The Realm of Venus Presents....

talian howcase


Asa Gormsdottir

SCA Participant
A Set of handsewn dresses of burnt peach and dark copper silk, and a pair of cork chopines, both
circa 1495

Note from Bella: Asa is the winner of Ealdormere's annual Arts & Sciences Competition known as Pentathlon. Along with the set of two dresses, Asa entered a pair of zoccoli (chopines), an illumination, food entries and a banquet translation, all circa 1495 Venice. Asa provided me with her extensive documentation, for both dresses and chopines, the edited versions of which I present to you here. Grab your favourite hot drink (or cold if you're in the Southern Hemisphere!), make sure you won't be disturbed, and prepare for a great read.

Congratulations Asa.!

Images below can be clicked on to view a larger image.

Asa Says...

I hail from the Canton of Eoforwic in the Barony of Septentria in the Kingdom of Ealdormere (Toronto, Ontario, Canada). I recently completed a set of five entries based on 1495 Venice for Ealdormere's annual Arts & Sciences Competition known as Pentathlon, and won! The entries were a dress, chopines, illumination (Girolamo da Cremona style), food entries and a banquet translation.


Set of handsewn under- and overdresses of burnt peach and dark copper silk, lined with linen and imitation gold tissue, embellished with pearls and garnets, accompanied by matching finestrella sleeves. The dress is designed to be the height of fashion for 1495.

These dresses would be laced over a low-necked, gathered linen camisa with wide sleeves. Accessories would include pearl necklaces, earrings, a narrow belt, zoccoli (Venetian platform shoes), and an elaborate hairstyle.


a) Pattern

No gowns are known to have survived from late 15th century Venice. Without extant pieces, I have relied on pictorial evidence for "the typical high-waisted dress of Venetian women recorded in the great Scuole paintings of the end of the fifteenth century" (Newton 48) and written reports by visiting pilgrims. These sources include:

Albrecht Durer

"Durer's drawing of a Venetian woman is … more richly jewelled than one would have thought possible in view of the prevailing sumptuary laws, her dress belongs to exactly the same moment in fashion as the dresses worn by the two courtesans (Carpaccio). Its low neckline allows only a minute strip of stuff on the shoulder; its sleeves are made up of segments held together by laces; through their gaps the full sleeves of her chemise emerge in light puffs." (Newton 52)

Albrecht Durer's sketch is my primary inspiration for this dress.

Vittore Carpaccio (several works)

Carpaccio is responsible for several paintings which show the dress, in particular Two Venetian Courtesans and the St. Ursula fresco series. The two women in the former (see right) wear deeply coloured dresses in plain silk and velvet. The sleeves on the second lady have been cut from a richly patterned brocade. The hems of both are decorated with trim. Their low necklines are decorated with large pearls and the sleeves of the first lady are also decorated with small pearls along the openings.

Freschi illumination

The Memorie della famiglia Freschi portrait series (Zorzi 216-219), dated late 15th/early 16th century, includes two portraits of Venetian women, in particular that of Dorothea Zacarias. Dorothea's outfit is very similar in construction to that in Albrecht Durer's sketch, composed of a pair of dresses. This illumination is an important find that to my knowledge has not been cited anywhere else. (see left)

The under-dress is apparently made of a gold-coloured brocade. The bodice is edged with pearls in a solid line around the neckline.

The over-dress is made of a dark material (dark brown, purple or black), lined with a green patterned material that is exposed by front and side parts. The neckline is appliquéd with a wide band of gold-coloured material, which has been beaded with pearls and ornate flower-like roundels.

The bride wears one-piece open-work sleeves, tied at intervals. Additionally, there appears to be long hanging sleeves that flow to the floor. Finally, the bride wears the same bunned hairstyle and lavish jewellery shown in Durer and Carpaccio.

