Thursday, February 13, 2020

Reading list for a New Renaissance Costumer

Recently I've been working with people newer to the aesthetic and sewing of the 16th century. I'm an unapologetic bibliophile and find that collecting books & materials for research is as fun as making garments. This list is meant to get you started doing & making things. At a later date I will do another list for more in depth research. As you can see from part if my library, I'm always up for a book chat. All of these are currently available on Amazon and the respective authors' websites. Enjoy <3

Patterns of Fashion 3 and 4 by Janet Arnold

If you are new to doing research on this period let me introduce you to your new patron saint, Janet Arnold. This wonderful woman was able to visit collections of historical garments and took detailed notes & photographs of the garments and their construction. Short of being able to handle the garments yourself these books will get you amazing first hand information. Book 3 will focus on fashionable garments, accessories, and stays. Book 4 will focus on your linen undergarments for the most part.

The Tudor Tailor by Ninya Mikhaila and Jane Malcolm-Davies

This was the first book I ever purchased for my renaissance costume adventures back in early 2008. As a starving college student it did give me everything I needed to start experimenting. The book is based on the authors' research & some experimental archeology. If you can only afford 1 book to get started in renaissance costume this is a good start.

Textiles and Clothing  1150-1450 by Elisabeth Crowfoot, Frances Pritchard, and Kay Staniland

To be fair, yes this book is about cloth I'll ng and textiles from the middle ages more than the renaissance,  but knowing your roots is never a bad thing. Many of the textiles were still available during the 16th century, as well as amazing details on sewing techniques. This is part of a series on the material culture of the middle ages from the Museum of London.

The Modern Maker Vol 1&2 by Mathew Gnagy

So I am truly a fan girl of Mr. Gnagy and with good reason. He is trained in tailoring and deals a lot with patterning, fit, and technique  from the 16th & 17th century. His books are also really effective at explaining a period pattern drafting system called the Baras system. He is actively still writing & publishing so check out his website for a full list of his publications.

Update: I've added links to author websites.

Saturday, November 9, 2019

Wild and Wooly Necklace

Tonight let's chat about a really fun piece of jewelry I found years ago while browsing the British Museum's online catalog. This ram pendant is similar to many other beautiful pieces of jewelry using baroque pearls, typically dated 1550-1600 by many museums. This one in particular has always made me smile as someone who works with textiles.

Now imagine my glee as I walked through Hobby Lobby a few years ago with a friend & found an almost identical pendant in their offerings. We each purchased one of the cuties and decided to make jewelry  with them. I've worn it on a ribbon, strung it with beads, etc but never quite liked the look until I found a fancy chain in the costume jewelry of a local thrift store. I picked this one because it speaks to the fancy chains found with the Cheepside Hoard in London, dating to the same time as the pendants.
Lesson: With a little creativity you can imagine pieces for your ensembles that won't break the bank.

Thursday, October 31, 2019

17th Century Missions

On April 15th of this year I had the privilege to be guided by friends in El Paso alion the historic Mission Trail. The history in these buildings reflect the determination of the communities they have serviced for centuries.  They have stood since the late 17th Century and been rebuilt and in one case relocated after a flood. In many ways it was magical for me to see how the traditions of painted church ceilings and grand alters from the previous century were interpreted in the New World. Our guides informed me the ceiling beams & decorations date to the original construction of the respective buildings.

 Even more special walking through those buildings that day was all of the support and prayers being said for Notre Dame of Paris. Enjoy some pictures I was allowed to take of the missions and consider stepping back into history a bit on your next trip.

British Art in Denver

In one of my recent posts I mentioned that about 2 years ago I was given the opportunity to move tyo Denver, Colorado. One of the many things I have come to love about this city is the world class museums we have. Currently many collections are in storage at the Denver Art Museum while the finish an expansion, but some works are still on display. Earlier this year I went to the traveling Doir exhibit the museum hosted & found this amazing exhibit of British painting through the ages. Notably I was able to see my very first Holbien in person in baby Prince Edward's portrait. The insdtallation is running through July 2020, so please check it out. I'm  including some of my pictures as teasers for you!

