In June 2017, I was asked over the phone by His Majesty Ariston to join the Order of the Pelican whilst catching up with Mistress Mathilde, Mistress Lindoret, and Master Stephen for brunch. After I got over the shock maybe 24-48 hours later, I started planning a fancy outfit to wear for the occasion.
I put in a lot of work myself, but I also had help from various people. I’ll credit the portions that others contributed as I go. I couldn’t have completed this outfit without them ❤
The finished outfit is depicted below (Figure 1). I was elevated by my friends Steffan and Branwen on the last day of their second reign in the Barony of Rowany at Twelfth Night 2018.
For almost a decade I’ve been enamoured by a particular mid-16th century overgown: Portrait of a Woman c1570-75, as published in Moda a Firenzi (Landini and Niccoli, 2005) (Figure 2).
The rest of the outfit was built around my dream of having the criss-crossed sleeves and glass pumpkin beads of this overgown.
Almost six months sounds like a long time to create an ensemble but it was a tight deadline for me to stick to given work, travel, and sourcing pressures. After being asked to join the Pelicans in June, I spent the rest of June and the most of July planning and sourcing materials for my ensemble. I was overseas for three weeks in July/August at Pennsic War where I managed to direct-source what I needed. I began sewing the camicia in September around intense work hours and was interrupted by another week overseas (for work) at the end of that month. I finished all but the neckline embroidery of the camicia, the entire shift sewn by hand, by the end of October (which took 170 hours of work in total). I began the dress itself in November and finished it in mid-December. The overgown was patterned on 23 December and was completed on 5 January (thank goodness for holiday periods).
Though there are a few things I need to modify or finish, I am very pleased with how the whole ensemble looked on the day of my elevation.
Making the Ensemble
The construction of my camicia (Figure 7) was inspired by an extant piece displayed in Museo del Tessuto, Prato (mid-16th century; Figure 3). Like the extant piece, I constructed my camicia of linen with a square neckline, wide sleeves smocked in at the cuffs and with no gussets, and four pairs of gores.
Close-ups and more detail of this extant garment is available for viewing on the Realm of Venus > Extant Italian Shifts (Camicie) (Wake, 2001-2010).
The entire camicia was constructed by hand using white silk thread. Seams were sewn in backstitch, felled in stab stitch or whip stitch, and the edges/hems were all rolled and sewn using stab stitch.
Instead of linen bobbin lace, I edged the neckline, cuffs, and hemline of my camicia with store-bought, metallic old gold coloured lace (Figure 5). Metallic lace is found on extant Italian camicia, for example, see the extant example shown at Realm of Venus > Workbox > Extant Italian Shifts (Camicie) > Embroidered Linen Shift (16th – early 17th Century) (Wake, 2001-2010). The lace was attached by hand using a zig-zag stitch.
I also used silk embroidery on my camicia, opting for a different pattern and different stitch types than that used on the extant piece, and with green silk instead of rust coloured silk. Many colours, including green, were used in silk embroidery in camicie during the second half of the 16th century in Italy (Wake, 2001-2010, 1. and 2.). Embroidery could be single colours (example), or multiple colours (Wake, 2001-2010, 1.).
Historical embroidery designs can be obtained from a variety of sources including pre-17th century pattern books (‘modelbuchs’), embroidery samplers, and renaissance portraiture (see Broad Introduction to Blackwork, Shionnach 2014). The embroidery pattern I chose was from a 16th century Modelbuch (Egenolff, 1527: Figure 5), with inspiration also drawn from the border of a second pattern (Egenolff, 1527: Figure 6).
I achieved the look of the dots evident in the border of Figure 4 using French knots. The straight lines of the border were embroidered in stem stitch, and the floral pattern was embroidered using Holbein stitch (aka double-running stitch). Knots, stem stitch, and Holbein stitch were all frequently used in embroidery across many cultures in the 16th century.
Having never smocked anything before, I searched around for how-to guides (predominantly referring back to The German Renaissance of Genoveva > Smocking, von Lubeck, last accessed January 2018) to help me achieve what I needed. After some experimentation in the length, depth, and frequency of stitches, I found a combination that achieved a look similar to the extant piece I was trying to emulate (Figure 3). I did almost all of the smocking on one sleeve (which took me 12 hours), and my housemate Bec completed the second sleeve for me after I instructed her in how to do it. The finished smocking can be seen in Figure 7. I’ve since found out that people have machines that smock for them, and feel envious of such contraptions given how fiddly it is running so many accurate stitches in a white-on-white fashion. I won’t have to do it by hand next time, though, as I’ve now obtained a smocking machine!
I was initially going to close the cuffs with thread-wrapped buttons and buttonhole loop cord, however, after spending about four hours making and attaching four such buttons and buttonhole loops I decided against it. I couldn’t get wooden beads small enough for the button core to look right and they were too bulky, so I removed them and replaced them with stealthy hooks and eyes.
With the embroidery yet to be completed, the camicia has taken me 170 hours so far to pattern, construct, embellish, and embroider.
