Celebrating the 10th Anniversary of the Realm of Venus

The Italian Renaissance Costuming Challenge

 April 21 to August 21, 2011

Hastings Sanderson

Location: Utah, USA

Bio: I've been sewing for 20 or so years, but it has only been lately that I've moved past the "get it done" model to try the "make it great" ideal.  My major love is history and research and getting past the research and planning to the making it point is my biggest hurdle right now which is why I'm taking up the challenge.  This will be my first attempt at an Italian outfit.  My SCA persona is Russian (I've been playing for about 2 years,) and I love embroidery, decoration, and hats, so that's going to be a part of this.  Most of my time right now is spent being a mom.  I have 4 children under 7 with infant twins just turning one.

Project: I've fallen in love with Parmigianino's portrait of Camilla Gonzaga and her 3 sons. Probably because I can totally understand it; a mom with her kids playing with her jewelry, fussing with her dress, and hugging her.  Besides that, she's got great accessories with a nifty balzo, partlet, zibellino, necklace, and girdle.  The plan is for a corset, camicia, underdress, velvet overdress, partlet, and some of those fabulous accessories.  I'm definitely starting with the hat.

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

I can't thank you enough for this challenge. The timing has been absolutely perfect for me; exactly what I needed to get going after a dreary winter. I'm so excited by it. My choice for portrait was this one in the Prado of Camilla Gonzaga by Parmigianino. It's undated, but since she was married in 1523, Parmigianino died in 1540, and the older boy in the portrait is around 7 or 8, its somewhere in the 1530s. I can just imagine the little boys tugging on her outfit, "Mom, mom, mom, mom, mom, are we done yet? Mom, mom?" It makes me giggle and sigh in exasperation myself. The dress is also a great cut for me. Sort of basic, so I'm still in search of the right red velvet. I'm making the gold trim.

Zoom the image at The Prado Museum

Right now I've started working on the camicia and am making the lace for it. Here's a crummy picture of the sample. The plan is to do something similar to the extant camicia #5 on The Realm of Venus. I spent a lot of yesterday evening getting a working pattern for the imbusto. I also found the perfect fabric for the gorgiera. No pictures of either yet, but soon.

I've been having so much fun this week. I'm determined to update my blog every day to keep myself excited and motivated to complete this challenge and so I've been trying to make sure I had something interesting to show each day. Since my first project is the lace for the camicia and watching lace grow an inch or two at a time isn't all that exciting, I've been making accessories in addition to lace. They're not all in the portrait, but you can never have enough accessories, right?

A week in, I have purchased my fabrics for the dress, found a fur to make into a zibellino, put together a pocket, finished a fan, made a muff, and hand sewn a handkerchief. I also have about 8 yards of lace made for the camicia sleeves and have pretty much figured out the pattern for the lace I will make to go in between the body gores. I'm going to start on the lacing string for the underskirt next and then start cartridge pleating the underskirt.

I've attached a picture of everything done so far this week but the lace. I'm so thrilled that its already starting to come together.

May 14: I am making a gold cotton jacquard underskirt lined in brown linen with felt padded cartridge pleats. I finally finished the pleats today after quite a number of false starts. I made the aigleted kumihimo lacing string for it on my muradai in red,black and gold to match the rest of the outfit. The plan is to let the skirt hang for awhile so I can hem it and add felt stiffening to the bottom. I plan to do cream guards with black and gold edging.
I finished my zibellino, just need to attach it to the girdle once that is complete. I made the face and back paws with Sculpey and then added filigree and beads. The little white enamel flowers remind me a lot of the ones on this extant zibellino head. The pearl drop on the forehead was a must so it at least bore some similarity in looks to the portrait. She has a collar of gold filigree and red stones, and there are jump rings on her muzzle under her head for attaching to the girdle. I actually forgot to glue the little rice pearl claws onto the feet before taking the picture, but they are attached now.

I did a flag fan from scrap from my petticoat and a scrap of tasselled trim I had at the bottom of a drawer Not sure which fan I like better, this one or the feather one I made first. Guess I'll have to wait until the dress is finished and make a decision.