Another Scuole painting, familiarly known as The Engagement (Bestetti 103), shows a slightly earlier and less extreme version of the dress with the overdress parting to expose the underdress. Giovanni Mansueti, Gentile Bellini were also inspirational, as were a few eye-witness accounts/journals.

b) Bodice

The bodices shown are very high waisted, sometimes extremely low-necked/backed, sometimes off-the-shoulder (Durer in particular). At first I was concerned that the neckline had been exaggerated by the artists, but Casola's eyewitness account confirms the look:

"These Venetian women, especially the pretty ones, try as much as possible in public to show their chests--I mean the breasts and shoulders--so much so, that several times when I saw them I marvelled that their clothes did not fall off their backs." (Casola 142-145)

The very high-waisted bodices for this period appear not to have any boning and rely on cut and tight lacing for support. Normally the overdress bodice is cut in a v front and back to expose the material of the underdress.

I draped and fitted a template bodice using linen and then drew a paper pattern. I then cut the peach silk for the underbodice and the copper silk and orange taffeta silk lining for the overbodice from this pattern. In each case I tried to maximize the effects of the brocade patterns.

c) Skirt

All the skirts shown are full to the floor, pleated or gathered to the high waist. The skirt of the overdress is usually open from the waist down.

I completely finished the fully lined skirts before attaching them to the bodices. Tiny whipstitches (15-20 per inch) were used to attach the lining at top and bottom and give a sharp edge. The join in the underskirt was sewn in three layers with the fourth layer hemmed down. The overskirt edges were folded over and hemmed down.

Each finished skirt was then roll-pleated to a linen strip, which was then sewn into the lining of each bodice. This provided strength, especially for the heavier underdress. Rolled pleating, knife pleating, and gathering are all shown in the artwork. I used roll pleating because of the quantity of material.

The sari material used for the skirts includes a woven border, avoiding the need to apply trim.

d) Sleeves

Sleeves are shown tied to the bodice by ribbon points in some portraits and sewn on in others. I have chosen tie-on sleeves. Durer’s sketch clearly shows two-piece openwork sleeves that lace together at the elbow. This design is very attractive and I have used it on these sleeves. Normally only one pair of sleeves is worn at a time – the voluminous chemises peek out in all the portrait examples.

The sleeves were cut to maximize the silk’s existing brocade pattern. In the portraits the sleeves are made from elaborate brocade that matches the underdress. I could have elected to include hanging sleeves as shown in the Freschi illumination, but so far this is my only source for hanging sleeves with this dress and the identification is not confirmed.


a) Exterior

For the exterior I used two silk brocade saris that I received as an anniversary present.

The silk industry was very important to Venice in this period. Venice had built the industry on the expertise of Luccan refugees: "Venetian production by then (1462) dominated the market. In describing the life of Doge Tommaso Mocenigo, Marin Sanudo explicitly states that the products of Lucca and her wealth had passed to Venice, and that Lucca was in decline". (Santangelo 29)

Naturally, Venice took steps to protect it: "The Great Council and Senate … pronounced … decrees … against importing into the Venetian Republic silk stuffs not produced in Venice (July 13, 1410)" (Santangelo 28). Such prohibitions were renewed:

"…while Venice exported fine silks to other countries, she also imported or at least shipped silk fabrics from abroad. Restrictions on these were severe. In 1490, the Senate decreed that no zentilhome, citadin, or habitante of Venice or her dominions on the mainland was to wear or to use in any way any cloth of gold, silver or silk which had not been manufactured in questa città". (Newton 175)

With these rules, an upper class Venetian lady would legitimately only be able to use Venetian-made silk for such a dress. However, sumptuary laws are usually created to correct rather than confirm behaviour.

In review of extant silk brocade fragments from Venice and other parts of Italy, several pieces for the 14th and 15th century (largely ecclesiastical survivals) show large-pattern vertical pineapple/lotus/tree-of-life ("pomegranate") designs in jewel-tone velvets (red or purple especially) with gold brocading, as well as other highly stylized flower in-and-out progressions (examples from Santangelo, Poli and Dupont-Auberville).

"The fabrics surviving from the first half of the 14th century, largely samites, diaspes and lampases are enriched with vegetal and floral elements of Chinese or Oriental inspiration, like the peony, the lotus, and tree of life. Those of the second half of the century are more dynamic and lively with added animal elements such as the fawn, the eagle, mastiff, leopard, pelican, caught in animated and realistic attitudes". (Poli 41)

In recent times, select Italian boutique manufacturers have revived these distinctive patterns, but the cost is prohibitive – sometimes thousands of dollars per yard.

