Katherine Bramley
(Lady Katherine d'Aquitaine)


Konosu, Saitama, Japan
(Palatine Barony of the Far West, Kingdom of the West)

Costumer and SCA Member

Two Florentine gowns in one,  in the Style
 of 1500-1510


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


Katherine Says....

 

My name is Katherine Bramley, known as Katherine d’Aquitaine. I’ve been making costumes for SCA activities since I was 18, but actually started out quite young. My mother taught me sewing, and she never seemed to have time to make the Halloween costumes I longed for, so I took matters into my own hands. I added more to my practical knowledge in university, where I studied drama, mainly about re-making old costumes over.

I actually started out making noble Elizabethan costumes in the SCA, because I loved the glitter and the challenge. Three years ago while making my first Gothic dress by hand, I discovered a strange and marvelous thing – the more simple a dress looks in historical portraiture, the harder it actually is to get right. It’s easy to divert attention on mistakes on Elizabethan dresses if they look flashy enough, but not so with plain ones.

I live in Japan, north of Tokyo. SCA-wise, I live in the SCA Barony of the Far West, Kingdom of the West. We’re small, but active. I make a lot of clothing for Japanese members, who love getting dressed up as much as anybody back in the mainland.




Inspiration

Why make a Florentine Dress?

My decision two years ago to make an Italian Florentine gown was mainly inspired by Realm of Venus, and Jen Thompson’s Festive Attyre websites. There seemed to be a lot focus on late period dress at that time, and I perversely wanted to try something a bit simpler and earlier.

I live in Japan, and getting silk is relatively easy, though not much cheaper than what you pay at home. Research was the hard part – I spent a lot of time looking at portraits on the Internet and purchased a few books from Amazon. “Portrait of a Young Woman with Unicorn” (1505) by Raphael was the picture that called to me most. How Florentine the colour is! Green and burgundy! And again, it looked deceptively simple…I would soon learn how deceptive in time. 



Why a Reversible dress?

A lucky buy of some silk shantung from Fabric.com at a good price had been languishing in a bin for a few years – a buttery yellow and a celery green. The celery green was a good match for the Unicorn portrait. But the longer I looked at the yellow, the more my mind began to buzz. It was just the right colour for another Florentine dress – Andrea del Sarto’s “Birth of the Virgin” (1513), and Bacchiacca’s ‘The Preaching of Saint John the Baptist” (1520). The neckline and the style of the guards were not dissimilar to the Raphael portrait, and the waist height was about the same in all pictures, despite the 15 year difference in style.

At this point, I’m afraid to say, the project jumped the tracks and I decided to save space in my tiny, cramped Japanese apartment and make a dress that was reversible – Raphael on one side, and Bacchiacca on the other. My reasoning went as follows – firstly, I wanted to make the dress as close as possible to the portrait, which meant that the pattern might not be as historically accurate as one could wish, so winning an SCA arts and sciences competition was not going to be an issue. Secondly, my closet really is cramped. Thirdly – well, I did mention earlier I like a challenge, right?
 

Bacchiacca’s ‘The Preaching of Saint John the Baptist” (1520)

Andrea del Sarto’s “Birth of the Virgin” (1513)




Fabrics

Having already gotten the main silks, my next step was getting velvet for the guards. I went shopping in Nippori (otherwise known as Fabric Town) in Tokyo and found some nice velvet – burgundy for the Raphael and green for the Bacchiacca gown. They were about 800 yen per meter, and made of rayon or some such.

The blue sleeves in the Bacchiacca portrait looked like a silk or wool. I had suitable shantung from the same Fabric.com sale that gave me the green and yellow silk for the gowns. The Unicorn portrait sleeve looked to me like a flat fabric instead of velvet. When you compare the sleeve to the guards on the dress, it seems to be a wool or silk. Another trip to Nippori gave me the perfect wine colour, but unfortunately in a dupioni silk, which is too slubby for a noble dress. But, since I wanted the look of the portrait and wasn’t aiming for accuracy, I went with it. The dupioni cost me a shocking 2000 yen a meter, because compared to the smooth Japanese silks, it’s a specialty item as well as being an import.

The camicia fabric was lovely linen – the most translucent I had ever seen very fine and smooth. It cost about 2000 yen per metre, but it was well worth it. I’d never seen the like when I lived in Canada.

For the belt on the Unicorn dress, I found a printed jacquard look ribbon and dyed it down to a similar pink shade as seen in the portrait.

The partlet in the Unicorn portrait is one of those annoyingly nearly-invisible ones that I feel sure must be artistic license on the part of Raphael. I had hoped to find net-like cotton from India that would allow the fabrics to show through as much as possible, but wound up getting a crisp sheer silk from a shop in Nippori that was going out of business. It was the sheerest I could get without going for a man-made fabric, and cheap and natural fabrics are one of my priorities when making clothing.


