1530’s Pink Italian Dress

Please note: If you wish to reproduce this in any way please credit me. We all work very hard and share our knowledge freely in the SCA. It would be a shame to find my work in someone elses name. Thank you. 

1530’s Italian Gown.
Based on the portrait of
‘Portrait of a Lady’, Pier Francesco di Jacopo Foschi (1502-1567), circa 1530-35
Chantelle Gerrard (Christine Bess Duvaunt)

PLEASE NOTE : This is the documentation submitted for the Realm of Venus competition  IRCC3 2013

  ‘Portrait of a Lady’, Pier Francesco di Jacopo Foschi (1502-1567), circa 1530-35pink4


I have been wanting to make this dress for a while. I was just waiting for the right material and the right timing to present itself, and finding the material a few days before I stumbled upon the Realm of Venus competition seemed like providence for this project.
I have been fortunate enough to be able to travel in the last few years to Europe and The United Kingdom on several self-funded research trips. In 2012 I was in Madrid, Spain, with the specific intent to see the works at the Prado.

I have struggled sometimes with period styles as my body type is not the wafer thin Gothic, or one that necessarily fits into a ‘Tudor gown’ with ease. However, when I saw with fresh eyes the grouping of Early Renaissance Italian paintings, I had hope that the fuller figures and the larger busts were a style that I could replicate and feel comfortable in.

I created a pattern on my friend for an early sixteenth century Italian dress, and from that to the finished dress explained in this document, the pattern went through an evolution of adaptation of the same pattern for different people within the Cresent Isles (New Zealand). The shape that was achieved with the pattern for this dress was a fully supportive almost off the shoulder (coined Anti-gravity by Mistress Katherina Weyssin) bodice that needed no boning or corset (which I believe is not needed in this style evident from close examination of the portraits and the way the figures are shaped) that also gave the right shape to the bust, front and side on, and had full and easy movement of the arms and waist without any restriction.

Material Choice

I have chosen Dust Rose Pink wool, linen interlining, and silk lining for the dress – I feel it will give the right look and weight to the dress and the sleeves will fare well with their puff from this. I also think it is the right choice weather wise – the fur arm warmers are a good indication of this.

Wool for the underdress with a silk lining – a light wool that is thin and a silk lining that won’t create too much bulk under – but enough so the skirts of the dress have enough volume.

Black cotton velvet for the trim on the dress – it will work well with the wool

Black cotton velvet and real fur for the arm warmers – I like to use real fur when I can

A lawne for the chemise with silk thread for the black-work – even though I am going for what they would have had….I still know Auckland, Christchurch (Canterbury Faire) and events like festival do not reach the cooler temperatures attained overseas in stone castles….so a lighter chemise is better for me.

Timeline and process

I Hadn’t done much research into this time period within Italy. My knowledge was general at best, and had been built up over years of seeing work in galleries and the general reading about life in that period. I did know that our Baroness has made a particular study of late fifteenth century Italian culture and costume and has produced some fine garments. So, I took the opportunity to look at her books and take some of her pictures from her computer when I was in Cluain (Hamilton) earlier in the year as I was looking at making an Italian dress for Canterbury Faire (nick-named the ‘Mushroom dress’ for the colour of the fabric) based on a painting that I had seen at the Prado. I decided upon this dress as I could fit and pattern a front lacing dress on myself, I knew that I would need help to fit if I were to make anything other than that and time was short, so being self-sufficient was essential.

My friend in Southron Gaard (Christchurch) had mentioned after Canterbury Faire that she was wanting to make a late fifteenth century Italian Dress based on theLorenzo di Credi, Portrait of Caterina Sforza (c.1481-1483).
We decided to work on this together. I flew down to Christchurch for the weekend and from a pattern that I had made on my friend up in Auckland for dresses we were all going to make up there based on Bacchiaca’s, The preaching of St John the Baptist, 1520, which I had turned into a pattern for my ‘Mushroom dress’, we developed one down in Christchurch that was the right shape. My friend in Southron Gaard  (Christchurch) is roughly the same shape as me, so I was able to modify the pattern when I got home for the dress that this document focuses on.

