Carol Lewis


Introduction

I have a love for hand finishing, and hand sewing and a respect for machines and the wonder they fill me with every time I create something using one.

I am not overly competitive, in that I do not compete against others. I compete against myself, and try to do finer and more elaborately wonderful work, improving on my techniques, every time I make something.

After my first year in the SCA, I began to admire the elegance of some of the garb, and notice the difference between ‘garb and costume’ and this led me to a most exhaustive path of historical research of portraiture. Prior to my discovery of the SCA and all things SCAdian, I had an appreciation of art and had been to many museums, and trip down memory lane through my photographs turned up ‘first hand’ documentation for use in the future.

The Realm of Venus is a gem I discovered a year ago, 2 years into my SCA-dian journey, and I cannot even describe in words how valuable a research tool the website has been for myself and others, as no words exist that have that much passion and delight in them. In the few moments when I wasn’t reading Janet Arnolds books, leafing through Queen Elizabeth's Wardrobe Unlock’d and scanning endless online images of portraiture by artists in my chosen time period, I delighted over the images of entries in the annual garb competition, and promised myself that one day I would submit something worthy.

I have a personal relationship with breast cancer, but thankfully not because I have ever suffered with it. My ex-husbands aunt, a woman of grace, beautiful though many would not have considered her a beauty, did not win her battle with breast cancer. The suffering she and her family went through 30 years ago still happens to others, although more people can raise their fists in the victory air-punch now than ever before in history. I have many friends and acquaintances who have conquered breast cancer and I donate to the Canadian Breast Cancer Research Foundation every year, to assist with not only the search for a way to cure and possibly prevent this ravaging foe, but to assist the victims and families who are faced with the battle against it.

Perfectly Period Pink is an inspirational and motivational opportunity for me to combine two things I am passionate about -- 16th century Italian clothing and accessories, and supporting the research for a control and cure for breast (and all) cancers.

My adventure began with a shopping trip, as I have never been overly fond of the colour pink, so had nothing (or so I thought) in my collection of fabrics, trims and embellishments, in pink. I am on a very tightly managed budget, so started with the second hand shops, thinking pink sheets. I hit the mother load of excellence in my hunt -- 4.25 meters of handkerchief weight linen in ‘maiden’s blush’ pink, for the only $2.99 CDN! The creative juices started flowing from there. Taking the fabric into my sewing space, I discovered I actually had a lot that would go with it... the adventure has begun!!




The best bargain ever! 4.25 meters of fine handkerchief linen for only $2.99. Countless resources mention linen as a fiber and fabric used in the 16th century.



A heavier weave of linen, a leftover scrap from another project, is a terrific magenta pink.


A strip of interlining material, a cotton tight weave fabric used by quilters, it makes an excellent support interlining. Thank you Bobbi, for the gift of it!



Another ‘bargain’ which I found at Value Village... $7.99 for 15 meters of medium weight linen. Knew I’d use it, so it came home with me


1) 
realmofvenus.renaissanceitaly.net/library/fibres.htm - an easy to read discourse on the different fabrics used in Italian garment making
irishlinenmills.com/History/history.htm - a history of use of linen, abundant and popular in the 16th century, in the area now known as Ireland
rosaliegilbert.com/fabricnames.html - link to Rosalie's Medieval Woman’s glossary of fabric, fur and leather names
vam.ac.uk/content/articles/h/history-of-samplers-16th-century/ - truly delightful article on the use of linen in samplers, with wonderful photos of extant samplers currently residing in the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, England


A Saccoccia (Pocket)

I first learned about the little utilitarian renaissance women’s ‘pocket’ while researching for a pattern for a bodice that laced down the sides of the back. I attended a UTR event in my SCA Barony of Seagirt, on choosing and dressing a persona, and in one of the books the instructor brought, I noticed the little bags the women in several portraits were wearing. The book was Moda a Firenze (Orsi Landini, Roberta & Niccoli, Bruna 1540-1580. Pagliai Polistampa, Firenze, 2005. ISBN: 88-8304-867-9). I was delighted to find out about these little pockets, as I had up until then been carrying the few mundane things I take to events with me, in my bodice! These seemed to be such a perfectly sensible solution to an itsy problem.

