My Entry in The Inaugural

Margo's Patterns "Iron Dress" Competition



When I first heard about the competition I was trying to decide what to make for our Barony's hosting of the upcoming Crown Tourney. The challenge of making an outfit from the Elizabethan period using Margo's Elizabethan Lady's Wardrobe pattern, with just what's on hand in the fabric stash and a very limited amount of money was just the thing I needed to inspire me, and to help me keep to a schedule - and a budget!

My costuming efforts are for my participation in the SCA, where I have a very decidedly Venetian persona. Until now I have only ever made sixteenth century Venetian gowns. But I do love almost anything 16th century Italian, so, after clarifying the contest rules and finding it was ok to do so, I took the opportunity to research and make an Elizabethan era Florentine high-necked camicia, a doublet-style overdress, and matching peacock feather fan.

The Inspiration

Marie de Medici (1573-1642) Florentine Noblewoman (1595 Costume Manuscript)

In searching for pictorial documentation of garments from the 1590s, there can be found many portraits and manuscripts, like the ones above, of Italian ladies wearing doublet-style bodice garments that do not feature doublet skirts or tabs. In these the skirt appears to be attached to the doublet bodice, and appear to be an over-gown. It is these one piece garments that I will be re-creating.


My Stash

About 5 metres of handkerchief weight, 100% linen (smock, interlining smock collar and cuffs, interlining doublet bodice)

Approx. 1.5 metres of 100% cotton calico (flat lining sleeves)

several metres of 100% cotton lace in white, salvaged from another project (smock collar, neck opening and wrist ruffles)

About 5.5 metres of hunter green 100% cotton velvet (Sleeveless over-dress)

Scraps of white 100% cotton voile (to make and cover shoulder rolls)

30 12-inch long peacock feathers (fan)

Lots and lots of gold seed beads (doublet bodice over-dress)

Lots and lots of good quality pearls (doublet bodice over-dress)

a small section of plastic canvas (fan)

a wooden spoon (fan)



What I Bought With My Allowance

1.5 metres of 90cm wide 100% silk tabby weave in grey @ $6/metre = $9.00 (non-visible lining)

2 metres of 112cm wide brown silk/metallic gold thinly striped fabric @ $10/metre = $20 (visible lining in bodice, collar, skirt and for sleeves)

22 metres of gold cord (cotton core with metallic gold braided exterior) @ $0.40/metre = $9.80 (Couching on over-dress)

70cm of plastic boning @ $2.35/metre = $1.75 (Bodice)

5 metre packet of black poly-cotton bias binding $1.99

Total: $41.54 from the Australian allowance of $44.75


Description and Pictures


(You can click on some images for a closer view)

A Florentine noblewoman's high-necked linen camicia trimmed with cotton lace; velvet doublet-bodice over-gown with shoulder rolls, circa 1590s; with peacock feather fan.

The over-gown is made up of:

*doublet-style bodice made from the hunter green cotton velvet (retaining the side seam for ease of alteration later in case of weight loss), cut with selvedges to lie along the front opening edges, the bodice completely flat lined with linen, and fully lined with silk so no seam allowances show: grey silk in back and side back, "cloth of gold" in fronts and collar. Plastic boning was used along front opening edges only, and hooks and eyes were used to close it from waist to chest. I chose to omit closures above the chest because it is meant to be worn open at the chest as was fashionable in Florence.


All major seams were done by machine. Hand sewing: collar facing/lining, lining on front closure edges, lining sewn down by hand.

*Shoulder rolls covered in white cotton and matching panes of green velvet, trimmed. I altered my original plans for paned cap sleeves, finding the shoulder rolls more suitable. I used the trimmed panes to decorate the rolls. I used bias binding to neaten the raw edges.

*Curved sleeves made from "cloth of gold" silk, flat lined with 100% cotton, attached to doublet by means of hooks and eyes as seen in Patterns of Fashion. I added my own small piccadils to the wrists - strips of matching silk, interfaced with fusible interfacing for fabric stability, stitched to the sleeves and snipped to create the piccadils.


*Hand cartridge pleated "round" skirt (full panels of fabric, front panels shaped to fit the point) hand-sewn to bodice. These cartridge pleats are done a different way to standard to achieve the less structured and less stiff pleating that is seen in Italian gowns. The skirt, being of thick velvet, is not fully lined, but the front opening edges are lined with "cloth of gold" silk from waist to hem for 25cm on both edges.

All seams sewn by machine, lining stitched down by hand so hem doesn't show, hem done by hand.