I then put together an under-dress to see what support and shape it would give me this was the result. I had to get my friend to fit the pattern to me as it required :

– the sides and shoulders to be sewn up (so it goes over the head tight)
– then pinching and pinning just the sides.
– taking in the back seam if necessary
– adjusting it so it holds everything tight and up…
-marking where the pins are with vivid
– ripping the seams on one side or both
– cutting the pattern where the vivd lines are

first attempt at the under-dress - it gives the right shape and support.

first attempt at the under-dress – it gives the right shape and support.

Then I found the pink material, and saw the competition on line…and the rest is below.

Construction of the dress and undergarments

I have decided upon side lacing for my Pink dress and the under-dress because I have seen evidence in paintings of this time of side lacing and it is the most logical place for support and shape of the outfit.

I had never hand sewn an entire garment before.

My experience was in machine sewing garment and then hand finishing.

At first the idea of doing it ‘right’ and the ‘right way’ paralised me, I had to start the project and was in the unfamiliar territory of not having researched before starting. I asked friends, looked in various books and my friend asked on the Elizabethan costuming face book page – as specific question about bag lining.

I decided to do an experiment – why not try all the ways and see how they sat, after all at this stage I did not know for myself how they looked/acted when on, so I started my kirtle while researching with the full knowledge that I may well have to re do it all.

I know that for some more experienced sewers of garments from this period this may seem a waste of time, but for me at this stage in my work and in my experience, it seemed like a perfectly good way to learn. Especially as teaching is one of my jobs…I would then be able to tell people of my experiences as I will have done it myself, and not just heard about it or talked to people face to face or on forums, read books etc.

As a side note:

Halfway through this project , just before Great Northern War I made a fully lined linen 1390’s-1420’s Italian /French fitted gown – what some people call a cotehardie or gothic gown.

I decided to experiment with this as the wide neck – almost falling off, mirrored the shape and line that I was achieving with my pattern for the Italian dresses. My friends in Christchurch had asked months before that for me to make a date with them and come down help to make fitted gowns, and as they had asked well in advance, I decided to do the research and match up our research when I got down there. It was perfect timing. They planted the seed and it gave me a reason to do some research into this type of dress, which was always in the back of my mind to do, but I never had a reason to focus on it.

The book – Crowfoot, Elisabeth, Pritchard, Frances & Staniland, Kay. Textiles and Clothing c. 1150-1450. The Boydell Press. Museum of London, Woodbridge, 2001. ISBN:0851158404

Was good for this – as there was lots of information about materials, ‘facings’ (ie the way I was to use the tabby woven silk on the edges to strengthen the garments) and stitches.

There were quite a few other books for picture reference and websites that were handy as well in looking into all of this.

Other information on hand sewing techniques that I pulled off the net at this time you will find below in a vague bibliography – it was a hodge podge of rushed reading and looking, which I must admit made me feel uncomfortable, but I know I made the best decisions for me at the time, and having now completed the project (like always) I do know what I would now do differently.

This foray into this type of dress really gave me some good grounding for the competition project.


Pictures from ‘medieval dress and fashion’, Margaret Scott. P115 and P111

The above pictures are examples of the French/Italian gowns that have a wide neckline, with a supported bust that, in my opinion, progress into the Italian gowns of the late 15th century/early 16th century.

My friends in Christchurch humoured me and made patterns based on the top half of my Italian gown, as I had made one the previous week – just to see if it would work and I wasn’t leading them down the garden path….it worked. It worked for me and it worked for them. It is Fully supportive, gives the off the shoulder look without falling off the shoulder. It is completely free moving – I can bend, lift, work and it does not restrict or pull seams like I have heard people complain about when they have made their fitted gowns that are based on a front and back curved seam with tight sleeves. For all purposes, it seemed to work.

The progression from this type of Italian gown from the early 1400’s to the style that was evident by the later 1400’s/early 1500’s, it seems entirely logical to me and the others that I have talked to that it would be a logical one..