The dress itself was inspired by several portraits, particularly the colours and layering with the camicia neckline showing in Figure 10 and Figure 11, and the neckline decoration style in Figure 12.
As there was no lacing evident on the front of any of these dresses, I opted for back lacing. This decision made the task a bit more difficult for me – I have experience making several front laced, high waisted, Italian dresses but not a back laced one. I used one of my existing dresses as a basis for the pattern and adjusted the pattern to be back laced. I also altered the pattern over my camicia to ensure that the neckline of the dress was wide enough to show the embroidery and lace of the camicia, as in Figure 10. The pattern I cut from calico appeared to be working but, by the time I finished the bodice, it was a little too long and didn’t fit quite right at the front (not enough support). Though I had several months to complete this ensemble, I didn’t have the time around work to re-make the bodice as I went so I had to stick with it for Twelfth Night. I have some fabric left over and intend to remake the bodice as front-laced in the future.
The outer fabric was a light-weight orange/red wool generously donated by Mistress Mathilde. The inter-lining was made of two layers of linen/cotton canvas tacked together with boning in the front. The boning was another cause for concern – upon completion of the dress, the boning began to tear through the interlining and outer fabric. As there was a little room left at the top and bottom of the channels and the boning wasn’t sharp, I suspect that the problem lies in the fact that the boning is too narrow. When I remake the bodice I will have to source some wider boning for the remake, and I intend to use light hair canvas instead to add strength to the interlining. The bodice was lined with purple linen (because I had just the right amount on hand).
The interlining and boning channels were sewn by machine with help from my generous housemate Bec. I handstitched the outer layer to the interlining using stab stitch and red silk thread. Next, I couched gold twist cord around the neckline to mark the borders of the decoration. Given that embroidering the whole neckline in the required timeframe was out of the question, I opted for couching filigree metal plaques that look vaguely reminiscent of the shape of the embroidery design in Figure 12. These plaques include a floral motif, which ties in to the floral motif of the camicia. Through time, the filigree plaques have proved to be too long to be stable; they are easily bent and keep pulling up their stitches and the fabric beneath. When I remake this bodice, I intend to use applique as it will not have this problem and be more true to the style I’m trying to emulate.
When those were all sewn on, the pattern didn’t look complete so I also stitched on clusters of 4 pearls with a jade bead at the centre in between each of the plaques to liven up the design (see Figure 13). Whilst I can’t talk to the relevance of jade beads, pearls are certainly commonly observed in the clothing, hair, jewellery, and other accessories of 16th century Italian noble women (as depicted in many of the 16th century portraits in Landini and Niccoli, 2005).
Forty four eyelets were sewn by hand using an awl, buttonhole stitch, and red silk thread.
The overgown was the star of my outfit and it was inspired by Figure 2 (Portrait of a Woman, c1570-75, Florence, Galeria Palatina). I’ve wanted to attempt those sleeves for near on a decade and this occasion inspired me to give it a go.
The silver silk was sourced from Silk Baron and was a delight to work with – it didn’t fray excessively, and it was really easy to cut and sew with. I lined it with black cotton/linen blend from Spotlight.
I interlined the body and collar of the overgown with a lightweight hair canvas from Spotlight. This gave a little stiffening to the body. I doubled up layers of hair canvas for the collar to stiffen it (making sure to cross the biases), and pad-stitched the whole thing to curve and further stiffen the collar. The result is a collar that can stand up, or be folded over, and retain its shape. This was my first attempt at pad stitch.
The body was patterned by Mistress Portia, and I then used the pattern to create the overgown. It took me almost 9 days of solid working on it from start to finish.
To achieve the look of the trim on the body and sleeves of the overgown, I paired two metallic trims together from Spotlight. The base layer was a straight trim with picots on both sides. Where only one side needed picots, I trimmed the other side to get the right look. Over the top of the picot trim on the body of the overgown, I overlaid a silver cord. I used about 50 metres of silver trim on the whole outfit and attached it all using zigzag stitch with grey cotton thread on the sewing machine.
The sleeves, though small, were particularly fiddly. I made them by backing long strips of the silver silk with the black cotton/linen blend before stitching the braid along the edges. I made a sleeve cap out of the black cotton/linen blend, and then pleated a larger piece of white linen to the black lining. This gave some puffiness to the sleeve cap. I then laid and cut strips to size and aligned them to roughly 45 degrees to the top of the sleeve cap, weaving them under and over each other and pinning them in place. Once I had enough pieces, I stitched around the perimeter of the sleeve cap to secure the strips to the sleeve. I then hand-stitched a single cross stitch in roughly the centre of every cross over of strips to secure the lattice in shape. I attached the sleeves to the overgown, and then decorated each cross over of strips with a single bead.
The clear glass pumpkin beads used to decorate the sleeves were sourced by Mistress Ant Blowme of Saint Cloud. The beads used in the portrait appear to have gold in the grooves, and so I emulated this affect by stitching them to the sleeves using gold thread.