At the other end of the scale, some modern synthetic upholstery brocades use the pineapple design. In my opinion, these heavy fabrics are inappropriate for this silken dress.

Silk sarees from India and Pakistan are currently the most accessible and affordable source for silk brocade in quantity, and have the correct weight for this dress.

Although sarees often have flower patterns, I have not found any with the distinctive pineapple design. The Islamic prohibitions continue to be maintained in weaving Eastern silk sarees and I have not found any examples with heraldic beasts either.

On the other hand, the peach silk saree I used is similar in design and colour to a 14th century Venetian remnant (Santangelo, Plate 25). Additionally, the lavish acanthus-like borders on these sarees also resemble border elements in illuminated manuscripts of the same period (which took them from classical architecture).

Finally, it is entirely possible that imported Turkish silks with similar characteristics to my sarees legitimately made their way into Venetian clothing, despite the prohibitions, as gifts or souvenirs through Venice's long diplomatic relationship with Turkey.

In this context I have decided to use the silk sarees as the best middle ground choice.

b) Linings:

Medium-weight white linen was used to line the underdress and for the pleating strips. This is a period choice.
Yarn-dyed silk taffeta was used to line the bodice and sleeves of the overdress. This is a period material.
Imitation gold tissue was used to line the skirt of the overdress. Cloth of gold was routinely banned by Venetian sumptuary laws: "…regulations governing expenditure on the fabrics … certainly ruled out not only clothing of gold or silver stuffs but also embroidery in precious metal threads and expensive silk cloths." (Newton 52). However, these laws were frequently ignored or bypassed by various loopholes. Using imitation gold tissue to line a skirt is a way to cock a snoot at the sumptuary law.


I have used orange-tone silks for these dresses.

The brown-orange-yellow palette was coming into vogue in Venetian painting during the late 15th century.

"Orange had not been used as a colour term by Petrarch or Boccaccio: Italians refer to the yolk of egg as rosso d'uovo, so it is likely that any yellow deeper than crocus was traditionally categorized as red. But in the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, published in Venice in 1499, the adjective naranceo is frequently used to describe the orange-coloured. Thereafter naranzin becomes a colour in dress…So orange, fruit and colour, was in the ascendant in Renaissance Venice". (Hills 146-150)

Manuseti's Miracle (…) shows orange-tone dresses, but this may simply be part of the palette he chose for the painting rather than an actual model.

With orange, yellows and browns being increasingly used in portraits, tile and maiolica on the cusp of the Cinquecento, it is reasonable and highly fashionable to use the burnt peach and dark copper silks for this 1495 dress.


a) Stitches used

These dresses are entirely hand sewn. Because no 15th century Venetian clothing has survived, I have referred to construction techniques used in the extant 16th century garments discussed in Janet Arnold’s Patterns of Fashion, using running stitch, back stitch and whip stitch as needed.

b) Thread

Gold-coloured silk thread (bodices and beading) (authentic and strong)
White linen thread (bodice, pleating strips, eyelets) (authentic and strong)
Orange synthetic thread (skirt and sleeve construction) (strength, low cost, matches fabric)

c) Needles

Modern hand sewing and beading needles were used throughout.

d) Beading/jewels

15th century Venetian ladies wore a profusion of jewels, and their necklines and sleeves were frequently jewelled or beaded: "Those who can afford it, and also those who cannot, dress very splendidly, and have magnificent jewels and pearls in the trimming round their collars. They wear many rings on their fingers with great balass rubies,' rubies and diamonds. I said also those who cannot afford it, because I was told that many of them hire these things." (Casola 142-145)

"I was in fact informed by a merchant, who pointed out to me a young and wealthy citizen's wife with her neck and hands covered with countless costly and beautiful jewels, that in his opinion the jewels were worth more than 600,000 ducats." (von Harff)


Neckline beading, especially using a line of large round pearls, is shown in the Durer sketch and in Carpaccio's Two Venetian Courtesans. In the meeting scene between the saint and her fiancé from Carpaccio's St. Ursula cycle (Meeting of the Betrothed Couple, Bestetti 149), the saint's dress is lavishly beaded with large pearls along the necklines of both dresses. Pearls were prized by the Venetians.

