The Realm of Venus
Costumer and SCA Member
A Venetian Gown in
the Style of the 1560s
I am modernly known
as Kathy Page, and in the SCA as Caitilín inghean Tomáis uí Dhuibihir, a
circa 1565 cattlewoman from Tipperary, Ireland. Others know me as Dónna da Partíto
Salvatrice D’Este known as Salvi, a sixteenth century cortigiana e venenário
expatriate Venetian living in Verona, which is my alter ego when not herding
cattle in Eire. I have been in the SCA for four years.
have been sewing since I was a child, and took to historical costuming about a
decade ago. To date, I believe the only major fashion eras I haven’t attempted
anything in would be cavalier, regency, restoration, iron and dark ages – of
course I haven’t tried every culture yet, but I am working on it. Modernly, I
have sewn for theatre, bridal, heirloom children’s wear, fashion shows and
reproductions for local museums.
Nani Portrait Ensemble
the 1550’s, the sharper princess line accentuating the hip to waist
ratio appears, the skirts are fuller but still no evidence of trains,
fabrics are denser, bodices appear stiffer debatably suggesting either
corsetry or bodice boning. The mid 1560’s shows the return of the
train in skirt hems in extant art. The waist points of the bodice are
quite pronounced and the skirts further accentuating the width of the
hips in proportion to the waist.
shoulder point did make the eventual slide from fitted right on the
shoulder to looking as if the bodice would slide completely down for
lack of shoulder strap support. There is no indication that sleeves
were sewn on, either buttons, hooks and eyes or aiglettes tied them
into place. There are two other contemporary paintings to suggest that the
contrasting effect the sleeves have were not completely unheard of in
Venetian fashion: Paolo
Caliari (Veronese), 1560s: Portrait of a Woman and Paolo
Caliari (Veronese), 1561: Detail from fresco .
camicie and other portraiture suggest that it too was substantially
embellished with laces and polychrome embroidery. It is still up for
debate if this is what shows under the front lacing or not.
are several patterns that are close in time and place to this style of
gown. “Kirtle and low-cut bodice of silk” has the closest
appearance. The sleeve styles are different by far, so a similar
pattern with sleeves would not offer a suitable result. This also
shows the evidence for using bias-cut shoulder straps. Boning is a
contentious point amongst Venetian costuming researchers. I chose a
radiating pattern of boning channels to help increase the long bodied
illusion. This pattern of boning can be found on “c. 1595-1605
Youth’s Doublet” and “c. 1585 Woman’s Doublet” in Arnold.
The bodice is interlined with a heavy hemp canvas which also
supports the boning. The Venetians tended to use one seam for sleeve
assembly rather than the two part sleeves which appear more popular in
Arnold’s book. The sleeves that were buttoned in, in Venetian
portraiture appear to nearly butt against the shoulder strap. I
didn’t want the loops to show so I hand stitched them to sit deep
under the strap.
interior construction of the skirt is not really notable except for
one thing – I was rather short on fabric for this project, having to
literally stretch every inch I had as far as I could. In order to
artificially plump up the cartridge pleating, I used plastic pony
beads to hold the pleats open. Historically they would have likely
very thickly padded the seam line until it was thick enough to produce
the same appearance. I was concerned with long term compression, so
opted for this modern alternative.
is another debate that rises up regularly about Venetian costume, and
that is the lacing pattern. Generally referred to as “ladder
lacing” (see pic, top right) it is unique only to Italian fashions.
Rather than diagonal lacing found in spiral or crisscross, they had
vertical rows of lacing. I tend to disagree with the single lace
spiral-like pattern as it looks wobbly and not offering suitable even
example of course shows eyelets, however I have devised a method of
small lacing loops that work like eyelets. I base this lacing pattern
on tiny details shown in a couple of paintings; Bella Nani being one
of them. Upon studying the details this painting, and Caravaggio’s
Judith Beheading Holofernes (below), I noted the occasional double
line in the lacing. This could be the artist running over his lacing
line for definition, maybe not, who knows.
