Sheree O. Paulson

North Carolina, USA

A Florentine Outfit in the Style
 of 1555

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

Sheree Says....


I am Sheree Ogle Paulson, 36. I live in North Carolina, US. I have been married ten years to a wonderful man. I have four children under seven, including five year old twins! So my time to sew is now limited.

I learned to sew as I learned to walk, at my mothers’ feet. My first sewing machine was a little plastic Hollie Hobbie machine that only made a straight chain stitch, but I had the best dressed Barbies in town!! As I grew older a love of art, history, literature, and theater slowly pointed me towards Costume History, Design and Construction.

Although I am mostly self taught, I did spend some time studying at The North Carolina School of the Arts in Winston-Salem, under VERY stressful circumstances (Art school is not recommended for the sound of mind or faint of heart!!). I decided if I was to continue loving the theater I needed to leave! I have been designing and constructing successfully, with a light heart ever since.

Why I chose this dress:

The portrait of Maria di Cosimo de Medici by Alessandro Allori, 1555, is currently at the Kunsthistorisches Museum. It can be viewed on the museum's web site under the artist's name. I acquired my copy of the portrait from 

First of all, who doesn’t love the blue?! It held a certain simplistic beauty for me in comparison to some contemporary portraits that seem a little over the top for my personal style preference. Upon researching Maria I ran across an excerpt in the book “The House of the Medici, Its Rise and Fall” page 269-270 that stated after her early death from Malaria at 17, her father could be found in his study weeping in front of her portrait often, once saying “Her constitution was like mine. She ought to have been allowed more fresh air.” How sad! Being a Daddy’s girl myself, this spoke to my heart.

I began collecting stuff for this dress about 6 months before I actually started putting it together. Everywhere I went and everything I saw, I thought Could I use this for my dress? But the first thing I recommend before starting a reproduction project is to obtain as good a copy of the portrait as you can lay your hands on. Referencing a portrait on line is just not good enough, as color and contrast, detail and clarity very drastically from monitor to monitor. There is simply nothing better than a hard copy to study and ponder over. It can save you a lot of time and money in looking for said “stuff”.

Without one I may have missed some very important details about this dress, for instance; the under sleeves on this dress are in fact SHEER with applied trim worn over a chemise with close fitting sleeves. Sheer fabrics were available in the period and can be seen in many contemporary portraits in the form of veils, partlets, etc. It is very apparent in the portrait at the elbows where you can see thru the sleeve to the background of the painting and see the chemise underneath. This is how the stripes appear to float over the sleeve. Just looking on line I would have never been able to see that detail.


Just as a paint job is only as good as the quality of the surface being painted, a gown is only as good as its foundation. The foundation of a 16th century gown is often referred to as the kirtle, petticoat, or a pair of bodies if it is made without the skirts and forepart attached (it all depends on who you ask!). Proper and authentic underthings are essential for a good fit, shape and posture while wearing a period gown. Which one you chose depends on what style of dress you desire. It can be argued in some instances, as in Venetian dress, that none were worn at all. I determined a kirtle should be worn under this gown. Without one you can not achieve the straight, smooth bodice necessary. I used the basic pattern for a side lacing kirtle from the “Tudor Tailor” by Ninya Mikhaila and Jane Malcolm-Davies as found on page 105 and 108, with some modifications (I can’t ever just leave anything alone!) based on Janet Arnold’s “Patterns of Fashion” page 9 illustration #37.

Here are a couple of photos of the mock up of the pattern I drafted for the kirtle. Shown on “Hilda” my 1950’s Singer dress form that I found at a Flea Market and re-covered. She is fully adjustable and has removable breast! A MUST for Renaissance costumers. Sometimes you can find them on Ebay.

I learned some very clever things in the process of putting it together that I believe merit being passed on:

The Kirtle is interlined with heavy weight cotton canvas, boned with plastic boning tipped with mole skin (you know the self adhesive stuff you put in your shoes to keep them from rubbing blisters, available at most drug stores) to keep it from wearing thru the fabric and digging into your skin. It is lined with plain white cotton muslin and the edges are bound with black stretchy velvet (not 100% authentic but it was easy peasy to sew around the curves and lays flat even without being cut on the bias which saves fabric and looks great!).

When stitching together the canvas interlining of the kirtle, instead of simply trimming the seams or pressing them open, I flat felled the seams and stitched them down adding extra stiffness and support to the bodice and in turn requiring less boning.


Another interesting discovery was changing the position of the shoulder seam. By moving it from the front of the gown or the more common top of the shoulder, to just below the shoulder in the back of the kirtle as seen in Janet Arnold’s “Patterns of Fashion” page 9 illustration #37, you not only relieve the stress on the seam from the weight of the skirts but also avoid the excess bulk of a top seam digging into your shoulder. The result is very comfortable.

From Janet Arnold’s “Patterns of Fashion” page 16 illustration #87 I learned to work my eyelets by hand over metal rings for strength and stability. In this case I used a button hole stitch over the largest Jump Rings (for beading) I could find. Then I placed a cylinder shaped bead at the end of my lacing strips and it made lacing myself into the kirtle very easy.

The kirtle is made from black taffeta (synthetic, not silk. This may displease some die hard enthusiast, but I have 4 children and simply could not afford the extra silk where no one but myself and my husband would ever see!!) I did however embroider the front for my own amusement. I have this great machine I might as well put it to use!


