How to Sew A Venetian
on the Dorothy Burnham
"Cut My Cote" Camicia, V&A Museum,
On this page: Measuring Up Calculating
Fabric Requirements Preparing Your Fabric
and Cutting Sewing
**Update January 6 and
The first time I
set my eyes on the camicia at the Reconstructed Chemise page of the Reconstructing
History site, I knew I
had found a very likely construction method for
the sixteenth century Venetian camicia. The
Reconstructed Chemise page is an excellent
resource, and I was so curious about the mention
of Dorothy Burnham's Cut My Cote that I just had
to buy the book. Of course I had to try making my
own, and I decided there and then that all of my
camicie would follow the same style. But after
three slightly frustrating attempts to make a
camicia using the instructions found there, I
came to the conclusion that some things had not
been addressed, and so I had to make things up as
I went along.
The results were
less than ideal, and so I felt the need to
re-examine the conjectured construction method.
Having found solutions to the problems I
encountered, I thought I should share with you
what I did and how I did it. Here you will find
my instructions for sewing it, and I also include
a table that, hopefully, will make it easier to
calculate the length of fabric you will need, as
well as a layout diagram, below. If you would
like more information on sixteenth century
Italian camicie, please visit my page on the
camicia at The Library .
So what is so "period" about
this extant camicia - what makes it different
from non-period or commercial patterns? To start
with, this camicia has no shoulder straps, and
therefore no armscye - the sleeve tops become
part of the neckline. There are gussets under the
arm, adding extra room where it is most needed.
There is no shaping of fabric to be done with
scissors at all - all the shaping is the result
of the pleating up of the neckline. You don't
need a paper pattern - every piece can be cut, or
even torn from the fabric. I have done this -
linen tears very well and this both saves a lot
of time and results in a perfectly straight line
- the easiest hemming I've ever done. The only
cutting you will need to do are
the little snips into the fabric that you will
need to take to enable you to tear more easily.
But of course you may choose to
cut every piece.
You may wish to
use the period loom width of 71cm (28").
Front and back are each a full loom width, and
each side piece is a half loom width each. This
will result in a finished camicia which measures
approximately 2 metres (79") at the hem. The
neckline should be approximately 2.7 metres (106
and 1/2") after sewing sleeves on but before
finishing. This circumference is determined by
adding together the width for front, back and
sleeves (which are each a full loom width) and
subtracting for seam allowances. This may seem
like a lot, but when you take into consideration
that most period neckline finishing methods
result in a neckline diameter of only one quarter
of the unfinished neckline, you'll see that the
resulting neckline diameter of 67.5cm (26
1/2") is actually too small for a Venetian
neckline. You may also choose to utilise a modern
loom width, which will result in a fuller
camicia, or to add 2 extra 71cm panels front and
back, adding an extra 142cm (56") to the
neckline. Whatever you decide, it's important to
add extra panels in evenly front and back. The
length of fabric you will need thus depends
greatly on whether you go with the period loom
width or utilise a modern one, as well as your
height and girth, and thus how long and full you
need your finished camicia to be.
The only downfall
to Burnham's examination is that it leaves us
with a few questions - the depth of the slits on
the side sections being one, and the size of the
gussets being another. If the layout in "Cut
My Cote" is drawn to scale, then the gussets
are approximately 25cm (10") square each.
This is also the size given on the Reconstructed
Chemise page. I agree with this size as it has
worked perfectly for me.
after making three camicie from the instructions
at this site, I do not agree that the size of the slits should mirror
the size of the gussets - this results in two
seams meeting at the same point on the neckline,
as seen in the diagram on the left, which makes
for an awkward neckline to pleat. A solution is
to make the slits an extra 5cm (2") deep, to
offset these seams, as seen in the diagram on the
right. This is the impression I get from the
diagram in "Cut My Cote". Of course we
can't know what was done on the extant camicia
without examining it for ourselves.**
**Since the above was written I
have been fortunate enough to find Katherine via one of the
costuming lists I'm on. Katherine was lucky
enough to examine this camicia up close and
personal, and has generously shared her
information with me. My conjectured construction
method (slits deeper than size of gussets) is
actually correct!! Yay! This is what she has
1. Gussets are 9 inch squares (on each side)
2. The distance from lowest gusset to neck 'edge'
is 13 inches, therefore the gussets should be set
four inches lower.
3. Sleeves are 25 inches wide (mid point, i.e.
12.5 inches when folded in half)
4. Neck circumference is approx. 26 inches.
5. Overall length is 39 inches (neck to hem)
6. Centre panel is 28 inches, side panels (2 of)
are 14 inches.
was only off by an inch or two in estimating the
size of the gussets and depth of the slits, but
completely right in my solution to the problem!
