Celebrating the 10th Anniversary of the Realm of Venus

The Italian Renaissance Costuming Challenge

 April 21 to August 21, 2011

Elizabeth Thumann

Location: Pennsylvania, USA

Bio: I started sewing Renaissance clothing about seven years ago. I enjoy the challenge the comes from sewing for the different cultures and time periods that are represented in my SCA household- we have everything from ancient Greek to 14th century English to Mongolian. I've made several Italian gowns before, but would like to branch into something elaborate. I have a tendency to sew for others rather than myself, so my biggest challenge for this competition will be to design and sew a gown for myself for once!

Project: I would like to make a Florentine gown of the late 1500's, drawing inspiration from several favorite portraits. If I have time, I would like to also make an accompanying outfit for my husband.

Project Blog: http://wolfsclothes.blogspot.com/

My first project for the competition is going to be an outfit for my husband very similar to the burial outfit of Don Garzia de Medici.  I'm making some small modifications to the outfit, primarily that my husband wanted the entire outfit out of velvet rather than a satin doublet.  I'm trying to keep most everything else, including much of the trim, identical to the original.  I'm going to be making a black-worked shirt, the cappotto and a hat for him as well.

June 11: I switched over to working on my gown for the competition and have completed my chemise and drawers. Both were made out of lightweight white linen. The embroidery was done by machine. The chemise was made using Margo Anderson's low necked smock pattern and the cuffs were smocked before the embroidered bands and lace were added. The drawers pattern was cobbled together from some pyjama pants patterns I had. The front was left open and closes with hook and eyes.

June 24: I had surgery on June 8th, so I've been unable to go up the stairs to my sewing room on the third floor. Luckily, the night before the surgery, my sister helped me pack up some hand sewing projects I could do downstairs while I recovered. I've been making the buttons for my husband's doublet. I've finished 14 thread wrapped buttons. They were made by wrapping embroidery thread around wooden beads, using the tutorial found at The Renaissance Tailor. The buttons are time consuming, but pretty easy to do while watching TV, and I think they'll look great on the finished project. 

August 1: For July, the good news was that our SCA household acquired two new members who were going to Pennsic for the first time. The bad news is that they had almost no clothing, and certainly not enough to get through a whole war. So I spent most of July sewing for them, and finally finished the very last piece and turned back to the project. When I realized how quickly the deadline is approaching, I decided to put the male outfit for my husband aside to be finished at a later date and focus on my gown. 

I started my blue underskirt and sleeves and got them almost completed before putting them on the dress form, taking a step back and realizing that I hate everything about the fabric. It's too shiny, it doesn't drape right and it had the tiniest bit of stretch, which caused the trim at the bottom to pucker.

So I scrapped that and decided to start over with different fabric from the stash.

I also have been working on the meshwork and beading for my caul. 

Elizabeth's Final Update

I started this competition wanting to make an outfit for myself and one for my husband. However, in the end I finished with just my gown. Sewing for myself has always presented difficulties. I have been a paraplegic for the past six years, after I was paralysed in a car accident at 23. Because of this, details such as accurate measurements, the fit of skirts and the use of foundation garments can present problems. In addition to these concerns, the timing of this competition proved to be a challenge in itself. At the end of May I had a week of intensive physical therapy at a spinal cord injury clinic and at the beginning of June I had surgery, both of which altered my body and made previous measurements and pattern drafting obsolete. I had to wait until I was healed from surgery to begin construction on most of my gown.

I don't finish projects if I don't love them. Life is too short to toil away on things that aren't worth it. So I have to say that while there are things I would change about my gown, primarily fit concerns, I am absolutely in love with this dress. I loved the portrait that it is based on and I love the finished project. As the portrait only shows the head and shoulders, I had to guess at the sleeves and the bottom half of the gown, using other portraits from the period as inspiration.

Layer 1: The first layer for the competition was my chemise. It was made out of very lightweight linen and decorated with machine embroidery at the hem, neck, cuffs, sleeves and seams. The neckline and cuffs are trimmed with small lace trim. 
Layer 2: The second layer was my underskirt and sleeves. I had started thinking that I wanted the sleeves and skirt to be blue, but after two failed attempts with different blue fabrics I switched to a white linen/silk blend I had in my stash. The skirt and sleeves are trimmed with gold braid and the skirt has a deep hem for a little bit of stiffening. The skirt is not as full as a normal skirt would be, to prevent it from getting caught in my wheelchair tires. The sleeves are tacked into the doublet for ease of wear.
Layer 3: The doublet gown is made out of a sage green satin and trimmed in pale blue cording. Because of skin integrity and blood circulation issues, I can't wear corsets. The doublet is lightly boned to help give it structure and provide a little bit of support. The skirt is, again, not as full as would traditionally be expected. The doublet is flat-lined in linen canvas and lined in cotton. The doublet closes up the front with hook and eyes. The beads on the gown were one of the hardest things to match to the portrait. I finally hunted down segmented clear glass beads and wrapped them in gold wire- there are 40 in all. The braided shoulders were one of the more difficult parts of the gown, but I am very pleased with the result. 

Layer 4: The caul is made out of pale sage chiffon and decorated with gold mesh. There are freshwater pearls and gold beads as well as gold braid for additional decoration. 

Additional pieces: The drawers were made from the same lightweight linen as the chemise and decorated with blackwork embroidery. They tie at the waist and close in the front with hook and eyes. Lace decorates the bottom of the legs. 

The partlet was made from linen and trimmed in gold braid. The ruffles are edged in very small gold lace. The partlet ties at the sides and front with white ribbons.

The girdle was made from "found" pieces. The pearls are freshwater and separated with gold filigree beads. The cross was found in an antique shop in Carlsbad, California. It was missing one of the pearls, which we replaced. The other settings were found in my stash during a massive cleaning spree and mother of pearl stones were added. It ties at the back with white ribbon.

I've included pictures of the gown on the dress form. I know that the project was supposed to be photographed on the body, but I wanted to be able to showcase the dress in its best light. I did include some pictures of me standing - to show that it can actually be worn by a real person! My husband is helping to support me while in my leg braces. We left the girdle off for the standing pictures as he was afraid he would get caught up in it while helping me and rip it. There are very few things I would change about my project. I would like the fit of the doublet to be a little tighter, but since fitting myself while in the chair can be a little complex, I am just happy that it fits as well as it does.




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