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Punto in Aria Lace Cuffs Part 1

Below is my documentation of one of my competition pieces earlier this year. I got side tracked by other projects and will be posting an update later with the finished cuffs. Currently I have 1 cuff 3/4 of the way done. Wish me luck and happy reading.

Punto in Aria Lace Cuff 

The Honorable Lady Isabelle de Calais 

Kingdom Arts and Science Competition 2019

Punto in Aria Cuff from late 16th Century Venice

During the 16th century intricate lace work became increasingly popular. With the increase in popularity the methods of creating laces diversified to include plaited laces such as bobbin lace, and needle-based laces such as punto in aria and reticella. These laces could be added to linen undergarments and housewares. One of the most popular uses for lace in this period was on accessories such as veils, handkerchiefs, ruffs, and cuffs.

Making the Lace 

Pattern Books vs. Professionals

It is easy to assume that all lace was made by professional artificers in a shop. In mid 16th century Florence the velettai (veil makers) would often make handkerchiefs and veils edged in needle made laces (Landini 2011). When using a professional, there may be tighter stitches or the opportunity for a unique pattern to be created.

Something that many history books forget is the number of publishers producing pattern books all over Europe during this period. Pattern books for lace and embroidery were marketed towards women of leisure to keep them out of trouble. Vinciolo has a sonnet in his book, Singuliers et Nouveaux Pourtraicts, dedicating the works to them for their use. While it was originally printed in 1587, it would go through at least 10 more reprints across France and Italy over the next 30 years. Below is a translation of the dedication sonnet, originally in French, by Elsa Ricci:

One man will strive to win the heart of some liege lord

In order to possess a sum of riches great;

Another in high rank himself would situate;

Another in wars will seek for his reward.

But I who only seek to keep from being bored,

Am satisfied to live in this my lowly state,

And by my labors gave strive only to create

A gift for womankind, contentment to afford.

Then, ladies, please accept (I pray you will so do)

These patterns and designs I dedicate to you,

To while away your time and occupy your mind.

In this new enterprise there’s much that you can learn

And finally this craft you’ll master in your turn.

The work agreeable, the profit great you’ll find

To die unremittingly for virtue

Is not to die

Increasingly , the audience for these books was women, rather than artisans- women who were becoming more literate (Brown, 2004, 116). Many noble women were getting together to work on projects from these books, and even set up informal schools through their own homes (Brown 2004). The European markets were clearly starving for delicate laces when you see this volume of people making lace at home, and the professional market not being adversely affected. The patterns I have used for this project are from Volume II of Cesare Vecellio’s Corona delle Nobili et Virtuose Donne, which was originally printed in January of 1591.


For this project I used a large eyed, sharp embroidery needle, my pattern, and 2 different weights of linen threads. Many sewing needles and pins from this period are made of brass in a range of qualities and thicknesses. While I did try a reproduction brass needle and it worked well, I did find it difficult to consistently weave thread ends back into the lace using the period needle. Unlike my 16th century counterparts, I chose not to rip the pattern page out of my pattern book and used modern technology to make a copy of the pattern. I then covered the printing with clear tape to keep the modern toner from lifting off the page to make my lace dirty, and attach it to a thicker piece of watercolor paper to more closely match the weight of period parchments. After reviewing the surviving pieces of 16th century lace on the Metropolitan Museum’s website, I chose to use “z twist” linen thread as they had in the period. Strictly from a fiber working point of view, the linen was easy to find through lace supply shops, and it keeps a crisper line than silk threads do while producing lace.


When working any design in punto in aria it is important to start by couching your foundation cords to the paper pattern to be produced. These cords will create the framework that you will encase and build from as you create your lace. Major elements should be laid out and couched down. Your foundation cords should be thicker than your working threads. This portion of the process is one of the differences between this lace style and reticella. In reticella you are working within previously woven fabrics and taking away some of the weaving to create room to do lace work.

Once the cords are laid you can start filling in your lace with the stitches you find appropriate to the design. The extent laces found online at the Metropolitan Museum of Art show buttonhole edging stitches, button hole filling stitches, and wrapped edges as popular working stitches for punto in aria and reticella lace.