Something I also feel is important to the structure of a Spanish style gown (the gown is worn by an Italian woman in Italy, however it is in the style influenced by the Spanish Court.) is acquiring or making an authentic Farthingale and bum roll. Modern hoops, even “A” line ones just don’t have the proper shape that is nearly straight in the front with the fullness held out to the sides and back.

I used Margo Anderson’s pattern for mine. It really is fool proof and has fabulous directions and suggestions for construction. One tip she gives in regard to a good material for achieving the integrity of shape with adequate “give” for the “hoops” is refrigerator tubing found in various diameters at hardware stores. I suggest using a slightly larger diameter tube cut in 1 ½ inch lengths and slid each end of the tubing into it to secure the ends. This aids in putting it together and taking it apart easily for washing and storing it.

The forepart is a very light blue velvet of the same hue as the blue silk for the over dress (I did splurge for the real deal here). The forepart in the portrait is white, but I did not think this practical for the red clay dirt and mud we have here in North Carolina, so I compromised. I had a hard time finding suitable fabric for the forepart so in the end I used some of the built in stitches on my fabulous machine and many, many hours to embroider three lines of stitching per stripe (13 stripes in all) on the entire forepart (yes, I am aware I am nuts!). I drew the lines on with a water soluble marking pen so I could keep them straight and in the end I think it turned out very well.

The under sleeves were the biggest challenge for me. Not only in deliberating over WHAT they were made of but how the “stripes” were applied to keep them level around the period two part, bent at the elbow sleeve (think about it for a minute, it hurts!) This is the pattern draft and stripe layout I eventually came up with:

Note how the stripes are angled at the elbow? Yeah, I can’t even remember how I came about that mathematically but in the end it worked, so there!! Now as we all know, sewing sheer fabric is most always a nightmare followed by many colorful words! My solution? I transferred the pattern to iron on, tear away fabric stabilizer traditionally used for machine embroidery. Then I ironed on the sheer fabric and cut out the pattern. The result was a sturdy material that I could see the striped pattern placement thru in which I could easily follow and handle to sew the gold satin ribbon to with relative ease. I only wish I would have added one more stripe to the top. When I was done I gently tore away the paper part and sewed the sleeves together with very small French seams. Ta Da! Neat and tidy with no slipping! There is also a vertical band of picoted trim over the joining seam of the sleeve that can be seen on close examination of the portrait. I found it a very practical way to conceal an otherwise unattractive seam. The sleeves attach to the kirtle with ties. 

Ahhh! The partlet! I have to admit this was what first drew me to this dress. It is simply stunning. Again, a hard copy of the portrait was invaluable. From it I was able to discern and sketch the pattern of the embroidery and transfer it to the fabric (a thin white muslin) using my trusty blue water soluble marking pen (See photo 13). I used mostly simple satin and chain stitches to carry out the work and applied faux pearls. It is edged in a gold tone trim half concealed between the two fabric layers to achieve the desired “picot” look since bobbin lace making is NOT an art I have mastered yet (although it’s on my list!) The pattern for the partlet itself is a variation on the one that can be found in “The Tudor Tailor” on page 70. I am quite proud of how it turned out!

The over dress went together smoothly once the pattern was drafted, which I must admit took several tries. I think there is something like 12 yards of trim on it in total! It went together so smoothly in fact, I don’t have many photos of it because I didn’t stop! This is one photo I took which shows the doublet style bodice without the standing collar, cut out of the canvas interlining with side seams stitched, pressed with flat felled seams again.

I also “roll” hemmed the front edges of the bodice for extra strength where the hooks and eyes would go. I achieved this by stay stitching ¼ inch in from the edge and then rolling it under by steaming and pressing, carefully manipulating the fabric as I went. It laid very flat despite the curves and was a nice structure to sew the hooks and eyes to. 

I did put together and take apart the sleeves about four times because they were just too big. I looked more like a foot ball player than I cared to admit! Eventually I got them down to good size. The sleeves are sewn into the doublet and are made of a calico interlining and an outer lining of blue silk that the fabric straps were sewn to allowing them to hold their shape nicely. Here they are pinned up.

The bodice is constructed much the same as the kirtle bodice but with more of a modern lining for durability sake that comes over the inside edge of the cartridge pleats at the back waist. It is also interlined with heavy cotton canvas without boning, and lined with white cotton muslin. It closes at the front with alternating hooks and eyes.

The skirt pleats are padded with a 2 inch band of my interpretation of modern “cotton wadding”, the cottony, felt-ish stuff they use to pad ironing boards (I have no idea what its called, but it works well to pad doublets too!) and then cartridge pleated and hand sewn to the bodice with five itty bitty stitches per pleat.

The Garter, the Girdle, and the head piece were a lot of fun to put together. It ended up being a scavenger hunt of sorts to find all the right pieces. But I wound up taking apart several sets of costume jewelry, painting some, adding gems, making spacers and reassembling them.

Put it all together and what do you get? A slightly (hee, hee) older Maria di Cosimo de Medici!

I really enjoyed this project and everything I learned, including the benefit of “piecing” when you’re economizing your fabric as I did on the skirts of the kirtle! I learned a lot from accessing other peoples work on the internet and that is what inspired me to share my dress with you. I am eternally grateful to “The Realm of Venus” for making it possible, for my skills are at sewing, not computers!! I hope I have managed to pass along the things I learned in a helpful way. Who are we to learn from if not from each other?


  You can contact Sheree at LadyStitchNsew (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.