The Realm of Venus Presents....

talian howcase


Kathy Page
(Lady Salvatrice D'Este)
Ontario, Canada
 (Kingdom of Ealdormere)

Costumer and SCA Member

A Venetian Gown in the Style of the 1560s


Kathy Says...

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.

I 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.



 Bella Nani Portrait Ensemble

Style Analysis

By 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. 

The 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

Extant 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. 






There 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. 

The 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.




There 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 tension. 

This 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.


We 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 thread. 



   Fabrics and Notions

The 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. 



All 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 strand. 

The 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. 



 Once 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 my shoulder.   





I 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 discuss it.



Alcega, Juan de, Tailor’s Pattern Book 1589. Translation by Jean Pain and Cecilia Bainton, Costume and Fashion Press Quite Specific Media Group Ltd, 1999.

Arnold, Janet, Patterns of Fashion: the cut and construction of clothes for men and women c 1560-1620, Quite Specific Media Group, 1985.

Cocke, Richard, Paolo Veronese: Piety and Display in an Age of Religious Reform, Aldershot, Hants, England; Burlington, Vt.: Ashgate, 2001.

Habert, Jean, Véronèse Une dame vénitienne dite la Belle Nani. Paris : Musée du Louvre, 1996.

Newton, Mary Stella, The Dress of the Venetians 1498-1525, Scolar Press, 1988.

Osmond, Percy H. Paolo Veronese his Career and Work, the Sheldon Press, 1927.

Pisetzky, Rosita Levi, Storia del Costume in Italia Volume Terzo, Istituto Editorale Italiano, 1966.


Webliography: access date 11/2005  access date11/2005  access date 11/2005

Bella Says.....

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 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.)