I had decided to try fabric stamping on them. I have a stamp I carved last year of a hippocampus, which is on my device in the SCA. I did several practice runs with the stamp on scraps of the linen first. Unfortunately, the practice runs came out better than the final stamp on the actual sleeve fabric. I need to carve the channels in the stamp much deeper, and also use a more contrasting color when stamping in the future. In order to deal with this, I went back and edged the hippocampus in black.



The next and longest step with the sleeves was the rest of the decoration. I planned to decorate them in criss-crossing trim, the same salmon and grey trim from the bodice of the gamurra. I laid the trim out on the left sleeve with the stamp first, to plan a design that worked with the stamp there. I then drew more precise lines where I wanted the time with a ruler and chalk. I copied that pattern and measurements to the right sleeve. Then I started cutting, laying out, weaving through and pinning down the trim. Then the seemingly endless task of sewing down the trim. I used a different stitch here than on the bodice/hem trim. It just seemed to work better.





Once all the trim was sewn down on the sleeves I machine-sewed them to their lining, clipped the edges and flipped them. I ironed them flat and sewed the openings that I flipped them through shut with a blind stitch. I also top-stitched them in white, mostly to match the top-stitching I had done on the bodice of the gamurra. I wanted sleeves that would be sewn closed to just above the elbow, open for a pouf of camicia to show at the elbow and then laced below that. I pinned them together to check where I wanted the elbow opening and mark matching spots for the lacing rings on the forearm. I sewed closed the upper arm section with a blind stitch. Finally I laced up the sleeve and put it on to mark the spot for lacing rings to tie it to the gamurra and sewed those on.






3. Giornea

I had mentioned in a previous update that I was waiting on the gamurra being finished to check my giornea pattern before cutting it out. Once I was at the point where all I had left on the gamurra was the hem, I did put it on and check the giornea pattern. It draped the way I wanted and seemed to sit well over the gamurra, so I went ahead and laid it out to cut out. The pattern fabric was wider than the actual damask that I had for this project so I did have to adjust the angles of the sides a little. The piece cut out for the shoulder shaping makes gores at the bottom.


The actual construction of the giornea was pretty simple. I sewed on the gores at the bottom sides, which were on selvedge so all I did after the basic seam was iron them down. I then finished all of the raw edges (sides, front center, hem) using a matching bias tape. If I'd had enough fabric I'd have preferred to make an edging of the same fabric but I barely had enough to make the garment as it was. In order to curve the bottom hem so that it would sit straight on me, I used a pair of rulers taped together at the right length to mark the arc from the outside of the shoulder. I then put it on and checked that the line was where I wanted it. I had to get a friend to eyeball this for the back hem.





4. Set of Necklaces

I finished my pocket last month. I decided not to sew the cap but instead to make two necklaces and several rings. I want to study the little white caps in portraits more because I'm really not sure how to pattern them at this point.

The necklace I had planned from the beginning was a coral and pearl bead necklace with my coral branch pendant. My SCA kingdom, Atlantia, has an Arts and Sciences award called the Coral Branch. Ever since I received it I have been thinking that a necklace of coral beads for the pendant would be perfect since the coral beads show up in so many portraits. Finding the round red beads like I wanted was a little difficult. I had bought a strand at an event for this purpose, but I knew it would not be enough for a necklace on its own, so I planned to augment it with something such as pearls.

I measured an existing pearl necklace I had and liked to get an idea of how long I wanted this necklace to be (12-14"). I then strung up a bunch of combinations of the coral beads with pearls, glass beads and wood beads to figure out what I liked the look of. I decided the coral beads and small round pearls were the best combination and strung that up with the pendant. Here's where I made a mistake! I put the toggles on and crimped the closure beads BEFORE I tried the necklace on to double check the fit and look. I didn't like the fit (too tight) and I didn't like how the pendant sort of squished over the two pearls next to it. I had to cut the ends off and cut new beading wire to redo it. I added a couple more oblong pearls to the ends to make it a little longer, and clear glass beads between the pendant and the pearls.