Laying cord at the beginning of the piece for every punto in aria design element would create a bulky piece of lace and was not considered an attractive aesthetic until after our period. To create individual design elements and flourishes off the main framework you would create an arm. Using your working thread as you cover and fill out your design, the working thread is used as an offshoot line or loop which is anchored back to a foundation thread and worked over using the appropriate stitches to the lace maker’s design. These nearly detached design flourishes create the characteristic organic feeling of punto in aria which differentiates a completed piece from other styles.

Wearing and Care 

Lace cuff such as these are a great luxury and were specifically very popular in Venice where Cesare Vecellio lived in the late 16th century. With so many young women in Venice being painted with intricate lace cuffs on their sleeves you must wonder if they were showcasing their family’s wealth, her good health, talents, and virtuous nature for potential suitors.

While there are no remaining sleeves with lace cuffs attached in museums, there are a few reasonable explanations on how these accessories were worn. These cuffs may have been sewn to the sleeves using large stitches and basic home sewing thread to keep them in place, while still giving the owner the option to remove them and place them on a different garment later. My preferred way of wearing lace cuffs is using dressing pins worked through openings in the lace to attach the cuffs to my sleeves. Using this method, the cuffs can quickly be taken on or off depending on the activity I am doing.

Many laces were attached to body linens and washed frequently. Laundresses were known to make lye soap using wood ashes and water mixed together and filtered through a towel to catch debris. Whites would then be dried in the sunlight on grasses to allow the sun to bleach them clean again. If this was not enough to whiten the linens, they could be bleached chemically. A common recipe for making bleach involved collecting human urine and allowing it to turn into pure ammonia (Sim 2010). I have not used any of these practices first had on this project. I live in an apartment and I am ill equipped to take on such an experiment currently.


While the actual stitches used to create punto in aria are simple to master, executing the designs with little to no over stitching is a challenge even for an accomplished lace maker or embroiderer. While machine made laces have overtaken the market and made lace readily available to all, they cannot achieve the complex, non –repeating, and unique patterns lace makers did in the 16th century.


Brown, Patricia Fortini (2004). Private Lives in Renaissance Venice. Londone: Yale University Press.

Landini, Roberta Orsi. (2011). Moda a Fireneze 1540-1580: Cosimo I de’ Medici’s Style. Fireneze: Mauro Pagliai Editore.

Preston, Doris Campbell. (1984). Needle-Made Laces and Net Embroideries. New York: Dover Publications.

Sim, Alison. (2010). The Tudor Housewife. Stroud: The History Press.

Vecellio, Cesare. (1988). Pattern Book of Renaissance Lace: A Reprint of the 1617 Edition of the “Corona delle Nobili et Virtuose Donne.” New York: Dover Publications.

Vinciolo, Federico. (1971). Renaissance Patterns for Lace, Embroidery and Needlepoint: An Unabridged facsimile of the “Singuliers et nouveaux pourtricats” of 1587. New York: Dover Publications.

Class Handout- Roman Hair Dressing

Another Class Handout. This class is typically hands on and we demonstrate creating these hairstyles using this as a reference tool and for notes. I discovered Roman hair dressing while living in Arizona and playing in the SCA. There were many events where even indoors it was too hot to function with more than a sheet on. I learned a bit more about ancient and imperial Roman clothing and hair dressing as a way to beat the heat. One of the most fascinating rabbit holes I have fallen down in recent years is how many of the styles reappear during the Italian Renaissance.

Imperial Roman Hair Dressing

The Honorable Lady Isabelle de Calais

During the later periods of the Roman Empire women were dressing their hair in elaborate hairstyles. In the capitol the Hair Styles could change quickly among the elite depending on political situations, etc. This class is meant to be an introduction to basic techniques used in Roman hairdressing.

Tools of the trade

“Dirty Hair”- Many popular shampoos we used today are mean to achieve modern straight silky hair styles. To make your life easier when creating period looks use products without silicone and parabens. My favorite shampoos to use prior to period hair are from Lush Cosmetics. If you are using shampoos with those ingredients in them please don’t wash your hair for a day or two prior to styling to let your hair regain texture.

