Category Archives: 16th Century

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

My Facebook Albums Made Public

Hello out there! I am very, very bad at keeping this blog up to date, especially when it comes to posting construction details after the fact. However, I have just made all of my Facebook albums public so anyone can view them.

I also sorted through my sottane photos, and realized I have only made 8 sottane, including the Golden Seamstress group project. Wow, it feels like so many more.

Here are the albums of my sottane, in order of construction:

#1 Orange Linen Sottana
#2 Red Shot Sottana
#3 Orange Silk Sottana
#4 Yellow & Black Sottana
#5 Teal Sottana
#6 Cheryl’s Red Sottana
#7 Golden Seamstress Sottana
#8 Pink Cottom Sottana

Other noteworthy albums include:

Construction Techniques

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



A Tutorial on “Perfect” Eyelets

There are plenty of tutorials out there already, but it has taken me years of trial and error before I have achieved a “perfect” eyelet. The appearance of the eyelets are consistent, round, and non-fraying.

Summary: My process for each eyelet involves marking all of my eyelets with a dot, then tracing a ring, and backstitching over the tracing to define the shape. I use a series of awls to open the hole. The lacing ring is held to the backside of the eyelet, then stitched over in a specific pattern to create a nice round eyelet. After about 50 or so eyelets, I have the time down to 5 minutes per eyelet.

Materials: Patterns of Fashion (1560 – 1620) indicates that Cosimo de’Medici’s burial garments contained eyelets worked over a copper ring (p. 56). The image below, from Archivio Medici, appears to be of Cosimo’s codpiece, where it attaches to the trunk hose. The metal rings on the back side of the eyelets are clearly visible, though in other images the stitches of the eyelet remain.

I use 10 mm metal lacing rings from The Bad Baroness. These are soldered closed, unlike split rings, which can cut into your eyelet thread and weaken your eyelet.

I have had great results sewing eyelets using 2 strands of cotton embroidery floss (used in tutorial), as well 1 strand of Trebizond silk (see orange eyelets above).



Note: I assume you have already marked the desired locations of your eyelets at this point.

Step one: trace the lacing ring onto your fabric. I use a Frixion pen by Pilot. The ink disappears when ironed, and does not bleed into my silks.

Step two: backstitch directly on the tracing, trying to keep your stitches an even length. My stitches tend to be about 1/8″ more or less by eyeball. If your eyeball isn’t that consistent, try marking your desired stitch length on your finger with a pen as a guide.

Step three: open the hole on the dot. I use a series of three awls (shown below): the fine, sharp one to create the hole (local vendor), the green Dritz awl (craft store) to start the enlargement, then the hand tool awl (from the home improvement store) to reach the final diameter. The base of the last awl is 1/4″, the desired inner diameter of my eyelets. Smaller eyelets can be difficult to insert an aglet through.

Step four: apply lacing ring to back of eyelet, stitch through previous holes. After the backstitches, your needle and thread should be behind the eyelet. Bring your thread over the ring, through the center of the eyelet to the front, then down through one of the previous stitch holes. Repeat. Gently widen eyelet with awl as needed to keep the hole and ring centered.

Ensure thread wraps around ring on each pass from back to front.

Insert needle into hole from previous backstitches. Repeat.

Step five: stitch around eyelet again, inserting needle in the center of the previous backstitches. You are splitting the difference between each wrap you have previously made.

Insert needle into the center of each backstitch. Repeat.

With this method, you will circle your eyelet twice, which will help keep the eyelet even. You can tie off your thread or carry it between eyelets, similar to the below image of Cosimo’s doublet.

Glue-styling a Wig

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Here’s my dirty little secret: I wear a wig.

I guess it’s not realty dirty or secret because I love telling people how wonderful it is to just take the wig off at the end of an event, rather than brushing out and restyling your own hair. I fully advocate the use of wigs!

In the SCA, if you wear the same style of dress frequently, a wig is much easier to throw on, and the style can be more effective with the boost of fake hair. I have short hair, which is why I choose to wear a wig for mid-16th C Italian, but even if I had butt length hair, I could never achieve the same impact with my real hair without hours of work and the addition of fake wefts anyway. There simply isn’t enough volume.

