Maintenance of a Mature Starter Culture

At some point you will have a starter culture that rises and falls predictably and you’ll be ready to switch to maintenance from creation. There’s a few approaches available here, ranging from ideal to lazy. I’ve used them all!

The Ideal Approach

The ideal approach is to keep your starter at room temperature and refresh it every day at the same time (or twice daily), adjusting your ratio of kept starter to water to flour so that it rises and starts to fall in the time in between refreshments. You do not want it to fall all the way back to flat in this time, or even most of the way back to flat. We are trying to encourage a particular balance of yeast and bacteria that is good for raising bread at this point. The longer you let it fall after the peak before refreshing, the more active the bacteria become and the less active the yeast become. Yeast are the ones who do most of the work of raising your bread, so you want your yeast colony to be strong and active.

When I say “adjust the ratio” what I am talking about is moving away from that 1:1:1 by weight of starter:water:flour we have been using to whatever ratio gives you the rise and fall times you want. If your starter has fallen most of the way back to flat by the time you refresh, then try going to 1:2:2. If it’s still rising and falling too fast, try 1:4:4. Keep experimenting until you get the desired rise and fall time. You will also want to be aware that changing seasons can change the ratios you need. In the heat of summer I have had to go as high as 1:10:10 to keep it from rising and falling too fast. (You can also change your water temperatures to influence this – use cooler water if the house is hot and warmer if it’s cold. Not too hot though!)

The good news is, even your starter has fallen back to flat before you refresh, you haven’t killed or ruined it. These cultures are hardy and you can keep baking with it. It might just be slower to raise your bread than you want, or have a more sour flavor than ideal. It will still make you bread.

The Lazy Approach

Let’s say you’re only baking once a week. Is it really worth it to refresh your starter 1-2 times a day? Are you going to bake with all that discard? Probably not.

So here’s what you do: Feed up your starter, let’s say with a 1:2:2 ratio, and stick it IMMEDIATELY in the refrigerator. (I see some recipes recommending leaving it out for a few hours first but that makes no sense.) The point of refrigerating it is that this will greatly slow down the activity of your yeast and bacteria, reducing the chance that they will die in their own waste while being ignored for a week or two. It will also prevent mold growth. You want it going in the fridge with little waste products and plenty to live off of for a week or two.

Then, a day or two before you want to bake again, take it out of the fridge. Assess the starter – is it full of bubbles and at a peak? Has it risen and fallen? Is there liquid on top? (The liquid is called “hooch” and can be tossed.) I like to leave mine out at room temperature and check on it in a few hours – if it’s active at that point, I can probably use it to bake right away. If it’s falling, then I will refresh it 1-2 times before baking with it OR use it to start a sponge for a longer-fermenting bread recipe.

What I do

I take sort of a middle ground approach between the two. If I am baking regularly, I keep Mr Sticky out on the counter. If I’m going to be busy and not baking regularly, he goes in the fridge. I also like to refresh Mr. Sticky at fairly extreme ratios so that even on the counter I can go to an every other day schedule without harming the culture. When I refresh Mr Sticky is often based on a visual check more than anything else. (I only keep .2 oz of starter and refresh at 1:5:5 in the winter and 1:10:10 in the summer. I would not start this until you have an established starter culture and are comfortable with maintenance.)

Further Reading



Flour Water Salt Yeast by Ken Forkish is pretty much the seminal work on artisan bread techniques, including sourdough.

The Rye Baker by Stanley Ginsburg is my personal favorite bread book – I love rye bread and he does a fabulous job in this book! He discusses the history of rye cultivation, the microbiology and chemistry of why baking with rye is NOT the same as baking with wheat, regional variations in traditional bread recipes across Europe and the ingredients used in bread with such clarity. It’s also chock full of delicious and well-written recipes. The Sauerkraut Rye bread from that book has become a staple in my household that people regularly demand.

Once my baby starters are ready to bake with there will be another post and videos too 🙂

How to Sourdough from Scratch: Days 3-6 and what to do next

Recap of Days 1-2 here. This got long so I made you a Table of Contents. There will be a follow-up post on maintenance of a mature starter and another on baking with it once my baby starters are ready.

Table of Contents

Day 3

Saturday, April 4th

Starters on Day 3

Starter 1 (wheat) was very active with large bubbles; it smelled clean and unlike any of the unwanted bacteria I was concerned about. This is a good sign. It probably took 24 hours for it to rise and and fall partway. I added 1 oz whole wheat and 1 oz water as before.

