The Realm of Venus Presents...

he talian howcase



Elena de Barrasa

South Dakota, USA
(Kingdom of Northshield, Shire of Schattentor)

Costumer and SCA Member

A Venetian outfit in the Style of  the 1580s

 Elena Says...


Buenas dias. I am Lady Elena de Barrasa, and have been with the SCA for almost seven years now. When I first began researching, I was immediately attracted to the styles of late period Spain, and created my persona as a Granada-born courtesan. 

I don’t usually do Venetian, but when I saw the Robusti “Lady in White” portrait with that low-cut bodice, the big standing collar, sparkly bits, and all that lace, I just had to try it out. 

Domenico Robusti’s Portrait of a Lady in White



  I chose a pink-and-gold brocade, both because of the colors, and because of the bold pattern that resembles the fabric of the gown in the portrait. It came off the discount table, on a bolt marked “content unknown.” 

Verily, this fabric is woven of mystery—mystery that is very thick and heavy and frays much like my sanity does when I work with it. Mystery that spawns millions of little pink threads that cannot be vacuumed out of the rug and are somehow able to migrate anywhere in the house, up to and including the bag of flour in the freezer. I have paired it with a far better behaved and less mysterious copper silk satin for lining, and an embroidered silver silk taffeta for the partlet. 

I spent a lot of time researching lace, trying to learn how to make it, laughing at myself, and then giving up and buying the best-looking affordable modern versions possible. I have three different types in use here: the 2” pointy kind for the cuffs and the edges of the partlet, the 1” not-as-pointy kind for the shoulders, and the 7” Extreme Put-Out-Your-Eyes-Pointy kind for the collar. They are all cotton or cotton/rayon blends.

Then I ran off to India for a month and came back with a pocket full of pearls, beads, and pretty silver bits with which to decorate my gown. Okay, it’s party time.

The Partlet

 For this, I used a partlet pattern I drafted for myself for a previous project. I made it from the silver taffeta, lined it with ivory satin leftover from my wedding gown, and decorated the edges with the 2” lace, large freshwater pearls, and silver and amber glass charms. 

To make the standing lace collar, I first cut a collar-shaped band out of a piece of very heavy interfacing that I stripped out of an old pair of drapes. I covered it in the silk, then gathered the 7” lace and sewed it to the band before attaching the whole assembly to the partlet. I tacked on more of the pearls and silver charms over the lace, and then emptied a can of aerosolised starch on it and hung it upside-down to dry. The end result is a lace collar that stands mostly upright when supported by my shoulders.

The Gown

To make the bodice, I turned to the best thing to hit the Internet since OK Go’s last music video—the Elizabethan Corset Pattern Generator. It was easy enough to adapt the tool to make a shortened version of the corset that would fit beneath my bust. For the sleeves, I used a simple bent-elbow sleeve pattern I’d drafted for another project, but cut them wider at the shoulders to make up for the shortened bodice.


With the pieces of Mystery Fabric and copper silk cut out, it was time for more decorating. In the Robusti portrait, the trim on the bodice is fairly narrow, but heavily beaded with what looks like pearls or glass beads and oval-shaped jewels. I found a simple pink and gold trim with a geometric pattern that I proceeded to bury under little freshwater pearls, clear glass beads, and brown and topaz rhinestones. 

Yeah, I said rhinestones; keep your bloomers on a minute. We aren’t talking ultra-faceted, iridescent Elvis rhinestones here. These are the kind of rhinestones you’d feel okay about bringing home and introducing to your mother. The kind you can trust to water your houseplants when you go on vacation. They’re very simple, demure little rhinestones that blend right into the trim and look like they’re supposed to be there. They’ve got flat tops that distinctly resemble cut stones in period, and I even splashed a little gold paint around the edges of them to look like bezel settings before I glued them down. 

Are we still friends? Circle one: Yes/ I can be convinced with brandy cordial.

Cool. To make the trim look more finished, I borrowed a nifty trick from Lynn McMasters and edged it with gold moulded-beads-on-a-string. By sewing over the string between each bead, you get a perfectly straight line a lot faster than stitching down individual beads and with no risk of losing them to a wardrobe malfunction in the middle of court.


