The Realm of Venus Presents....

talian howcase


Tamara A. Rutherford

Central Illinois, USA

Renaissance Faire Goer

A Venetian Gown in the Style of  the 1580s and
 "Dangerous Beauty"

Tamara Says


I have always loved the Renaissance period, and used to attend the west coast Ren Faires years ago.  I was inspired to sew myself a new costume (as the old one will NEVER fit again) after seeing both the movie Dangerous Beauty, and a PBS mini-series about King Henri VIII.  Having done a bit of design for various gowns and clothes before, I decided it was the now or never point in my life.  I used a basic pattern, and modified it to suit my vision of a Venetian gown.

I knew I wanted a deep red or burgundy color, a beaded tapestry bodice, and sleeves that tied on with loops, not grommets.  I had no idea the amount of work, which would be involved when I first started this project.

First, I find the perfect tapestry on happen chance in a tiny fabric store chock full to the ceiling of mainly quilting textiles.  It was the color combinations I wanted, and the design would be easy to embellish with beads.  My sister gave me some antique beads, I had some from my 20-year-old stock, and, I purchased a few new ones…but not many.  The beads are genuine amethyst, some Australian crystal, amber opalescent, faux glass pearls, and other glass beads.  It took me 6 weeks to bead the bodice, for a total of 150 hours.  There is even a genuine 100+ year-old pendent sewn onto the bodice.  I sewed into the lined bodice super heavy interfacing and some boning, so I would not have to wear a corset.  (I will let the side lacing expand as needed…HA.)  Below are two pictures of the beading.





Finally, done with the beading!  Little did I realize that beading would be the EASY part!



 Next stage, the actual gown construction.  I had searched for the perfect color and found it in 5 weeks time.  Yes, velvet would have been ideal, however, that sounds too hot for a summer Ren Faire.  It was scary to cut into the fabric, as I bought all they had, and this town has only a handful of fabric shops.  The color in this picture is not entirely accurate, but you get the idea.

I had trouble with this, for two reasons.  It has been many years since I have sewn any dress for myself.  There was a lot of hand sewing, and I also ended up with totally rough and tough fingers from the endless accidental poking of myself with a needle!  My sister sent me a cross and pearls to wear with it.  At this point, I have spent another 30 hours on the bodice, due to the hand sewing mainly.


Next the sleeves, finally I get to start on the sleeves!  Once again, I had to modify the pattern to suit my vision.  I am beginning to wonder why I even bought a pattern to begin with!  I started off just making one sleeve at a time, because that way, I felt more of an immediate satisfaction in completion.  The sleeve is stuffed with an old sheet here, to show the contrast, which will occur after I sew a camicia.  The sleeve ties at the top, and the bottom part of the arm, and of course, to the bodice.




The first sleeve took me 6 hours total.  The second one, about three.  I embellished the top of the sleeve with an antique button, and dangling beneath it is a pearl/glass drop on the side.  I hope it does not get swallowed up into the camicia.  I am now up to 189 hours on this gown. 


I was really excited to start on the skirt, mainly because I thought it would take me much less time to construct.  WRONG.  I wanted to use tie/loops to fasten the gown around my waist and it required more planning and redesign.  The pattern called for grommets at the back of the skirt.  I instead decided on the option of putting hidden ties up front, where the tapestry fabric was attached to the satin.  I have a feeling, when I am finally done with the loops and ties, and it comes time to sew on the trim that will be a challenge.  There is approximately 48 yards of trim going on the skirt.  I ended up hand binding most of the seams, as I liked the finished look. I only French-seamed in two places, towards the back.




