Get the perfect Florentine dress pattern!
Buy our full-size paper patterns with complete instructions and historical notes for 16th century Italian Wwoman's Outfit as worn in Florence and the Tuscan region from the beginning of the century until about 1525. Pattern includes tie-on sleeves, center or side-back closure, and gathered or pleated skirts. Instructions for camicia (shift). Fits busts 30½"-48" and waists 23"-41". All Sizes in one envelope. Historical notes and embellishment suggestions included.
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light weight wool or silk taffeta
heavy linen or canvas for interlining (interlining can be corded if desired)
light linen for lining
linen for camicia
Gown: 6 yds 45" or 4½ 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
Camicia: 3 yds 60" wide (for fullest version)
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
ribbon for tying on sleeves
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 firstname.lastname@example.org) 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:
Florentine Woman’s Clothing in the early 16th century -- the gamurra
Thanks to the rise of Humanism in 15th century Italy, paintings were more detailed than ever before. Background features, clothing, furniture, even incidental items were painted with photo-realistic accuracy, giving us a window into the visual world of late Renaissance Italy. The center of this school of painting was Florence. Florence was also a major center of the textile arts. So it is natural that we should look to Florence for answers about clothing of this period.
Florence had been a center of commerce since Roman times, and it reached its height in the 15th century, called “The Cradle of the Renaissance.” Unlike other Italian city-states, Florence was essentially a democracy (although clearly controlled by the Medici family for nearly 300 years). This spirit of egalitarianism could be observed in the number of merchant families who made quite substantial fortunes through trade. Florentine silks were prized and its wools the finest in the world. Dealers in wools and silks, as well as the guildsmen who used them in their work, rose in prominence in the 15th century like never before.
Florence like everywhere else had its share of sumptuary laws. Still, the rising merchant class sought to demonstrate its new-found wealth any way it could. Commissioning a portrait of yourself (or your new wife or newly-married daughter) from one of the city’s many talented painters was one way to show wealth without actually violating sumptuary laws (being painted in a gold brocade gown is not the same as owning one). The obsessive detail of these painters gives us a great deal of information on the clothing of the people of Renaissance Florence.
Raphael’s 1505 portrait of a woman with a unicorn that hangs in the Galleria Borghese in Rome is a terrific example of this detail. The sitter wears a grey gown guarded with wine-coloured strips of a napped material, presumably velvet. The guards edge the bodice and armholes and double guards continue down the front of the skirts. Large burgundy sleeves tie on with ribbons just behind the shoulders and a great deal of linen overflows at the armhole between the sleeves and the gown. An elaborate jewel and a gold belt complete the outfit. A see-through partlet covers the woman’s shoulders. The skirts are clearly knife pleated to the bodice. The bodice is very tight such that horizontal wrinkles show under the bust. The bust appears slightly rounded. A narrow band of lighter colour shows above the guards at the neckline, but this may be gown and not camica since it does not match the colour of the linen at the armholes.
It has been speculated that this is a portrait of a bride because of the unicorn in her arms (not reproduced) and her loose hair, both symbols of virginity, but little is known about the sitter. Raphael’s exquisite attention to detail, however, shows us fabric we can practically feel and a good representation of the clothing worn in Florence at the beginning of the 16th century.
Unlike the gamurrae of the previous decades, the gowns we see on women in the 1500s, 10s and 20s have a waist slightly above the natural level.
Raphael’s “Portrait of Maddalena Doni”, painted a year later, shares many details with the previous work but also contains noticeable differences. Her gown closes down the front with a cord wrapped around decorative buttons. Black guards adorn the edge of this orange silk dress, but two guards also continue down from the shoulder straps to the waist in a configuration that will not become popular until the 1560s. Her camica shows at the neckline as well as under the arms between the gown and the sleeves. The huge blue sleeves are made from a figured silk and tied in at least two places on the shoulder. She wears a transparent shoulder covering with a matching cover over her hair. A jewel adorns her chest and she has rings on her fingers and a girdle made of chain around her waist. The pleating of the gown skirts is hidden by her hands on her lap. The bodice in this portrait is tight as in the previous example, but Maddalena Doni is far more well endowed than the lady with the unicorn. Her but is large but shaped into a gentle roundness by the bodice. This shape indicates the use of flexible interlining and padding, not boning or corsetry.
Ghirlandaio’s 1509 “Portrait of a Woman” shows a very different bust shape. Possibly the sitter has a smaller bust or possibly the dress is interlined more stiffly, but her red bodice seems quite flat. The guards around her neckline are very narrow and simple. A matching black girdle marks her waist. Her black sleeves tie at least at one place (maybe two) on her shoulders and the camica shows at the underarms. The camica also shows far above the neckline, and it is clear that it is heavily pleated and wrought with gold embroidery. Similar gold embroidery decorates her black hair net. In a way, she appears far more simply dressed than Maddalena Doni, above.
A persistent problem in costuming is not wearing enough layers. We wear costume in heated buildings and outside at the height of the summer when the people who wore these clothes were more concerned with keeping the chill away. Wardrobe accounts and inventories from 16th century Italy mention a garment called sottana (translated into English as petticoat or kirtle). Unlike the more modern petticoat, this garment was not just a skirt or crinoline, but rather a full garment consisting of bodice and skirts and sometimes also sleeves. These garments were meant to be worn under the gowns we are examining in these historical notes. The gown will not look like it does in the pictures without the proper undergarments, and the petticoat was likely one of those undergarments. No amount of interlining can substitute for a petticoat worn under the gown, and the unique rounded shape of the bust seen in the portraiture is undoubtedly created by the garments worn under this gown as much as by the gown itself.
Bacchiacca’s 1520s depiction of the Preaching of John the Baptist displays a pair of ladies in the crowd to the right of the painting who are wearing gowns similar to those we have been investigating in this paper. Not much is known about this work, but it was common to paint members of the family of the donor of the painting in biblical scenes like this. It is not known if that is the case here.
The woman on the left wears a red gown guarded the the neckline with a thick and thin strip of dark material. Her sleeves appear to be lined with a similar colour. The sleeves are tied at the shoulder and we can see her camica sticking out at the underarms as is typical of this time period. The sleeve shapes are very unique. They are triangular and appear to be convertible into a gathered sleeve by virtue of drawstrings in the sleeve openings. The wearer holds her long skirts up in front of her, revealing a dark green petticoat with a gold-decorated hem.
The woman to the right wears an orange gown with dark green wide guards at the neckline and hem and a narrow guard below it on the bodice only. She has large blue sleeves of the type seen in the other paintings. She wears a long, tasseled girdle. Both women wear gold necklaces with pendants.
A Festive Attyre -- Florentine Dress 1500-1525 http://festiveattyre.com/research/florentine/portfolio.html
Arnold, Janet. Patterns of Fashion: The cut and construction of clothes for men and women c1560-1620. 1985: Macmillan, London.
Birbari, Elizabeth. Dress in Italian painting, 1460-1500. 1975: John Murray (Publishers) Ltd, London.
Frick, Carole Collier. Dressing Renaissance Florence: Families, Fortunes, and Fine Clothing. 2002: The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore.
Landini, Roberta Orsi and Bruna Niccoli. Moda a Firenze 1540-1580: The style of Eleanor of Toledo and her influence. 2005: Pagliai Polistampa, Florence.
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This information © 2011 Kass McGann and Reconstructing History