Combs and Brushes- Often made of wood or bone. Double sided combs could be used for detangling hair using larger teeth, and keeping the scalp clean with finer teeth.

Bodkins and needles- bodkins are just a fancy name for large blunted needles or sticks used to partition and sew the hair. Often made of bronze, bone, or wood.

Tapes and thread- Many of these styles are stabilized as sewn hairstyles using bodkins and one of these mediums to secure the hair.

False hair- Many women in ancient Rome had false hair to create elaborate hairstyles. The state often condemned this as a wasteful, vain practice in times of hardship.

Accessories- Roman women loved to adorn their hair with ornate hair sticks and pins. Materials ranged from wood and bone to fine metal work. A Palla, was also often draped over the head hiding the hair.

Techniques Discussed

Separating hair

Binding edges of hair plaits

Sewn Hair panels

Furthering your research

Further Reading

Laing, Jennifer. Art and Society in Roman Britain. Sutton Publishing 2000.

Boston Museum of Fine Art. Pompeii AD 79: Volume 1.1978

Janet Stephens the Hair Archeologist Youtube channel

Lush Cosmetics


Lucilla (164-169). Aureus, 7.17 g, Rome. LVCILLAE AVG ANTONINI AVG F. Draped bust right. / VOTA PVBLI РCA in three lines within a garland. RIC 790; BMC 327; Calicó 2219a; Coh. 97. NAC 11, Zurich 1998, 455. About EF

A Roman Marble Portrait Head of a Girl, Trajanic or early Hadrianic, first quarter of the 2nd Century A.D. Sotheby’s Auction House

Marble portrait of an elderly woman, late 1st c. BC, from Palombara Sabina, Italy. University of Texas.

Vibia Sabina, wife of Hadrian, Vienna Kunsthistorisches Museum. (88-137 AD)

Roman marble of a Flavian woman, 90-100 CE Louvre Museum

Period: Mid Imperial, Severan. Date: A.D. 193–196. Culture: Roman. Medium: Gold. Dimensions: 13/16 × 1/8 in., 7.3g (2 × 0.3 cm, 7.3g). Classification: C… Metropolitan Museum of Art

Vibia Sabina (83–136/137) was a Roman Empress, wife and second cousin, once removed, to Roman Emperor Hadrian. She married Hadrian in 100.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Women's Hair in Mid 16th Century Florence- Class Handout

Women’s Hair in in Mid 16th Century Florence 
The Honorable Lady Isabelle de Calais

To most of Europe in the Renaissance, Italy was seen as a source of learning, culture, and beauty.. While many women across Europe were covering their hair under hoods and coifs, the Italians had a long history of elaborate hair dressing which was embraced with zeal as the continent explored and revived classical learning. This class will outline some of the basic tools, techniques, and accessories used to create Florentine hairstyles from 1540 to 1590.

Tools of the trade
  • “Dirty Hair”- Many popular shampoos we used today are mean to achieve modern straight silky hair styles. To make your life easier when creating period looks use products without silicone and parabens. My favorite shampoos to use prior to period hair are from Lush Cosmetics. If you are using shampoos with those ingredients in them please don’t wash your hair for a day or two prior to styling to let your hair regain texture.
  • Dyes and Bleach- Coloring your hair is not a new fashion. Many Venetian women would comb hair masks into their locks to create a bleached blonde and even red locks.
  • Combs and Brushes- Often made of wood or bone. Double sided combs could be used for detangling hair using larger teeth, and keeping the scalp clean with finer teeth. Brushes were used from time to time and were similar to boar hair brushes today.
  • Bodkins and needles- bodkins are just a fancy name for large blunted needles or sticks used to partition and sew the hair. Often made of bronze, bone, or wood.
  • Ribbons, tapes and thread- Many of these styles are stabilized as sewn hairstyles using bodkins and one of these mediums to secure the hair.
  • False hair- Many women in Renaissance Italy had false hair to create elaborate hairstyles. The Church often condemned this as the sin of vanity
  • Accessories- Italian women loved to add a little something extra to their hair. From the socially appropriate veils and hair nets, to delicate flowers, pins, and ornate jewelry, the combinations are endless.

