Category Archives: Italian

Pink Cotton Sottana

From April to June 2017, I participated in the 7th Annual Italian Renaissance Costuming Challenge, hosted by The Realm of Venus, one of the best Italian costuming resources on the web. My entries and the results can be found at the link above, but for reference, here’s photos from about the competition and the outfit I made. The competition required monthly progress updates, as well as a final update with the results of your entry.

I made a pair of white linen drawers based on the bara system and completely hand sewn. I wove the ties (my first weaving!) and flat felled the seams (also a first!).

Bara Tape

Drawers in progress

Finished drawers

The bodice is also based on the bara system, where I tried my best to interpret The Modern Maker‘s notes and drawings to design a bodice that fit well. I’m reasonably satisfied with the attempt, but it could be better.

Toile front

Toile back

Toile side

The bodice interlining was made up of a layer of cotton duck and heavy weight muslin, which was roll-pinned, then stitched together. The fashion fabric was basted to the outside, then folded inwards and stitched in place with a running stitch.

Close up of basting

Exterior sewn to interlining

The lining was basted, then the edges turned in and blind stitched in place. The bottom edge was left open to put in the hide glue “cardboard” insert.

Lining shoulder seam

Bodice front

Bodice back

Hide glue “cardboard”

Wool-covered “cardboard”

The skirt was gathered and attached, but there are no exciting pictures of the process. I also made an over skirt from some random polyester satin I had laying around. I made a pair of orange pockets lined in cashmere, also from stash fabric. The cashmere lining was the only fabric that looked good with the orange, but turns out to be a great place to warm my hands on cold days. Lastly, I threw together a pair of sleeves, with the intention of re-doing them later with proper trim additions.

Assembled gown

Over skirt

Pockets front

Pockets back


Pocket close-up

Pocket close-up

Sleeve interior

Sleeve exterior

The gown ended up being way too long, but I later added a tuck so I could wear it. We took quick pictures for the competition end at an event where it was bloody hot and sunny and I was quick to divest myself of this many layers. Later, we took a posed picture, but I forgot to iron the over skirt!

Gown front

Gown side

Gown back

Gown other side

Over skirt front

Over skirt back

Final photo

Golden Seamstress Challenge, April 2017

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In February, a local SCA group hosted an event called the Golden Seamstress Challenge. The challenge was to create a full outfit, skin to shell, in about 20 hours. I had a crazy idea and recruited other seamstresses enter this competition with ONLY HAND STITCHING. Machine sewing was totally allowed. I wanted to see if we could do it. WE DID.

We had a couple spots that weren’t properly sewn, and some touchups had to be made after the fact due to time running short, but we made an insertion work camicia, couched sleeves, and a full Florentine sottana in that amount of time. Drawers were made in advance, according to the challenge rules. Alas, we did not quite complete the challenge, as we did not have enough time for the petticoat. Nonetheless, I was amazed that we did so much in the time we had.

We had 6 team members: Condêssa Violante do Porto, THL Kataryn Mercer, Lady Katla of Viborg, Lady Olivia Baker, Ástríðr Músi, and Lady Cecelie Vogelgesangkin. (My pardons if any titles are incorrect, I was going by memory).

Violante sewed about 30 feet of insertion work on the camicia. That’s almost 10 yards, with stitches about an 1/8″ apart. It’s freaking amazing.

The bodice was a combined effort between myself and Olivia. Olivia was very quick to learn and follow the techniques that I briefly showed her, while we each worked on one side of the bodice. Then, while I was resting, she was able to finish the entire bodice!

Cecelie did ALL of the cutting of the bits and bobs. That means she cut all of the hem facing, trim and padding, stitched it all into strip, pressed each into shape and had it ready and waiting. This was a huge huge help, because it was yards upon yards of work and she did it all with a smile on her face.

The sleeves are white silk with couched gold cord, done by Olivia and Cecelie. They couched the rows of cord, finished the hem and wrists, and stitched the sleeves together (after all the other work they’d already done).

The skirt was a LOT of work, ably taken on by Katla and Ástríðr. The two of them chatted and cut, cut and sewed, and sewed some more. They cut out the sottana skirt panels, then stitched them all together, then stitched the trim, then stitched the hem, THEN stitched the facing. If these two hadn’t been so diligent and fast, we never would have finished. I can’t calculate how many yards of stitching they did, but it’s a lot.

Here are some pictures from the event. I will be adding more of the finished products.

Planning Drawings



Eleonora di Toledo Mockup

Back in March, I made a true to life mockup of the Eleonora di Toledo bodice, from Patterns of Fashion. This reconstruction was for multiple reasons: I wanted to see exactly how the dress was made, how the skirts were pleated, and all the little details that you need to experience to see how it works. Also, I had noticed in the past that my measurements are pretty close to Eleonora’s and I was curious if it would fit me. And it did!

