Saturday, September 22, 2012

ICC Mini-Challenge - 'Perfectly Period Pink' Update

Like many costumers and SCA participants, for a long time I have been inspired by the extant 'Pisa dress'. I love the colour, the richness of the velvet, the style, and (most of all) the embroidery.

The Pisa gown from

images of the Pisa dress from

Image from Moda Firenze by Bruna Niccoli  and Roberta Orsi Landini

I have always wanted to try my hand at a version of the embroidery on this dress, so the ICC Mini Challenge seemed like a perfect opportunity. I chose to work on a pair of sleeves to give me an idea of how I would go if I decided to make a version of the whole gown later on.

There are other well known-examples of embroidered bands on Italian dresses, particularly those of Eleanora de Toledo:

Archivo:Eleonora di Toledo 1543 Agnolo Bronzino.jpg
Eleanora de Toledo by Bronzino (1543) from es.wikipedia.orgArchivo:Eleonora_di_Toledo_1543_Agnolo_Bronzino.jpg

Eleanora de Toledo burial gown bodice, image from
(See also Anea's excellent article at )

Image from Patterns of Fashion by Janet Arnold

Image from Moda Firenze

The embroidered panels on the 'Pisa' dress (copyright K. Carlisle) from - check out this site for an excellent article

I loosely based my embroidery design on the original on the extant 'Pisa' dress. I doodled until I found a design that flowed well and which resembled the original design. I then photocopied the panel and stuck the copies together until I had a repeating design. I photocopied that into a long continuous piece.

After pre-washing and ironing my fabric, I traced the design onto one edge and experimented with different types of thread and different stitches. Although the extant Pisa dress looks to have a lot of couching on it, I decided to avoid couching if possible. I have used couching to secure metallic thread on sleeves in the past, and I found that the couched threads regularly caught on aiglets and hooks and eyes, resulting in pulled threads. I didn't want to go to the trouble of embroidering sleeves that wouldn't wear well.

The pink chain stitch on  the right was the one  I decided to use
I tried the design in several crochet cottons and embroidery cottons. Budget was a factor, as I knew I would end up using a LOT of floss. I tested light and dark pinks as well as gold, and in the end settled on a DMC cotton floss as it sat really well with no fluffing. I also changed my mind about stitch type; the double running stitch I originally planned to use lacked impact, so I changed to chain stitch.

The next step was marking out the design panels ready to embroider.

(I had been so busy with other projects that I was almost a week into the challenge before I got to this stage!)

 I bought some fabric tracing paper which works like carbon paper, except that the design washes out in water. What a brilliant invention! I laid the 'carbon' paper on the fabric, and then put my photocopied design panel over the top and traced around the design. The only part of the design that I wasn't sure of was the little circles in the centre of the motif. I plan to try and change them into spirals.

I started embroidering the design in chain stitch. I haven't decided yet what stitch to use for the spirals.

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