The Realm of Venus Presents....

talian howcase


Kristiina Prauda
(And Model Salla)

Helsinki, Finland
(Barony of Aarnimetsä, Kingdom of Drachenwald)

SCA Member and LARP Costumer

A Florentine Gown in the Style of the 1490s 

Kristiina Says


I would like to apologise for being late for both of my submissions, and to thank Bella for her patience with me, as well as all her work with the Showcase! (Edit: No problem Kristiina - you were only a couple of days late. If I hadn't gotten sick this would have been webbed much sooner!)

This dress was another commission costume for a friend who does mainly live-action roleplaying. It was first going to be worn in a game where the dress code was “general medieval fantasy moving towards Renaissance, layered dresses the height of fashion”. In addition, Salla has a keen eye for historical aesthetics, and wanted something nice and versatile that would be acceptable for re-enactment as well. As Italian Renaissance had become such great favourite of mine, I showed her portraits and photos of re-enactors’ garb – those at the MedCos site were particularly useful. She found she preferred the look of the late 1400’s Florentine, with a bodice that goes down to the natural waist and front lacing, and an open-sided, simple giornea was a natural addition to that, to end up with the look most famously seen on Giovanna Tornabuoni in Ghirlandaio’s frescoes.



We agreed to make the gamurra and the sleeves reversible to get as much use of the dress as possible, and also decided to put some decoration on one side and leave the other very simple, like the dresses in Ghirlandaio’s portraits at the end of the 15th century. The different ways of wearing the giornea (unbelted, belted over the front, belted over the whole) would help make it even more versatile.

Time, however, was more important than absolute historical correctness, and budget was more important than both, so we found most of our fabrics in my fabric room stash.


One side of the dress is pure linen, a bit more lightweight than what I usually see in dresses, but also fine and smooth: not very probable material for a lady’s dress in Italy of the time (silk or thin wool would be more appropriate, as I learned from other people’s research, particularly – again – that of Jennifer Thompson). However, for a dress lining I thought it should be perfectly fine, so one could always pretend it was just so when wearing it on the inside. I dyed the linen in the washing-machine from the original pale lavender into a rich brownish red (one packet of Dylon machine dye in cherry red, one in mid-brown, if I remember correctly). Muted, particularly orange-ish and brownish reds, are very much in evidence in the dresses of the portraits, though any darkish red would have been very difficult to achieve in linen. The colour in the pictures comes off as a bit too red – this one (right) is closest to reality.




 The other side, and the side that would be showing in the first wearing of the dress, is a light sage fabric that is probably a cotton-viscose blend. I made this assumption because it looks rather like thick cotton satin, but doesn’t wrinkle as easily, and drapes very heavily, almost limply (unlike cotton-poly blends). This is of course completely out of period, but it might imitate heavy silk twill or maybe a silk-wool blend (which, of course, would have been regulated almost out of existence by this time…). The colour seemed to fit the colour schemes seen in the images of the time, and made a nice contrast to the brown-red linen. Since this was to be the fancier side, I wanted to put in a guard. The portraits I’ve seen don’t show any guards before 1500, but after that, strongly contrasting guards appear in several portraits. As the green was already rather strong, and the contrast with the redwood-red rather striking, I decided to play it safer, and found a piece of mustard-green cotton-blend jacquard with a diamond pattern that seemed a good fit for guards and sleeves for the sage green. (Unlike the redwood linen, these colours are quite true in the photos.)


I spent some weeks looking for affordable fabric for the giornea, and finally found a deep raspberry jacquard with a strongly raised pattern of delicate flowered vines. The downside is, it’s 100% acetate, but one has to make compromises, and it would be the outermost, loose layer anyway.

The camicia fabric was another compromise from my stash: very thin, very fine cotton blend (it doesn’t wrinkle like full cotton, but is so soft it must be mostly cotton, anyway). Linen would have been a more period choice, but it is difficult to find linen that thin and fine these days, even though many of the portraits show very thin, almost transparent camicias. The camicia is loose, gathered at the square neckline by thread and held with a strip of narrow machine-made lace. The sleeves are left ungathered at the wrists, which seems the most common method of the time, and I trimmed them with some more of the lace, but cut it a little nicer, along the edge of the pattern.

