The Purple Files: Documentation:
Florentine Construction Techniques of Medici, 16thC.

by La Signora Onorata Katerina da Brescia

The tailor of the Medici court,during Eleanora's time was Mastro Agostino. (La Mode a Fiorenze p26)

Sewing techniques: stitches used
This is one area in which research is very slow and difficult to pinpoint specifically to the time and region. Assumptions can be made based on contemporary stitches used and well-established tailoring methods.

A very good summary of documented and published stitches used in Florence can by found at the Sewing Stitches Used in Medieval Clothing website.
This site quotes examples of running stitch specifically used in Florentine clothing - 

  • 1562 Florence, Italy Suit of Cosimo I de’Medici. 
  • Raw edge of silk on panes on trunkhose turned under and held by running stitches in 2-ply silk Arnold, Patterns, pp. 53-54. 
  • Stab stitch 1562 Florence, Italy Suit of Cosimo I de’Medici. 
  • Row of stab stitches down center front about 1.5mm (1/16") from edge Arnold, Patterns, pp. 53-54. 
La Mode a Firenze shows close up of extant items which appear to have the following:
Hem stitch - a decorative pulled thread technique (on the neck of  embroidered camicia dated mid 16thC. There is embroidery over the seams)

Construction Methods:
1. Stiffening of bodice:
In the first half of the 16th century, the imbusto (bodice) of women's dress had a more rounded shape. This could easily be achieved by layers of stiffening and had no need of corsetry. By the 1540's, the imbusto was becoming more rigid in shape. This would require some sort of support.

For England, 'payres of bodies' are recorded in Queen Elizabeth's Wardrobe Unlock'd. Much speculation has been made about corded corsets and other forms of corsetry with regards to the first half of the 16th century, in Florence. More up-to-date research on Florentine dress can be found in La Mode a Firenze. This information is based on Medici documents and Gardaroba (wardrobe listings), portraits and the few extant items of clothing available.

In Eleanora's Gardaroba, there is no mention of 'payres of bodies' or corsets stiffened with either whalebone, bents or reeds which appear to be the most common form of stiffening used for corsets of the time. There are 'stays' or busto de sotto recorded. However it appears that Eleanora's stays were mainly of soft materials. They were lined and interlined with linen. All stays recorded for Eleanora were made of velvet. However other stays had been recorded to be made of satin.

There are only two known extant gowns from Florence in the 16th century. A red velvet dress, with sleeves, from a wooden statue in Pisa. (La Mode a Firenze, p 70 ) and Eleanora's burial dress. The second is the more documented of the two, having being described in detail in Janet Arnold's Patterns of Fashion, and more recently in La Moda a Firenze. Both gowns were made in a similar fashion. It appears that the stiffening for the gowns was incorporated into the actual imbusto itself. This padding of the consisted of four fabric layers:

  • doppia: felt or felted/ worsted wool (?)
  • two types of cloth one stiffened other finer of San Gallo (linen) or bottano (cotton)
  • this thick layering was then covered with copertura della doppia ( silk or taffetta usually the same colour as the petticoat, as used to cover the hem stiffening, with a few mm visible and decoratively slashed) (La Moda a Firenze, p 85, 93).

Traces of felt and linen were found in both the above extant garments. Cardboard is also suggested as a form of stiffening, being slipped into the imbusto. This is also suggested in The Tudor Tailor which was recently published in March, 2006 and deals with English clothing of the first half of the 16th century. This method was also used in Spain (La Moda a Firenze, p 84-5). Eleanora di Toledo's family was Spanish so it is not surprising that this form of stiffening may have been used in Florence at the time she was Duchess. Cardboard was commonly used in Florence for imbusto stiffening by the 1650's.

Along with the burial dress was found plain velvet stays. This had no sign of boning or channels for boning. It is conjectured that these stays were more likely for warmth (La Moda a Firenze, p 132).

The closest thing to an actual corset, in Eleanora's Gardaroba, was one pair of steel stays made for her. These however appear to have been made for therapeutic reasons and not for restructuring her clothing silhouette. (La Moda a Firenze, p 132)

2. Stiffening the hem
According to both La Moda a Firenze and Patterns of fashion, the hem of Eleanora d'Toledo's burial gown had stiffening at the hem to help hold it out. This was a band of felt, covered by  a satin strip. This is confirmed by the red velvet extant dress from Pisa, discussed in La Mode a Firenze.