For the second necklace I decided to create a pendant on a black cord as you see in so many portraits. Since I had the contrast of the red coral in the first one, this one I wanted to be more in the colors of the outfit. I used another of the oblong pearls, a head pin, and a dyed composite stone bead I had to create a pendant. Not my neatest work ever twisting the top into the loop, but I really needed a longer head pin. I then strung it on my black cord and looped it around my neck a variety of different ways trying to figure out what worked. I had a brainstorm moment realizing that if I used slip knots I could easily get it on and off while achieving the look I wanted, where the necklace wraps around the neck, dangles down and then is knotted above the pendant. This will also be very adjustable.







5. Set of Rings

The last thing I made was the rings. I had some experience with chain-maille and wire-wrapping but had never made a ring before. I got some 20-gauge silver plated copper wire and used beads I already had leftover from the necklaces and other projects. For the first ring, which is the one where the process is shown in detail below, I followed a couple of tutorials I found online. This was intended to be the size for a pinky ring. In the end it came out tight and I'm not actually counting it as one of the ones for the outfit, but it was very helpful as a practice piece.






After that I started to make more rings and was able to play around with the wrapping pattern to achieve different results. I made a couple of smaller rings for either pinky or second joint with an oblong pearl and another of the same yellow jade as the first try. I also made a couple of larger ones with a turquoise bead to match the necklace and the one leftover coral bead as well.









Third Update: June Progress


Item completed this month:


I did finish one item this month! I had to repack my project bag before a trip and I came across my scraps I saved for the pocket, so I decided to cut that out and work on it. I had a long car ride this past weekend and wanted some more portable handwork than my entire gamurra. The pocket is self lined, I sewed and flipped it then top-stitched it. I hand-sewed the sides together with whip stitch and also sewed on the bias tape around the opening. The belt is sewn in but I may take those stitches out.












I continue to work on my gamurra. I marked and sewed on my lacing rings for the front center of the bodice before attaching the skirt. I also finished the bottom edge of the bodice with a blind stitch. I made cord for the side-lacing using my lucette as well. I like how lucette cord doesn't slide much.





I finished the top edge of the skirt and pleated it to a tape. I don't like sewing the pleats down straight to the bodice. This took me an entire week because I couldn't decide how big I wanted to make my box pleats, and then I changed which tape I was pleating it to because the one I had didn't feel strong enough. After the third time pinning pleats in, I finally hand stitched them down to the tape. Then I finished the bottom edge of the bodice with ladder stitch before sewing the skirt on behind. It's sewn in twice, at the edge of the skirt and then with a blind stitch at the bottom of the bodice. That took a while but I have had skirts rip off bodices before so I am a little paranoid about it.





Once the skirt was sewn on I laced up the gamurra and put it on over an old camicia in order to check the fit of the shoulder straps and trip the bottom for hemming. I sewed the shoulder straps together using blind stitch. Finally I started to sew on my velvet trim on the bodice. I'm almost done with that and then I need to hem it and trim the hem.













Second Update: May Progress




I was hoping to finish the gamurra in May but life intervened. I was able to make decent progress on it. I am machine sewing all the major construction seams and then hand sewing all the visible finishing seams. I am a rather slow hand-sewer so this is the only way it will be finished in time.



My first step was to sew the back center seams for the lining, interlining and outer fabric. Then I sewed the lining and interlining pieces together. I intentionally cut no seam allowance on my interlining, and use it as my guide when when I sew the lining to the outer fabric. There are a number of options for this step. In this case, because my outer fabric is linen, which will fray if you look at it funny for five seconds, I chose to sew the lining and outer fabric right sides together at the neckline and side seams, clip the edges, and then flip it right side out. The tops of the shoulder straps I will hand sew together later. I like to check the fit and angle of the shoulder straps one last time with the weight of the skirt on the dress.



After this I ironed the bodice and then top-stitched all around the neckline, armscye and sides. This was done by hand since it is visible finishing work. I used a simple running stitch for this in white. The two-color weave of the linen meant that the matching jade thread actually stands out more at a distance than the white.



