Italian Renaissance Costuming Challenge and pattern mucking

The 4th annual Italian Renaissance Costuming Challenge, by Realm of Venus, has begun. On the spur of the moment, I decided to enter. The challenge is to make a 4-layer Italian Renaissance outfit in 4 months, starting June 1, ending September 30.

On the one hand, those who know what’s going on with my personal life may think I’m a little …overly ambitious. That end date of September 30? That’s less than 3 weeks before my wedding. I’m sewing my own wedding dress. No, I haven’t started yet. (My mom keeps asking. Seriously, lady, I’m going to be using a sewing machine! It’ll take a Saturday!)

On the other hand, I picked up this lovely burgundy worsted wool at Fort Frederick Market Fair last month, and I had already gotten it into my head to handsew a new dress using heavy linen interlining in time to wear it at the North America Science Fiction Convention (my first sci-fi con) in mid-July. And I wanted to make a new camicia and a partlet and maybe some drawers in time for Pennsic. So, really, I was already planning most of this work anyway, right?

Having disliked the shoulders on every previous dress I’ve made, I decided to try the Tudor Tailor’s kirtle pattern. Nope. In the midst of getting my future sister-in-law to try to fit me in that, I had a flash back to being 19 and trying to buy a suit. I had to go up two sizes after finding one that fit my body in order to fit my shoulders. Oh, right.

There was some more muddling with the Tudor Tailor’s pattern. One person suggested putting the interlining on the bias so that the shoulder straps end up straight of grain, and then it’ll cup the bosom, but I 1) have no evidence of this and 2) end up with that “cup runneth over” look that happens when your cup size on a bra is too small.

So I just put on one of my oldest dresses, based on Jen Thomspon’s pattern, and stared very hard in the mirror. Then I stared at some 1520s Bacchiacca and 1500s Raphael paintings. Then I looked back in the mirror. I stared at Anéa’s photos of the linsey-woolsey dress at Pisa and the red dress at Pisa and how their shoulder straps are shaped.

Things I’ve determined:

  1. Those “shoulder straps” are not on the shoulders.  They’re very slightly on the shoulder, just enough for the inner edge of the “shoulder strap” to hang onto the shoulder point. The outside edge is solidly on the arm. See also: Lady with a Unicorn, La Muta, and the women in orange, red, and green on The Preaching of Saint John the Baptist.
  2. Raising the neckline will better match the amount of décolletage shown, AND it helps with that illusion of the neckline disappearing into the armpit. The lower the neckline goes, the narrower it gets, because that’s how a trapezoid works. My necklines are currently just below armpit level (referring to the crease of the armpit with arms down at sides, not the depths of the armscye), but they should be just above it. Two inches should do it.
  3. To correct my blue and grey dresses,I can redo the shoulder seam so it’s on an angle instead of being cut at right angles to the shoulder straps. You can see this in the way they’re cut on the linsey-woolsey dress. Note also that the seam is behind the shoulder.

Ok, so range of motion isn’t ideal with a somewhat off-the-shoulder style (which might be why so many people go for center-clavicle straight up-and-down straps). I can’t touch my elbows to each other in this dress. My dad can’t touch his elbows to each other, period. If I wasn’t made of rubber bands (I’m hypermobile, think of a circus contortionist), this would only be a slight decrease in range of motion. Even if we think about lower class activities, I’m 100% confident I could cook and garden with this restricted range of motion, even if raising my arms only goes into the Y of YMCA instead of touching my biceps to my ears.

The shoulder seam is pinned to correct how it sits
The shoulder seam is pinned to correct how it sits

Having pinned the shoulder seam on the grey dress that I’m sitting here wearing so that it’s got the angled seam going on, yep, that’s enough to make the shoulders stay put instead of sliding down.

Oh, and I’m tagging this post with “Persona Pentathlon” because if I’m making a complete outfit by September 30, I should be in good shape for next year’s Pentathlon in March.

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