Celebrating the 10th Anniversary of the Realm of Venus

The Italian Renaissance Costuming Challenge

 April 21 to August 21, 2011

Ashan Ekins

Location: New South Wales, Australia

Bio: I joined the SCA just on a year ago now, and only really began sewing around that time! I decided that as I've been attending more of the 'big' events, I should make something amazing, and this gives me a goal to work towards. I'm a novice sewer as well as a novice to Italian garb, having only sewn one and a half Italian garments before, so something could go horribly wrong!

Project: I'm going to really challenge myself with a 1560's Venetian style, similar to the one of Titian's daughter by Tiziano Vecellio. I intend to make drawers, an underskirt and a split-skirt overdress as well as a partlet, though it's likely I'll end up with a hat instead of a partlet!

I decided to begin with what I had and what I knew, so I could take it away to Festival with me. Which was great, as I got to groan to other participants about not doing enough sewing, and get bossed into working on more of it. (And met Victoria, as she notes, which was lovely!)

I had a lot of white linen sitting around, so beginning with the undergarments was the best plan for me. I had a commercial pattern for civil war pantaloons, which I shortened and cut slightly larger. I did leave the back open as per the original pattern, as experimenting with the first pattern proved how useful this is under huge skirts, and there are extant examples of drawers being open from waist to crotch! I did eliminate the waistband, as the first pair I made from this pattern had the problem of constantly tearing around the ties, and I feel this will be fixed with running a single length of ribbon or fabric through a channel, and another extant example appears to be constructed this way.

I've hand-stitched all the main seams, and just need to finish the waist to have the first item done. I'm not sure whether or not I will add embroidery, as I may run out of time as I also have full time uni to deal with. I'm currently planning to tea-dye the linen as I feel it's too bright.

June 6: I worked on the drawers. As I mentioned last time, I wasn't happy with how bright the linen was, so I tea stained it to give it a more appealing look, as I love the 'vintage' colour this gives fabric, even if it wouldn't have been done.

I apologise for the poor photo! I haven't yet ironed them to take photos on myself. (Not to mention it's too cold lately.) They're currently tied around the waist with a simple ribbon. In the future, I will likely replace that with lucet cord, but for the moment I am happy with them as they are.

I also added a simple line of embroidery down one side of the back opening. As one side generally overlaps the other, I felt that embroidering both sides would simply take up time- I may go back and add more later, but it's not high on my list.

So, first item: done to my satisfaction. I am, after all, a novice sewer, so I wanted to push my comfort level a little, but decided that hand-sewing, altering a pattern and basic embroidery was more than enough.

From there, I moved onto the second item. Again, I wanted something portable, because I began it on a movie night where we had friends over, so it couldn't take up much space. For this reasons, I began the partlet. I had a lighter, handkerchief weight linen piece lying around, so decided to give it a shot. I looked around everywhere online and could not find anything I liked the shape of, or that was appropriate for the period look I wanted. I then turned to the 'Period Patterns, German Puff and Slash' that I'd gotten but never used. They have three patterns for 'caplets', which I altered slightly to extend down below the bodice of my dress all around, and cut it as a single piece to avoid a seam at the back. I then hemmed it by hand.
I wasn't too worried about messy hemming; I always intended to add lace, and had picked up a perfect piece of what looks close enough to needle lace for me at a vintage store.

All in all, for my first attempt at a partlet, I was relatively happy. I'm thinking some embroidery, or perhaps even some starching would help the collar stand up a little more, but it's not a priority.
After that, I moved on to the item I've been wanting to make for a while! A red linen petticoat. I'm not sure, but every time I read about one in a will or clothing list, it's made me want one, badly. I had some bright Barbie pink linen I'd picked up at the end of summer sale. I then bath-dyed it to a scarlet red, which still has a vague pink undertone that I'm quite taken with. I then cartridge pleated it to a thin waistband. I was entirely unhappy with the first lot of pleating, so I unpicked the entire length, put in strips of suit wool, and re-pleated it all. I'm still not happy, but it will do for the moment.

A while ago, we picked up some black velveteen stage curtains for free. What better project than a guard for the petticoat? The only thing I am concerned about is that the weight of the velveteen may damage the thin linen of the skirt. I may line it later on, to protect it.
Tada! If I have time at the end, I will add a second, much thinner guard above the hem, but I'm quite happy with how it turned out!

