Celebrating the 10th Anniversary of the Realm of Venus

The Italian Renaissance Costuming Challenge

 April 21 to August 21, 2011

Victoria Black

Location: Queensland, Australia

Bio: Definitely a novice! After (drunkenly) agreeing to attend Rowany Festival this year, I have had to learn how to sew since January! I fell in love with late 16th century Venetians after being told that I could have feathers and beads and corsets and beautiful fabrics!

Project: Nothing specific in mind at the moment, but after churning out five outfits for Rowany Festival in quick succession, it will be nice to take some time and make a spectacular dress. I am currently obsessed with sleeves though, so I'll probably spend a lit of time on them!

So, I have returned from Rowany Festival, and after meeting the lovely Ashan while sheltering from the rain in the Tavern (although, really, who needs an excuse to hang out in the tavern?) am even more excited to start this challenge!

Now, why did I include another picture of myself (and my lovely friend William), you might ask? Mostly as a reminder that I don't always know what's right, and that sometimes I do need to be willing to go back to the drawing board and start over. Oh, and also to remind myself that I have boobs and these must be taken into account at all times. Having pulled together a wardrobe for Rowany in a few months, I have now learnt what NOT to do with Venetians and realised that I'm either going to have to *sigh* learn to accept boning my bodices, or *cringe* suck it up and make a corset.

The ten hour drive home from Rowany resulted in plenty of time for me to plan out the outfit in my head, and also resulted in my driving partner thinking I was insane (starting a conversation with, "Yup, definitely need more boning in the boobs" will get you some strange looks). 


And at the moment, I am gathering inspiration from a couple of different portraits, so hopefully I'll be able to pull off elements from all of them. I especially like the Abraham de Bruyn woodcuts (1581) I have accepted that I am going to have to make the following: 

  • A corset. *sigh*. Given that this is the piece that I'm dreading, I think it will have to be the first item I make. I had resisted making one before Festival given that I wanted to be able to dress myself and reasoned that it was easier to lace one top, rather than two, but it has to be done. I've accepted that while its true that Venetian women adopted the corset later than England, France and Spain, judging from the smooth lines of portraits, I cant deny that corsets were probably widely worn. I know that other costumers have achieved the same lines by boning bodices, but I figure if I am going to make a corset at any point, now is the time to do it and at least them I will never have to bone a bodice again! Huzzah!

  • A farthingale. Mine was trashed during festival, but came in oh-so-handy for 'natural air-conditioning', so I want another one.
  • A camicia. Because you can never have enough pretty underwear and given that my persona is a Venetian Courtesan, I figure that mine should be quite spectacular and gives me a chance to try my hand at some embroidery or at the very least, attaching a lot of lace!
  • The over-gown. I am trying to make this gown out of fabrics already in my stash since collecting fabrics is getting pretty silly when I refuse to make them into something, so my overdress will be made out of a very heavy upholstery chocolate brown velveteen (bought on sale!) and the underskirt out of a material that has been fondly referred to as 'curtain material' (just call me Scarlett O'Hara!).
  • And then as many accessories as I can make before the deadline! I'm thinking a feathered fan, a muff, a hat or headdress and potentially a coat or cape. Great Northern War is our next big event and apparently it will be quite chilly, so Id love to be able to finish a coat before then.
June 4: I have finished my corset! Huzzah! The inside is a heavy canvas, and the outside a black velveteen, edged with velvet tape. It's made with a steel husk and thick cable ties for boning.

Sorry about the shoddy photo, but I was so excited to have finished I wanted to share straight away!

July 11: I have been working on my...well, I'm calling it the medieval Lady Gaga Egg costume. Its the headdress worn by the lady in the de Bruyn image, above left. I made a very large wired eggs shape, attached a fascinator headpiece and covered the entire thing with a very sheer silk taffeta and tiny gold seed beads. Needless to say I got some funny looks at a local event last week, but at least everyone instantly recognised it as being Venetian. I'm working on my farthingale at the moment which should be finished this week and then next up is the gown - I've changed my mind about it being brown, and now its going to be a black velveteen with gold accents.

My horrible monster dog has taken to climbing inside the 'egg'.

August 6: Here are some pictures of my little Venetian falling ruff that I have just finished sewing onto a partlet.

