A 15th Century Italian Gown

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I have been meaning to make this style of dress for years. I just had to wait around for my sewing historical garments skills to catch up!

I love wearing this dress! It’s self-supportive and very comfy. The skirt flows and drapes beautifully. I have great range of motion in the sleeve. The handkerchief-weight linen chemise is oh so snuggly with all the pleats 🙂

This is the first time I have done so much hand-pleating and worked with this much wool. The amount of skirt and hem gives it such a different feel while wearing it. This dress works great for my body type, I could wear it all day!

I decided to save picture space, so I made a video instead! Here is a slide show of my construction of this gown:

Materials:

  • Gown: (Outer) 100% Wool, (Bodice Lining) 100% Linen, Modern thread
  • Chemise: 100% Linen, 100% Linen thread & Modern thread

Inspiration:

For this project I used only what I saw in paintings and frescos of the time period of 1460-1470’s in Italy. Around 1480, styles start to change, especially in the way sleeves attach to the dress. I wanted to go for a fully attached sleeve, with small slits in the forearm of the sleeve to show a small amount of chemise underneath. I felt this style isn’t represented as much as the more detached sleeve and stiffer bodice of the 1480-90’s.

Details for the garment I interpreted from the images:

  1. Fabric is likely wool in most images I was referencing due to the way it drapes heavily and the coloring (linen would have been difficult to dye). A high quality light wool could have been used. Some images may be in silk or look to have silk embroidered sleeves.
  2. The bodice has a soft silhouette, yet seems supportive. So a “gothic fitted gown” style should give the right shape. No boning or stiff bodice pieces.
  3. Sleeves are fully attached to the bodice in most cases, some are detached only at the bottom. This gives a simpler style with less chemise being pulled out.
  4. Sleeves have a slight gather at the sleeve-cap.
  5. Hem of the gown is long enough to sit and bunch a bit on the ground. Some images show them tucking the skirt up into a belt while walking and carrying items.
  6. The skirt is slit down the front to at least mid-thigh, continuing the front opening in the bodice-likely for ease of getting garment on/off.italianpic8
  7. The bodice is laced with spiral lacing or with clasps.
  8. Sleeve cuff is tight fitting and ends at wrist bone.
  9. There is a sleeve slit from wrist to elbow in most images, with small ties at two or more places on the opening.
  10. Skirt is pleated using cartridge pleats and in one instance box pleats.
  11. Chemise neckline matches closely the gown neckline.
  12. Bottom of bodice/top of skirt hits around natural waist, some have a belt.
  13. Hair styles vary, including braids, hair wrapping/taping, small caps, small veils or turban wraps, Saint Birgitta cap.

Patterning Sources:

For this project, I modified my “gothic fitted gown” pattern. I stopped the bodice waist at my natural waist (found by bending at the side). I modified my sleeve pattern to create a gathered sleeve-cap similar to the images below. My skirt is 4-5 rectangular panels gathered into cartridge pleating at the top. All pieces are based on my own measurements.

Construction Methods:

  • All seams were sewn on the machine using modern thread. All other seam finishing, pleating, eyelets, and attaching the skirt to the bodice was done by hand sewing using modern thread. 100% linen thread was used for the chemise.
  • The bodice was constructed using bag lining at the neckline. *I recommend using flat-lining for the different fabric types since they slid around while attaching the sleeves.
  • Hand sewing included Whip stitch and Hem stitch, including tight whip stitch for the eyelets. Seams were finished using flat-felled seams.
  • I did not include ties for the sleeve or slit it completely up the wrist. The wool was stretchy enough to get on/off without ties, but I think they would add a bit more to the finished garment.

Main References:

  • Fra Carnevale, Birth of a Virgin, 1467 (detail)
  • Francesco del Cossa, Allegory of April – Triumph of Venus, 1469-70 (detail) 
  • Some other Italian images from 1470’s:
    • Davide Ghirlandaio (Bigordi), Works of the Buonomini – Dowering Young Girls (detail), 1478-79
    • Ghirlandaio, Domenico Announcement of Death to St Fina (detail), 1473-75
    • Master of the Baroncelli Portraits, Saint Catherine of Bologna with Three Donors (detail), 1470-1480

I’ve already made an all linen version of the gown with a shorter hem for outdoor events. I’d say the pleating is the most time-consuming part!

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