The Purple Files: Grey Linen Sottana
research and recreation by La Signora Onorata Katerina da Brescia.


I had wanted to use a roll of grey linen and found these two mid 16th C Florentine painttings. I liked the trim postioning in both these dresses. (You can also see the pintuck along the lower skirt).

Far Left: Zucchari,1579.
Left: Tossini's Portrait of woman,  mid 16th century.
Details of the outfits:
  • greyish colouring
  • wide, square neckline.
  • gathered skirt
  • trim: around  neckline, 3 lines down front, ("V" with a centre line) and similar patterning on the back. some others have just the "V" patten on the back.
  • the pintuck can be seen above the hem, on the Zucchari painting.
  • Sleeves are fitted and slashed. They have verticle lines of trim.
Sottana Diary:
Evidence for side lacings are seen here on the right, in the painting in the Pitti Palace: Vasari and Stradano's  The Arrival of Pope Leo X 1559-60. An alternative back trim positioning (without the centre back line) can be seen. I had a limited amount of red trim, that was bought several years ago


My original article can be found HERE. An updated article is in the works...

The main differences are:
  • the wool stiffening of the imbusto is 3-6mm thick (I was using 2mm). 
  • seams could be either flat fell or open and did not necessarily have the edges hemmed down.
  • the position of the 'side-back' lacing is more towards the side, than the back.
  • the armhole appears to be flat at the back pattern piece and curved on the front.
  • It appears that the upper class sottana has the skirt made of pieced panels and the middle/everyday sottana could have a skirt made with simple rectangles.
I remade the toile and the resulted pattern had the side back lacings, further to the side than my previous sottana. I used the same sleeve pattern, based on the Red velvet dress of Pisa..

 Colour and material:
Grey is a common colour used in Florence (see The Colours of Florence) I wanted to use some grey linen. As it was a plain material, I decided to make slashed sleeves and line them with 'left over' red linen to match the planned trim.
Below shows the bodice pattern cut out and the lining herringbone stitched on the front. The layers of lining consisted of two layers of canvas/denimn = stiffened material and 2 layers of wool felt = 4mm thick, which were herringbone stitched by hand.

The layers were then  cut where the seam would be and the edges of the outer material was folded over and sewn in place with running stitch. The lining was then folded over, at the seam allowance, and hem stitched to the back of the main bodice. The final bodice can be seen below. 

The neckline can be seen in closeup.

The eyelets were handsewn. For this sottana, I tried a new method, for the eyelets, by using a metal washer to simulate the rings found on the extant Pisa dress.

In the past, I have used triangles and rectangles, to pattern the skirt, to minimise material use. This is consistent with the extant red dress, in Pisa, and with the burial dress of Eleanora. For this dress, I thought I would try the optional rectangular patterns for the skirt, as found in the Wool/linen dress in Pisa.  The first example, by Zucchari is more of a middle-class dress, so this skirt pattern is consistent with an easier tailoring and less costs involved. (seen right).  The seams were flat-felled using running stitches and the skirt openings were edged with a bias strip, made from the same material as previously discussed in Tailoring Techniques.
The hem was also edged with a bias strip (covering a felt strip), as I have done in previous dresses. This is again seen in the Red Pisa Dress (at the Florence Textile Colloquium) and discussed in Janet Arnold's Pattern of Fashion, with regards to Eleanora's burial dress.  The pleated skirt was added to the bodice and the lower lining 'seam' was hem stitched in place.

Sleeves: Cutwork pattern

Below Left, is the cutwork pattern and lining of the sleeve. I cut on the bias to reduce fraying. 
The buttons are thread covered buttons with a hand-made cord as the closure loop (above right), as seen on the Red dress in Pisa. (Below L, from notes supplied at the Textile Colloquium) Below right shows the (reconstructed?) closure as a loop (photo: K Carlise); my final sleeves (below R)


The bodice trim placing, was discussed above. The hem trim placing can be seen on the far right (Red dress of Pisa) and   Vasari and Stradano's  The Arrival of Pope Leo X 1559-60 (above) which shows a version, at the back with no central line. I used a combination of both to use the trim available. I was left with less than 20cm of trim.
I did have to compromise on the sleeve verticle trim, as I did not have enough for more than one line. I made piccidils for the sleeve cap, similar to those on the Red dress of Pisa.

Hem finish:
 As in my previous sottona, I made a roughly 6cm wide length of wool felt (herringbone stitched together) and covered it with red material (I could not find the rest of the grey linen) hand stitched it onto the hem with about 5 mm overlapping so it was visible. This was then clipped . The neckline grey edging, was also clipped.

Finally, the dress as worn on it's first outing at the Foundation Picnic.  


  • L'Abito della Granduchessa; Vesti di corte di Madonne nel Palazzo Reale di Pisa. Museo Nazionale di Palazzo Reale, Pisa
  • McCorquodale, Charles. Bronzino: Agnolo Bronzino. Chaucer Press. London. 2005. ISBN:1-904449-48-4
  • Orsi Landini, Roberta & Niccoli, Bruna. La Moda a Firenze 1540-1580. Pagliai Polistampa, Firenze, 2005. ISBN: 88-8304-867-9
  • Rosenthal, Margaret F, Jones, Ann Rosalind. Cesare Vecellio's Habiti Antichi et Moderni: The Clothing of  the Renaissance World. Thames and Hudson, London. 2008. ISBN: 978-0-500-51426-9.
  • Notes and photos taken at the Florence Textile Colloquium, 2008.
  (ha, proof I was there in photo #6!!)
(c) June, 2011

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(c). K.Carlisle, 2011.