The Realm of Venus Presents....

talian howcase


Alaina Blackram

SCA Participant
An Italian Jerkin/Doublet Dress, c1580

(My thanks to Alaina for rescuing the Showcase this month by taking the place of the the scheduled costumer. )

Alaina Says...

My name is Alaina Blackram, a name chosen to represent myself in the Society for Creative Anachronism, a society we have been in for almost 10 years.  I am a pharmacist and MBA in Michigan.  Though as you can see, my profession is not where my passions lay.  I am married to a wonderful man who entices me to continue on my quest for recreating fabulous period garments. He encourages our trips overseas and loves studying the history behind places and things.  As I love recreating things seen in the past, especially in paintings, it is not difficult to continue my quest. My parents instilled in me a love of history and travel early in life.  My family has also inspired my love of handwork and cooking.  My grandmother and mother taught me to sew, cook, tat, crochet, embroider, knit, etc etc etc.  

Why did I choose the SCA as my historical creative outlet?  Primarily because it is based on education. It also allows both of us to expand our hobbies and meet people who share similar ideas and I love the renaissance time period.


To begin:

To begin any project, one should turn to the old masters for inspiration. I turned to the web after searching my stash of books. I did take some time in the wee hours of the night to surf for just the right portrait. Somehow I ended up on the web site for the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington DC. (

There I found my inspiration. Lavinia Fontana, a female artist in a male dominated Italian artist community. Her Portrait of a Noblewoman (1580) painting was astounding, although the portrait is not readily accessible. I sought information from the museum, which was more than happy to help. From them I got the electronic picture below and a slide of the painting. Slides, while capturing copious amounts of information, lack the ability to be seen without a projector. This was a feat in itself. I borrowed my father in laws projector and nearly had the slide melted. I have therefore procured a newer projector and saw for myself the intricate details which I will describe below.

This dress style has been appealing for quite some time. I always imagined it to be more difficult to pull off than it actually was. Upon researching what I thought to be an open doublet overdress, I found that there was a combination of jerkin with matching skirt and doublet and underskirt. The doublet and underskirt do not necessarily match. This seems to be a fashion that was recognized in Spain and Italy in the 1580’s to 1600’s. Research done by others concluded that only a full kirtle was worn under the doublet and overskirt. Checking into patterns derived from period sources tend to dismiss this claim. Alcega and the a Milanese Tailor book at the V&A in London has a kirtle with a square neck only and not a full doublet. This led me to more digging. There are however clothing referred to as a jerkin and doublet combination. This has also been a caption in source descriptions. In Queen Elizabeth’s Wardrobe Unlocked for instance, Janet Arnold also refers to it as a skirt and jerkin combination.

The paintings that I have primarily studied are the paintings by Lavinia Fontana, Portrait of a Noblewoman (above), and Portrait of a Lady with a Lap dog (left), as well as the painting of a Lady in a Blue Velvet gown c 1580 from a Milanese tailors album from the Biblioteca Querini-Stampalia in Venice.

It has been dismissed by some that this is a Ropa, or Spanish over-gown. Ropas are loose fitting garments that tend to hang from the shoulders and do not have the defined waist as shown in the jerkin and doublet combination. In fact, piccadils are seen on the primary painting studied, Portrait of a Noblewoman. Therefore I tend to agree with Arnold in that this is also a jerkin, or short sleeved doublet.

On to the painting:

This is what I have determined from the painting image shown above. The dress is made from red velvet possibly silk, which is embroidered in gold and silver on the doublet and skirt. As the Spanish overdresses had the skirt attached to the doublet, (Patterns of Fashion, Pfaltzgraffin Dorothea, figure 2), I deduce this in this dress as well. From being in Italy and most likely Florence, I believe it to be done in a short pile silk velvet with the edges trimmed in long pile silk velvet. (Patterns of Fashion, p113, figure 2) The over doublet is slashed to show the doublet underneath. The skirt is either cartridge pleated or knife pleated. As there are piccadils in the way, we cannot determine for certain either way.

What I did:

This project is to take from the painting and dress it down for a matron of the merchant class or lower nobility in approximately 1580 to be worn for good occasions and not every day dress. For this reason I chose materials that are not as expensive, as elaborate or not so bedecked. But it could be reasonably seen in the 1580’s around the regions of Italy and Spain. For this dress, I chose cotton velveteen as it resembles the pile sheen seen in the portrait. It was also chosen primarily because of its resemblance to silk velvet found in a burial, also for its cost and washability.

As far as a pattern is concerned, I used the graphed pattern from the back of Patterns of Fashion for the Pfalzgraffin Dorothea Von Neuberg dress and revised the collar to look like the doublet found in A Milanese Tailors Book by Juan Alcega. This integrates the high collar into the back panel and has a palm sized collar attachment for the front of the doublet. This makes five pieces to the doublet, one back, two front and two front collar pieces.