Spurred on by noticing these little pockets in several portraits in my new persona's culture, I continued to research how to make them.

On the wonderfully helpful and educational website ‘the Anea Files’ I found a page dedicated to the Saccoccia, the little pockets!

Wiktionary defines saccoccia as :
saccoccia f (plural saccocce)
(regional) pocket 'mettere in saccoccia' - to pocket
http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/saccoccia

They are very easy to make, and can be left plain (as they are worn UNDER the skirt, accessible through the skirt slit which lies at the bottom of the bodice lacing) or insanely embellished with embroidery, couching, beadwork, to ones hearts content.


My little saccoccia is plain and unadorned, so that it does not show through the fine pink linen it lies beneath, secretly hidden beneath the surface -- eerily kind of like cancer....

Mine was assembled as follows. Using a sandwich plate, I traced the rounded bottom onto the pattern paper to make a semi-circle shape. Then I drew the lines for the side seams slightly angled from the top of the sketched semi-circle, to the length I desired for my finished saccoccia. I placed the pattern onto the pieces of fabric, stacked for lining and front and back pieces of the pocket.

I cut in half from top to bottom, the fabric I was going to use for the front piece, and finished the front edges 3/4 of the way down, with seam binding made from the same fabric. I sewed all the layers together and turned the bag inside out. I made tiny pleats in the top of the bag and attached a long piece of seam binding to make a tie.

The little pocket holds my drivers license, SCA card and cell phone quite nicely, and can also accommodate debit/credit cards should I need it to. I sewed a small button on each side of the bag opening and run a string around both buttons to hold it more securely closed.



"Birth of the Virgin", detail, ca. 1595, Alessandro Allori (Santa Maria Nuova, Cortona)


"Woman at her toilet", detail, ca. 1575-78, Alessandro Allori (Santa Maria Novella, Florence


The pocket in Eleonora di Toledo's funeral dress skirt, 1562 (Palazzo Pitti, Florence)



The Maiden Quarter, detail, ca. 1588-89, Alessandro Allori (Palazzo Pitti, Florence) 



Behind the Mask

The Catholic University of Paris houses the Musee da la Bible et de la Terre Sainte. It is here that I saw the oldest mask currently on display in a public museum. It is pre-ceramic Neolithic period dated to 7000 BCE and is said to be the oldest mask in the world.

To wear a mask has a myriad of meanings. In ancient Rome the word “persona” meant 'a mask'; and also referred to an individual who had full Roman Citizenship. This reference came from the individuals ability to produce the death masks of their ancestors, to prove their lineage. The death masks were also worn at funerals to represent and bring to life the dead ancestors, in presentations which acted out the deeds of the lives of the ancestors. In essence, one’s persona could be proven through ones mask collection. Masks have been found around the globe, used for religious or magical purposes, and vastly diverse in their form -- most worn on the face, but some large enough to envelope the entire body, and some which essentially are finger puppets.

In Europe, the original meanings of masks have mostly been lost through the introduction of Christianity. The debate about the meaning of the mask forms which are on display in museums around the world, continues. The forces of darkness and winter, it was once and still generally is accepted, can be chased away with noise, colour and excitement. The mask protects the wearer as they usher out the negative spirits and give thanks for the harvest or open the way for the spirits of light and the coming of spring.

The city of Venice held annual Masques during which visitor and resident alike, with their identity concealed by a mask, could anonymously celebrate together. This wasn’t necessarily always a good thing. On May 2nd, 1268 the ruling council of Venice passed a statute prohibiting masked men from throwing scented eggs at women!

