The Realm of Venus Presents...

he talian howcase

 

Laurie Herr
(Lady Angela Rosa Dellamora)

Beaverton, Oregon, USA
(Kingdom of An Tir )

Costumer and SCA Member

A Venetian Outfit in the Style of
  1530-1540




Laurie Says...

 

My name is Laurie Herr, and I have been interested in sewing and costuming ever since I was a child. I was fortunate enough to have a grandmother who had a work room and dress shop in New York city in the early part of the 20th century. Grandma Angie made the most amazing gowns and dresses, many with matching coats and detailed tailoring and finish work that was incredible! I am still in awe of her talents. 

For the past 25 years, I have lived in the Portland area of Oregon, and really should have been participating in the SCA much sooner, since Portland has a huge population of SCA folk, including three baronies, two shires and a canton all within 20 miles of my home! However, life decreed otherwise, and I had done no sewing, handwork, embroidery or knitting for all that time. I did not get involved until the fall of 2005, when I attended a demo hosted by the Shire of Dragon’s Mist at our local farmer’s market. 

At that point, my lifelong love of costuming and “playing dress up” kicked in with all the pent up enthusiasm of 25 years of deprivation, and I set out to make up for lost time! I found myself fascinated with historical clothing and clothing construction, as well as fabric and fibers and tools. I jumped in with both feet, (and all the rest of my body) and started helping at SCA events, entering into competitions, singing with a local Renaissance vocal group, and generally doing everything I could. I am now known in the SCA as Lady Angela Rosa Dellamora, and am apprenticed to Comtessa Ilaria veltri degli Ansari so that I can learn as much as possible about clothing construction, fabric, fibre and anything else I can persuade her to teach me!



Inspiration


After a brief craze with the movie “Everafter”, I realized that my historical roots lay elsewhere. I attended several classes (called “Ithra” in An Tir), about clothing construction, including a day long lecture by Robin Netherton. Robin’s work in historical clothing is well known, and began to learn as much as I could about construction techniques, colors, fabrics, fibers and so on. I also joined about six different costume and garb internet groups and lists, and spent hours reading, studying and developing my library.

By the time the fall of 2006 rolled around, my dear friend Carla and I were certain we would attend An Tir’s Twelfth Night celebration, and enter the “Full Court Garb” contest. We therefore started researching many paintings and pictures, both on line and in books. 

This gown is inspired by a painting done by Paris Bordone (1495 – 1570) called “Portrait of a Woman Holding a Handkerchief”. The portrait is estimated to have been painted sometime in the 1530s, and is presently held in a private collection and thus not easily accessible. I was fortunate enough to find it on the Realm of Venus website, courtesy of our own Bella!

 

 

 

One of more amusing things about online pictures was the ability Carla had to take a shot of either of our heads and put that head right on the picture, thus giving us a sense of “how we’d look” in that particular dress! Here is a shot of “me” with a hairstyle matching the original young lady’s hair, and in a more flattering color!

Having settled upon the dress, the real work began, which included figuring out everything from what layers of clothing the young lady was wearing to what fabrics were used to what embellishments would emulate the picture and how to recreate them. 

While I had done a great deal of sewing and dress making in years past, including wedding gowns, suits and many costumes, I had never simply looked a picture and started trying to draft the sections of the item and then make the garment. Fortunately, this gown was not too complicated a pattern, at least in terms of the shape of the dress. However, as I proceeded, there were several times that it was very evident how very much I didn’t know! Thankfully, Ilaria and several other dear friends were extraordinarily helpful in addressing some of these matters!






Materials and Methodology

Having decided upon green as my color, I went looking for a fabric that would duplicate the shine and drape of the dress in the picture. I knew I wanted satin, since I was fairly certain that whatever the 16th century dressmaker used, it was some satin or satin like fabric. I searched through many online companies looking for the right color, shine and drape, as well as fiber content. Finally, in my own local fabric store, I found a truly gorgeous rayon satin that was a magnificent hunter green, soft and supple, 54 inches wide, and best of all, $4.99 per yard! Wow! Ten yards and $50 later, I was the proud owner of what would (hopefully!) soon be my magnificent Twelfth Night gown.

Several things were fairly critical to getting the “look” of the dress. One was the beautifully slashed and embellished sleeves, with the sort of “puffs” that were evenly spaced down the length of the sleeve. A second critical item was the shape of the neckline and how it lay against the chest and shoulders of the model. Given that I am much more amply endowed than the young lady in the picture, managing that same open neckline without having my breasts literally fall out of the bodice was going to require careful engineering! 

A third issue was how to duplicate the embellishment of the front of the bodice, which looked to be a combination of at least three different elements. There was gold worked embroidery all over the bodice front, what looked like a twisted cord of gold and the gown color along many of the seam lines, and finally a strip of patterned trim along the front edge and neckline. 

The online research still proved useful, as I was able to find a cording of gold and green twisted together that was the exact shade of green, and an edging trim that looked very, very similar in design to that on the picture (at least, based upon many 200% close up scrutinies!). 

