The Realm of Venus Presents....

talian howcase


Jwlhyfer de Winter/Seresina

Costumer and Performer
A Venetian Courtesan Gown in the style of the 1570s

Note from Bella: Jwlhyfer became ill and was unable to send a current write-up on this gown, so I offered to edit and present her dress diary write-up on this gown for the Showcase, with the addition of a few photos that are not on her website.

Seresina Says...

The Beginning

In 1998 I see the film Dangerous Beauty and begin to conceive of a Venetian Courtesan Persona, along with the beginning of her wardrobe. Having only seen the film and not being as familiar with the Italian/Venetian Renaissance as the English Renaissance, my initial concepts are fanciful to say the least. I begin to search out fabrics and trims, acquiring swatches whenever possible, but I have no comrades and no venue, so the project stays in the back of my mind. There is a certain trim that I buy a yard of which catches my eye as being "the trim," and every time I return to Poppy Fabrics I consider getting more, but even when it goes on sale and warning bells go off in my head, there's no project yet, so I talk myself out of it. (You all know what's coming, of course.) Finally, years later, I find partner in crime and a venue! Heart of the Forest Faire seems ideal, and my partner is as enthusiastic as I am. The project is finally off the back burner!

Headaches, Whining and Research

I start looking on the web for information and images of Venetian Courtesans. Luckily my partner has already done a bunch of research for her gown, so she directs me to Bella's site where I scour the galleries for something which cries out to be made. I must admit at this point some of the odder details were threatening to quell my enthusiasm, but there are also many gowns which are awe inspiring. Unfortunately, they mostly seem to be from the 1540's. I am very impressed by some pictures I see of Elizabeth's gown which my partner kindly printed out for me. It seems to be a nice compromise between the fantasy gowns in the film and accurate period detail. Since my partner's costume is already finished, I need to see it ASAP, because I want us to look as if we come from the same place. Finally, I see it and it is gorgeous! So gorgeous, in fact, that I feel a little intimidated. Also, my style is very different from the other costumer, so making these two gowns look like they come from the same place and time is going to be a challenge! Another obstacle is that I haven't drafted a pattern in 5 years and I'm feeling a bit insecure about it.



In the meantime, I've decided on trim. Of course, it is the trim I've been eyeing at Poppy, so I decide to take a trip there. No trim. It is antique French ribbon, and it went on sale at least a year before. Vaguely, I remember this and curse myself silently. I make a solemn vow between me and whatever Deities I may worship that I will never pass up the perfect trim again. I find a how to article online on how to do the duct tape dress form and decide to enlist the help of Sarah and we tape me up.




The Corset

I decide to cut corners (hah!) by purchasing a corset pattern instead of drafting one. I decide on The Mantua Maker's 1550-1630 Quilted Pair of Bodies. The next obstacle: I've gained about six inches since the last time I drafted a pattern or fit one on my body. I have no idea what size I am! I'm afraid to take my measurements, but I do it. According to Deb (The Mantua Maker) I'm a size 10-12. That's a medium. (phew) However, I want bigger tabs than the ones on the medium cutting lines so I cut out a large. Big mistake! When we try to fit the pattern on me at the Renaissance Costume Clinic it is way too big. (Thank you, Shelley, for a heroic effort.)

I take it home and after Sarah has taped me up and we create the dummy, I put the fitted pattern on the dummy. There seem to be so many problems I don't even know where to start. The back is too narrow where it was taken in, the front is way too high for a Venetian courtesan gown, the armscye is a mess and the straps barely come over the shoulders. This is no fault of the person who fit me, rather a function of rushing it and cutting it out WAY too big in the first place. Grrr. After a few days of just avoiding the thing, I decide I need help, so I call Sarah. Ack! She's getting married soon, so she can't come by. I'm not sure if I know anyone who's draping skills I trust enough who I've spoken to in the last five years!