Speaking of options, I made some hairpins based on the extant pin in the Met. There are 14 of them, because that's how many beads I have and hairpins seem to disappear around here so more is probably better. I tried them out, wearing some in my hair a couple of times. I needed to harden them a bit more than I did originally, and might cut them down a little bit, but on the whole I like them a lot. They're super fun to wear.

I really need to finish up all the bits and pieces I have in progress and hope to have more to show when the 21st rolls around with the end of the first month (wow, time flies.) I have started a rosary, have chopines in the sanding stage, have patterned my stockings, need to make a decision on whether to finish the lace for my camicia or just use purchased lace, and have all kinds of other projects half started. Focus is not my forte, I'm afraid. Still, its coming along.

June 2: Not a great deal completed in the last two weeks, but there have been lots of little bits and pieces and some experimentation. I've been working (very slowly) on the carving of my chopines. I'm doing them from timber rather than cork and progress has been achingly slow. Nothing much to show there, just little bits of wood whittled away. I've also been working on stockings. They're cut on the bias from a rather interestingly textured green linen. The direction gave them a really fun diamond pattern. I made some gold lace to top the welts and chose a pattern to do some couched gold-work embroidery from Christian Egenulf's Modelbuch aller art Nehewercks un Strickens. Since stockings were going well, I started playing with ideas for garters and made a set of red and white macrame ones with a pattern of hearts and experimented with blue and white stripes in tablet weaving. The final pair hasn't been decided upon yet. I need to practice a bit.

I did finish layer number 2 by completing my petticoat/underskirt. It is a rosy gold cotton jacquard fully lined in brown linen. It has two rows of cotton cording in the hem and felt padded cartridge pleats.

Another completed project is a pleated linen apron. I based the look of it on this extant apron. It has machine felled seams with a lace insertion.

I did some purchasing of beads and bits for my girdle and necklace and made rose petal beads for a rosary. My children helped make the beads and we used some roses they gave me for Mother's Day. No documentation for them, but a lot of sentimental value. It is a 5 decade chaplet style rosary based loosely on one in a portrait of Federico Gonzaga the Duke of Mantua painted by Titian. The silver gauds are rose shaped beads and the concluding cross is the Cross of San Damiano. The cross was given to me at a recent Collegium and I was thrilled to find a use for it.

I've started working on my balzo, hope to make some progress on the chopines and camicia soon and am going to tackle the bodice for the dress next week. 

June 27: I took off a lot of the last two weeks to work on an outfit for my husband to wear to a friend's wedding. With Venetians, a shirt, a doublet, and cape I joked with him that if I made him a hat he'd have his own 4 layer challenge outfit. Actually, doing the set has me already planning to make him another ensemble with more handwork and nicer materials.

In addition to working on his clothes, I finished my bodice. It is cotton velvet lined in a rosy gold silk with a fully boned interlining (20 in front, 8 in back) and a layer of wool felt to smooth it all out. I'm very pleased with the look and the support. Its really, really comfortable.

I also finished my camicia. There are about 27 yards of lace insertion with 7 sections in the sleeves and 6 through the body. I used Bella's camicia tutorial but adapted the widths to allow for the insertion and did the side gores in two pieces rather than having a slit, in order to accommodate more lace. The original plan had been to make the lace for this, but my progress just wasn't quick enough. I do plan on continuing working on the lace and making a second smock after the contest is over and I don't have a deadline to meet. I did use lace I made to edge the band I applied over the smocking at the neckline and at the hem, however.

The black veil is also complete. I made about 9 yards of black cotton edging for it with gold accents that match the lace I crocheted for my stocking welts. This is one of those occasions when I wish I was just a little shorter (I'm 6 feet tall.) It would have meant less trim to finish. I'm really happy with the results, however, and the additional tassels weight the edges nicely.

Another recently completed project is the necklace. I didn't make any of the beads, just assembled it from purchased components, but it's sufficiently sparkly. Not quite the necklace in the portrait, but I think it gives a similar impression.

The sleeves are cut out, and the skirt is ready to be pleated on to the bodice.