 



I did run in to a small problem on the edging trim when it arrived at my home – the green background was several shades too light. Given the fiber content of the trim (all synthetic) dye proved to have no impact --- even “black” dye! Finally, I got out my husband’s acrylic paints, took some red paint (remember --- opposite on the color wheel?), watered it down very slightly, and started painting 10 yards of inch wide trim. Fortunately, it worked really well, and darkened the green background to a shade that matched the satin perfectly. The watered down paint didn’t “stick” to the metallic fibers in the edging, but did stick to green. 



I decided that the smartest thing to do was to attack the hardest things first. It looked as if the designs on the front of the bodice were embroidered, so I took about half a yard of the satin and measured out two squares about eighteen inches across. I decided to “pre-embroider” the fabric, and cut out the exact shapes of the bodice front later.

The designs on the front looked to be some free flowing shapes and designs with a curlicues and scrolls, so I drew out a design on paper, then started outlining the same shapes on the satin, using plain yellow thread and an embroidery needle. I like the Regal brand of needle, as they seem to be particularly strong. I also used a hoop to keep the fabric taut. 

Once the basic design was laid out on the fabric, it was time to start the actual embroidery. The fact that I had not done ANY embroidery in about 30 years (for some strange reason!) didn’t deter me, and I set out with vast energy and enthusiasm, certain that I would create a thing of wondrous beauty. Three different kinds of metallic thread and about 3 inches, and two weeks later, I was incredibly frustrated! 

The metallic thread twisted, broke, frayed, shredded and basically did everything wrong that was possible. It was not going to be possible to embroider the fabric unless there was a dramatic change. A dear friend, Baroness Helena Raoulaina, who is very gifted with embroidery, blackwork, and other sorts of needlework suggested the Kreinick brand. Eureka! One of the Kreinick products is a braided thread which is very fine. The needle did not fray the thread, and it did not untwist, and it was the right shade of gold. For the next weeks and months, the bag with the fabric, hoop and embroidery materials was never far from me! 



At the same time, the details of the sleeves needed to be worked out. After carefully studying those same 200% close-ups, it looked as if the same corded edging used around the neckline and in the seams as piping had also been stitched to the slashed openings on the sleeves. It also looked as if the “puffs” had been tacked, at least lightly, to an under sleeve, because the puffs were much too symmetrical to just be pushed up on the arm.

I took a plain sleeve pattern that was not too tightly fitted, but also not too loose, and that had a seam directly under the arm, rather than at the back. This was to provide a foundation for the satin sleeve, which was in two sections. The first piece was the large puff at the top of the sleeve. The second piece was the lower section. The outer sleeve was cut about 5 inches longer than the foundation piece, to allow fabric to “puff” up at each interval. The edge at the cuff was cut into the scalloped shape seen in the picture. 


Inner sleeve


Puffed sleeve top



Sleeve slashes


Cuff

Because the fabric was very soft and supple, I decided to flat-line the satin outer sleeve, so that when it was puffed at each interval, the puff would stay. I used a plain poplin fabric, which did the trick of keeping each interval puffed away from the foundation sleeve, but did not add any bulk to the outer sleeve. Also, it took a couple of tries to get a top puff that was not too large, nor too small, but in the same proportion as the dress. The next tricks were to figure out how the cording was inset to the slashes, and how to attach the outer satin to the under foundation sleeve.

I ended up inserting the cording between the outer satin and the flat-lining fabric, which served the dual purpose of finishing the edge of the slash and getting the cording attached to the satin. This was all sewn on by hand. Getting the ends of the slash and the cording to lie smoothly took some experimenting, but eventually, I took two strips of cording and sewed each one to each edge of the slash, then sewed the flat-lining fabric to the edge of cording all the way around each opening. This was probably some of the hardest part of making the dress, because of all the “fiddling around” that had to happen with each slash (and there were a dozen or so slashes on each sleeve…..)

The outer satin sleeve is attached to the foundation sleeve at the seam under the arm only, and then only at evenly spaced intervals between each puff. It is sewn by hand. 



 

With the sleeves out of the way and the embroidery progressing nicely, it was time to actually make a dress! I didn’t think that creating the bodice was going to be too difficult, as I had made several gowns and vests during 2006 that had a similar shape, and therefore had a basic block from which to work. I had also made several skirts and gowns that used the cartridge pleating technique to gather fabric around the waist, so that was also not going to be a problem.

The bodice front is simply two triangular shaped pieces that are cut to the deep point in the front, flat across the neckline, and thence back to the side seams. The back does not have a point and is cut fairly high across the shoulders, to do as much work as possible of holding up the dress. The bodice front is boned lightly. The first strip runs up the center front on each side of the opening. Second and third strips are run out at an angle from the front point, and a final bone goes up the side seam. This helps in creating the softly rounded front silhouette that seems appropriate for the style of dress in this period. It is fully lined in green linen.



For the shoulder pieces, I used a trick that I found online. I really thought it was Jennifer at Festive Attyre, but I’ve gone back there bunches of times and can’t find the trick, so it must have been someone else. (Whomever you are, thank you thank you thank you!) 

