The Ninth Annual Italian Renaissance Costuming Challenge

April 1 to July 31, 2019


Red Audiss
Montana, USA

I am a novice to Italian Renaissance costuming. I have make one gown that is reminiscent of the style, but it was a complete accident when I made it. I was copying another woman’s garment I had seen at an event. I am not a novice in sewing but would consider myself fair to midlin in skill. I feel as though I have been sewing my whole life, but still have so much to learn. This will be my first competition of this nature, I am excited to see what I can accomplish both in a competition as well as a whole new discipline.

I would like to make an outfit similar to this image (see right). My plan is to make the smock first, and kirtle, and gown. At this point I have the goal, but a little uncertain as to what all the layers ARE in Italian gowns. So the plan is to start with the camicia, working on the embroidery. I will begin the embroidery tomorrow. The rest of the gown layers is a little fuzzy for me, so I do have some crash course learning to do this week to prepare the actual layers. I do think I will probably do a pocket for my accessory.


(Updates listed in reverse order)


The Completed Outfit


Layer 1: Camicia

The against the skin layer is the camicia, or chemise. This garment was completed not as designed with embroidered cuffs but completed in function and piecing. The original design is two larger rectangles and 4 thinner rectangles, felled together, and the sleeves overlapping the side panels, cuffs and collar separate. I did attempt to follow the sizing description from the Realm Of Venus web page. I have never made one before, and it was fun. I did hand fell most of the seams, all of the collar and cuffs.

Originally the garment was to have hand embroidered cuffs and collar, but I found that I ran out of time. I did not know of the challenge prior to a week before it began. Maybe in a future project I will have the knowledge and foresight to begin the detailed embroidery in advance. I did do a bit of needle lace in silk gold thread, to add some delicate embellishment. This garment is made from 100% linen handkerchief weight. It is sewn together with 100% cotton thread.
Ultimately my short term goal, now that this competition is complete, is to re-do the entire camicia now that I understand how it should feel under the gown, as well as the details I want to show around the neckline.



Layer 2: Underdress

The next layer is the red gown. This design and construction is done to the best of my novice know how. I needed help to pattern the back closure. Once I had the pattern, I was able to run with the whole project. I am quite happy with the completion of this layer. This gown is quite comfortable and I could wear this all day, no problem! The eyelets are hand stitched and the lacing is lucet cord made by me. Everything else was machine work. I reflection, I have no idea why the photographer did not get any images with both my hands down. I love the detail work on this bodice!



Layer 3: Gown

The outer layer is the green velvet gown. The portrait was a red velvet, and I did not have any red. I also chose this color as the embroidery was easy to copy the original color scheme on the green. I really, I mean really, enjoyed completing this garment. I feel though it is not my “master work” I do believe that I am getting closer. I did not calculate the total amount of time for any other part of the project, but the embroidery on the green gown to a total of 55 hours, completed in a 3 week period of time. I am pleased with how the sleeve caps, lining of the sleeve caps and the sleeves turned out phenomenal. I also am glad that I found gold flower beads that match the flower bead on the portrait gown fairly.

The piece I am not as happy with is in the patterning of the bodice. There was no way in the patterning, I could get the front of the bodice in one piece that would fit me. So I ended up needing a front seam, which caused the embroidery to be also split. I am also not completely happy with how the shoulder embroidery does not come together as I designed it. I hand stitched all of the finish work on this gown, including the lining and eyelets.




Layer 4: Accessories

I completed a matching set of pockets, all hand embroidered.







Fourth Update: July Progress


Items completed this month:

1. Camicia

Completed without embroidery.




2. Under-gown

I finished the eyelets on the gown and placed in the breast pad roll (to keep the breasts from sliding down the gown). I have no idea if this is historically accurate, but it is something that I have done in many of my gowns. I used hand made lucet cord in green for the spiral lacing cord on this gown.




3. Over-gown

Once I had the pattern for the under-gown complete and constructed, I was able to begin the layout of the over-gown.

I paid very close attention to the detail of the embroidery pattern on the original. I was able to copy it, and size it for the gown. I used a soluble stabilizer to draw the design on. I did two testers, one with applying prick and pounce chalk, and the other with the stabilizer. The ounce disappeared too fast for the work that needed to be completed. I also noticed in teh original, that the embroidery seemed to go over the shoulder and down the back of the garment. I cannot see the back of the garment in the image, so I improvised as best as I could with how I thought it might look.



