The Florence Diaries: Tuscan Camicia 16th century
Recreated by La Signora Onorata Katerina da Brescia.

A camicia of tela (linen) broidered with 'golden and black silk
This camicia is based on the portrait of Eleanora d'Toledo (1542) (right) by Bronzino and two extant examples in Prato Museum.  (Found in La Moda a Firenze and At Home in Renaissance Italy. ) - left

The necklines of the camicia of portraits, at this time appear to be flat (more akin to the English smock) and not gathered at the neck in many cases. This is re-inforced by the extant camicia found in Prato museum. There is 
no information however, to confirm the actual actual origin of the camicia (Prato is in Tuscany). The extant examples differ from the venetian camicia (Cut my cote) and Sicilian (?) camicia/nightdress (?) in the Metropolitan Museum in New York. However they are stated as Italian (not English) and do match the appearance of the camicia in the Bronzino portrait and others, of the era, showing a larger amount of "flat" neckline.
It is difficult to get visual evidence (in portraits) of  anything but the very end of the gathered cuff ends, so an assumption has been made here that they could 'possilbly be similar'
I have used pure linen, Madiera silk embroidery thread in black, and 'gold'. I am currently using Gutterman linen thread to sew the seams.
The main difference in 'Italian' camicia I have made before is the lack of gathering at the neck. This is based on the above extant items. The main difference I can see between these Italian camicia and English smocks is the apparent lack of sleeve gussets. There are front (and assumed back also) body gussets. This actually gives more room in the chest area and so the sleeve gussets do not appear to be needed.

Below are all examples, in portraits, of ungathered necklines that are visually similar to the extant example from the Prato museum.
1. 2.

Embroidery Pattern:
Left and right are close ups of the necklines of two of the Prato museum's camicia. It is made of linen and  embroidered in silk.
The actual embroidery on the extant items is in red (ish)-brown cross stitch.
I started to draft out a pattern (and hopefully will finish later) but really wanted to make the camicia in the Bronzino portrait.
I used running (Holbein) stitch for the main pattern, and edged the camicia neckline in gold thread also. The outer gold line was of stem stitch.
The pattern was based on the visible neckline in the Bronzino portrait   Eleanora d'Toledo (1542)

Below is an example of the camicia neckline embroidery (on the go) and on the back as well.

The finished neckline edged:


The embroidery on the sleeves have a 'pared' down pattern in verticle lines  on the sleeves. I based my sleeve embroidery pattern on a simplified version of the neckline embroidery, using counted embroidery.

Above is the positioning of the embroidery. (left) and the back (middle) and front (right) of the sleeve embroidery.

Far Left is a closeup of the cuff from the Bronzino portrait of  Eleanora (1542). This shows similar patterning as the emboirdery  at the neckline.  Left is an example of the embroidery (on the go) which is reversable.
Following are some examples of 'non' straight cuffs from 1540's to 1560's.
1. Florentine School, Portrait of a woman with a dog. (1560- 70), 2. Bronzino Eleonora and her son Francesco (1549), 3. Bronzino, Portrait of Lucrezia Panciatichi (1540), 4. Bronzino Portrait of Eleanora (1542), 5. Bronzino Portrait of
Maria di Cosimo (1551) Uffizi, 6. School of Bronzino. Portrait of  Lucrezia d Medici (1558) , 7. School of Bronzino Portrait of Isabella d'Medici (1560)

Smocking: A new skill learnt... sort of...
I had to learn a new skill, as I have not smocked before.. (this can be seen in the Prato extant items). I am using reversable smocking, as the stitches are not visible, from the front, on the extant examples. I embroidered first, then smocked after as it appeared , on the extant items, that the embroidery was 'squished up' as if done in this order.
Right is the smocking on the go.
I did not have accesss to a pleating machine so did it all by hand. I measured up a grid and used linen thread to pull the pleats into position. The extant items had the verticle sleeve embroidery visible at the top of pleats. Thisrequired a little bit of concentration to make sure that mine were in the same position
Right is the pleated cuff on the front and back.
With reverse smocking, the stitches are on the back of the work, so none are seen on the front.

Looking back at the original extant camicia, there was a cuff band sewn onto the end. This was sewn on with what looks like a double running stitch. The pleating ends under the band.  The closure is a silk covered button and loop. Middle and Far right are my 'version' of  the  cuff band and closure.
I have found little published information on actual seam treatments specifically for 16th century Florence, let alone for camicia.
There are extant items of  Sicilian camicia and drawers at the New York Metropolitan Museum.  
Information supplied by Kathy Page at both a Pensic class and Kalamazoo, 2007 (What Goes on Under a Sicilian Woman’s Dress? The Bare Essentials ( a discussion on the above items) is as follows. 
  • Chemise with purple/plum embroidery info given as:" Seam finishesFlat fell- backstitch, butted and whipped selvedges"
  • Shirt info was given as: "Seam details: Embroidered over seams? Butted selvedges and flat fell under seams.  Seam thread thickness: Fine silk and heavier wt (than fabric threads) linen thread "
  • 'drawstring' Drawers info was given as : "Seam finishes – Rolled. Number of stitches per cm seam: 5:cm at centre back.
  • Gathered Drawers info was given as: " Seam finishes – flat felled with unique stitch. Number of stitches per cm seam: 7:cm.
The seams were sewn with linen thread using back stitch to make it stronger. Stitches are about 2mm in size.  The flat fell seam was finished with whip stitch. (below, showing the inside of the seam).
I will most likely flat fell the seams (to make it stronger to withstand washing and based on information below which, though not Tuscan, is 16th century Italian. I have not got other information on the seam treatment of the extant items above).

The hemstich seen is very similar to the pulled hemstitch documented by Mistress Rowan, but without the pulled threads and is based on the stitch described by Kathy Page in What Goes on Under a Sicilian Woman’s Dress? The Bare Essentials.

Underneath it looks like an upright hem stitch. On the visible side, it gives a straight line.
Finished embriodery:

  • Ajmar-Wollheim, Marta & Dennis, Flora (ed). At Home in Renaissance Italy. V&A Publications London, 2006. ISBN: 10 1 85177 488 2.
  • Brown, Pauline. The Encyclopedia of Embroidery Techniques.  New Burlington Books, London. 2002. ISBN: 1-86155-652-7
  • Currie, Elizabeth. Inside the Renaissance House. V&A Publications, London, 2006. 10 1 85177 490 6.
  • 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
  • Web Gallery: Medici portraits by Bronzino.
Archeological Sewing by Heather Rose Jones (2001) (new adsottana: 8/06)
Archive of Stitches from Extant Textiles.
Sewing Stitches Used in Medieval Clothing:
Before you start to Smock:
Page, Kathleen: What Goes on Under a Sicilian Woman’s Dress? The Bare Essentials.  presented at 42nd International Congress on Medieval Studies, Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo, Michigan, and again at Pensic, 2007. (observations on extant items found at New York Metropolitan Museum ) 30 pages.

© K Carlisle. October , 2007 - January, 2008

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