However, my three initial successes (or what passes for them as a novice!) weren't to continue. I have the Reconstructing History pattern for the 'Burial' dress, and cut it out to my size. However, I'm really narrow around the back, and most of my measurement comes from my bust. The person I asked help from isn't really experienced with period fitting, so the result was pretty much a disaster. The bodice simply didn't reduce at all, and the side back lacing was a side lacing! So, instead of wrestle with it, I went with the assumption that side back lacing would be really hard for someone of my size, at least without help. So, I found some drill in red and blue, and used the early Tudor pattern from Reconstructing history and cut out the bodice for their middle layer gown. I then increased the two front panels to make an under bodice that would hook up the front. It looks wonky on my dress form, but it's much better on (I hope).
I didn't want to add too much bulk to it, because I was concerned the front seam would show under the overdress. So instead of sewing the layers together (I wanted the two for strength and more firmness) I'm binding the edges with thin bias binding I had in my stash.

I'm going to do a lot of hooks and eyes down the front to try and keep the line smoother, and because I need a fair bit of support. I'm fairly happy with how it's all turning out. I can only keep my fingers crossed that it turns out to be a good idea when the bodice is done!

July 18: The last few weeks have been a bit crazy for me, so I not been able to get as much done. I also completely changed my mind about the style of dress I wanted to do. Originally, I'd wanted to do a Venetian gown, but I ended up choosing to do a Florentine style gown instead, such as 'The Artist's Wife' portrait. I had some green velveteen in my stash, and just enough pink linen to make lining. Interesting colour combination I know, but it's what I had!

I gave up on the under bodice I'd been working on last month, because I needed to change the shape of it before it will work properly.

I still haven't had a chance to work on the actual bodice- failing being able to get help with fitting it sometime in the next week, I'll be adapting a petticoat pattern I have. I've made some decisions already, such as choosing to make my dress a back-lacing despite a lot of evidence for side or side back in Italian work. While I do like to try to use materials and shapes that are 'period', my past experiences have proven that without a strong bodice underneath, side lacing isn't supportive enough.

I began by tracing and cutting out a simple sleeve design, making it somewhat larger than my measurements so that it would be slightly loose to emulate the sleeve shapes of the Florentine fashions. 

I then folded down all the edges and tacked them down.

After tacking the edges down, I then pinned in the lining and sewed it all down before stitching it into a sleeve. Though I don't know if this is a documentable practice, I decided to do it this way so that I could unpick them and change the style without having to resew the lining each time.

August 16: After a few false starts, I decided attempting to draft my own bodice was hopeless. I ended up copying the style and shape from the first dress I made on my own and went with that. I shaped the blue twill wool around a canvas layer, and then tacked the entire lining in. My whole bodice was hand-stiched, and I hand-stitched the eyelets too. (I -hate- stitching through canvas!) 

Iíve included a photo of one of the other bodice attempts to show where I went wrong! When I took the straps up, I took it from the wrong side, which threw the entire shape out, and I just didnít have the time to fix it.

The bodice I went with is the third one of its shape that Iíve made- a pale blue linen one, and the second was a dress I was attempting to make months ago from the same wool I ended up using for this.

I also ended up completely unpicking the skirt panel from the second dress and reusing it for my current project. (It had no shaping at all, so all I did was slash all the lines holding the cartridge pleats to the original bodice and then redid them all for the current one.) The orange thread used was chosen because itís the strongest and thickest I have, and I ran out of time to go and buy more.

My final project was an apron. I used a cotton linen blend because I found that itís easier to work with. I ran gathering lines though with linen thread, and then used a silk thread to do the honeycomb pattern.

Ashan's Final Update

I apologise for the poor quality of the photos- developing a bad infection the day beforehand meant I couldnít stand being in the garb for too long. The final outfit ended up being a bit of a blend between areas - Iím happy with the end result, but I think I might make more sleeves, and a sheer partlet in the future to bring the outfit back to what I set out to make. While the apron and the general cut (except the back) feels Florentine enough for me, the sleeves are too narrow. I did have a lot of fun doing this all, and I feel itís a solid foundation to build up in the future. The fact I hand-sewed so much of the outfit really makes me happy with my improving abilities.



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