A Simple 1550’s-1560’s Italian Sottana (Part 1. Sans-Sleeves.)

Having fallen in love with a green kersey wool I ordered on impulse from Burnley & Trowbridge, I decided it simply had to be something 16th century. I really enjoy the idea of having a variable wardrobe with the ability to change up the look and (possible) geographic location of the individual I am dressing as (depending on how I choose to accessorize, wear a sleeve style, etc). That’s one thing I definitely love about the kirtles and sottanas of the mid-16th century you can really “travel” through much of Western Europe depending on how you sport a few accessories that tie it in to a particular region.

Most recently, I just came off a V-fronted Burgundian-era kirtle sewing-spree, and I desired to shift gears and focus more on the decades of my SCA persona— which is firmly mid-16th century. Due to my complicated shape, I am a fan of self-drafting the patterns for all of my close-fitting style garments, but 16th century style costuming sort of necessitates that anyways. For this project, I started with my 15th century kirtle toile from my last project, and modified the drafting lines using two resources: The Eleanora di Toledo dress pattern in Janet Arnold’s Patterns of Fashion, as well as the kirtle pattern from The Tudor Tailor. I used the toile from the century prior as a base pattern since the garment was already closely-fitted to my torso, and it was a matter of moving some lines around to match something mid-16th century.

Libby was very helpful with the drafting process!
One of the first drafting iterations, when I was trying to decide how I wanted it laced: on the back sides, the front, or the back. I think this was draft 2 of 10.


Once I decided that I wanted to be true to other types of Italian dresses of this period with the side-back lacing, I got to work making the interlining of the bodice (imbusto). While boning did not appear in wardrobe accounts until the end of the 16th century and beyond, we do know that stiffened bodices were likely around since the beginning of the 16th century due to inventory accounts listing buckram[1][2], as well as the wealth of the visual evidence that we have in paintings, woodcuts, and engravings of the time. Period buckram made with hide glue/rabbit skin glue, is very stiff but I was not interested in making my own buckram linen due to 1) material constraints (not a fan of using rabbit-sourced glue products) 2) as well as a desire to have a garment that is easy to clean, alter, and won’t become brittle. I have a very modern (see: 5’11”, broad-shouldered, “fluffy” ) figure, so I wanted a supportive garment that gives the impression of a flat-front. So, I stuck with a few carefully placed heavy duty zip-tie bones.

The straight lines for the boning channels are some of the only machine sewing I implemented in this project

I based my pad-stitching and boning placement off of the extant Pfaltzgrafin Dorothea Sabine von Neuberg stays illustratred in The Tudor Tailor.[3] The boned center channel allows for a lifted and separated look, while the pad stitching on the top creates a gentle curve to the silhouette. I used to fully bone bodices of this period without pad-stitching, but I have to say that I now much prefer this technique. Some of the boning channels are splayed in a fan-shape on the diagonal because I find that this gives a desirable impression to the 16th century Italian style. The blue fabric is some leftover heavy-duty linen from a project I was working on last year. Waste not, want not.

Next, I worked on covering the imbusto with my fashion fabric. Rather than stick with my preferred method of binding all the edges, I decided to play it a little bit dangerous and added seam allowances on all sides, pinned it to within an inch of its life and whip-stitched it down. The advantage to this is that you don’t have to deal with the process of creating self-made strips of bias tape, and do twice the stitching. The disadvantage to this is that it is much more difficult to navigate curved seams, deal with buckling fabric, and everything needs to be nearly exact tension-wise.


After the bodice was constructed, I began skirt construction. I don’t want add a train to my sottana since I do a lot of outdoor events, so I made a skirt of two 60″ panels of fabric, and lined it in this beautiful chocolate silk taffeta I had in my stash (Libby is ever-helpful):

Many of the gowns of the period appear to have knife pleating, cartridge pleating, or box pleating. I went with the style of pleating in the Toledo gown illustrated in the Arnold pattern book with a wide-set front framed by pleats. This style helps flare the gown out at your hips without adding too much bulk towards the front. This style can be seen in this portrait by Giovanni Batista Moroni (Fig. 1):

(Fig. 1) Moroni, Giovanni Batista. “Woman in a Red Dress.” c. 1560 Found at https://www.wga.hu/frames-e.html?/html/m/moroni/index.html

(I may take inspiration from this portrait to make the sleeves for the sottana this week.)

I had to pleat the gown twice to the waistband and back piece of the bodice before I was finally happy. I ended up spacing them roughly an inch in size; using the tip of my index finger to first knuckle as a guide, it turned out pretty well! After the pleating was done, I moved on to hand-sewing eyelets. The gown was laced at the side-back just like the toledo gown, and required me to sew around 40 eyelets to accommodate spiral lacing. I used a heavy cotton thread, and binged on time team for 8 hours.

RIP Wrists! Hello Tendonitis!


After the eyelets were complete, it was time trim the dress! Apart from the Toledo gown, I was inspired by two other sources: Moroni’s Portrait of Isotta Brembati Grumelli (Fig. 3), and Jacopo Zucchi’s Portrait of a Woman.

(Fig. 2) Moroni, Giovanni Batista. Portrait of Isotta Brembati Grumelli c. 1560
(Fig. 3) Zucchi, Jacopo. Portrait of a Woman. Mid 16th c.

I had a surplus of black velvet ribbon, and I loved the look of it with the green wool, so here was the finished sottana in action!:



At Festival of the Rose at the end of the day during cleanup. The bodice point got lost after 9 hours of on and off sitting, but I will try and fix this before the next event.

The Chemise was also made last minute, with machine-embroidered blackwork cuffs and pearl button closures:





[1] Johnson, Caroline, Jane Malcolm-Davies, Ninya Mikhaila, and Michael Perry. 2016. The queen’s servants: gentlewomen’s dress at the accession of Henry VIII : a Tudor tailor case study. Lightwater, Surrey [England]: Fat Goose Press.
[2] Small, Kimiko. Bodies: 16th Century Support Garments (Class Handout) https://www.kimiko1.com/files/GWW2012_Bodies.pdf
[3] Mikhaila, Ninya, and Jane Malcolm-Davies. 2015. The Tudor tailor: reconstructing 16th-century dress. Hollywood, Calif: Costume and Fashion Press.

Other Sources consulted:
Cox-Rearick, Janet. “Power-Dressing at the Courts of Cosimo De’ Medici and François I: The “moda Alla Spagnola” of Spanish Consorts Eléonore D’Autriche and Eleonora Di Toledo.” Artibus Et Historiae 30, no. 60 (2009): 39-69. Accessed August 31, 2021. http://www.jstor.org/stable/25702881.
Vecellio, Cesare, Cristoforo Chrieger, and Damiano Zenaro. 1590. De gli habiti antichi et moderni di diuerse parti del mondo libri due. In Venetia: Presso Damian Zenaro. https://dds.crl.edu/crldelivery/12240.
Weigel, Hans. 1577. Habitus praecipuorum populorum tam virorum quam feminarum singulari arte depicti: Trachtenbuch. Nürnberg: Weigel.


Artwork:
Figure 1: Moroni, Giovanni Batista. “Woman in a Red Dress.” c. 1560 Found at https://www.wga.hu/frames-e.html?/html/m/moroni/index.html
Figure 2: Moroni, Giovanni Batista. Portrait of Isotta Brembati Grumelli c. 1560
Figure 3: Zucchi, Jacopo. Portrait of a Woman. Mid 16th c.

Leave a Reply

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

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com 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