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RH508 - Fruitseller or Common Woman's Dress

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Get a complete common Italian woman's outfit in this easy pattern! 

Buy our full-size paper patterns with complete instructions and historical notes for 16th century Italian Commonwoman's Gown as seen in the work of Vincenzo Campi. Pattern includes tie-on sleeves, center or side-back closure, and gathered or pleated skirts. Instructions fro ruffled-collared camisa or scoop-necked pleated camisa also included.  Fits busts 30½"-48" and waists 23"-41". All Sizes in one envelope. Historical notes and embellishment suggestions included.

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Suggested Fabrics:
light weight to coat weight wool
heavy linen or canvas for interlining
light linen for lining

Yardage Requirements:
Gown with matching sleeves: 6 yds 45" or 4½ yds 60" wide
Gown without sleeves: 4 yds 45" or 3 yds 60" wide
Constrasting sleeves: 2 yds 45" or 1½ yds 60" wide
Lining: 2 yds 45" or 1½ yds 60" wide
(bodice & sleeves only)
Interlining: ½ yd 45" or 60" wide
(bodice only)

hooks & eyes or cord and closed rings (thread eyelets may also be used)
two-inch and three-inch wide strips of contrasting wool or colourful ribbon for guards, as many as desired

Let us help you! At Reconstructing History, we want to see you wearing the best garments you are capable of making. Call us Monday through Friday from 9am until 4pm Eastern Time (or email us st info@reconstructinghistory.com) and we will answer any questions you might have.


Below is an excerpt from the historical notes you will receive as part of this pattern:

Common Woman’s Clothing in 16th century Italy


The clothing of working women, as opposed to that of women of the leisure class, must function well during all the tasks that working women perform.  Whether it is selling fruit or fish, working in the kitchen, or doing household chores, clothing must move with the wearer and not obstruct her movements.  It must also keep her safe from hazards such as cooking fires and boiling water.  One cannot be too fussy when one works for a living.

This is not to say, however, that common women need neglect their appearance.  In fact working women were thought so attractive that famous 16th century painters from Pieter Aertsen to Vincenzo Campi have used them as subjects of their paintings.  Case in point, the 1580s painting that gives this pattern its name:  Vincenzo Campi’s “The Fruitseller”, reproduced at right.  In this painting, a rosy-cheeked country girl sits surrounded by fruit with a bushel of appealing peaches in her lap (no innuendo there!).  She wears a front-closing gold gown with dark brown edging.  Her teal apron is decorated with rather elaborate gold trim and fringe.  She is in her shirt sleeves, presumably having discarded her sleeves in order to work.  The red ribbons that held her sleeves decorate her shoulders.  Her smock has a ruffled collar but is worn fully open, disappearing into the top of her dress at the bust.  A red ribbon (or possibly a flower) accents her curly hair which is worn up but uncovered.  In all, she is the picture of healthy young womanhood.

Similar ensembles are seen in other paintings as well, for example, Campi’s 1580s tableau, “Kitchen”, a detail of which is reproduced at left.  The painting shows a number of working women, most of them quite young, wearing outfits that correspond to the Fruitseller’s, above.  All have their hair braided and intertwined with ribbon and wrapped into coils on the backs of their heads.  All wear similar gowns to the Fruitseller, although some lace at the side back as seen in the detail at left instead of center front.  Many show their shirt sleeves, but a few wear their sleeves.  One girl in the background (seen at left) has her arms out of her sleeves, but the sleeves are not removed but rather tied behind her to keep them from getting in her way.  Some wear ruffled collars open like the Fruitseller.  Others have low scoop-necked, pleated smocks which were popular in Italy in the 16th and 17th centuries.

The woman with the basin, reproduced at left, wears tied-on sleeves that match the colour of her dress, not contrasting as we see on other women.  The side-back closures of her dress are very easy to see.  Her dress laces from the bottom of the armscye, where it meets the side-back seam, to the waist, delineated by the top apron cord.  The opening of this seam continues below this cord for another two or three inches, but it is not laced below the waist.  Curiously, the apron has a second, lower cord tied in a bow over the wearer’s backside.