Another example of neckline beading is found in Carpaccio's Portrait of a Lady (Bestetti 162), a rather dour looking woman. The neckline of her underdress boasts 2x4 groupings of pearls at intervals, while the overdress is studded alternately with large pearls and gold plaques.

Neroccio di Bartolomeo's Portrait of a Lady (possibly Alessandra Piccolomini (Bestetti 148)), shows a neckline decorated with small pearls sewn in clusters of three at intervals.

Finally, the neckline in the Freschi illumination seems to have been appliquéd with roundel or flower shapes.

I appliquéd a decorative strip (taken from the edge of the saree) to the neckline of the underdress and then beaded it with small freshwater pearls and garnets. I also used five gold bullion flowers (as per Freschi). The neckline of the overdress didn't need embellishing as the material was very busy and would not have benefited from it.


The finestrella sleeves in Carpaccio's Two Venetian Courtesans have been beaded with small pearls around the openings.

As well, the left sleeve on Carpaccio's St. Ursula (Meeting of the Betrothed Couple) bears a large rectangular jewel in a heavy gold setting surrounded by pearls.

Pinning a brooch would achieve the same effect as St. Ursula's sleeve.

e) Eyelets

Eyelets overcast with linen thread are the most common period bases for lacing (Arnold, numerous photographs). I used two awls to make openings for the eyelets, which are used on the bodices and sleeves for lacing, and overcast the holes with linen thread. An alternative would be to use yellow silk floss to overcast the edges.

f) Aglets

Period aglets are very thin, about 1½ " long and unadorned (Arnold, several photographs). I was unable to buy reproduction aglets of the correct size and shape, so I attempted to make period aglets using metal from aluminum pie plates, which was cheap and accessible. Unfortunately, the metal was brittle and low-tolerance, cracking when rolled or folded into the correct shape. Stable pie-plate aglets were too big for the eyelets.

I decided to use modern bolero point aglets and sewed them onto the ribbon ends. Because these ornamental points are too big for the eyelets I pre-laced the ribbons into place before attaching the aglets, which at least have the virtue of being pretty. I couldn't make the eyelets any bigger without tearing the fabric.

g) Ribbon

I investigated using 100% silk taffeta, moiré and gros-grain ribbons, but my sources were too modern in appearance. One option would be to hand-sew silk ribbons that would give the correct rumpled look. I decided to use a non-period beautiful polyester gauze ribbon in peach with gold edges that perfectly complemented the dresses.

I laced the bodices using a period technique similar to that found in Carpaccio's Ritratto di giovane donna (Bestetti 162) and Antonio Pollaiolo's Ritratto di donna (Bestetti 97), instead of the modern criss-cross lacing. The ribbon is strong and doesn’t slip.


a) Hair style

"As strange as the dress itself is the style of dressing the hair, and this too, is peculiar to Venice." (Newton 51). As previously discussed, in 1495 the hair is universally shown in a tight bun on top of the head, with curled fringe around the face. Fake hair was frequently used to bulk out the look:

"As to the adornment of their heads, they wear their hair so much curled over their eyes that, at first sight, they appear rather men than women. The greater part is false hair; and this I know for certain because I saw quantities of it on poles, sold by peasants in the Piazza San Marco. Further, I inquired about it, pretending to wish to buy some, although I had a beard both long and white." (Casola 142-145)

b) Jewellery

In general, short but heavy necklaces of pearls and other gems are worn with the dress. Large earrings are sometimes worn as well (Durer).

c) Belt
Some art shows a narrow belt worn on the bodice line. From experience, this support can be an invaluable, even with tight lacing, as gravity works.

d) Make-up
Finally, a lady would paint her face to complete her toilette:

"Item, these women [of Venice] paint their faces with colours so that at night they look ugly when the heat makes the colours run." (von Harff)



"Condemned as early as 1438 by a priest in Spain" (Pratt & Woolley 19), chopines, an extreme platform shoe, were worn in Venice beginning in the early 15th century and ending in the mid-17th century (Hall 71). A 1430 Venetian drawing (Poli 153) shows a rather blocky chopine topped by a minimalist sandal that laced onto the ankle with a small buckle.