I made a wooden frame to stretch the velvet piece, with the front and back bodices drawn on it.




I tacked down the first back embroidery strip using cotton Gattermann sewing thread in white. I began with trouble shooting all the various elements of the repetitive pattern with a back piece, so that the errors would be less visible on the overall completed gown.


I used jump rings underneath the yellow/gold center elements of each blossom. This gives the flower some nice element of consistency. I experimented using 100% silk on the first flower, and switched to a blend of two strands of real silk and two strands of cotton white. This created a nice body for the fill in stitches, that are somewhat satin-stitched. The yellow/gold design fill in elements were done in 100% cotton DMC threads for the same fill in body. I did attempt to try using Japanese gold, but found the product I have is not suited to couching on top of cotton velvet. I had to remove the Japanese gold, and use a less expensive gold twist. This was surface couched using silk thread.

I continued by completing each strip individually before moving to the next strip.



When complete I removed the panels from the frame, and used a “ok to wash glue” on the back side of each panel to secure any stray threads. The total hours of embroidery was 55 hours. I then made sure to match each piece with the pattern pieces to make sure no stretch had occurred in the embroidery process of each piece.



I then drew out the sleeve caps for embroidery work. I shrank the embroidery design by 15% to put in the sleeve. The portrait looks like they are about the same size, but I chose not to do that. I stretched them out on the frame just like the bodice pieces. I then also used the soluble stabilizer in this process. I also glued the back of each sleeve cap embroidery using the “ok to wash it” product.

I cut out the sleeve caps, and began pondering the sleeve round decorative pieces. Originally I had thought to make them all as part of the embroidered sleeve cap. I quickly realized the bulk with a lining would not work. I also downloaded a close up of the round pieces embroidery, and feel like that is a flower bead. Off to the store to find a comparable bead. I then made about 24 of those round pieces with the bead. I discovered when laying them out in the lining, it did not make sense to put them all around that sleeve cap, or there would be movement restriction. So I only used a few. I attached them at the same time I pinned and sewed the lining to the sleeve cap.







I then cut out two sleeves in velvet, and had to deconstruct my sample from the patterning to figure out how to assemble, to be able to turn the whole thing out properly. And at the same time, consider that each seam needed bias tape seam treatment, as the cotton velvet can shred apart over time. Each sleeve cap is lined in cotton sateen, but the sleeve is un lined due to the heavy duty nature of the fabric. The edge of the cuff is NOT embroidered like the painting- due to time, but the edge is bound with cotton sateen.



The skirt panel for the front is pieced. I did not have a one continuous piece of fabric long enough for the front skirt panel. So I used the fabric as is, and then the piecing left over from a sleeve cut out. I pieced together, and used seam treatments on the inside to keep it from shredding. I then box pleated the front- to match both the shape of the under gown and the portrait image. I also cut out the side panels. Due to the desire to access my embroidered pockets, I left 8 inches on each side open.

I cut out the appropriate bodice pieces in black linen, to line the bodice. I sewed them together. I then assembled the bodice pieces, attached the lining, and turned. There is no boning in the bodice.

I then created all the eyelets for the bodice and did a fitting. It was too big. I took out two inches in the back, and re-sewed eyelets. I have used a gross grain ribbon for the spiral laced back.

I edged the entire bodice in green cotton sateen. And attached the box pleated front panel, and then the cartridge pleated side/back panels. The hem is treated with bias tape to keep the velvet from shredding.






Third Update: June Progress


This month has been the month of catch up. Honestly, I think I was just a little overwhelmed and somewhat frustrated. But good things happened these last two weeks and though I am still behind my time line, I feel much better about being able to complete the challenge.



Early June I worked on the camicia. I got everything assembled, the collar and cuffs put on minus the intended embroidery, and began the needle lace. Still working on this part.


Items started but not yet completed:

1. Under-gown

Making the bodice pattern

Mid June is where the magic started to happen. I was able to get some assistance in getting the bodice pattern drafted. And it only took 4 hours. I was anticipating more pattern adjustment, but were able to use a previous pattern as a base. I have made a few Tudor Tailor gowns, and I used the bodice pattern as a base. The straps and the length of the bodice were adjusted. With only two sample tries, it was complete. In that same fitting the sleeve and sleeve cap of the inspirational gown were created.