The Under-dress #1 and Pink Bodice #1

I created the green under-dress as I was asking questions and reading. I hand-sewed it in the ‘machine’ sewn method…the only one I thought I knew at that stage. Sewing the good sides together at the neck, felling the seams and then turning it, I then sewed up the sides with invisible stitch.

bodice ready to be invisible stitchedflat felled bodice with back stitching
I did the pink bodice this way too.

bodice showing re-enforcing at the sides
The green sat fine and looked like the paintings when turned, but I was unconvinced that this was the way from my recent observations and discussions, as the pink bodices lining was visible on the edge and I didn’t like the way it sat.

The pink bodice had re-enforced sides with canvas. This was to re-enforce the garment once the lacing rings were put on and would also change later with the research that I had done.


I started work on the sleeves, getting the right amount of volume and puff and following the pleat size and type from the portrait.

both sides of sleevessleeve inside out with lining already attached to forearm

At this stage I was still looking into sewing techniques and decided to backstitch the seams and then fell them. I would probably now fell the seams and whip stitch them together as I have seen some evidence of that for garments. That is also how I chose to make the shirt.

I continued with the sleeve construction once I had started Bodice #2 (as I now had something to sew them onto…)
I whip-stitched a double layer of wool onto he sleeve-head, and paced another triple layer square of wool that was then whip stitched slightly out from the sleeve head about 5 inches each side of the shoulder seam.
This gave the right amount of support and ‘puff’ to the sleeve heads.

sleeve head
The upper sleeve lining was then sewn to the forearm lining and the sleeve head, which helped with the puff.


I then sewed the sleeves into the sleeve holes and managed to sew one in the wrong way round (we won’t go there….it has to happen a few times in one’s sewing life – right?)

The lining was then sewn onto the forearm and then onto the sleeve head. The lining was made shorter than the actual sleeve to create more of a puff.


In the first week I had also sewn the skirt panels – just the wool

The lining panels I cheated and machine sewed just after I completed bodice #2 as I was running out of time.

They had been cut as trapezoids – partly because I only had a certain amount of material, partly because I decided to experiment with shape.

I needed a relatively full skirt that had not much box pleating at the top like the picture…the only way I could see to achieve this was with the trapezoid. The Baroness of Ildhafn (Auckland) had been experimenting with this for her over gown, and it had worked quite well, so I had no issues with choosing this shape as it was logical and the final product has the right amount of fullness while having the correct amount of pleating at the top.

Bodice #2

I agonised more during the first few weeks, I talked more, I read more – and then I realised after conversation in Christchurch with my friend down there, that I had done exactly what I needed to on my previous Italian dress – sewing the lining on afterwards with invisible and whip stitch…..i just couldn’t see the forest for the trees at the time, and was so caught up on ‘the right way’ and surely what I had done before – because it was the most logical thing at the time, wasn’t right?

Due to this revelation I set to the pink bodice, and knew I would need to make a new underdress, which I had been prepared to do since the beginning of the project as stated above.

bodice #2

I cut the pink, cut the interlining and whip stitched it down.

I then attached the shoulders front and back together.

The sides remained open as they are to be laced up

boidice detail

I cut the black velvet and pinned it. It was then very finely whip stitched down.
I then tried it on and it had worked, but I realised that I had gotten the neck line wrong in terms of the square in reference to the picture

boidice before changechanged bodice neckline

So I unpicked it, re-adjusted it and re sewed it. It now sat in the right place so I attached the skirts to the bodice – see below

The dress at this stage is not hemmed.

un-hemmed dress

Underdress #2

Brown wool and rayon fake silk lining ( I had some and with no more money to put towards the project this seemed sensible), made exactly the same way as the pink dress

photounder-dress finished

The neck line was also cut lower than the pink dress.

Eyelettes were then sewn into the side.

Underdress under construction – it at this stage needed to be taken in on the sides as the tension of the lacing at the sides, is what gives the bust its lift.
The second picture is the finished product – the shoulders sit off the side (you can see the un-tucked cord for lacing up the side)


I hemmed the pink dress and before I put the lining in I used what I had learnt from making my 1390-1420 French /Italian fitted gowns and put tabby woven silk ribbon facings on the parts that would take the most strain. In bodice #1 it was the equivalent of the extra layer of canvas I referenced earlier.

silk stitched onto the opening

The silk is thin and strong – and therefore there will be no bulk on the sides, but it will give stability.