Gown trimming:


Gold cord made of a cotton core around which metallic gold has been braided, was machine couched onto the bodice front, back, shoulder rolls and skirt opening in double columns. This, of course, was a time-saving measure, which "in period" would have been done by hand. Between these columns were sewn 147 pearls and 294 gold seed beads in groups of three.


The high-necked camicia, which is essential to the look, and made from my stash especially for the outfit was:

*Made from and interfaced in the collar and cuffs with 100% linen.


*I omitted the neckline gussets to fit in with the construction of an extant Italian shirt, late 16th century, located at "The People's Museum of Zadar, Yugoslavia", and examined in "Cut My Cote" by Dorothy K. Burnham.


*Collar, neck opening, and wrist frills were trimmed with 100% cotton lace.

*The wrist frills were made separately and are removable for washing/replacing.


More Front and Back shots...


*The feather fan pattern was altered to suit what I had on hand, and was made from:

30 peacock feathers

plastic canvas

hot glue, quilting thread

white felt for padding (synthetic)

scraps of green velvet

trimming to match gown

wooden spoon for handle

gold acrylic paint


Two layers of plastic canvas were cut from the basic shape. Feathers were applied with hot glue, let cool, and then stitched down on one piece of plastic canvas, and the wooden spoon handle applied with stitching and duct tape to the other piece, the two were then laid one on top of the other and stitched together. The padding was done by means of felt glued in place, the outer cover of green velvet trimmed to match gown went over that. Wooden handle was painted gold.

My Research


1. Dress, or Skirt and Bodice?

No one that I have asked is sure when skirts and bodices first began to be worn separately. Certainly sometime after 1600 it becomes obvious that the skirt is no longer attached to the bodice. Prior to 1600, there is conjecture, but no definite proof. It can be conjectured that when skirting or waist tabs first began to be seen on women's doublets is when skirts were first worn as separate items, the doublet skirts helping to hide the gap between bodice and skirt. Since my inspirational images didn't feature waist tabs or skirts, my garment didn't either, so the skirt was hand cartridge-pleated to the bodice.


2. Under-pinnings - Farthingales and Bum Rolls?

A Spanish invention they say, and much of Italy was under Spanish dominion. But did Italian ladies wear the farthingale? There are few portraits that show ladies from head to toe. But there are lots of images in two post 1581 costume manuscripts located at LACMA. Comparing the silhouette of a Spanish lady wearing a farthingale to an English or French one, one can note a certain difference in the notable width at the hemline of the skirt - the Spanish is usually less wide. Comparing Italian ladies with Spanish, I find the hem line less full again, and less round - especially those ladies of areas less influenced by the Spanish fashions. If farthingales were worn they may have been less wide than the English, French and Spanish ladies wore.

There is evidence for rope/rag petticoats in Elizabethan era Italy, as there is for non-roped petticoats or under-skirts, that much can be seen in period portraits and especially manuscripts, although I feel that the skirt volume needed to get the right silhouette relied more on the use of two or more petticoats, than on the roped petticoat, which may have only been worn alone under the main garment in summer to avoid a build up of heat. For my outfit I chose to wear two petticoats.


3. How it is worn

This particular style is an over-dress, meant to be worn over another dress. In some portraits hanging sleeves matching the gown material are seen. Some images (like the lady in red in the manuscript image above) feature a type of hanging sleeve that doesn't show at the front of the arm or over the top of the shoulder at all, leading me to believe that this type was a "fake" hanging sleeve. Other portraits show the doublet bodice being worn with sleeves of another colour altogether - in these cases the colour usually matches that of the under-skirt, which most likely indicates that the sleeves belonged to the under-dress.

These over-dresses then, can be seen as sleeveless apart from the kirtle sleeves worn under them, and open skirted. Although I have a couple of Venetian low-necked dresses I could have worn beneath, none were of a colour or style suitable to be worn under my future gown. Therefore, for the sake of not detracting from the look of the over-gown I made, I chose to fake an under-dress with a green damask underskirt I already own, and to make a pair of curved sleeves from the main doublet lining fabric.

<<< BACK



(Copyright Information: As author I, Anabella Wake, known in the SCA as Bella Lucia da Verona, hold copyright on all information on these pages. In addition I hold copyright on all images of clothing/costume that I have made. You are allowed to make one facsimile copy for your own use provided that this notice is included on each page. Please ask permission to copy, disseminate and/or distribute my work - I would like to know when and how you are finding this information of use.)