Techniques Demonstrated

  • Self padded hair rolls
  • Plaiting (braiding)
  • Twisted plaits
  • Sewing hair (securing your ends)
  • Hair taping

Further Reading and Resources
Moda A Fireneze by Roberta Orsi Landini and Bruna Niccoli, 2005. ISBN 88-8304-867-9

The Clothing of the Renaissance World: Cesare Vecellio’s Habiti Antichi et Moderni by Margaret F Rosenthal and An Rosaland Jones, 2008. ISBN 978-0-500-51426-9

Renaissance Secrets, Recipes, and Formulas by Jo Wheeler, 2009 ISBN 97-1-85177-577-4

The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy by Jacob Burckhardt, Random House, 1954.

My Blog

Janet Stephens the Hair Archeologist Youtube channel

Lush Cosmetics

16th Century Italian Workshops on Facebook

Elenora of Toledo, Duchess of Tuscany. 1539, Bronzino.

Lady in Green, Bronzino cs 1540. San Diego Museum of Art

Follower of Scipione Pulzone from Christie’s Auction House

Bianca Cappello, Gand Dutches of Tuscany, late 16th century Artist unknown

Unknown Woman by Allori ca 1555-1565

Isabella de Medici by Allori

Class Handout- Introduction to Blackwork Embroidery

Blackwork Embroidery

The Honorable Lady Isabelle de Calais

V&A Museum T.112-1972

Ca. 1540 England, Silk embroidery on linen shirt

About the Embroidery...

For the purpose of this class we are going to focus on counted blackwork embroidery, also known as Holbein stitch, Spanish stitch, and other various names. These patterns are worked in a counted pattern, outlining a shape or design and using to contract between your ground fabric and thread color for visual impact. While black was the most popular color for this embroidery style, there are period examples of Red, blue, green, and yellow. Detail from a portrait of Bess of Hardwick by Master John, in Hardwick Hall. Ca 1560

This form of embroidery reached its peak during the 16th century in Europe, but there are earlier and later examples to be found in museum archives. One of the driving forces for these patterns to become so wide spread was the in introduction of the printing press. Full of these designs could be quickly reproduced and purchased for the use of woman in their own homes. Some of these books have survived in private collections and museums. The renewed interest in this art form in recent decades has led to publishing companies again reprinting them. This image is from Ein new Kunstlich Modelbuch (1544) in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City. The designs are sometimes reversable, but not every design is.

Blackwork was used to dress up otherwise plain linen undergarments, and some household linens. The wider and more detailed the pattern the more accomplished the embroider was considered. Henry VIII’s third wife, Jane Seymore, was considered by her contemporaries to be a great needlewoman. While I have not found evidence that she embroidered the cuffs seen in the Hans Holbein portrait of her from after she became queen, the detail shows she had considerable taste and appreciation for the work. Needlework was also considered to be part of a well born lady’s education just like dance, and household management. To achieve the smooth lines seen in blackwork, silk threads are used in the period pieces. Wool fibers typically become too fuzzy after repeated wear. Embroidery cotton threads gained popularity in later centuries. The silk and linen fibers will withstand the vagarious washings period undergarments were given.

Getting Started...

  • Needle
  • Embroidery Floss
  • Even weave linen
  • Embroidery Frame or Hoop
  • Pattern and transfer supplies (optional but recommended)

Transfer design to fabric. The period practice was called prick and pounce. The pattern was pricked with a series of small holes and a charcoal like powder was rubbed over the holes to make an outline of dots on the pattern. This could then be traced over with ink to make the pattern more lasting. Not everyone would transfer the design. Others might count the threads depending on how good their eyes and the light are. In a modern take, place your pattern and linen on a light board and trace the design using a water-soluble pen.

Framing the design. Most embroiderers in the 16th century used what is called a slate frame. There are many wonderful tutorials on how to dress these frames from other embroiderers online and will direct you there. If you don’t have a slate frame, modern hoops will work just fine to get you started. Be careful of the hoop stretching your stitches as you hoop over finished work to continue your pattern. Frames will help keep you tension even with the fabric while doing counted work.

