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Project Runway - the Palio Challenge

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El Segundo Blue Butterfly

Project Runway - the Palio Challenge

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El Segundo Blue Butterfly
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The SCA event in Southern California on March 7, 2015 was themed as a Palio di Siena, a horse race through town held yearly in Siena, Italy for the past 700 years or so. Most SCA events don’t have an explicit theme, but this one caught fire. There were six contradas (teams) with their own color themes and patron animals. We ended up on the Selva Contrada, of the weavers and archers, with orange and green colors, and the tree and rhinoceros symbols. Next to our camp on one side was the Valdimontone Contrada of the tailors, in gold and red, represented by a ram. Beyond them was Lupa Contrada of the bakers, in black and white with orange, with wolf as mascot. On the other side of us was Oca Contrada of the dyers, in green and white, represented by a goose. Next door was the camp of Girafa, the Painters, color themed with red and white and a giraffe. Beyond them was the Nicchio Contrada of the potters, in blue with red, gold, and white, symbolized by a seashell. One of the contests is for Female Costume, Laurel, which is what I am entered in. But for that, I need Italian clothes. I am a Laurel, but not THAT kind of Laurel.

So, half a week before the event, I decided to make a new dress. Here is the tale of the dress. It is an amalgam of the following two dresses. I found these portraits on the Realm of Venus website. Many thanks to Annabelle Wake for a most informative website:

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Portrait by Alessandro Allori, who was trained by Agnolo Bronzino. Ca. 1580-1585

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Portrait by Scipione Pulzone, Walters Art Museum 37.605, ca. 1580-1589

What follows is my analysis of the portraits and my design decisions. After that is the running commentary from Facebook posts


Models: The form of the vermillion dress is easier to see than the black dress. The bodice appears to have some subtle curvature, rather than being completely flat. The trim along the front opening of the black dress also shows a curve in front that does not seem consistent with a straight corset.

My Dress: This is why I’ve chosen to pattern this over my Gothic Fitted Dress, which provides a similar silhouette, and forms the support layer of this outfit. The pattern was made based on a duct tape form created over the GFD. Many thanks to Cynthia and Rusty Randall, makers of the You Tube video “Renlightenment Episode 56: Duct Tape Bodice Patterns” at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0pz7tkU0weU . I used their example and explanation on how to do this. A non-SCA friend did the taping, and I did the patterning from it.

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Models: It is not clear if there is a princess line to the bodice – the black dress implies a straight line that appears to be a seam or even an opening (or why else would it be buttoned?) from armseye to nearly the front point. The vermillion dress may have a slight curve on that line.

Both dresses have a point in front The vermillion dress appears to have the back and sides of the dress placed slightly above the natural waistline, presumably to provide a greater contrast between the side and the point of the bodice.

My Dress: I suspect I am heavier than either model, so I have curved that line a bit more to support my rather curvier shape. I chose to put the point of my bodice at about the belly-button.

Models: The black dress has 5 large buttons down the front, and stops at the breast. The other has 6 large buttons down the front, and stops higher. It appears that if the doublet were fully buttoned to the neck, they both would have 7 buttons down the front. The black dress also has 5 of the large buttons along the side design lines, and 3 buttons along the shoulder slash.
The buttons themselves appear to be thread-wrapped wooden beads with a small bead on top to hide the bead’s hole.

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My Dress: Thus, I am spacing to allow 7 buttons with the top one or two left open. I found a trim that had thread-wrapped beads that look similar to the ones in the picture. I pulled the beads off, added a top bead, and have a button close to the original. My cap bead is too large, and I may swap them out later. The bead is fastened to the garment by running a #5 perle cotton thread up from the base of the wrapped bead, through the cap bead, and back down through the wrapped bead, then fastening the two ends of the perle cotton to the garment. The cap bead is thus integral to making the bead into a button.

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I sewed the bodice lining to fashion fabric around the neck then along the front edges, and most of the bottom, leaving a space at center back bottom to turn it. When I tried on the bodice with all layers, it was too short. And I had no time left. So I folded up the point, making the lower edge all straight. Many thanks to Annie Hartl for the suggestion to do so.

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Models: The inner enclosed sleeves of both example dresses are not extreme in shape. They are not excessively close fitting, both examples echo the natural shape of the arm. It is not clear if they are attached or not. Both examples are white with gold markings.

My Dress: I drew a “standard” sleeve shape, based on my measurements, with an additional 1” ease around. The muslin mockup made it clear that this was not enough ease, so I added another inch. I have chosen to make the inner sleeves removable. It is lined with a heavy changeable taffeta in black and orange, which looks basically brown.

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I had this fabric, which is green, one of the colors of my contrada. The gold pattern reminds me of both a scallop shell and a laurel wreath, which are symbols associated with my SCA persona.

Models: Each example sleeve has a small ruffle or lace cuff at the wrist. It looks like Reticello lace, which is an Italian needlelace characterized by squares, diagonal lines, and picots.

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My Dress: I started the dress the same week it was to be worn, so did not have time to make the lace, too. However, I was lucky enough to find some machine-made lace with designs based on squares and diagonals, so it seems “Italian-appropriate.”

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Of course, after I completed the sleeve, I found in my fabric stash the white fabric with woven-in laurel wreaths that I had originally intended to use. Such is life!

Models: The simple over sleeve and larger shoulder roll for the black outfit appealed to me since the detail on the shoulder roll looks somewhat like a laurel wreath.

My dress: I did not have enough time to make the oversleeve. I did pattern a shoulder roll., made it in muslin and determined it was too small. So I patterned another, and made it of the fashion fabric. I stuffed it with polyfill batting while sitting at the event,, and sewed it closed, but that was too late to add it to the bodice. By the way, the strings on the tips were sewn in to make turning the piece inside out easier, and they did help considerably. They will also likely assist in fastening the shoulder rolls when I can finally add them.

