Between Rowany Festival (2-7 April, 2015) and May Crown (1-3 May, 2015), I made a 16th c Italian-style gown (circa 1530-40’s).
It is predominantly based on a portrait by Moretto da Brescia (1543-46) – see the woman in blue and brown on the right in the portrait (below).
My dress is a bitza in that it represents various different Italian styles from the 16th century – the stripes and sleeves from Brescia, Italy (Moretto 1543-46), the shorter bodice from Ferrara, Italy (Kempeneer, 1530’s) and the front lacing from Brescia, Italy (Moretto, 1535).
In order to make a stripey dress, I took an olive green silk that I bought at Pennsic War 2013 and a red-brown silk that I bought at Fields of Gold 2014, and I tore them up into strips that were 3 inches wide (with 2cm seam allowance added). I derived this width by dividing the length of my arm by 8 to match the ratio of stripes in the primary inspiration (the woman in blue and brown stripes has 8 stripes on each sleeve, and the stripes on the body/skirt are approximately the same width).
The strips were then overlocked together because it was the quickest way to join them whilst ensuring the dress would be fray-resistant in the future.
The bodice was based on the pattern I had made for my black cotton linen and red cotton linen Italian dresses. The interlining was made of two layers of thick linen, with five pieces of narrow boning sewn into each side-front. The interlining was machine sewn together to expediate the process, and to ensure stability in structure.
Ensuring the stripes lined up across the three pieces of the bodice was a time-consuming process. I had to line up the pattern pieces carefully before cutting them, and I then sewed the striped silk to the outside of the linen interlining by hand using stab-stitch.
I also attached the blue linen lining to the inside of the interlining by hand before sewing 18 eyelets into the front (on the outside of the inner-most boning to ensure the front of the bodice doesn’t buckle whilst the lacing is tightened).
The next step was to pleat in the 5-6 metres of skirt to the bodice, which was all done by hand with whip stitch.
Next up was the sleeves. The sleeves are made of 4 panes each plus an entire lining piece. Each sleeve contains nine stripes (the ninth is small and at the top of the sleeve), 28 individual puffs and approximately 32 buttons. The stripes of silk were overlocked together, however, the rest of the sleeves are entirely hand sewn. I used the lessons I learnt from my black Italian dress to improve on my method of construction for this sleeve type.
In the gaps where each puff meets the next, a gold-coloured button was sewn down.
For Lochac’s May Crown 2015, where I first wore the completed dress, I didn’t have time to make headwear. As such, I used an orange shawl as a turban – there are examples of this in 16th c Italian portraiture (including the fringing).
For Great Northern War (5-8 June, 2015), I am hoping to complete a piece of headwear inspired by a Florentine portrait. It is delightfully odd and similar to some of the balzo’s of this time period.