Laura Ulak

Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA

Costumer and Renaissance Faire Attendee

A Venetian Outfit in the Style
 of  the 1540s-50s

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

Laura Says....


My name is Laura Ulak and I have been making costumes of various sorts for almost 20 years. I learned to sew from my Grandmother who taught me how to quilt. My aunt and my mother always made very elaborate Halloween costumes for us and eventually I decided to make my own.

I originally started out making children’s clothing and costumes and eventually became a co-owner in a Highland Dancewear business. After making lots of dancewear for Scottish and Irish dancers, I retired and started making Renaissance wear for various festival participants and my own “Wench Posse,” and other costumes for friends and clients.

I am fortunate to be friends with the Princess at the Minnesota Renaissance Fair, and dressing her is great fun – it is a great arrangement as she creates jewellery for me! Currently I am recreating the costumes of the Six Wives of Henry VIII from their most famous portraits as a personal challenge to myself, and for our “posse” to wear to the MNRF this year. Our Henry is 6’7 and has a 52 inch chest and dressing him and the rest of us has been challenging, but fun!


I had been working on hand beading some trim for a costume that had sat on the shelf for what seemed like forever when I realized that I had no outfit to wear for the Friends of Faire Midwinter Feast in December. I have a horrible habit of selling most of my gowns after I make them, so I am usually scrambling to make something last minute or risk going naked.

I had been wanting to make a Venetian for a long time and really wanted to use the trim. However, it was originally to be for a split skirt Elizabethan, and I had never seen a split skirt in Venetian. Once I found the portrait by Giovanni Antonio Fasolo, (1565-70) Portrait of a Lady, I decided I could combine Elizabethan with Venetian and have something lovely.

The combination Elizabethan/Venetian dress

Unfortunately, it didn’t work out that way. Because I finished everyone else’s outfits first I made mine last minute. I wound up with sleeve caps that were too tight and long, beaded sleeves that I had forgotten had been cut out for someone much smaller than I, and the hem was somehow shorter on one side than the other.

I also decided that because the bodice was so heavily boned I wouldn’t need a corset. THIS WAS A MISTAKE. I have now learned that if you have a DDD cup chest that a corset is required. Instead of a V, I had a diamond <>. In the interest of full disclosure, I am sharing a picture. It isn’t pretty and not my best moment as a costumer.

When I returned home after the Feast I immediately ripped the entire thing apart and decided to go back to the original idea of Elizabethan and Italian, separate. The Elizabethan came together beautifully with the beaded designs and I am very happy with the final result.

The Elizabethan

A close-up of the beading

The Venetian also wound up working out surprisingly well, especially considering I had never made anything Venetian before. I used a new picture, “Portrait of a Lady” (1550’s) by a Follower of Tintoretto as my inspiration this time. It was simple and clean in its lines, and after the debacle that had been my “Combo Dress” I was looking forward to the idea of simple.

The fabric was synthetic blue brocade from Joann’s that had been sitting in my closet for a year. I would have loved to have used silk, but I figured it was better to use something less expensive for my first foray into Italian. Either way, it looked lovely – as both Italian and Elizabethan!

I drafted my own bodice pattern, and used the brilliant lacing technique described by Jen Thompson. The bodice was interlined in canvas and lined in black cotton and heavily boned with cable ties. I also used Jen’s pattern for the camicia, which I gathered onto a ribbon/tape as I had read done by Kendra Van Cleave on her showcase. This gave the camicia a cleaner finish than my previous attempt.

I also used Lady Fiore’s idea of how to make the false front camicia and it worked really well. Combined with my sturdy black Elizabethan corset, it held everything in a perfect “V” shape, which was a tremendous relief. I am forever sold on corseting.


I gathered the skirt fabric onto a side closing waist band, and stitched the entire back of the skirt into the back of the bodice. This kept the skirt from moving around and made the front look very smooth with large pleats. I put a band of black faux suede at the bottom, as I was slightly short in length after cutting the fabric for the Elizabethan skirt. I liked having this guard on the bottom to keep the dust off the dress. The MNRF is notoriously dusty.

The sleeves were probably the most difficult in terms of design ideas. I had thought about making a pouf at the top, or split caps, but ultimately decided that simple really was best in terms of design and to go around my large upper arms. I made them using Margo Anderson’s excellent Elizabethan Noblewoman’s patterns, and they were lined in silk remnants leftover from the Elizabethan. 

Lace was hand-stitched onto the cuffs and the shoulder was gathered onto bias-tape made from the fabric. I had read about the sleeve attachment on Lady Fiore Rossini’s showcase and decided to use her idea. Instead of rosettes I used some small vintage rhinestone buttons on the sleeves and shoulders of the bodice and made eyelet holes instead of buttonholes.

Coordinating ribbon was sewn into the shoulders of the bodice and laced through the eyelets and tied in a bow. I then pulled “puffs” of camicia through the spaces between the laces. It really was a quick and easy design idea.

Ashley Walton, the lovely Princess of MNRF made a quick girdle for me out of a pin from J C Penney’s, and various chains from Kohl’s. The pin was affixed to the point on the bodice and held everything in place. I wore some small pearl earrings and a pearl necklace from the thrift store. The entire outfit wound up being really very economical. My hair had been cut shorter the previous year and I had purchased a fake ponytail from a vendor at the Bristol Renaissance Faire that amazingly enough matched my hair color. (The price was excellent at $20 too!)

It was so cold that I actually wore jeans under the dress. I have horrible balance issues, and while the chopines are fabulous to look at, if I was to wear them I would be a danger to myself and others, so I wore some simple black ballet flats to complete the outfit.

The gown debuted at the New Ulm Renaissance Faire earlier this month. I was the only person there in Italian and I think many people weren’t sure what it was I was wearing, so I attempted to educate them! I have since received a lot of compliments on the gown, and I am undecided on whether or not I will wind up keeping it. There are several changes I would like to work out in terms of design (shortening the straps, closing the “V” at the bottom a bit more, shortening the sleeves, making a partlet, etc.). And I have lovely green brocade that is waiting in my closet… I can’t wait to make another one, though!

This outfit was really a collaboration for me. I benefited from the advice of so many other costumers who have had prior showcases, which helped my outfit to turn out as well as it did. I am very appreciative of this wonderful resource! 


  You can contact Laura at laurapulak (at)

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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.