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THL Gianetta Andreini da Vicenza

SCA Participant
A Venetian Gown, c1590, after Vecellio

Gianetta Says...

My name is Gianetta Andreini da Vicenza, and I'm a resident of Tree-Girt-Sea, in the Middle Kingdom (Chicago, IL). I've been a member of the SCA since 1994. I have many, diverse interests within the Society -- I am a calligrapher and illuminator, I am the director of a madrigal singing group that I created called the Pippins (we are celebrating our 9th anniversary this year!), I create delicious subtleties and did an all-subtlety feast last year, and most importantly, I am a costumer. My biggest passion in the SCA is ensuring that everyone is well-dressed all the way up to the top of their heads! I've done a lot of research in particular on braided hair and false hairpieces, and I create braided hairpieces for all those styles where a hat is not appropriate (hooray for the Italians!).

Lately I've been teaching, on hairstyles, and also on how to make clothing that really looks like you stepped out of a painting -- it's about how to make construction and decoration decisions based on the evidence we see in paintings.

About this gown

I found the beautiful printed shot silk (beige and turquoise) several years ago and was waiting for the right dress to present itself. Lately I have been doing more research in very late period Italian, and began delving into Vecellio's wood engravings. This dress takes details from several Vecellio engravings. I couched and beaded the front, the ruffles, and the sleeves. Although this is not strictly period, I couldn't resist!

I submitted this dress to A&S last year, and received a first place at Kingdom. To wear this dress, I wear an Italian corset, a full gathered slip, and a narrow linen chemise. I often wear this gown with a sheer gold partlet as well. And of course, braided hair!

Vecellio as a Contemporary Source

I have heard of no extant primary sources (actual garments) for gowns from 16th century Italy. Therefore, I turned to Vecellio’s work as a good contemporary source for the shape and details of these garments. The series of 420 woodcuts cover ancient to “modern” times, and clothing from all over the world. Some of his pictures of “ancient” clothing may be inaccurate, especially the earlier they are and the farther away from Italy. However, the clothing he portrays from his own time and place seem to be more accurately representative of clothing that must have existed. There are many more drawings of these gowns, and not only do they look similar to painted portraits of this time, but the drawings of Venetian women in particular seem to have more diverse details as well, as if they are taken from actual gowns he saw.

The advantage of using Vecellio’s work is that his purpose was to document the actual clothing in detail, unlike portrait painters, whose primary motivation was to capture the subjects themselves. However, the disadvantage of using Vecellio is that the woodcuts are sometimes ambiguous in what details they are portraying, particularly because I do not have access to the original woodcuts, but merely a reproduction of them. Unlike some of the Italian portrait painters of this time and slightly earlier (such as Lotto and Bronzino), whose oil painting style is so detailed that individual embroidery stitches can be observed, Vecellio’s woodcuts give suggestions of decoration and structure without specifics. Therefore, the actual execution of the details in these gowns is open to interepretation.

Inspiration for this Gown

One of the trends I observed in the woodcuts of Venetian women was the focus on decoration on the shoulders of the gowns and the attachment point of the sleeves. In particular, I was fascinated by the “ruffles” I was seeing on the shoulders (see plates 99, 100, and 110 – also on a Mantuan gown, plate 200)

Detail, Plate 99

Detail, Plate 110

Detail, Plate 200

To me, these looked like hand-pleated ruffles, made out of some substantial fabric. They could have been made out of lace, but the Venetian lace of the time was usually pointy (Le Pompe reference), and was more likely to be what was used at the shoulder of other gowns, such as those in plates 106 and 107.

It was possible that these ruffles could have been of a softer material, such as the silk or linen used for chemises and partlets, however, Vecellio portrays chemise ruffles differently. In plate 99, there is a distinct difference between the portrayed fabric weight of the collar ruffle on the partlet (or chemise), and the shoulder ruffle. I decided to experiment with creating this shoulder ruffle on my gown, and see how it turned out.

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Design Considerations

I pulled many of the design details of this dress from different plates in Vecellio. The shape of the gown is seen in many of the Venetian ladies – the front of the gown is uninterrupted by closures, the softly pointed front of the bodice, the full, hand pleated skirt with a train, and the very wide placement of shoulders, with a small or nonexistent gap to the sleeves, and a ruffle attached to the gown’s sleeve cuff. The fabric choice for the body of many of the gowns shows an overall, geometric floral pattern. In addition, I used specific details from individual plates. The trim used to define the front panel of the dress (running along the side-front seams and top edge) comes from plate 96. (Left)

Click for a larger imageUsing a different, smaller geometric pattern for the sleeves comes from plates 99 (Venetian), 180 (Florentine), and 200 (Mantuan).

The puffs used to bridge the gap between sleeve and dress are seen in plate 97. I believe the narrow points between the puffs correspond to the attachment points between the sleeve and gown shoulder.

Based on other contemporary sources, it seemed likely that these gowns had either center-back or side-back laced closures – I chose a center-back closure for this gown.