It’s not perfect, but at least I could put it on! My next step was to scale up the pattern for the skirt and construct it. I was particularly interested to see how the top of the skirt worked, ie the pleats and the angled waistline.

This thing was insanely long! Eleonora was definitely an inch or two taller than me, and/or was wearing heeled shoes. The train would still have been REALLY long.

I then took the skirt back off to make the modifications to the bodice. There were a million of them, starting with the center front. It was too long for my body, so lowered the neckline and took a couple different test shots to determine where I wanted to shorten the waistline to.

I went with the middle option, then it was on to narrowing the shoulder straps and solving the issue with the gap in the back. I redid the bodice a couple of times, adding another layer of muslin over the previous layers as each change required a new test cut.

Now that I had a bodice, I traced the pattern onto graph paper and began work on the skirt. I had the Eleonora di Toledo skirt pattern, but I wanted to cartridge pleat my skirt as seen in the “Red Pisa Gown”. The di Toledo skirt is designed for knife pleats, not cartridge pleats, but the best indication of the layout of the Pisa gown that I could get a hold of was from Katerina da Brescia’s article regarding Costume Colloquium held in Florence, Italy in 2008.

Red Pisa Dress Layout

Red Pisa Dress Layoutspent many an hour on the kitchen floor surrounded by pattern pieces on grid paper, markers and rulers before I finally figured out how to make everything work. It mostly involved guess work and shuffling pattern pieces around. I cut some the mockup skirt, cartridge pleated it to the bodice and thus had a finished mockup and custom pattern. I still had to make corrections to the pattern when I used the pattern later on.

Success! A custom pattern based on Eleonora di Toledo’s burial gown and the extant Pisa gown.

Florentine Zimarra

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 ( 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

Stockings Research

Yesterday, I made a pair of stockings, but they were made from a pattern I drafted several years ago and turned out too big in the calf.

My Stocking

My Stocking

I decided that if I were to make a new pattern, I would research extant stockings and patterns drawn from those items. Below are the results of my research and design.

First up is a stocking from Cluny Museum, and a pattern for a similar stocking, both dated to the 14th century.

Cluny Museum Stockings

14th C Stockings at Cluny Museum retrieved from

Baynard Castle Stocking Pattern

14th C Stockings; Pattern from “Some Clothing of the Middle Ages” based on Baynard’s Castle finds in “Clothing & Textiles”

Next, we have a 15th century pattern for chausses, from “Costume”.

chausses pattern

15th C chausses; Pattern from “Costume” retrieved from

The 15th century pattern evolves into a similar 16th century pattern and further into a 17th century pattern with a taller clock, drafted from an extant stocking.

Textile Conservation stockings pattern

16th C stockings pattern from “Textile Conservation & Research”, retrieved from

POF stockings pattern

17th C stockings, Pattern from “Patterns of Fashion 4”

POF4 stockings pattern

17th C stockings, Image from “Patterns of Fashion 4”

Then there’s an image of a 16th century Venetian courtesan where you can clearly see the tall clocks on her ankles. I’ve decided that *this* is the appearance I’m trying to achieve.

Venetian Courtesan stockings

16th C Venetian Courtesan from “Diversarum Nationum Habitus”, retrieved from

Looking back over the available patterns, they all have a seam beneath the heel that I am not comfortable with. So next I took a look at the modern costumers’ interpretations of patterns.

Melanie Schuessler Stocking Pattern

16th C Original Pattern by Melanie Schuessler

Katerina stockings pattern

16th C Original Pattern by Katerina da Brescia

Both of these patterns are modified to have a full sole without a seam. Both result in a clocked stocking. I decided to go with a pattern similar to Katerina da Brescia’s of Kat’s Purple Files, modifying the triangles to achieve a taller clock such as in the courtesan picture.

To draft my pattern, I used The Medieval Tailor’s instructions for step 1 and step 2 and drew my lines directly on my muslin. Then I cut out the muslin with plenty of excess, stitched the back seam and tried it on. Perfect! From here, I used a technical process of tugging the fabric around and guessing to come up with a pattern that was shaped like Kat’s (above). It worked, but I cut the length of the toe cover too short and ended up having to piece it to the right size.

So my pattern looks like this:

Kataryn Mercer Stockings Pattern

16th C Original Pattern by Kataryn Mercer

Kataryn Mercer Stockings Pattern

16C Original Pattern by Kataryn Mercer

I sewed it all together using a running stitch, then I folded over the remainder and whipstitched it down. So not quite a run and fell seam, but very similar. For the gussets at the ankle, I folded and whip stitched the top first, then the sides.

Stocking stitching

I haven’t finished the top edge yet, because I want to make sure both stockings are the same height, and possibly decorate the part that folds down over the garter, but here is my new stocking:


My new stocking – side


My new stocking – front

This stocking has been done for about a month, but I misplaced the pattern and my mother recently found it for me (exactly where I’d been looking, but somehow was blind), so I can make a matching left foot now!