Lots more accessories to finish up, with the balzo and the partlet at the top of the list but I'm feeling confident about finishing the outfit by the deadline.

July 29: I've been having camera issues, so I don't have pictures of the newest things finished, but the project is continuing and I feel like I am still on track for finishing in the next couple of weeks.

Starting from the top, the balzo is finished. This picture is about halfway through the beading. I felted a hat blank from wool roving and then shaped it with a combination of felting techniques and stitching. Then I covered it in silk strips and used gold cording to create a lattice. There are red glass beads as accents at the corners and center of each of the squares.
The accent piece in the center matches my girdle.  I took apart a bracelet, popped out the cream stones and replaced them with pearls and the red glass beads I wanted to use for my hat and the pieces really helped spice up the bits I'd already collected for the girdle. I made a set of earrings to match as well and found a chain to wear with the dress. That means all the jewelry is now complete.

I had the dress almost done at one point, but my 3 year old son was being helpful and hacked a jagged gash into the skirt. I had to take the skirt off, replace the panel and re-pleat it. That sort of stopped the forward momentum, but the skirt is now back in place and I'm about halfway done with the hem. I'm hoping to have the dress complete by the end of the week. The sleeves are on the agenda for the middle of the week. I have the partlet patterned and a mock-up made.

My street veil is done. I made the picot edging, It's only about 7 yards, but it took a lot longer than I'd planned for. I'm very happy with the tiny bit of gold on the edge, and it has tassels on each of the edges which are really fun to swing.

I picked up a beautiful red pigskin to make my slippers. The plan is to do a cutwork pattern to allow the gold silk lining to peak through. The wood for the chopines is finally shaped and I have begun covering them. I got a the leather for them at the same time I picked up slipper leather. I'm so glad to have the shaping and sanding finally complete.

Everything for the portrait seems to be coming together, I even made arrangements with a friend to "borrow" her 3 boys for the photo shoot. Just need to finalize where I want the pictures taken and keep on schedule for the next couple of weeks. That's the tough part. Time seems to run away far too fast.

August 5: I had to sneak this update in because I'm so darn thrilled about my silly shoes. I've been shaping and sanding the wood for my chopines for what seems like forever, and now they're finally done. I have no idea why I decided having chopines was so important to my dress, but I figured this would be my one chance to wear this crazy style. Most of the pairs I had seen made by others were done from cork or foam, but I knew I couldn't do cork with any economy due to my large foot size. I'm a size 13 US (Which is 45 European or 11 1/2 Australian I guess.) That actually might be one of the reasons I decided to make the shoes. Finding historical shoes in my size doesn't really happen. Chopines looked like something it would be possible for me to make. So, I went looking for materials. I was totally inspired by Francis' page on timber chopine construction, but I was worried about my weight and the stress on the platform if I laminated the wood myself, having never done that. My dad came to the rescue and gave me a large chunk of wood that had been cut off the end of a beam. Pre-laminated and free, having been sitting in his wood shop for a few years, I cut in in half and had these two rectangular pieces sitting in my living room for a few weeks while I tried to get up the motivation to work on them.

I started carving them with my small carving knives and got nowhere fast. Then, I got access to a band saw and got the ends cut in so I had the start of an hourglass shape. I continued carving them with the carving tools.  Progress was really really slow, but I kept at it. I tried files both large and small and bought a belt sander.
Finally, I went down to my dad's house again. and we were able to remove some more of the wood with a dado technique on his table saw. After dozens of cuts we got this shape.  More sanding and smoothing with about half a quart of wood putty got me some nicely shaped platforms that I got over excited and covered. The problem with that is they were still rectangular rather than foot shaped. Although I knew there was another step I got ahead of myself. Oops, two days of smoothing and covering down the drain. 

It was a quick but painful fix to peel off the fabric, attach the leather soles, and sand and smooth and putty them some more. Finally, I got the vamps on and the wood recovered and was ready to start decorating them.

My original plan had been to wear these with red leather slippers that I have in the works, but I'm not certain I'm going to get those done in time for the deadline, so I am really glad I decided to split the vamp and have them lace closed. It makes them adjustable to be worn with just socks or over shoes. 

