The Realm of Venus Presents....

talian howcase


Sorcha O’Branigain

SCA Participant
A Venetian Gown in the style of 1495-1505

"Polyester be #@*%ed, it worked for me!"

Sorcha Says...

Greetings! I am the Honorable Lady Sorcha Meadhbh Lassair O’Branigain of the Province of Tree Girt Sea. I have been active in SCA for nearly 17 years in various kingdoms. During the early part of my SCA activities I put clothes on so many people that I could go to events all over the kingdom and most likely see someone wearing something I had sewn. The Middle Kingdom is much larger now and that doesn’t happen often anymore, but over the years I have managed to hone my craft of costuming and needlework. I teach more people now than dress them, but I still find it difficult to make something solely for myself. So it is with great pleasure that I was able to take the time to make the dress you see here.

In fact, with being a cook, calligrapher and illuminator, and a consummate bead fanatic [carpe beadum!] I find it a great joy to make actually two dresses for this showcase. You may think I am talking about the underdress and the overdress, but actually I have made this overdress reversible so that I have two looks for the price of one! It economized labor and since it will probably be a year or two before I can finish anything else for myself I utilized a decorative lining that would otherwise be hidden for the most part.


Inspiration for Gown:

I have admired Vittore Carpaccio’s work for a long time. His everyday people are fascinating in their detail. Primary inspiration comes from The St. Ursula series circa 1495 – 1505. The original gown detail is from "The meeting of the Betrothed Couple…" The quest for gold fabric was set out for me by seeing the exquisite patterns used by Carpaccio in both the Betrothed and The Pilgrims Meet the Pope. I have looked at several contemporary works for design details.



Chemise or Camica* – is a cotton voile. I had difficulty finding a patterned linen of the weight I needed and I had it on hand. [My husband says "no more fabric" comes in unless I get rid of what I have]. Probably in period the cotton would have been too expensive for a shirt, but I liked it and the simple diamond pattern went well with the angular form of the dress.


Drawers – again they are cotton, lightweight approximately 3.5 oz. I started with the photos from Bella’s site and adapted mine from there. I actually do Civil War reenactment as well so I combined the usefulness of crotchless drawers and added lace to the bottom so I can get several centuries of wear out of them. They tie in the back with easy access so I don’t have to fuss trying to pull them up and tie a drawstring after a visit to the facilties.


Underdress and Sleeve Uppers – Linen herringbone weave blended with an unidentifiable fiber. Burn tests showed that my $1.00 per yard fabric was indeed linen, but I couldn’t figure out the black warp thread. My best guess is rayon [which I have recently found out is a period fiber but I am not certain what its best uses were].



Overdress and Lower Sleeve – Okay, shoot me…it is a polyester blend. [I see you authenticity mavens cringing] I was interested in finding a gold color with a pomegranate design. I found silk with a similar design, not the right color and was $30 per yard. Polyester be #@*%ed, it worked for me. Hits the light like silk brocade, hits the pocketbook much lighter at $11 per yard. I found 4 illustrations in Fischbach’s Historic Textile Patterns with similar color and patterns coming from Italy during the 14th through 16th centuries. [see below] So I ignore the man-made materials.


These are the fabric samples from Fischbach. I based my fabric selection on these examples which are Italian from the 14th -16th centuries

Lining [reversible] – Duchess satin and cotton brocade. I wish it were silk, but per hubby’s orders, I used what I had on hand.

Trims – velvet, lame, and silk ribbon; gimp; Murano glass beads, metal beads, freshwater pearls, gold work appliqué.

Jewelry – My husband bought me an emerald and pearled necklace which is one of the only real pieces I own. Venetians love their "bling" so I wear that and a strand of pearls to match my earings I received for my wedding. In case you haven’t noticed yet I am a pearl enthusiast. My wedding ring was made for the period so it works well for this outfit.

Hair – I am a big fan of hair taping, but I have only seen a few examples portrayed by this time. I braid my hair and wrap it around my head three times to pad out the roll and then use a plastic yarn darning needle to thread a silk ribbon over the braid and the back of my head. For this gown I also strung a thread of pearls and whip stitched that over the braid as well.



Camica – The pattern is adapted from Bella’s website and has the ninety degree seams. I left the sleeves in bell shape since as I am unaware of any existing camicas of the early period that are cuffed. It will come in handy if I decide to attach more lace at the sleeve ends. I was only able to purchase enough Venice lace to cover the neckline. I plan to add more when the store’s stock is replenished.