Chopines were worn in a variety of heights, and in some cases they reached as high as 20 inches (Museo Correr example in Poli 154). Although there are few surviving examples that can be reliably dated to the late 15th century, pilgrim eyewitness accounts and contemporary art demonstrate that both towering and comfortable chopines were worn.

A fine pair of chopines would be essential to a lady's wardrobe. In fact, their (literally) high status is revealed in a minor painting "depicting the meeting between the Gastaldo and the Doge Lorenzo Priuli in 1557 in thanks for the gift of precious clogs (zoccoli) made to his wife, the Dogaresse, Zilia Priuli, on the occasion of his election". (Poli 34) And, as one of the oldest guilds in Venice, shoemakers (calegheri) had the privilege of working at San Marco on certain days, "as on the occasion of the great annual Fiera della Sensa (the Feast of the Ascension)" (Poli 12).

Description of Entry

Pair of Type 1 (my definition) cork chopines with vegetable tanned leather outer and inner soles and uppers, covered in orange cotton velveteen. Embellished with modern artificial gold lace, secured with brass upholstery nails, and decorated with freshwater pearls attached with gold silk thread. Carved and sewn by hand.


"Chopine" or chapiney is a European term for a range of heeled shoes variously called zoccoli, pianelli and calcagnetti. Because their definitions are sometimes confused, I will continue to use chopine.


"(Chopines) were pedestals of cork or wood (…) some were simply shaped, like an elephant's hoof. Others had broad tops and bottoms and looked like hourglasses. (…) Chopines varied in height from circular blocks a few inches tall to columns up to 24". Leather or fabric shoes or mules were affixed to the top of these stilts. The shoe itself was round-toed and embellished with jewels in the form of a rose or other floral decoration and tied over the instep with ribbons. The mule had a slightly up-tilted toe and the forepart was embroidered or had slashings, cutouts or jewelled decorations. The stilt was of cork or wood and sometimes covered with kid or velvet in various bright colours, mainly yellow or red." (Ledger 72)

"Coryat, in his "Crudities," 1611, says, "There is one thing used of the Venetian women, and some others dwelling in the cities and towns subject to signiory of Venice (…) which is so common in Venice that no woman whatsoever goeth without it, either in her house or abroad – a thing made of wood and covered with leather of sundry colours; some with white, some red, some yellow. It is called a chapiney which they never wear under their shoes. Many of these are curiously painted; some of them I have also seen fairly gilt (…) There are many of these chapineys of a great height, even half a yard high. (…) I have heard it observed among them, that by how much the nobler a woman is, by so much the higher are her chapineys." (Hall 68-69)

Aside from Garzoni's comments (see Definition), there is little contemporary information on how chopines were made. And, because pieces are so rare, no one appears to have taken apart a chopine to see exactly how it was made. Wilson describes the structure as follows:

"Some chopines were lightly indented under the sole, which gave them a slight "heeled" look; others were almost circular in the shape of the forepart; most had mules attached into which the stockinged foot slipped; but others had real shoes attached which fastened over the instep. This was largely the difference between the chopine and the patten … the latter was held on by straps fastening over a separate shoe". (Wilson 137)

Wilson also provides thumbnail line drawings, but these seem distorted compared to the surviving chopines I studied.

a) Column

The column or platform is quoted as being made of cork or various woods. Wood is strong and can be carved to a demanding shape, but can be heavy. Cork is light and resilient, however, because cork is the stripped bark of a tree, it must be assembled and glued in layers. Cork is not as strong as wood and may not carve as finely. Cork is still used today for platform shoes because it is shock-absorbent.

b) Soles

The outer and inner soles are always made of leather. Sometimes kid leather is used for the inner sole. Some research suggests that the inner sole was not differentiated between left and right. It is difficult to determine from the examples (because of the angle of display), however, the visible chopine in Carpaccio's Due Dame Veneziane seems clearly shaped for the left foot.