So popular did these masked celebrations become, and the demand for masks, traditional and custom made, that the Master Painters Guild birthed a guild of mask makers which was formally recognized in 1436. The Mask Makers were rewarded richly for their talents, and as time passed, Venetians not only wore masks during the short 2 week Carnival celebrations, but embraced the mask for daily wear.

The wearing of a mask allowed Venetians ultimate freedom to go about their daily lives, free from the recognition and judgment of others. Restrictions of class or marital status were no longer visible. Certain styles grew info favour over time as the commedia all'improviso (later to be known as the Comedie Dell’arte) began performing their improvisational skits and plays, and the stock characters featured in their performances were mimicked.

The “Moretta Mask” (a simple oval mask ) was a special mask for unmarried women. A button on the back of the mask was clenched in the teeth of the wearer, to keep the mask on, and simultaneously silence her. After the wedding, she could wear a mask that allowed her to speak. They often had a veil.

The wearing of masks made Venetian libertines brave through anonymity. Eventually they became braver and more licentious until the Council of 10 issued a declaration that the wearing of the mask throughout the year posed a serious threat to the Republic. To avoid the terrible consequences of this immoral behavior, every citizen, nobleman and foreigner alike, was restricted once more to only wearing a mask during the days of carnival and at official banquets.

The penalties inflicted for breaking this law were heavy – for a man this meant two years in jail, 18 months service to the Republic galley-rowing (with ankles fettered) and not only that, a 500 lire fine to the Council of Ten. As for women, they were whipped from St Mark’s all the way to Rialto, then held to public ridicule between the two columns in St Mark’s. They were banned from entering the territory of the Venetian Republic for 4 years and had to pay the 500 lire fine to the Council of Ten. Fifty years after the decree of 1608, the Council of Ten published a proclamation on the 15th January reaffirming the ban on wearing masks and bearing arms.

The Mask Makers Guild exists today and some of the finest masks in the world are still made using the old techniques, the classic character molds and the attention to detail anyone who has ever seen a Venetian Mask cannot help but appreciate.

Making the Mask

I used a Papier-mâché form, created using the same technique I saw demonstrated in Italy, and which can be seen on several YouTube videos.



I softened and shaped the mask to fit my face and trimmed the base form into a pleasing design. I then coated the mask with fabric to match my gown, using a light paste of white glue and water, in proportions 1 part glue to 2 parts water.
Embellishments were applied by either sewing or gluing on. I made the finger cord used for the trim on the mask, using the simplest rope making twist. I purchased the gems and the embroidered floral/vine appliqué pieces.



The mask tells the story of breast cancer. The pale pink is sliced and folded back to expose the raw burgundy underneath. One side of the body of the mask is bruised and marred, the other side lush with new growth, blossoming health. Deep red drops of gemstone blood rim the eyes to the soul, and cords woven of light and dark express the emotions and turmoil of knowing the cancer is in residence. The whole mask sparkles with potential, shimmers with the promise of life, but is rippled, torn, and twisted with all that cancer brings with it. The mask also has clear untouched areas of pristine pink, the same linen that the dress it matches has been made of, and it exclaims its strength without embellishment, as survivors of breast cancer always seem to.


A Feather Fan -- A birds eye view.

Feathers have enchanted human kind from Neanderthals to modern day! 

Used in everything from beds, to pillows and coverlets, to food, to clothing and accessories, feathers grew in popularity. Nowhere loved feathers more than Spain and Italy! They plumed themselves from head to toe, but their favourite accessory was the feathered fan, as portraits by Lorenzo Lotto and Titian prove. Nothing quite said wealth like the heavy plumage of perfumed feathers fluttering a scented breeze on a humid melting summers day.

Queen Elizabeth 1 was extremely fond of her feathered air conditioners, and of the portraits I have found online of Her Majesty, roughly one in five show her with a fan.