Ok, ok, I'll stop being so smug now. :-)
1. Measuring Up:
The only measurements you need
are one to determine camicia length and one for
A: Measure from where you want the
finished hem of the camicia to end (somewhere
between just below the knees and just above the
ankle is best) up to just above the nipples. You will probably
need help with this.
B: Measure from the point of your
shoulder to where you want the sleeve to end -
remember that poufing out from 'windows' and gaps
between dress and sleeve or paned sleeves
requires extra length. At a minimum the sleeve
should end on the knuckles (I've allowed a
minimum of 60cm (23 1/2") below; at a
maximum perhaps a foot to a foot and a half
beyond the tips of the fingers - this would be
most suitable for later 16th century dresses with
large paned sleeve tops that need filling with
lots and lots of frothy white linen. Be aware
also that linen is bulkier than cotton, so you
may need more cotton and less linen for this
2. Calculating Fabric Requirements:
1 metre = 1.1
yards or 39"
instructions are for cutting the period loom
width of 71cm (28") from two different
modern fabric widths. You may of course choose to
make your front, back, side and sleeve sections
as wide as you wish. Just remember to allow for
the greater width in your calculations. If you don't wish to cut
to the period loom width, instructions are included below these
Calculating Fabric requirement for cutting to period loom
Camicia Length Required
Cut Period Loom Width from 112cm (44")
Cut Period Loom Width from 150cm (59")
or 3 metres
|= 240cm or 2.4
= 320cm or 3.2
|= 260cm or 2.6
= 340cm or 3.4
|= 280cm or 2.8
= 360cm or 3.6
|= 300cm or 3
note: This calculation is based in the
minimum sleeve length requirement of 60cm
(24"). If you require longer sleeves
do the following calculation:
calculate fabric requirements for longer
[sleeve length required] - 60cm
(24") = C
On 112cm (44") wide fabric add 2 x C to the required fabric length.
On 150cm (59") wide fabric add 1 x C to the required fabric length.
your were using 112cm (44") wide
fabric and your fabric requirement from
the above table was 320cm, and your
sleeve length required was 100cm, then:
60cm = 40cm (C); Add 2xC: 2 x 40cm = 80cm extra fabric
your final fabric requirement would be
320cm + 80cm = 400cm or 4 metres.
fabric requirement for cutting to a
modern loom width:
If you choose to go with a
modern loom width of 112cm (44") for your
camicia pattern pieces, you can calculate the
fabric required using this formula:
x A + 2 x B + 2 x C + 25cm (10") = camicia
Where A =
length of camicia from above nipple to required
(3 x A is for 1 front, 1 back and 2 sides each a
B = Basic 60cm long sleeve
C = extra length for sleeves, if any
(10") is for two
gussets cut side by side
also note: I have not allowed fabric for
the band seen around the neckline of some camicie that
hid the lines of stitching and were often
decorated by embroidery. If you would like to
make these from matching fabric please allow
enough extra fabric to make a strip long enough
to fit around the neckline. Alternatively you can
use ribbon or bias-binding.
3. Preparing your fabric:
It's important to prepare your
fabric for cutting and sewing. You may have
already noted the hints and tips about preparing
the fabric. If so go on to step 4. If not, you
may want to read this first.
4. Layout and Cutting:
Cutting to the
period loom width from 112cm (44") wide fabric
(You can also use the layouts below as a guide to cutting to
the modern loom width)
1.Take the length of fabric you will
need from the Fabric Requirements table above
plus the calculation for any extra length in the
sleeves, and lay it out across a table. To make
things easier make sure you have the exact
length needed by cutting or tearing off
any excess - the following instructions are for
an exact length of fabric.
2. From one end
measure in 71cm (28") from the selvedge and
snip into the fabric. Either cut or tear a
straight line from the snip right along the
complete length of fabric. You now have two
lengths of fabric, both the same length - a wider
and narrower length.
and Back: From the wider length
take the measurement for the length of your front
piece, the "A" measurement, and mark it
on the selvedge and snip - then cut or tear
straight across. Do the same again for the back
The remaining fabric on this length will make two
sleeves - fold this section in half crosswise so
that both halves are exactly the same, insert
scissors in fold and snip. Open section out, cut
or tear in half.
sections: Take the narrower
length of fabric. Mark "A"
measurement along selvedge with a snip. Cut or
tear straight across. Do the same again for the
other side section. Take the top narrow end of
each side piece, mark the centre, and cut slits
into fabric 30cm (12") deep. Set aside.
Take remaining narrow length and mark 50cm
(20") section - cut or tear straight across.