Well, I start pinning a bit here, and a bit there. Finally, it looks like it's coming together. I approximate the boning effect by pulling the sections straight up and down and it looks really good. I can tell I'm going in the right direction. I continue pining and pulling and I get one side done. I think I've got it. All I need to do is take it in a little under the rib cage (not period, but I can use a little help there-thank you Autumn of Dark Garden for backing me up on this idea.) Then before I take it off the stand, mark the new pattern lines. After it comes off, I'll use it as a pattern, cut out and sew another mock-up and try it on with a bit of Rigilene sewn into it to approximate what it will be like with boning (thank you, Shelley.) I should have realised my skills would come back. I should have trusted in myself. I think it's going to be all right. Big sigh of relief. One more thing, I'm going to have to re-cut the tabs and shape them. With all these changes, I realise I probably could have started from scratch. Well, at least now I'm not afraid of draping the bodice. Well, tomorrow I get some more fitting help from Tish! Yay!


The Camicia

I have been researching all over the web for information about the Camicia and luckily there is a lot out there! Bella's site, in particular, is incredible. I have printed the entire thing out and keep referring to it as I try to draft patterns in my head. The first fabric I purchase (at JoAnn's, a 60% Rayon, 40% Linen for .99 per yard) turns out to be too thick, so it has been reassigned to the Roped Petticoat and will be dyed Burgundy or Black. After a lot of searching, and some heart rending moments in Britex where I look at beautiful fabric, I find some lovely fabric in the drapery (!) section of Poppy Fabric. It is 100% cotton. There is only 3 yards and I want 5 (ankle length.) We find some lovely Batiste in the shirting section which is very close in weave, but there is only a yard and a half. I realize I have enough, as the first length will do for the body and the second is long enough for sleeves. Finally, I have my Camicia fabric!


(Click on image for a larger one)

The Roped Petticoat

My partner had a roped petticoat made to go under her gown, and I see that it is just the right effect, as well as practical, since wearing one will allow a little breeze under the skirts (so important.) I decide this is a good idea, and I plan to use a zipper foot to sew the channels and the rope in the same step. I find a HUGE roll of Jute at Pearl in San Francisco. It's only .98 so I decide to get it. Hopefully it will work. If not, I'm sure I can find some purpose for it! If I do figure out a simple and easy way of sewing this all in one go, I'm going to teach a class on it.


The Accessories

I've started trolling the thrift stores for jewellery and have found some great gold chains. I am hoping to make a Zibellino (a "flea fur") so I am looking for findings to put on the paws and perhaps the snout, and a chain to run out of the mouth. I've found some promising pieces. I found a cache of burgundy and pinkish Ostrich feathers at Pearl for $.32 each, along with some Peacock feathers which have been dyed red and burgundy. Perfect for my fan. One of the paintings I looked at in Shelley's Italian albums at the Renaissance Costume Clinic showed a woman with Pink (!) feathers in her fan, so I am going to approach a bit of pink. All I need is a handle. I am considering a wooden tassel form. I'll probably put a pocket or two in my skirt side seams, so hopefully I won't need a bag. I have been dying hairpieces to match my hair. I have a great braided bun with pearls wound through it. I prefer Human Hair, which is abundant in Oakland. You can dye it, and it breaths better than synthetic. It also lasts forever.


The Gown

I'm on a budget, so I was eager to find fabric in my fabric closet that would work. My search yields up some cotton velvet in the same shade as my Elizabethan Riding or Hunting Gown. What if I just make a new bodice and trim the old overskirt? Hm. I also find a bolt of cream upholstery damask which is ideal, except it is cream, which would get too dirty at the Faire, which is held out of doors. I consider dyeing it a salmon or similar colour; a bit Shakespeare in Love/Elizabeth. A hah! Overlooked for three years, having been covering an ugly table, is "the fabric." A beautiful damask in a plummy burgundy with a lovely large pattern, it will be perfect and I'm fairly sure there is enough yardage. Another revelation happens when I see the fabric in the sunlight for the first time. How it gleams and glows. The pattern really pops out and the background is deep, rich and glossy in the best way possible. I am starting to get excited.

