The Renaissance Project – Lorenzo

For Halloween last year my brother decided to join in the fun and dress up with us. He chose Lorenzo de’ Medici as his historical persona and was surprisingly enthusiastic about the whole thing!

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I started out making him a basic shirt out of cotton.


I used black ribbons at the wrists and neck for closures, which weren’t yet added in the picture above. It took about a day. This garment was so simple and easy to make that there’s not much more to say about this garment.

Next I moved on to making a doublet, or farsetto. There was some inexpensive forest green suede at Joann’s that we picked up for a really good deal.

Annunciation with Two Kneeling Donors by Fra Filippo Lippi

I cut it to look like the doublet seen in this portrait. Two resources I found extremely helpful along the way were: Farsetto Constuction of the Italian Renaissance and Men’s Clothing in 15th Century Florence.


I draped a pattern on him one evening and sewed like crazy trying to get as far as possible before he came home from college next. The body is lined with the same leftover plaid fabric as my dress, which stiffened it a nice amount, and the sleeves are unlined.

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I cut it a little close to the wire on this one, sewing right up until midnight to get it finished. I had to enlist his help which I was happy to have. He was decidedly less enthusiastic about it.


We worked diligently, though, and were able to get the sleeves cartridge-pleated at both the shoulder and elbow and get them attached in time.


The doublet closes in the front with four sets of leather ties using this method. I also made him a set of fall-front “hose” out of brown linen. I put it in quotations because he was adamant against wearing a proper set of hose. Haha. So I used a pair of his pajama pants as a pattern and put a fake seam up the back of both legs. They close on the front with leather ties and are attached to his doublet on the underside. It’s a period-correct method but he said they were mighty uncomfortable. Apparently this happened a lot throughout the night:

St John Altarpiece (detail) by Hans Memling

Things came united, seams popped, and it was hard to keep them from falling down in the back. Next time I will add some elastic, for his sake.

Of the three pieces the shirt is his favorite – he said he’d like to wear it more than just Halloween. The pants he could do without and the doublet was neither here nor there. I was rather happy with all of the pieces but I consider it a victory in and of itself getting him to dress up with us! Score!!

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)

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)


The Renaissance Project – Background and Research

The Renaissance Project
Background, Research, and Planning
When planning out the costumes, the first thing I looked to was original sources. I scoured through paintings from the 15th century and found a lot of inspiration. I’d had a Renaissance board on my Pinterest page for a while, but I pinned more specific images to a new board specifically for Halloween costume ideas (you can also see that we had been originally intending to do an 18th century/pirate theme).
Now, when this whole thing started, there was a little over a month until Halloween. In the interest of time, and saving my sanity, I wasn’t too overly concerned with keeping things historically accurate. I know there are some out there to whom it matters a great deal and others to whom it matters not at all. I all somewhere in the middle, leaning towards the side of ‘favoring’. In my opinion, if it looks accurate (a.k.a. no exposed mechanically-done seams, fabric that at least looks correct, the right cut and shape, etc.) then I’m good. I just wanted to put that out there in case anybody is totally turned off by the fact that my creations will end up being about 80-90% accurate, so they can stop reading before they get really far in.
So, back to the background. We all picked personas that we would play for the night. My sister chose Caterina Sforza, I chose Lucrezia Borgia, my mother chose Vannozza dei Cattanei, and my brother chose Lorenzo de’ Medici. These decisions didn’t feature too heavily into the clothing designs, but it’s what I’m naming the outfits after. I decided to make all of the outfits from the same time and place, c. 1490 Florence, a particular favorite of mine.
Thought to be Lucrezia in a fresco by Pinturicchio, c. 1494.

The undergarments for this time period were relatively simple. For men and women, the garment worn closest to the skin was called the camicia, which is also known as a chemise or shift. It’s a loose garment made mostly of linen that is a lot like the ones worn throughout history, just fuller. Males’ were shorter than females’, reaching about to mid-thigh. They also had a split up the side and a collar. Women’s were longer (about ankle-length) and had wide necks that could be easily slipped over the head.
For women, a dress was called a gamurra. The style varied over the years, but overall the bodices were on the short side (think empire-waist with some extending down to the natural waist), the sleeves were detachable, and they laced up the front (but moved to the side as fashion moved to the next century). They were worn by ladies of every social standing and could be as plain or as fancy as the wearer deemed.

Also for women was the gionrea, an overdress. They were sleeveless and were worn by men and women, with the male version being shorter than the female. I had initially planned to make one for me, but I scrapped that idea soon into the research phase.

One accessory I whipped up was a pocket, or saccoccia, to go along with the Caterina dress. The pockets seemed to date form about the middle of the sixteenth century which was a bit late for us, but it was a necessary item.

A Renaissance Saccoccia by Anéa

A man’s outfit from this period was much harder to tackle for me. I’d been researching female’s clothing from this time period for years (just out of personal interest) and had it down pat before I even started. By the end of October, I had gathered that a man’s doublet was called a farsetto, and he wore either split or joined hose (split had been commonplace until about now when joined hose began gaining popularity). I found a few fantastic resources that really helped me.

Farsetto Construction of the Italian Renaissance by Elizabeth Jones

So up next in this series will be the actual outfits, so you’ll finally get to see what I’ve been talking about this whole time.

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)

The Renaissance Project (Halloween 2014)

The Renaissance Project Master Post
a.k.a. Halloween 2014
Halloween has been a big deal in my family for as long as I can remember. My siblings and I spent the last half of the summer counting down the days until the Halloween display would be put out at Target. Our own decorations were put out on September 1 (the earliest date we could justify). Our costumes were worn all day – to school and dance class.
In the more recent years, however, our excitement has justifiably waned. We had grown older and we’d moved out of our childhood home into a new place that didn’t have very many trick-or-treaters. It wasn’t until 2011, when we spent the holiday in Disneyland, that my sister and I rekindled our interest in celebrating. We dressed up that year, but we really got the ball rolling from there.
In 2014, we decided to pull out all the stops.
My sister and I were in charge. We decorated our parents’ house and arranged my whole family to be there for Halloween. Starting halfway through September, we stretched fifteen bags of fake spider webs up and around two stories on our house and throughout the front yard. We arranged more than 500 fake spiders throughout. Special lighting. A fog machine. Full-sized candy bars. Soon our spider den ready and waiting, it was time to decide on the theme for our costumes.
October 8 – still a long way to go!
We toyed with a couple ideas, but settled on the Italian Renaissance. It’s one of my favorite time periods (fashion- and otherwise!) and I admit that I pushed for it pretty hard. In the beginning, it was just me and my sister who were dressing up, so it was pretty easy for us to agree on it. It also seemed like it would be a pretty easy task of making two quick dresses for us to use. But before I knew it, the project had more than doubled in size.
So, this lengthy back-story is to set up a Costume Diary for this huge project. In all, I made three dresses, three camicias, a doublet, a pair of hose, and a pocket. I tried to document my work along the way, so I’ve got a lot of information and pictures to share. I’ve split it all up into six parts that I’ll be publishing over the next few weeks.

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)

Happy (belated? early?) Halloween!