Documentation Drafting, Part 1

Version 2

What’s This?

I’m planning to post drafts and revisions of my documentation for my Avacal KA&S entries to my blog in hopes of demonstrating what my process is like.  I like to start with a general outline, fill in as much as I know off the top of my head, and then go back and fill in the details with specific reference to specific books.  Sometimes I’m drawing on stuff I’ve already read; other times I use the first couple of drafts as a way of identifying further specific pieces of information I need to track down.

You’ll notice that in this case, I’m writing my documentation after my item is made.  I STRONGLY DISCOURAGE back-documenting, like when you make your thing and then afterwards try to go about finding evidence to support that it was done your way in period.  I’m inevitably going to find one or two details where I did something wrong, or remembered something wrong, because that’s just the way life is, but in reality this outfit  is the cumulative result of many years of research into Florentine and Venetian clothing, customs, and culture and the documentation is coming after the finished item because the item had a specific due date and the documentation did not (until now).

Draft Starts:

16th Century Venetian Kirtle and Gown

Monna Caterina di Alessandro di Guglielmo Franceschi &c.



Because clothing has changed so much since the sixteenth century, even English-language clothing terms from the sixteenth century tend to sound unfamiliar.  In an attempt to cut down confusion, I will use English-language terms throughout unless there is no clear English equivalent.


This is an interpretation of a gown in the Venetian style of approximately 1514.  It is based primarily on the painting “Sacred and Profane Love” by Tiziano Vecellio (Titian).


[Here I should talk about the types of artisans likely to be involved in making the dress; the type of person who would likely have worn the dress (assuming it can be demonstrated that a real woman might have worn this dress despite the allegorical subject matter), and who would have been likely to commission the dress for the wearer.]


[Here I should talk about the occasions on which a woman would likely have worn such a dress.]



What They Used

  • Silk
  • Figured velvet – methods of creating the pattern in the velvet
  • Dyestuffs – social meaning of kermes
  • Semi-industrial production of cloth
  • Evidence for fabric widths
  • Address evidence for materials used for interlinings, linings, etc.
  • Silk thread

What I Used

I was lucky enough to be able to find reasonably high quality crimson silk broadcloth for the kirtle. As this broadcloth was quite lightweight, I chose to interline it with a mid-weight neutral colored linen.

The fashion fabric of the gown is figured velvet.  [I should conduct a burn test to determine what fiber it is.]  Because of the weight of this fabric, I did not feel that it was necessary or desirable to interline it, but in certain places I did line it, again with silk broadcloth.

I believe that all of the fabrics I used were most likely produced using modern automated methods and dyed with modern chemical dyes.

Reason for Variance

[Any variance needing explaining for silk broadcloth?]

 [Use of neutral-colored linen for interlining instead of what kind of interlining in period?]

I have had the chance to visually inspect (but not touch) a variety of samples of extant velvet remnants dating from approximately the fourteenth to seventeenth centuries throughout Northern Italy.  Based on pile length, pile spacing, and sheen, I believe that the fabric I selected is a closer (though not exact) analog for period velvets than other modern pile fabrics, such as cotton velveteen, rayon velvet, or even some modern silk velvets that I have seen.

I would some day like to have the chance to work with cloth woven, spun, and dyed using period materials, tools, and techniques, in order to compare their working characteristics with modern materials.  However, my primary craft is tailoring and not fibre arts.  A sixteenth-century tailor of the Italian peninsula would not have spun, woven, or dyed any of their own fabrics, but instead would have worked with previously finished cloth purchased in the market place or supplied by the client [citation needed].  I believe that working with previously finished cloth that I have purchased is a reasonable analogue for the process a tailor would have followed in the sixteenth century.


What They Used

  • Shears
  • Any evidence for pins?
  • Needles – material of
  • Measuring tapes – address proportional method posited by Mathew Gnagy
  • Outsourcing piece work to seamstresses

What I Used

I used modern commercially available versions of all of the items mentioned above.  I made limited use of a sewing machine and gave some piece work to my students.

Reason for Variance

As noted in the “Materials” section above, I would like the opportunity to work entirely with period tools in order to compare their working characteristics.  I have had the chance to use period snips and I find them a little difficult to use, so I would be interested to see if I experience the same difficulty with period shears.

I have made and experimented with the proportional measuring tapes posited by Mathew Gnagy.  It’s an interesting system and I would like to experiment further and increase my proficiency.  Due to the time line on this project, I did not have the time to undertake such experiments this time.

Although sixteenth-century tailors did not have access to sewing machines, I felt that using a machine was somewhat analogous to the process by which a sixteenth-century tailor might have employed workers (male or female) to carry out piecework rather than doing all of the work himself.


[To come]


[To come]

Works Cited

[Here’s the bibliography from the An Tir KA&S Entry I did in 2012.  I expect the bibliography for this project will be similar:


de Alcega, Juan, Geometria, pratica, y traça, Madrid, 1589, facsimile trans. by Jean Pain and Cecilia Bainton as Tailor’s Pattern Book, 1589, Carlton, Bedford, 1979 (“de Alcega”)

Anderson, Ruth Matilda, Hispanic Costume 1480-1530, New York, Hispanic Society of America, 1979 (“Anderson” or “Hispanic Costume”)

Arnold, Janet, Patterns of Fashion:  The cut and construction of clothes for men and women c1560-1620, London, Macmillan Publishers Ltd., 1985 (“Arnold”)

Arnold, Janet, with Jenny Tiramani and Santina M. Levey, Patterns of Fashion 4: The cut and construction of linen shirts, smocks, neckwear, headwear and accessories for men and women c.1540-1660, London, Pan Macmillan Ltd., 2008 (“Arnold 4”)

Birbari, Elizabeth, Dress in Italian Painting 1460-1500, Chatham, UK, W & J Mackay Limited, 1975 (“Birbari” or “Dress in Italian Painting”)

Crowfoot, Elisabeth, Frances Pritchard and Kay Staniland, Textiles and Clothing c.1150-c.1450, Medieval Finds from Excavations in London: 4, London, Boydell Press, 1992, 2001 (“Crowfoot” or “Textiles and Clothing 1150-1450”)

Frick, Carole Collier, Dressing Renaissance Florence:  Families, Fortunes and Fine Clothing, Baltimore and London, Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002 (“Frick” or “Dressing Renaissance Florence”)

Hayward, Maria, Dress at the Court of King Henry VIII, Leeds, UK, Maney Publishing, 2007 (“Hayward” or “Dress at the Court of Henry VIII”)

Landini, Roberta Orsi and Bruna Niccoli, Moda a Firenze: lo Stile di Eleonora di Toledo e la sua influenza, Florence, Edizioni Polistampa, 2005 (“Moda a Firenze”)

Newton, Stella Mary, The Dress of the Venetians, 1495-1525, Aldershot, UK and Brookfield, VT, USA, Scolar Press, 1988 (“Newton” or “Dress of the Venetians”)

Welch, Evelyn, Shopping in the Renaissance, New Haven and London, Yale University Press, 2005 (“Shopping in the Renaissance”)


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s