The Florence Files: A transitional style...
 Linen Sottana using period construction techniques.
Recreated by La Signora Onorata Katerina da Brescia.
Inspiration: Sottana
Cristofano dell Altissimo's  Guilia Gonzaga in mourning, 1535.

This sottana (petticoat/dress) more closely resembles the 1540-50 Florentine styles though 5-10 years earlier. I prefer this 'transitional' style, as it has a higher waistline to the later 1540's styles.
While trying to recreate the dress, I will be using authentic tailoring construction techniques used at the time.  The exception is the use of linen, for Adelaide summers (35-40 deg Celcius plus) and the use of machine sewing for major seams. All visible stitching will be handsewn.

This sottana is also to be made of materials I already have in my wardrobe.
Right is the sample of linen material for the sottana.  This will be lined with wool felt purchased from Spotlight, some time ago. The lining will be of the same linen.  Far right is a sample of the colour from the sleeve in Portrait of Lucrezia Panciatichi  1535 by Bronzino.
Method: (diary)
To achieve my goal, on this outfit, I will have to use the following techniques:
  1. imbusto of four layers - visible material/ wool felt/ linen/ lining of linen or satin
  2. handsewn silk covered eyelets
  3. spiral lacings on side-back openings on imbusto
  4. lining hemstitched to main imbusto
  5. lining or strip of  decorative (cut) edging to neckline, cuffs and hem
  6. hem stiffened with wool felt, decoratively edged strip covering this.
  7. pin tuck above the hem 
  8. bias strip hem stitched to skirt opening at side back.
  9. garding
  10. sleeves with small decoration on head(so Zimarra can be worn over to complete the outfit)and slashing, tied or buttoned onto the imbusto. 
  11. patterns based on Eleanora's burial gown and Alcega's Tailor Book
  12. The colour is consistent with colours documented to be used by Eleanora di Toledo (as close to Purplish-violet I could find).
Right is the sample of linen material for the sottana.  This will be lined with wool felt purchased from Spotlight, some time ago. The lining will be of the same linen.

How much to use? (documenation)  (22nd October)
The common loom width of material (in Florence) was 58cm, but looms wider than this are not unheard of for plain fabrics. (satin, taffeta, maybe damask) La Moda a Firenze p 184.  These are recorded  from 73cm to 117 cm (2 braccia - one braccia = 58.8cm in Florence 16thC) 
Examples of differing loom widths are: (more are found in my Materials from Florence article)
La Moda a Firenze also gives examples of lengths of materials used for differing items of clothing. eg. 17 braccia of velvet used for a 1544 sottana. At 58.8cm per bracciam (p201), this would equate to approximately 10m of fabric. Another 1544 sottana used only 6 1/2 braccia of velvet (p202). This would be approximately 3.8m of material. Unfortunately, the contemporary listings do not state the widths of materials used.

What was the Thinking Behind That?
Right is my version of the 'Eleanora di Toledo' dress from Eleanora and her Son by Bronzino. I am happy with the fullness of the skirt back, but feel there is not enough pleating in the front (middle right). I used approximately  6 m of material in this dress.
The extant sottana from Pisa (far right), though reconstructed by modern scholars, shows a more gathered front skirt.
Personally, I like the look of more material. It hides a multitude of sins (for modern sensibilities) and, in the 16th century, would have shown that I could afford to wear more materials in my skirt. implying that I belonged to a higher class. Conspicuous consumption showed your wealth at the time.
For this dress, I am using 135cm (2 1/3 braccia) wide material. This loom width is not unheard of (though most likely not used for linen - a little poetic liscence on my side).  To make the front more full, I will be adding another length (1.5m) of material of the full loom width to the front. This would bring my total material consumption to approximately 7m of 135cm wide linen.
This would also create a centre front seam, that is consistent with both Eleanora's burial sottana and the sottana from Pisa. I am confident that this will bring me closer to a more accurate pattern used at the time.

Pattern: (discussion and documentation)
With the exception noted above, I will be using the patten I have already used for my recreated version of Eleanora di Toledo's sottana and Maria d'Cosimo's sottana. However, I will be adjusting the waistline.

