Carol Salloum

Harrisburg, North Carolina, USA

A Working-class Dress For Two Cultures:

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

Carol Says....


My name is Carol Salloum, I am a costumer and cast member at the Carolina Renaissance Festival near Charlotte, NC where I am known as Mistress Couture. I have been sewing since I was a child – Mom gave us scraps from the clothing she made for us and we made outfits for our dolls. I costume for various local theatre groups including the Old Courthouse Theatre in Concord. My creative passion is historical costuming from the 1500’s. I like to make costumes that are historically inspired and different from others seen at our Renaissance Festival. I have learned so much from the Realm of Venus and other sites that feature dress diaries. The first and fifteenth of every month I always check to see if there is a new showcase up!


Most of the costumes I have made are nobility or upper class. I decided that I wanted something lower on the social scale to wear when the weather does not cooperate at our outdoor Renaissance festival. The Campi Italian market women really appealed to me as did the paintings by Beuckelaer showing Flemish peasantry. Since many elements were similar, I decided to make a flexible costume that could be accessorized to fit either an Italian or Flemish market woman. So I went to my stash (my husband refers to it as inventory; or when it starts creeping into areas of the house where it doesn’t belong, he calls it kudzu!).

The Fruit Seller

The Kitchen

The Four Elements - Fire

The two primary inspiration paintings for the Italian look are by Vicenzo Campi. The partlet, gathered apron, and trailing ribbons from the shoulder straps are from The Fruit Seller. The side back lacing bodice is from The Kitchen. The primary inspiration painting for the Flemish look is by Joachim Beuckelaer The Four Elements, Fire, and shows the open front gown laced closed over the kirtle, the partlet worn over the gown, and the headdress. 

It wasn’t until I was putting together the showcase submission and researching the biographies of the inspiration artists that I discovered that both Vincenzo Campi and Joachim Beuckelaer were influenced by Pieter Aertsen. Per biographies in the Web Gallery of Art, “The Campi were a family of Italian painters in Cremona in the 16th century. In the north of Italy, where they had the splendid example of the Venetians and some knowledge of Flemish and German art… Vincenzo Campi trained under his brother Giulio. He painted mainly saints and portraits as well as genre-like still-lifes, like the two fruit and fishmongers’ paintings at the Brera, Milan. Both show that he was influenced by Pieter Aertsen.” and “…Beuckelaer was the nephew and pupil of Pieter Aertsen…” 

Common Smock

I had previously made the Italian chemise loosely based on the pattern from the Festive Attyre web site but my smocking at the neck edge had loosened and it frequently fell over my shoulders – so I needed a new smock. A bit of research on the web turned up an appealing smock design documented on Heather’s web pages. I hand smocked the center front, center back, and cuffs in black and a dark golden yellow on the outside, back-smocked it in white on the inside to maintain the look of the tiny pleats, and assembled the smock with French seams.

Common Partlet

For the partlet pattern, I went back to the Festive Attyre web site and used the pattern she published here. My partlet is made of white cotton with horsehair braid to stiffen the center front, center back, shoulder seams and the neck edge. It ties under the arms with twill tape ties and closes at the bottom front with a hook and a thread loop. For Italian style, the partlet is worn under the kirtle, and for Flemish style it is worn on top of the kirtle.

Common Sottana or Kirtle

I started with a basic kirtle using a side back lacing bodice pattern that originated from Jen Thompson’s Festive Attyre web site. The shoulder straps come from the back over the shoulder to the front. This way they are cut a little on the bias and it helps to hug the shoulder and keep the straps from slipping off. I cut two pieces of linen, sewed channels in it and used a long crochet hook to pull hemp cording through the channels.


For versatility I decided to make the kirtle reversible; blue on one side and a coordinating small stripe on the other side. The striped side shows the semi-bias cut of the shoulder straps very well. The bodice was assembled leaving a raw edge at the bottom. I used machine stitched eyelet holes opened with an awl in a spiral laced pattern to close the bodice. Each shoulder strap has three sets of two eyelet holes as well to pass a ribbon through to tie sleeves on. 

Each skirt was separately pleated to meet the bottom of the bodice which was sandwiched between the two skirts. The skirt side back seams were then sewn up and an opening with an extension from the back to tuck in was left at the bottom of each bodice opening. The hem on the blue side has a wool strip encased in the hem. The wool strip was attached where the raw edges of the skirt and strip met, and another row of stitches was made about half an inch from the wool’s other raw edge. The common raw edges were then pressed to the inside of the skirt and then pressed up again. On the right side of the skirt, a row of stitching was made half an inch from second pressing to form a tuck on the outside that encased the bottom raw edge of the skirt and wool strip. This tuck was pressed down towards the hem. Since the striped material is reversible, I pressed the raw edges to the right side of the skirt, finished the small section of visible side seam, put in a woollen strip and used a band of the blue fabric as and accent and to cover the raw edges.

Common Apron

Using plastic needlepoint canvas and a blue water soluble marking pen, I made a grid on my fabric two holes up and two holes over the width of my fabric and several rows deep. Then, using three strands of pale blue embroidery floss I worked a honeycomb smocking stitch across the fabric. There is an excellent tutorial on honeycomb smocking here
I hemmed the sides and bottom, added a tuck near the hem and some decorative stitches at the bottom for an accent. The waistband is a 1” wide twill tape and is backed with a strip of white cotton to cover the back of the area where the apron attaches to the waistband.

Common Sleeves

The sleeves were made using a pattern from the Tudor Tailor. They are reversible as well and have a wool inner lining for warmth. I made them extra long so that they can cover the wrists and much of the palm on cold days or be turned up to display the contrasting fabric as an accent cuff. The sleeves attach to the bodice by means of three rings sewn on to the sleeve head that correspond to the ribbons attached to the bodice shoulder straps.

Flemish outer garment

The linen rust/ tan outer garment is also totally reversible although I have always worn it rust side out. The bodice is made up of a v-shaped piece in the center back and the side back and side front is one piece with no shoulder seam. There are lacing rings sewing into the front seam which is stabilized with hemp cording. This bodice layout was inspired by Jen Thompson’s article / dress diary “Flemish Working Woman’s Dress Revisited”. The skirt back is full width fabric pleated to fit the bodice and the fronts are quarter circles with the center front opening on the straight of grain and the bias side is stitched to the back section. The bodice laces in a spiral lacing pattern with a narrow white twill tape that looks very striking against the darker background of the kirtle. There is also a set of reversible sleeves in the rust/ tan combination that are larger in diameter so the blue sleeves can be worn under them if desired.

Flemish Headdress

The headdress design was from Heather’s web site. I wanted the back longer, so I used the full width of the fabric. The portion that frames the face and the little curls by the ears have a cloth wrapped wire inserted between the layers and edge-stitched in place. When it is very cold, I wear a crocheted cap under the whole thing for an extra layer of warmth.

What I would have done differently

• Eliminate the flaps at the back of the kirtle – they rarely stay tucked in. It was an idea that just did not work as intended.
• Finish the ends of the horsehair braid. Every once in a while it gives me little poke to remind me.
• I love the overall shape that the hemp cording gives but do not like the ridges that can be seen. I would use smaller cording and perhaps add another layer of cloth as padding to make the ridges of the cording less visible.


  You can contact Carol at mistresscouture (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.