Testing two types of velvet. I used the deeper tone to the left.


The linen is so fine, you can see my hand through it. Great fabric.





(Left) Close up of the armpit gusset, which was hand-sewn and felled to prevent raveling.

Construction

Making the Camicia

I drafted the camicia from Jen Thompson’s site, and actually hand sewed it with a silk thread using techniques from the Museum of London’s book Textiles and Clothing. According to Textiles and Clothing, the most common stitch found on seams was the running stitch. Backstitch was found on areas of possible stress, such as armholes. For the long seams of the gussets, body, and arms, I used the running stitch. A backstitch was used on the underarm gussets. The seams were all finished with a felled stitch to avoid unraveling. A double fold hem was given to the bottom hem, and the sleeves. The neckline was gathered with accordion pleats and backstitched to the neckband, which was turned under once and blind-stitched.



Making the Dress

Most difficult of all the work was the toile for the bodice. I wound up with a shape that looks fairly wasteful of fabric for period seamstresses. Fact: simple bodice in the portrait = deceptively hard drafting. Getting it to slope almost to the edge of the shoulder and yet not slip off was tough, and I refitted it many times. I wound up with a curved shoulder seam that hugged the point of the shoulder. I was happy with it in the end, as it looks very similar to the Unicorn portrait. I followed Jen Thompson’s advice for a side lacing bodice for a 1515 Florentine. However, with the slope of the bodice straps onto my arms, I can’t raise them very much and so must dragoon people into helping me lace up every time.



 
Two layers of linen with the hemp cord threaded through.

I also used Jen Thompson’s idea for hemp for the bodice boning. In both the Bacchiacca and Unicorn painting, the bodices show a rounded, womanly shape, not too flat. Also, in the Unicorn portrait, you can see some horizontal wrinkling from sitting in the dress. This suggested that no hard boning was present, and the stiffening was soft enough that it wrinkled when the skirt wasn’t pulling the bodice smooth. The hemp worked great, and I get the same small wrinkles when I sit in my dress as in the Unicorn portrait.

 


The front with hemp boning threaded through and cut down.




To put the bodice together, I used the hemp and linen boning as the centre layer and two layers of silk on either side. Two layers were needed, because with one layer the hemp lines were showing through. The bodice was completely sewn and turned through, with no raw edges except at the neckline, which was going to be covered with velvet guards anyway.

   




The velvet guards were all hand-sewn on. Ah, velvet, my old nemesis. Why do you crawl away from me like that? The only way to tame velvet is hand sewing. The guards in the Bacchiacca picture were fairly straight forward to do, but getting the guards in the Unicorn portrait to resemble the picture was tricky. The guard at the armhole was hard to decipher from the portrait, and so I guessed that it must go all the way around the armhole, but perhaps not as wide at the bottom as at the top – otherwise, you would see it more under the sleeve, in spite of the camicia hanging down to cover it. The two velvets were blind stitched together at the top edges. This is one area of the gown I’m still not happy with. The velvet is so lush and thick, a little of the opposing colour shows through whichever way I wear the gown and it doesn’t lie flat and snug against the skin. Oh well, I did decide to make it reversible, and this was a consequence.




The lacing holes were poked through with an awl and satin stitched with embroidery floss. The lacing is done spiral fashion, and I made two lacing cords with five-loop finger loop braids in a green floss on the bodice body, and burgundy and green at the shoulders where the sleeves tie on.



The skirts were cut according ideas drawn from Janet Arnold’s book Patterns of Fashion, which has later period Italian gown skirts that are rectangles with gores added in.

The skirt guards for the Unicorn dress were based on other portraits. It has that double vertical line down the front, but I’ve never seen split skirts in Florentine art from that period. I decided it was an added decoration to the gown, and the guards at the bottom mimic it in width and style to add balance to the design. The velvet guards were applied again by hand to the hems and front of the skirts. Thick wool felt was added behind the guards reaching to the hem to help give the bottom of the skirt some fullness. 



 

The two colours of silk skirt were sewn together at the hem, turned through, and the hem was top stitched by hand to keep the line crisp and avoid having opposite colour silk droop and show when wearing the dress. This worked perfectly. I decided to forgo using an interlining, as two layers of silk seemed heavy enough on their own.




Front view of the knife pleats in the yellow side.


A small innovation I used was not to have the same pattern of pleating at the waist for both sides of the dress. Each silk skirt was knife pleated in a different pattern according to what looked right for each portrait in the front, and box pleated in the back to contain the fullness more. The skirts were then whip-stitched separately to the finished edge of the bodice, working through the side slits at the waist. The side slits were then top-stitched down by hand.  





Stacked box pleats on the yellow side.


The stacked box pleats at the back of the green side.



