Sunday, November 2, 2014

Italian Renaissance Dress, part I

I am gradually drifting back to costume making after decades of either avoiding it, or not being in a situation where I could easily cut and sew detailed garments - or even have a reason to spend the time and money making one.

So here I am, in the planning stages of making an Italian Renaissance dress, from around 1495-1510-ish Florence.  Transitional I guess you'd say.  Not a gamurra and giornia combination, and not quite the Tudor-like mid 1500's.

In many ways this dress will be similar to the one I made back in the late 1980's, using this painting by Gentileschi as my inspiration:
The one I made back then ended up longer in the waist than I wanted, and I think the lacing was further back than the painting.  And of course I used big metal grommets, and my chemise was Tudor rather than Italian.  But I had got lucky with my fabric - found a remnant of wool/silk blend summer-weight suiting that was a perfect texture (boy do I miss the LA garment district).  Put a contrasting fabric band at the bottom and the neckline, and altered it enough to pass as German/Landsknecht peasant, but without sleeves.  It was a good learning experience for me, because I was working without a pattern, using a previous front-lacing bodice as a starting point.

Anyway, after regular wear for six or seven weekends in a row over two or three years in the hot LA climate, and then being stored for around 25 years (really?!  has it been that long?!), it's looking worn.  And it has some issues (aside from the grommets), like boning pop-outs, stains, etc.

So now I'm going to make this Italian gown.  A friend is in the SCA and they're doing an Italian Renaissance event in late January.  Even my husband is interested in going - it's Italy after all, and close to the period of the early violin makers.  So, I've been researching paintings, patterns, fabrics, historic construction methods, and looking online at what other people have done, trying to get a complete mental picture of what Italian dress of the period was like, and what area and date I want to go for.  I knew I wanted to move away from the lower-waisted almost-Tudor styles, and I did not want to make a separate corset.  My old one won't work for it.  Done that, been that uncomfortable.  And why not do something different?  Women in this transitional period weren't yet using a separate corset (pair of bodies).  The stiffening was all part of the dress itself  -  or at least that's one theory, and I'm going with it.  I'll be reasonably HA and let the rest of it go.  If I don't, I'll never finish in time for the event I plan to wear this to, in January.  Heck, I'm going to hand-sew the darned eyelets and embroider the neckline of the camicia.  But I will *not* be using reeds, hemp string, or glue-stiffened fabric for the bodice.

Found some reasonable fabrics at Home Fabrics for the outer layer of bodice and skirt, others for the underskirt, and 100 % linen for the camicia.  With those chosen, I've been gradually collecting all of the other bits and pieces.  Tracked down some brass aiglets online, as well as brass lacing rings and linen lacing cord.  I've also been having a lot of fun choosing beads for the jewelry.  There's another money&time-trap for you, beading!

I worked with a friend to take all of the appropriate measurements, with the initial intention of drafting my own bodice pattern.  The old ones aren't quite right for this, even aside from (ahem!) size changes.  But after a few unsuccessful tries, I found myself avoiding the task and putting off getting started.  I am, unfortunately, too fussy and not good enough at drawing.  So the heck with it, I ordered Period Patterns #41, Italian Renaissance Gowns 1470-1505.  Just got it yesterday and I think it'll do for a starting point.  I may not be good at drawing patterns, but I can alter them! :-)

So, here's my progress...

These are all of the fabrics I've decided on so far.  Not silk or wool - those are beyond my budget, and as of right now beyond my skill level.  I know they're not perfect, but if I end up ruining something I know where to get more and I can afford to replace it.
This is just a mock-up of what I'm thinking of.  L to R, bodice, skirt, under-skirt banding, and under-skirt trim.

My initial inspiration, top left.  Yes, it's from Racinet, but it's generally what I'm thinking of, in terms of bodice shape, sleeves, fabric use.

 Close-up of the bodice (L), and skirt (R) fabrics.  The camera doesn't quite capture the red.  The fabric itself is less pinkish.
I'm thinking of red underskirt fabric, with rope in the hem covered with the striped fabric.  Then a band of the small squares fabric.  Not sure yet if I'll use one row of the squares or two.

The pattern.  I'm using view IV, but I'm not sure about those sleeves.  I might go with the sleeves on view VII instead.

And, the beads!  Well, freshwater pearls mixed with various beads anyway.  And aiglets.  Surprisingly hard to find the kind I wanted.  But I did.

Still need a few things, like lining and under-skirt fabric, the rope for the hem, wool felt padding for the bodice, and other bits.  Still have to decide on the boning as well.  That may have to wait until I've got a muslin bodice made.  I'm planning to do side lacing, and if it needs to flex horizontally as well as vertically, I may have to use spring steel bones.  Rigilene will probably be the light boning for keeping the front smooth.

Anyway, progress has been made.  And now I have the pattern I can get started on cutting out and fitting the bodice.  Once that's done the rest is gravy (well, except for the dang hand-sewn eyelets).