{JennylaFleur: Dress Diaries}

Gilded Raiment: an Italian Renaissance costume

Italian Renaissance Underpinnings


corded bodice:
drafted per Elizabethan Corset

drafted per Jen Thompson & Kass McGann

corded bodice: cotton twill, denim, ¼" hemp cord
camicia: cotton lawn

The Underpinnings for my 2002 Itailian Renaissance costume..

Completed Spring 2002.



The Results:


March 2003
At home.






February 2003
On my dressform.






February 2003
On my dressform.






Dress Diary:

September 25 2002

I have hit my first major snag in my Itailan Renaissance. I was originally going to use my 18th century stays as the foundation for this dress. Not quite period, but comfortable and close enough for me. Well I tried on my stays today and they don't fit anymore! It's good because that means I am losing weight - but bad because I now have nothing to wear with this dress. This is going to take some thought ...

September 27 2002

After some thinking and research I have decided to make a corded bodice. I got the idea from Jen Thompson. I love the look of her corded bodice and found her detailed information on using hemp cord so inspiring. I had decided long ago I wanted to make one someday, well that day has arrived!

I will be using the hemp cording Jen suggests with two layers of a mustard yellow denim left over from a other project. I may add another layer but I don't know yet.

October 1 2002


I have finally located the hemp cord I need in-town. Yeah!! I found it at Wal-mart for $5.00. I don't think it's the best quality stuff but it was a great price and I didn't have to pay shipping. The only thing I can foresee a problem with is that it doesn't have a consistent width. At most places it's 1/8" but in others it's closer to 1/16". Perhaps that is the way hemp cord is and I'm just freaking out over nothing. I think I can work around it regardless.

October 3 2002


I have finished making a pattern for my corded bodice. I decided to make a bodice that I can wear with another dress so I will be finishing it as a separate garment. I also decided that the simplest thing would be to use my dress bodice pattern as the pattern for the corded bodice.

I had to make some changes, naturally. I lowered the neckline to insure it won't show underneath the dress and cut away a bit in the back at an angle. Nothing drastic but I thought it could be a little more cone shaped. I also lengthened it a bit. I'm not convinced I won't need to put some steel boning here and there. If I do I want to be able to use the boning I already have in the house, which is a little longer than the original bodice.

I have my pattern all traced out and the pattern for the boning traced as well. I want to make up a muslin of the bodice before I cut my fabric - just to make sure I haven't done anything wrong. I'm pretty excited - I think this is going to be a pretty cool project.

October 7 2002


I have been able to work on the corded bodice quite a bit this week.; I am making it out of 2 layers of a mustard yellow brushed denim and one layer of heavy blue jean denim. I know blue jean isn't accurate but it's heavy, free (scraps from a skirt I made last month) and inside where no one will ever see it. So far the bodice has been a wonderful experience but I have hit a snag.

I have boned half the front, which was way easy, but when I sat down and took a good look at the bodice I realized I had no idea how to bone the sides!

The front and back channels are straight up and down but the side is on a diagonal. I based my channel layout on the renaissance corset patterns I've seen (relying heavily on The Elizabethan Corset Page). I'm having a hard time figuring out how I'm going to insert the cord with only one side open. Help! I have e-mailed some wise and more experienced costumers and am waiting to hear back from them.

Camicia Beginnings

Since I am at something of a standstill with my bodice I have started on my camicia. A camicia is an Italian shift, shirt or smock, that garment that goes under the bodice/stays. I am using a very thin, loose weave cotton. It looks like a light handkerchief linen and it was on sale and everything! Again I am using Jen Thompson's pages as a guide. I love the look of her camicia and it looked too easy not to try.

Using Jen's pages and Kass McGann's article as my guide, I cut out all the pieces today. I took all the measurements of myself but they were so close to Jen's own dimensions I ended up going by her numbers. Tomorrow I hope to start the actual sewing ...

October 12 2002

So far my camicia has gone together like a dream! I have only the neckline to pleat and neckband to attach and it's done. I've been distracted with other things this week so it as taken a little while but it has been way easy. I followed Jen's suggestions quite faithfully and I'm very pleased. The only thing I'm not happy with are my French seams. Because my fabric is so delicate I decided to finished the seams. It worked well but I wish I had made the seams smaller, a little thing I know, but it would have looked better with seams narrower than 3/8". Oh well!

I spent my 'sewing time' yesterday researching what sort of pleats I wanted to use at the neck. I loved Jen's simple smocking but I don't know how to smock so I'm compromising with un-embroidered controlled pleats (cartridge, I guess, is the correct term).

