Sarah Lorraine
(Lady Sarah Wydville)

Silicon Valley, California, USA
(Shire of Crosston, Principality of the Mists, West Kingdom)


A Venetian Outfit in the Style
 of circa 1555

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

Sarah Says....


I am known as Sarah Wydville in the SCA, local to the Principality of the Mists in the West Kingdom and am apprenticed to Duchess Juana Isabella de Montoya y Ramirez, OL. I discovered the SCA when I was 15 and for the last 16 years I have focused most of my efforts on the clothing of the gentry of 16th century Europe. My primary focus is 1560-1580 English upper class clothing and material culture, but every so often another time and/or place will lure me over for a bit of fun. I have a soft spot for 16th century Italy, primarily Venice and Florence, and occasionally I get the itch to create an Italian outfit. After visiting Venice in 2005, seeing first hand the incredible light that illuminates everything in brilliant shades of pinks and blues, my itch grew stronger to try to capture the feeling of floating down the Venetian Lagoon at dusk on a warm summer evening, and when the opportunity arose to create a new Venetian gown for a masked ball at this past March Crown, I knew exactly what I wanted to make.


The one single portrait that has always inspired me from mid-16th century Venice is that of Titian’s Woman in White, c. 1555. I’ve had this gown on the back burner for years, and it served as one of the primary inspirations for my other Venetian gown but I’ve longed to do a more faithful reproduction of the gown for a while now.

I wanted to stay as close as possible to the portrait when creating my outfit, but the first and only major deviation came along when I was in the process of choosing the fabric for the gown. I happen to be lucky in that I can wear white, and I had several yards of white silk satin on hand, but when it came down to it, I decided that since I was planning on actively wearing this gown to a myriad of events, both indoors and outside, and coupled with my own penchant for spilling things on myself, I decided to forgo the white silk satin in favor of a peculiar silk slipper satin I also had in my stash. The satin face of the fabric is a really unappealing putty color, but the reverse side (which has a more taffeta-like appearance) is a beautiful pale silvery-blue color that reminded me of my twilight cruise on the Venetian Lagoon, July 2005.

The Gown

The gown follows the basic construction of my typical mid-16th century low-necked bodices. During the toile stage, the standard bodice pattern was fitted with a center front opening that met edge to edge. I then subtracted a wedge from either side of the center front opening, about 2” at the top and angling down to about 1” at the point at the CF waistline, resulting in an opening that was 4” apart at the top, and 2” apart at the bottom. Doing this means that the CF is now slightly on the bias, so in order to prevent the fabric from warping along the closure, I interfaced with two layers of a heavy fustian and used a few strategically placed pieces of plastic whalebone along the CF edges, 2” back from the CF edges, and another 2” over from there. This created a very sturdy bodice with internal boning that enabled zthe gown to be worn without a corset. As I’m finding my tolerance for corseting is waning as I get older, this is a serious bonus! Please note, however, that there’s a lot of speculation here on my part as far as internal boning in bodices go… I only have one very brief mention of boning in Venetian bodices during the 16th century (Moda a Firenze) and cannot corroborate whether or not this was commonly done during this period.


I also decided to make a pointed waistline in the back, which is a feature of this timeframe in Venice, however it’s complete speculation on my part as to whether or not the gown in the portrait had this same waistline treatment. I had never attempted a pointed waistline in the back and I really just wanted to try it out. To that end, I boned the center back to keep the point stable, though it probably would have done okay without boning and just the weight of the skirt to keep it from flipping up. However, I wanted to mitigate any wrinkling that might occur along the waistline, so the boning was to ensure that everything stayed nice and smooth.

After the outer shell and the fustian interlining were sewn together and the boning was inserted between the interlining layers, I put in a yellow linen lining. Then bias tape made from the slipper satin was stitched to the raw edges of the neckline, armscyes, and waistlines. The curved edges were clipped and the bias tape was turned under and hand stitched down to the lining. Then a double row of 3/8” natural linen tape was hand stitched down to either side of the front opening, a’la Jen Thompson’s method of ladder lacing, found in her 1560s Venetian Gown diary.

The important feature of this particular style of gown is, of course, the ladder laced open front of the bodice. One of the easiest mistakes to make, however (and one, I hasten to add, that I’ve made myself) is to make the edges of the front point meet. If you look at portraits of Venetian women, you will see that the bodice does not meet at the waist, but rather there’s a distinct “U” shape at the base of the bodice closure. To accomplish that, I made the bodice about 2” smaller than my natural waist, and then lapped the edges of the skirt opening slightly, pinning them with a straight pin. This gives the correct “U” shape to the bodice point.

The skirt is a simple tube, lined with yellow linen, and is cartridge pleated to the bodice. I opted to add a band of gray cotton velvet around the hem to protect it from dirt and wear and tear. Unfortunately, something about the way it was attached caused the outer shell fabric to bunch slightly around the hem. It’s not terribly noticeable, but it will be fixed as soon as I have the time. 


The Underthings

As I mentioned above, I do not need to wear the gown over a corset, as it has sufficient integral support for my physique. The under layers consist of a white linen chemise, a saffron yellow linen petticoat and a pale yellow silk damask petticoat (made from a curtain I bought off of eBay a few years ago).

I pin a rectangle of white linen, gathered at one edge with lace, to act as a plastron over which the center front opening is laced. This allows for a continuous unbroken line of lace around the shoulders, and adds a bit of extra modesty since my chemise is fairly thin. I opted to stitch the lace directly to the neckline of the bodice because I have tried unsuccessfully over the years to create the “just peeking out around the edge of the neckline” effect with my chemises and they never want to play nice. Stitching the lace to the bodice, while I have no evidence that it was done in 16th century Venice, at least eliminates the guess work.

The Jewelry

The jewelry include two matching bracelets (store bought), a glass pearl and vermeil bead girdle with a small gold pomander (made by me), a replica of a late 16th century jewel by Steve Millingham and a necklace made from two replica Cheapside Hoarde bracelets that my sweetie bought for me from the Museum of London.


Other than my yellow damask petticoat, this gold strap work caul is almost constantly in use with various 16th century costumes. I originally created it for a 1580s Elizabethan ensemble, using 15 yards of some inexpensive trim I bought at my local Joann’s fabric store. I simply basket wove the trim as though I were making a placemat (hi, former Girl Scout), and then machine stitched in a circle, cut it out, gathered it and added a silk taffeta lining. The jeweled border you see is actually the biliaments from my French Hood. They are attached to a black velvet ribbon and can be worn alone.

In reality, a Venetian woman would have probably not worn such a caul, but would have had her hair elaborately braided. However, I do not have long enough hair to accomplish this, and these days, I have to be very careful about how much weight sits on my head, as I am prone to migraines. Therefore a hairpiece is not an option, as the amount of fake hair necessary to replicate a Venetian hairstyle would be too heavy for me. So, the caul is a good compromise, without sacrificing accuracy. 



The shoes bear special mention, even though they were not made by me. They were made by my boyfriend, Master Vyncent atte Wodegate (whose research on 16th century chopines has doubtless inspired a few of the previous Italian Showcase costumers to try their hand at making raised heel shoes). These are the most comfortable pair of shoes I own, and check out those tiny little stitches! 

I am terribly pleased with how this outfit turned out. I recently brought it all the way across the Atlantic Ocean for a holiday with various costumer friends in the UK and it survived the trip well, although a bit of last minute ironing was necessary. The dress has become known as “the Fairy Princess gown” because it just looks so utterly lovely and luminous in every kind of light. 


  You can contact Sarah at modehistorique (at) and visit her website by clicking here.

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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.