Blue Silk Cioppa (and new sleeves!)

Atlantian 12th Night in 2018 was themed around the “Palio di Atlantia” and was generally Renaissance Italy themed. I took this as an opportunity to revisit some of my favorite Italian garments and upgrade them a bit.

Me in the blue linen gamurra with matching navy sunglasses.

Remember this dress? Remember how I hated the sleeves so very much? I decided to make new sleeves as well as an overgarment to go with this. Since I decided that this gamurra looks much more 1480s Florentine than 1500s Venetian, I took my inspiration for the overgarment from appropriate images, in particular Domenico Ghirlandaio’s fresco of the Birth of Mary.

Birth of Mary by Domenico Ghirlandaio, fresco in the Tornabuoni Chapel in Florence

Notice in the image that most of the women are wearing at least three layers – shift (camicia), dress (gamurra), and overdress (cioppa) – some are also wearing a mantello or drape as well. I decided to make a cioppa based on the woman in the middle left, with the green gamurra and the gold-trimmed red cioppa. I wasn’t trying to imitate the colors, just the cut and style, including the gold trim.

There were two main styles of overdress in Florence in the 1480s. The cioppa, seen on most of the women in that fresco had sewn together side and front seams and sleeves. Some had a bodice with a sewn-in skirt, others were all of a piece, similar to the pellando (houpellande) from earlier in the century. The other overdress was the giornea. These were sleeveless, with no side seams and often open fronts as well. There were both men’s and women’s versions of both garments. The giornea was generally considered more appropriate for spring and summer than the cioppa.

I decided to make an unlined cioppa out of sari silk knowing that the event would be indoors in a hotel with the heat no doubt turned up. A fully lined cioppa would have left me too warm to dance, and we can’t have that. I cut off the trim from the sari and then resewed it on at neckline and hem. The trim on the garment in the fresco was probably actually goldwork embroidery.

Cutting in progress…

The pattern was adapted from my existing pattern for a mid-1400s pellando. This turned out to be a mistake, as the wool I had sewn that pellando out of stretches a lot more than silk and the front center seam of this cioppa lays a bit oddly. In future I will probably cut an angled front center seam for the cioppa. I may also need to widen it just under the arm as well.

Construction was mostly simple, sewing the long straight seams of the body together and sewing the sleeves. The sleeves are only attached at the top of the shoulder. The most complicated part was sewing the trim down, since I was taking a straight woven item and forcing it around the curve of the hem and the curve of the neckline. I had to do some interesting miters and darts to make it work.

New sleeves with hand-sewn finishing.

The new sleeves for the gamurra I made out of the palu of the sari, and I did line those with linen as they needed some body. Very little of the work on that was done by machine, as I ended up completely hand finishing them and doing hand-sewn eyelets so that they would look right to me.

Sewing eyelets in the sleeves.

The pattern for the sleeves I took from an existing sleeve pattern. I pinned the muslin on and had a friend draw a circle around my elbow so that I could figure out how to place the cut out for the elbow poof.

No cioppa! I never wear the old sleeves anymore.

All in all this project was a success. There are some bits of fitting that I would do different next time, but I like the garments and they are pretty comfortable to wear. Plus they look great!

Photo taken for the Atlantian Garb Runway challenge that I entered at the event.

Venetian gown from 1500 for Atlantian 12th Night 2015

I did not write up a dress diary at the time I was working on this project, but I did take some process photos at the time, planning to write one. I almost never remember to take process photos! So excite!

The Concept

Atlantian Twelfth Night that year was themed around Venice in 1500. I got pretty excited and ended up teaching  some people in my local Barony about it and a bunch of us made appropriate garb. We were very pretty! I had done some more research since the blue and teal gamurre on what differentiated Venetian fashion from Florentine since then, so this was my next big attempt at the “make my garb actually match my persona” idea. I continue to use Realm of Venus for art inspiration – in this case this page in particular. I focused in on the ladies in Gentile Bellini’s Miracle of the Cross at the Bridge of S. Lorenzo.

