The Realm of Venus
A Venetian Gown in
the Style of the 1550s
sister, Sabrina, passed away in May 2004.
She was an aspiring costume designer and taught me basic sewing.
I wanted to keep her memory alive, and a part of this memory was her
creativity and her costume collection.
So, I began making costumes.
"Portrait of a Lady in White" was the inspiration for
this dress. Not only are these outfits very elegant, but I knew that
if I got the bodice all wrong, the front-lacing would allow some room
I started off by making a corset, using Mantua Makerís
pattern, and then I made the camicia from A Festive Attyre. Then there
was a hitch: I discovered that my corset, which I was going to wear as
the bottom layer, showed through the very light-weight linen of the
camicia. Not only that, but I was concerned that my corset's shoulder
straps were going to show. I
hadn't taken into account that these bodices are off-the-shoulder. So
I actually started on a second corset (strapless), this time in white.
It was midway through this second corset, that I got tired of the
corset-making, and decided it would surely be easier, and more
comfortable, to just make a self-supporting bodice
instead. I came to this decision through trial and error.
But in retrospect, Iím glad I used this construction method.
bodice pattern is Eleanora's from Janet Arnold's Patterns of
Fashion, and I used my corset measurements to draft it. I copied
"A Lady in White" for the "v" proportions and
front opening. The back was modelled after this fresco detail (see
left). I tried both
draping and pattern drafting, to get a good working pattern, and
somehow managed one after five tries. It was around the third try that
I abandoned hope of incorporating the shoulder straps, so they were
pieced on later. I also added a "v" to the back bodice.
However, with the addition of the skirt, the v shape seemed to round
out, so it doesn't quite have the pointy-ness I was going for.
placed the straps according to the "Lady in White," very far
out, so that they teeter on the edge of my shoulder. The weight of the
sleeves pulls the straps into something that resembles this portrait
(see right), so
I feel okay about my strap-placement and strap-slippage. There is also
no danger of the dress sliding down, because the self-corseted bodice
holds everything up.
fabric, I was determined to use something red (apparently the favorite color of
the Venetians). I knew better than to spend a lot on silk for my first
Renaissance costume. A patterned fabric was also out, as that was just an added
complication. So I bought red cotton velvet and dyed it wine. I actually had to
dye a second batch of velvet, as Iíd misjudged the yardage, but thankfully
Iíd kept good notes about the first dye job. To my great relief it came out
the same shade.
skirt is Patterns of Fashionís #48. After a lot of math, I came up with
a waist measurement of 145". I think this puts my 33" bodice width to
a 1:4.4 ratio with the skirt, which is about the same as the original pattern's
ratio. I may have gone a bit overboard on the cartridge pleating: the pleats
were so small and plentiful that I could barely fit them all on the bodice. I
used the skirt hem width from the pattern, as I was short on fabric. I attached
the skirt to the bodice, then hemmed it by hand, adding a strip of wool just
inside the bottom for weight.
drafted the sleeves to resemble ďLady
With a Basket of FruitĒ and lined them in green and wine
changeable dupioni. The vintage lace for the "cuffs" was a
find for $3. And the sleeve embellishment was purely by accident: My
sleeves were too tight so I let them out. Since the velvet had worn
along the original seam line, I added two rows of gold colored pearls
to disguise the damage.
buttons are another vintage find: they're covered in cream-colored,
silk thread, which matches the lace perfectly. One button is sewn in
between each of the sleeve panes, binding them together.
|| To attach the sleeves
to the gown, I tried loops on one side, and buttons on the other,
without success. I just couldn't get a tight fit of sleeve to bodice.
I tried a few other things, and considered just sewing them on, when
finally I had a brainstorm. I used Jennifer Thompsonís (Festive
Attyre) front-lacing method, but on the bodice's shoulder straps. I
sewed the grosgrain ribbon to the inside of the straps, and laced the
buttons on. It worked great, and now the sleeves are completely
removable. Hereís the left shoulder strap construction.
The girdle was my real
splurge. It's made of garnets, gold colored pearls, fake cream-colored larger
pearls, with a fancy clasp and a Tibetan symbol at the end. I already had the
rings and the long strand of pearls. And I felt compelled to
make a fan, though didnít end up carrying it around
the Renaissance Faire. Itís a bit of pink silk brocade, (salvaged from an old
pillow case) with a remnant of vintage lace.
Gorgeous, simply gorgeous! Isn't the red velvet
just divine? And those paned sleeve tops - just perfect with the decadently
abundant, snowy white, camicia poufs peeking out between the panes. One of these
days I MUST make myself a dress with this sleeve style - I just love it! Heather
has done a terrific job of this style, and wears it beautifully. Brava!
If you would like to contact Heather you
can do so at
historicalalterations (at) yahoo (dot) com, and
you can visit her website at http://www.historicalalterations.com/
Would you like
to be Showcased? E-mail