The trick is to cut the shoulder straps on the bias, and attach them to the bodice front and bodice back. The bias cut and the angle of the front and back edges helps to keep the strap ON your shoulder. As anyone who has worn any of these Italian dresses knows, keeping the straps on your shoulders and OFF your biceps requires superglue, Divine Intervention, and some Serious Engineering! So, the straps are cut on the bias. The edges to be attached to the bodice front and bodice back are angled, which also helps persuade the straps to lay flat on the shoulder and stay put. By the time the cording was inset to the seams, the trim were applied and the embroidery done, the small seam between the bodice and the shoulder strap is not really visible at all. The cording was inset between the lining and the satin; the trim is sewn on to the fashion fabric only.

 



 

The skirt has green felt sewn on to the top edge of the fabric to assist in the cartridge pleating process. The felt holds the fabric in soft folds or pleats, rather than squeezing up into tight creases. The cartridge pleating is done by hand using very strong buttonhole thread and a sturdy needle. The pleats are about an inch deep, and about an 1/8 of an inch wide. I basically cartridge pleated as many yards of fabric as it took to go around my waist with the pleats at the desired thickness and depth! The skirt is then attached to the bodice by hand as well.



The gold inset in the front of the bodice is simply a swatch of fabric gathered up at regular intervals. It is sewn on one side to the lining, with a strip of hook and eye tape down the other side. Finally, to lace the front of the bodice with the gold cord that the picture shows, I used the ladder lacing technique that Jennifer Thompson shows on Festive Attyre. I could see the lacing going back and forth across the front of the gold inset, and it seemed that it went across and was primarily a decorative touch on the front of the garment. 
Close up of inset, black grosgrain lacing strip, and front hook and eyes.

To get into the dress, you simply step into the garment, pull it up, hooks, eyes and then lace. Compared to some of my other Italians, it’s a breeze!



Like most of us in the SCA, I was dutifully still finishing odd bits on the gown as we were heading out to Twelfth Night 2007. The bodice lining had not been sewn down yet, and some other bits of finishing were still not done. However, when Friday night’s ball arrived, both Carla, my son and I were all dressed and ready to dance!








Undergarments

To make the chemise, I wanted to use a very fine linen lawn. However, locating a fine enough linen was really a pain; I could find lawn, but it was invariably cotton. I could find linen, but it was always way too heavy and coarse for what I wanted. Finally, I found what I needed right close to home at one of our specialty fabric stores (Pastiche has specialized in historical and stage costuming for 30 years!!!) We were smart and ordered ten yards, so we’d have extra! To find the trim, I searched and searched, both in the stores and on line. I ended up buying several different kinds of trim, knowing I’d use them all for one thing or another!

The chemise is the standard rectangular construction technique chemise that is well documented at many costuming web sites. It uses 8 inch gussets under the arms, a sewn on neckband, with 30” full sleeves that hang past the fingertips when the garment is on by itself. The trim is sewn onto the neckline, then tacked down to the garment at intervals so it stays flat. When the gown is on, only the trim at the neckline and the cuffs with their lace edging are visible. 

Actually working with the trim was somewhat challenging. In the picture, the trim on the chemise looks to be a flat edge with some little bumps and curly bits. I ended up taking the purchased trim (actually, I purchased about 4 different kinds of trim till I finally settled on one!) and turning it round, putting the flat edge on the neckline and having the trim stick down into the body of the garment. When I got to the cuffs, I sewed it on the regular way, so the edges hang down over my hands. I may embellish the neckline edge with pearls or some other beading in the future.

 



I am also wearing a corset underneath the gown. Many of our contributors, particularly Deb O Neal at the Oonagh’s Own website, have commented and discussed extensively about the logic and rationale of corsetry under Italian Ren gowns, so I don’t think I need to discuss that. Suffice it to say that once again, the breasts mandate a fair amount of “infrastructure” under the dress! With a corded corset, the silhouette stays smooth and rounded, hopefully emulating that of the era. 

 




As I look back and study the Bordone gown again, I can see several things that I might have done differently. There are no major problems with the gown, but the neckline could have been fitted better, as it tends to gap a bit at the corners (once again, the problem with breasts!) Ilaria has suggested that I try angling the shoulder straps inward, which helps keep them on the shoulders and close to the skin. 

I also could have done a better job on the sleeve slashes. When I inset the braid into the neckline and piped it into the shoulder seams and waist, I actually turned it sideways so that only the edge showed, making it look very much like the cording in the portrait. On the slashes, the braid could have been inset more sideways. As it is, the entire flat surface shows, making it look like a braid, rather than a spiraled edging. 

Something I would very much appreciate from Showcase viewers would be any feedback, constructive criticism and commentary. Many of you are costumers for decades and have vastly more experience than I, both in technique and skills, and I know I could learn a great deal!



     




     



     
You can contact Laurie at lherr (at) rightwaybusiness.com and you can visit her website by clicking 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.)