The Renaissance Project – Caterina

My initial plan of attack for making multiple costumes was to make each person’s full outfit at a time. Start from the base and work out, finishing it before moving on to the next one. Since I’d never made anything from this era before, I would be able to work out the kinks as I went along and, hopefully, be able to do each set quicker the next time around. Plus, I could check off whole outfits at a time and get (what felt like) a lot off my plate.
First up was my sister’s outfit, the Caterina dress.

Portrait of a Lady by Sebastiano Mainardi, late 15th century. © The Norton Simon Foundation

I wanted to make something like the dress in the portrait by Mainardi. I liked the squared neckline and the evidence of side lacing (which my sister had specifically requested instead of front lacing), but I would have to do something about the spots where the camicia showed. 
My sister already had a medieval shift that I’d made for her about three months before, so (to save money) we both decided just to use that. It had a nice, wide neckline and long sleeves, but it was basically just an a-line garment without any extra fabric gathered in the style of a renaissance camicia. So that meant that it wasn’t large enough to pull through any slashes or lacing.
Profile Portrait of a Woman by Piero del Pollaiolo, 14 © Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum
The next image I looked to was this one. The camicia looked much more like the one that we were working with and there weren’t any slashes or gaping seams on the dress (except for the lacing) that would show it. I really liked the trim around the neckline and it’s one feature that I carried through to my final design.
Portrait of Maddalena Doni by Raphael, 1506.
After thinking about it for a while, I decided that this would be the best direction to go with the sleeves. It would add width to the arms without having to rely on bulk from the sleeves. The only part where the sleeves were puffed through was at the shoulder, which I thought we might be able to pull off. Doing this tipped the date of her dress forward a few years, but that was okay by us.
One item that was important to make was a pocket. I made it in less than an hour, based on some of the wonderful research done here. The pockets dated from about half a century later, but it was a necessary addition to the outfit so my sister could have her insulin pump on her. I sewed a ribbon on the top so she could tie it around her waist.
My sketches. 

When I had an idea of where to start, we headed to the fabric store. We picked up about three yards of a thin, flowy, black fabric (that I’ve since forgotten the name of) and half a yard of a pre-gathered, burgundy ‘novelty taffeta’ for her sleeves. We got a yard of trim for the neckline, a package of leather strips (for lacing), and some square toggles from the jewelry section to use as lacing rings. We had all the materials and were ready to begin.
Fabric for the sleeves. So pretty! And only $2.
a.k.a. Thank goodness for time-stamps

October 10, 7:54 PM:

My sister puts on her shift and cooperates while I pin on some square cuts of cotton so I can make a pattern for her bodice. It goes fast (in my opinion) and I have a pattern ready soon thereafter. It’s square-necked, ends just above her natural waist, and is left open on one side under her arm.
She got bored fast.

 October 10, 8:59 PM:

The bodice pattern is trimmed down to be even all around and I cut it out of the black fabric we bought earlier that day. I use the cotton to flat line it and sew all around the edges, joining the layers together. I sew the front to the back at the shoulder seams and one of the side seams.


I spend the rest of the night overcasting the seams and finishing the edges.

October 11, 10:40 AM:

I cut out four pieces of zip ties to use for some light boning in the bodice. I panic a little because I’d never ever done this before. I take a deep breath and just go for it. I sew them into little casings so I can attach them onto the bodice at the side seams.

Sewing the zip ties into separate channels. You can see Barbara (my dress form) to my left.

I sew them onto the bodice, four in all. Then I worry because they’re starting to poke through the flimsy cotton I used so I go over them again with a needle and thread. In the end, I pull out some ribbon and use it to cover two of the four channels. It’ll hold.

Covered with a ribbon on the right, exposed(ish) on the left.

11:47 AM:

I sew on the lacing rings. The opening is only about four inches long, so I only need six out of the package of 17 that I bought. This doesn’t take long.

The puppy even decided to cooperate and take a nap.

The lacing rings on one side. There’s one more at the bottom there that you can barely see in the picture.

1:57 PM:

My sister comes home and I rush to have her try on the bodice which now laces up!

I was so pleased how it was turning out!

The lacing held it tight enough to be supportive and the light zip-tie boning prevented the sides from wrinkling or riding up, just as I’d hoped.

3:46 PM:
I pull out the rest of the black fabric to make the skirt. I cut off the little bit of rough edges from where I cut out the bodice and see that I have a lot left. Almost the whole three yards. I decide on cartridge pleating, which I’d never done but always wanted to try. I try to do some calculations but give up halfway through and just go ahead with it.
This took
I lay it all out and mark the halfway point. I fold down the top about 8 inches (to meet the height of her legs) so I don’t have to cut anything off. It’ll add extra bulk to the pleats since the fabric is pretty thin and I won’t have to hem anything. I place a pin every inch and sew two rows of cartridge pleats every half-inch.
5:57 PM:
I gather it all together and pin onto the bodice. I don’t sew up the side seam (yet) so the dress hangs completely open on one side, save for the shoulder strap.
The creepy face in the microwave is just a reflection of the TV. No need to get worried like I did.
My brother comes home and graciously models the dress, careful to not get stuck by any of the pins.
7:54 PM:
I finish sewing the skirt onto the bodice, slip it onto Barbara (my duct-tape dress-form) and settle in to sew the trim around the neckline while watching Survivor.

9:41 PM:

I finish sewing on the trim and get really excited and make my sister try it on.

She asked for it to be left long so she could wear heels with it.
It fits wonderfully. I go to bed quite pleased.
October 12, 3:48 PM:
I spend the better part of the day procrastinating by playing Super Mario World and beat it on my own for the first time ever.

And with Luigi, too!
11:40 PM:
I get to work and sew up the sleeves: basically just two tubes of fabric gathered at the wrist and with two ties at the top. I make up a quick pocket (that I forgot to take pictures of, but it’s really nothing special at all) out of the leftover black fabric.
I sew up the side of the dress until about four inches from the bottom of the bodice so she can still get it over her head.
This shot reminds me a little of a da Vinci painting – plenty of chiaroscuro.
And we’re done!
Final Numbers
Year: c. 1500
Pattern: self-drafted
Materials: 3 yards of black fabric, .5 yard taffeta, 1 yard of trim, scraps of cotton, lacing rings, leather cord, zip ties, small pieces of ribbon, and polyester thread.
Hours: I finished it all, from start to finish, within 52 hours. Counting just the time I was working on it, probably about 12 to 15 hours.
Cost: about $15-20. Lots of sales at Joann and plenty of coupons.
And I’ll leave you with a sneak peek of how she wore it on Halloween.

Post Zero: Master Post

Part One: Background and Research

Part Two: Caterina (my sister’s outfit)

Part Three: Lucrezia (my outfit)

Part Four: Lorenzo (my brother’s outfit)

Part Six: Wearing it All (Halloween 2014)


5 thoughts on “The Renaissance Project – Caterina

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