The sleeves were drafted from Alcega and Arnold and adapted to be nice and round and full with no gathering. They were easy to do – just like making any other sleeve that has a lining. Holes were punched at the top and satin stitched to allows the sleeves to be tied to the dress with ribbons. In the Unicorn portrait, you can see what looks like an eyelet hole at the shoulder on the dress, with ribbon tie loops poking up.

 


Accessories

The Bacchiacca Dress Accessories

The sash for the Bacchiacca picture looks like a soft dark material, with enormous beads and fringe hanging from the ends. It is most likely a poste or the sotto poste, which I read about in an article on Sugar and Gamurre’s website. These were lightweight silk veils produced in Venice and exported all over Europe. They were worn around the waist like a belt, but could be used as a kerchief or scarf. To recreate this, I used the blue silk that matched the sleeves and edged it with the overlocker machine. To recreate the beads, I used a foam modeling clay, as a real bead of that size was likely to be very heavy. I painted the beads dark green with gold zigzags, sealed it, and attached them to the sash along with a long fringe of rayon.

The necklace in the portrait is of round, orangey beads, possible glass or amber. At a hundred yen shop, I bought four sets of Buddhist prayer beads that were the right size, pulled them apart and made two necklaces. One necklace is black glass beads, and the other green plastic jade look-alike beads.



The Head Piece

In the Bacchiacca picture, the woman looks like she’s wearing a hair net, with a band. To recreate this look, I went with some very unhistorical items – a silver net scarf and a u-shaped head band from the hundred yen shop. I covered the headband with some oriental silk, added elastic to make it go all the way around my head, glued on some gold trim and sewed the silver net to the assembly. To my horror, the silver net unraveled like crazy when cut. I had meant the net to be a shorter, snood like affair, but it wasn’t possible with this material. I left it long and knotted it at the end. It’s not bad – it looks like the long hair net tubes of early Italian art, but not like the snood I wanted it to be. I’m planning on changing it when I get back to the mainland and can get a gold colour snood.



The Unicorn Dress Accessories

The partlet for the Unicorn dress was a nightmare. Firstly, I had to find the sheerest fabric possible to mimic the portrait as much as I could. Secondly, I knew in my heart that the silk I had gotten was too stiff for a reasonable facsimile. I washed it, which did nothing to remove the stiffness. I drafted a partlet partially based on Domenico Ghirlando’s portrait of A Young Woman, and opted to add some finger loop braid ties to the points to tie under the arms. In the Unicorn portrait, this partlet has no visible means of attachment – possibly pins? But I didn’t want pointy things in my armpits where the Unicorn Partlet seems to disappear. Cutting the silk was dreadful – it slid and crawled. I attempted to roll hem the edge, bit it looked like lettuce. I ruined two silk partlets before I decided to go non-historical and use my serger to do a rolled, thread-covered edge. Thanks to differential feeding on my machine, I avoided most of the lettuce effect, though the weave of the fabric still ended up skewing the shape slightly. The stiffness of the silk meant I had to tie it tightly under the arms, and I added a weighty pearl ornament to keep the back down. All in all, I have to admit I think it adds little to the dress, but I did want to do everything I saw in the portrait.


Testing the partlet on the dress to make sure it wasn't too large and covered the shoulders and dress sparingly.

The final draft of the partlet in cotton.

I tried a rolled hem bit it still was wavy even when pulled. The serged edge on the bottom worked better, as the overlock machine was able to gather the bias edges while it rolled and sewed.

The serged edge of the partlet - gathered but still a bit wavy.

The partlet, showing the fingerloop cords and bead ornament at the back point.




The belt for the Unicorn dress appears to be a front fastened belt of a type unseen in other portraits. The material might be an embroidered silk, a stamped leather belt, or a stamped silk. The belt looks substantial in thickness. The front closure is a mystery as well – it looks like more material rather than a metal clasp. To make this, I bought a printed ribbon, dyed it to match, sewed it to a belt elastic and attached hooks and eyes. The front closure is a silk dupioni hand sewn to match the shape of the front closure in the Unicorn portrait. The back merely ties with ribbons - a convenience for women who change waist sizes.



The hair piece in the Unicorn portrait is hard to see – the girl wears her hair loose in the back, and there’s a hint of a gold band it the front. She could be wearing a small cap or net, like in the Bacchiacca picture. For this, I decided to forgo an exact copy and made a cap/snood, like the one in the Raphael portrait Portrait of a Woman (La Donna Gravida), circa 1505-1506. The cap she wears looks like an ornate band of patterned silk with netting, possibly a snood or the longer hair tubes or earlier eras. I found a knitted handbag with pearls in a recycle shop that looked like it would be just big enough to make into a snood. I pulled the metal closure off and hand-sewed this to a wide band of black and gold Japanese fabric in a renaissance style pattern. With some pearl decorations, and a small comb sewn to the inside of the band, this snood was just large enough to cover the back of my head. I am quite happy with this piece – it’s just generic enough that I can use it with Elizabethan wear as well as Italian Renaissance.



