Holly Taylor

An Embroidered Pair of Sleeves and a Necklace

Like many costumers and SCA participants, for a long time I have been inspired by the extant 'Pisa dress'. I love the colour, the richness of the velvet, the style, and (most of all) the embroidery.

I have always wanted to try my hand at a version of the embroidery on this dress, so the ICC Mini Challenge seemed like a perfect opportunity. I chose to work on a pair of sleeves to give me an idea of how I would go if I decided to make a version of the whole gown later on.

There are other well known-examples of embroidered bands on Italian dresses, particularly those of Eleonora de Toledo.

I loosely based my embroidery design on the original on the extant 'Pisa' dress. I doodled until I found a design that flowed well and which resembled the original design. I then photocopied the panel and stuck the copies together until I had a repeating design. I photocopied that into a long continuous piece.

After pre-washing and ironing my fabric, I traced the design onto one edge and experimented with different types of thread and different stitches. Although the extant Pisa dress looks to have a lot of couching on it, I decided to avoid couching if possible. I have used couching to secure metallic thread on sleeves in the past, and I found that the couched threads regularly caught on aiglets and hooks and eyes, resulting in pulled threads. I didn't want to go to the trouble of embroidering sleeves that wouldn't wear well.

I tried the design in several crochet cottons and embroidery cottons. Budget was a factor, as I knew I would end up using a LOT of floss. I tested light and dark pinks as well as gold, and in the end settled on a DMC cotton floss as it sat really well with no fluffing. I also changed my mind about stitch type; the double running stitch I originally planned to use lacked impact, so I changed to chain stitch.

The next step was marking out the design panels ready to embroider. (I had been so busy with other projects that I was almost a week into the challenge before I got to this stage!)

I bought some fabric tracing paper which works like carbon paper, except that the design washes out in water. What a brilliant invention! I laid the 'carbon' paper on the fabric, and then put my photocopied design panel over the top and traced around the design. The only part of the design that I wasn't sure of was the little circles in the centre of the motif. I plan to try and change them into spirals.

I started embroidering the design in chain stitch. I haven't decided yet what stitch to use for the spirals.

(See more at Holly's Blog.)

Well, the mini-challenge didn't quite work out the way I planned! My health problems got in the way, and I only managed to finish one of the three items that I was hoping to make. But I am really happy with the two different lots of embroidery I did as part of the challenge. I am usually really picky about my work and am never 100% satisfied. But for once, I am delighted with my work. I love the design and I love how it has turned out as an embroidery. I plan to finish the sleeves and then go on to do more of the design in a different colour.

And finally, I made a necklace to go with the pink sleeves. It is a pale pink glass cabochon set in an antique brass pendant setting and strung on 'barely pink' glass pearls. I am not a pink sort of girl, so I thought that I wouldn't like the final result, but I love it! I am disappointed with not completing everything in time, but I am very happy with the results I have achieved so far. I really enjoyed seeing the other participants' research, and I think it is great that we have all raised money for Breast Cancer research.

I also managed to get financial support for the challenge in the form of donations to Breast Cancer research and awareness, so I am very pleased about that.

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


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.