I came up with two dress ideas, one for a linen gamurra as a test run in pale green, and one for 12th night itself in silk with a velvet vestito (overgown).


In December 2014, I worked up a new bodice pattern by cutting a copy of the old one from two linen gamurre and modifying it to be self-supporting and with the wide v neckline. I then cut the bodice for the pale green linen test gown and put it together quickly by machine-sewing, flipping, ironing and top-stitching. I interlined it with a woven modern interfacing for additional stiffness. There are some textual sources that mention interlining in bodices of the period – it seems that wool felt and linen “cardboard” (stiffened with glue) were both used. I put the sleeves together in the same way. I gathered and sewed on the skirt by hand.

I then took this rough draft of a dress up to Pennsylvania when visiting my parents for Christmas and enlisted mom to help make it fit right. It was too lose and not as supportive as I wanted. She took in the side seams and changed their angle as well, and recommended I raise the bottom of the bodice. I copied these changes to the pattern and took it home to cut the final gown. For the pattern of the vestito I used the back of the gamurra bodice, and altered the front to deepen the neckline. I added a very small amount of ease to the side.

Cut and construction

The silk fabric for the gown was a sari someone had gifted me years before, saying that I would find something to sew with it. I lined the bodice in black linen as well as using the same interfacing as I had for the pale green gown. For the vestito, I had polyester velvet (looks more like silk than cotton) and a polyester brocade lining fabric. I did not have money at the time to buy fabric for this project and I was looking for something in the right color scheme (red/gold/black) while my stash was full mostly of shades of blue and green. The velvet and brocade were a gift from my mother.

For the final gown I wanted to use a more period construction than the machine sew-and-flip. Note that the lining and interfacing pieces are cut with no seam allowance in certain spots. After sewing the back center seam, the lining and interfacing were stitched together for reinforcement, and then the fashion fabric was turned over to the inside and sewn down. This particular silk was stiff, so rather than a double turn, I used a blanket stitch over the raw edge to sew it down, planning to tack twill tape over it if fraying became a concern.

The skirt was one long rectangle which I sewed up the side, leaving a slit by where they side lacing would be. I cut a slit in the opposite side and finished the edge. I then pleated it onto the bodice and sewed it down by hand. Here you can see the biggest mistake – I did not line the skirt. I had black linen underskirt I wore with it. (I actually  have this dress taken back apart with a lining pinned to the skirt, waiting to be sewn on. I spent the entirety of that event terrified I would kick a hole through my skirt.)

The sleeves I did up at least partially machine sewing and flipping before sewing on the trim and ties. Unlike the test green gown, I did not use interfacing on these sleeves. I hadn’t liked how stiff it made them.

Here, I stop having process photos as time before the event got more rushed. The vestito was cut and sewn next. The bodice of the vestito was constructed the same as that for the gamurra. The skirt was made of 3 straight panels of the velvet, although I had less of the lining fabric so only lined the two panels towards the front. Pleating the lined velvet was a pain, I ended up sewing down the pleats to themselves and then to the bodice.

The last step was sewing on lacing rings for the side-lacing of the gamurra, which I did a lot of on the car ride down to the event. I did not do lacing holes mostly because I was unsure of being able to do them with the odd texture of the silk.


This was how it looked on the day of the event. I did not get a new camicia sewn in time for the event, so the one I wore had the wrong neckline for the gown.


The vestito was too heavy and my shoulders hurt by the end of the event. I also already mentioned the concern about the gamurra skirt. I ended up remaking the vestito skirt by taking out the center back panel. I wore it again for another event over my teal gamurra. Other than those issues, the dress came out well. I did eventually finish the camicia I had cut for this event although I haven’t worn it with this outfit as I still haven’t finished remaking the gamurra skirt. I learned a lot from this project, that’s for sure.

Also a year later I finished fixing the green gamurra, sewed on gold ribbon as trim, sewed some lacing holes in (although a friend helped with that) and wore it to the SCA 50 year event. I really like how it turned out.