The Realm of Venus Presents...

he talian howcase


Mistress Catherine Grace Fitzlewis
(Catherine Griffith)

With her model, daughter Emily (age 6)

Barony of Storvik, Kingdom of Atlantia
(Washington DC, USA)

Costumer and SCA Member

A Florentine Dress in the Style
of the 1550s - 1560s

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

Catherine Says....


An inspiration for Emily's dress

In order to try to avoid the 4 outfits for 12th night rush in January, I decided to get Emmie’s dress done now. I have personally challenged myself to not buy anything new for any of our 12th night clothes this year (although that is not too much of a challenge if anyone were to see my stash.) So this gown is made from fabric and trim I have had laying around for the last 3 or so years. Upon completion of this dress, Bella mentioned that it would be good for the Showcase, so here it is. I am afraid I have no in progress pictures of this dress, as I really had no intention of making it into a diary, (I never think of my children’s clothing that way) but I certainly can describe the process.

I started with 4 yards of peach colored dupioni silk from, and 6 yards of white rayon rope trim I got off of eBay, I can’t remember what I paid for either but I know all together it’s less then $25 as that is the upper limit of what I am willing to pay for children’s outfits. I only ended up using 5 yards of the trim, so I guess I will have to find something else to do with the rest. I have been planning on making Emmie a Florentine dress out of this fabric all along, so it wasn’t to hard to come up with a plan for what I intended to do. I had ˝ a yard of a soft cotton shirting fabric with a herringbone weave that was slated for a partlet for me, but decided that Emmie needed it more. 

The pattern is one I made for another outfit, and altered to make it more Italian. I changed the seams to side back, and made entirely new sleeves. I decided that because this dress is for a 6 year-old I was going to condense it all into one piece, rather then doing a separate sleeves, partlet, and dress combo. (Anyone who has spent an afternoon looking for a missing sleeve or straightening a messy child every time they run past will understand my pain). Essentially the partlet was sewn in like a yoke, and the sleeves we sewn into the armholes.  

The trim, before the addition of pearls

I sewed the bodice together first, adding the trim by machine (which cannot be seen as the trim absorbs the stitches). Where the trim crossed itself it was messy through the holes in the trim, in order to deal with this problem I simply inserted little pieces of the silk in the space and sewed around the inner circle to pin it down, anywhere that you can see one piece over another was dealt with this way. 

I also ironed the bodice repeatedly through the whole process; I cannot overemphasize the importance of ironing while you go in the success of the final product.

I hand finished the edges of the yoke and sewed it into the neckline sandwiched between the dress and the lining. After I finished the dress and took some of the pictures, Emmie asked me to put pearls on it so I added them to the bodice in the center of each opening in the trim. 

The trim, after the addition of pearls

Next I did the skirt, I added the front of the skirt first, pleating the sides into the bodice, and then I put it on my daughter to get the correct hem length, it was at this point she asked me to please make the back of her dress longer then the front so she could be “fancy!” Suddenly a train was added to the plans. I used the width of the 45” wide silk to give me the train length and simply curved it away from the front panel’s length. The majority of the fabric went into the back, as that’s where I think the fullness is at its most beautiful. (The gather was so tight; I almost couldn’t squish it into the space it needed to go.) I then sewed the trim down the front and hemmed the skirt with a rolled hem, (I also ironed it into submission.)



The sleeves are where I feel I am able to have a little fun with this dress; I like to experiment with different techniques for my children’s garb, as I don’t like to take it too seriously. What Emmie is really looking for is a 'pretty, pretty, princess' dress, not a museum quality historic reproduction, and as such I try to get the look right, with a little eye to what Emmie will think is beautiful too. (As long as I am not detracting from the feel of an event with being too Disney I don’t mind the deviations). 

I enjoy quilting, and have wanted to try applying some of those skills to my renaissance sewing. I was introduced to a piecing technique called cathedral windows a few years ago and haven’t managed to try it yet, so I thought this project was a perfect time to challenge myself with something new. I heavily modified the actual technique because for quilting you are meant to use squares not strips, but the idea is the same. 

The process is essentially taking 2 bias cut strips, sewing them to each other with large basting stitches, and flat ironing them away from each other. After attaching a background fabric tacking stitches are sewn on the seam above and bellow where you want the opening. The basting is then removed, and you can iron the flaps open, (the edges are finished from where you folded it after the seam was sewn, and it stretches into the nice eye shape because of the bias.) You then tack the flaps back to reveal the under fabric, and iron it again. 

I used the “cathedral” pieces to make the panes at the top of each sleeve, and added a false under sleeve to puff through the slits. The lower sleeve is just a tapered straight sleeve with a piece of trim down the top. I hand finished the wrists as they are visible and sewed the sleeve into the armhole of the gown; the lining is then tacked in place to give a finished look from the inside. I added 4 silver plated buttons to the top of each sleeve for the sparkle. 

Next I sewed machine eyelets off-set for spiral lacing down the back of her dress (I refuse to do hand sewn eyelets on children’s garb, I totally respect the people who do, I just won’t), and then I clipped all my threads. The lacing cords are white silk ribbon.

I also added a silver belt in some of the pictures, but I actually prefer the dress without the belt, I think it fits a little girl’s waist better to have no belt. 



Emmie loves her dress, she says it’s the nicest one she’s ever had for 12th night. Some of the pictures are not the best as they were done immediately after she got home from school, (with school hair and everything). She is really hard to photograph as she has extremely light sensitive eyes (it’s that darn beautiful pale blue). Even in the shade and with the overcast day we were having her little eyes water and she has to look away a lot because even the reflection off the camera lens is too much for her. Unfortunately this problem leads to very strained smiles as she is trying to hard to focus on keeping her eyes open, (or we get closed eyes with lovely smiles.) 

Some of the pictures were taken on the grounds of the National Cathedral in Washington DC. All of the pictures were taken by me. 



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(© 2001 - 2008 Anabella Wake (Known in the SCA as Bella Lucia da Verona) I hold copyright on all information on these pages, and 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.