Celebrating the 10th Anniversary of the Realm of Venus

The Italian Renaissance Costuming Challenge

 April 21 to August 21,  2011

Amanda Stewart

Location: British Columbia, Canada

Bio: I love costuming of almost any time period and have made many Italian dresses for both myself and others. I am hoping with the challenge I can whittle down a teensy bit of my fabric stash to appease my husband, and give me a goal to strive towards.

Project: I have been eyeing up doing a very late period dress (1590-1610ish) with a standing ruff, partlet, petticoat, girdle and fan. I will most likely just bone the bodice of the dress rather than a separate corset for ease of wearing. I am a bit nervous about the possibility of "popping out" but I did say I wanted a challenge, right? If the dress doesn't go quite as planned, I am pretty sure I can rustle up another entry in time. After all, who doesn't like waiting until the last moment to finish a project?

Inspiration pictures. The first is Leandro Bassano, 1592: Concert, and the second is Giacomo Franco, 1609: A Ball.

I am going to be having adventures with Kool-Aid dying feathers for my fan, as the bright red ones I have are too red for my dress. The handle is from a vintage hairbrush that I found in a thrift store.

Was also really set on a side back/back closing dress, due to the large pattern of my fabric, but the Bassano Concert picture really calls to me, and the ease of a front closer is so handy for getting ready for an event on my own. Decisions decisions.

I had some lace I had ordered for my wedding dress that I never used, but the fact that it doesn't have the nice points on it like all the paintings from the era have makes me hesitate to use it. I did manage to find some lovely pointed lace on sale today, but it's shiny and polyester. If anyone has any tips on dulling polyester lace to make it look decent next to cotton/linen, I am all ears. Wasn't sure if starching would do it, and from what I have read, dye doesn't take well to synthetics, nor do I think it would dull the shine on the threads themselves.

I was able to find a silk sari for $8, and thought it would make a pretty underskirt, and the burgundy that is on either end matches almost perfectly the red in my dress, so it may be used as another accessory.

June 8: Being the fickle sort that I am, and after doing a marathon of the new series "The Borgias", I have decided to not do a 1590's outfit, but am choosing to switch mid competition to a 1495 style similar to Albrecht Durer's 1495 Drawing of Venetian Lady. 

I have been wanting to do a dress using the colors of my shire, Lionsdale, which are green, black and gold. 

I have been packing around 10 yards of green velvet for close to 10 years now, and I think it may have aged enough to be used in a project ;)


My other main inspiration is these lovely gold lion head buttons that have also been waiting for the right project to come about.
I should be able to get some actual construction and beading done within the next week, there have been several projects that cropped up unexpectedly that needed to be done before I could start on this one. (3 vaulting outfits, and an Elizabethan outfit for my sister's boyfriend)

So the new plan is corset, chemise/underskirt combo, dress, fan, girdle, shoes, possibly a caul. Here's hoping I don't run out of beads =D

June 28: Been busy working on beading up the sleeves for my dress, still in keeping with my gold, black and green theme. I have also been working on a hair caul, but am so far uninspired by it. Going to try and get it finished anyways, if not for this outfit, maybe for a different one. Also in this update is my short corset based off the effigy, minus the straps currently, though I am beginning to think I will need them. Will have to see once I get my boning in.

That's all for now, will try and get the sleeves and corset done for the next update.

July 24: It has been slow going due to there being nice weather and schedule changes at work. I am almost done beading all my sleeve pieces, and have cut out some velvet to face them with. Still debating what to use to attach them to the dress and to each other.

There are some issues with the corset I made though... *sigh*

It's been a while since I have made a corset with tabs, and I had forgotten how exactly to construct it for minimum aggravation. Binding the edge is not minimal aggravation >.< After restarting it 3 times and deciding good enough, I decided to do some very pretty machine stitching to make it prettier. I should have also remembered from past projects that metallic thread hates me, and after it broke for the 8th time trying to do the design. So it doesn't look as pretty as I wanted it to. The boning I used is actually plastic lumber strapping I get for free from Rona, and is a lovely shade of bright green that shows through my corset fabric. the plan is to work with this for right now, but if I have time, I am making a new one.

