Anna Stuart
(Lady Jennett de la Montaigne)

Wellington, New Zealand
(Proto-College of St Aemigdius, Kingdom of Lochac)


A Florentine Outfit in the Style
 of 1555


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

Anna Says....

My name is Lady Jennett and Iím the Arts and Sciences officer for the Proto-College of St Aemigdius in the Shire of Darton. Only two years ago I had next to nil sewing skills, and was made to sit down in front of a borrowed sewing machine and forced to put together a couple of kirtles in time for my first Canterbury Faire. I hated it. But then I saw the lovely garb of the lovely ladies of Lochac and some sewing monster awoke inside me. I went straight home brimming full of enthusiasm and began to teach myself how to fit and sew my own speccy gowns. Now I absolutely love creating my own fabulously beautiful dresses (I started 30 items this last year) and have a living area cluttered by fabric, loose needles and bits of old thread.

This gown was inspired by the infamous portrait by Alessandro Allori in 1555. It is debated whether the woman in the portrait is Isabelle de Medici, her cousin Leonore de Toledo (not to be confused with her aunt Eleonore de Toledo) or Marie de Medici. Whoever she is, she is dressed beautifully. Like all the others on Realm of Venus who have re-created this one, I was attracted to this portrait by the gorgeous blue colour of her gown. I just love her shy smile Ė she knows just how lovely she looks.

As a student on a small budget I tried to keep costs down Ė unfortunately that meant silks were out. The image on my screen looked to me like the blue had a slightly purple hue, so I was lucky to find several metres of blue/purple shot taffeta that was a perfect match. I also found a bargain on the black and gold trim. 

I started by working on the bodice from a doublet pattern I had from a previous project. In order to get the straight lines on the bodice, I put boning channels directly into the over gown bodice. Being slender, I only had to sew channels down the front to flatten my chest and down the side seams to create the correct torso shape. Cheap plastic poly-boning seemed to be the best option. The neckline is scooped with a small collar at the back as I didnít want the open collar of the doublet shape to dominate the look of the neckline when the embroidered partlet is supposed to be the focus. The bodice closes up the front with hooks and eyes.

The sleeve caps are created by sewing strips of taffeta and trim to a band that would circle my arm. Each strip was linked to the other by a few stitches so that when pushed up the arm, the join would create the double roll. A gathered rectangle of cotton/linen forms the puffs, while behind that a smaller band pulls the arm band higher. This causes the rolls to be loose and the puffs have to be carefully pulled through to make them even. The sleeves are of yellow organza, with bands of yellow trim individually hand stitched into straight lines. The seams are hidden beneath gold trim embedded with fake pearls. 

At this point I thought I should actually decide how I was going to make the skirts. The historically accurate thing to do would be to make a kirtle to wear underneath. On my limited budget however, that wasnít going to be possible. I had a metre of cotton, and so cut out a triangular shape. This was covered in the same yellow organza as the sleeves to create the shimmery look. Three lines of silver and gold trim were sewn to the organza. 

I then took 2.5m of my remaining taffeta and pleated it into a skirt. This is where it got a little squiggly. Iíd ordered a new farthingale as the one Iíd made for myself was uncomfortable to wear. Unfortunately the new farthingale was wider at the base than the old one, and the skirt I had made from the taffeta wasnít long enough. Scrounging around, I managed to make up two triangular pieces for the front of the skirt to make it fit. Next time I know to make the skirt big enough first go, so that I donít end up with obvious seams down the front of the gown. The skirt was then attached to the bodice and edged with trim.

Now for my favourite part of the whole ensemble Ė the partlet. This was the piece I really wanted to do well on, so I found some nice pure linen in my stash to work with. Thanks to the research on, I drew up a pattern for the embroidery. The embroidery is done in three panels, two front ones and a longer back section. A longer section at the top was gathered to create a ruffle. The sections were sewn together individually and then backed with another layer of linen to hide the back of the embroidery. Gold lace with pearls attached by hand was whip stitched to the edges. In order to make the partlet stand as proudly as it does in the portrait, I attached millinery wire to the back. This wasnít such a good idea in hindsight, as the wire is now slipping within the stitches. 

The entire thing was almost finished, so I took a break for a few months and went to Egypt for a month, where I worked on an archaeological survey of a Neolithic site in the desert. Unfortunately a month of hauling gear through sand and a no fat diet can completely change a girlís body shape. Three weeks before I needed to complete the dress, I tried it on for the first time since my return and found I couldnít close it without suffocating, nor could I fit my newly muscled arms through the sleeve caps. Cue panic. Luckily I was able to add strips of taffeta on either side of the front opening, hiding the seams behind the trim, which made the bodice big enough for me to breathe in. However, this made the neckline gape open. As for the arms, once the bodice was bigger, they somehow miraculously fitted again.

The jewellery is an odd assortment of pieces. The best is the longer necklace, a replica from the portrait made by Illusion Jewels. This is the most expensive item of the whole outfit, a birthday gift to myself. The shorter necklace is a double chain of pearls. The girdle was a chain belt found on a local auction site, with the large jewel on the chain added from a yet another necklace. To make the headdress, fake pearls and jewels were sewn onto a tube of fabric through which wire was inserted to make a circlet. The earrings are a simple pair of pearls. My hair is too short to do anything with but fluff it.

I loved making this gown and I loved wearing it. It was kind to my budget too, costing less than $100 in materials. I was able to finish it in time and wore it to the feast at Canterbury Faire 2011. Catching the eye of the Crown and every Laurel in the place, I was asked to pose for numerous photos, and the very next day was given the token for the Order of the Golden Lily. I am very proud to have come so far in such a short time and have this beautiful gown to show for it. 



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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.