Venetian Zimarra

I have seen many loose overgowns or coats, both in portraiture and on costumers.  They made me think that it might be nice someday to make a loose gown to wear around camp as lazy garb when I am just not quite in the mood to lace up yet.  But it wasn’t until I saw this image that I ramped up to “OMG, I MUST HAVE THIS!”.  It didn’t hurt that I was in the middle of the 4th IRCC, which served as a nice motivator to get up and go make one now.  So I got up and went to the fabric store.

A Venetian Villa, 1620.  Found at the bottom of the Anea Files Venetian image gallery.

A Venetian Villa, 1620. Found at the bottom of the Anea Files Venetian image gallery.

Unfortunately, the fabric store disappointed me.  I really love this rich dark blue color, but they didn’t have any that was quite right.  Instead, I walked out with some fairly pale blue, (silver with a hint of blue according to my husband) and a lovely orangey-red coral color for the lining, both of light and slightly stiff silk. I had some black ‘silk’ on hand to turn into narrow bias trim.  I considered the gold color like the woman above, but I don’t think it would have worked as well against the light blue, not enough contrast.  So I went for black instead. Armed with fabric, I started considering pattern.

Alcega loose gown/coat patterns, on Lucky for me, there’s Juan Alcega’s famous Tailoring book from 1589!  Now of course that’s a Spanish author, mostly writing for the benefit of other tailors making Spanish style garments, but many of the garment shapes are fairly applicable to Italy, including the many loose gowns.  I took pictures of most of the loose gown patterns and compared them digitally by making each pattern slightly transparent and laying them on top of each other.  Lots of consistent things like how the center back seam tapers in a bit from neck to mid-back, the angle of the side seams, and the general shape of the sleeves.  Minor differences on length and sleeve size, but not much.

Alcega Tailoring Book, "Silk gown for a woman" pattern, on


My own pattern layout most closely resembles ‘Silk gown for a woman.’  I had bought fabric in several small lengths (yay clearance!) so I had to do a bit of extra piecing across the bottom of the back pieces. Silk gown for a woman, front and back pieces, on I didn’t quite get the angle across the bottom correct, it should have curved up a bit more as it approached the side seam.  I didn’t realize that until it was all sewn up and turned inside out: I tried it on and noted that the center front and back were good, but the sides drooped and touched the floor, too long by about 1.5 inches.  Good thing I noticed it when it was still easy to flip it back! Since I am on a time crunch, most of the unseen inside seams were machine sewn, and ironed flat.  The four body pieces were bag lined.  I don’t think that one of the silks will stretch significantly more than the other, since they feel like they are the same weight, weave, and content.  Bag lining is always a bit of a risk because of one side stretching or shrinking, but I don’t think I’ll be tossing this in a washing machine any time soon, so it should be fine. I considered interfacing the collar, but impatience won and I set it into the neck without any stiffening element.

Untrimmed gown progress, on

I love the way it looks so far!  (And there’s the too-long side seams, before I fixed them.)

Sleeve with opening sewn,  on

Lots of the swoopy Alcega style sleeves are split in the middle horizontally, but some are vertical, which I preferred for this project.  I sewed the split first, then sewed the red and blue fabric second/third.  I wasn’t sure if I would encounter the dreaded mobius sleeve, but it was just fine, and everything turned with all the seams facing the right direction.  Exciting!

Pinned trim on sleeve,  on

As I often do, I checked out lots of images to pick out a trim layout I liked.  I decided to stick with the dark blue and gold Villa image up top, except with a bit more on the sleeves since hers are a little plain.

Wrist trim,  on

Many have trimmed tabs on the wrists, I decided to do trim that looks as if it’s tabs.

Trimmed overgown, on

With the sleeves and body mostly trimmed, it’s time to work on putting them together.  I want the shoulder wings to be made up of tabs, which is a fairly common shoulder treatment mentioned in Alcega’s tailoring book.

Venetian Zimarra (loose overgown) dress diary, on

I made the tabs by creating a long tube of fabric, applying trim to both edges, and then cutting it up into the lengths I needed.

Venetian Zimarra (loose overgown) dress diary, on

They are so flappy!  I am thinking of sewing them together a bit at the edges on the underside, I think that might give them a nice consistent look.   Now the sleeves are ready to be sewn in.

Venetian Zimarra (loose overgown) dress diary, on

Oh noes!  It’s doing a funny gaping thing and I don’t like it.  :(  It only looks sort of weird on the mannequin, but it’s definitely not right on me.

Venetian Zimarra (loose overgown) dress diary, on

Boo!  I fixed this by picking out the stitches for the top of the sleeve, and bringing it in by about an inch. Venetian Zimarra (loose overgown) dress diary, on

This smoothed out the bump!

Venetian Zimarra (loose overgown) dress diary, on

I finished the last of the unstitched bits of trim, and added a few more to the neck/collar area (not visible in the next couple pictures, but they are there on the final pictures).

