Laura Ulak

Edina, Minnesota, USA


A Florentine Outfit in the Style
 of  the 1570-75

(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,” (WP) and other costumes for friends and clients. I am also the President of the Minnesota Society of Costumers (MNSOC) a brand new chapter in the International Costumer’s Guild (ICG).

Last year my costuming group and I recreated the outfits of King Henry VIII, his Six Wives, and other assorted relatives from their most famous portraits. This year our group descended upon Minnesota Renaissance Festival in a Courtesan Invasion, with 20 different Courtesans of different styles, and different specialties. (We had a set of twins, a contortionist, a flirt, etc.) We can’t wait for next year’s group project – The Noble Court of the Island of Wenchlandia. Because everyone wants to be a Princess for a day, right?

When the WP decided on being Courtesans for our yearly group project and decided there should be specialties amongst us, I was elected manager of the ladies, and thus needed a different sort of outfit. Something that would stand out, that signified that I was “in charge.”

I looked through 'Moda a Firenze' for inspiration and decided on a doublet style gown, as no one else was wearing one, and it seemed more reserved than a lot of the other styles. I saw the lovely picture by Alessandro Allori with the braided shoulder poufs, the rows of piping and all the beadwork and was sold.

I started by making a square-necked camicia. My design is one I developed on my own, and is not historically based as far as I know. I used fabric that was once old church linens (with beautiful gold thread embroidery at the cuffs and the hem) and put elastic in the wrists for ease of movement. I have developed a design in the bust area of my chemise that includes an extra long facing, which I put a channel in with a drawstring (black in the picture). This serves as a sort of shelf-bra, which helps my chest to not do the downward drift that happens so often in corsets for women who are fairly busty. The shelf bra prevents this, gives me a nice lift, and also helps hold my bodice- chiller in place as well. Since the neckline doesn’t show in the doublet I did not add any additional trim, and managed to avoid the bulk of fabric that can happen in camicie.

My corset is the one that I made (with the help of Erin Schneider, our group’s corsetiere) from the Elizabethan Corset Generator. It gave me roughly the same shape as the portrait, so I didn’t see the need to make a new corset for the outfit. I did put a wider than average tab in the front over my stomach, as I have had two children and there is a bit of a “loaf” there that I wanted to camouflage. I used cable ties for boning, duck cloth for lining, and some funny fabric with brassieres all over it that I have long wanted to make into a corset. Everyone who sees the corset loves it because of the fabric. 

Next I made a partlet from Margo Anderson’s Elizabethan Undergarments pattern, using the portrait as inspiration. It is made of linen, and the edges are rolled in my serger with gold metallic thread. I plan on putting some better trim on it than just the ribbon and perhaps some beading, etc., but as this was the very last thing I finished, I didn’t have time to be picky.

Underneath my camicia I wore my festive drawers/bloomers with I Love Lucy on them, which were from my I Love Lucy Elizabethan. (From our Day of Wrong at MNRF.) I also wore white cotton socks, and my red Steve Madden shoes, which are oddly similar to the pictures I have seen of chopines. But probably more comfortable.

I wore a farthingale underneath the gown that is made from a Margo Anderson pattern, and is originally based off Alcega. It was a breeze to make and has seen me through two seasons of festival attendance, and still looks great. It also gave me the correct shape for the skirt, and from the reading I did it was not uncommon for women to wear farthingales with this style of outfit.

I chose not to do an underskirt as most of the portraits of people in doublet-style outfits have their skirts closed in the front.

I used Margo Anderson’s doublet pattern and modified the collar to look like the rounded collar of the portrait. The outside is dark blue silk dupioni, and the inside is gold dupioni, lined with a layer of duck cloth. I looked for almost a year for the right color taffeta, but never found it. The dupioni looked lovely, and worked well.

I found an almost perfect match of corded piping to the blue silk, and looked for awhile for a trim to run along the front edges. I decided on the gold and pale blue braided trim as it looked nice with the silk, and happened to be in my stash.

The doublet itself has very minimal boning in it. I always put boning in the back of a garment to smooth the space from the top of the corset to the shoulder. Otherwise, that is it. I didn’t want to mess with the nice drape of the front of the doublet, so I left it out. The duck cloth and the heavy piping held the shape very well, as did my heavily boned corset.

My favorite part of the doublet is the beading. I looked for small gold beads to replicate the portrait, but didn’t find anything similar, so I went with pearls that I had in my stash. 

The baragoni at the shoulders were made of a gold ribbon sewn into a tube, and two tubes made of the blue silk with piping on either side. They were loosely braided together and then sewn into the armhole to approximate the look of the style in the portrait.


The overskirt was cartridge pleated by hand and then hand-stitched on to the doublet by our lovely WP member Kim Nutzmann, who is an amazing seamstress. 

The doublet closes at the bottom with one large hook and eye, and then the skirt is tied closed down the front with velvet ribbons with long gold aglets on the ends.

The sleeves were made of another silk dupioni that was pre-embroidered, that I then beaded. Many hours of Law & Order, the USA Network and Reality TV contributed to their being finished. They are lined in coordinating plain gold silk, and have ribbons sewn into the shoulders with aglets on the ends, and lace into gold rings sewn into the armholes of the doublet. 

I also beaded a front panel that pins onto the front of my corset with straight pins.


I have learned over the past year how much accessories can make or break an outfit, and for accessories for the gown I made a coif out of pre-beaded, pre-pintucked silk dupioni. 

My girdle was very last minute, and is a heavy pearled necklace with a pearled tassel on the end. I am hoping to make a better one soon. The earrings are pearl drops that were put on earring backs, and the necklace was handmade by me based on a design in a beading magazine. It was my first real attempt at jewelry, and while not perfect, I am very happy with it. 

The dress was done at 2am the morning of the event (which beats last year’s staying up all night) and was incredibly comfortable all day. The only problem I had was that the skirt was too long, and I did trip on it several times, and caught the trim on the bottom and ripped part of it, requiring replacing a section of trim, and two velvet ties. I had left some space in the back of the doublet to be able to put some ice packs inside (I overheat very easily) and you couldn’t see them at all due to the shape of the boning in back.

I got a lot of compliments on the gown, and particularly the beading. The only issue I had was that the sleeves got very warm after awhile and had to be removed, and that I need to take a couple of links out of the necklace, as it kept drifting into my cleavage. I would also like to put a cuff of some sort on the sleeves as they ride up a bit, and it would be nice to have them a little bit longer.

Otherwise I was very happy with how the outfit turned out, and was frankly pretty amazed that I didn’t have anything major go wrong with it. And even though I have a bad tendency to sell/give away my outfits after I wear them once or twice, I am definitely keeping this one. You’ll have to pry those sleeves from my cold dead body. 


  You can contact Laura at lauraulak (at)

Would you like to be Showcased? E-mail me!


© 2001 - 2010 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.