Soles are glued to the column, and the edges are sewn to the leather or fabric covering. Nails do not appear to be used, probably because they would eventually work out of the soft cork.

Inner soles are reportedly often stamped or embossed with simple repetitive designs. One example has small roundels embossed in rows (Durian-Ress 37).

c) Covering

The sides of the chopine can be covered in kid leather, velvet or brocade. Type II and III chopines are almost always covered in kid leather. Many Type I chopines are covered in velvet. The covering is drawn extremely tight over the column.

This covering is essential, not just aesthetically, but as a base to attach the leather outer and inner soles.

d) Uppers

The uppers (portion covering the top of the foot) are made of leather, which can be covered in fabric to match the body. The uppers can be closed or open toe, depending on the height, various widths, sometimes finestrella. Some uppers are split and laced together like modern shoes, but without a tongue to protect the foot. Sewing the uppers to the sole is easier if they are split.

e) Colours

Common colours reported are red, yellow and white (though most surviving leather chopines are cream coloured). Surviving fabric examples include a golden brown velvet (Bata chopine), dark green figured brocade (Poli 156), and an aquamarine velvet (Bernhardt), all with contrasting trims.

f) Fastening

Most chopines are basically mules on stilts; however, some early examples have an ankle strap and buckle. This closure would re-emerge as the chopine declined in popularity and was replaced by a kind of heeled shoe.

g) Seams and Stitches

The horizontal seams used to attach the outer and inner soles to the covering are clearly visible in several examples, such as Durian-Ress (32), constructed using either backstitch or double running stitch.

Vertical seams are used at the spine of the chopine to draw the material taut. Whipstitch is normally used.

g) Brass Tacks

Round-headed brass tacks, similar to modern upholstery tacks, are found on the columns of many Type I chopines (Pratt & Woolley 19, Hall 70, Wilson 143, Durian-Ress 37, Caovilla 26-27). They serve a functional as well as decorative component. Leather or fabric, however eased or sewn to fit, tends to pull away from the hourglass body of the chopines. Tacks placed at the junction point (often over a piece of fancy trim) arrest this and help keep the covering smooth. In surviving examples they are arrayed in lines or zigzags. Sometimes they have a haphazard appearance, perhaps because some have fallen out.

h) Trims

Many Type I chopines are decorated with braid, metallic lace, ribbons, tassels or even rick-rack trim (a late example).

Method and Materials

The structure of the extant Type I chopines I am recreating is an hourglass shape built on a figure eight base. The upper half gradually conforms to the actual shape of the foot, with the heel being built up on a slant. The shape is elegant and reasonably stable.

a) Pattern

After drawing around my feet to get the approximate shape of the inner sole, I drew a large figure eight around it to get the base. I then traced around these two shapes on a large piece of 3 mm cardboard, making 12 copies of the figure eight.

To produce the hourglass shape, I then reduced the figure eight shapes by approximately 5-6 mm per piece to get the right reduction and expansion by height. In order to get the correct tilt to the heel it was necessary to build it up with another half piece.

Since I intend to wear these chopines, I kept the height modest. The finished height is 4¼ inches, well within the range for Type I.

Because the composite cork I used is weaker than natural cork, I could not make the extended, unsupported heel shown in some examples, as the composite would crack and flop. As a result, the hourglass shape is not as extreme.

I decided to make distinct left and right shoes instead of interchangeable soles.

b) Cork Columns

Natural cork sheets are the most authentic choice. I was unable to acquire blocks of natural cork that were wide enough, so I decided to work with sheets of composite cork (6 mm thick, 24” x 36”), which are not as strong as solid cork.

Because the cardboard is half the thickness of the cork, I was able to make up a full size scale model but with half the height, to tweak the shape. Once I was comfortable, I cut out 12 pieces of cork using a large exacto knife. I slanted the edges of the cuts to make the shape flow better.

