The Realm of Venus Presents....

talian howcase


Katherine Sanders

SCA Participant
A Florentine Gown in the style of Ghirlandaio


Katherine Says


My name is Katherine Sanders and I live in Edinburgh, Scotland. I’ve always been interested in historic clothes and the past but have only started to make them in the last year or two. I occasionally attend SCA meetings but life has been a bit troublesome so I am looking forward to doing more of that in the future. I did learn a lot about research from a couple of laurels in the shire (Harpelstane, Drachenwald) and that led me into looking at the Italian Renaissance, paintings available at the Web Gallery of Art and also to Bella’s inspiring site.

I came across the paintings of Domenico Ghirlandaio (see below) from browsing around the local art library, the Web Gallery of Art and finally from Jen’s ‘Festive Attyre’. I was attracted by the simple style, the modesty of the young ladies painted and the opportunity to do something that wouldn’t require a huge amount of pattern drafting. This was my first attempt at anything beyond a t-tunic, first attempt at Italian and first attempt at something that I wanted to look really nice (more on that later!)



Camicia neckline


Camicia cuff



The first step I took was to find suitable undergarments. Both Jen and Bella have recreated the camicia kept in the V&A (but not on show) which would give me the required puffiness through the sleeves. At the time I did not realise how much later it was than my dress but it gives a very appropriate effect and is a faithful copy of the original, since I made two trips to London to examine the extant garment ‘in the flesh’.  I took 3 metres of average width 100% linen and cut it into the appropriate panel widths, according to the measurements I took in the museum – the front and back are whole widths, the side panels are half widths. These were all sewn together (selvedges narrowly sewn together, raw edges with narrow run-and-fell seams) by hand, then I gathered the neckline down to the original size and, having secured the threads used for gathering, sewed it onto a linen band cut on the straight of grain. This is slightly counter intuitive – although it is hard to see on the original because of the red and yellow trim sewn onto the neck (and cuffs and hem), the band is sewn first onto the front of the garment (right side to right side), then folded entirely inside the garment so that it does NOT enclose the gathers at the top, and finally the raw edge inside is turned in so it is self-bound. The gathers stand rather proud of the neckline but this is consistent with the unadorned camicia seen in the portraits. I think it is possible this finish was the original and the garment in the V&A has been embellished later. This is confirmed by the confusion at the cuffs – they are similarly gathered onto a band but at some point seem to have had an eyelet for cord to pass through on one side.  I hope to publish an article on this in the Costume Journal of the UK, so can’t really say much more (although I would suggest reading Bella’s pages on the camicia!).



That was a lot of hand sewing and gave a very nice finish. The outer dress or gamurra I was less picky with. As I said, first attempt blah blah blah. I also intended to remake it in a proper fabric – the yellow fabric which makes the moiré body and skirt of the dress is a mystery fibre that smells extremely strange (and a little hallucinogenic) when ironed…  The sleeves are made from remnants of furnishing fabric obtained by the good offices of a friend. 


I began with trying to toile the four section bodice, using rough guidelines from Patterns of Fashion – this was not entirely successful and the bodice is, even having dropped quite a few pounds, not a great fit at the sides.  It was particularly difficult because there was a lacing gap at the front and a functional lacing at the side-back. From a rough calico toile, I drafted out bust darts and drew something that looked approximately right (pattern drafters avert your gaze!) – then I made another two layers in thick canvas, the top fabric a fusible interfacing.

This was tricky to sew together as my previous experience was of modern sewing, where you can sew everything together wrong sides out and then turn it through – this worked to an extent  but at the last I ended up folding in the seam allowances and oversewing with tiny stitches from the right side.

The next problem was how to join the sections with lacing: the painting I liked best showed very decorative lacing rings and I could not find anything similar. In the end, I took a tip from my local Laurel, Cate de Courcy, and found a cheap Indian necklace (in mystery metal), snipped the joining rings and found that I was left with a little flower that had four rings – three to sew onto the bodice and one for the narrow lace. At the side seams I used regular grommets punched through all layers of fabric (again, not something I would repeat).


The skirt was made from what little fabric I had left, cut into two panels which when gathered up made a really nice skirt. I ran two lines of gathering stitches, secured the fairly even gathers and then sewed them down, before attaching it to the bodice. At that point I sewed the bodice lining down over the skirt. What I should have done was mount the skirt fabric onto poly-cotton or, if I was being authentic which would be a waste with this yellow stuff, a linen or silk. That is a really important step I think. Anyway, that was relatively simple and a nice contrast to the sleeves.



Finished dress

Bodice and skirt

Ambrogio de Predis, Ragazza con Ciliegie 




The two part sleeves were another challenge to my non-existent pattern drafting. I really loved the painting by Ambrogio de Predis Ragazza con Ciliegie which was slightly different from the restrained Florentine style I originally aimed for. By this point I felt that since the fabric and construction methods of the gown were unauthentic, I should aim to have a little fun with it and use something with a little pizzazz, so a friend got me about half a metre of this lovely red checked fabric. It has a slight sheen and picked up the gold of the dress so it was an easy decision, plus I had run out of the moiré ‘silk’!


I drew rough shapes of what I thought the sleeves would look like when laid out flat, using measurements I took myself of my arms – again something I wouldn’t recommend.  These were transferred into cheap calico that I attempted to pin around my arm while looking into a mirror to see if they were sort of the right shape.  Not scientific but it worked, after a fashion!  The sleeves were pretty easy really, since I was not trying to draft a sleeve head to fit directly into the bodice, plus I didn’t actually want them to meet at the back so that the camicia could foof out through the gaps.  Once I was happy with the calico, I used that as a lining and pattern, to cut out the top fabric. These I shamelessly sewed in the modern style, turning out through a small gap which I then sewed shut from the right side, before punching holes and inserting grommets at the appropriate points. Overall these were quite successful, although the lower part is a little larger than it has to be. 

Finishing Touches

I had considered what kind of ties to use for a while. On the sleeves I used a standard satin ribbon in a burgundy red that toned with the sleeves, following the de Predis style of exuberant connections.  On the ends of the ribbons and on the charmingly named ‘rat-tail’ cord used for lacing the tiny loops of the front closure, I ordered some authentic brass aiglets from Annie the Pedlar, who sells all sorts of wonderful things at very reasonable prices.  They are based on finds from the Thames but which the archaeologists believe to be Italian, plus they look really nice. I have not had the time or money to produce a fazzoletto or sheer partlet but that is further down my list of jobs. 

All in all I was quite happy with this as a first attempt but am already planning a much later outfit for next year and will use lessons I learned on this – mounting fabric, having a friend help with measuring and pinning, not being content with quite such a rough guess at bodice dimensions, etc. 

I attempted a dress diary and found that was quite difficult to keep up with – there are however pictures of disastrous attempts at the camicia and shots of the calico pieces I drafted for the bodice, as well as a bit more about the research on the camicia. and it is the Ghirlandaio project.




Bella Says.....

I love this dress - especially the colours. Ok, so I'm biased, they're my heraldic colours, only reversed in emphasis ( my device is more red than gold). But that's not the only reason why I love this one. If fits well, the sleeves contrast, but also tie in with the dress. The aiglets look so nice with it too. I also love the fact that Katherine has chosen a cross-laced example to recreate - it shows that cross-lacing did in fact exist and was used on women's gowns, even if it was in a relatively narrow period of time and in only one place. Gotta love having something to show those who claim it was never done! If you would like to contact Katherine you can do so via her website.

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