1580s Venetian Gown

I have entered the Realm of Venus Italian Renaissance Costuming Challenge again!

Lately I have made several outfits that were pretty much directly based off of one specific painting, so this time I am going to go wild and grab elements from different gowns that I like!  But that does mean I need to buckle down and pick which specific gown elements I like and want to recreate, and keep track of them so I don’t forget where I saw that fabulous stripped frothy thing, or that other lacy doodad.

Here’s a more detailed list of plans for my late Venetian upper class outfit (listed in terms of the 4 layers required for the Challenge):

Layer 1: Shift, with gathered neckline, visible from the front-laced gown opening, with lace at the top of the bound neckline, as seen around the edges of Ludovico Pozzoserrato’s A Musical Evening (late 1570s)

Layer 2: A skirt or bodied petticoat. I need something to puff my skirts out a bit more sometimes, and while a bodied petticoat would be nice because it could double as a dress in it’s own right when needed, it would create logistical issues with the open-front gown on top. I think I am leaning more towards skirt at the moment like the one worn by the serving girl on the right in Feast at Cana by an Unknown Painter (1550’s) but we shall see when the time comes.

Layer 3: An over-gown!  I am interested in the extremely low necklines you see in the 90’s, but if my courage deserts me, I may go for a slightly more modest 70’s or 80’s neckline.

I have not yet made a gown with the paned upper sleeve like Madonna of the House of Coccina, so I think I’d like to try that.

Layer 4: A partlet with ruffles that continue all the way down the bust, like the child in Girolamo Forni’s Portrait of the Gentlewomen of the Giusti del Giardino Family (1570’s?).

Additional Accessories: a fun purse, possibly one of the suggestively shaped ones here and perhaps a pair of shoulder ruffs.
With all the planning done, I can think about actually making these things!

I am feeling rebellious, so I’ll start on layer three, out of order.

1580's Venetian Gown on MorganDonner.com

That neckline issue is intriguing!  I started out with a pattern from another dress, adjusted it to include the Venetian backpoint, and a slightly lower neckline.

1580's Venetian Gown on MorganDonner.com

I know that I will likely have to make a couple mockups before I am happy, so I am sticking with mostly machine sewing construction for expediency’s sake.

The side seams were sewn and ironed, then the lining and outside were sewn together all around, except for a small section (my hand inside it above) so I could turn it inside out.

1580's Venetian Gown on MorganDonner.com

After it’s flipped, the bodice gets ironed flat.  I left the flipping seam unsewn so I could insert bones through it.  Speaking of bones…

1580's Venetian Gown on MorganDonner.com

Fun fact: I happen to be watching the show Bones right this moment!

I like to use big zipties.  I mark the length I need, smooth the pointy corners, number my bones so they end up in the right spots, then sew them in!  They were placed in their spot through the little unsewn section, then I stitched close to the bone with a zipper foot.

This first mock-up isn’t quite right when I compare my picture side by side with the various inspiration pictures.  I have a hard time telling if my mock-up looks close to the originals by just looking in the mirror.  I find it much easier to take a picture and compare my picture to the paintings.  My comparing tells me I need a new mock-up: my poor Venetian backpoint is so small that my shirt has eaten it!

1580's Venetian Gown on MorganDonner.com

New mock up is better, much closer now: nearly two inches longer, back point is much more pronounced, and bust about an inch lower (though it hardly looks so!). Shoulder straps have been narrowed, trying to imitate the nearly invisible strap look of 1580’s Venetian gowns. This will certainly need more bones around the sides/back, it’s all wrinkled!

1580's Venetian Gown on MorganDonner.com

And now with more bones! And a different shift/partlet combo, to see if that would make a difference, which I don’t think it did. The center back bone is longer now, which got rid of the bra strap height wrinkle (not wearing a bra, but that wrinkle made it look like I was!). Shoulder straps may be a smidge long? It’s still not quite as low as most of the necklines of this period, although I am hesitant to go further. I do wish the square shape of the neckline was a bit sharper at the corners though… hmm.

1580's Venetian Gown on MorganDonner.com

Ok, last picture of the stripes! Just a tiny smidge lower now, and slightly more squared-off corners.  I think I am happy with how low it is now, so now it’s time to cover it with my fancy silk fabric.