3. Edging the imbusto and skirt hem

A common edging done by Mastro Agostino was a picidill type arrangement. This was done with the lining of the imbusto. It was also on the skirt hem made from the satin strip covering the felt stiffening. The lining or satin strip was extended beyond the edge (as seen far right, bottom). The extended piece was clipped. Far right, top: is one form I have used in Dafydd's rapier doublet.
A very good example of this can be seen, just right, on the edge of Eleanora di Toledo's zimarra (loose gown). There is also a line (vertically) in from the edge which may be a seam for this edging piece.

Eleanora and Her Son;   Agnolo Bronzino Portrait of a Little Girl with a Book, 1545; An unknown lady attrib. to Bronzino, c.1530-32

Portrait of Lucrezia Panciatichi 1540 Bronzino; Another Bronzino portrait of Eleanora;
These examples show the edgings, mostly in linings matching the main imbusto. Some could be of contrasting lining however. The second example, Portrait of a Little Girl with a Book, shows a possible diagonal slash to the edging. This edging would be best done on the bias to reduce fraying. Fraying can be seen on the red dress edging of the Portrait of Lucrezia Panciatichi, far left. Seen a little closer below left..
This edging was also used on the edges of the panes in the sleeve of Bronzino's Laudomia de' Medici, 1560 - 65.

4. Lining
The imbusto is usually lined with linen or silk which is 'blindstitched' to the neckline (to allow for the above edging). The edges of the lining are turned under , then stitched by hem stitch or modified running stitch. (See Archeological sewing). It is not commonly 'bagged' - stitched and turned inside out.

imbusto: bodice
baragoni: sleeves
camicia: chemise
faldaglia: skirts
convercie: shoulder cape/hankerchief
gorgiere (e colletti) : partlets


Alcega, Juan.The Tailor's Pattern Book, 1589 Facimile, Ruth Bean, Carlton, Bedford, 1979.
Arnold, Janet Patterns of Fashion, MacMillan, London, 1985. ISBN: 0-333-38284-6 
Arnold Janet, Queen Elizabeth's Wardrobe Unlock'd, Maney, Leeds, 1988, ISBN:0-901286-20-6
Kovesi Killerby, Catherine, Sumptuary Law in Italy 1200-1500, Oxford University Press. NY. 2002. ISBN:0-19-924793-5
Crowfoot E, Pritchard F & Staniland K, Textiles and Clothing 1150-1450, Boydell Press, Woodridge, 2001 (ed) ISBN: 0-85115-840-4
Frick, Carole Collier. Dressing Renaissance Florence.: Families Fortunes & Clothing. John Hopkins University Press. Baltimore. 2002. ISBN: 0-8018-6939-0
Orsi Landini, Roberta & Niccoli, Bruna. La Moda a Fioenze 1540-1580. Pagliai Polistampa, Firenze, 2005. ISBN: 88-8304-867-9
Ricci, Elisa. Old Italian Lace Volume 1. William Heinemann, London. 1913 available on line at:
Veccellio, Cesare. Vecellio's renaissance Costume Book. Dover Publications. NY. 1977. ISBN: 0 48623441X
Willet, C. & Cunnington, Phillis, A History of Underclothes, Dover Publications, NY, 1992, ISBN: 0-486-27124-2

Web Sites:

  • Medici Archive Project:  (1/06)
  • Metopolitan Museum of New York.
  • V&A Museum website:  (May, 2004)
  • Bath Museum of Costume:
  • Web Gallery: Medici portraits by Bronzino.
  • Archeological Sewing by Heather Rose Jones (2001)
  • Sewing Stitches Used in Medieval Clothing:
  • Archive of Stitches from Extant Textiles.
  • BayRose. (website by Savinra de la Bere.)
  • "How much yardage is enough" Susan Reed, 1994.
  • Suggested Yardages for Elizabethan Garments by Drae Leed. (29/5/03)
  • "How much yardage is enough" Susan Reed, 1994.
  • Festive Attyre:
  • Information provided by caitlin_oduibhir, who has seen the Metropolitan Museum's extant drawers first hand.(thanks).
  • (new address: 8/06)
(c) September, 2006

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(c). K.Carlisle, 2008.