Sunday, January 19, 2014

Revisiting Old Work, Florentine Barbie Edition

This really isn't an update. At the moment, I'm elbow deep in costuming for Mario Sforza, Giovanni de Medici, Pietro Medici, Luigi Gaddi, Salvatore Malatesti, my mother, and the Russian court gown. But I'm taking a break to talk about a sottana I made last year. I say sottana, but it was more than that. Let's cover it piece by piece, shall we?

The Inspiration
This a portrait by Batista Moroni. I honestly don't know the exact date of it. But when I started planning out a costume for my new role at Faire, I knew I wanted pink. Pink is an often overlooked color, and it's commonly thought to be a historiccally inaccurate color. But as you can see, pink did exist - now that I have looked for examples of pink clothing, I see it in a lot of Florentine portraiture.
My character is basically a mistress of Pietro de Medici, played by my fiancé. My character has little purpose in life beyond gambling, entertaining, and being decorative. Emphasis on the decorative. More than once, I have compared my persona to Paris Hilton's chihuahua: Cute, but not much good for anything. Pietro's fashion accessory. This concept is the basis for my costume. And also, why I went with pink.

The Corset/Bodies

This isn't a historically accurate pair of bodies. We have no proof of bodies existing in England before 1590, and none whatsoever of them in use in Florence during this period. And they certainly didn't look like this. But, corsets/bodies are an accepted Faireism, they help achieve the right shape, and they distribute the weight of the 10ish yards of fabric in which we cloak ourselves. Why does it not have the shoulder straps? 16th century Florentine clothing for women places a high importance on the décolletage, with shoulder straps placed on the points of the shoulders. With necklines the way they were, the standard Effigy Bodies pattern would look silly, with its high strap placement. 
The other slight oddity about this corset is that it relies almost entirely on hemp cord to keep its shape.
I first ran a test patch, to figure out ratios for shrinkage. This is an incredibly important step, as the added thickness can reduce the original waist measurement by 1"-2". Your results may vary.
After the rate of shrinkage was identified, I made my adjustments and sewed it up in the standard way. I made 1/4" channels, and ran four lengths of hemp cord through the channels, using an umbrella rib. 

The advantages of hemp boning? It breathes, has enough give to be comfortable, allows me to slouch and bend sideways, and is machine washable. I did end up sewing four pieces of boning into this corset, to increase rigidity in the center front, and to help better displace the weight of my skirts off my kidneys. That done, I absolutely love this corset. Now I just need to scrub the taco sauce I spilled on it while driving to our last invent.

The Underskirt

The underskirt was pretty straightforward. I found a copper silk damask hiding in Michael Levine's, jammed it under my juki, added piping and some felt to the hem, and cartridge pleated it to a waistband. See how that hem just floats out away from the body? Felt is magic. There's no bumroll or farthingale in that picture; the skirt just does that on it's own. Magic, I tell you.

The Sottana

So, yeah. The sottana also went pretty smoothly. Mostly. I was in a rush to get the dress done, and didn't bother to make sure that the red velvet I bought doesn't bleed. It does. I can never get this dress wet. That said, I drafted a sleeve, then sliced it down the front of the sleeve. I added my red trim, my gold trim, and ribbon twists to approximate the look of the sleeves in the portrait. I then went back and stitched gold tubular beads to each twist to look like aglets. And then more twists to connect the sleeves to the shoulders, and the puffy baragoni that typify Florentine style.
Here's the bodice and sleeve, pinned to a form. I do this sort of thing a lot as I work, to make sure I'm really getting the result I want. What you can't see is how after the person who was going to help me left, I ended up having to fit the bodice to myself. This is incredibly hard. Lacing yourself into a back-lacing corset is a cake walk, by comparison. Because of this, there were some minor fit issues. That said, I did all right, all things considered.

Here is a shot while my sweet fiance helped me pin the hem. Poofy. I swear this skirt has relaxed quite a bit since this photo was taken. The day after he pinned the hem, I went ahead and chopped off the excess fabric, stitched it all up, completed the velvet guards,  and threw the ensemble back on to see how it all looked. The pink hem was an inch shorter than the underskirt. I freaked.
I tearfully called the fiancé, who came over to help. I talked to the kind, loving, people on the Elizabethan Costuming group, who gave me very helpful solutions.I was still ready to throw it all out and quit. Drew convinced/coaxed/wheedled me into the whole getup, had me jump up and down a couple times, and twirl, before facing the mirror. And what do you know? It was perfectly fine. The hem was where it needed to be. This was definitely a lesson in stress management.


 Because no outfit is complete without accessories, I made myself a rosary with freshwater pearls and some glass beads I found at Bohemian, in the garment district.  I also bought (not at the same place) and Indian wedding necklace set, complete with tikka and earrings. I cannibalized the earrings and tikka, then wrapped them with wire onto a brass headband, with some gold roses, flower-ish brass bead caps and garnets from a broken necklace.
 This is my girdle. I found a fun brooch on eBay and added it to a string of beads I found at Michael's. Simple.
 Not the girdle I wanted, but it works.
I also started working on a zibelleno. I molded the head out of Sculpey, then added some brass filigree, micro pearls, and chain, to create a harness. I glued this to a repurposed marten pelt. I haven't used it yet, though, as I haven't settled on how I want to attach it to my dress.
And then it got hot, and I needed a fan. Unfortunately, I don't have a photo of the whole thing. I bought 100 bleached peacock feathers from Perial, downtown. Perial is absolutely amazing for feathers, masks, and trim. A lot of their customers are bellydancers and burlesque performers, and by golly do they know their customers. My fiancé cut down a dowel for me. I painted it, glued on an acorn knob, then sandwiched it between two manila paper circles. To this base, I glued my feathers and added some wood shapes from Home Depot. It took forever to set completely.
 And then we went to the Bristol Faire in Wisconsin, and I needed another fan. Really, it was an excuse to make another accessory, but I didn't want to smoosh my feather fan in my suitcase. So Drew and I made a flag fan. Drew took a dowel and, with the magic of carpentery, affixed it to a flat wood piece for the fan. We hammered a veritable buttload of filigree pieces to cover the fan handle, and added a brass lamp finial to the end. This was then covered in shrink tubing to protect the filigree. Not period in the least, but it sure is effective.
A friend gave me an ornament from Florence earlier in the year, and I copied its fleur de lis on some paper and added a border. I traced this onto fabric and embroidered the design, adding some gold spangles. Because I'm Florentine Barbie. The other side of the fan has a mirror, surrounded by more gold embroidery and pearls. Because I'm Florentine Barbie. I glued some leftover filigree to the wood base, then sandwiched everything between the embroidered pieces. 

Not pictured in this section are my four sets of earrings (because a girl needs options), two necklaces I made (again, options), my saccoccia/pockets, my garters, and my camicia. I also never got around to making a colletto/partlet, because I ran out of time and haven't bothered with it, since.

End Result

Photo courtesy of Kenny Jewel. You can book this talented man through his Facebook page.
Overall, I'm pleased with how it looks. I'm still not happy with the fit issues, but I don't care enough to go back and fix them. And I've learned some awesome tricks to get around the bleeding trim issue when cleaning this thing. And the taffeta has calmed down enough that I no longer look like Scarlett O'Hara. Once I get around to making another dress, I'll likely still wear this one, on occassion. You know, the options thing.


  1. What a lovely gown! I am going to have to try the felt hem trick for my next underskirt. I hate wearing a farthingale but l love the pretty pretty princess look!

    1. Felt is miraculous, I tell you! Anea has a wonderful article on the subject at