The Realm of Venus Presents....

he talian howcase



Melody G. Tomaszewicz

Piscataway, New Jersey, USA
(Eastern Kingdom, Settmour Swamp)

Costumer and SCA Participant

A Milanese Outfit in the Style of  the 1480s

Melody Says

 I've been making historical clothing for my family to wear to Renaissance fairs since about 1991 when I made a medieval princess outfit for my daughter to wear to the New Jersey Renaissance Fair. In 2000, we joined the fair as a family, and I started to make garb for us to wear as villagers. My first attempt to make a lady's outfit for me was one based on a pattern that was listed as "medieval" by McCalls; but was easily adjusted to be a more authentic Italian Renaissance dress. I fell in love with this style by watching Ever After. We enjoy going to as many Renaissance fairs as we can get to each year.

We have not yet joined the SCA, but plan to do so this year. My husband and I went to Pennsic for the first time in 2006, and look forward to going again. I'm really enjoying improving my period skills. Each costume is becoming more authentic. 


 Dress Diary

Creation of Cecilia Gallerani's dress (Da Vinci's Lady with Ermine) 1483-1490
Milan, Italy

I've always loved this painting. Part of its charm is the fact that I own ferrets, and I currently have a dark eyed white ferret (Blizzard) who looks VERY much like an ermine. I purchased a reproduction of the painting, and examined the painting for details of color, trim, structure, accessories (I already have the "ermine!"), and treatment of head (good luck!). 

While researching this painting, I found out that Cecilia was asked to lend out this portrait of herself to someone who wanted to see Da Vinci's work. She did so reluctantly, stating that she had changed so much that it didn't really look like her anymore. After doing research in the Art Library at Rutgers, I found an allusion to the fact that Cecilia had had four children and put on a lot of weight. It's something we share, as well as a love of weasels. I'm presenting this recreation as "Lady with Ermine - the later years."

This project seemed to take forever - it seems like lots of my time was spent staring at the picture and wondering how the parts I couldn't see were made! There is not a lot of the dress visible in the picture, so I'm using my knowledge of the clothes of the period to work out how it should look.

Layers Analyzed:

~ Camicia - Off white silk chiffon that puffs out of the elbow openings of two part sleeves. 

~ A gamurra that is burgundy cotton velveteen. This gamurra has a narrow black trim with gold embroidery or a jacquard design around the neckline. I used spiral lacing on sides. 

~ A cioppa of the same burgundy cotton velveteen. This cioppa has a very wide opening in the front that is ladder laced over the gamurra with black lacings. There is a wide red trim with a gold jacquard design on the neckline edge. I used a spiral laced back lacing. 

~ The skirt is not pictured; I made it of the same material as the bodice; knife pleated.

~ The sleeves are in two parts, with the bottom part split under the forearm from about 1/3 back from the wrist to the elbow. The split is trimmed with red trim with a gold jacquard design. They are laced to the upper sleeves in five to seven places; the upper sleeves are laced to the cioppa in five places with a thin black lacing that almost looks like a thin cotton tape. I used small hand bound eyelets for them. There seems to be a double threading of the lacing with a bow then tied in one of the two parallel strings of lace. 

~ Mantle (sbernia) made of medium blue with slate overtones, and just a hint of a green tint. It seems to be semicircular with two slits, one of which is over her left shoulder. Lining is gold; I used gold acetate lining.

I ordered trims from Calontir trims. In New York City, I found cotton velveteen in burgundy. I purchased microfiber blue satin for the sbernia. I purchased acetate gold lining that was exactly the right color. I also purchased silk organza with a slightly shiny gold sheen for the camicia. MJ trims had the right black cotton cording for the lacing across the front, and thin black cotton tape for lacing the sleeves to the dress was purchased on eBay. 

 The camicia was first layer made. The neckline was really wide and low; the camicia doesn't really show anywhere in the painting except for at the elbows. I made the camicia sleeves out of the silk organza; the rest of the camicia, including the under arm gussets, is made out of white linen. The neckline is HUGE so it doesn't show under the gamurra. I feel like it will fall off any minute until it's covered with the gamurra.   


 The bodice for the gamurra took three drafts. The cording of the gamurra bodice was the most time consuming part of the dress. The skirt of the gamurra and all of the lining was a burgundy bridal satin that matched the burgundy of the velveteen. I made the skirt for the gamurra, using the gored skirt method, to get more width at the bottom

The cioppa bodice was based on the same pattern as the gamurra. I just added inch on each side to allow for the gamurra underneath, and changed the opening to the back. I used cording on the cioppa opening, in order to make it easier to put in the eyelets. The neckline for the cioppa became a long thin rhomboid down about 7 inches, with an upside down Isosceles triangle at the bottom to give a better line to the trim. I added a privacy panel to the cioppa.

 I drafted a two-part sleeve pattern. The sleeves were adjusted for fit. Then I marked the eyelet placements for sleeves, and garment closings. LOTS of eyelets. 223 Eyelets! ALL hand bound.   


 The cape is a half circle cape with slits for the arms. The blue microfiber, and the gold acetate lining material look really good together, and I was able to make them play nicely. 

 The hair was parted in the middle, and pulled back into two braids at the back of the head (coazone). She is wearing a lencia-a small cap made of very fine transparent white silk, edged with thin gold trim. It took three tries to get the "baby bonnet" cap finished, but it still looks silly. It is one thing that will go right in the trash after the picture is taken.

A black ribbon wraps around the forehead over the lencia. I sewed pearls onto the end of the black ribbon that ties around the head. It holds the braid cover (tranzado) onto my head, which I made from some gold mesh material couched with gold cording. I also made a hair sleeve to pull my hair through the tranzado. 

The necklace was made of jet or onyx beads, knotted onto black silk. I found some onyx beads on Ebay, and hand knotted the beads onto waxed black linen thread. 

Blizzard will not be allowed at many fairs. I purchased online a stuffed dark-eyed white ferret to substitute for the ermine. She will be known as Snowflake, Blizzie's stunt double! ;-) I posed the stuffed animal so that it is as close to the painting as possible, and tacked her into position. She also got monofilament line whiskers. 

Total time for this dress-about 5 months. After the first all day wearing of the outfit at Cloisters, I shortened the camicia sleeves, since way too much was puffing out of the elbow opening. I also decided to sew the two neck edges to keep them lined up whenever I wear it. Everything else works very well.




Anyone wanting to see a blow by blow dress diary for this costume can go to Melody's LiveJournal address. and read the entries from June 14 to August 4 2006. August 4 is when Melody posted the first pictures of the outfit.

If you would like to contact Melody you can do so at Fitchwitch03 (at) aol (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.)