The Realm of Venus Presents....

talian howcase


Cynthia Isabella Kalina

Ren Faire Participant
A  Gown in the style of 1570s Venice


Cynthia Says...

 My name is Cynthia Isabella Kalina, and I hail from Minnesota, home of the Shakopee Renaissance Faire. (Mi chiama la bella donna Cinzia Isabella Kalina da Minneapolia) 

I have only recently been “stung” by the costuming bee… in the past 4 years I have acquired a wardrobe of outfits for myself and several for friends or acquaintances who have commissioned my services. My fabric stash now has more brocades and velvets than 21st century wear and I am ever on the lookout for future possibilities!! 

Mom says I was a fabric fiend from the cradle, picking out my own patterns and fabric before I was 2, and I learned to sew years ago, though 4-H. I even acquired a Textiles Science degree from the University of Minnesota. Turns out, this was not a practical choice for this part of the country and have had to find alternative ways to earn a living here, consequently, sewing has taken a back burner for quite some time. 

4 years ago I went to the Faire with my best friend, and I bought a feather headpiece. Well, it hardly looks right to have just a headpiece so immediately I went home and came up with a “goddess” dress to go with it. My best friend then asked for a “special dress” for a date with another faire participant and needed it in 2 weeks, so I came up with another dress. Over the last year, and with the inspiration and guidance of the many wonderful costumers on line, I have been focusing on more authentic, researched clothing. I also buy a season pass to our faire each year and make an annual trip to Bristol (and coerce my friends into joining me) for the pure pleasure of wearing my costumes and transporting myself back in time, if just for a day or two. 

For the reasons so many other “Venetian” costumers have cited, I have fallen in love with the Italian, and most specifically Venetian style dress. The beautiful fabric, the totally feminine styling of the dresses, and the lovely accessories all add to the charm of the mid to latter 1500’s Venetian courtesan’s presentation. I also glean from writings such as Rosenthal’s “The Honest Courtesan” that these women were very interesting and led much more exciting lives. They are fun to portray. 


The Outfit


 This is the second Venetian dress I made in 2004; the first one being a front laced yellow brocade dress which served as my “pilot” for getting fit and technique down. This was my first attempt to draft a boned, fitted bodice and it took several modifications to get a good fit. I was very happy with the end result and confident that I could convert my pattern to a side back laced bodice. 


The Inspiration:

My primary sources were the Veccellio woodcuttings for 1570. I also liked the Florentine Lady portrait (See left) and used the placement of trim on that dress as my guide. 


The Materials:

 I found the fabric on-line in the home decorating section, and the design seemed to meet all the criteria of a reasonably authentic pattern. The fabric is a silk/poly blend, and the weight and texture is ideal for this kind of dress. I bought 7 yards in the Green and Gold you see here, and I picked up another color of this same fabric for a future costume since it was such a lovely textile. There was also a coordinating fabric in solid green with a bronze embroidered pattern, which I also bought a small amount of. At the time I was not sure what I would do with it, but it came in handy as a contrasting border. 

The Camicia is an embroidered silk crepe with an exquisite hand and drape. The color is very creamy pale yellow. I went with this instead of the typical linen because of the color, and because it is so nice next to my skin. Traditional white was too stark next to the green and gold pattern, and no matter how many times I looked at it and tried to get used to the idea, I just cringed. Only a small part of the camicia actually shows when wearing the dress; cuff ruffles and neckline edging, and I am happy with the overall effect. The pattern I used was a standard gusseted camicia layout. I used bronze lace to hold the neckline pleats in place. The sleeves have an added ruffle for extra frill at the wrist. 

The lace used on this dress was a clearance purchase from Joann’s several years ago. The bronzy color was muted enough to be decorative without being competitive with the fabric. It was also “realistically vintage” in tone. 

Brief description of the construction:

I posted a working dress diary on this dress, and I must say, I learned as much about digital cameras and blogging as I did costuming. Arggggh. This was quite a challenge for me. As a result, however, I do have a few “progress” pictures and some commentary which allow me to relive (again and again) the agony and ecstasy of creating this dress. Here are the highlights of my design decisions. Feel free to email me if you want more information. 

 The basic design elements include the lower square neck (front and back) and a v'd waist in both front and back. The thing I liked about my ladder laced dress was that I boned the dress so I could eliminate the corset layer. It has 17 quarter inch spring steel bones in it, but I only have to get myself into one top rather than 2, which is a plus since I am usually dressing myself, and it is very hot during most of my Faire days.