I also started working my my chemise/underskirt combo. the fabric for the chemise is from a sari with gold thread on the borders. I am gathering the outer threads and leaving the ones with a diamond pattern ungathered. The sari itself is only 2 yards, so I am hoping I will have enough for the top and the sleeves. In theory I should.

Still looking for some leather for making a belt/girdle with, the thrift stores have yet to yield me anything that is suitable.

The next 3 weeks will be mad power sewing to get the whole outfit finished, but then I tend to work best under pressure for this sort of thing. ;)

Amanda's Final Update
Finished..yays! Not sure that I will win any points for being authentic, but at least it looks kinda pretty ;)

So I cheated a bit on the Chemise/underskirt. I didn't have enough fabric for a full chemise from the sari, and I didn't have enough for the underskirt to be an under dress, so I combined the two into one piece. I wanted to use the border on either end of the sari for the neckline and the cuffs, and I had *almost* enough to do it. I ended up having to go buy some linen that was as close in weave and color to the fabric it's out of to make underarm gussets to give some movement room. French seams hold the cream fabric together, shifty stuff that it is. Not going to work with fabric that fragile again for a while. The skirt part of the under dress is 2 panels of impostor silk (polyester...*shudder*) but was exactly the right colors, and had a neat texture. The hem is all hand done and the cuffs have pearl and bead buttons I made up in a jiffy.

I had forgotten how much I hate sewing velvet when I decided to make the main dress out of some green cotton velvet I had laying around. Hand basting every seam and using a walking foot, and still there were a couple slip-ups. The skirt is 4 panels of 60" widths of fabric all pleated to a couple pieces of grosgrain ribbon. Hand sewing the hem was tedious, but I made it through by watching Firefly while doing it :) The dress is side laced with some brass washers I picked up from a rummage bin at an SCA event, with a bit of ridgeline boning to keep it straight-ish. The gold bullion trim was pilfered off a kameez found at a thrift store and then hand stitched on. Very period thing to do, stealing trim from an old dress to put onto a new one. 
The upper and lower sleeves are what took the longest, each of the little motifs takes about 15-30 minutes, depending on work, and how many times I was interrupted. I recycled some of the fabric from the kameez my dress neckline trim came from, and used that to line and hand bind the edges of the sleeves and the front insert. The ties are made from some braided upholstery trim that I unwound from the core and used as individual ribbons. Much cheaper than velvet ribbon. The ties are anchored to the sleeves with lion head buttons, painted to more closely match the gold of the sleeves and underskirt.

  I made the girdle from 2 leather belts I found at a thrift store, beaded them up with some glass beads, pearls, spare lion head buttons, and some plastic beads that I painted to match the giant lions head door knocker (knocker removed to prevent easy jokes). The pomander is a Christmas tree ornament I picked up a few years ago because it was pretty. I may restring the girdle so that the ornament hangs either higher or lower, as right now it's great for bashing knees when I walk, and other things when I dance.

The shoes I found also at a thrift store (can you tell I like thrift store shopping?) and did a quick and dirty covering of them with some spare velvet left over from my dress, and finished them with some gold cord left over trim, and upholstery tacks that pushed in fairly easily to the foam the shoes were made of. Chopines that aren't too difficult to walk in.

Hairnet crocheted by my husband, and AoA restrung by myself a few years ago, along with a pearl necklace complete the outfit.

Final tally:

Corset-Quasi period
Chemise/underskirt-not so period
Overdress and sleeves- pretty period
Girdle-fairly period
Chopines-they kinda look period

Was definitely an adventure doing this, I wish I had spend more time planning and less time rushing at the end, but then that's how I tend to do the majority of my projects. Big thanks to Bella for being so awesome and herding all us cats towards the finish line, congrats to all those who lasted until the end, and much for the folks who knew to not distract me, even if I wanted to be distracted.


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