Trystan L. Bass
(Lady Violet Ruthvene)

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


A Florentine Outfit in the Style
 of  the 1560s


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

Trystan Says....


I've been sewing since I was a kid, taught by my mom and grand mom. I fell in love with the English renaissance when I first saw "Elizabeth R" starring Glenda Jackson on PBS in the 1970s, and soon after, my mom took me to the original renaissance faire in Northern California. In my 20s, I participated in Ren-Faire guilds portraying nobility and later dabbled in every form of costume from Lord of the Rings elf gowns to 18th-century polonaises. Five years ago, I joined the Society for Creative Anachronism and returned to my first love, the 16th century, where I portray a lowland Scots gentlewoman. However, I've begun to test the waters of Italian Renaissance costume a little bit. 

The Inspiration 

I needed a new gown for 12th Night because one of my best friends, Sarah Lorraine,  was being elevated to the Order of the Laurel in the SCA. I was participating in her procession, so I had to look good too. She was making a Florentine gown and that inspired me and my other best friend to make coordinating Florentine gowns.

I chose the portrait of Isabella de Medici circa 1560 by Bronzino to base my gown on, though I didn't intend a strict recreation. I just liked the overall design and color scheme of the gown in the portrait.

The Undergarments

Starting from the skin out, I needed a new smock or camicia. I wanted that lovely ruffled neckline in this portrait and others of the era as shown in "Moda a Firenze." I had some lightweight linen in my stash and used my modified pattern from Drea Leed's smock generator. The neck ruffles were a fussy affair to create, requiring much hand-finishing. Unfortunately, I never had time to add ruffles to the sleeve cuffs.

Over this, I wore a corset made years ago for me by Sarah and based on the Queen Elizabeth effigy stays. It's boned with a mix of reed and steel. Yes, it's questionable if Florentine women wore stays at this point in time, but I like 'em! It gives the right shape and eliminates the need for bulking up the structure of the gown itself.

Another piece of questionably historically accurate underwear is my corded petticoat. I made this out of some cherry-colored faille scrounged from my stash, and I used the farthingale pattern from "The Tudor Tailor." I'd scaled this up to make a proper farthingale years earlier.

For the "boning," I used a heavy cotton rope from the hardware store, encased in black grosgrain ribbon. A few pleats in the front and back of the waistband, ribbon waist ties, and it was done. This petticoat had just the right stiffness to hold out the fancy silk petticoat under my gown.

The Gown 

All the materials came from my stash -- I'd been saving them for "something special someday," and that day finally arrived!

The bodice pattern was draped on me by Sarah. I machine-sewed it from a black linen lining, a black canvas interlining, and a black silk taffeta exterior. I sewed hook-and-eye tape up the center front for a closure, then added the collar by hand (made from a pattern I'd drafted before).

I had a variety of silver trims in the stash, and it took a while to decide on which combination to use. I settled on using a wide silver lace with a narrow, darker silver braid down the center. The wide lace could be sewn by machine, but the narrow trim had to be sewn on by hand (tried it on the machine, but that was more difficult, plus it flattened out the trim unattractively).

Then came the Gigantic Sleeves of D00m! I started with my usual base 16th-century sleeve, which is from Jean Hunnisett's "Period Costume for Stage & Screen: Patterns for Women's Dress 1500-1800." It's the basic sleeve on page 64, a straight, one-seam 16th-century sleeve. Iíve used this perhaps a dozen times, and it always works. For the top part, I cannibalised sleeve patterns I had drafted for past projects, making several muslin mock-ups to get the shape and size I liked.

After cutting out the final pieces in silk, all 14 panes for the slashed-and-puffed sleeves had to be piped on both sides (I had some silver piping in the stash; thank goodness I didn't have to make all that piping from scratch too!). Then I realized that I didn't have enough of the wide silver lace for all of the panes. But I did have yet another type of silver trim in the stash -- and if I doubled that, it would coordinate. Whew! So I hand-sewed three lines of trim on every pane. And lastly added a pearl and hematite bead cluster in the center of each pane.

But could I get the sleeves as big and puffy as I wanted? The moment of truth was at hand. I stuffed the white silk taffeta lining under the panes with silk organza. And more silk organza! I sewed the whole thing together and hoped and prayed it would work. I had to trim the rest of the sleeve and finish the cuff before I'd know. Not until I sewed up the side seam and turned the sleeve right-side out did I see that, OMG, yes, the sleeve looked exactly like I wanted it to. Huzzah!

The skirt was simple -- it's just three panels of silk, sewn into a tube. I trimmed the front edges with the last of the silver lace and the narrow silver trim, then cartridge-pleated the skirt and sewed it by hand to the bodice edge (which I'd first hand-finished with a bias strip of black silk to enclose the raw edge). I did cheat in the interest of time and hem the skirt with my pal Steam-a-Seam. That stuff works fabulously on silk.

The petticoat is made from the same pattern as the corded petticoat underneath it. I used some generic black satin fabric from the stash (since it wouldn't show) and then sewed the fancy black-and-white embroidered silk on the center front.

The Accessories

Like the gown, most of my accessories were made from things I already had on hand. Only a few items were bought to complete the outfit.


I used glass pearls, black glass beads, and silver filigree beads from the stash, along with a necklace of large oval-shaped filigree beads I bought off eBay, to make a girdle. Unfortunately, even when measuring, it turned out too short to wear at 12th Night. I restrung it to wear at the Crosston Shire Ball later that month though.

I made some pearl teardrop earrings for the outfit (more stash materials) because all my other period earrings are gold-based. I've been holding onto a pair of silver and pearl necklaces that I found at the mall for years, waiting for exactly this type of outfit. They drape nicely over the black enamel, pearl, and silver cross brooch I bought off eBay to pin at the neck of the gown.

On my feet are hand-made, 16th-century slashed leather shoes with burgundy silk lining, made by Francis Classe, who gave them to me as a 12th Night gift the previous year. I wear them with most of my period gowns. I have simple black hose bought from somewhere I can't remember. 

At 12th Night, I styled my hair with the help of Kendra Van Cleave and had my own hair braided, then used several fake hair braids (bought on eBay) that I'd woven strands of pearls in. Unfortunately, this hairstyle was too tight and sat too low on my head, so it gave me a headache by the end of the laurelling ceremony. When I wore the gown later that month, I wore a half-wig topped by these pearled braids, plus lots of little pearl-topped bobby pins. This is a less historically accurate style, but it's very pretty. It was somewhat more comfortable -- it took four hours until I got a headache instead of two ;-)


Overall, I'm pleased with how this outfit turned out. I feel fabulous wearing it because it's my favorite color combination, the materials are beautiful, it fits well, and it's just so gosh-darn princess-y. Maybe I'll try Italian again...

These photos by Wendi Koble.


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© 2001 - 2012 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.