Start stitching. Below is a Diagram of how I try to trace out the pattern in one direction first and the go back and fill in on the second pass.

Further Reading...

Arnold, Jannet. Patterns of Fashion 4. Macmillan publishing 2000. ISBN-10: 9780333570821
Hogg, Becky. RSN Blackwork: Essential Stitch Guides. Search Press 2001 ISBN-10: 9781844485512
Weir, Alison. The Six Wives of Henry VIII. Grove Press 1991. ISBN-10: 0802136834

Gorgieras in Mid 16th Century Italy

This post is long over due and was from my Spring Entry into Outlands Queen's Prize Arts and Sciences Competition. Trust to see more posts about these in the future with patterns for some of the different styles worn around Italy at the time. It has been almost 2 years since I moved to the Colorado Area and I've been so active with my local SCA chapter that I have barely had time to write about some of the fun projects that have been part of my time here. Over the next few weeks I will be working to upload version of many of my class handouts that I have been using over the last 2 years for classes as well as documentation on my mini projects. Stay Tuned!

Gorgieras in Mid 16th Century Italy 

The Honorable Lady Isabelle de Calais

The Outlands Queen’s Prize 

Spring 2019

Gorgieras in Mid 16th Century Italy

Gorgieras, known as partlets in English, are a popular dressing accessory across Europe during the renaissance.This article of clothing is designed to fill in the low square necklines which were popular across Europe. As the century goes one Gorgieras would develop frills which eventually become ruffs. Like most pieces of clothing the cut, fabrics, and embellishment reflect the owners financial standing and region. My paper will discuss the construction of a style popular across most of the Italian peninsula and regional variations seen across Italy.

Italian women tended to wear gorieras made of lighter fabrics which would be more comfortable in their climate compared to thicker woolens or cut velvets seen across Northern Europe. Eleonora of Toledo was known for setting fashions in Florence as the Duchess of Tuscany. The lower neckline gorgiera that she popularized from 1540-1550’s were often made of netting, lace, cloth of precious metals, or veil weight fabrics. Veil makers usually made Gorgieras as they were already accustomed to working with the delicate materials popular for the garments ( Landini, 2005). For my gorgiera I chose to use a light weight silk with a woven stripe.

Pattern and Construction

Based on period artwork I believe there are two schools of thought on constructing a gorgiera. The first, and simplest method is to cut a neck opening from a rectangle of the fabric. Once this is cut, you hem all of your edges and attach ties at the rectangle corners and at the front opening. This method produces no shoulder seam, and is well suited to fabrics with repeating geometric patterns you do not want to disrupt, such as the striped silk I selected for my project. This layout is also appropriate when making lace or netting to avoid excess cutting.

Another version of construction involves cutting three pieces for your gorgiera; one back panel and two front panels. This version is helpful when the wearer has sloping shoulders that need more fitting to achieve the correct look, or if you are piecing a gorgiera out of remnant fabrics. Sew the three pieces together at the shoulder seams, and hem all edges. As with the previous method of construction attach ties on all six corners of the pattern.

My preferred hemming stitch was a rolled hem. This stitch dates to at least the 14th century and is perfect for creating a narrow edge on fine fabrics like this semi sheer silk. Silk thread is used for seams and hems on most surviving fragments of woven silk (Crawford, 152, 2001).


The owner’s personality was able to come out in the way hey had their gorgiera embellished. Popular embellishments included precious metals, embroidery, pearls, and lace. Interestingly the Florentine sumptuary laws did not restrict women from owning silver or gold gorgieras, but it did restrict them to only owning one such lavish accessory in 1562 (Landini, 2005). My gorgiera will be embellished using a simple couching stitch to place gold thread along the stripes with silk thread to secure it . Couching is one of of the simplest and fastest embroidery stitches used in the 16th century, and especially lends itself to metal threads which to this day are often made by wrapping thing metal around a stout base cord such as silk, or more modernly cotton.

