Christy Lee

Texas, USA

A North-Italian Outfit in the Style
 of  the 1560s

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

Christy Says....


Dress & Doublet from Sofonisba Anguissola Self Portrait (1561) 

This project has two lives, pre and post house fire. I started this project July 2007. The house fire was January 2008. I never intended on remaking anything I had been previously working on but I couldnít resist and pickup this one again in January 2009. 

As with the 1510s Florentine , and all my costuming projects, budget would be a priority. I didnít have a set dollar amount this time around but I wanted to keep the cost to a minimum. More on how I did at the end. 

Act One


The project started out being just the doublet to go over the blue 1510 Florentine. The blue dress was far too damaged from wear and stress so it shifted to also making a separate skirt. I had even contemplated piping similar to Moroni, Portrait of a Gentleman with Two Children. (detail, left)

Which brings the great debate to corset or not to corset. In this particular painting there isnít any curve at the bust and you can see a ridge across her chest. There is some sort of supportive garment underneath. It could be either a stiffened under dress or possibly a busked corset. You can also see the same look in the 1554 self portrait . Another theory is since these paintings are when she was younger she just doesnít have much bosom so any support would flatten her. In the painting of her sisters playing chess you can see the same flatness.

After much debate and speculation I decided to go with a corded corset to fulfil a multipurpose use in other dresses. Front lacing to make it easier to put on by myself. While in this particular painting the doublet seems to have a very stiff something underneath other Italian paintings in the northern region a softer curved figure is more popular.

Next item on the under things list that I didnít already have was a
high neck shirt. I decided this was a time to try my hand at blackwork. I worked a pattern from Sadly my counting and ability at true blackwork is extremely lacking to say it nicely so I resorted to cross stitch fabric. 

At this point patterning on the doublet was well under way and itís time to figure out exactly what is going on with those closures and trim shadowed in the dark. The closures are a type of frog that looks to have tassels at the ends. It was brought to my attention that Italians liked to borrow from Persian/Turkish style so this would make sense.

I had acquired a slightly better copy of the painting and with some digital magic created this detail image . If you look at the bottom frog you can see what looks like a knot and the fringe hanging. It could be a separate treatment to the end of the frog or the ends of the cording making the frogs secured into a small tassel.

In the other images of the painting you canít tell what the treatment is running down the edge of the entire garment and on the edges of the sleeve tabs. Up the front of the doublet it looked like plain ďpipingĒ and on the tabs something else. On the clearer detail image you can see itís all slashed edging. The closer edge under the frogs is still blurry but if you look at the other side at the top and on the sleeve tabs you can see the slashing clearly.

While trying to figure out what was actually happening at the ends of the sleeve tabs I come across two paintings where she may be wearing the same doublet. Bernadino Campiís painting of her (she studied with him for a while) and this 1552 Self Portrait .

I never did get a good image of what exactly is going on with her doublet sleeves so I conjectured that they are slashed panes that faired slightly in the middle (creating the nice poofy yet unsupported look), no stuffing (you can see the copper under sleeve color), and joined the tabs at a small band. All edges trimmed with the same slashing effect.


Act Two

After the house fire a lot of starting over and rethinking had to be done. As you can see, what I had been working on was not usable. The only item that survived from the original project that was still in a usable state was the corded corset. You can see damage but with it being underwear it wouldnít be seen. Structurally it remained intact and usable.

In the spirit of multi duty I decided to scrap wearing the corset with the doublet and have a corded under dress that I could use for other eras. A box of fabric survived the fire as well. Most of the pieces were too badly smoke stained. One surviving piece was several yards of copper synthetic taffeta. It wasnít lost on me that the under dress in the painting is a copper color too.

I used the Pisa Dress as inspiration from Lauraís website,, though I didnít have enough fabric to get the number of pleats as the Pisa Dress. I also cheated and used metal grommets because I doubt I will ever wear the dress without something over it like a doublet or overdress. 

I whipped up a simple raglan style high neck shirt sans blackwork this time around. I made it from thin cotton but with the gathering and amount of fabric needed it ended up still a bit too bulky at the end. More on that later. I doubt I will wear it again. If I have a need in the future Iíll make it from linen next time.

Patterning commenced on doublet 2.0. This time around I forgot to flare the panes so they fill the gap between them when poofed. When the under sleeves are in place it looks ok though, if not correct to the painting.

I couldnít find any pre-made frogs that looked close enough to the painting so I decided to make them myself. You canít tell what the frogs in the painting are made of. Probably a similar thread that the doublet. I decided to mix the texture for interest. I found some small nylon cording that unravelled really well. It reminds me of silk threads they are so fine. I cut three arm lengths and braided them together into one long cord. Then cut that in half. One for each side of the frog.

Then tied it into a Chinese knot using these instructions. After some experimenting I un-braided the two tails and re-braided them into one tail. I did the same on the other side except with a loop instead of a knot obviously. They are attached to the doublet with a bit of stitching near the knot/loop then another bit of stitching where you want the tassel ends to start. Frey the ends and trim.

The one bit of research I hadnít done already was hair/head wear. Sofonisba doesnít wear/show any type of hat in many of her paintings and portraits, especially her early years like this one. This painting was done while she was still at home so the informal nature and indoors has a lot to do with it I would guess. You see many braids, netting and even some paintings show some jewels. In this self portrait you can clearly see the netting she wears.

I mused about a smaller balzo/caul but the one I made was too small (see pic, right) and was running out of time so I ended up going with the braids and netting idea even though the event is an outdoor fair. I used some black birdcage netting and attached a small cord to the edge to tie around the braids. My own hair isnít even close to long enough to wrap around my head like the painting. I ended up sandwiching a ponytail piece between my own then braided the mass in two braids. Convincing I think.

On the day of the event everything went together very well. The main issues were when making the sleeves I didnít take into count the amount of space needed for the undershirt sleeves so I ditched the copper under sleeves. This turned out to be a good thing for it was very hot that day!

The other issue was the frogs. I didnít make the loops big enough on two of them. I got it on ok but I couldnít get it off. I ended up having to cut myself out of the doublet. No big deal on the frogs. I can make 2 new loop ends.

So how did my budget fare?

Copper taffeta from stash - $? (survived fire)
Lining fabrics for dress - $0 (given by grandma)
Muslin for shirt - $15
Cotton twill for Doublet - $15
Lining fabric for doublet - $0 (scrap from other project)
Cording - $3
Fabric for balzo - $2
Birdcage net & ribbon - $12
Total = $47


  You can contact Christy at christymlee (at), and you can find her online journal here.

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© 2001 - 2009 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.