Portraits used as documentation are as follows:
1544 Lorenzo Lotto, Portrait of Laura da Pola 
1560 Titian (Tiziano Vecellio), Titian's Daughter Lavinia with a Feather Fan 
1560-65 Titian, Titian's Daughter Lavinia
1570 Queen Elizabeth I, Unknown artist
1585 Queen Elizabeth I, with feather fan by John Bettes the Younger.
1588 Queen Elizabeth I, by George Gower
1580-90 Queen Elizabeth I, In Parliament Robes
1575 Queen Elizabeth I, The Darnley Portrait, by an unknown artist
1575 Queen Elizabeth I, The Pelican Portrait, attributed to Nicholas Hilliard.
1580-85 Queen Elizabeth I, The Peace Portrait, 1580-5, by Marcus Gheeraerts the Elder.


The fans which caught my fancy most were the ones that resembled a flat dish of feathers. I purchased a selection of feathers ($40) which were a good match to the burgundy/magenta linen I was using, and then made a mad search through my stockpile of trims and bits and bobs and discovered I had maidens blush pink feathers which beautifully matched the pink linen I had found to use for the project.

I began with a wooden dowel, which I cut to the length I wanted. Then I chose some millinery weight buckram and cut two pieces into the fan shape I liked.




Next I stitched those two pieces to the dowel, one on either side and began adding the darkest of the burgundy/magenta coloured feathers. I chose and trimmed the maidens blush feathers to fit and stitched them in place. The thread I used was a white cotton by Gutterman, chosen for its strength.
I then cut two heart shapes in the burgundy/magenta linen, and two in the maidens blush linen, and sewed them together into two little hearts. I lightly stuffed the little hearts with wool roving left over from a previous project, and finished the heart bottoms flat, so that they could wrap around the dowel when stitched into place. 



I 'quilted' the heart with maidens blush pink pearls, and added a diamond to each heart for “Diamante”, my SCA (society for Creative Anachronism) persona. The fan was finished off with a long pink ribbon, symbolic of the breast cancer awareness campaign. The hearts were then stitched into place at the base of the feathers. I used no glue in making this project.

When put to the test trial it was agreed by all present that the little fan creates a refreshing breeze. I lightly scented it with perfume, and found it delightful to be treated to the soft hint hint of perfume during its use.




The Ghirlanda

There is much written about the headpieces worn in renaissance Italy, some of it accurate, most of it conjecture. My favourite online resources, from which I gained a wonderful understanding of the headwear of Renaissance Italy, are as follows:
 
~A wonderful article written by Maestra Damiana Illiara d'Onde, which explores the history, construction and use of the Balzo, and how it differs from the ghirlanda and the capigliara.
~A website which shows some great portraiture of headwear, some with explanations of the type and style, and most with the date and name of the artist.
~A most wonderfully informative and educational forum on the headwear popular in Venice, and worn throughout northern Italy

~A terrific site with good photos of portraiture showing ghirlanda, as well as other forms of headwear.


Isabella d’Este, Marchessa di Mantua, was exceptionally conscious of fashion and a leader in the woman's realm of arts and fashion. She designed the ghirlanda she is wearing in the 1536 portrait hanging in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna (right). This style of hat was popular throughout Europe from mid 15th century to late 16th century. Bound with ribbons, studded with gems or bedecked with and pearl adornment, portraiture shows them worn with veils underneath, with the hair loose or in plaits and as thin as a strand of pearls but as much as a foot thick!

The ghirlanda appeals to me on a number of levels. The softness of the design, the endless potential for customisation and the unbelievable number of portraits in which women (and occasionally men) are seen wearing ghirlande, making them very documentable as ‘period’ for SCA purposes would be among the main attractions. The fact that they are also so comfortable to wear is a plus in my books as well!


Picture documentation for my ghirlanda is as follows:
1. Isabella d'Este, Marchesa of Mantua, 1536, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna (above). 