1580's Venetian Gown on MorganDonner.com

I cut out the bodice pieces out in grey wool and red silk.  The red will be my final outfit color, and the grey is to help prevent the bones of the foundation from showing through.  I tacked the edge of the red to the inside of the striped bodice, and gave that a try!

1580's Venetian Gown on MorganDonner.com


1580's Venetian Gown on MorganDonner.com


Nearly perfect!  All is good except that the center front doesn’t quite perfectly mirror each other, and the red needs to come out a little more over the lacings, but those are easily fixed, and we are other-wise good to go start on the lining.

1580's Venetian Gown on MorganDonner.com
The front has been resewn so that the two sides mirror each other better, and since I had to seam rip that area anyways, I went ahead and added some strips to the inside foundation edge.

1580's Venetian Gown on MorganDonner.com

Yay mirrored!


bodice drawing2

Drawing: The ladder lacing is done by using even lacing holes (not offset like you would for spiral lacing), and then crenellating back and forth to create parallel lines between the bodice opening. The red fashion fabric was then wrapped over the canvas foundation, everywhere except the front lacing area, so that the lacing was still accessible.

Now it’s finally time for the skirt!  I sewed a strip of thin-ish wool to the top of the skirt to give it a bit of body, and sewed a facing along the front slit.  It’s about 8 inches long, the shortest I could make it and still be able to get the dress on and off.

1580's Venetian Gown on MorganDonner.com
I gathered the skirt with a single pleating thread. I like the slightly random/messy look it gives to the finished pleats, compared to using several rows of gathering threads, which makes for much more uniform and parallel finished pleats.  The pleats were stitched to the bodice with two or three stitches each, and I made sure to go through the foundation fabric with each stitch.

1580's Venetian Gown on MorganDonner.com
I tried on the dress once the skirt was done.  Well, it hadn’t been hemmed yet, but one has to see how the pleats are looking, right?

1580's Venetian Gown on MorganDonner.com
And the pleats are looking mighty fine.  I am starting to wonder if I really need an under skirt for this dress, it poofs out quite nicely on it’s own.

1580's Venetian Gown on MorganDonner.com


Well, I think more about that later, first we have sleeves to make!

I started with one of my other well-fitting sleeves, but since I want it to be a two piece sleeve like many of the ones in Alcega’s tailoring book, I made a little fold in the middle.

1580's Venetian Gown on MorganDonner.com
To get the splits in the top of my sleeves, I lined them in white silk, and sewed several little slashes.  Once I cut between each of the narrow ‘V’s, I could flip them right side out.  Now I have nice clean panes at the top of my sleeves!

1580's Venetian Gown on MorganDonner.com

After a bit of ironing, my panes are smooth and ready to be bound.

1580's Venetian Gown on MorganDonner.com
The top of the sleeve panes are bound together with more red silk, starting with an inch wide straightgrain strip. I figure I can tie these sleeves to the bodice shoulders using the space between the panes.  I thought of it too late, but as an alternate construction method, I could have sewn all the way around each of the panes so that there are no raw edges at the top, flipped them all right side out, then whip stitched the corners together, no binding needed.  Something for next time I guess!

1580's Venetian Gown on MorganDonner.com

With the sleeves done, the dress is done too!  Time for pictures of the finished dress:


1580's Venetian Gown on MorganDonner.com

Transparency! It is pleasing.

1580's Venetian Gown with silk veil on MorganDonner.com


Veils are such fun!  I made it last year for my turquoise dress.  Not a whole lot of making to do, just hem two edges, but it adds a lot to the outfit.  Plus most depictions of Italian women outdoors includes a veil, sometimes covering the face, sometimes not, so I try to wear it when I can.

1580's Venetian Gown on MorganDonner.com


Yay dress!  I am very pleased with how it came out, although I should make sure to wear it to a cooler event next time.

1580's Venetian Gown on MorganDonner.com

Yay sleeves!

I got this finished in time to wear it to the last weekend of the Ren Faire here, which had a Masquerade theme, so we also made masks to go with our outfits.

1580's Venetian Gown on MorganDonner.com

I was a little short on time, so instead of making my own buckram or pasteboard base, I used a plastic store bought base. It was a little big, so I cut it down till it looked a little closer in shape to some of the period visards.