I used a quality white non-toxic glue to assemble the layers, two pieces at a time, and weighted them down with heavy books (textbooks, cookbooks and romance novels) to cure for 12 hours. Because cork is very porous, I used lavish amounts of the glue. The gluing, assembling and curing process took a couple of weeks to complete.

Once all the pieces were assembled and had had time to cure, I used the knife to further carve and refine the shape of the chopine.

c) Leather Soles and Uppers

I used pieces of vegetable-tanned leather, an authentic choice, for the outer and inner soles. I had previously treated the leather with mink oil compound over a period of months to seal it. The outer soles were cut larger and glued to the bases of the chopines. I also cut a pair of inner soles shaped based on my own feet. These were glued to the top of the chopine covering the edges of the fabric.

I cut the uppers based on those of a pair of bedroom mules, which are the same as the period examples. I covered these with velveteen and sewed them to the top of the inner sole with backstitch to provide a smooth base for gluing.

d) Velvet Covering

Plain velvet was used on several surviving chopines. Cotton velveteen is fairly close to period velvet, although its nap is shorter, and is preferable to polyester velvet.

Once the bases were finished and the outer soles attached, I cut a long strip of velveteen and sewed it to the edge of the outer soles using backstitch and bees waxed linen thread, a period choice. I used an awl to punch the edge of the soles first. I used modern steel needles.

The fabric was then drawn tight to the sides of the chopine and attached by brass furniture tacks, which were placed at intervals over a piece of artificial gold lace. The fabric was joined at the back of the chopine with whipstitch. Once secured, the fabric was brought up and over the edge of the inner sole, trimmed, and the edges glued down under the inner sole.

The inner sole and fabric were then sewed together with backstitch under tension to provide as smooth a fit as possible. These gluing and sewing steps produce a stable, sound, reliable shoe that is functional and beautiful.

e) Colour

Period chopines came in a variety of eye-catching colours, such as red and yellow. The courtesans in Carpaccio's 1495 painting own a pair of bright red Type I chopines. Because this pair is intended to complement the orange-tone dresses I made (Entry #2), I have decided to use a bright orange velveteen. As per the discussion in Entry #2, the colour orange was growing in popularity in Venice during the late 15th century. Chopines are conspicuous consumption and the colour is in that spirit.

f) Decoration

The artificial gold lace used under the brass tacks was also applied in a single row to the uppers using gold silk thread, and beaded with freshwater pearls. Some examples were apparently jewelled. I could have gone farther with silk ribbons, but the Carpaccio example is quite plain.

I also used a sewing awl to prick simple designs into the leather inner soles. These circles and whorls are similar to those found on the sides of Type II chopines.


The dresses were built using the lines, materials and techniques that can be determined for 1495 Venice. They have been sewn to exacting standards and have required many hours to complete. In my opinion these ethereal dresses satisfy the Venetian aesthetic of delicate extravagance. Venice's beauty weds post-Byzantine design with the precarious lagoon existence, producing such rich, ornate facades on buildings that must balance on wooden piles. These jewelled dresses follow similar, yielding lines.

I am very happy with the end result. The dresses have the same look as my sources. They fit well, are beautiful and luxurious. They are the centrepiece of my Pentathlon effort.

The chopines I produced are beautiful, light, solid and comfortable. They fit very well. They look very similar to the Type I examples I studied. The materials I used are period, with the exception of the cotton velveteen, which is period in appearance, and the artificial gold lace, which is more appropriate for 16th century. These chopines are correctly worn with the distinctive Venetian dress of the late 15th century. Like the new Dogaresse in 1557, a lady would be proud to own a new pair of jewelled velvet chopines, especially for a banquet in honour of Lo Sposalizio del Mare.

Asa Gormsdottir
Eve Harris


Bella Says.....

Wow. Colour, texture, pattern and the fantastic attention to detail combine wonderfully in these gowns and chopines to produce something truly outstanding and very much like those seen in the paintings of 1495. A tuly luscious example of Venetian feminity and decadence at its best.

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