Fabric choice

I chose a 100% cotton damask fabric in a rich red, similar to the inspirational gown, for my undergown. This is the middle layer of this project. I used an heirloom 100% cotton table cloth that I was gifted. A friend was cleaning out closets and bins and came across to me beautiful, though worn linens from the early 1930’s and 1940’s and gifted them to me; she wanted me to use them in my garment construction projects. I cut out the bodice pieces for both the fashion fabric and the lining in the first sitting. I didn't use a buckram or canvas interlining. I feel that I could have, but I know that my final gown’s fabric is a stiffer material, this layer creates the form.



I pieced all the lining, then pieced all the fashion fabric of the bodice. I then sewed them all together, leaving the shoulders and bottom open. Everything was turned right side out and pressed well. The next step was putting in all the boning channels. An interesting piece of new construction technique was mentioned to me, about boning, leaving the breast area not constricted, so I used this.



There is a center bone, and the side boning channels are long, but the others shape strategically around the breasts to keep them from being pinched. Though I am not very heavy busted, I can see this technique being very useful when helping women construct bodices when they have a larger size cup. I really like the feel when wearing the bodice. Also, I created a breast rest, a tube place strategically inside the bodice to keep the breasts from sliding down. And you do not see this when wearing the bodice.

Because the bodice slopes down in the front quite dramatically, the skirts also have to have that shape. I create the flat hem of the gown first. I put in a canvas hem edge, or kick plate, and then interlined using cotton table linens (same reason as the bodice). I then measured from the floor to my waist to create the baseline length all around the gown. Then I added an additional two inches, to fold over as the pleating support. The size of the skirt panels are 3x the length of the appropriate pieces of the bodice pattern.

At this point, as I am measuring and figuring out length, I notice in the garment photos from the museum (that I can enlarge) that the front of the gown is box pleated, not cartridge pleated. The cartridge pleating does not start till the curve begins going up on the bodice. I made sure to recreate that in the final layout and pinning.

Once the initial measurements are created and the skirt panels are interlined and ready, I used the height of the curve in two sections to figure out the slope and height of the skirt panel cut out. I then measured and pinned, before cutting, to make sure I had it just right.

Then the pleating lines were drawn in chalk, I box pleated the front, and cartridge pleated the sides, and attached the right side, then the left side. The back panel was cartridge pleated and attached last. Once all the skirt panels were attached, I was able to sew up the sides of the skirt panels.



Because I am uncertain as to what layer I will feel best wearing my pockets, I strategically made sure that the side seams are open and accessible for a pocket if necessary. The last things that need completion are the spiral lacing holes, and picking out the cartridge pleating threads because they show in the front.



2. The Over-Gown


Now that I have a pattern, I can begin work on the over-gown. I laid out the bodice for the gown and cut an interlining of some nice quality 100% cotton broadcloth. I cut the pieces about ¼ of an inch bigger than the bodice. Chose for my final gown a rich 100% cotton velvet that was gifted to me a few years ago. I have already made a nice fencing outfit and an early period gown from this fabric. It is rich and heavy. I am contemplating NOT lining it, due to the weight of the fabric.

I created a wooden frame to tack the fabric to first. I needed something large enough to do the embroidery on a swath of fabric without having to cut each piece with enough allowance around it to put on my smaller frames. I wanted to waste less fabric; this is nice stuff.


The embroidery begins

I laid out the pattern pieces on the velvet and chalk-lined the outline. It took two tries to figure out where the embroidery lines should be chalked down. I then used some dissolvable embroidery stuff to put the pattern on and tacked one piece down at a time as I embellished. This dissolvable stuff dries out here in Montana and needs to only be put down when you are ready to work that area. Otherwise it dries out, and becomes impossible to work the piece.





Second Update: May Progress



I had a very long family trip that took me away from my project. I am now back on track, still embroidering the camicia. I have pieced the camicia and in the process of hand stitching all the embroidery as well as doing the seams French style.





First Update: April Progress


Item completed this month:

A Set of Pockets

I have completed my pockets. They are each done on a linen ground in silk/alpacka or silk/wool blend fibers. The interlining of the pocket is a cotton scrap and the outside backing and the band which will hold the waist tape is a recycled heirloom linen.



Item started this month but not yet completed:


I have also measured and made a mock up of my camicia, out of sheet fabric. I then cut out the linen pieces. I have assembled the pieces, but have not begun the embroidered band for the neck or the cuffs.

I have not yet started on the undergown or the overgown. I should be in a place in the next week or two to get the rest of the camicia embroidery done and assembled. Then I will begin on the undergown. I feel quite confident I will be able to complete the tasks in my allotted time.