The Realm of Venus
Caterucia Bice da Ghiacceto
of Caid, Barony of Gyldenholt
County, California, USA)
Costumer and SCA Member
Outfit in the Style of 1540
Hello! I am Kerri Morin, also known as THL Caterucia Bice da Ghiacceto in the SCA. I live in Orange County, California (Kingdom of
Caid, Barony of Gyldenholt) and have been costuming for about four years. I am interested in European historical dress from the 14th – 16th centuries but focus mainly on Florentine dress.
This project is meant to be a close reproduction of the 1540’s portrait, Portrait of a Florentine Noblewoman. I made the dress for entry in Pentathlon, Caid’s main Arts & Sciences competition. I am lucky that the portrait is housed in a local museum so I was able to take many close-up pictures with a digital camera. The images were priceless because they allowed me to zoom in on various details of the dress.
One of the most distinguishing factors of the dress is the beautiful green fabric. I set my fabric budget with the hopes of meeting three criteria: fiber content (100% silk), color (apple green), and pattern (a large, period motif). I ultimately found my ideal fabric – a stunning, green silk velvet from a manufacturer in England – but it was way out of my price range at $250.00 per yard. During business trips to Las Vegas, San Francisco, Sacramento, and Portland, I scoured fabric stores looking for fabric. Finally on a trip to Tampa, I found the fabric after randomly driving by a store going out of business. I had to compromise on fiber content but was able to get fabric that closely resembled the portrait for only $7.00 per yard.
Fabric shopping for the rest of the fabrics was much easier. I found 100% silk organza for the
partlet, 3.5 ounce linen for the camicia, duck canvas for the bodice interlining, and discovered light green linen in my fabric stash to use for the bodice lining.
I used a pattern similar to that on Jennifer Thompson’s website, A Festive
Attyre, because it is the pattern with which I’ve had the most success. Once the camicia was pieced together, I pleated the neckline down to 40” using knife pleats. I used bias binding to finish the edge so I could attach lace. I chose this finishing method because the portrait dress has a bit of lace showing at the neckline. The lace is not ruffled so I know it was attached to the neckline after pleating. I purchased lace from a vendor at the Smocking Guild of America convention. It is very similar to period reticella lace and looks a lot like the lace on the inspiration dress.
On the portrait dress the lace used at the camicia neckline was also used at the wrist; however, on the wrist the lace appears to have been added before the cuff was gathered since the lace is ruffled. To accomplish this effect, I hemmed my camicia sleeves, added lace to the edge, and then made the cuffs.
I originally planned on modifying my existing bodice pattern to fit this dress but due to weight changes, decided to have a new pattern draped. I learned to drape from Maestra Maria Theresa Ipeñarrieta so asked her to drape my new pattern. I made the bodice back closing boned it with Rigilene for support.
I won’t bore you with the details of my (many) experiments in reproducing the unusual trim from the portrait dress and will instead skip to the final method. To make the trim, I cut one inch wide bias strips of fabric. I folded the bias strips in half length-wise, right sides together, and sewed along the length and one end. Using a fabric tube turner, I turned the tubes right side out. Next, I pressed the tubes flat, keeping the seam in the middle of one flat edge. To apply the trim to the bodice, I
spiralled the tube around itself while pinning it to the edge of the neckline. I whip-stitched it in place by hand, hiding the tails on the inside of the bodice.
When I started
the project, I had no idea how I was going to recreate the sleeves but I
did know I wanted to do it by patterning instead of creating a false
The pattern started with my basic sleeve block, modified to achieve the
details of the inspiration sleeve. The modifications included increasing
the circumference of the sleeve to fit over the camicia; lengthening the
top fourth of the sleeve to create the slashed puffs; and adjusting the
sleeve head to fit the armscye of the bodice pattern. I chose to line
the sleeve in the fashion fabric.
Before working on the slashes, I added the tab detail at the bottom of
the puffs. To create the tabs, I cut blocks of fabric in two inch
squares. I laid the squares right side down and folded the left and
right sides so they met in the middle of the square. After pressing the
folds well, I folded the fabric piece in half lengthwise enclosing the
wrong side of the fabric and raw edges inside the tab. After basting the
tabs together in a row, I was ready to attach them to the sleeve.
attach the tabs, I cut off the top fourth of each sleeve head (the puff
section of each sleeve) and reattached it to the rest of the sleeve
while adding the tabs to the seam. Finally, the sleeve fabric and lining
were basted together, wrong sides together.
My next step was to make the slashes. Using the portrait as a guide, I
marked the slashes on the sleeve pattern and transferred them to the
fabric sleeves. I cut through both layers of fabric, along the transfer
lines. I knew the slashes needed to be finished so decided to use a
modified bound buttonhole technique.
My final step with the sleeve was the trim. As mentioned earlier, I
decided to use the same trim method for the sleeves as I used on the
bodice neckline. I made more trim and hand stitched it around all of the
slashes. On the bottom section of the sleeve, I left at least a two-inch
tail on both of ends of the trim around each slash. After applying the
trim to all the openings, I trimmed each tail to one and one-quarter
inches long. I then frayed the ends of the fabric tubes with an awl and
made the tubes more narrow by folding them in half lengthwise and
whip-stitching the edges together. Finally, I brought the two tails
together to create the ties seen in the portrait and tacked them
together at the base. Ironically, the frayed tails became the easiest
part of the entire sleeve!
After all the trim was applied to the flat sleeve pattern, I finished
the sleeve and lining as usual and attached the sleeves to the bodice.
The final additions of trim were to the wrist and to the armscye seam,
just to the inside of the tabs.
As usual with Italian Renaissance gowns, the skirt was the easiest part. It consists of four widths of fabric box-pleated into the bodice.
When I started this dress, I assumed this type of partlet was unique to this portrait but eventually found another portrait with a similar style without embroidery. I was happy to find a version without embroidery since I was very worried about my creating the proper look with my limited embroidery skills. After experimenting with various options, I found an alternative option that produced a look I liked for the dress. After draping the pattern, I cut two pieces from the silk organza, sewed the lace to one layer of silk and covered it with the second layer. After finishing all the seams, I attached cords made from silk embroidery floss.
Belt and Jewelry Construction
To complete the look of the dress, I needed proper accessories, specifically a chain, necklace, and belt. The chain was purchased from an online vendor, Illusion Jewels. The other necklace shown in the portrait is a gold, floral-shaped chain that sits close to the throat. I knew it would be impossible to find a necklace with a similar pattern so decided to make something similar from delicate, gold, filigree beads and glass pearls.
To create the belt, I decided to use gold-colored beads but had trouble finding gold-colored beads large enough to create the look I wanted. My solution was to purchase silver-toned beads and spray paint them antique gold. I also chose to incorporate green beads into the belt so it could also be used as my apprentice belt with other gowns. An extremely large bead was used as the pomander. It was also painted to match the rest of the belt. The belt is closed with a decorative toggle clasp.
I am very pleased with the finished product of this dress. It was a labor intensive project because of the large amount of hand sewing involved. Even though I had to be creative in some areas of the garment, I think it is a very close reproduction of the inspiration dress. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do. If you are interested in more specific details of the construction, I’m happy to share my full documentation.
I can be reached at bkmorin
(at) socal.rr.com or via Livejournal (username – ‘kdmorin’).
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to be Showcased? E-mail