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Partlet and Ruff

Models: The black dress has a great partlet edged with lace, and a ruff, also edged with lace, gathered into the top of the partlet.

My dress: I added the lace to the inner edge of the bodice opening. I did not have time to actually make the partlet and ruff.


Models: The skirt in the illustrations is flat in front, and gathering the in back. The vermillion dress looks like the skirt is cartridge pleated. One example is open fronted, one is closed, but both have the seam in the center front. Both are probably much fuller than my version, but I’m just using up the fabric in my stash.

My dress: The skirt I made is pleated onto a waistband, and the waistband is attached to the inside of the bodice. It means I didn’t have to figure out how to build a skirt to attach to a diagonal front bodice shape.

Many thanks to the Company of Clothiers for showing me how to make garb starting with fabric, and creating patterns as I need them.

5:30 pm March 3 – I didn't plan to attend next Saturday's event until a couple days ago. But I have no Italian Renaissance dresses.
New dress for Sat.:
Step 1 - find a painting with a dress I like - I found two similar ones - check
Step 2 - Get wrapped up in duct tape to make a pattern from (all my fitted dresses are from 20-30 lbs heavier) - check

Step 3 - Select fashion fabric from stash - check
Step 4- Wash fashion fabric for dress - check
Step 5 - Make pattern from duct tape pseudo-me - in progress.

9:20am March 5 - Thursday before event - Sleeves and their linings cut out, sewn together at shoulder with ties in seam. ‪#‎sewlikethewind‬. I think my wind is a fresh spring zephyr, ruffling the petals of the crocus as I drift by. I think my wind is Not a brisk, bone chilling winter wind pushing weather fronts. Wonder if I'll have a new outfit by the weekend.

Noon March 5 - cut out muslin, sewed it together, put on underdress, fit the muslin on myself over the underdress by using the mirror, pins, pencil, and a contortionist attitude (plus sewing where I think it needs to be sewn and ripping where it didn't work). Tried on the tie-on sleeves over the underdress - they fit!

3:45pm, March 5 Yesterday, I went shopping for the canvas interlining and anything that looks like thread-covered buttons. Today I decided that the "buttons" I had gotten were too pale and washed out in color, so after lunch I went back to SAS fabrics (a local fabric by the pound outlet) for different "buttons" and found precisely the right stuff. I found a very good match for the lace on the partlet of the original as well - it at least looks Italian. Score! I got 3 yards for cuffs and collar. Got home, finally adjusted paper pattern to match corrections on the muslin, and have cut out the interlining. It is now 3:40pm. I may have a rough bodice by evening!

5pm March 5- stopped sewing and started cleaning up. So far, I've cut out the interlining (trying to decide whether to put some plastic zip ties in as pseudo boning for the front lower side. Haven't decided yet). Cut out the lining and sewed it together. I'm glad I've been pinning it, because I pinned two pieces together wrong twice. The third time I got it right, and stitched them once. But now, looking at the whole stitched lining, different seams, the side back seams, are wonky. My arms eye should not be that deep. Gotta go back to the pattern and figure out what I did wrong, then correct the interlining and cut out two more side back lining pieces to replace the wonky ones. Yes, there is ripping out in my future.

8:30pm March 5- Sleeves done completely - finished the wrist edge of each, and added lace as if it were the end of a sleeve cuff folded up. One element of the outfit - complete! Of course, there's quite a bit more to do. *sigh*

8:15am March 6- finished muslin of shoulder roll - determined it is too small, adjusted pattern. Adjusted back side pattern to take care of too-big arms eye- it was my error translating from duct tape model to flat pattern. Dunno why it didn't show up in the muslin. *sigh* Can fix lining by adding a dart rather than re-sewing seams. Sewed together interlining for front of bodice. Adjusted pattern piece for back - will be pinning it as I wait for ride to Tai Chi. And then, and then... I found the fabric that I knew was in my stash, that would have made the perfect white sleeves - the laurel cloak lining with laurel wreaths woven in. Of course, the only piece of the costume fully finished so far are the sleeves, made of another color and fabric.

12:15 March 6- Have sewn complete lining and complete interlining together, separately. Put on the Gothic Fitted Dress that is my underdress and support garment in one. Tried them on, one over the other. Concluded I need to stitch them together around the edges. The lining is too short at the waist, but the interlining is a fine length (would that it were the other way round, sigh). Stitched them together, wrong side to wrong side. Now to actually cut out the fashion fabric! Must be sure it is not too short, but otherwise the pattern seems about right. Looks like the dress will have a bodice to hang the sleeves onto!

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5:00 pm March 6 - Have cut out the fashion fabric, pinned it forever, sewed it together, then sewed it to the lining-inter-lining piece. Hmmm - well, it was a good try. The center front non-point is 4 inches short. I can fuss with the shoulders, but that won't add four inches. I'm going to bind the arms eye, add loops for the sleeve attachment, and figure out how to close it (not going to do the more complex buttons I had planned) - possibly hook and eye tape inside center front. I will make a skirt so that this is a complete outfit, but it didn't work as planned.

11:30 pm March 6, - the bodice is rescued as far as can be.

1am March 7 - I now have a skirt, the bodice has buttons that look very much like the ones on my models, there is lace around my face when I wear it, and I am off to bed.

I feel like I've been doing a Project Runway Palio Challenge - limited time, and forced to run with my idea and dodge the obstacles, because there is no looking back. But this model will not be walking down the runway naked. The final look does not exactly match my original vision, but 'tis enough, 'twill serve.
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