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Then I covered the plastic with velvet, and the inside with linen, stitching the inside around the eyeholes, mouth, and outside to secure the fabric together. I saw a couple pictures with ties, especially the half-masks, so I used ribbon ties to secure the mask to my face rather than the mouth button on the extant example.

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13 thought on “1580s Venetian Gown”

  1. Abby says:

    Beautiful work! I’ve been checking out your blog every so often for a long time (since it was back on LJ!) and your dresses never fail to amaze me.

    I do have a question for you though: How is it that you get your bodices to fit so perfectly? I’m a bit bigger-chested, and it seems like no matter how much fiddling I do with the fit I can’t avoid a gap at the front underarm without it resulting in an ugly, obvious dart. I also am currently working off of a four-piece bodice pattern; any suggestions for translating into a three-piece one? I’d love to make a dress like this, but I’m afraid I’ve got no idea where to even begin!

    1. Morgan Donner says:

      Personally, I have made my bodices fit well by making many, many mockups, and adjusting them till they work. Once I have made a dress out of the working pattern, I’ll find over time that I would prefer the shoulder straps to be a bit more over here, and for the waist to be a little more there, and then I try to incorporate those changes next time I am making a bodiced-dress. That often means a couple more mockups :/

      For you, it’s hard to give much advice without seeing the fit myself, but I would guess that you’d want to move the shoulder straps in the front a little more outwards, closer to your armpits, narrower straps might also help. To turn a 4 piece pattern into a three piece, I’d put the two back pieces together on your pattern paper at the back seam to make the back all one piece. (If the back seam has any curve, you’ll have to decide how you want to mesh them along that seam). Then if you want to move the side seams a back a little bit, cut off the new seam lines on the back piece, and add those cut off bits to the front pieces. If you are on Facebook, the Elizabethan Costuming group is a great place to post pictures of your mockups and ask for advice on how to improve the fit.

  2. Tina M Comroe says:

    about how many yards of fabric were used in the gowns skirts? I love your pleating, very nice.

    1. Morgan Donner says:

      The finished skirt hem circumference is about 155 inches. That’s quite a bit, perhaps even a little excessive, but I sort of got away with it because the fabric is so thin. If you have something thicker, I’d recommend a smaller amount. 120 is usually plenty for most gown styles.

  3. Lindsey Albrecht says:

    This dress is absolutely gorgeous!!! I love the silk fabric you used and was wondering if you could recommend a specific place or website to purchase some? Thank you so much :)

    1. Morgan Donner says:

      Thank you! I mostly get my fabric in person because I like to feel it before buying, but I have had some luck with shopping on ebay for wool. If you don’t want to gamble on quality, then http://www.renaissancefabrics.net looks like a good bet, while still being fairly reasonable in price.

  4. Stacey Konkler says:

    Your dress is gorgeous! And I’m in love with your partlet and the ruffled collar it has. Did you have a pattern to go off of, or was it more of a trial and error?

    1. Morgan Donner says:

      Sort of both! I wrote about the partlet a bit here (Ruffled!) but to answer your question, the partlet pieces were the result of trial and error, based off of 3 or so partlets I made previously. The ruffle part was also a bit based on my own experience, but also on the various discussions I had read on the Elizabethan Costuming group on FB. I think the ideal ruff to collar ratio is about 7:1, I didn’t like the look of 10:1, the ruff looked too full. I recommend making the neck piece at least an inch bigger than your neck measurment, perhaps even 2 inches. My previous attempts didn’t factor in the bulk of the gathered ruff, and I kept making partlets/ruffs that could not be tied closed around my neck comfortably.

  5. voodooqueen126 says:

    This dress is amazing. I really love that you do 1580’s looks.

  6. Sara Rodbourne says:

    How do you do the horizontal lacing?

    1. Morgan Donner says:

      I have updated the page to now include a drawing and short description of how I did my lacing! I hope it answers your question!

  7. Foster says:

    Question: I am using this post (thank you x100 for your detail shots!) to put together my first period dress from a pattern that came without instructions. I’ve gotten through the boning phase and am now thinking of wrapping my mock-up in muslin like you have done here but I can’t figure out the details of how you did that. Did you sew the side seams and then and sew it? Did you blind edge applique the back panel and then the front panels on top? Any advice much appreciated!!

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