The body of the gown is made from shot silk with a printed pattern, reminiscent of the patterns seen in Vecellio. Many of the patterned fabrics available in 16th century Venice would have been silk brocade, however, block printing and stamping designs on fabric was a technology known and used at that time. The skirt is lined in a light cotton to give more weight, drape and durability. In the time of this gown, this lining would likely have been linen, but for this gown I decided to conserve money on the skirt lining. The bodice pieces are individually lined with a sturdy cotton for strength and stability (flat-lining), and the bodice is lined in linen. The fabric for the sleeves is silk, with an applied trim creating the pattern. This seems very plausible based on the surface decoration techniques available at the time. Although I applied all of the trim on the body of the gown myself, the sleeve fabric was actually purchased with the trim already applied. The sleeves are lined in silk. The cuff ruffles and shoulder puffs are made of cloth-of-gold, which would have been exorbitantly expensive in the 16th century but did exist.

Patterning and Construction Methods

The pattern for the bodice was drafted with help from my Laurel. We draped the pattern using mock-up fabric over my body, wearing my corset. The seam placement is based on both trim placement in Vecellio and seams seen in other contemporary paintings: there is a center front panel, two side panels with diagonal seams, and two back panels. The front opening is square, with the straps of the gown set as widely as possible. In many of the drawings, the shoulders of the dresses are slipping and sometimes actually falling off of the women’s shoulders. I chose to create a curved back opening for more support. However, in hindsight, I would rather have made the back opening square as well, and also made the back of the waist pointed, as seen in plate XX (Right)

The skirt is made of straight, rectangular panels sewn selvedge-to-selvedge, using the full width of the fabric. The sleeves were drafted and adjusted to fit my arm. There is a slight ease at the elbow – the larger (outer) edge of the sleeve is eased into the inner edge to create a slight fullness at the elbow. This, and the careful placement of the sleeve on the fabric during cutting to maximize the benefit of bias stretch, allows a fairly close fitting sleeve which still gives great ease of movement. When I first created the sleeves, I had made the sleeve caps too tall and pointy – I ended up turning the top edge under and adjusting the shape once I saw how the sleeves related to the finished shoulders.

Sewing and Finishing Techniques

I sewed the large seams of this gown using a sewing machine, but did all finishing sewing by hand. The steps I used in construction and finishing of the gown were:
1.Flatline all bodice pieces
2.Do surface decoration on bodice front and sleeves
3.Construct bodice
4.Construct bodice lining
5.Attach bodice to lining – completely finish and seal bodice. Add bias binding to back closure
6.Add shoulder ruffle to gown shoulder
7.Sew skirt panels together, and skirt lining panels together
8.Sew skirt to skirt lining, creating finished edge for pleating
9.Pleat skirt to bodice
10.Sew sleeve lining to sleeve – turn and finish sleeves
11.Add ruffle to sleeve bottom.
12.Attach sleeve to gown (with ribbon joints for movement and flexibility)
13.Apply puffs to cover sleeve joints
14.Apply rings to back closure
15.Hem gown by attaching skirt to skirt lining

I decided to permanently attach the sleeves of the gown to the body. Although I believe sleeves were sometimes temporarily tied or laced on, I believe that it is entirely plausible, based on the wealth of the wearer, that these sleeves would be exclusively designed for this gown and permanently attached. I used ribbon joints to attach the sleeves. By experimenting with pinning, I first attempted to attach the sleeves directly to the gown. However, when I moved my arms around, the tension (particularly on the back of the sleeves) caused them to pull the shoulders down almost immediately. The ribbons allow much more flexibility and freedom of movement. At the same time, I kept thinking about the puffs I had seen between the shoulder of the gown and the sleeves in Vecellio’s woodcuts. It seemed to be an excellent way of decoratively covering the joint, while still allowing the movement!

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I have seen back gown closures from this period with eyelets in the fabric. However, because this was my first gown over a corset, I did not want to commit to putting holes in my fabric just yet. Instead, I chose to use rings sewn on the inside of the back closure. I first set the rings for a single spiral lacing. This proved to be not supportive enough for the tension the gown was under, so I added more rings so that I could use a double spiral lacing for closure, which worked well. The rings are closer together than they need to be, but I decided that I would rather add rings than re-sew all of them.

Surface Decoration

Click for a larger imageIn Vecellio’s woodcuts, there is no obvious surface decoration. However, I wanted to embellish my gown and bring focus to the front and sleeves. I took as my inspiration much of the couching, embroidery, and beadwork found on English gowns of the same period, and adapted these techniques to the fabrics I was using. All of the materials and stitches used are plausible for the 16th century: there are metal and glass beads, freshwater pearls, couched coiled silver wire, and couched gold thread and braid. Although I do not have the sources cited for these surface decorations, I have seen them before in many 16th century English paintings, and remnants photographed in Queen Elizabeth’s Wardrobe Unlocked. As a member of the Silver Thimble Guild, I couldn’t resist embellishing the front and sleeves of my gown, and the Vecellio woodcuts are ambiguous enough that I decided to go for it. Note however, that the sleeves are not beaded with centered medallions, as is the English style, but rather beaded overall with the pattern of the trim. To me, this seemed more subtle and Italian in flavor.

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I learned a tremendous amount about the construction and fit of late 16th century gowns through the process of making this dress. I found that at every step of construction, there were new challenges and puzzles to solve, and I found that by examining the pictures of dresses from the time, imagining myself as a 16th century dressmaker with the tools available to me, and considering my own concerns and needs as a wearer of the garment, I was able to create plausible sewing solutions to each of these challenges. After completing this garment, I am even more fascinated by the variation in the shoulder details from this period, and would like to experiment with this in future gowns.



Bella Says.....

This dress is simply beautiful. Bellissima! If you would like to e-mail Gianetta you can do so by clicking on this link, and you can visit her web site here.

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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.)