The Realm of Venus Presents...

he talian howcase


Lady Fiore Rossini
(Kate Sullivan)

 The Canton of Rimsholt in the Barony of Andelcrag, Middle Kingdom
(Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA)

Costumer and SCA Member

A Venetian Outfit in the Style
 of  1595/1605


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

Fiore Says....

A Late 16th Century Venetian Courtesan Gown

Constructed for 'ValDay', February 9th, 2008

I've been costuming on and off since I was in the 2nd grade, starting with Halloween costumes, moving on to Renaissance fair costumes after high school. I got involved in the SCA about three years ago, and was ecstatic to find the opportunity to take my love for sewing to a whole new level. 

I fell in love with renaissance Italy (Venice in particular) soon after I started out in the SCA, and have been looking forward to finding the time and funds to make a new gown. Mostly, I get stuck making 13th and 14th century English clothing for my Lord, myself, and his 3 boys.

I decided to make a dress like those of the courtesans drawn by Giacomo Franco – a mix of my two inspirational drawings. I love the lace-up of the first picture, and the angular lace accents of the second. I had such fun working on this dress and hope it is only the first of many!

 The Corset

I understand that the existence of Venetian corsets is a heated debate, as there have been no extant pieces found, however, in order to achieve the correct flat-fronted shape, I knew I would have to start with a corset. Some women can just get away with boning the dress itself, but being rather top-heavy, I needed a separate garment to do the thing properly. It’s also my personal opinion that a renaissance lady in need of shape altering would have worn a corset, rather than heavily bone every dress she owned. Fellow costumer and Rimsholt member Baroness Alaina Blackram (Lisa Phillips), suggested the “Effigy corset,” so I set to work on research.

The “Effigy corset” is so named because its patterning is taken off the corset from Queen Elizabeth's effigy. The original (left), dating around 1603, is twill-weave fustian (linen-cotton blend) with leather binding and whalebone for boning. Surprisingly, I found linen-cotton twill at my local JoAnn Fabrics, but unfortunately I found it to be way too stretchy for my purposes. Instead, I used a medium weight, even-weave cotton/linen blend without much stretch on the bias. Since whalebone is out of the question and the modern reproductions are rather expensive, I decided on another historic material: reeds. The roll I purchased was a 1 pound coil of size 1 (3/64th”). Buying the reeds this way is great, because I can cut the reeds to fit the length of each channel (there are 4 reeds in each) and not have any waste. The reeds shift a bit inside the channels and allow air through the corset during wear, making it exceptionally comfortable throughout the day. It is also very light weight (less than one pound). 


Not being very familiar with working leather on clothing, I opted for a woven linen band for the edge binding. It's sturdy enough so the reeds don't poke through, and thick enough to provide cushioning on the edges of the shoulders and the tabs at the bottom.

The Dress

After a year of searching, I finally found an ideal fabric for my first Venetian gown. It has body without being weighty, and has a great woven pattern on a material that has a beautiful silk brocade look (though the fabric content is unknown).

I used the pattern I made for the corset, taking in the front a few inches and tapering to the low waist. It went together surprisingly well, with the outside layer, 2 interlinings, and a lining of natural linen. I added a couple steel bones on each side of the front for lacing, and hand-sewed the outer layer to the lining, making sure to have a 1/16 inch overlap so the lining wouldn't be visible on the outside.



Next, I cut 3 panels, the full width of the fabric bolt, and sewed those together for the skirt. I lined the top with cotton muslin for just a little bit of extra fluff. I've noticed other costumers using wool strips, which seem like an excellent idea, but the fabric I chose has a lot of body already, and didn't think the extra bulk would be necessary. 

After that, I cartridge-pleated the top of the skirt and sewed it on to the bodice with upholstery thread. I left 6 inches un-pleated at the front opening to enable me to get in and out of the dress (without shimmying). I attached little hooks at ½ inch increments on the inside of the bodice front and matched those to the “eye” parts attached to the skirt at approximately 2” increments. That enables me to “pleat” the remaining portion of the skirt once the dress is on (without resorting to sewing them in). This anachronism is hidden by my jeweled girdle.