I chose a trim (see below) which was on order, and had to make a quick Sunday afternoon switch to get the dress done on time for the event I was making it for. This current trim is gold and shimmers similar to the embroidery in the painting. One may ask why I did not embroider the dress. Simply, I did not feel that it would have been appropriate to a merchant/lower nobility station. Also, this dress would take approximately 3 years to embroider if done solely by myself. I will be satisfied at this point to just use the trim. I attached the skirt with cartridge pleats and continued the trim down the skirt as seen in the painting. As the trim shifted this way and that even when done by hand, there are slight waves in the trim on the skirt. I chose to stiffen the dress with linen and line it with a satin. There is a modern boning material in the collar to help it stand up.

Upon reflection, the next jerkin, a more Spanish style, will have a more period stiffener to make it more evenly stiff. The front of the doublet is hook and eye as seen in detail in Patterns of Fashion with various garments. The dress is not piped in a long pile material as it would have also catapulted the wearer into another social class.

I chose to use cartridge pleats as I wanted a really full skirt, and my pleats did not work out right. Because of the cartridge pleats and the fact that the piccadils are small and rigid, they tend to stick out from the waist instead of laying down over the waist. This can be corrected on version two.

For the sleeves on the jerkin, I used the sleeve pattern from Alcega and paned the sleeve. I then gathered the sleeve up to resemble, not replicate, the short sleeve style in the Fontana portrait. The sleeve in the Fontana portrait has a band around the bottom. I chose to do it this way to have a different, yet period feel.

The underskirt for this dress is aubergine embossed silk. This is the most expensive part of the entire dress. For this reason the underskirt is not cut in any way. The length of the skirt, the hem and the waistband are the exact dimensions of the fabric. I loved the way the leaf and flower swirl in the fabric picked up the light. In future, I am thinking of making this underskirt into a doublet and sleeves. But for now, it is a beautiful underskirt.

The doublet is patterned satin. I used this as it closely resembled the fabric used in the painting. Please bear in mind that I had only a 1.5” photo of this painting and had to make assumptions when I was in fabric mecca. I found after blowing the photo up to 2x3’ that the fabric is embellished with ribbon, more than likely silk. I had been given the real pearls that are on the sleeves of this doublet. I chose to use them for sleeves as this doublet is not the main part that will see the most possible soiling. The green faceted gems on the sleeves are Swarofski crystals are primarily for contrast. They gave the sleeves a more period feel to them without overbearing. The doublet is lined with trigger for stability. It will be fully lined by hand with silk taffeta when a suitable material is found. The pattern for this doublet and sleeves came from Patterns of Fashion.

The corset has been purchased by someone who could do it more reasonably than I. Unfortunately, their sense of OK out the door differs from mine. Needless to say, I still use it. It is based off of the effigy corset.

The chemise is silk gauze. Its pattern is from Margo Anderson. Primarily because I wanted to try the chemise for another dress (see Alaina's Red Bronzino Dress) and the silk gauze is so filmy. The collar is hand sewn and is missing a ruffle on the top. This will also be corrected in version two.

The farthingale is from my first Elizabethan, done 7 years ago. It still holds up to frequent wear. For this reason I thought it unnecessary to remake.

The ruff is also from my first Elizabethan and holds up to frequent wear. It is out of a fine cotton and cotton lace.

The jewelry on this outfit comes from various paintings and suppliers. The largest and most vibrant piece is a plastic copy of the Hope diamond. While this is not a period piece, it resembles some of the jewelry seen at the V&A in the jewelry vault. The necklace seen in the photos is by VonRosselar. It is a reproduction of a piece in the V&A vault as well. The jeweled girdle is modelled after the girdles found on the continent anywhere from 1500 to 1650. The pearls are found in so many portraits of ladies, that it is difficult to pin down any one. The most frequent use of pearls in a painting is that of Elizabeth I. She was frequently painted with a long strand of pearls being looped up in a fashionable brooch. The peridot earrings are from the paintings of the Medicis primarily that of Eleanor of Toledo.

Things I have learned from doing this dress. First I need a stiffer material to line the bodice. Buckram is not an option due to the fact that this must be laundered. So off to the fabric mecca I must go. I have learned that I like this style of dress and will complete another version in the next year or two.
(Note from Bella: Watch this space!)

Alcega, Juan; Tailors Pattern Book 1589, Quite Specific Media, 1999.
Arnold, Janet; Patterns of Fashion, McMillan, 1985.
Arnold, Janet; Queen Elizabeth’s Wardrobe Unlock’d, W. S. Maney and Sons, 1988.
Davenport, Millia; The Book of Costume, Crown Publishers, 1948.
Ein, Claudia; How to Design Your Own Clothes and Make Your Own Patterns, Doubleday and Company, 1975.
Vecillio, Cesare; Vecellio’s Renaissance Costume Book, Dover Publications, 1977.

The Photos...

Bella Says.....

Once again I am very happy to present Alaina's wonderful work for your enjoyment. I love this splendid style of over-gown, although my favourite is the less Spanish-influenced version worn without a doublet beneath. There has been so much attention to detail paid to the creation of this gown, and the fabric and trim choices are just lovely! The final touch of the jewellery really makes a grand statement. This is such a gorgeous outfit that I really can't image just how luscious the second version will be!

You can see this and other fine creations by Alaina on her web site, and she can be contacted at this E-mail address.

Would you like to be Showcased? E-mail me!


(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.)