Today, I restyled my wig. It’s the same Italian style, but there were too many loose hairs and I dropped it in the mud while unpacking from my last event. Overall, the style held up very well and I’ll tell you my real secret: washable Elmer’s school glue.

I styled this wig, according to a Facebook post, in mid-January. Many of my friends were aghast that I chose to use glue to style my wig because it would not wash out, but I felt comfortable with my decision. If the glue stayed for 6 months, but ruined the wig in the end, I was comfortable that I had gotten more than my $50 worth for over a year of use total. Hair gel and hair spray simply did not last long enough.

I wore this wig to 8 events without touch ups and the glue washed completely out (even better than the gel and hair spray residue). I intended to wait until after Pennsic to restyle it, but the mud caused me to redo it sooner.

Here’s the first and last wearing of this wig styled with glue. You can see the wispies in the second picture, but they weren’t too bad.



If you decide to give this a try, here’s how I did it this time:

After your wig is clean, dry, and combed, and you’re sure you’re willing to risk ruining your wig, do this: I poured about half a bottle of Elmer’s glue into a bowl half-filled with warm water and stirred. I dipped my hands into the bowl and ran them over the wig, wetting the wig. I could feel and smell the glue on my hands, but it was thin and watery, like I wanted it. I styled the wig as desired, continuing to wet it with my hands. After it was finished, I smoothed the hair with more wet hands, and dumped the remained into a spray bottle and spritzed the wig. I wanted extra security since I had diluted the glue. I’m not sure I didn’t dilute it too much, I may have to touch it up with a less watery spritz. DO NOT leave the glue mixture in your spray bottle. It will clog.

Girdle Book Phone Case

I’m a part of a local embroidery group, the Keepers of Athena’s Thimble, though I don’t typically do much embroidery. I do rather enjoy openwork, however. As celebration for Athena’s Thimble 30th anniversary, some of the senior members have issued challenges for others to complete. I’m a sucker for a challenge, but I didn’t get around to what I had planned originally.

But recently, I bought the latest and greatest phone and remembered that I have long wanted a girdle book phone case to hide my phone at events. Since I am locked into this phone lease for the next two years, now is the perfect time to make one! It coincidentally lines up well with one of the challenges, listed below:

Elizabet Marshall’s Challenge: Documenting your steps.

Select a period embroidery of your preference. Design and execute either a copy or an embroidery in the same style.

The specific challenge is to document your process, from selecting the original embroidery, through all aspects of design and execution. I want to know how you chose your original piece (“I’ve always admired this” or “I need a cushion to take to events”, etc.), your steps in designing the piece (search clip art, trace the original, happen to be a decent artist and drew it, had an artist friend draw it), all materials considered (including the ones rejected, and why) and reasons for selecting the ones chosen. Good things to include would be any sampling/swatching done, original sketches during design phase, original drawing if you don’t draw directly to your fabric, photos of the piece in progress. The documentation does not need to be a formally written document; use a notebook and present that — the idea is to show your process. Your project notebook should have doodles, thoughts, taped-in swatches of fabrics and threads, etc.

So as I begin this project, I will attempt to document the entire thing, in real time (instead of my usual hindsight summary post).

I started with a collection of links I saved of openwork at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I looked through about three before I saw the one I knew I would use. It was a “this is it” moment, so I looked no further. Unfortunately, the resolution isn’t great, so I put out a call to the other group members to see if anyone had a clearer image.


16th Century Italian Lace Fragment

In the meantime, I couldn’t stop my momentum. Though I can’t determine every stitch, I can tell that there is a base grid of what looks like woven bars with picots, so I graphed out the basic design on 1/4″ graph paper. I made some mistakes, but was able to correct them decently. However, after I finished the primary design, I decided I didn’t like the way the it looked at the edges. I took a break, then redid the graph with no mistakes and a much better design.


Left=Sucky, Right=Much Better

Since most of the work will be drawing the threads and wrapping the bars, I don’t need a better image just yet.

Now to figure out materials…

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.