I took inspiration from Ludovico Pozzoserrato's (Ludwig Toeput) "Concert in the Garden", circa 1580s. Originally I was going to make the partlet out of a sheerer material, however because its still a bit chilly here (and because I was FREEZING at Rowany Festival) I decided to make it out of a white wool on the outside, lined with a lovely cotton fleecy feeling material on the inside that I picked up at Spotlight for $2.50 for a metre :) I think I might have to make another little partlet soon!

The ruff itself is just a thin white linen that I beaded (because I do love my beads) and pleated onto a neckband and then attached to hook and eyes on the underside of the partlet. And the amazing thing is....I hand-stitched it all! I had a very quiet week at work and once I got started it was done in no time, which is strange because I usually hate hand-sewing!
This is an image of my snood which I've had to make to put on under my head-dress - usually I don't mind having to fix my hairstyle during the day, but dealing with the head-dress and messy hair at our last event was a bit too much! Hopefully I'll have time to add some beads to it before the contest finishes, but I haven't even started my gown yet...better get cracking on that I suppose!!

August 17: So, last Thursday I had a visit from the inspiration fairy when I found this gorgeous material in Spotlight, reduced to $4 a metre! At the time I was thinking, "oh this'll be great for my next dress" but then, of course, all of my other ideas went straight out the window, when I remembered the picture of Eleonora of Toledo's patterned black and white dress and I decided I had to make a copy complete with panel sleeves. Why did I decided this with 5 days before the challenge ended? I don't know. I'm probably crazy! So I've spent most of today patterning my new bodice and hand-sewing eyelets, which I've never done before and have found to be just as easy as sewing on lacing rings, which is what I usually do. The bodice so far is velveteen on the inside, then a layer of canvas, then the fashion fabric on the outside, that I hope I will have enough time to bead.

Luckily its a public holiday here in Brisbane tomorrow, or else I would have no chance of getting the gown done in time! And my farthingale is almost finished (huzzah!) It just needs a waistband putting on tomorrow!

Victoria's Final Update

So Wednesday was a rather busy day for me - lucky it was the public holiday for the Brisbane show. I spend the entire day finishing the gown and completing the waistband on my new farthingale.

The farthingale was made using the Juan de Alcega pattern; my previous one had been made with bias tape on the outside to keep the hoops in place, but unfortunately it was completely trashed at Rowany festival in the mud and dirt and the bias had frayed horribly, so I decided to make a longer farthingale this time and make ‘tucks’ in the skirt as per the original pattern so that the hoops were protected on the inside of the skirt. It took a very very long time though because I couldn’t quite get the hoops to look straight (they sloped down towards the back) so I think when I make another one I will get a friend to chalk a circle right the way around me and use that as a starting point. I do like this one better than my original though because by the time I had made the tucks, the farthingale finished level with my ankles, so I cant kick it when I walk but its not that short that you can see a drop between the last hoop and the skirt....I mean, I totally, purposefully made it the perfect length - it wasn’t an accident at all! Its a heavy green velveteen that I had 2.5m left over from a previous gown, so it had to be cut and measured very carefully because I only had limited fabric. 

The gown: Despite the pattern on my new wonderful fabric I had a brainwave earlier in the week that I should absolutely bead the entire front bodice, because you can never have too much bling! so that was my activity for Wednesday morning, sitting hand sewing thousands of tiny beads on to my bodice, but I really like the finished result because the colour matches so well that they look quite subtle until the light catches them. Then I attached the skirt and made the sleeves using what I like to call the ‘sausage sleeve’ method (I don’t think thats a real thing though), where I start with the smallest sleeve panel and keep attaching until I get to the biggest panel and then turn it all out the right way and attach the cuffs which also have little gold seed beads to match the bodice. Please see picture attached of my wonderful sleeve making method. The little puff of fabric at the top of the sleeve was made by sewing two little ribbons inside the sleeve that can be tightened or loosened for puffiness. The only thing I would change is that I should have made the puff a little higher on the sleeve because it sits across my arm rather than just below my shoulder but that’s easily fixed by moving the interior ribbons.

And this is the finished frock! My lovely friend Cindy had to come and get me into it because it is really quite heavy!

Layer 1: The corset
Layer 2: The farthingale
Layer 3: The gown
Layer 4: A Venetian shoulder ruff sewn onto a partlet and a medieval Lady Gaga Egg head-dress.




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