Renee Larson

Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA


A Venetian Outfit in the Style
 of  the 1560s

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

Renee Says....


My name is Renee Larson and I have been sewing for many years, but this was my first adventure in making my own costume. I learned to sew from my mother who made almost all of my clothes until I was in Junior High. Sewing was always a hobby throughout my other career adventures, and now it has become more of my livelihood. After I started selling sewing machines for a living I became more interested and have learned a great deal more about digitising and embroidery. And now I have developed a slight case of obsessive-compulsive disorder when it comes to digitising. A large percentage of my wardrobe is now embroidered.

I have sewn my own clothing for years and years, including the formal I wore for the Zeta Psi formal (many years ago), and only got into costuming when my arm was twisted into joining the “Wench Posse,” a group of like-minded OCD costuming friends. Who knew I would end up on the Board of the Minnesota Society of Costumers.

Last year I got to dress up as Katherine of Aragon when the WP recreated the outfits of King Henry VIII and his Six Wives. The plan for 2010 was to have a Courtesan Invasion at Minnesota Renaissance Festival, with all of us having a different specialty. (I played the dominatrix.) As much hair as I ripped out in doing this (those hairstyles are complicated!) I have signed on for next year’s adventure and look forward to more sleepless nights un-sewing my seams. 

Being on an extreme budget, I was very self-conscious of the expenditures involved in creating the costume. The gold and black brocade fabric I used for the gown was found while raiding my friend’s stash, saving yet another year of her life by preventing her from dying with the most fabric. It is a poly blend that is very shiny.

For the camicia, I used Laura Ulak’s square neck chemise pattern, but without the under-bust drawstring. I did, however, embroider the neckline with a wing needle entredeux pattern in white on white. It looks lovely if I say so myself. It is made of white cotton muslin (bought on sale – I had a coupon!). Due to time constraints I did not finish the cuffs of the sleeves (other than serging) and this will be remedied prior to its next wearing.

My corset was a joint effort. Our group’s corsetiere Erin Schneider drafted the pattern from the Elizabethan Corset Generator. I used a layer of cotton duck on the inside and a shiny Asian style brocade fashion fabric for the outside (for this one I had TWO coupons). I sewed the entire thing together, and after ripping out boning channels at least once, added grommets to it using the WP’s now deceased Purple Grommeter of Glory (R.I.P). For lacing I used twill tape as I thought it would give me a stronger hold. It is bound in bias tape, and the boning is plastic cable ties from Lowes. 

Because I was wearing this as a Courtesan, I chose to make it a split-front gown. Consequently, I made flannel-lined black satin bloomers (cause it gets cold in MN!) to wear underneath, that I wore with white cotton socks (on clearance at Target!) and my $5.00 ballet flats from Wal-Mart that a WP member spray-painted red for me. The bloomers have elastic cuffs at the knees and a drawstring at the waistline. Note: You should have bleach on hand for your white socks when worn with spray painted shoes. 

The gown was made to look like a traditional Venetian as seen in many portraits. It is boned in the back to eliminate the bulge that happens above your corset when you are tightly corseted, and boned in the front on either side of the opening to keep the lacing straight. Laura helped draft a bodice muslin using Margo Anderson’s Elizabethan patterns (that we then modified), and I used Jen Thompson’s method for ribbon lacing in the front. Sadly I got very excited and sewed the entire bodice together (plus serging seams!) only to discover that I needed an inter-lining for the boning channels. (Do not try this at home.) I sadly ripped it out more than once. The bodice portion is lined in cotton/poly broadcloth (again with a coupon!). The overskirt is unlined, and knife pleated into the waist of the bodice to reduce bulk. I am proud of the matching patterns of my pleats, as it was its own adventure. Because I kept stepping on the skirt at the fest we did a kind of “polonaise” to the sides using safety pins. (Shh! Don’t tell!) This will be done properly (with rings and ribbon) before its next outing.


The sleeves were made from one of Laura’s personal patterns that we then reversed the opening on, so the sleeves closed down the front of the arm with buttons and loops. They tie into the armhole openings of the gown with ribbons and home decorator plastic rings (coupon!). The buttons were on clearance at one of the Wal-Marts that were closing their sewing department. They are pearl cabs surrounded by antiqued silver filigree. You can’t tell that they are made of plastic. If you are close enough to tell they are plastic you better have bought me dinner!

I lined the sleeves in white muslin (left over from the camicia) to save money and to blend with the sleeves that were poking through the openings. The outer fabric matches the gown. 

The bodice laces with antiqued gold cording bought in the 11th hour, again with a coupon. 

There is a false front (as seen in various ROV showcases) that is hand stitched into place on one side of the bodice, and is safety pinned to the other side. I am also planning on putting in snaps at some point instead of the pins. I also learned that the lacing ribbons on either side of the V opening need to be REALLY reinforced lest you be spontaneously unlaced. They were the bane of my existence, but are now stitched down so tightly I do not remove the gold cording, and require help to get out of the gown. It is a less than delicate procedure.

The jewelry was either A) borrowed, or B) found at an estate sale or C) created from pieces bought on sale at Wal-Mart and Joann Fabrics. I borrowed some pearl drop earrings and a long string of pearls. I wore a double pearl strand I bought at an estate sale, a decorative cross pendant on a chain that I bought from another WP member, rings I found at Wal-Mart, and a girdle made of chains that looked like tiny little hand-cuffs in the clearance bin at Joann.

I borrowed a curly fake hair clip from another WP member (I have really good friends!) and pearl bobby-pins I found at Joann Fabrics (BOGO!). My co-worker made me a little drawstring pouch for my necessities, and another co-worker (former equestrian) lent me a riding crop to complete the accessories. (For detailed photos I am wearing my hair in a bun – the spare hair being unavailable that day).

The entire outfit was completed at 1am the morning of the event, and boy was I tired. It was a comfortable outfit to wear, and I had a great day with my friends on an enjoyable but seldom seen weekend day off. My advice to others is to start early in procuring fabric and accessories, and to always be the Keeper of the Coupon. You can make something really fun and lovely on a budget.


  You can contact Renee at Reneedj3 (at)

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© 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.