So, there they are. These look especially crazy with the green linen stockings I made to go with the dress, which is fun. The lacing also gave me an opportunity for decoration, and I used the same thick ribbon I incorporated into my balzo, tying it in giant bows and adding aglets to the ends. The tassels are made of rayon embroidery floss. I might switch them to gold tassels in the future, but I'm going to live with these for a bit. 180 flower shaped upholstery tacks hold down the gold trim. My husband kept making shoemaker's elves jokes as I sat at the table pounding tacks with my little hammer. The platforms are about 8 inches tall. I am about 6'1" tall. Between these and the balzo I'm approaching 7 feet. Can't wait to enter a room in my red velvet and giant shoes and be the tallest person there. I should at least be easy to find.

Hastings' Final Update

I've done my best to do an ensemble inspired by the portrait of Camilla Gonzaga. Hopefully I've done a reasonable job. The dress itself is red cotton velvet lined in a rosy gold silk. It is flat lined and has interior boning (12 in front 8 in back,) then is interlined in a layer of wool felt to smooth down the bones. The side back lacing bodice shell is hand sewn with hand-bound eyelets. The bodice laces are 8 strand braids worked in red and gold silk embroidery floss. They are a finger-loop style adapted for the marudai (Japanese braiding stool.) The undersleeves are slashed and have false puffs pulled through since I just could not imagine myself ever having the time to pull the camicia through when getting dressed. My children wouldn't wait around for that. The baragoni are paned over an underlayer of velvet that has been slashed and bombasted and drawn in to a tabbed bottom band. The undersleeves lace on to the bodice with lacing rings and are removable. The baragoni were fully lined and finished and then whip-stitched to the bodice. This way I have the look of an upper sleeve attached to the bodice, but I can clip the threads if I ever want to remove the baragoni. The hem is stiffened with felt.

The dress is worn over a cartridge pleated corded underskirt of gold cotton brocade lined in a chestnut colored linen. The waistband closes with handbound eyelets using an lacing cord. The cord is a half-round 8 strand kumihimo braid worked on the marudai in crochet cotton thread.

The under-layer is a cotton batiste camicia with lace insertion using The Realm of Venus pattern and adapting it for the inclusion of lace. I had planned to make the lace and base it off of the zig-zag pattern of an extant camicia, but time changed my plans. The insertion is all sewn by hand, but the lace itself was purchased. I started out making the lace, but only got about 12 yards made and ended up needing more than 30. The camicia is bound in twill tape and has additional lace edgings added at cuff and hem. 

The accessory is a gathered pointed partlet of the type worn in mainland Venice/Brescia in the 1540's. It is worn over the dress as opposed to the more usual smaller types that were worn under. It was entirely made on the sewing machine with a decorative stitch stabilizing the rows of gathers. I was lucky enough to find a fabric with heavy cords woven in and was able to just pull on them to gather the fabric.

Additional accessories from the portrait: 

A zibellino made from a vintage fisher fur stole. As I have neither the budget or the skill to utilize goldsmithing techniques as would have been used on the original, I sculpted the head and feet from polymer clay. I used filigree findings and beads to make a jeweled collar and muzzle to attach it to the jeweled girdle.


The jeweled girdle is made from purchased pendants, bracelets, pearls, and beads, The individual components were wired together and then soldered for durability. The same beads and components were carried through into the necklace, earrings, and pendant for the balzo.

The earrings were assembled from leverback findings and teardrop glass pearls to resemble the pair of hoops with drop pearls in the painting. I added some of the red beads used elsewhere to tie all the jewelry together. The necklace was made of findings intended to be used as clasps and thus needed to be soldered together to avoid it accidentally opening.


The center of the balzo is one of the same components of the girdle. The balzo itself is a felt base that was wet felted by hand from prepared wool roving using a resist. It was then blocked on a form and then the roll was made from more roving stitched into place. The form was covered with ribbon tacked into place and then a lattice pattern was made from gold cord. The same red glass beads used elsewhere were stitched into place. These hatting techniques are similar to ones that would have been used in period, but I am uncertain if they would have been correct for the construction of a balzo. 