2. Baccio Bandinelli (1493–1560), Portrait of a woman known as Jacopa Doni, Paris, Musée du Louvre

3. Detail - Parmigiano c1533, Galleria Nazionale, Parma

4. Detail, Portrait of a Lady, 1530

To make my ghirlanda I started with a measure of the maidens blush linen cut into ellipses, like overstretch almonds. I sewed a ring of artificial hair into what would become the tube...
...and then stuffed the tube with wool roving.



Once stuffed I began embellishing it with ribbons which matched the two fabrics I was using. I micro braided the artificial hair and swirled it in decorative patterns around the stuffed ring.
All the embellishments were sewn down. I left tiny tendrils of artificial hair loose, to be worn either loose with my own hair (if I choose to wear my hair down), or woven into a braid or twist of my own hair, when worn with my hair completely up. 








Agnolo Bronzino, Portrait of a lady in green, c.1530



Pink Bronzino Gown

Senex Magister quotes William Hazlitt describing the colors of the costume worn by the sitter as resembling 'the leaves and flower of the water-lily, and so clear'. The simplicity of form, attention to detail and high degree of finish often associated with Bronzino’s work drew me to this portrait. The style and design of the gown worn in the portrait is not a common Central Italian in style,, leading scholars to think it might not be painted by Bronzino. Others, knowing he travelled in Emilia, to places like Bologna, Ferrara or Modena conjecture that north Italian fashions were influenced by the strong dynastic connections between Italian courts. It’s ruffled sleeve finish definitely gives it that touch of uniqueness.


The gown began with this portrait. I hope to one day make this gown in the colours represented in the portrait, or in blue and silver, but for the Perfectly Period Pink mini-challenge, I decided to attempt to make the gown from just barely over 4 meters of fabric. As I am only 5 feet tall, this should not have been much of a stretch. What it did require was immense planning, and a fun rifle through all my scraps, which resurrected some surprising memories!

The shape of the bodice is the same as that of another gown I had just begun. With the help of my friend Bobbi Leatitia Baker, we had fitted the bodice to my body. I cannot recommend getting fitting assistance highly enough. No matter how excellent a seamstress one might be, it is impossible to fit a bodice by oneself. 
I finished the bodice with a side-back lacing.

The skirt material was measured out and pinch cartridge pleated by hand to be attached to the bodice. This was definitely the most time consuming for me, but the easiest.


     

For the upper sleeve, I used a sleeve pattern I knew fit me, and by slicing it up and placing the pattern slivers onto the fabric one piece at a time I was able to space them to arrive at the size sleeve that would both fit me and my limited amount of fabric. I cut the lining and outer sleeve together. The sleeves on my gown are not as immense as those on the “Bronzino” gown, but my critics agree they are effective all the same.

Prior to assembly, I hand stitched the stripes onto the sleeves and bodice. Once assembled, the hand stitching to finish the eyelets was almost a meditative exercise, and I watched the beautiful Borgia series, created for Netflix while I was stitching.


The lower sleeves I left for last, as they created a real conundrum for me. I don’t like the untidy look of slashed sleeves, but they ARE period... I thought about changing the style of the lower sleeve, but the gown seemed to cry out for those slashed lower sleeves. I pecked through my pile of leftover materials and found a small measure of summer weight wool/polyester blend, in the magenta colour matching the linen I had used for the trim on the gown. It looked to be enough for the sleeves and also for the hem guard. Being a sturdier fabric, but not overly heavy, and having the low fray characteristic of many man-made fibres, it was the magical choice for both. 

The gown was the first item I had in mind to make for the mini-challenge, but the last item of the five I completed. 




I also made a partlet to finish the look but as it is in black & white, I did not enter it as a piece in the challenge. It does appear in the finished portrait, however. 