Here are some relevant images which are influencing the process

I hope these images help to illustrate the design and conception processes for this project.

Eleanora of Toledo's Gown as Janet Arnold conceptualised it

This image came from Sarah's Elizabethan Lady web site. It illustrates the back "V" very well.

The use of a large repeating pattern is important here, also the partlet.

Agnolo Bronzino Portrait de la Duchesse Eleonore, I am enchanted with this partlet! I definately want this element.

Courtesan with Flag Fan

Livia; the reigning Venus


The Photos...

(Click on image for a larger image)

This is the corset fashion fabric and lining after all the pieces were put together. The corset had boning channels sewn specially to avoid sewing through the embroidery. An extra piece was used in the front piece between it and the embroidery.

(Click on image for a larger image)

This is the first and second (final) versions of the embroidery on the lining of the corset. It says "I am afeard being in night that this is but a dream, too flattering sweet to be substantial."

A view of the almost finished corset on me.

Solving a design problem: The corset curves in at the waist, the bodice cannot. Fill in with quilting and stiffen with boning?

Testing the quilting and boning idea on the mannequin. (This is a red drill interlining for stability.) Note the paper pattern for a possible sleeve treatment at the shoulder. (This hasn't been done yet.)

Taking a look at the fashion fabric on the mannequin. Nice, centered design.

A quilted, canvassed and boned piece is inserted between the interlining (the red drill) and the silk dupioni lining. This served to fill in the space created by the corset narrowing at the waist. The corset now serves not as to shape the garment so much as to take the considerable weight of the dress and redistribute it. This actually made the dress quite comfortable.

The interior of the bodice, with the quilted, boned and padded section hidden between the layers. This was sewn decoratively with red silk thread, using one of the "fancy" stitches on the Babylock machine. I also used it extensively on the corset and will probably use it on the camicia. It has been nicknamed the "Jwlhyque."

Meanwhile, Linda is cartridge pleating the skirt onto a shaped waistband, which we planned to fit under the bodice and attach with hooks and eyes. Unfortunately, this did not work, and we are still not certain why. The waistband ended up sitting too high and the whole thing had to be torn out and re-done. We decided to attach the skirt to the bodice for now.


We inch ever closer to the finished dress!

This is my helper, Linda, working on attaching the skirt to the bodice. We had to do this when the separate skirt and bodice did not match up correctly. (Still don't know why.)

This is right after we finished sewing the dress together, and it shows the Camicia neck and sleeves. I trimmed the sleeve ends with lace, even thought this was not period, because it was pretty. The neckline is smocked. later, I did some redwork embroidery on the neck, sleeves, sideseams and hem. Still working on that.

A detail of the hairstyle I adopted for the role, based on "Dangerous
Beauty" hair for theatrical purposes, and to differentiate us from the other women at the faire, most of whom have their hair up and/or covered.

Isabella Torelli and Seresina Olivia d'Hiverno on the Main Stage

Bella Says.....

This gown is truly gorgeous! I guess I am much enamoured of it mainly because of the beautiful red and gold fabric, which just screams "sumptuous"! I also love the attention to detail this whole outfit demonstrates, and the little individual touches like the embroidered corset lining, that are a true delight. It is a bit of a hybrid in that there are a couple of Florentine elements present, but what a lovely and effective hybridisation! Seresina manages to look elegant, a "lady" and temptress at the same time! No easy feat, but one any good courtesan can manage.

You can see more of Jwlhyfer's/Seresina's work at her website, and she can be contacted by clicking on this link.

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(Copyright Information: As author I, Anabella Wake, known in the SCA as Bella Lucia da Verona, hold copyright on all information on these pages. In addition I hold copyright 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.)