Starter 2 (pineapple rye) was less active. There were small bubbles visible but not much of a rise and fall. I wonder if this rye flour is just less nutritious than the one I normally use (which is completely out in all the grocery stores around here). Mr Sticky has had smaller bubbles than usual and 50% of what I maintain him with is also this same rye flour. I added 1 0z whole rye flour and 1 oz pineapple juice as before.

Day 4

Sunday April 5th

starters on day 4
close up on the pineapple rye

Starter 1 (wheat) was very active again and still smelled clean. I added 1 oz water & 1 oz whole wheat flour as before.

Starter 2 (pineapple rye) again showed less activity, but did have small bubbles. I added 1 oz pineapple juice and 1 oz whole rye flour as before.

Day 5

Monday April 6th

starters on day 5

Starter 1 (wheat) was very active again and still smelled clean. Starter 2 (pineapple rye) again with the small bubbles. The pineapple juice method is not working as a jump start for me so well.

At this point I would like to reduce the volume of starter in the jar and reduce the waste products the new colonies are in a little bit. Notice that bit of liquid under most of the wheat starter? It’s been producing extra liquid a lot. That’s a waste product from the yeast and if you let it build up eventually they will die in their own waste. (Do you want to live in your own urine and feces? I didn’t think so.) We left the waste products in for the first few days because we wanted the acid the lactobacilli were making to alter the ph of the overall environment to encourage our yeast to activate.

I tossed out a large portion of both baby starters. Starter 1 (wheat) I retained 1 oz, to which I added 1 oz whole wheat flour and 1 0z water. Starter 2 (pineapple) I retained 1 oz, to which I added 1 oz whole rye flour and 1 oz WATER. You’re not going to use pineapple juice forever.

Day 6

Tuesday April 7th

I have not yet refreshed the baby starters. (Mr Sticky was fed up for refrigeration and put away yesterday after I got a dough going from him.) They both show only very small bubbles – I may have gone a bit overboard in how much I removed yesterday. I also refreshed them pretty late yesterday so I’m going to wait and see what they are doing after dinner. I may just add to them if they haven’t really gotten as active as I’d like.

Recommendations for the next week

Keep refreshing your starters every day around the same time. At this point, you do want to remove some of your existing matter when you refresh. I recommend a 1:1:1 ratio by weight for now- so if you save 2 oz of starter, add 2 oz of flour and 2 oz of water. For now, I wouldn’t go below 1 oz saved, and 2 oz is probably better.

If you are seeing activity (bubbles, a clear rise and fall) then you are moving towards a ready culture. You may want to move to twice daily refreshments if the peak of the activity is happening quickly and your starter is mostly fallen back down to flat by the time you’re ready to refresh. (Temperature will strongly affect this. If your kitchen is over 75*F I highly recommend twice daily refreshments.) Your goal is to be refreshing not long after the peak, definitely before it’s all the way back to flat.

Assess your culture by checking the smell. It should smell like flour, a little sour (from the acid) and little funky from the yeast. If you’ve had an unfiltered wheat beer or brewed you probably know what the yeast funk I’m talking about is. Mr Sticky has particular smell that I call “feety but good” when it’s active. Foul smells can indicate unwanted bacteria and a culture that is not ready yet.

You can also start to mix in some all-purpose flour at this point rather than maintaining on all whole-grain. My personal preference is not to go below 50% all-grain flour at any time, but plenty of people maintain their starter cultures completely on AP flour. I would wait until you have a predictable rise and fall to switch over completely from whole-grain to all purpose.

What about all that stuff I’m tossing?

At this point you most likely do not have unwanted bacteria (check the smell) and you can actually use that extra starter mass instead of throwing it out. It can add a sour flavor to a baked good (although it’s probably not powerful enough to give it a full rise yet). I like King Arthur Flour’s recipes for sourdough discard, especially these biscuits. If you refrigerate your discard you can save it for up to a week, so you could keep a big jar of discard that you add to until you have enough for a discard recipe. (DO NOT leave it out at room temperature – it will be invaded by MOLD!) I have done this occasionally.

When will it be ready to bake with?

The big question! What you want to see is activity in the form of bubbles and a clear, predictable rise and fall cycle. Refreshing at 1:1:1, twice daily, you want to see this rise and fall cycle happen within 12 hours. If you have this, and it doesn’t smell rotten, you are probably good to bake!

