Category Archives: 16th Century

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!

Apprenticeship Ceremony

On January 25th, 2014, at Market Day at Birka in Manchester, NH, I became apprenticed to Mistress Vienna de la Mer. Below are pictures of the event, taken by Cateline la Broderesse.

Doublet & Slops

Over the summer, I made a doublet and slops set for “Charles Brandon” at the Connecticut Renaissance Faire. This season was the first with a Tudor theme and I volunteered to do some costuming. The costuming director chose the fabrics and the design, and I used Margo Anderson’s men’s patterns to make a doublet and slops. It was tough getting so many heavy layers through my cheapy Singer sewing machine, but I pushed through and used a small amount of hand sewing in the really tough spots. The pattern went together with ease and looked good on the actor.

Posted in 16th Century, English, Wardrobe | Tagged ,

The Shot Taffetta Sottana – FINISHED!!!

It’s done! Well, mostly. I finished the shot taffeta sottana to the point of wearable for East Kingdom’s 12th Night event. It looked great and I received many compliments, but my Laurel has not seen it in action yet, so I will be wearing it at Birka, a big event at the end of the month, where we will formally enter an apprenticeship-Laurel relationship. By then, I have to finish one sleeve cap, which I worked on last night and is nearly finished, and sew another row of velvet ribbon to the hem. The trim is all hand sewn (the gown uses some machine sewing, where it is hidden from sight), and I was only able to sew down one ribbon of 6 yards, by hand, in time for 12th Night.

This dress will also be entered into our King and Queen’s Arts & Sciences competition in February. I will post my documentation following the event, as well as the results of my entry.

original sleeve trim

The original plan for the sleeve trim… I ended up doing only three lines, because the 5 would have looked weird on the underside.

finish sleeve

One finished sleeve & sleeve cap

unhemmed gown

Unhemmed gown without the bottom trim

finished gown

Finished gown at 12th Night

12th night gown

Gown at 12th Night

gown back

And a nice shot of the cartridge pleating in the back

You may also notice in the above photos that I am wearing the whiteworked partlet that I started over a year ago. It is unfinished, but I hope to complete that, also, by K&Q A&S.

A Fur-Lined Muff

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I have completed an embroidered and fur lined muff. My inspiration for a muff comes from Venice, Italy, 1590. Cesare Vecellio’s woodcuts include a Venetian noblewoman in winter dress holding a muff. “Clothing of the Renaissance World” by Jones and Rosenthal contains a translation of his description, indicating that the noblewomen wore a fur-lined muff to keep their hands warm. They were frequently made of black velvet or silk with marten or sable lining and closed with buttons of crystal or gold.

From the description and image above, we can discern that the Venetian muff was not sewn in a closed tube, but rather a flat envelope with button closure. This is how I chose to make my muff. I started with a piece of grey wool-like polyester, cut large enough to fit both of my hands comfortably inside. I stitched down the gold trim and embroidered my SCA badge. This is my first time doing free embroidery, so the tree is a satin stitch and the monogram is a back stitch.

After I completed the embroidery, I cut a layer of cotton batting to give the muff some fluff and then I cut my fur, a brown faux mink that is super soft and not at all like most faux furs. The fur was cut an inch and a half bigger than the wool. I then folded the edges of the fur over the wool layer and whipstitched it down. I then sewed the buttons on the front (embroidered) side of the envelope.

Lastly, I fingerloop braided some perle cotton and sewed the loop onto the opposite edge of the muff. Finished and warm!