The Realm of Venus Presents...

he talian howcase


Melody Tomaszewicz

New Jersey, USA

Costumer and Renaissance Faire Attendee

A Milanese Outfit in the Style
 of 1490

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

Melody Says....


I live in New Jersey, United States. I've always loved sewing, especially interesting stuff like Halloween costumes. When my family joined the New Jersey Renaissance Kingdom in 2000, I started to seriously get into making period clothing. I have a special love of Italian Renaissance, especially the late 15th and early 16th century clothing. When I join the SCA, I'll HAVE to have an Italian persona! In some pictures I'm playing the bowed psaltery - I've started minstrel-ling at the fair.

Creation of the Portrait of a Woman by Ambrogio de Predis

JAN/FEB 2007 - Printed out copy of portrait and analyzed the pieces.

White linen shift does not show, but I know that with this quality of material one would have been worn to protect the under-dress from dirt and oils. I will use a smock that I already have that has long slim sleeves.

Gamurra of red - probably silk satin. Neckline is fairly high and straight across. I used spiral lacing on the side seams to close the under-dress. Waist seam will be higher than the natural waist to correct my proportions. Slim sleeves made of the same material; probably sewn in across the top of the sleeve. 

Poste of gold satin, with some decoration on the ends.

Sbernia of a black matt material - probably fine wool. Neck edge is closed in a deep V shape, at a few inches below the top edge of the gamurra. The slits in the sbernia start 1/4 down the upper arms. Gold cording has been couched to the slits of the sbernia in a complex looping pattern. Either the sbernia is lined in gold, or there is a gold trim edging the slit edges. I used a thin gold braid at the edges. A combination of two different ouches, two beads, and a hanging teardrop pearl decorate the top of each slit. 

Reta hat of knotted gold cord, edged with pearls, and tied to head with gold (probably satin) ribbon. The ribbon has five ouches attached across the forehead (three with red stones, and two with clear stones). Ribbon ends have pearls attached. It looks like a very thin silk coif or scuffia is worn under the reta to contain the hair.

She wears a pearl necklace that has a gold toned chain descending in the front. There is an additional ouch with a hanging teardrop pearl as a pendant.

Portrait of a Woman by Ambrogio de Predis

 MAR/JUNE 2007 - Started to collect materials for this gown.
  • Red silk satin and fine black wool was purchased in New York City. I found some black rayon for lining locally.
  • Gold cord and the pattern for the reta were purchased from Lynn McMaster’s site. 
  • I purchased the ouches from Sapphire and Sage. I bought some loopy gold trim for the sbernia arm slits and gold satin ribbon for the reta on eBay.
  • I found some gold beads to complete the shoulder trim, and pearls for the reta and the choker at AC Moore. I found some gold toned chain for attaching the pendant in my stash.

The Reta

I learned several new skills making this hat, including double X knots. I made the hat first, since it was the most challenging task. The gamurra and sbernia were relatively simple. 

The reta actually took me much less time to do than I thought. I hand sewed the gold trim around the edges, and then embellished the trim with the pearls. Then I added the ouches and the large pearls (10 mm) to the gold ribbon.

I can now understand why these hats go for upwards of $500.00 when they are sold online. It literally takes days to finish one off. The knotting is actually the easy part...then the ends have to be glued and trimmed. I finally finished off the pearl edging on a Sunday night, after working all weekend to finish it off. I worked my way around the hat 5 times, glue and trim, lash on the millinery wire, add the gold trim, attach the pearls, and whipstitch gold thread between the pearls.

The Juliet Cap

I made a Juliet cap to wear with the dress when I wear the red and gold damask sleeves that I made as another look with the gamurra. I had just enough damask and trim to make the cap matching the sleeves. Since I'll have different sleeves and a different hat, this outfit will be a twofer--two outfits for the effort of one--like my Lady with Ermine dress. 

I lined the hat with red satin and padded the hat form with fiberfill. I tried on the gamurra with the alternate red and gold damask sleeves and matching Juliet cap. As much as I hate to admit it, I kind of like the alternate outfit a little better. When I put on the sbernia and gamurra, and looked in the full length mirror, it was like "Outfit--where are you taking that girl?" I think that the reta will balance the look, since it is so outstanding. 

The Scuffia

I made a scuffia of thin silk chiffon for my hair. Like the silk cap I made for the Lady with Ermine dress, this scuffia will be probably worn once for the portrait shot, and then most likely be discarded. The reta actually looks better on me when it's worn with my hair down. I attached a comb to hold it in place. I added a “rat” of hair that I had trimmed a few months ago from myself to add to the hair mass under the reta.

The Camicia and Gamurra

I shortened the sleeves of my linen smock. The sleeves had been six inches too long since this was a purchased item, and bunched up under the sleeves.

I traced the bodice from the Lady with Ermine as a starting point. Then I raised the waistline and neckline a little. Then, I cut out a toile and fit it. I used some left over gray linen for the innermost layer. I cut the lining layer out of some pretty red linen I have that matches the silk. I sewed in the cording channels. Then I cut out the silk separately. 

I learned a new way to sew in the cording channels so it was neater. Instead of cutting the thread at the end of each channel and having lots of loose strings, I moved the needle from right to left or vice versa when I got to the end of a line. Then I spun the fabric around, and lifted the needle out and set it over far enough and started the next line of stitching. 

I trimmed and turned the bodice pieces. I tried on the gamurra bodice and it fit nicely, and gave good support. I put the waist seam 4.5 inches above my natural waist. I did some adjusting to the armscye so that it fit better. Then I sewed the shoulder seams and put in the side lacing (hand bound) eyelets. 

