A gown based on the 1560s funeral gown of Eleonora di Toledo

Everyone who has been doing historical costuming for a long time is aware of this gown, or sottana, as it would have been called in Italian in the period, since it is one of the gowns included in Janet Arnold's Patterns of Fashion 3: The Cut and Construction of Clothes for Men and Women C. 1560-1620 from 1985. It is also comprehensively analysed and discussed in Roberta Orsi Landini's and Bruna Niccoli's influential 2005 book Moda a Firenze 1540-1580. Lo stile di Eleonora di Toledo e la sua influenza. 
Nearing 50 I feel that white silk satin is a bit youthful for me, but I still wanted to make it, especially after seeing in in person in Palazzo Pitti in 2015. So I decided to make it for my daughter.

Yes, I couldn't really choose which of these photos to put up ;)

The gown
The cut is taken directly from the preserved garment, as measured and drawn by Janet Arnold. The bodice is of course adapted to Valeria's measurements, but the shape is the same as the original, and I tell you: I had no idea that the skirt would be so wide and the train so long until I actually made it.

The original gown:

Janet Arnold's drawing of the pattern and her interpretation of the gown (1):

As you see her interpretation had sleeves, though none were found in the grave. She assumed that they had once been there, but got lost. However, in Moda a Fireneze, Niccoli and Landini, identifies this sottana in the records of the duchess as a white satin sottana without sleeves.(2)

I may make a set of sleeves later, to match the portraits of Eleonora, but for now we are happy with it as it is.

The fabric is a heavy cotton silk mix satin from Pure silks. While the original was pure silk cottom silk mix fabrics were woven in Italy in the Middle Ages and early modern period, and there was no way that I could afford pure silk satin this heavy. And anyone who sees the trim realizes that this isn't an exact reproduction, since the original was trimmed with metal thread embroidery on brown velvet. Not being quite that insane (or skilled embroiderer) I settled for embroidered metal trim from Indian Beautiful Art on eBay.

The trim is sewn to the fabric by hand with sewing silk around all the edges of the pattern. Yes, it took months of sewing meetings and costume dramas on the telly.

The bodice is lined with two layers of linen, and unlike the original it has narrow boning (plastic whalebone) at the edges to keep the lacing straight and in the front, to support the bust. The period solution would have been stiffening with felt, buckram or cardboard, but I suspect that Eleonora had a smaller bust than Valeria.
The skirt is lined with unbleached thin linen. 
I chose unbleaced rather than bleached in the knowledge of how dusty floors at events would be, and lined the whole skirt with it for the same reason.

Following the original a wide strip of the satin was applied along the edge. 

Then it was folded and sewn to the skirt.

The folded satin was then snipped with scissors.

The camicia
The camicia, or smock, is based on another preserved garment from The Florence area, an embroidered camicia, now in the Textile Museum in Prato (3). I always make period underwear by hand, sewing with waxed linen thread, because the seams gets much stronger than machine seams and thus withstands teh frequent washing better.

Again pleading only a limited degree of insanity I only made the embroidery on the sleeves, which is what will be visible when it's worn. At least for now. 

I analyzed the pattern myself and used aida to embroider it with cotton floss, not having the eyesight for counting the threads of the fine linen fabric. The cotton lace is bought from eBay. I chose black instead of the original red, because I thought that it would look better with the gown, and because I plan to make a red version for myself later. In any case both red and black embroidered camicias are found in the wardrobe accounts of Eleonora di Toledo.

The sleeves are gathered at the wrist with many rows of gathering thread, before the gathers being sewn in place with back stitches on the inside.

The buttons are also made from linen fabric and has a few embroidery stitches to mach the sleeves, as had the buttons on the original . They close with a loop, also made from linen thread.

Both netted caul and partlet are made from metal thread trim and faux pearls. The inspiration was these two portraits of Eleonora di Toledo by Bronzino:

There are several more examples. Niccoli and Orsi Landini discusses partlets and hairnets on pages 119-125 and 135-141.

I made them by drawing out the shape of the caul and partlet pieces on pattern tissue - a non woven pattern "paper" would have worked even better I think - pinning the trim to the paper and then sewing through them with unbleached waxed linen thread.

In the portraits you see less of the camicia under the net than in Valeria's case, but it is visible.

1. Arnold, Janet, Patterns of Fashion 3: The Cut and Construction of Clothes for Men and Women C. 1560-1620, Macmillan, London, 1985, p 102-104.
2. Niccoli, Bruna and Roberta Orsi Landini, Moda a Firenze 1540-1580. Lo stile di Eleonora di Toledo e la sua influenza. Polistampa, Firenze, 2005, p 71-74
3. Moda a Firenze , p 124-125

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