The Realm of Venus Presents....

talian howcase



Heather Harris

California, USA


A Venetian Gown in the Style of the 1550s


Heather Says...

 My 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.


 Titian's "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 for error. 

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.



   The 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.


 I 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.  


For 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.

The 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.


I 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.

The 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. 


Bella Says.....

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

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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.)