The Realm of Venus Presents....

talian howcase


Baroness Mary Taran of Glastonbury OL
(Mary Montgomery)

Shire of Darach, Kingdom of Caid
(Thousand Oaks, California, USA)

SCA Member and Costumer

A Florentine Gown in the Style of  the 1540s 

Mary Says


Iíve been costuming for over 35 years.  My first exposure to Renaissance costume was when I was about 9, when the Southern California Renaissance Pleasure Faire was, if not brand new, very, very young.  I discovered the SCA about 5 years later, and started participating 3 years after that.  Back in those days, SCA costume was a great deal less advanced than it is today, but I was in heaven.  Many years later, I had an opportunity to sew costumes for two different ballet companies in North Texas, but my first love was, and continues to be Renaissance clothing.  Iíve created a lot of medieval and Renaissance clothes over the years, but this is the first time Iíve tried to reproduce a gown point by point.


This gown was inspired by the fabric.  I lucked into some lovely cotton damask for $2 a yard, and couldnít pass it up.  For almost a year, it sat looking at me from a shelf.  Now, I almost always put my fabric in storage buckets after putting it on my inventory, but this one wanted to stay out. 


Then I rediscovered the 1540 portrait of an unknown Florentine noblewoman (above) that people sometimes refer to as ďthe poison green dress.Ē  I surveyed my Live Journal friends, and the consensus was that, since so many people had always wanted to do that dress, I was obligated to do it.  My fabric isnít nearly so poisonous a green, but the pattern of my damask evoked the original, and Iím a much more pastel kind of girl.

 The construction of the gown was slowed by weeks of pondering the less common details.  There are quite a few fussy little niceties to this gown that intrigued me, and which were contributory to my decision to attempt it.

I had a bit of difficulty interpreting the triangular bits along the neckline--they look almost like rickrack!  However, I needed to figure that out before I could start the assembly of the bodice.

I also needed to interpret the partlet--it looks like there's a box pleated self-fabric ruff on top of the standing collar, and little blobby lace all along the front and top edge. The fabric seems to be a sheer white silk or linen, embroidered with lozenges or perhaps flowers.  There is definitely a shoulder seam on this one.  Soutache or rattail or lucet/fingerbraid for the ties?  I ended up finding some pre-made narrow braid that matched the inspiration portrait so closely that I stopped worrying about the problem.

I also wondered:  Is the carcanet topaz?  Amber?  Gold?  I still need to get an index finger ring with a square red stone to complete the jewelry.

Further wondering had me asking myself, is the headband at the front of a caul or simply a jeweled band sitting in front of her braid? I finally determined that the jeweled band sits in front of the braid.   

Although it is not yet finished, I have commissioned a big gold chain like the one in the portrait in exchange for a gambeson.  I like barter.  I'll depend my Laurel medallion from it so as not to violate the prerogatives of the Chivalry.

I need some soft green leather gloves and a lace edged handkerchief to complete the accessories.

On to the construction:  First, I cut, sewed, turned, pressed, folded and stitched at 1/2" the itty bitty picadils that go around the upper arm poofs.  The ones that go around the wrists are even smaller.

When I set and stitched in the wrist picadils on the sleeves, I ran into a stumbling block.  Of course, the picadils on the first sleeve went perfectly, so the second set had to be dreadful.  Three times, I took out the line of stitching holding the picadils and lining onto the sleeve, reset the picadils, restitched it.  The sleeves are lined with a very pretty pale celery/spring green Egyptian cotton that coordinates well with the fashion fabric, but of course, no one will ever see it.  I, on the other hand, will know it's there and love it.  And now you know it, too.

I tested the sleeve and elected to have a small slit (actually an open bit of seam) at each wrist, closed with a button, so I don't have to fight with the hand openings every time I wear the sleeves.


The wrist picadils and piping


The mostly constructed upper sleeve, which does not have stuffing. It puffs by itself.

 The upper sleeves went together quite smoothly.  The fashion fabric is a series of piped, lined panes.  The lining is shorter than the panes, which causes the panes to bulge outwards into a puff shape.  The sheer puffs between the lining and the panes are made by cutting an oversized sleeve shape, both wider and longer than the lining.