  With the trim done, I lined the bodice, added a lightweight synthetic boning at the side and back seams, and went to work on the lacing rings. I prefer heavy-duty metal grommets for this task because they tend to hold up pretty well over time. The Mystery Fabric’s natural stiffness makes it the perfect medium for setting them since it gives them plenty of material to bite into and is heavy enough to resist some strain. I then went back over the grommets with embroidery floss to conceal them.

Now back to the sleeves. Their cuffs got the same lace as the front of the partlet, but once it was on, it looked far too plain to me. I made a deviation from the portrait at this point and added some pink freshwater pearls and clear glass beads to the flower motif on the lace.

 To make the ruffle at the shoulder where it meets the partlet, I gathered my third variety of lace (which was initially white and had to be dyed ivory so the other lace wouldn’t make fun of it) and stitched it all the way around the top of the sleeve, except for the three-inch section where the sleeve attaches to the bodice. I hand stitched the sleeves on with the toughest thread I could get, then starched the heck out of the lace and let it dry upside-down.

At this point, I hit a bit of a quandary. I had sleeves, a bodice, and a partlet; but how were they going to stay on me when the sleeves actually sit at the very edges of my shoulders and the bodice lacks even my meagre bosom for support? The answer, I believe, can be found in this highly pixelated, blown-up woodcut of a courtesan. She’s wearing pretty much the same gown as Robusti’s gal, and on her sleeve, right below the lace ruffle, are what looks like some buttons with ribbon bows underneath them. I think this is where her partlet is attached to the sleeves of her gown, turning the two pieces essentially into one. 

I can think of several ways of accomplishing this load-bearing partlet scenario, and the portraits aren’t of any more help in ascertaining which one is the most likely. After much mulling, I decided the best route was to put buttons on the partlet, and button holes on the sleeves just below the ruffles. There are five buttons per sleeve, alternating between big gold ones and smaller silver ones. I then set a tiny metal grommet on either side of each button’s shank, and went over them with embroidery floss. 

On the partlet, I sewed down some pink silk ribbon to match up with the grommet holes. Getting dressed requires me to put on the partlet, pin it temporarily in place, then step into the gown and have my manserv—er, husband button the sleeves to the partlet and then thread the ribbons through the grommets and tie them into cute little bows.

Now all the hard stuff was done. At that remained was to cut out two big panels of Mystery Fabric and silk for the skirt and its lining, gather them and sew them into the bodice. This was a task far beyond my poor sewing machine, though, and had to be done by hand with a really big yarn needle and some more of that Superman thread. I finished the lining, hemmed it, and wandered off to make shiny things.


  Robusti’s girl has a pair of matching bracelets, pearl earrings, and a girdle; therefore, so shall I. The bracelets are red glass beads alternating with freshwater pearls with silver caps, and have silver toggle fasteners. The earrings consist of a single pearl on a wire suspended from silver hoops.

I wanted something extra fancy for the girdle, but my usual trick of cannibalising flea market costume jewellery wasn’t cutting it this time. Then I ran across an interesting find at the craft store—metallic-colored Polymer Clay. I decided to make my own bejewelled pieces for the girdle and combine them with simpler beads and pearls. I wanted to incorporate all of the colors used in the dress and partlet, as well as give a nod both to the Venetian design of the ensemble and my persona’s Spanish heritage.

There are two motifs, then—gold seashells (a symbol of Venus) set with pink freshwater pearls, and silver pomegranates (found in the coat-of-arms of Granada) with amber glass centers. I formed the shells out of PolyClay and baked them, but they didn’t come out looking much like real gold. A quick coat of a good quality faux-metal paint did the trick, though, and I glued the pearls into the centers.



For the pomegranates, I used glass and silver pieces from a necklace as a base to build the clay around. They came out looking more like the real thing, but still weren’t quite right, so they also got a coat of paint. 

I strung all the pieces together with pearls and metallic beads, a single gold-and-pearl button for a centrepiece, and toggle clasps at the back. 

Overall, this gown was a fun departure from my usual style that provided lots of opportunities to experiment with new methods and techniques.

Thank you, Bella, for the chance to share it, and with the visitors to the Italian Showcase for taking the time to look.


Elena de Barrasa





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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.)