I was going to make a chemise – camicia for this project, but I have more use for a shirt for when I wear boy garb (as I can wear it with girl garb as well – seeing as all you see is the neck, chest and sleeves…so I decided to be cheeky. )

Again I looked in numerous places, trying to use more than just Janet Arnold’s patterns of fashion.

I did notice in that that at the end of the day there were a few different ways to do things – especially in patterns of fashion – and that essentially hemming and then whip stitching the shirt together for this project seemed to be the most sensible thing. I wanted something that wouldn’t show the stitches up too much where they could be seen on the shoulders etc.

shirt unfinished

This is the shirt without the collar band.

I also looked around for different examples of 1530’s Italian black work and how to do. I knew I had limited time left for the competition, so I made two neck bands – one that I could place on that was plain if I didn’t have time, the other I was going to try my hand at embroidering.

I looked at numerous paintings of blackwork around the 1530’s Italian period and also found a quick reference on this website

due to time being tight, never having done embroidery or black work before and literally having a day to decide if I was going to do this or not and a day to do it in…I chose to go with a simplified version of what was on the collar in the portrait.

The shirt was complete by the last day – and so too was the embroidery. I did a simplified version of the black work below. You can see the pattern I used in both the paintings.

blackwork Capture

I had started to sew a piece completely with black silk thread – in order to achieve the back edge that the frill has in the painting, but I decided I needed a lot more time and dedication to getting this perfect than I had time for. So I put this aside and did what you will see in my photos below.


Collar band under costruction.

finished shirt

Finished shirt.

The shirt also has a worked cross bar to stabilise the bottom and prevent tearing etc. as found on some extant shirts.


Worked bar from Janet Arnold’s Patterns of fashion, p26.

Arm Warmers and Sash

The Arm warmers are very simply done.

– I took a fur coat, cut off the sleeves.
– Cut my black velvet (to match the velvet on the bodice) and the sleeves to the right length.
– Sewed them all together – making sure the black was a little shorter than the fur, as the fur puffed out of both ends in the painting quite a lot.

arm warmers cut out ready to sewarm 2

The sash as you will see from the final pictures is just Black velvet.
I didn’t have enough time to research into a proper girdle and didn’t want to do a hack slash rush job of it.

That is also why there is no Balzo at this time, I have found several websites and different papers that talk about the Balzo and I will be looking into this when I have more time after the competition.

Findings from the hand sewing research.

This is not a traditional bibliography and I apologise for this, but has been laid out in this way to explain how the main research influenced what had to be quick decisions…

– After my friend posted a question of bag lining onto the Elizabethan costume page on face book there were lots of responses, ways to do it and suggestions….

There is a very strong school of thought for the whip stitching of EVERYTHING at all points, this came through on the forum, but it also had people noting it had been a fad that at one point was the be all and end all way to do it and may not necessarily now the best course of action.

Some people believed they did sew right sides together and turn out (no actual references for this – just here-say) see the conversation at this link to the Elizabethan costuming page.


– Textiles and clothing had some very interesting information on lined and unlined garments and adding silk facings for strength to the edges of garments (discovered as I already said due to the construction of the Italian/French fitted gown.)

Crowfoot, Elisabeth, Pritchard, Frances & Staniland, Kay. Textiles and Clothing c. 1150-1450. The Boydell Press. Museum of London, Woodbridge, 2001. ISBN:0851158404

– There are a few extant garments out there that show the ‘whip stitching’ method. The below is a garment from the Metropolitan Museum in New York and was given as an example on the forum.


– this website I was directed to by my friend – it is all about the whip stitching method that was popular


– Stitches and seam techniques seen on dark Age and medieval garment in various museum collections

This technically is not the period I am looking at…but what came before has influence, and broadens understanding.

– Archaeological sewing page – something that my friend in Christchurch who is very good with her period hand-sewing techniques approved of thoroughly when I found it.