Wearing and Incorporating into your Wardrobe

Those new to the basics of 16th century clothing are often confused with when they are supposed to put on a gorgiera or partlet. The simplest way to determine this is to think about why are you wearing this gorgiera? In Northern Europe there were warming partlets of wools, velvets, and damask being worn outside of the gown. When one is made of dense fabrics it is typically a warming layer that you may want to take off easily.

In Italy, and other countries, when you see a woman wearing a thin gorgiera the bottom edge typically disappears under their gown. These garments may be acting to give more modesty to a low neckline in a very religiously driven period in Western history. In these cases you would put your gorgiera on and secure your ties around the ribcage, after putting on your camicia, or shift, and any additional supportive garments you may need. In portraits of the period you can see the gorgieras on top of the camicias by peeks of embroidered camicia necklines peeking out at the center of the neckline.


Eleonora of Toledo is credited with introducing this fashion to Florence when she arrived from Spain in the late 1530's (Landini, 2005). Gorgieras popularized by Eleonora were typically lower and did not have much of a standing collar. As Eleonora’s daughter began to drive fashions in their own rights frills were added to the neckline on gorgieras, as well as more shirt like collars filled with embroidery and edged with lace.


My research has not revealed any specific sumptuary laws regarding gorgiera or their embellishment in 16th century Venice. This may be the reason I find so many more women wearing elaborate gorgieras with metal thread embroidery and pearls. Generally speaking the collars stayed lower in Venetian gorgieras until around the 1590’s when lace edged ruffs started becoming more elaborate.


From fine ladies to humble maids, everyone had a reason to wear gorgiera, and to have a few different ones in their wardrobe. While the reasons for wearing gorgiera varied with social class and background, it was seen as an essential article of clothing for women in the middle to late 16th century.


Arnold, Jannet. (2008). Patterns of Fashion 4: The cut and construction of linen shirts, smocks, neckwear, headwear and accessories for men and women c. 1540-1660. London: Macmillan Ltd.

Brown, Patricia Fortini. (2004). Private Lives in Renaissance Venice. London: Yale University Press.

Crowfoot, Elisabeth, Frances Pritchard, and Kay Staniland. (2001). Textiles and Clothing 1150-1450. London: Boydell Press.

Landi, Roberta Orsi and Bruna Niccoli. (2005).Moda a Firenze 1540-1580 Edizioni Polistampa.

Loggia, Allori. Pitti Palace Frescos. 1587-1589.


Vecellio, Cesare and Margaret F. Rosenthal.(2008). Habiti Antichi et Moderni: The Clothing of the Renaissance World. New York: Thames & Hudson.

A "Lute" Shaped Purse

For the last few weeks I've been on a spree of finishing my own projects and sewing for me. This particular purse got my attention years ago s a joke, and I decided I wanted one to remind me not to take myself so seriously. This was entered into a "documentation light" SCA competition in  Colorado called Queen's Prize. I may edit this some more for a more in depth research project on the Renaissance concepts of Sacred and Profane Love.

Venetian Lute Shaped Purse
The Honorable Lady Isabelle de Calais
Queen’s Prize Fall 2019

Purses in 16th Century  Vencie

People have been carrying items they find precious to them through out our time period. You will often see bags suspended from belts, pilgrims carrying bags with their possessions, but it is incredibly rare to find a Venetian woman carrying any bag in the art of the 16th century. We know they still had items dear to them, and we have the surviving purse which I have been inspired by. It may be that these purses are being worn under gowns such as Elenora of Toledo’s soccocia found with her burial clothes. The original purse is actually quite small 13x8x6 centimeters in the descriptions I have found, and the currator describing it believes it may have also been worn suspended from the waist. 


The original purse is described as being made of green velvet, lined in a pink silk, and embellished with pearls and gold. My version will be made in blue silk velvet, lined in pink silk like the original, and embellished with silver thread and pearls. 