Fold this section in half to form a double square
- snip into fold, open out and cut or tear
straight across - this will give you two gussets
each 25cm (10") square.
*Cutting to the
period loom width from 150 (59") wide fabric*
1. Take your calculated length of fabric
and trim (snip and tear,or cut) 8cm (3",
more or less if your fabric is wider or narrower
than 150cm) from it along the selvedge for whole
length. This will leave you with a width of
fabric exactly twice the period loom width. Fold
in half lengthwise, snip in fold and cut or tear
along the whole length. You are left with two
lengths of the period loom width.
From the first length, measure
out your A measurement, snip into selvedge and
cut to tear straight across.
3. Sides: Take
your A measurement once again, mark it on the
long side along the selvedge, snip, and cut or
tear straight across. Take this section and fold
it in half lengthwise - snip into the fold, open
out and cut or tear right through. These are the
two side sections. Make a slit in each by folding
each section in half, snip into fold, open out
and cut a slit 30cm (12") deep.
The remaining fabric from this first
length will be one of the sleeves - use the
cut/torn edge for the neckline and the selvedge
for the sleeve end.
Take the second length of
fabric. Measure out your "A"
measurement along the long side, snip, and cut or
tear straight across.
sleeve: Take your "B"
measurement along the long side, snip, and cut or
tear straight across.
Measure 50cm (20") along the long
side, snip, and cut or tear straight across. Take
this section and fold in half so you are left
with a 25cm (10") square, snip into the
fold, open out and cut or tear straight across.
This will leave you with two gussets.
fabric should be a square or rectangular piece of
fabric just perfect for a handkerchief.
are written with machine sewing in mind, but of
course the same steps can be taken sewing by
hand. Please note, this is a modern method of construction - it
is not based on period practice.
I find it much easier to construct this
camicia if I sew the gussets to the sleeves
Note: it is much
easier if you neaten all your raw edges by your chosen method
before you begin. You could also use french seams, but it does
complicate things quite a bit.
1. On both sides of each sleeve piece mark a
point 23.5cm (9 1/4") from the neckline end
of the sleeve pieces. Right sides together,
matching marks, sew sleeve seam from wrist end to
mark. Press sleeve seams and un-sewn seam
allowances open. These openings in the sleeves
are the gusset openings.
2. Take each gusset and fold in half diagonally,
wrong sides together, forming a triangle. Finger
press a crease along this fold. (It is not
necessary to use an iron - this crease is for
ease of reference. Fold is not shown in diagram)
With the crease vertical, finger press or lightly
iron the seam allowances on either side at the
top of the crease - this will form the shape of
an arrow pointing up. On the wrong side make a
mark in from the point where the three creases
meet. Do this again on the other point on the
other end of the crease.
3. With the
unstitched end of the sleeve seam toward you,
wrong side up so that the seam allowances are
visible, place the mark in the gusset point over
the seam where the stitching ends. Pin in place.
Open out one side of the gusset opening and pin
the gusset to it along the seam allowance. Do
this again along the other gusset opening's seam
4. Open out seam allowance and, making sure
sleeve is clear of the machine foot, lower it
onto the fabric - lower needle into mark,
backstitch a little to reinforce, and stitch from
that point of gusset out to ends of sleeves. The
finished sleeve will look something like my
attempt at a diagram to the left.
The next step is to sew the sleeves into the side
sections. It makes it easier to do this rather
than the after the camicia is assembled because
there is less fabric to fight with at the sewing
machine...or across your lap.
1. With the side
section laying with the slit end toward you,
wrong side up, mark a point 1.5cm (5/8")
directly above the slit. Place the other point of
the gusset over this and pin in place.
2. Just like you
did for the sleeves, insert the gusset seam
allowance along the slit seam allowance, edge to
edge. The gusset seam allowance will narrow at
the point. Pin in place. Repeat for other side.
3. Open out seam
allowance and, making sure sleeve is clear of the
machine foot, lower it onto the fabric - lower
needle into mark, backstitch a little to
reinforce, and stitch from that point of gusset
out along gusset, over sleeve seam and to end of
slit. Do the same again for the other side. You
may find this step easier to accomplish by hand.
|When you're done
you should have something that looks like this:
4. All that is left to do now
is to sew each of the side+sleeve sections to the
back, then the front, and you're done! You're
left with something that should look like this:
You are now
ready to work on the neckline. A quick and easy
method to determine if the camicia is roomy
enough for your needs is to run a temporary line
of stitching (longest machine stitch set to nil
tension, or a double row of hand basting will do)
along the neckline. Pull up as much, or as,
little, as you want. Adding extra panels, should
you wish it, can be easily achieved - simply cut
along the centre front and back and add one or