‘Mushroom’ Dress – an early experiment









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. 


mushroom1 8 1525 Bernardino Licinio (1489-1565) Woman with book

This dress was my first attempt at an early 16th century Italian dress.  It was inspired by the portrait ‘Woman with a book’ Bernardino Licinio, 1525.


In 2012 I was fortunate enough to go overseas to do some work in Birmingham, England for a short film named ‘The Quickener’. Even thought the trip was primarily work based, I had made time to see a few more places in Europe after we wrapped.

I had left last time saying that if I made it back, I would go to Barcelona and Madrid. I hadn’t spent any time in Spain yet in my other travels, and apart from all the pre-sixteen hundred’s art and sculpture in the museums there that I was wanting to experience, Flamenco and Gaudi have always intrigued me, even since I was a child.

I had as usually barely no money, but the sacrifice of no tapas for bread and peanut butter at a supermarket in order to have the money for entry into the Prado etc was TOTALLY worth it.

In the Prado….

I entered the building, it has a beautiful main gallery in itself, and one of the first rooms to your right is where all the Italian paintings from the 1500’s hang out…this is what caught my eye…

Most of the people in the paintings were like me. They weren’t tall, lithe splendid beauties like the usual paintings portrayed…they were shorter, wider, larger chested – and some even had double chins…I was in heaven. Finally a style that wasn’t requiring me to be a stick figure or a small breasted woman with a small waist, or a flat chested one with long thin arms, instead, I could finally be me in period costume.



Outer:            Mushroom pink cotton velvet

Inter-lining :  Canvas and linen

Lining :           Pale blue silk

Fastenings:    Lacing rings, cord

Apron:            Fine linen

Camica:         Linen

(note: the picture of me at the top of this page does not have that camica in it, or the correct apron. At the time that the picture was taken, those two items were on loan to someone.)


A week before Canterbury Faire in 2013 is always the best time to decide to make a brand new dress, in a brand new style…..but i needed something that would fit me as once again, I had changed shape.

I wanted to make one of the dresses that were closed in the front. I decided not to at that time – this was a purely strategic move for the reasons outlined below. I also had seen a portrait at the Prado that I quite liked and decided to attempt that.

I had not researched 100% properly into the fastenings, closures and construction of the front covering, side closing styles yet, and I had no time to do this in a week while making the dress, I could however see how the fronts of the dresses closed. I would not have felt right blundering straight on into a pattern and design, not having done the necessary thinking, reading and trialing in order to with good conscience say that it was to the best of my ability and the right way to do it. I was also making my friends Brughel outfits at the same time, and had no one to help me fit my bodice, so i figured making a front closing dress would be easier in this respect. It would take less time and reliance on others if i could adjust it myself at the front, and it was obvious from the portraits how it closed in the front.

I had made a pattern for my friend that was soon to be the most used pattern I know, and I modified it for me and cut it in half to make it front closing.

The painting front looked slightly stiff, even though the bust looked supported and full. I therefore decided to use a stiff canvas interlining that I would quilt to the linen linings. It gave a very desirable effect, it was stiff and held everything where it should be when I drew it together in the middle.

With the interlining quilted and then sewn together, I  laid it onto the sewn together bodice in the ‘mushroom’ coloured velvet that I had purchased for the dress. I had cut this larger to fold over the interlining.

I pinned the outside to the lining and brought the outer layer over the interlining, clipping the curves before sewing down the outer layer to the interlining.

The skirt was two and a half drops of the velvet sewn together.  I cut the silk drops of the lining to match and sewed them up also. As I as pressed for time, I laid the drops out on the floor, good sides together, pinned the two sides and the bottom together and bag lined the skirt. I felt terrible bag lining it….but I did not have the time to hand sew the hem the way I would have liked to.

When it was pressed and turned inside out I box pleated the skirt, leaving the gap at the front to be covered by the apron when it was on.

The skirt was hand sewn to the bodice, as it was WAY too thick to go through a machine.

The silk lining was placed onto the bodice and hand sewn in place.

The sleeves were made as separate pieces and set in after this was all done.  These were also hand sewn due to thickness issues. They are the only part of the process that I was not happy with. They do not puff in the right way – but this was a good trial for my Pink Italian 1530’s dress that was to be made after this one, which did puff the way they are meant to.

If I ever need to I will go back and unpick the sleeves and adjust the puff, however, I look at this as an experiment dress and don’t bother to wear it now, so it will probably be on the to do list for a very long time in all honesty.

I spent a lot of time looking around at the different Camica’s (Chemise) in many of the paintings. I decided to construct mine by making the sleeves part of the neckline and ‘drawstringing’ the neck in before securing it with a ribbon to keep the gathering in place before removing the drawstring. That gave me the desired amount of gather and the right look for the painting.

To finish the dress, I sewed lacing rings onto the bodice and closed it with spiral lacing.

If I were to now wear it as a proper outfit, I would still have to make a balzo and a partlet to complete the look. However, I have a few other dresses now that I would choose to wear over this one, so I look at it very much as an experimental dress. I have lent it to a few people, and it has been fine on them so it was not wasted in any way…

The success of this dress was the pattern. it has the right shape, the right look and it is where the understanding of all the other dresses since have come from. It was a good starting point, even if it isn’t 100% the way it should be.

There are a few things that I would do differently next time, but I was happy with the overall look of the dress and it taught me a few things about what not to do next time…which is always a good thing.



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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