The original has not been taken apart for restorations or repairs, so we do not know for certain what is being used to stiffen it. I have used two pieces of cardboard wrapped in wool felt inspired by the descriptions of hat stiffeners by Janet Arnold. The cardboard bases helped me add a bit of rigidity while keeping the purse lightweight, as well as being a relatively low stress item to work with while I figured out the shape and proportions of this purse. Below is the scaling test I did to decide on a final shape and size.                  My purse was enlarged by a quarter of an inch all the way around so I could more easily use it for small tokens. The left is the period original proportions, center is my final choice, and the right was an attempt to enlarge the purse. 
Once I had finalized the size and created a form to build this sculptural purse around I needed to start chalking out the shapes onto the silk velvet and creating my designs for embroidery. 
In my experience the easiest way to transfer designs for embroidery onto velvet is to mark the design on the back, I used tailors chalk for a consistent line, and then to use a large running stitch so the design can be seen on both sides, while not rubbing off.  I used a bone needle to apply the design to my velvet and do most of the construction because the needle I purchased was so smooth it did not snag the velvet. 

On the original’s design there are two hearts being pierced by an arrow along the upright of the purse and floral pieces below. The curator believes that the purse was probably a love token based on these symbols. The design was achieved with a mix of silk and gold work. I wanted to keep my design focused more on my precious metal threads and simplified the design to resemble more of a lute with my favorite flower, lilies worked into the motifs. 

To accomplish the embroidery I had to place the silk velvet in a frame to keep it from distorting while I worked. While I used real silver thread for my metal thread embroidery, the passing threads holding the metal in place are a fine while silk. The constant wrapping motion created by the passing thread while couching leads to fine metal threads snapping and exposing the silk core over time. The same silk was used to secure some of the filling satin stitches  of fine silver and pearls. I used my bone needle for as much of the embroidery as I could to prevent snagging, but I did have to use a modern steel needle with a larget eye to plunge the ends of the metal threads to the back to be secured. The sides of the purse were originally decorated with more cord, and leaves. As I am not a member of the order of the laurel I have chosen to use a piece of faux silver bobbin lace in a period correct pattern instead. 

When it came to detailing the back of the purse, including the proportions of the pouch and amount of decoration I referred to another purse in the Rijks museum (pictured left). Their website as a similar purse from the same time frame, but only displays the back online. 

The Rijks pouch is a simple drawstring secured to the more rigid base I already created. Eyelets were made using an awl and bound in silk thread. The top edge has a more elaborate gold braid along the top edge. The drawstring is a simple silk cord with gold worked button embellishments. 

My pouch was made with a “D” shape to the flap which then gathers up as seen in the green purse. For my cord I used 6 loop fingerloop braid which created a fun spiral pattern. The drawstring braid was inserted through the base before I finished covering the sides with velvet and metallic lace. I attempted to replicate the pattern on these buttons with contrasting white and blue silk to match my braid, but produced a tabby woven style covering instead. 
The final steps included making one more button to embellish the top with. I chose to to a period satin cover to the wooden bead and then cover it in silver spines to tie the look into the rest of the purse. After attaching it I used the extra silk thread to add loops imitating the top of the original purse. There is also a small piece of twisted cord coming out of the top of this button reflecting our original. I think this adds a shorter length to hang this from when wearing. For the longer side strings of my original inspiration I could not manage a nice piece of finger loop braid long enough to make a nice hanging string so I reverted to using a length of silver cord which was already a part of the embroidery. 

This was the first project I have sew completely with a bone needle and I found it to be a wonderful tool. I know they did have bras by this point in time but the few stitches I tried kept snagging the velvet. Embroidering on silk velvet proved to be a challenge because the material is so fluid in drape. While I have taken some departures from the originals, I believe this is a good approximation of a purse in this style. The Venetians were famous across Europe for their license and morals. Hopefully you find this to be a nod to that spirit. 


Arnold, Janet. Patterns of Fashion 3. Quite Specific Media Group. 1985.
Crowfoot, Elisabeth, Frances Pritchard, and Kay Staniland. Textiles and Clothing 1150-1450. Boydell Press.2001.
Orsi Landini, Roberta and Bruna Niccoli. Moda a Fireze 1540-1580.Pagliai Plistampa. 2005.
Wake, Anabella. “Extant Purse”  Accessed 9/9/2019
Rijks Museum. “Case” BK-KOG-29.  Accessed 10/2/2019 <>