So what to bake? This will really depend on what flour you have available, your previous bread baking experience and comfort, and the equipment you have available. I plan to do another post with video about baking with sourdough when my baby starters are ready to go. In the meantime, if your starter is roaring to go, try this Rustic Sourdough Bread recipe from King Arthur Flour. It should work with any wheat flour you have on hand.

Go forth and sourdough!

Recap: How to Sourdough from Scratch Days 1 & 2

Note about the videos -these are the Facebook live videos I did, with minimal editing.

Day 1

Thursday April 2nd we started 2 baby sourdough starters. Starter 1: 1 oz whole wheat flour mixed with 1 oz water. Starter 2: 1 oz pineapple juice mixed with 1 oz whole rye (pumpernickel) flour. (Here’s my source for the pineapple juice idea.) The first several days we will add the same ratio of flour/water or flour/juice to the starter without removing any material.

Each starter was mixed in a 16 oz mason jar with a fermentation lid. If you don’t have fermentation lids, a regular lid on loosely works just fine.

We are trying to get the microorganisms present in the flour to wake up and eat and reproduce, however we don’t want all of them. Some bacteria we do not want may show up at first – if you have bubbles and a bad smell it is those bacteria. What we are waiting on is some lactobacteria to start going, because they produce acids as they eat the flour. We are not removing material because we want the whole mush to become acidic in order for the yeasts we’re looking for to activate. The yeast species that show up in sourdough starters tolerate more acidity than your standard store-bought yeast (candida millieri). Eventually that acidity will kill off the other bacteria and you’ll end up with a stable culture combining yeast and the lactobacteria.

Day 2

Friday April 3rd: Neither Starter 1 or Starter 2 had shown any signs of activity after 24 hours. The house was cold last night so I’m not surprised. If you are worried that you’re not seeing activity, you may try putting your starter in a warmer place or on a heating pad. Just don’t let it get too hot – the ideal temperature is 80*F and I wouldn’t get it over 100*F (although you won’t definitely kill everything until about 140*F).

I added 1.25 oz water and 1 oz whole wheat flour to starter 1 & 1.5 oz pineapple juice and 1 oz rye flour to starter 2. The additional liquid is because I noticed not all the flour was hydrated last night. We need all the flour to come into contact with the liquid. This activates some enzymes in it that will start a breakdown of some of the complex molecules into forms more readily eaten by the yeast and bacteria we are trying to grow.

Days 3 and 4

Saturday and Sunday we will keep the same feeding regimen and I will report back on Monday with the progress of the starters!

Online Course: How to Sourdough from Scratch in a Time of Plague

I asked around on the Book of Faces and there seemed to be a lot of interest in this, so here goes a complete experiment! I’m going to use a combination of text (blog posts here) and video (facebook? youtube? still figuring it out!) to teach you what I know about sourdough starters and bread baking.


By the end of this course, you should be able to…

  1. Start a successful sourdough starter from only flour and water*.
  2. Maintain a sourdough starter, both when you are using it regularly and when you are not.
  3. Bake a loaf of bread with your own starter.

*Although we will also try the water, flour and pineapple juice method. Grab some pineapple juice if you want join in on that experiment.


I am trusting that everyone who chooses to do this has a basic level of understanding how to use their kitchen safely. Other than that you need to have:

  • Flour*
  • Water
  • A container for your starter with a lid
  • A stirring implement
  • A kitchen scale that can measure in grams or tenths of an ounce
  • A bowl to mix in
  • A functional oven
  • A baking pan, small dutch oven, or loaf pan

Flour! Flour is the most important ingredient when starting your starter from scratch. You will want to have 2 flours on hand: all purpose flour and a whole grain flour. Your all-purpose wheat flour needs to be unbleached. For the whole-grain flour, either a whole-grain wheat or rye will work. (Organic flour is helpful but not necessary.) We will only be using a few ounces of flour at a time until we are actually baking bread, so a small bag of each flour should be fine.

Sound interesting? Sign up for the event on facebook. It won’t start until Wednesday, March 25th because I want you to have time to get supplies.

Composing the Music of “Fettuccine for Five”

In spring 2019 I choreographed a dance in the style of 15th century Italian balli. This dance, Il ballo d’Eleanor con quatro Fettuccie per Cinque, or Eleanor’s Ribbon Dance for Five, was inspired by a friend and regular to my dance practice as well as by watching some people dance the existing ribbon dance, Tesara. I’ve already written about the process of creating this dance on this blog, and there is now a page here with directions and music for it. I thought I would tell you more about the thought process of composing the music for this dance.