Though difficult to see, in this portrait of  Guilia Gonzaga by Cristofano dell Altissimo (right),  it appears that the front waistline may not as peaked as Eleanora's burial dress and definately not as much as the Pisa extant dress. (both from the 1560s) This sottana is some 20 plus years earlier.
(Note: I have lightened the picture to try to allow us to see the details more clearly)

The sottana also seems to have the higher waistline of the 1530s and early 1540s. My personal preference is actually for the slightly higher waists, as they are more (modernly) flattering, but more importantly are much more comfortable for me.
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Other similar early styled sottana are:
1.Portrait of Lucrezia Pantciatichi, 1540 (though contemporary larger baragoni - upper sleeves, skirt pleating is different)
2. Bia, the Illigitimate daughter of Cosimo, 1542 (Bronzino) 
3. Unknown Florentine woman (Bronzino) 1544-45. This is a little harder to see the actual waistline, but looking at the arrangement of the pleats, I am sure it is straight.
These are actually from the 1540s but closer in style to Cristofano dell Altissimo's portrait than the other 1530's styles.  This would tend to show that styles are forever evolving! (or the experts have misdated the portrait?)

31st October:
Here are pictures of the finished neck edging, now clipped. I have not used anything to help reduce fraying (I have heard beeswax could be used), so this is an experiment in how well it holds up. Cutting the edging on the bias should help. Interestingly, the slight fraying looks very similar to the red dress (below right) from the portrait of Lucrezia Panciatichi.
So I am happy with this result, so far. (far right)

1st November:
Patterns of Fashion states that the skirt openings are finished with satin bias strips approx. 22.4 x 2.5cm, which were top stitched in place. (p104).
From this, (as I have previously done with my Maria d' Medici outfit), I finished the skirt openings with bias of the same purple linen material. I used running stitch to 'topstitch' the edge, and hem stitched the other side down. (right).

Skirts/ Faldagia
Now for the trickiest part (and the bit I hate the most) but one of the most important ones - the pleating.
This needs to be done correctly or the sottana skirt will not sit properly. 
(I do the calculations and each time end up having to do it by eye with trial and error!)
As I have already discussed above (in 'What was the thinking behind that?') I am making the skirt more gathered than my recent dresses. This is a preference of mine, as it hides a multitude of sins as well as being another variation on the 'florentine' style of the following decade.

Right is the new variation of the gathered skirt, compared to my 'old design' (made for Maria d' Medici and Eleanora d'Toledo) and to the above portraits and red extant sottana from Pisa... (wahoo, finally some machine sewing again...)

Sleeves: Diary
5th-6th November:
Before starting on the sleeves, I needed to do a little experimenting. As there will be significant slashing, between the trim, I wanted to find out the best way of reducing the inevitable fraying that will occur during wear. This sottana is to be washable and I did not want to have to sew or bind the edges of the slashes, as this is not seen in the red Pisa dress.
After experimenting, I decided to cut the slashing after applying a line of fabric glue on the back of the material. I had already decided to cut the sleeves on the bias, as this is known to reduce fraying.
Right is the sleeve pattern with the positioning of the slashes. The trim was handsewn to the sleeve.
I lined the sleeves with a tafetta, to reduced the 'drag' on the slashing when putting the sleeves on and off. This was handsewn with running stitches.  Far right is a finished sleeve (minus the pearls).
11th November:
Here is a close up of the running stitches before the trim was hand sewn on (right) and detail of  the sleeve trim and slashing (far right).

In my stash, I have some pearls I purchased at Festival, from Master Thorfin. I will use this to finish off the trim, as seen in Bronzino's 1551 portrait of  Maria de Medici.
11-12th November:
Eyelets now had to be sewn, as I could not finish off the hem, stiffening, edging and trim without the sottana fitting properly.
The eyelets holes were made with an awl and hand bound in embroidery thread. I do not use boning (between the edge and eyelets) as I can find no documentation for the first half of 16thC (Florence or England for that matter) on this method. I find that using spiral lacing provides a flat profile by itself.
Far Left; front of eylets. (here you can also see the running stitches.) Middle: back of eyelets (you can also see the hemstitched lining). Left:  final spiral lacing

Construction of Hem stiffening, decoration (documentation).
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.
Patterns of fashion states that the 'matching' satin bias strip was 8.8 - 10.1 cm wide. This covered the band of wool felt. Approximately 25-28mm above the edging, is a 13mm wide pintuck. This can be seen on Eleanora's burial sottana. This may also help to stiffen the hem.