The pendant was another tricky piece. I’m a seamstress, not a sculptor. To make the pendant, I bought some gold plastic modeling clay and attempted to copy the Unicorn pendant. Well, the first two were artistic failures – too big, or not the right shape. I got disgusted enough that when the third one was done and seemed reasonably similar at a distance of three feet, I called it a day. I used gold foil to cover the clay, which wasn’t golden enough, and sealed it. The jewels are merely cheap acrylic ones, of the sew-on variety. You can see the holes when you are too close. They were attached with hot glue. A gold cord was used for the necklace. I considered using a chain, but the portrait shows that the necklace has a knot in it, and it seemed a shame to do that to a chain.


Unicorn pendant - two failures, one success



 

Last Items

I haven’t made a specific underskirt for this dress yet, due to the humidity and heat you get here in Japan. A camicia and a double layer skirt are about all I can stand... I wear an Elizabethan middle class skirt of silk with a ribbon guard at the hem with this sometimes, for the full period effect, and to help get more puff at the waist of the skirt. Without it, the weight of the skirt tends to drag it down a bit straight in the front, but the mass of box pleats in the back stand up well. I pair this dress with long knitted socks in bright colours, and flat black shoes. Since my hair is only just below my ears, I pull it back and it’s covered by my head gear.



Am I happy with the final result?

The accessories – well, the partlet just isn’t right. My only option here is to give up on silk or linen and get some wedding tulle, which may give me less hassle. If I were to make a truly period partlet, I’d use the same linen as I used for the camicia – but it still would not be sheer enough to match the portrait. But the silk is as translucent as I could find, and it does look okay.

The gown worked out well, apart from the velvet guards at the neckline showing the lining colour and being a bit too bulky. But the general shape of both dresses worked out very well, quite similar to the lines of the dresses in the portraits. I’m not sure the style suits me, but it certainly gave me a challenge. Would I do reversible again? Sure – perhaps in simpler styles like Flemish working class or Gothic. It did save space, though making it from thin silks was absolutely necessary.

Also, I did end up entering the dress in an Arts and Sciences competition. If anyone is interested in the even more lengthy documentation (8 pages of it), feel free to e-mail me. Aside from the drafting of the bodice, and the fact that it’s reversible, it’s a fairly accurate reproduction. 

PS – living in Japan, as I said before, the hardest part of doing historical wear is getting the right books. Also, the European brocades here are rare and hugely expensive. Accessories like jewellery and shoes are hard to find. On the other hand, I’ve got Fabric Town in Nippori, and can get lightweight linens and wonderful light gauzy wools for about 200 yen a meter any time, so that’s a huge bonus. 





   

   

   

   





Bibliography

Boucher, Francis. 20,000 Years of Fashion. New York. 1966. Harry N. Abrams Incorporated.

Brown, Dan Simon. Virtue and Beauty: Renaissance Portraits of Women. Princeton University Press. 2001.

Carlson, Marc. Some Clothing of the Middle Ages. 1998. (Accessed March 2006). http://www.personal.utulsa.edu/~marc-carlson/html

Crowfoot, Elisabeth; Frances Pritchard; and Kay Staniland. Textiles and Clothing: c.1150 – c.1450, vol. 4 of Medieval Finds from Excavations in London, 2nd ed., Suffolk, Boydell Press, 2001

Jones, Heather Rose. Archaeological Sewing. 2001 (accessed June 2006). http://www.virtue.to/guest_authors/archaeological_sewing.html

Mola, Luca. The Silk Industry in Renaissance Venice. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press. 2000.

Montferrante, Daria. Sugar and Gamurre. (Accessed May 2008). http://www.geocities.com/kamillavh/04.html

Newton, Stella Mary. Fashion in the Age of the Black Prince: A Study of the Years 1340 - 1365. Suffolk: Boydell Press, 1999.

Swales, Lois (Mistress Rhiannon y Bwa) and Zoe Kuhn Williams (Mistress Azza al-Shirazi). Fingerloop Braids. http://fingerloop.org/. (Accessed first August 2006).

Swales, Lois (Mistress Rhiannon y Bwa) and Zoe Kuhn Williams (Mistress Azza al-Shirazi). Fingerloop Braids. http://fingerloop.org/. (Accessed first August 2006).

Wake, Anabella. The Realm of Venus. (Accessed first June 2007). http://realmofvenus.renaissanceitaly.net/

Art Renewal Centre. (Accessed April 2006). http://www.artrenewal.org/ For Renaissance portraits and pictures.






 

  You can contact Katherine at crimsongriffin28 (at) yahoo.ca, and you can read more at her Flickr account.

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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.