I decided that the best way to do the slashes on the lower sleeves, after testing the fray propensities of the fabric, was to do them as turned facings.  This involves putting a rectangle of self-fabric, right sides together, over the spot where the slash ends up, sewing a long narrow (at most 1/4" wide) box around the designated slash placement and cutting along the slash line, carefully clipping to the corners of the box, turning and pressing.  Since there was going to be decorative cording along the slashes, and they are tied shut, the fact that the openings are box-shaped rather than a pure slash makes little difference.  I contemplated and rejected the possibility of making the slashes ovals.  The puffs coming through (which are false puffs--I've never been able to get real puffs to stay where they belong) are sufficient to make the oval effect.


How I do the slashes, with a puff in progress


The prairie point detailing and piping along the neckline

 I found it very interesting that the little bits of cord tying the slashes closed are frayed at their ends.  I chose to bind off the cords with matching thread so that the fraying is controlled. 

The lower sleeves were finished so that they can be tied in and alternated with other sleeves occasionally, with the upper puff being attached into the armscye. The other option would have been to sew both sleeves into the armscye, but I chose to err (if itís an error, which I donít believe it to be) on the side of flexibility.

The tiny little points around the neckline were done, with a vast amount of fiddly effort, by setting prairie points between the piping and the lining.  I had to rip out about half the seam and tuck errant points back into the seamline and handstitch them down.  I then went around and blindstitched the piping's loose edge to the prairie points.  If I do this sort of detailing again, I will make the squares out of which I make the triangles about half again as big, so as to allow more seam allowance!

When I set in the first pair of the false puffs on the sleeves of the gown, they didn't want to stay puffed out.  I did not make this gown in a 100% authentic manner (for example, I'm using a cotton/rayon damask with rayon piping and cording and nylon organza for the puffs), but I didn't want to stray too far afield if I could help it. I had a choice of  leaving it as is and hoping that the pressure of the lining and the chemise sleeve will keep the puffs where they belong (after all, they won't really have anywhere to go) or if I should tack a wisp of tulle inside each puff, which will guarantee they will stay where they need to be.  After a bit more agonizing, I stuffed them.

Un-stuffed puff

Stuffed puff


The sleeves have ribbons at their head ends to run through metal rings sewn to the inside of the bodice.  I placed them close enough together that there would be no gaps.  As it turned out, the top puff covers any gapping if there should be any.

When I ran the seams on the skirt, I determined that I really don't need to have four 54" widths of fabric, so I reduced that to three, which means I have more fabric left over to make something glorious for my husband, and which makes it less bulky.

I cut the bodice with a waistline that dips somewhat in front, although a straight waistline would make it more obviously Florentine.  The seriously pointed waistlines do not seem to be as popular in Florence as elsewhere. Unfortunately, I canít get the lady in the inspiration portrait to move her arm to show me the cut of the waistline, so Iím going to have to assume that the waistline is round, similar to almost every other Italian gown of the decade that Iíve seen depicted. 


The partlet came together when I found a serendipitous piece of embroidered chiffon.  It had the lozenges, but not the stripes.  It called for some flower-designed lace, but when I applied it, it looked just a little too ďlazy-daisyĒ for my taste.  Tiny gold seed beads solved that problem.  A couple days later, I had finished putting the lace on the partlet and jeweling it.  Next was assembling and hemming it, and finally, putting on the ties.  I hand frenched the shoulder seams.  This fabric is too sheer to use the serger on it.  The stuff for the belt started as Christmas ornaments.  I got pearls instead of gold beads because they were prettier, but I was not 100% happy with just linking them together.  I restrung them on tigertail and interspersed more of the gold beads that made up the billament.

The partlet had some difficulty standing up around the face as in the inspiration portrait, so I added some light boning strips. Worked like a charm.


Partlet, and a peek at the carcanet



Chemise, and a peek at the billament

 The chemise/smock came next.  I realized that I needed a new chemise for this gown, with the pretty lace wrist ruffles and the delicate lace band across the neck edge, partly because the edges show, and partly because all my other chemises had sleeves that are too big.  Rather than using a drawstring, this neckline is bound into a square shape, arguably the historical method.  Lace for the neckline was measured and pinned to shape.  Just for fun, I put some lace on the bottom hem as well.


Putting the whole ensemble together for the first time was very exciting.  I am very happy with the result, and will have no hesitation in making another attempt at a reproduction gown in the future.

Bella Says.....

One of my all time favourite colour combinations is green and white or green and cream, so when I first saw Mary's beautiful recreation of the portrait my jaw just dropped! Not only because of the refreshing colour scheme either - I've loved this portrait ever since I saw it and love to see it recreated as wonderfully as it has been here, with the painstaking attention to detail. Brava Mary - it's truly delicious in every way!

If you would like to contact Mary you can do so at (at) gmail (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.)