Joanna Higgins

A Pair of Sleeves

This is my first entry into any costume competition and my first attempt at anything Italian Renaissance, though I have admired the style and Realm of Venus for quite some time now.

I ended up having substantially less free time than Iíd originally thought, and no budget whatsoever, but refused to let that stop me from entering this challenge. Funding breast cancer research and diagnostic tests for less fortunate women is such a good cause and I didnít want to fail the cause or let myself down.

After poring over my existing fabric and trim stash, I decided to go with a pair of sleeves, inspired by this portrait of Giovanna Tornabuoni done by Domenico Ghirlandaio. In 1488. According to the Web Gallery of Art ďshe came from one of the most important Florentine families and in 1486 married Lorenzo Tornabuoni. ď The portrait is permanently housed at the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza in Madrid.

I have a trim that I felt echoed the brocade of her sleeves with the floral element and the arrow shape of the leaves. I realized excitedly that, while I didnít have the budget to purchase this gorgeous brocade, nor the time to embroider that design onto the sleeves (or frankly the talent Ė the only fibre arts Iím good at are crochet and knitting) I could lay out strips of the trim on a lining fabric to make the brocade out of it! Granted, the trim is made out of poly and lurex instead of silk and real gold, but such substitutions were necessary due to cost factors.

The next challenge was that I didnít already have an actual pattern for the sleeve. I knew what the basic pattern shape was supposed to look like from having done cotehardie sleeves, but I wanted to try to incorporate the slashed area on the outside of the upper sleeve. Sadly, when I tried to make the pattern accommodate both the slashes and the layout of the trim, I ended up with a disaster every time, so I decided to stick with a sleeve that was open down the back of the arm and use ties or buttons and loops to attach it together. I chose to do the smaller segments of lacing all the way up the length of the sleeve, similar to this painting which was my original inspiration from the beginning of the challenge when I thought I would have time to do a whole gown. (I plan to go back and tackle this gown another time. I have this lovely bright pink linen and a great teal and pink trim to go down the front of the sleeve where itís open to reveal the camicia.)


I used an existing sleeve from a gown already in my wardrobe, and laid that out on paper and which I cut apart for making adjustments.
After a lot more fiddling, I was able to get the pattern piece I wanted. In the process, I realized that I would not be able to just attach the trim to a single layer of lining, I would have to make one layer of lining to attach the trim to, and another that would actually be the lining of the sleeve. 

I played with the placement of the strips of trim and determined that alternating the direction of the strips looked the best.

Since the outer edges of the sleeve were going to be the most visible, I chose to start the trim layout there and figured I would butt the trim in the center. As I got closer to the center, it became apparent that laying the strips of trim over each other in a sort of basket-weave treatment would be more attractive as well as easier to line up and stitch.

Lastly came stitching down the trim and adding the lining along with the ribbons to fasten the sleeve to the (eventual) gown and up the back to tie it together, which would allow the camicia to puff out so beautifully.

VOILA, the finished product. I could only take the pic with one sleeve on and, as I said before, I do not have a camicia yet so had to make do with a regular chemise. I will probably add more to it, but I am pretty happy with how they turned out!


Portrait Inspirations
Web Gallery of Art portrait of Giovanna Tornabuoni
Giovanna Tornabuoni at its permanent home at the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza
Web Gallery of Art portrait of Woman in a Red Dress (sleeve puffs)

Costuming Books
Dressing Renaissance Florence by Carole Collier Frick (Google Books)
The Silk Industry of Renaissance Venice by Luca Mola (Google Books)
Seeing Through Clothes by Anne Hollander (Google Books)

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.