The Realm of Venus Presents...

he talian howcase




A Florentine Outfit in the Style
 of  the 1505/06

(Highlighted/bordered images are click-able for enlarging)

Anéa Says....

My name is Anéa, and I'm addicted to Italian Renaissance fashion....

My favourite styles are Florentine ca. 1500-1550, and Venetian ca. 1530-1590. I love the styles with a square, open neckline and simple lines, and as much as I adore Bronzino's iconic portrait of Eleonora di Toledo and son, I much prefer the style before Eleonora. But that portrait.... AAAH! Anyway... I make stuff from various periods, my I always tend to return to Italian Renaissance. And it happened once again!

In 2003 I decided to make an early Florentine dress, in the style of Raphael and Andrea del Sarto. To make a long story short, my grandmother was quite taken with Leonardo and the Mona Lisa, and Renaissance portraits was a vital part of my childhood. When I started looking into art books myself, I was intrigued to see Raphael's similar portraits, especially "Portrait of Maddalena Doni" and "Lady with Unicorn". And when I looked at Jennifer Thompson's amazing dress in the same style, I knew I had to make one for myself. I spent a long time pondering about which portrait to choose, but I eventually went with the Maddalena Doni one. Main reason was that the bodice is front closed, with funky lacing holes. The colours are also yucky-yummy - I mean, flaming orange and royal blue? Whoa...


But the "Lady with Unicorn" portrait never left my mind. And it started appearing "everywhere". While making the Doni dress the Unicorn portrait was exhibited in Oslo, in an exhibition called "Amor Roma". Naturally I went to see it. The portrait was small, but splendid. A few months later that I got some amazing silk fabrics from my landlords. They had bought it in Thailand, but never found any use for it. So they wondered if I might be interested... The fabrics are amazing! There were three different ones, and the one was moss green, non-shiny and gorgeous. It WAS the Unicorn silk, no question about it. Then, in conservation class some years later, it was used as an example of how over painting and alternations changes the iconography. I still drooled over the dress. 

Jumping one year forward... After taking twice as many classes as normal in Spring 2008 (finishing my Bachelor degree in Art history), I had put most sewing aside to concentrate on my exams. All I wanted to do was to sew something... So when I had finished my fourth exam and the other one was one and a half  weeks away, I knew what I had to make: the Unicorn dress! 

I already had the green silk, and I had sewing threads and hemp thread. A good start! Bodice and skirt: check. I sought out my favourite stores and found a lush wine red silk velvet on sale. Sleeves: check. I also bought a solid (fine) slubby silk in a grey nuance, for lining. Then I ran home to start on the project. This was May 22, and my goal was to finish it before Kjæmpestaden, a huge costume event in my hometown. Basically it meant two weeks for completion. The madness began...


 A Dress Diary of Sorts

May 22
The toile for the bodice is made, and it's good. Main pattern comes from Jennifer Thompson's 1515 Florentine dress, with sloping shoulders and lacing in the sides. I've also bought fabrics: wine red velvet and grey slubby silk. 

May 23
Channels are sewn - lots of channels, and because of this on machine and not by hand - and the "hemping job" begins. I used Jennifer Thompsons hemp boning method for the bodice of the Doni dress, and I loved the result. So easy to work with, and so comfortable! So I choose it this time around as well. But I tried out a slightly narrower hemp thread, and I prefer the result. It smells like a farm... he-he.

I've been pondering about the wine red velvet strips on the skirt. What are they? It seems like they lay on top of the green velvet, because they're higher up and don't match the pleats. They are split, but does that mean they indicate a split skirt? Or are they merely trims as we see a lot of in post-Raphael dresses? Are they a part of the belt? Did the seamstress run out of fabric? I haven't found anything similar in other paintings of the era. Frustrating. But I'm still working on the bodice, so maybe something will show up in the mean time...


May 24
Very effective day, there's really progress here now. The green silk has been cut, so I've pinned it all together to see how it looks. It looks good! All hemp is now in place, and the ends have been secured by various seams. I've also inserted metal eyelets in the sides. They will be covered with fabric, and there'll be hand sewn eyelets covering them again. That should make them both steady and nice-looking. 

May 25 
A lot of progress, but mostly non-noticeable. I added an interlayer between the "hemping" and the silk to get a smoother surface. All layers have been stitched together (time consuming, I tell 'ya! At least when aiming for a perfect, smooth surface). Started on the hand sewn eyelets/lacing holes as well. That's sloooow work...

May 26
1/4 of the lacing holes are done. I told you it is slow work...

May 27
I've reduced the amount of lacing holes on each side to 7 instead of 8. I am halfway done with them now. Also fixed some raw seams.

May 28
First proper try-on of the bodice. It's good, but the bodice is a bit long, and the neckline too rounded and narrow. I think it can be fixed when the lacing is finished and I re-pin the shoulders. Hopefully it will. It was squarer and wider when I made the toile, anyway. 


May 29
After consulting my fellow Livejournalers I cut off a tad of the length of the bodice. It improved the look a lot, at least when aiming for a look similar to the portrait. Sleeves are also cut and sewn! The outer fabric is made of wine red silk velvet (I'm suspecting the bottom is viscose, though), while the lining is identical to the bodice lining. Once I got the shape I wanted (more or less), the rest was quick and easy. Although only two bows are visible on the right sleeve, I think I'll have at least three, as seen in this painting.

