The Realm of Venus Presents....

talian howcase



Julie Schwaninger

Baltimore, Maryland, USA

Costumer and Renaissance Faire-goer

A Venetian Gown in the Style of the 1570s-80s


Julie Says


I first started sewing in high school because a few friends and I wanted to attend the Maryland Renaissance Festival in costume. We went on a fabric spree, bought some Simplicity patterns and congregated at my Grandma’s house.  For this reason, I credit my grandmother for teaching me all the basic sewing techniques that I continue to build upon. 

I returned to costuming and sewing about 2 years ago (almost a decade after my high school days).  My husband surprised me with my first sewing machine last Christmas, and I knew there was no going back.  I delved into the fun and challenging world of more accurate historical sewing and Venetian was my first major undertaking.  This hobby is purely for my own enjoyment, and I have a lot of fun working out every aspect of my projects.  I wear the costumes to Renaissance Faires and every other chance I get.



The Inspiration


Like so many others, the first inspiration to make a Venetian gown came from numerous viewings of the movie Dangerous Beauty.  Research on the internet, especially Bella’s site, motivated me to go down a path guided by historical references.

I wanted a gown in the warm colors so often showcased in Venetian portraiture, and initially bought red velvet for this project.  Then, as fate would have it, I happened upon a rusty orange cut-velvet at a locally run fabric warehouse.  It was destiny.  At $15/yard, it was significantly more expensive than I initially budgeted.  Regardless, I purchased all that remained on the bolt--a scant 5.5 yards.  I looked at it often, but it took me quite a while to build up the courage to cut it. (See top right)

I particularly loved this fabric because it reminded me of one of my favorite fresco images. (See bottom right)




 The Undergarments

My first project was the camicia.  I was inspired by a 1530’s Palma Vecchio portrait that actually pre-dates my gown’s time period (see left), but I indulged myself and plan to use it for earlier period Italian gowns, as well.  It is made from light gauzy cotton.  I couldn’t find linen that was sheer enough for my intentions—I wanted practically see-through.  The neckline and cuffs are edged in a deep silky deep yellow thread and gathered for the “curled” effect. I added a red-worked neckline and cuffs using a motif my husband helped me to design.  I would love to make myself some matching red-worked drawers for a future project.



I know that there is much debate on the use of corsets in Venetian dress, but I personally believe that the later styles did use corsetry. Since I didn’t have a corset, this was the perfect opportunity to make one. I used some old curtains from the goodwill, and a mix of metal and plastic boning.  It is very sturdy, and quite heavy—in retrospect I wish I’d made it a bit lighter for hot weather.

I also wear a lightly roped petticoat to give more body to my heavy skirts.


The Dress

For the dress itself, I was chiefly inspired by Vecellio’s woodcuts.

This was the primary inspiration for the shape of both sleeves and dress. I chose not to do the Venetian front-ladder lacing—I wanted the fabric’s motif to be more prominent than that style would allow. This was also an opportunity to experiment with side-back lacing like that seen on some extant garments from the time period.



The skirt is made from 3 widths of the 60” bolt, cartridge pleated onto the bodice, and is quite full. The bodice has v-points on the front and back, according to Venetian styles, though I wish I’d made the front dip more pronounced, as in the woodcuts.


 Another in the Vecellio series inspired me to incorporate contrasting guards, though I noticed that they aren’t common in the Venetian portraits of the time. The guards are made from strips of maroon wool.  I am tempted to add a second guard at the hem of the dress, but haven’t yet made up my mind.



 Though fairly simple, the sleeves are my favorite part of this gown.  The Vecellio woodcuts show an atypical-spiral pattern on the sleeves, and I decided to do an interpretation of this using my maroon guard fabric.  The sleeves are fastened to the dress with some inexpensive metal-look buttons from ebay.   These buttons also run down the length of the sleeve front, gapping so that I can pouf my camicia through.





I have a small collection of accessories to complement this dress—mostly variations of (faux) pearls.  The girdle is made from a variety of glass, plastic and metal beads from local bead shops and thrift shops.  The large brass metal pieces were a lucky find on eBay, which I antiqued with black paint.  When at the faire, I carry a silver hand-etched goblet that I also found at a thrift store.  I made a bag out of rich fabric strips, and carry it when I can’t suffer my basket.

When I started this costume, I knew that I had to have a flag fan, since it is so uniquely Venetian.  Mine is made from a sample square of drapery fabric.  I embroidered it with gold thread for an accent, trimmed it with velvet and thin lace, and stiffened it with a very sturdy interfacing.  It is larger than I anticipated, but I love the result and utility, and was a lot of fun to make.


I used the same grab-bag of glass and plastic thrift-store pearls to make necklaces, and found earrings at various stores to use as earrings, pendants and my center-brooch.



 I like to wear a veil to replicate the woodcuts--it’s a rather simple thing, but makes me feel quite elegant.  I read somewhere that early Venetian sumptuary laws required courtesans to wear yellow veils.  I’m fairly sure that this requirement no longer existed by the later 1500’s, but I thought a yellow veil was fitting. I plan to make a more voluptuous veil (more like the ones seen in the woodcuts) when the mood strikes. I also intend to make a sheer partlet (perhaps even a falling ruff) for a later projects.


I love the way I feel when I wear this gown, and I hope to add more accessories to this with time.  I am already eyeing my fabric stash and wondering what to make next….



Bella Says.....

Isn't this gown just dreamy? I love it! Julie has done a wonderful job creating this - everything from the top of her veiled head to the guards on her full skirts to the tips of her ringed fingers speaks of Venetian elegance. Bellissima!

If you would like to see more of this dress creation you can do so by clicking on this link. Julie has a blog here, and can be contacted at jewelbug12 (at) hotmail (dot) com

Would you like to be Showcased? E-mail me!


(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.)