I also experimented with blackwork designs. I want to add embroidery to the neck (and perhaps cuffs). I was hoping to do a counted blackwork but the thread count of my fabric is just too small to work with without a magnifying glass. Since I want to be able to work on it at a retreat I'm going to this month I decided not to bother. Instead I will transfer the pattern into the fabric and go from there. I'm still experimenting with which design I want. I have narrowed it down to two designs from the Blackwork Archives.

I am also in a quandary as to whether I should to the embroidery before I attach the neckband (through one layer) or after (through two layers). I think either will work but I'm not sure what to do yet...

October 28 2002

When I decided to cartridge pleat the top onto a neckband I didn't realize how labor intensive and time consuming the technique was! I love the result and it was very simple to do but I thought I would never finish!

My Mom tried explaining the technique to me but I was lost so I turned to the internet. There are a quite a few sites that have instructions and diagrams on how to cartridge pleat (or gauge). I am jazzed because I'm a visual person so seeing a technique (in a few different ways) is always better for me. Below are the sites (instructions and pictures) I found the most helpful:

- The Renaissance Tailor - my favorite set of instructions
- Elizabeth Stewart Clark - Civil War period instructions
- Reconstructing History - helpful instructions with good photos
- Drea's Elizabethan Costuming - more good instructions

October 30 2002

I have been able to work on my bodice this week. After some research and receiving of advice, I came up with three options;

Option One:
Hemp bone on the diagonal by cutting out the fabric, boning the pieces with cord and then sewing the boned pieces together. (demonstrated by Sempstress) Since I'm already past that point, this not really an option.

Option Two:
Hemp bone on the diagonal by leaving the side back edges open then binding the raw edges with bias tape. This involves a lot of hand sewing and I am, again, past the point where this would be an easy option. (Thanks Bridget & Sarah for this suggestion!)

Option Three:
Abandon the diagonal boning all to together and going with a more vertical placement. (Thanks for this impute Corey!)

At this point I am not willing to unpick and redo most of this bodice so I decided on the third option. A cop-out perhaps, but I look at the list of things left to do in order to complete this project and the list of other sewing projects I want to do in the next few months and have to draw the line somewhere! I also heard that a diagonal side boning layout counts on a certain amount of lengthwise tension being provided by the stiffener so this may be the best option after all.


I was able to finish sewing and boning all the channels today. Because the bodice is cone-shaped (not a rectangle) there are some angled channels. I boned the front to the side seam and the back to the side seam. I then created two channels lined up with the side seam. Rather then leave the left over space (created by the cone shape) blank I stitched channels there too. These channels are not boned but just quilted.

I'm very pleased with the way it turned out. It looks so cool! I'm hoping to try it on for real tomorrow. I need to see how much or if any of the cording should be replaced with steel boning.

November 10 2002


I have gotten quite a bit done in the past weeks. I finished my camicia, minus the embroidery (yay!). I tried on the camicia and corded bodice for the first time last week. They both fit perfectly and looked great (if I do say so myself!).

I decided to place ½" steel boning in the back of the bodice (next to the lacing holes) and on the side seams. Just that little bit at the side added a lot, giving it a wonderful shape. Unfortunately my original measurements were wrong so I need new boning for the sides. I ordered the boning from Sewing Central today and hope it won't take forever to arrive. (It's my first order from SC so we will see ... )

I found I can easily sew through the hemp cord (using a size 18 needle) so I have the cord tacked down in place and all the loose ends trimmed away. I cut out the bias tape for the edge binding this weekend. I thought a contrast would be fun so I used some of the dark purple gown lining fabric for the bias tape. Now I just need the boning, to bind the edges and to create the lacing holes ... I can't wait until it's done!

November 15 2002

The last corded bodice fitting and a view of my temporary lacing strips. They are made of made of blue denim and size "O" grommets.

December 5 2002


No, it's not finished yet! Will the handwork never end!!

The bodice is going well. I have finished the top edge with the purple bias tape. My boning arrived this week so I can now finish the bottom. I love the purple contrast but I did mess it up. I didn't cut the strips wide enough so the contrast is only a narrow 1/8" instead of the bolder ¼" I really wanted. I have more fabric so maybe one of these days I'll re-cut and redo the bias tape. We'll see ...

When I decided to hand bind the lacing holes of the bodice, I didn't realize how time consuming it would be (the story of my life, right?!). Not, that I would do it any other way, it's just taking forever! I haven't had good luck with metal grommets staying in and with this garment being made from twill and denim I'm sure grommets would have popped out the first time it was laced.