Venetian Zimarra (loose overgown) dress diary, on

Happy sleeves!

Venetian Zimarra (loose overgown) dress diary, on

I am considering adding a black line down that center back seam, it’s looking a little empty right now.  I really like the shoulder wings though!

Venetian Zimarra (loose overgown) dress diary, on

I sort of wish I had made the sleeves a little longer, I think it might have hung a little nicer, both when the sleeves are being worn, and when they are left to hang down.  Maybe next time!

Venetian Zimarra (loose overgown) dress diary, on I love how the ruffle and collar are playing so well together!  Which is great, since I really didn’t do anything special to make that happen.  Yay for lucky measurements!

Venetian Zimarra (loose overgown) dress diary, on   Venetian Zimarra (loose overgown) dress diary, on

Woosh!  Since it’s made of light silk, it flaps about nicely as I walk.

Venetian Zimarra (loose overgown) dress diary, on

For a bit more on the red underdress, check out the diary here.

Venetian Zimarra (loose overgown) dress diary, on Venetian Zimarra (loose overgown) dress diary, on

When I first thought about making this, I considered making the front pieces narrow, so that it always falls open nicely.  Some portraits almost look like that, but just as many are clearly full fronts, capable of closing in the front over the underdress.  The major upside to this version is that I will be able to shrug this on over my shift on lazy camping mornings.  I need to find more of those black frog closures though, so I can close it all the way when I want.

Zimarra Pattern and Tutorial on

Someone on facebook asked me about yardage, and wouldn’t you know, I had no idea!  So I went backwards, measuring the finished coat and drawing out the approximate layout I used.  So as it turns out, I must have used about 3.5 yards/120 inches of fabric to make this.  If I had used a pattern with a clear nap or directional pattern, I would have had to lay it out a good bit differently, otherwise have the pieces would have the pattern upside down :p



13 thought on “Venetian Zimarra”

  1. Stephanie says:

    This is so gorgeous! You always make the most amazing garments.

  2. Gabriela says:

    Wow, this is gorgeous! And your sleeve tab technique is so simple, it’s like “why didn’t I think of that?” I hope you have many great opportunities to wear this beauty!

  3. Andrew says:

    Hi Morgan, that looks great! It’s so nice to see a full sized version of this robe. I’m currently working on a project to make all the garments in Alcega’s tailor’s pattern book as 1/3rd or 1/2 sized miniatures. Exploring the patterns by making them, as a sort of experiential archeology (so to speak).

    I just recently finished the women’s garments and am moving on to the men’s. I made this pattern as Project #8.

    1. Morgan Donner says:

      Yes Andrew, I saw your fab mini creations via the EC Facebook group! That’s part of the reason I was so keen on the swoopy sleeves! I look forward to your next update :D

  4. Anna says:

    I have to admit I’m a bit perturbed that you didn’t sweep the competition with the IRCC this year. :( I don’t do Italian Ren, but I follow your blog and Facebook page with great amusement. For what it’s worth from myself and cohort of wine swilling early period thugs, think you should have taken the cake.

    1. Morgan Donner says:

      Aww, that is a very sweet sentiment, but since the challenge rules make it so that the results are fairly objective, I feel no slight. I know I did very little in the way of hand-work: no embroidery, pinking, weaving, lacemaking, padstitching, beading, or insertion stitching. I didn’t make my buttons, nor did I do nice hand bound buttonholes. I only made three accessories instead of the max allowed of four. I am happy with winning the Historically Accurate Design category; I think I won the same category last time, which tells me I am definitely doing something right :D

      Thank you for your comment Anna!

  5. Dianne says:

    I too am simply boggled by the results.

    But your gown is utterly lovely, and it has been a pleasure reading your updates!

  6. LadyD says:

    This looks fantastic. and thanks for the yardages. I was thinking of using the pattern to make my timelord robe.

  7. Kathy Cheek says:

    Great website I have just started making costumes and I love your content.

  8. Jeannetta Stokes says:

    I love this! Well done!

  9. Brittany says:

    I am currently trying to figure this out myself, any advice for measurements to take and where to apply them? I have 4 yds to work with, a lovely heavy wool with an ever so slight nap. 60 wide.

    1. Morgan Donner says:

      So 4 yards of 60 inch wide fabric should be plenty if your chest measures less than 40 inches around. If you are making it for a chest bigger than 40, that is still fine, just make it a bit shorter or less full. You can also make the front pieces narrower if you don’t need it to close up the front. I would say that the main measurements you would need to take are shoulder width (as you don’t want your shoulder seam to start halfway down your arm!), armscye, chest, neck circumference, and length (this one is least important, as the coat can vary in length, it does not need to be floor length). I am not sure how to best describe where to apply those, did you have a specific question on that?

      1. Brittany says:

        I think I figured it out, had to try several layouts because of the nap, and being a much larger figure than you. Thank you for the fast reply!

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