Shoes are always a problem for me, given my larger shoe size. As such, there was no way I could buy medieval/renaissance women’s shoes in my size.
Knowing that Count Sir Henri has made many earlier period boots, I asked him to attempt to make some healed, late 16th century, Italian style shoes for me. It was well out of his comfort zone, but he agreed to the task nonetheless.
I sent him some detailed instructions I found by a re-creator on Arts and Sciences of the Middle Ages and Renaissance; Chopine, Zoccolo, and Other Raised and High Heel Construction; Lesson 8: Late 16th / Early 17th C. Heels (Timber) (Classe, 2011). These shoes are similar in style to an unfinished pair of early 17th century Italian women’s shoes in the Museum of Fine Arts (Boston), Accession number 44.526a-b.
Mistress Mathilde Adycote knitted me a pair of green stockings to wear with my outfit. She even knitted a fox on the top of each one (there are foxes present in my heraldry).
Knitted stockings are appropriate for the time period of my outfit. There are many pairs of extant knitted stockings that have been found in the Medici burial clothes, with many images of them available online at Archivio Medici’s Digital Archive – photographic documentation: Conservation of the Medici Burial Clothes.
The belt was inspired by several images of girdles made of beads with a tassel on the end (Figures 19 and 20).
The red glass beads and golden filigree beads were donated to my cause by Lady Iglesia, and I sourced the pearls online. Mistress Beatrice strung the belt together for me, and Lady Amelot made the tassel for the end. The tassel is made of gold cords, red cord, and small pearls.
Looking through the hairstyles displayed in the portraits shown in Landini and Niccoli (2005), woman of this time, place, and station were frequently depicted without a hat. They instead seemed to opt for elaborate hairstyles, often rolls, decorated with pearls, jewels, and other accoutrements.
I decided to wear my hair in a roll with pearl decorations. Given that my own hair is not thick or long enough to achieve this hairstyle on its own, I asked my mother to make me a hair roll and gave her the image in Figure 23 to work from.
She created this hair roll by stuffing a beige stocking leg and creating a doughnut with a central hole roughly the same circumference as that of my head. She then took a curly hair piece that I had sitting in the back of a cupboard that matched my hair colour, cut the hair from the clip, straightened and hairsprayed it, and wrapped it around the stuffed doughnut. She stitched the hair down to hold it in place. The hair was still escaping from the doughnut, so she then bought a bunch of those hair nets for buns in a beige colour, cut them open, sewed them together, and wrapped them over the hair to further secure it around the doughnut. To create the flowers, she twisted some bronze wire and attached them to the doughnut. She also sewed down a bunch of small and large pearls to the doughnut to finish the look. To hold the hair roll to my head, she finalised the piece be stitching a pair of hair combs underneath the top.
During Twelfth Night wear I wore this full ensemble, many people asked me if it was my real hair (or assumed that it was). They were very impressed with the real-ness of the hair roll, and the colour match with my hair.
At Pennsic War 2017, I came across a store selling a bunch of jewellery (one of the temporary buildings at the end of the food court). There, I found the perfect earrings to match my outfit (Figure 26); they were made of silver wire with a single pearl drop on each. These earrings looked just like those I had seen in the portraits shown in Landini and Niccoli (2005) (for example, Figure 23).
Archivia Medici (2008). Archivio Medici’s Digital Archive – photographic documentation: Conservation of the Medici Burial Clothes, Conservation > Search > Garment = Calze (stockings).
Boston Museum of Fine Arts (last accessed July 2018). Unfinished pair of early 17th century Italian women’s shoes, Accession number 44.526a-b.
Classe, Francis (2011). Arts and Sciences of the Middle Ages and Renaissance; Chopine, Zoccolo, and Other Raised and High Heel Construction; Lesson 8: Late 16th / Early 17th C. Heels (Timber).
Egenolff, 1527. Modelbuch aller art Nehewercks und Stickens. Page 17 – Tafel 13 and Page 40 – Tafel 36.
Landini, Roberta and Niccoli, Bruna (2005). Moda a Firenzi, 1540-1580: lo stile di Eleonora di Toledo e la sua influenza, p103, 129, 141. Published by the David Brown Book Company.
von Lubeck, Genoveva (last accessed January 2018). The German Renaissance of Genoveva > Smocking.
Museo del Tessuto, Prato (last accessed January 2018). Collections > Garments and Accessories > “Woman’s shirt, Italy, second half of XVI cent. Linen canvas. Silk embroidery. Linen bobbin lace”.
Shionnach, Ceara (2014). Embroidery Stitches Information > Broad Introduction to Blackwork.
Wake, Annabella (2001-2010).
- Realm of Venus > Workbox > Extant Italian Shifts (Camicie) > Museo del Tessuto, Prato Mid 16th Century Italian.
- Realm of Venus > Workbox > Extant Italian Shifts (Camicie) > Embroidered Linen Shift (16th – early 17th Century).
WikiArt (last accessed July 2018). Portrait of Maria de’ Medici by Agnolo Bronzino (1553), Uffizi Gallery, Florence, Italy.