– It says sewing stitches used in medieval clothing…but it has a lot of 1500’s also, all from Janet Arnolds books.

– how to Eyelettes.


– black work Italian 1530’s example


Finished Outfit.

To date:
Green underdress – to be worn (if at all) under a different outfit as it will not fit under the pink dress. (hand-sewn)
Shirt with blackwork (hand-sewn)
Brown underdress (hand finished)
Pink over dress (hand-sewn)
Arm warmers (hand finished)
Sash (hand finished)
Cross – purchased from the Metropolitan Museum, New York.
Silk stockings – purchased from Pennsic markets.

To Be made in the future:

This has been a great experience. I honestly don’t think I would have done so much, so quickly… for me. I rarely get a chance to make garb for myself, but this project not only produced the Pink Gown, but also my fitted gown, which I am very happy with also.

I haven’t enjoyed the rushed research, and I know I am going to go back and re-read it all and change my ideas/opinions about a lot of things, and cringe at some of my choices…but it has been a huge learning experience and I am very happy with my result.

The outfit needs help to get in and out of, as it is side lacing, but it does go on and off – and nothing has ripped or pulled. I can bend, lift, carry and I have full range of movement with my arms in the dress without restriction and without it falling off my shoulders. It stays in place where it should as I move, dance and work.

I will finish the rest of the accessories for the outfit in the next three months – the Balzo is the most important in my mind, because even though I know I will look funny with a round thing on my head – it will complete the outfit and look right, and I will be able to wear it with my mushroom dress.

All in all I have had a great overall experience with this and I now know how to do things I had never done before and will know what to do next time.

dress front 1

showing the pleats

dress 3

with sash

side 1




dress no arm

Dress without the arm warmers and the fullness of the sleeve


Back of the shirt

photo (1)

Final sitting dress.

dress 2



pinkclose pink4 pink3 pink2 pink1


NOTE: Update September 2015

As promised I would keep researching:

I found this in an old cockatrice article written by La Signora Onorata (THL) Katerina da Brescia


and at this point may I say – go the back-stitch……


“Red Pisa Dress & Wool/ Linen Dress:
Luckily, at the Laboratorio Centro Restauri Tesseli, we were able to view the Red dress and the wool/linen dress and further discuss this with Thessy Schoenholzer Nicholson on She advised me of the following:


seams are done in back stitch. The stitch length varies depending on the material used in construction. eg. The stitches on the wool/linen dress are smaller than on the velvet dresses.


both flatfelled and open seams were used. They did not appear to be tacked down with either running or hem stitch. An example can be seen in figure 17


Most seam allowances were approximately 7mm Both L’Abito della Granduchessa; Vesti di corte di Madonne nel Palazzo Reale di Pisa and La Moda a Firenze discuss the Red Pisa dress.”


Arnold, J. Patterns of Fashion, book 1. Quite specific media Group, Ltd, 1985.
Arnold, J. Patterns of Fashion, book 4. Macmilan Ltd, 2008.
Aston, M. The Renaissance Complete. Thames and Hudso Ltd, London, 1996. ISBN 9780500284599
Bernson, B. The Project Gutenberg e book of the Florentine Painters of the Renaissance. G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1909.
Crowfoot, Elisabeth, Pritchard, Frances & Staniland, Kay. Textiles and Clothing c. 1150-1450. The Boydell Press. Museum of London, Woodbridge, 2001. ISBN:0851158404
Martireau, J. and Hope, C. The Genius of Venice. 1500-1600. Royal Academy of Arts. London, 1983.
North, S. and Tiramani, J. Seventeenth Century Womens Dress Patterns, Book 2. V and A, London, 2012. ISBN 9781851776856
Scott, Margaret. Medieval Dress and Fashion. British Library, London, 2007. ISBN 9780712350679
Notes from a class given by Catherine D’Arc on Gothic fitted gowns, Canterbury Faire, 2011.



Please note: If you wish to reproduce this in any way please credit me. We all work very hard and share our knowledge freely in the SCA. It would be a shame to find my work in someone elses name. Thank you. 

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