I previously had no interest in making a zimarra until I encountered cold, rainy weather at Crown Tournament a month or two ago. My capotto, combined with a medieval-esque cloak, was not warm enough, and the cloak was not “period” enough for my tastes. So when I thought of making something warmer, I thought of the zimarra, an Italian overdress worn above the sottana.

My first step was to examine a pattern I had on hand for an Elizabethan loose gown (http://www.margospatterns.com/Products/ElizComfrt.html) to see if it could be adapted for use as a zimarra. I made a mock up and evaluated the fit against my dress dummy, which looked appropriate. I went fabric shopping and fell in love with a lovely white wool. I chose wool because this was intended to be an outdoor, winter garment and I wanted warmth and some water resistance for a day like Crown Tourney.

Elizabethan Comfort Gown
Elizabethan Comfort Gown

On returning home, I reviewed Moda a Firenze and The Clothing of the Renaissance World, a translation of Cesare Vecellio’s Habiti Antichi et Moderni, for mentions of zimarre.

Moda a Firenze supplied descriptions of the zimarra, including the types of fabrics and colors used in the wardrobe of Eleonora di Toledo. While most exemplars in Eleonora’s wardrobe were satin, velvet or ermisino, there were also 11 zimarre made of wool. In addition, white, while not a common color, was used for 5 overgowns in Eleanora’s wardrobe. So my color and fabric choices were not unrealistic for the garment being made.

The Clothing of the Renaissance World provided several instances of images and text relating to the zimarra. The woodcuts show borders and buttons running the length of the front of the zimarre, with the border continuing around the hem. In addition, the sleeves are long and typically worn open, with decorative buttons along the edges of the opening.

The text of The Clothing of the Renaissance World also describes several of the zimarre as having these features shown in the woodcuts, particularly “Women’s clothing worn widely in Florence”:

As overgarments they wear zimarre of cloth of gold or sliver, with long sleeves that reach their knees; they use only the upper part of these sleeves, down to the elbow, to cover their arms. The sleeves are buttoned with gold or silk buttons and beautifully needle-worked all over with gold or silk. This zimarra is high-necked and worn with a high collar, and they wear small, fine ruffles, or lattughe, very white and small.

Vecellio Womens Clothing in Florence
Women’s clothing worn widely in Florence, Cesare Vecellio, 1590

These images and descriptions led to the next part of my plan: to embroider a pattern with gold thread along the front opening and hem of my zimarra, similar to “A Married Woman of Naples”.

Vecellio Naples Woman
A married woman of Naples, Cesare Vecellio, 1590

After examining the borders on several other zimarra and overgowns, I saw a trend towards geometric and swirl designs. I found a clip art of a nice swirl, added a double line to either side of the swirl and my design was born.

Zimarra embroidery
Zimarra embroidery