are still faced with how the lacing holes happened. Both paintings also
support my lacing loop theory. It would seem that Bella Nani’s laces
down parallel to the following loop, as does Judith’s. I considered
several issues: keeping that lacing line straight under tension,
stress on the fabric and possible seam rolling. Using the strength of
the boning rather than relying upon the fabric to hold up, I stitched
the loops right through the seam and around the bones using upholstery
fabrics used in the construction of this gown, for the rather large
exception of the fashion fabric (left) and the thread, are period
fibres. The bodice is made up of a hemp canvas interlining with a
linen lining, and satin bias binding, the button loops are cotton bias
tube. The boning choices were spiral and flat steel; spiral steel best
reflecting the firmness yet flexibility of real baleen. Flat steel
would be akin to either rolled steel or wood busks. The sleeves are
lined and interlined with silk habotai and trimmed in commercial
cotton lace. The skirt is lined with hemp silk shantung and the hems
are garded with coating weight wool.
The velvet is likely nylon velvet that has been embossed. The
sleeves and the forepart of the skirt are unembossed velvet that
happened to match the embossed fabric. These fabrics were bought as
mill ends and thus not a lot was available and cut into lengths which
necessitated some very creative placement and piecing.
the raw edges were zigzagged to stabilise the fabric, then all seams
were bound with bias strips in a style found on many extant garments.
The cartridge pleating was of course pleated and attached to the
bodice by hand. Retrospectively, I should have done the lacing loops
in white linen; they would have been further invisible against the
white of the camicia. They were done in red upholstery thread tripled
up, knotted onto the steel then braided, sewn back through the seam,
knotted, then knotted again to the steel in one continuous
sleeves took some work, however. I wanted to maintain the relatively
soft hand of the fabrics while still having the freedom to cut it
without fear of it falling to pieces. Eventually I found a spray on
stabiliser meant for the quilting appliqué market. Having the paper
draft of the sleeve ready, I traced out the repeat then cut it out
with an 'exacto' knife. Again with a sharp 'exacto' knife the holes were
cut effortlessly in the fabric. The stabiliser gave the ground weave
just enough stiffness that it cut like paper.
the cutting was complete, the trilliums were pushed loose from the pile –
since I had cut only the ground weave, the pile was still intact. My machine
happens to have an heirloom appliqué stitch
so I spent the next 30-odd hours sewing the velvet to the silk. Once this was
completed, the sleeves were lined with another layer of silk, seams bound and
cuffs stitched shut, detailed with a lace trim. The buttons are attached to the
sleeves so that if I choose to wear it sleeveless, they are not bobbing loose on
have only detailed the gown; this is but one of several past Kingdom A&S
competition submissions. In order to preserve Bella’s sanity and not
completely overload the casual reader I have converted the unabridged files for
everything I am wearing (and a couple of extras) into
pdf’s. For those whom are keen and or curious, you can download them and read
at your leisure. I consider everything I do a work in progress, so if you find
something new to add to my research, by all means let me know and I’m happy to
Juan de, Tailor’s Pattern Book 1589. Translation by Jean Pain and Cecilia
Bainton, Costume and Fashion Press Quite Specific Media Group Ltd, 1999.
Janet, Patterns of Fashion: the cut and construction of clothes for men and
women c 1560-1620, Quite Specific Media Group, 1985.
Richard, Paolo Veronese: Piety and Display in an Age of Religious Reform,
Aldershot, Hants, England; Burlington, Vt.: Ashgate, 2001.
Jean, Véronèse Une dame vénitienne dite la Belle Nani. Paris : Musée du
Mary Stella, The Dress of the Venetians 1498-1525, Scolar Press, 1988.
Percy H. Paolo Veronese his Career and Work, the Sheldon Press, 1927.
Rosita Levi, Storia del Costume in Italia Volume Terzo, Istituto Editorale
access date 11/2005
access date 11/2005
Isn't this just gorgeous? I love the colour and
pattern in the velvet - luscious! Kathy has done an excellent job with this
lovely outfit. Brava Kathy!
If you would like to contact Kathy you can do so at caitlin_oduibhir
(at) yahoo (dot) ca
Would you like
to be Showcased? E-mail