A more Northern European way of wearing sleeves is shown in Campi’s “Fishmongers”, detail of which is reproduced at left.  The Fishwife’s greyish green dress is guarded with black in a similar way to the gold dress of the Fruitseller, above, but her sleeves appears tied on at a single point, not with multiple ribbons travelling around the armscye as in the previous examples.  This Fishwife also appears to be wearing a caul or cap over her bun, not the exposed braids of the other women we’ve seen thus far.

In this picture, we can see the more obvious front opening of the dress and how the skirts are attached.  Laces zig-zag between the front edges of the bodice, ladder- or sprial-laced.  Like the side-back lacing on the previous example, the lacing stops at the waistline but the front opening continues onto the abdomen.  A sliver of white smock is visible.  The Fishwife also wears a ruffled collar on her smock and wears it open.  We can see no obvious ties or other forms of closure; perhaps it was never meant to be worn closed in the English manner?

The Fishwife’s skirts are pleated or gathered onto the bodice, displaying thick vertical rolls at the waist in front.  The construction of her gown jives with those of working women in England, the Netherlands and Germany during the 16th century.

A painting by Pietro Ronzelli, “Natività di Maria”, detail reproduced at right, shows the same front closure, this time clearly spiral-laced with a red cord that matches the red guards on this black dress.  The opening below the waistline is not visible because of the wearer’s apron.  Perhaps the use of aprons explains why the closure was not laced lower than the waistline.  Or perhaps we modern people over-concern ourselves with these things.  This Attendant at the Birth also wears a ruffled shirt, but we can see two white string closures -- one at the top and one at the bottom of her collar -- although they are untied.  A strip of insertion lace appears to run across her shoulder ridge.  Red half-bows hold on her sleeves which are fitted and appear to be two-piece sleeves, the seam covered by a strip of the red guards.  The cuff of her shirt is plain and peaks out at the end of her right sleeve.

A Midwife from Ronzelli’s “Natività della Vergine” shows a bit of variation.  Of course this woman is preparing something in a basin and therefore is attired for dirty work.  Her sleeves are off and her sleeve ribbons hanging loose.  She has her voluminous smock sleeves rolled up above her elbows.  She wears linen on her head and there is no ruffled collar on her smock.  However, there may be the slightest hint of needlelace or insertion lace along the shoulder seam.

Another detail from Ronzelli’s “Natività di Maria,” reproduced at right, shows the side-back lacing in a contrasting dark colour, presumably matching the guards and sleeve ribbons.  Her sleeves are off and her smock sleeves rolled to above the elbow, read for toil.  Her hair is braided and wrapped on the back of her head, interbraided with ribbons.

Another set of midwives by Alessandro Allori appear to be better dressed.  Of course in this “Natività della Vergine,” the baby is already born and swaddled.  One of the women playing with the newborn, reproduced at left, wears a bright yellow gown trimmed in reddish orange embroidery or figured trim.  An apron is tied around her waist with a black band, visible in this detail picture.  Her skirts are gathered or pleated to her bodice.  The side-back seam is visible but the dress does not appear to close there.  The front, of course, is not visible.  She is in her shirt sleeves with her sleeves slightly pushed up, but her fancy sleeves hang behind her, onto her gown by only one ribbon tie at the top back of the armscye.  Her sleeves appear to be buff satin and are decoratively slashed all over.  Her hair is braided with ribbons and coiled on the back of her head, like all the ladies.

Although there are no extant examples of common women’s dress in Italy of this time period, there are extant examples that can lead us in the right direction.  Although the funeral dress of a Princess, the construction of Eleanor of Toledo’s gown gives us some assistance.  If we disregard the elaborate skirts and flatten the waistline of the bodice, we have a silhouette that is very similar to that of the dresses we have seen in these historical notes.  Furthermore, the side-back lacing of Eleanor’s dress teach us the practicalities of a closure method that we’ve only seen in illustrations thus far.


A Festive Attyre -- Italian Working Class Dress http://festiveattyre.com/research/wkclass/portfolio.html

Arnold, Janet.  Patterns of Fashion: The cut and construction of clothes for men and women c1560-1620.  1985:  Macmillan, London.

Landini, Roberta Orsi and Bruna Niccoli.  Moda a Firenze 1540-1580: The style of Eleanor of Toledo and her influence.  2005:  Pagliai Polistampa, Florence.

For more, purchase this pattern.


This information © 2009 Kass McGann and Reconstructing History

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