Underdress – the round neckline was taken from "The Betrothed" which appears to show some type of embroidered detail peeking out from the V-neck of the overdress. Some glints of light suggest pearls or some form of dotted embellishment. I had a purchased gold appliqué in my fabric collection for years. The shape met the image of the portrait so I based my beadwork on that. The beading is done on the bodice prior to seaming and backed with an interlining of lightweight calico. Pieces were sewn together once the beading was completed and self-lined. The seams were prick stitched to hold them in place to prevent snagging and wear on the back of the embellished portion, Hidden hand finishing stitches close the lining covering the raw edges of the skirt which is hand pleated into the bodice. The waist is higher than natural which gave me the "pregnant" silhouette of the period.

The eyelets are hand done with a stab stitch instead of buttonhole stitch as I normally do, because I was experimenting after coming back from a costuming symposium. I think it is messier than if I had done the buttonhole stitch, but it is being covered by the overdress so no one should notice [and if they are looking at my backside and see those eyelets…well they had better have a good reason for being there to nag me].

Sleeve uppers are attached into eyehooks sewn inside the armscye. Beading reflects the trim on the bodice. The lover sleeves are reversible again and are tied on with green silk ribbon to reflect the color of the undergown.

The embellished bodice

Attachment of sleeves to underdress

The shape and construction of sleeve uppers

Bodice under construction

Skirt sewn together

Skirt turned and pressed

Overdress – The sharp "V" neckline was cut straight on the bias. My original pattern curved around the breast, but too deeply. The stretch of the bias lends it to gently hug the natural curve. I cut the pattern to show the embossing of the brocade and centered the cut on the motif. I also matched the motif in cutting the skirt, which left me with several eight-inch long strips, but in the interest of utilizing as much fabric as possible I turned into my lower sleeves. There are more than four yards of each of the brocade and Duchess satin in the skirt making it warm and weighing about fifteen pounds. Which will be nice for my Chicago winters.

The skirt was sewn with right sides together and then turned out and pressed as if a pillowcase. I hung the fabric for several days before putting together and then hung it again overnight before final pressing and basing the waist together to help eliminate sag. The skirt was then hand pleated again with most of the bulk in the back to help set off the twenty inch train. The finishing was done by hand. And six long hours into the deep dark night I spent adding the velvet trim and pearls.

I sewed the front together and left a short slit for ease of donning. I know some paintings show an opening down the front with only the clasp, but my research and sewing opinion of many of the portraits viewed indicated that this style of dress was not always done that way. The Betrothed portrait shows no indication of an open front. She clasps the front of the skirt in her hands and from the drape of the fabric it does not appear to be open. Another portrait shows an overdress obviously laced up the front several inches with eyelets with the remainder sewed together. I haven’t put the eyelets in yet. I am waiting to see how it drapes when I walk to see if it is necessary.

While there are arguments both for and against using portraiture as a Primary Source, I looked at numerous painting of the Venetian School as well as other contemporaries. I made an amalgam of the images I saw to best reflect what I thought a Venetian Noblewoman might have worn. I was not able to use strictly authentic materials due to cost and husband’s evil look. I do however believe I achieved my goal and provided myself with spiffy garb that is also dually functional. Obviously I cannot confirm that a Venetian would have made a reversible dress, but as conspicuous as his or her consumption was I can extrapolate that someone may have thought it a useful idea to turn a dress inside out when the outer fabric has become worn.


The dress worn reversed

I hope you enjoyed seeing my dress as I am and will enjoy wearing it. Thanks Bella for allowing me to participate in the Showcase!


Friedrich Fishbach, Historic Textile Patterns in Full Color.  [New York, Dover Publications, Inc.]  1992.
Janson, History of Art 2nd Edition.  [New York, Prentice-Hall Publications]
Boucher, 20,000 Years of Fashion:  the History of Costume and Personal Adornment -- Expanded Edition.  [New York, Harry N. Abrams, Inc]  1987.

Christoph Weiditz,  Authentic Everyday Dress of the Renaissance:  All 154 Plates from the "Trachtenbuch".  [New York, Dover Publications, Inc.].  1994.

Inspiration From -- Vittore Carpaccio: Hair   Fabric and Clothing  
Other Artists of the Venetian School -- Botticelli, Titian, Da Vinci, Bellini, Giorgione, Tintoretto
Color, style and Chemise  
Micellaneous Sources:   Italian Renaissance Art
by Laurie Adams, Laurie Schneider Adams

Bella Says.....

Bellissima! This outfit is simply gorgeous, whilst managing to be both versatile and cost-efficient at the same time - what more can anyone ask for? Perfect!!

If you would like to contact Sorcha, you can do so at sorcha_obranigain (at) hotmail (dot) com

*Camicia or camiscia are both correct spellings for the 16th century (Florio's Worlde of Wordes, 1590s) , camica is not as far as I am aware. I have noted a few people using the spelling camica, hence this note. If you know of a period correct use of this spelling, please do let me know.


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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.)