Hem stiffening - (diary)
November 13-17th

Once the sottana was able to be laced up, the hem could be measured up. The final hem consists of the felt strip, the bias material (I substited linen) strip which is clipped, the garding (trim) and the pin tuck above it.  (see below left)  Next, I had to add 26mm to the pinned hem, to allow for the pintuck (seen below middle).  The bias strip was made from the same material as the dress (below right).

The bias strip was sewn to the bottom of the hem, with a 3mm overlap which will be clipped to give the same decorative effect as the neckline. This was handsewn in running stitch (below right). The felt strip was inserted underneath this bias strip (below middle). The bias strip was then sewn over this, using hem stitch. Finally the trim was sewn onto the front. (below right). All that is left is to clip the edging.

Deocoration - discussion and documenation:
Typically, the sottana was made, then sent to the embroiderers (for decoration) afterwards (Dressing Renaissance Florence).
Now that the sottana is finished, I can have the ... fun... of more handsewing on the trim. (this is one thing I have learned... more authentic means more handsewing!)
I had purchased this trim, a few Festivals ago, but only bought 4.5m... I have learnt a few things since then. After being frustrated and refusing to buy alternate trim (as I was trying to use up my stash of materials and trim here), I found another  10 (yards) on ebay. This will allow me to do more than just the imbusto trim (thank goodness) but also the hem (to cover the felt stiffening and stitches), and the sleeves.

Decoration by the portrait: (documentation)
The portrait of Guilia Gonzaga is very simple and not decorated, as she is in mourning. Brown was the colour of mourning at this time, in Florence. Decoration  and accessories were minimal.

Bronzino's portrait of Eleanora (1542)shows a more common placement of trim on the imbusto. I have used this and the above examples, though some 5 years later, as they are of a closer style to the transitional sottana than other styles in the 1530s.
This can also be seen later in the two available extant dresses have similar trim placings. The third picture shows no front skirt trim here at later time (Bronzino: Portrait of Lucrezia Panciatichi,1550-recently attrib as possibly Eleanora,  (because of girdle) - this is a typical Eleanora outfit.)  and no centre front trim on imbusto... I will be using this style of trim placing (see diary below).
Left is Janet Arnold's drawing of Eleanora's burial dress, form Patterns of Fashion. This gives us the opportunity to see the back of the trim placing on the imbusto. The main difference between both extant dresses (early 1560s) and the 1540 examples,  is the middle front trim.
The sleeve trim is very similiar in Bronzino's portrait of Eleanora (1542) (above left) and the extant dress from Pisa (above right), with verticle trim down the sleeves, and the baragoni. The extant Pisa sottana has trim around the cuff. This is cannot vbe seen in the Portrait of Eleanora.

10th November:

Ah! This is where one finds that one has not bought enough trim, even after a second buying spree. I will need 3 more yards to trim the imbusto.

Decoration (diary)

18-19th November:
Finally I am sewing on the decorations and final touches!
I am using the trim placement (right) for the imbusto, trim on the hem (HEM DIARY) .
The trim was handsewn in place. (next time I will buy at least 15m of trim for this style.
Just when I thought I was done... I remembered I had to make two buttons!
The Dress is finally finished to wear (with only the pearls to sew on the trim, if I get time). Here are some pics... before the accessories are finished.
Back, Front, sleeves and ties, button , hem and pintuck,...