I read that lacing holes were sometimes re-enforced with metal rings. I loved the idea, especially with the twill, so I am inserting flat washers into the holes, and sewing around them. The washers make the eyelet a bit big but they are very sturdy now. I originally tried using size 8 washers but once I added the thickness of the thread, they were a very snug fit for the lacing cord. I ripped those out and am now using size 10 washers.

helpful Hand Bound Eyelet sites

- The Renaissance Tailor - my favorite set of instructions
- Semptress - also helpful since I lost my awl too ...

Camicia Gussets

I have tried on my camicia and bodice a few more times. After wearing them for a longer period of time, I found that the underarm area was too snug. I thought the bodice was too high and was it was the thing digging into my underarm area. I cut it down, and that helped a lot, but part of the problem was the camicia.

The under area of the camicia is a bit snug. While using Jen's measurements for the large pieces worked well (according to the formula they should work just fine), because I am larger than her I should have used larger gussets. I think the gusset size is the key to this garment's fit. I will have to make a new one to see if this idea is correct but that is a later project. For now the camicia is wearable and I am continuing to lose weight so I'm hoping it simply won't be a problem for long.

January 3 2003

I'm done!! I'm done, I'm done, I done! The underpinnings, (camicia and corded bodice), are totally and completely finished. Whee Hoo!!

The camicia has actually been completed for almost 2 months, I just didn't know it. My plan, if you recall, was to add embroidery to the neckband. I've decided against that for several reasons, not the least of which is the time involved and the so-so fit of the garment. It is still a pretty little thing ~ c'est la vie!

I finished the corded bodice yesterday. It has been finished except for the bottom binding for well ... almost three weeks. Between the holidays, handmade gifts and my Mom's poor health, I wasn't able to get out the old sewing machine for a good month. I thoroughly enjoyed my holiday season but it felt wonderful to get out the machine yesterday and to actually complete the bodice.

March 10 2003


Wow - it has taken forever for me to post the pictures of me in the outfit. I was sorry more good shots did not come out but it is just as well since I have discovered that my sleeves are on backwards! What a totally lame mistake!


I want to throw in a big thanks to all those who helped me on this project. The gown and the journal have been a blast, I'm a little sorry to see the project end! Special thanks to Mummy, Bridget & the Pizana girls for putting up with my moods, saying "wow that's great" when I asked you to, letting me watch LOTR over and over again and helping me to dress. A big merci beaucoup to Jen Thompson for sharing your costumes on such a detailed site, for answering my never-ending questions and for all your encouragement!

September 9 2003

I finally wore my outfit in public! I wore it to the Maryland Renaissance Faire. For the Faire I wore the outfit just as I had made it, after having fixed the sleeves of course. I also made a feather fan, in the English style, that hung from my waist.

It was a decent day for August in Maryland, but I was really glad I had the fan (and I pinned up my hair!). I was only able to wear my beautiful sleeves for 20 minutes. It was just too hot. I have to admit I felt a little undressed without my pretty sleeves but what is a girl to do!

To keep my 36" long camica sleeves out of the way I simply folded them over and pinned them at the top with a highly inaccurate safety pin. It worked beautifully and was very cool and comfortable. Good thing I finished the seams since they showed all day! What did I do with my wool sleeves? I hid them under my skirts by tying them to the waist tape of my pocket. No one ever knew they were there and I didn't have to walk back to car! I wish these moments of brilliance came along more often.

I wore the outfit for about 16 hours in total ... some musings ...

Little Ideas that Worked

  • fully lining the dress - This meant I didn't have to wear a petticoat (= another layer). It was easy to move my skirts around and get a nice breeze under them.
  • wearing the hemp corset - Oh so comfortable, actually cooler and more comfortable than a sports bra and much more historic looking!
  • using all natural fibers - Okay, I'll admit I was a little skeptical about wearing a wool dress in August but really it wasn't bad at all. I did get hot sitting in the full sun but I think that was due to the color more than anything.
  • Things to Change Next Time

  • the color - When I choose a deep-purple-practically-black wool I didn't think about wearing it in a summer sun. As long as I was in the shade I was okay but the sun was murder, especially with the sleeves on. So wool - yes, dark color - no! Not for a summer out-door event in any case.
  • corset was too short - I made my corded bodice to end above the waist (1-2"). This meant I had no lower back support, right where all the pressure from my bodice and heavy skirt hit. After hours on backless benches my back was not happy. Next time I'll lengthen the corset to end at my waist, no matter where the waist of my gown is.
  • no pocket slits - I decided long after the dress was finished that I didn't want to carry a purse or basket or anything at the Faire. I have an 18th century pocket but having it tied under my skirts made it difficult and a bit immodest to get to. In the end I put non-essentials (Band-Aids, driver's license) in the pocket and carried a reticule on my wrist. Next time I'll just have a slit in the skirt side so I can reach my pocket. I don't know how period that is but it's practical and secure.

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