 After I completed the skirt and waistband, I started the beading on the skirt.  Granted, it is not nearly as intense as the bodice project was.  However, it still took considerable time.  I used large glass pearls, and glass gold beading.  The skirt construction took me 12 hours total, again, due to hand sewing of the hem, and waistband.  The beading was another 10 hours.  I needed a diversion from all of this, so I made a petticoat to go under the skirt.  It sure makes the gown fill out better.  I think a proper farthingale would be best for it.  I found some old trim in my fabric stash, and it was perfect for the bottom part of the skirt, and helped tie visually the colors of the bodice trim to the rest of the gown.  I sewed three rows of black satin on the bottom, and then placed the gold over the edge of the bottom row.  Sewing the horizontal rows was much more difficult to master than I would have imagined.  I had to sew very slowly to keep them straight with each other.  The trim on the skirt took 22 hours of work; over half was done by hand.  So, there is now 36 hours on the skirt, for a total of 235 hours on this gown.



I had to sew a camicia, which was easy in comparison to the gown.  I got the pattern from The Realm of Venus, which is fantastic and I would recommend it to anyone.  I searched and searched for the perfect fabric, got lucky and found imported 100% gold silk organdie, at only $2.00 a yard!    I made the camicia fuller than the pattern called for, because I wanted lots of ruffles!  I trimmed the edges of the neck and sleeves with gold ribbon, for a curled effect.  Pictured below are photos of the camicia.  I have quit counting the labor hours now.  It is simply a lot.


I tried the gown on, sort of, with the camicia to see how it looked.  I was falling off my shoulders, and I do not have the other sleeve tied on.  I still need a headpiece.  My son took the photo below, and next to that is a detail photo of the sleeve cuff.


I decided I needed a headpiece, for two reasons: one, to visually tie the whole look together with the use of color, and to hide my shorter hair.  I don’t think that any Venetian woman would have had short hair.  And of course, I needed a peacock fan, so I made that also!  I discovered that my silk camicia is a really slippery problem, and I will need to adjust it so it lines up well with the sleeves.  But here below, you get the idea from my “final” photos.








Comments:  This gown took a lot of time, and don’t know if I would ever consider making something this intensive again.  I have almost 300 hours into this project.  But, I have four more gown designs in mind, which I want to make. I love costume design, so I am sure I am destined to make another.  HA, I am already shopping for fabric!

I would like to extend a special thank you to The Realm of Venus for such wonderful information and historical outlines.  I could not have done it without all of the help I received from Bella’s beautiful site.  Grazie Bella, and Ciao!

Overview of gown, without all the blabby details.

-Made of polyester silk, and heavy tapestry fabric.

-Designed by myself, using a basic pattern and modifying it greatly.

-Hand beading on bodice took 150 hours, skirt approximately 20, I think.

-Beads are genuine Australian crystals, amethyst, antique opalescent glass, and faux pearls.  Pendent sewn on center of bodice is also antique-Victorian and approx 100 years old.

-All seams are hand finished.  Two are French seamed, the rest are bound with hem tape, sewn on by hand.  I decided it looks much nicer with seams hand-bound.

-At least half this gown was hand sewn.  The machine was used for long seams, and trim on the bottom.

-Gown is attached with ties only, no modern attachments.  (Takes quite a while to get into this thing!)  Ties at side of bodice, sleeves top and bottom, shoulders, and waist near the side seams.  The hidden ties allow one to place hands inside the gown like pockets, so you can have a hidden money wallet within the gown.

-Headpiece made of same wine colored material, with twisted rope around it for decoration.  The lace for the head veil is actually a woven mesh, and I sprinkled it with gold dust for a beautiful sparkly affect.  Seems I can’t catch that on camera however.

-Peacock fan, was a totally improvised project.  Used a wooden rod for the fan, wrapped in ribbon.  Feathers glued on to a plastic base.  Lace backing (not shown) was glued on to hide the plastic base.

-Everything is hand wash, cold water, drip dry only.

-Total hours spent on this gown, mainly because of beading and handwork is 300.  And that does not include the headpiece, or the fan.  They took a combined additional six.

Bella Says.....

I'll bet Tamara turns heads at the Ren Faire with this gown! It's so sparkly and pretty and yummy...the colours are to die for! Well done Tamara!

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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.)