I used Jennifer Thompson’s simplified camicia pattern, with nothing but rectangles. I only forgot to count the extra 10cm I needed for the back piece because it is set higher to the sleeve heads than the front piece, but I just cut the extra off, as it wouldn’t be seen anyway. The sleeves I didn’t make as long, but I should have really – there could be a bit more puff at the elbow and shoulder in the finished product. Oh well, it’s not bad, and I’ll know next time. The camicia is machine-sewn, for those concerns of time and budget, but luckily the machine seam doesn’t really show in the lace.




 For the gamurra, I drafted the bodice pattern on heavy linen and fitted the pieces on Salla, then used them for interlining. Since the bodice was planned to be self-supporting, I boned it lightly, even though it probably was not yet done that early. There are bones at front edges, side seams, and two at the back. The guards also give some extra support, as the fabric is really strong. For the first event, I didn’t have time to do the finishing by hand, but machine-sewing made the guards sit wonkily, and so I have now taken it all apart and put it back together by hand, a simple whipstitch around all edges to join the sides neatly. While I was doing the restitching, an SCA friend came up with hooks-and-eyes that were big and strong, and the eye parts were flattened at the top. She graciously let me use as many as I needed – eight on both sides – and I set them inside the layers so they only protrude a little, and the lacing closes as tightly as possible.

The skirts are straight and un-gored, and are three meters wide. I made a bag hem because of the reversibility, though it has been pointed out to me that I could have just hemmed the skirts separately. It is knife-pleated to the bodice to achieve the smooth pleats that can be seen in the images, though most of the way the pleats are stacked. I zigzagged the sides together, sewed them into the green-and-interlining part and then hand stitched the red side over it. Now that I look at the pictures, I would like to turn the hem so that one of the two seams of the green side would not be at the front, but it seemed only too natural at the time.


The sleeves are the part that have given me most trouble. Salla wanted two-part sleeves, but neither of us liked having many cords to tie, so I experimented with just short pieces of velvet ribbon to attach the parts together, and therefore also to the shoulders. The lower sleeves were laced closed underneath, because they were tight-fitting. But the ribbon-system turned out not to work in practice, and the lower sleeves became too short. So now I’ve made new, longer lower sleeves that I left open on the back seam as appropriate, and attached them to the upper sleeves with a couple of stitches at the inside bend of the elbow and set a few of those ribbons into angles between the parts, by a couple of stiches as well (well, pins, so far, but will be stitches!). The shoulder really needed adjustable points or lacings, so I attached a bit of dark-gold cord for loops at the outside edge of the shoulder strap, and more of the ribbons as both a decoration and lacing loops for the upper edge of the sleeve. They can be joined with one ribbon that laces diagonally, like a wide, horizontal ladder lacing, through five loops in the sleeve and four in the shoulder.


The giornea is cut by the traditional method of approximation and fervent wishing. The back is the width of the fabric at the hem (150cm, plus curve), the front pieces a little less than half that (don’t remember why). The front settles in a V over the bodice and then a bit over, which is the result of my approximating the bottom of the V too low. So that is something I might correct some day - maybe at the same time I will get to doing something about the fact that the giornea is machine-hemmed all over, because of those time and budget constraints. Still, it drapes in a nicely flowy manner and looks altogether lovely on Salla.





Now that I’ve had time to work with the gamurra and to stich it neatly, and finally found some compromise in how to attach the sleeves, I am very happy with this outfit. I think it suits Salla as if she was born to wear this style! After the Great Reworking, I also entered the gamurra and the camicia into one of our barony’s Arts & Sciences competitions, and had the pleasure of receiving a lot of encouragement and loads of new information from the Laurels present (no, I didn’t win, but it was my first time daring to enter at all, so I am proud of myself and quite happy with what I came away with).

For my astonishment, our picture session gave beautiful results, despite it being rather late in the evening, and despite my being no photographer at all! ! I call this series of pictures “Mona Lisa in Autumn Forest” (though it isn’t autumn yet – not even at these latitudes - but the combined effect of weeks of draught and that of cloudy dusk resulted in an interestingly gothic feel). Salla is wearing her own jewellery (I covet that square cross with pearls!!), and the light-brown belt of leather leaves is a lucky find of mine.






Bella Says.....

I just love this outfit! I especially love the versatility - making the underdress reversible is a wonderful way to utilise fabric! Instead of a boring but necessary lining, you have another gown altogether! And don't the colours just sing together? Yummy! Brava Kristiina!

If you would like to contact Kristiina you can do so at svaha (at) iki (dot) fi , and her website (which is full of gorgeous creations by the way!) can be accessed here.

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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.)