Next I worked on making all of the eyelets for the side lacing. This gamurra will be laced at three points, on both sides and at the front. I have found several images as evidence that even the decoratively front-laced gamurre were also side-laced. You can see in the statue below (one of the figures from a terracotta sculpture of the Lamentation of Christ by Guido Mazzoni around 1477) that her garment is side and front-laced. It makes a lot of sense, since side-lacing is more helpful in adjusting fit. For my gamurra, the more functional side-lacing will be spiral-laced lucette cord through eyelets that should hopefully be strong. The front-lacing will be a more decorative pattern and the front is cut not to meet. That will be done with lacing rings.



Finally, I did get the side seams on the skirt completed. Since the garment will be side-laced and I plan to make a pocket for it, I have 6" openings continuing down the sides of the skirt which I sewed back to make a finished edge. The front where the lacing is will not have an opening but a fold. This is a technique I have seen but not used myself before. Hopefully I can make it look nice.



The skirt is also not evenly divided between front and back. This is partly an artifact of fabric constraints. I had barely 3 yards of material to work with and even as short as I am, it was a bit tight. I figured out that I could cut sleeves out of one side and end up with two pieces of the right length for the skirt (40"), but one is the full width of the fabric (55") and the other is only 35" wide. I thought about sewing it together and cutting slits for a side at the actual halfway point around the skirt, however, I realized that the waists for the front and back of the bodice aren't evenly split anyway. The larger piece will go around the back. I generally aim for at least 3x my waist measurement for skirts in gamurre. This one is just barely that, before you account for seam allowance. In future I really need to remember that although I can squeeze a gamurra out of 3 yards if I line it in other fabric, it would be much better to just get 4 yards and be able to self-line it and have a nice full skirt.

That's as far as I got this month. Next step will be to work on pleating the skirt into the gamurra bodice.




First Update: April Progress


Items started but not yet completed:

Camicia and Gamurra

I did not finish any items in April. I am in progress on a couple of them.

I started the month reviewing my plan and my materials and setting out a to do list. I already had most of the materials as I had bought fabric for this project several years ago and then worked on other projects instead. I needed to make sure I had everything and that it was washed, so that was step one. The patterned linen is the main fabric for the gamurra, with the plain jade linen being the lining. It turns out I also have enough to make a second gamurra from the jade linen, which will be nice. The silvery damask is just a cotton, rather than the silk it would have been in period, but it is a reasonable pattern for the 15th century. That will be the giornea.


Most of the rest of what I have been doing this month has been cutting. When I sew I tend to prefer to do a lot of cutting out, then a lot of sewing in chunks. I also do not put seam allowance on my pattern pieces. This allows me to trace exact sewing line as needed, and to cut my interlining to the finished edge.

First thing I got cut out is the camicia. I am using a modified version of the period raglan sleeve pattern based on the extant 15th century camicie - I alter it by off-setting the joining of the sleeve, gusset and body more in the back than the front. This makes it sit more comfortably where I want it to on my body.



The next step for April was working on my bodice pattern. All of my recent gamurra have been more in the Venetian style with a very high-waisted bodice and much more raised bust than is appropriate for this gown, so I concluded that I needed to start my bodice pattern from scratch rather than modify my existing one. I started from measurements and then with the help of a friend through two sessions of draping and pinning worked out a finished pattern.



I also got the bodice, bodice lining, bodice inter-lining, sleeves, sleeve lining and skirt for the gamurra cut. The interlining is a woven interfacing that is my best modern approximation of what might have been used in period. There is evidence for fine wool felt, a linen "cardboard" stiffened with glue and similar interlinings. I did not have enough of it for the entire bodice, and our local fabric stores no longer carry it, so I cut only the front pieces out of that. The back interlining is from a cotton canvas. This will be the first time I've used it as interlining and I think it may be stiffer than I want. We will see.

I haven't cut out the giornea fabric yet. I am waiting until the gamurra bodice is sewn. I had patterned a giornea several years ago, but had tested that pattern over a the later style gown. I want to test it over this gown, or at least the bodice, to be sure that I am happy with how it drapes and sits over the neckline and shoulders in particular. I expect the gamurra to be the most labor-intensive piece of the project as well.


I have not yet started on any of the accessories. I do have the beads and cord for the necklace and white linen for the cap. I will be using leftover pieces of the patterned and plain jade linen from the gamurra for the pocket.