I am a bit challenged with getting into a side laced bodice. I added "modesty" panels behind the side back lacings just in case I needed more breathing room. I was able to keep piecing to a minimum with only a side back seam and shoulder seams. I boned the heavy canvas bodice base with 15 quarter inch spring steel bones inserted in heavy twill boning tape. The fashion fabric had enough body to go without an underlining. 

I piped the neckline with a basic solid green piping to reinforce the square neckline and keep it firm. The shoulder seam is one of the areas I have had the most difficulty fitting right; angle and length. As narrow as the shoulder pieces are, they need to be right to keep from sliding off, and it makes a difference in fit when you add the weight of the skirt. I do not have square shoulders so commonly have trouble keeping my dress on. (I have thought of using stick on Velcro)

I used gold Thai silk for the bodice lining, sewn by machine around the neckline and armholes where I wanted a very straight strong line. The rest I put in by hand. 
I also beaded my bronzy lace and attached 2 strips of lace together. This wider lace was used to trim the neckline and over the shoulders. 

My fabric is 54 inches wide and I have 3 skirt panels. I was very happy with the fullness of the skirt. The lining was green medium weight linen. I decided not to underline this skirt. This was also my second experience with grading the skirt edge where it attaches via cartridge pleating to the bodice. Since I had both front and back V’s and they were not the same depth, there was some mathematical calculation involved. (The front is dipped by about 4 inches. The back is about 2 inches. I had a ratio of 5.25 inches of skirt to bodice.) 

My original idea was to sew a strip of the dark green silk to the bottom edge of the linen lining as a sort of underskirt/petticoat embellishment. I had enough fabric of my green silk to make a 13 inch deep panel to sew over the linen at the bottom. 

The sleeves seemed to create the most “design angst” for me. I deliberated on style, shape, embellishment, color; you name it. I went with separate sleeve puffs and detachable lower sleeve. Each of the sleeve tabs are lined in the gold silk and piped with a green and gold piping. I added some delicate burnished gold trim to coordinate with the trim at the edge of the bodice neckline. The under sleeve is cut out of the Thai silk lining and the dark green silk and then assembled. They are close in size to the example of the Venetian lady drawings and my favorite green Florentine lady painting. 
I decided to put a band around the bottom with little hooks to attach a lower sleeve. At the last minute, I kept my options open on what to do with the bottom half of the sleeve, and made a detachable lower half sleeve to match the dress. I have enough of the dark green fabric to make a coordinating lower sleeve someday. 


I made a waist girdle for my dress in gold cut glass beads, bronzy gold tone filigree beads, gold heshi, and some green glass beads that appear more "hand blown".

I used medium weight Tiger Tail cord which is very strong and should hold up to the swishing about when I walk. I also strung a set of creamy pearl and gold earrings and matching necklace. 

I found some clogs-aka-chopines. I picked these up last winter at TJ Maxx because they looked rather rustic, the base is wood, and the golden suede suits both of my Venetian dresses. After seeing examples of chopines, I think perhaps the real ones were satin and much more elaborate, but considering I need to be able to walk in these for 8-10 hours in dust and sometimes mud, I think rustic is OK. At least my gait is suitably hobbled and I am at least 3 inches taller. Makes walking with a glass of wine, a fan, a bag for my wallet, and Chloe (my Papillion) on a leash a real challenge. 

My cape: I already had a dark green cotton velvet cape cut out and it coordinated beautifully with my dress fabric. I purchased the bronze appliqués thinking they would be a nice edging around a men’s cape, or down the front opening edges of a Elizabethan dress... but I purchased so many of them I could spare a few for this project. Plus, the bronze color coordinated well with the trim on the dress. 
Unfortunately, the weather was unseasonably hot this fall and I did not have a chance to wear it, although I took some photos to show it off. 


Bella Says.....

Wow - what gorgeous fabric! I wish I could find such a nice brocade with a pattern in gold. Cynthia has created a truly lovely example of a sixteenth century Venetian outfit. and doesn't that cape just finish it off nicely? Drool. Well done Cynthia. If you would like to contact Cynthia you can do so at Cmnnpls (at) aol (dot) com. Her website will be available for viewing soon at

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