This dress reminds a lot of the Unicorn one, so I've modeled the backside my dress after it. I like the curve of the neck opening and the multiple sashes attaching the sleeves. Also, there's only one guard/trim at the bodice. However, this dress has a seam in the back, something mine doesn't have. 

May 30
Progress o'hoy! Been working a LOT on the bodice today. All lacing holes have been sewn, minus three. Although they could be prettier, they work just fine and it's nice to try out side lacing. Most raw seams in the bottom has been fixed, but the shoulder area needs some work. I need to cut a bit more in the neck opening and re-pin the shoulders to get a broader and squarer look. 

A fellow art historian was presented for the project today, and we discussed how the guard/trim around the neck opening overlaps on the right side (right over the white "fluff"), but not on the left side. He meant it was due to her posture (the left arm is further out, to support the animal). I agree. But it must also mean the trim cannot be sewn all the way out? How else can they overlap like that? 

While discussing that I noticed that the round sleeves seems to be fastened underneath as well as on top - look at the area under her left arm. I think that helps maintain the "fluffing" of the white chemise sleeves (I didn't "fluff" in the photo overneath). 


 May 31
Bodice is finished (minus the guards/trims)!! Hooray! This is amazing. When the lacing was done I put the bodice on and marked the new position of the shoulder seams. They're now placed further out, and together with some cutting of the curve in the sides the look is much closer to the portrait. All raw seams have been fixes, and the inside is actually pretty. Wow. It took me 9 days to finish the bodice; usually I would use at least a month. 


June 1
So the bodice and sleeves are finished. Something's missing, eh? Yeah. The skirt. The skirt is loosely based on what is seen on page 116 in Patterns of Fashion 1560-1620. Since my fabric was wide, I could retain the main shape with less panels. I also used box pleats instead of cartridge pleats, plus the train is shortened. But otherwise it's quite similar. What I particularly liked about it is the trim in front. It is believed the skirt once was split in front, but it's now basted together. Since I'm not sure on whether to have a split or just trim on my Unicorn dress, this is the perfect alibi (though the skirt is 120 years later than "my" period)... 

One major flaw is that my skirt is currently unlined. This is because I didn't have any fabric (except heavy cotton) to line it with, and I had to finish it today. I'll compensate with making an extravagant petticoat later on, like in this image.

I've also added silk ribbons to the sleeves and shoulder straps. They're cut out of scraps from my glittering Elissa costume, and just a nuance brighter than the silk velvet sleeves. I've added three on each sleeve, because they became a tad bigger than I planned. Remaining work: guards on bodice and skirt, plus possibly a petticoat (though I don't think I have the time to make it before Kjæmpestaden).


June 2
Got my last exam today, must leave the dress for a couple of days. But I took photos of the almost-finished state of it:

A white linen camicia with lace trim

App. 6 metres of moss green silk (bodice and skirt)
1.5 metres of wine red silk velvet (sleeves and guards)
2 metres of grey, solid slubby silk, with fine structure (lining of bodice and sleeves)
1 "bundle" of medium thick hemp thread
16 strips of wine red silk (to tie sleeves to bodice)
(more to come)

Making the Necklace

June 6 
Had to spend big chunks on the day on school stuff, but I modeled and painted the necklace. It's a very essential part of the portrait... Mine has a metal core, made out of metal thread, and they form a loop at the top for the necklace, and one at the bottom for the pearl. The metal is "dressed" in a lightweight porcelain doll clay which needn't be baked. It was nice to work with. A red and a greenish grey "gem" was inserted, and the whole thing was painted golden. The chain is from H&M.

Finished Jewellery

 In the evening I took the bus to my hometown, and on the four hour long bus ride I made and attached the guards in front of the skirt. I left the skirt open, only sewing together 4-5 centimeters in the top. It was incredibly comfortable to have a front split skirt, so I might leave it like that. I plan to add a decorated petticoat to this ensemble later on, so it could be a nice feature. 

June 7

So the dress was worn today. It was comfortable and good-looking, and I only lack guards and a belt (plus a petticoat) before I can call this dress project finished. Maybe I'll even attempt the little gold hair brace thingy she has in her hair...



 July 14

Returned from Greece yesterday, arriving just in time to take some new photos for Bella. Since last update I've made a brown petticoat (which will later have a gold embroidered hem), and I've also added all trims on bodice and skirt, plus finished the belt. One unfortunate problem is that the brown cotton petticoat sticks to the peau-de-peche silk like glue, making an irritating "balloon effect" in the dress skirt. This makes the skirt appear shorter than it is, and it also makes the fine pleats in the waist wrinkle. I'll have to deal with it later on, but... grrr...

Though I never made a partlet for this dress, I reckon the project overall to be finished. I've worn the dress on two different occations, and it was a most comfortable outfit. It's also something I CAN put on myself (though it distorts the look of chemise a bit), since it's side laced. Though the dress in the portrait has even cleaner lines than mine replica, I'm very satisfied with my dress, and I still adore this period.

You can visit Anéa at her website, 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.)