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Anabella Wake's 1590s Florentine "Iron Dress"

I'm always delighted when someone works out a new application for my patterns, one that I hadn't originally thought of. So when I got these pictures from Anabella Wake, (known to Margo's Yahoo list as "Bella") who had carefully converted our Elizabethan English lady into a wealthy lady of 1590s Florence, I knew I had to share them -- and her story -- with you.

The fact that she managed to do this within the tight confines of the Iron Dress competition simply makes this spectacular costume all the more impressive.

Anabella says:

"When I first heard about the competition I was trying to decide what to make for our Barony's hosting of the upcoming Crown Tourney. The challenge of making an outfit from the Elizabethan period using Margo's Elizabethan Lady's Wardrobe pattern, with just what's on hand in the fabric stash and a very limited amount of money was just the thing I needed to inspire me, and to help me keep to a schedule - and a budget! My costuming efforts are for my participation in the SCA, where I have a very decidedly Venetian persona. Until now I have only ever made sixteenth century Venetian gowns. But I do love almost anything 16th century Italian, so, after clarifying the contest rules and finding it was ok to do so, I took the opportunity to research and make an Elizabethan era Florentine high-necked camicia, a doublet-style overdress, and matching peacock feather fan.

"In searching for pictorial documentation of garments from the 1590s, there can be found many portraits and manuscripts of Italian ladies wearing doublet-style bodice garments that do not feature doublet skirts or piccadils. In these the skirt appears to be attached to the doublet bodice, and appears to be an over-gown. It is these one piece garments that I will be re-creating.

"A Florentine noblewoman's high-necked linen camicia trimmed with cotton lace; velvet doublet-bodice over-gown with shoulder rolls, circa 1590s; with peacock feather fan.

"The over-gown is made up of:

  • Doublet-style bodice made from the hunter green cotton velvet (retaining the side seam for ease of alteration later in case of weight loss), cut with selvedges to lie along the front opening edges, the bodice completely flatlined with linen, and fully lined with silk so no seam allowances show: grey silk in back and side back, "cloth of gold" in fronts and collar. Plastic boning was used along front opening edges only, and hooks and eyes were used to close it from waist to chest. I chose to omit closures above the chest because it is meant to be worn open at the chest as was fashionable in Florence. (All major seams were done by machine. Hand sewing: collar facing/lining, lining on front closure edges, lining sewn down by hand.)
  • Shoulder rolls covered in white cotton and matching panes of green velvet, trimmed. I altered my original plans for paned cap sleeves, finding the shoulder rolls more suitable. I used the trimmed panes to decorate the rolls. I used bias binding to neaten the raw edges.
  • Curved sleeves made from "cloth of gold" silk, flatlined with 100% cotton, attached to doublet by means of hooks and eyes as seen in Patterns of Fashion. I added my own small piccadils to the wrists - strips of matching silk, interfaced with fusible interfacing for fabric stability, stitched to the sleeves and snipped to create the piccadils.
  • Hand cartridge pleated "round" skirt (full panels of fabric, front panels shaped to fit the point) hand-sewn to bodice. These cartridge pleats are done a different way to standard to achieve the less structured and less stiff pleating that is seen in Italian gowns. The skirt, being of thick velvet, is not fully lined, but the front opening edges are lined with "cloth of gold" silk from waist to hem for 25cm on both edges. All seams sewn by machine, lining stitched down by hand so hem doesn't show, hem done by hand.

"Gown trimming: Gold cord made of a cotton core around which metallic gold has been braided, was machine couched onto the bodice front, back, shoulder rolls and skirt opening in double columns. This, of course, was a time-saving measure, which "in period" would have been done by hand. Between these columns were sewn 147 pearls and 294 gold seed beads in groups of three.

"The high-necked camicia, which is essential to the look, and made from my stash especially for the outfit was:

  • Made from and interfaced in the collar and cuffs with 100% linen.
  • I omitted the neckline gussets to fit in with the construction of an extant Italian shirt, late 16th century, located at "The People's Museum of Zadar, Yugoslavia", and examined in "Cut My Cote" by Dorothy K. Burnham.
  • Collar, neck opening, and wrist frills were trimmed with 100% cotton lace.
  • The wrist ruffles were made separately and are removable for washing/replacing.

"The feather fan pattern was altered to suit what I had on hand, and was made from:

  • 30 peacock feathers
  • plastic canvas
  • hot glue
  • quilting thread
  • white felt for padding (synthetic)
  • scraps of green velvet
  • trimming to match gown
  • wooden spoon for handle
  • gold acrylic paint

"Two layers of plastic canvas were cut from the basic shape. Feathers were applied with hot glue, let cool, and then stitched down on one piece of plastic canvas, and the wooden spoon handle applied with stitching and duct tape to the other piece, the two were then laid one on top of the other and stitched together. The padding was done by means of felt glued in place, the outer cover of green velvet trimmed to match gown went over that. Wooden handle was painted gold."

Anabella, feel free to improvise and improve any time -- this costume is stunning!



Margo Anderson - One Tough Costumer!