The sleeves are lined in linen, piped with ribbon at the shoulder, with two different types of starched lace at the arm hole and some large lace on the cuff. I took the sleeve-lacing technique from what I gathered from the Franco portraits. It seems to me that the lacing ribbon comes from the shoulder of the dress through holes in the sleeve which are covered (and anchored) by rosettes. After I had assembled the sleeves, I marked where I wanted my rosettes and made lacing holes to the right and left of each. I made the rosettes from ribbon and attached those, which hide the lacing holes from view. The last step for the sleeves was matching up ribbons to the lacing holes and hand-stitching them to the shoulders of the gown. My sleeves are very secure all day, while still being completely removable and allowing for a great range of movement.



The Corset Cover

Bella and others on this site have discussed the idea of a corset covering – a fake embroidered or pleated camicia seen at the opening of front-laced gowns during this period. I have to say the conjecture rings true to me, so I decided to make one for this ensemble. Once the corset and dress were assembled and I was finally able to do a good fitting, I measured the gap in the dress front once it had been laced up.

I cut a piece of white linen exactly to size (plus seam allowances and some fold-over at the top), then cut a second piece 3 times as wide. I gathered the top and bottom to fit the backing piece, sewed the pieces together and flipped them right-side-out. I used a steamy iron to set in small pleats the length of the linen. I hand-stitched one side of the cover to the corset and left the rest loose. Once the corset is being worn, the other side of the cover just gets tucked into the other side of the dress as it's laced.

The Partlet

The partlet is made from starched netting and edged with starched lace, with a tiny ribbon between them. All these materials were lightly tea-stained for a slightly softer look. The jewels on the neckline are store-bought buttons that I tacked on at measured intervals.

The Jewelry

I made all the jewelry for this ensemble. The pearl choker was a must, of course! Next I strung the girdle, using Swarovski pearls in two sizes, facet-cut garnets (my birthstone), and gold filigree beads. The front connector is a larger version of the buttons I used on the partlet. The belt is tacked on to the gown and fastens in the front – a lobster clasp under the large “button.” The finishing touches were pearl and garnet bracelets and drop earrings.

The Hair

The only reference I’ve found so far on the Venetian horn hair style explains them as “artful braiding.” Forgive me for saying, but as that was a quote from a male traveler, I have a hard time believing this hair style didn’t have some other help holding it aloft. In any case, I used mousse, hairspray, a blow-dryer, a small curling iron, and bobby pins to create my horns. After they were secure, I pulled the rest of my hair into a bun except for a little chunk, which I braided and wrapped around the bun, securing with a couple more hair pins.



The Stockings

For leg coverings, I used a pattern I drafted for 14th century men's hose, cut at the knee. There is some argument about the authenticity of “female chausses,” but they're comfortable, and a good way to keep your dignity when forced to lift your skirts a bit (for stairs or snow banks). I used white handkerchief-weight linen for my chausses, but they’re too thin to wear with my chopines. I plan to try knitting myself a pair of hose from a copy of a 16th century Italian sock pattern I just received. 

The Chopines

I've always loved platform shoes. Once I had decided my SCA persona was a late 16th century Venetian, I simply had to have a pair of chopines. After much pleading and research, I finally persuaded my loving boyfriend to make me a pair. I decided that laminated cork board wouldn't have enough strength for the profile I wanted and chunks of cork wood (yoga blocks) are really pricey. These beauties started out as 2x4's of pine wood. He glued the cut lengths on top of each other with Gorilla Glue until they were the height I wanted. (I've started my Venetian shoe collection at a modest height of 7 inches. I assume I'll get crazier as the years go by, though I doubt I'll go higher than 12”.) The wood was then shaped down to my specifications, covered with a brocade fabric I had in my stash, leather uppers, soles, and vamps (the part that ties at the top of the foot) were attached. Gold silk bands and gold tassels added the finishing touches. I couldn't be happier with my lovely new shoes. They are relatively easy to walk on (I didn't require an attendant) and really make the outfit complete.



  You can contact Lady Fiore at fiore_rossini (at)

Would you like to be Showcased? E-mail me!


(© 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.