18th October:
Agneta, my apprentice sister, came over today and we spent the day sewing and making girdles. Left is the new girdle for this outfit. It is made from chocolate brown glass beads (from ebay) and glass 'pearls'. The faux pearl industry was a big one in the 16th century. Venice had a roaring trade in glass pearls. This allowed those who were not allowed to wear pearls,  to wear something that looked like pearls but  not have to pay the price for breaking the sumptuary laws. Agneta showed me how to make a bead tassel, as right (Eleanora and Son, Bronzino)
A common 'accessory' in Eleanora d'Toledo's wardrobe, was the loose gown or Zimarra. This became more popular as the 16thC progressed. My inspiration, above also has a zimarra to complete the outfit. I was not sure if I would have time to get this finished before the 'big night'.Due to the help of my apprentice sister, Lady Agneta, I did! (she helped me with sewing the lining - thanks!)
My Zimarra Diary can be seen here
The Finished outfit:
With the sottana, girdle and Zimarra finished (at 12.00pm the night before - I was at a work conference on the day before and the day of the event!!), I added a silk veil (women married for more than one year were required to wear veils in Florence, on and off depending on the sumptuary laws of the time), pearl necklace with pendant, stockings and shoes, the outfit was complete.

When I tried on the sottana, there was still creasing in the bust area. I have lost some weight since I made the toile. I used my stays to help stiffen the final shape. This worked very well. I was tempted to use my metal boned corset, but wanted to keep this outfit as period-acurate as I could.

These pictures were taken on the night of the Innilgard's 20th Anniversary of becoming a Barony. Thanks to Lord Dafydd and  Lady Fionnbhair for taking the photos. (you can tell the first 3 were taken after the event!) Right; Lady Agneta and myself (with Zimarra) at the event.
 And sleeveless on a very hot day, seen at the Newcomers Feast 2007.

What I have learned/ Features achieved on this project:
I found this sottana much more comfortable to wear than my Maria or Eleanora recreations. With this toile, I adjusted the armhole/armscythe slightly forward so it did not cut into my arms at the front. This was very successful and also meant I had much more arm movement in this outfit. The waiistline was also higher. With my body shape, this made the dress sit much flatter and was more comfortable as well. The period hem construction did really make the skirt stand out. I am not wearing a farthingale - only an underskirt. The layering of the imbusto also helped to provide a smoother, flatter looking silhouette. I made the neckline higher than my previous attempts, at this style. This again was much more comfortable and more in keeping with the portraits seen of the time. This also meant I was not constantly doing the 'Captain Picard' and pulling down the dress and stays. In the Eleanora and Maria sottanas, the lower neckline meant that the stays would occasionally creep up and peek out. (I am intending on making new stays with a 'longer waist', as seen in La Mode a Firenze. This is more accurate and should also help to reduce the riding up effect.
I love the sottana / zimarra combination. This outfit was definately the most comfortable of my later Florentine sottana and much more practicle to wear.

My goals achieved:
imbusto of four layers - visible material/ wool felt/ linen/ lining of linen or satin using :
  • outer linen layer, 
  • stiffened material( cotton canvas) layer, 
  • wool felt layer, and 
  • linen lining layer.
handsewn silk covered eyelets
spiral lacings on side-back openings on imbusto
lining hemstitched to main imbusto
lining or strip of  decorative (cut) edging to neckline, cuffs and hem. 

hem stiffened with wool felt, decoratively edged strip covering this
pin tuck above the hem  and
garding (of bought trim)
bias strip hem stitched to skirt opening at side back.

This was done in the same material as the dress - hand sewn with running top stitch and hem stitch.

sleeves with small decoration on head  (so Zimarra can be worn over to complete the outfit)and slashing, tied or buttoned onto the imbusto
patterns based on Eleanora's burial gown and Alcega's Tailor Book

The waistline was adjusted to a higher position (to the later patterns of 
Eleanora's burial gown (1562) and Alcega's Tailor Book (1589) ) to reflect the earlier fashion.
The colour is consistent with colours documented to be used by Eleanora di Toledo (as close to Purplish-violet I could find).
baragoni - puffy top of sleeve
imbusto - bodice
sottana - petticoat or dress.
zimarra - loose gown over sottana. This was originally based on turkish coats but later came to encompass 'generic' loose gowns worn in Florence.


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(c) K. Carlisle. 2006