  



Materials: I used maidens blush pink handkerchief linen and burgundy magenta pink linen for the outer materials in the dress, and white linen for the lining and underskirt. A cotton roving was using for interlining in the bodice, and a linen/polyester fabric used for the skirt guard and sleeves. The ribbon lacing of the dress bodice is cotton/polyester gross grain ribbon. The partlet is made using a polyester/cotton sheer for the body (chosen for it’s eye appeal, knowing it is not a period fabric) and painted black-work linen for the collar and neck/sleeve cuff embellishment. Here on Vancouver Island we have not got the resources for materials that exist on the mainland. I used as many materials which would have been used in period, as I could procure. 

What did I learn? I learned that fabric can be found inexpensively. I learned that I am capable of accomplishing far more than I normally do, when inspired. I learned that black-work is a lot harder than it looks, even for someone (or perhaps especially for someone) who has experience with petit point and cross stitch arts. In the end, for this project I painted the black-work on the linen. I will use this one for camping and while I am working on the real black-work embellished partlet.


I found resources which helped me immensely. In addition to the Realm of Venus' information on fabric, the first is a book “Dressing Renaissance Florence: Families, Fortunes and Fine Clothing” (Baltimore, John Hopkins University Press, 2001) in which I learned that a weaver of brocaded velvet earned more in a year than the second chancellor of Florence or Brunelleschi, and that a weaver of damask earned more than the average university professor (pg 97). The book explores the incredible array of clothiers (which includes shoemakers, jewelers and hat makers) and the vast selection of fabrics and colours lifted from extant diaries and journals. The second is a wonderful article on fabric colours which I found online, which classes “pink” shades in with the reds, leading me to question everything I have ever read about “red” garments. Also very useful was this website list on fabric names. Most influential was this delightful find, as the chart of fabric quantities used in renaissance Italy indicated to me that my mere 4.25 meters of found pink 60” wide, would easily make the gown!

More than anything I learned, the thing that surprised me most is the phenomenal discovery that there are still people in this modern world who think men and small breasted women can’t get breast cancer! There are even still people who think that the government pays for all research, so that their tax dollars are their donation! 





What would I do differently? I would have done the black-work by hand, if my skill and time constraints permitted. I would have lined the skirt, and may yet line it. I would have made the bodice just the tiniest bit smaller, as it fits me to perfection, and it would be better if it fit a ‘smaller me’ so that I have a gown in my wardrobe that doesn’t need to be altered should I lose weight. I like the partlet the way it is, but when I make my next partlet I will use twice the fabric and cartridge pleat it, as I like the look of the cartridge/knife/pin pleats better, and I like the look of Italian smocking, which many portraits indicate was common.

In conclusion, I thank this challenge for pushing me to research the clothing worn in my SCA Persona’s time period, more deeply and more historically than I previously had. I joined a couple of groups I might otherwise never even have found. The challenge, and my involvement in it, encouraged me to speak to people about breast cancer, to bring up the few statistics I knew and to share that knowledge. The challenge allowed me to be teacher and student, a most enviable place to be. Everyone touched by this challenge wins.

Other useful resources:
Renaissance Clothing and Sumptuary Laws, the author Paige L. Hanson, University of Michigan-Dearborn explores the types of fabric, quantities consumed and the laws around their use. Nicely written and good bibliography. 
The Elizabethan Costume Page. A wonderful resource page.
Festive Attire Historical Costuming has the most impressive collection of Italian portraits! Here I also found a few examples of sleeves that suggest the Bronzino sleeves might not be so unusual as originally thought.




Banner image taken from: Domenico Ghirlandaio, Birth of St John the Baptist, 1486-90, Cappella Tornabuoni, Santa Maria Novella, Florence.


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© 2001 - 2012 Anabella Wake (Known in the SCA as Bella Lucia da Verona) I hold copyright on all information on these pages, and on all images of clothing/costume that I have made. You are allowed to make one facsimile copy for your own use provided that this notice is included on each page. Please ask permission to copy, disseminate and/or distribute my work - I would like to know when and how you are finding this information of use.