Additional pieces of the under layer:

A pair of pink linen drawers trimmed in lace with a lace insertion and lace edging. The drawers are entirely machine sewn.

A pair of green linen stockings trimmed in gold lace. I crocheted the lace edging rather than making bobbin or needle lace due to time constraints and a desire for a wider lace than what I have the skill to make in those techniques.

A pair of garters. Knotted in a macrame technique to produce a heart pattern in red and white silk/wool blend yarn with tassels. A second pair of striped garters in gold and red crochet cotton was made for this outfit using tablet weaving. They were promptly stolen by my husband to go with his new doublet and Venetians. He turned his nose up at the hearts. Apparently, I need to make more things with hearts on them to insure I get to keep my things.

Outdoor pieces:

A black veil with tassels and a picot edging of black and gold. The needlelace edging took far longer than I had planned, but I'm really pleased with it. The tassels were really fun to make and add a lot of weight to the veil so it drapes nicely.

A brown and red brocade zimarra lined in green cotton broadcloth. The shoulder wings are heavily stuffed and then tufted with buttons. The brass buttons will eventually continue down the front. That should make it nice and warm for Solstice in December when I plan to wear the dress for the first time.

A fur lined muff. I used red brocade and a gold trim lined with a vintage fur coat. I did not have crystal buttons, so I made thread wrapped buttons instead. The button loops are buttonhole bars.

A parasol. I removed the cover on an umbrella and replaced it with red silk (its cut using the old canopy as a pattern and then tacked into place along the ribs.) I then whip stitched 2 rows of chainette fringe to the edge and then stitched a row of gold trim over the seam.

Two fans. One fan is made from feathers. I covered a wooden spatula with leather to make sort of a "flyswatter" and glued the feathers into place. A decorative wood molding was added to the handle. The second fan, a flag style one was made of paper and brocade and edged with a tasselled trim.


Slippers: I patterned and sewed a pair of red pigskin slippers. They are lined with scraps of the gold brocade I used for the petticoat and pinked to show off the lining. The soles are a heavier leather. They're edged in green calfskin leather and have a square of lace resembling reticella sewn to the center of the vamp. The patterning is similar in shape to a shoe recovered from the Mary Rose shipwreck, but I did a turn shoe rather than sewing on a welt. The pigskin is much lighter as well, as I intended these to be a lightweight slipper I could wear with my chopines. I sewed these on my sewing machine rather than hand-stitching and using period stitches due to time constraints. I do intend to use the pattern again after a few adjustments and make a sturdier pair for other uses, but I love the frivolity of this pair with its bright colors.

Chopines. I carved and sanded pine blocks into an hourglass shape, covered them, made the sole and vamp of leather and decorated them in ribbon, upholstery tacks and gold cord. I had so much fun with this particular project. Every step of making these platform sandals involved learning a new skill.

A vizard or moretta mask for keeping the sun off my face. I shaped a foundation from buckram, covered it in black velvet and lined it with the same silk that lines my dress. It is held in place by a bit clenched in the teeth. I made the bit from a wooden bead sewn in place by a bit of linen embroidery floss. It is all stitched by hand. The shape is based on the English Daventry mask found last summer.

Other accessories:

A handkerchief. White linen with lace insertion and lace trim. Hand sewn with purchased lace.

A brocade pocket lined in red linen.

A white linen apron with purchased lace insertion based on an extant example.

Wire hairpins with gold filigree beads based on an extant piece in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

A five decade rosary of hand made beads with silver gauds strung on red silk. The layout of the beads is based on a portrait of Federico Gonzaga, Duke of Mantua.

A tan leather tasselled pouch with green leather edging. It has 5 hand tied red wool tassels and the drawstrings and strings for suspending it from the girdle are made on a lucet with red wool and a gold cotton metallic cotton.

A nosegay of clover, oregano, strawberry, and raspberry leaf. The herbs were selected for their symbolic representations of fidelity and marital love as a gesture of gratitude to my long suffering husband who has supported me through this competition.

Thanks so much again. Your contest motivated me to do far more than I thought I could possibly get done.


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