Once the bodice and sleeves were done, I measured the remaining silk to figure out how wide my skirt will be. I had 242 inches of silk satin left. Yeep! I have a twenty foot skirt! I cut it into two parts, since I'm side lacing. I finished the side slit edges, and then planned the knife pleating. The next time I have this much material to add as a skirt, I will be using the cartridge pleating technique. I hand sewed the waist seam since the sewing machine couldn’t handle it, and hung it up to relax before I hemmed it, also by hand.


I put the smock, gamurra and sleeves on and had Michelle mark where the eyelets should be put for lacing on the sleeves. I put in the twelve eyelets on the shoulders. I purchased some red cord the right size to act as lacing on the sides of the gamurra. I cut the proper lengths, and dipped the ends in fray check to stiffen and seal them. I added some thread belt loops for the poste, to keep it in position.

 The Sbernia

I used the same pattern for the sbernia that I did for the Lady with Ermine dress. I pieced the rayon lining material for the sbernia. I turned it and pinned the edges and I topstitched them.

Then I started on the trim on the sbernia. It had to be sewn on by hand...the flat braid on the arm slit edge had to be RIGHT on the edge, and I couldn't get that much precision by using the machine. I sewed the narrow gold braid to the arm slit edges. I used a shiny gold thread, so I had to use short threads so it didn't kink too bad or start to lose its foil wrap from being pulled through the fabric. Over a long weekend, I finished the thin gold trim on the arm slits, and sewed the gold loopy trim on. It took two "runs" with the gold thread to sew on the loopy trim--one on the top pointier edge, and a second run on the bottom. It's a very Zen-like task--when the gold thread isn't being bitchy! Usually, I use a gold colored thread to sew down gold trim, but on this sbernia I wanted the extra sparkle of actual shiny gold thread. When I finished the gold trim on the sbernia arm slits, I couldn’t resist staying up to sew the ouches, beads and hanging pearl onto the top of the slits. 

Note to self: When using a thread that is shiny because there is foil wrapped around a central core of fiber, use one of two methods - either use a larger needle to make a bigger hole in the fabric, or wiggle the needle in the fabric before pulling the thread through. It makes it much less likely to strip the foil from the fiber core. And use shorter than usual pieces to cut down on kinks and knots.

I tried the sbernia on in front of a mirror, and found the top edge was too loose. The top edge of the sbernia in the portrait seems to closely hug her shoulders, so I tailored the edge in order to make it lay correctly. The arm slits open just the right amount down my upper arm. The trimming and jeweled accouterments fall at just the right spot. It confirms my idea that she is wearing a sbernia and not an overdress.

I attached the front closure to the sbernia. It was a coat hook and eye. I wasn’t totally satisfied with the look. It gaped and showed the hook. I tacked it together with thread and will leave it that way until the photos are taken, and then change it for a nice gold colored clasp that I have at home. 

The Sleeves

I used the old sleeve pattern from my Giovanni Tornabuoni dress. I cut out a toile in muslin, and found that it was much too big--my arms have shrunk. So I took 1/2" from the edges and 1/2" from the middle and tried that on. Still a little big, but I need to have it fit over a camicia, and I don't like the feel of sleeves that are too tight, so it was about right. I cut my first sleeves out of a red and gold silk jacquard material that I got from eBay. I had to piece the bottom of the sleeves, since I only had 1/2 yard of the material. But when I covered the seam with a nice gold trim, it was not even noticeable. I found a little gold trim with pearls sewn on with gives just the nice ornate look I like. There was even enough trim and material left to make a (pieced) Juliet cap to wear with the sleeves. And there's about a handful of tiny scraps left. I LOVE doing things in a period way--if you don't have enough fabric, then improvise. If you cleverly disguise the piecing or trim it, it looks like you planned it that way. In the phraseology of the current era--"It's not a bug--it's a feature."

I cut out the satin sleeves, and the linings for both sets of sleeves in red linen. I ended up replacing the linen lining on the red satin sleeves with some silk charmeuse. For some reason, the linen lining made those sleeves too tight. The linen worked fine with the red and gold damask, so I left those alone. I sewed the trim to the silk damask sleeves, so they were completed once they were sewn together. I assembled the sleeves like I did for my Giovanna Tornabuoni dress--sewing the sleeves and linings right sides together, and turning them. I pinned the edges of the two sets of sleeves and topstitched along the edges. Then I used a ladder stitch on the back seams to turn them into tubes. 

I didn't plan on making eyelets on the tops of the sleeves - I figured I would just sew whichever sleeve I'm using onto the dress the night before. This seems to have been a period method--just sewing in the sleeves across the top of the armhole. Plans change; my dressing maid (my daughter) rebelled. She did NOT want to attempt to sew me into a dress on a fair morning. So I put five eyelets along the top center edge of each sleeve. Then I put six eyelets along the top center of each armhole. That way she can spiral lace the sleeves in with lacing. I invested in something stretchy to use as lacing for fair days--some oval black elastic. It will make the dress much more comfortable to wear if I have some extra range of movement. I’ll use some red cording for the portrait shot.


I made the necklace for the dress using a pendant that I ordered from Sapphire & Sage. I used large pearls (12 mm) to make the choker necklace. They have glass cores, so they are a nice weight. I adjusted the gold chain so that the pendant just hangs over the top edge of the bodice.


I made a poste - it’s a silk sash to use as a soft belt. I used some gold satin from my stash. I used some of the red/gold silk damask remnants to make a stuffed “bead” on the end of the poste. I then added a gold tassel to hang from the end of the “bead.” It weighs down the ends nicely.

Anyone wanting to read a blow by blow account can find it on my Livejournal (see below).



  You can contact Melody at Fitchwitch03 (at) and her blog is available to view 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.)