My main goal was to write something very danceable and earwormy – something the dancers would sing the steps to and find themselves humming afterwards. I wanted my dance to have several sections using the different misura, much as the balli of Masters Domenico and Ambrosio do. With that in mind, I choreographed the dance with sections that would work in quaternaria, bassadanza and saltarelli misure and then came up with tunes for each. (These were 3 of the 4 commonly used time signatures in 15th century Italian dance music, roughly equating to modern 4/4, 6/4 and 6/8.)

In creating my tunes I thought about what I knew of medieval vs modern music theory and the fact that the 15th century was very much a time of slow transition out of medieval modes towards the more modern understanding of music. I wanted the tune to reflect that transition, as well as modes/keys commonly used in 15th century dance music. To help with that, I composed on my gemshorn, an instrument of the time rather than on my modern flute or baroque recorders. I also played through several existing melodies of 15th century dances before I started, trying to put my mind in the right framework.

Composing the 3 Melodies

Section A – 4/4 or quaternaria misura

Quaternaria was used a lot in the balli, including for sections where the steps were piva, even though piva technically has its own misura. I chose to do this rather than create a piva misura melody. Initially, I tried to compose this melody in F major (relative to the D minor melody I already had for the B section), but it just did not want to resolve into something I liked. I started noodling on my gemshorn in D major and somehow having the F# made it work. I don’t know, sometimes tunes just want to be in a certain key.

D major was less common than F major in 15th century dance music but not unknown. (F major was used as F Lydian but in the 15th century even though they called it Lydian, they regularly made the B flat anyway.) It was very popular in Baroque music, so in a way this section is looking forward to where the music was going.

The tune is supposed to be happy and bouncy to go with the piva steps mostly done to it. The version marked descant is what I originally wrote, and then when I started arranging I decided that I wanted a melody that would be easier to pick up and sight read. That melody still gets the main idea and the bouncy feel across but should be more doable for a dance band that hasn’t encountered this music before.

Section B – 6/4 or bassadanza misura

The bassadanza was known as the “queen of measures” and was the slowest of the misure as well as being seen as the most refined. Although there was a genre of dances entirely in bassadanza, it was also used in the mixed-tempo balli. The melody for this section came to me first – we often sing what we are doing to the tune of a dance and in the first use of this melody Eleanor does a voltatonda del gioioso, which she refers to as the “really slow and boring turn”. I sung that to myself and it became the origin of the B melody.

I wanted the bassadanza section to particularly reflect the medieval origins of the music, and so I chose to push back against my initial instinct to focus on thirds and instead emphasize the fourth and the fifth in the D minor scale that it decided it wanted to be in. This is why it jumps from D to A. (I guess because a “slow and boring” turn shouldn’t be major?) It could also technically be in the medieval Dorian mode, because although standard Dorian has a B natural, it could be flat at times.

Unlike the quaternaria section, my initial melody is what became the main melody. I actually wrote the descant for this section last, after having done most of the arrangement. I wasn’t completely sure that it needed a descant, but I remembered that that was very common for bassadanza music. In fact, often the tenor part was what was written down and the soprano instrument improvised a descant based on that. I looked over the few bassadanza melodies that we do have to get ideas for the descant on this one.

Section C – 6/8 or saltarelli misura

Saltarello misura, along with piva misura, was considered one of the “historical” or “common” tempos- something that everyone knew how to dance to automatically. It was less refined than bassadanza. Saltarello misura might be written in the equivalent of 6/8 or 3/4 and often had more syncopated rhythms than quaternaria. I decided to put this melody in the same key as the A melody. This one came to me pretty quickly as I was noodling around once I decided on a key because I knew the bouncy feel that I wanted. Like with the quaternaria section, the initial melody that I wrote is what became the descant, and then I created a slightly simplified melody from that for ease of sight reading.

A lot of the balli that switch between misura will include an extra measure or half measure at the beginning of the saltarello section for the dancers to do a little hop and prepare for the saltarello step, especially if it is switching from the slower bassadanza misura. I chose to write a full measure introduction for the saltarello section for that purpose.


In arranging this, I wanted to bring in a medieval feel to the harmonies at times and not solely rely on modern arrangement strategies. I also wanted to use the harmony and bass instruments to provide rhythm to cue the dancers, which is what would have been done in period as dance ensembles often did not have a drum. A lot of ensemble music that would have been played for dancing would have used a lot of straight octave differences between instruments more than the chord-based modern use of harmony. I used a mixture of both, but made sure to emphasize the octave in opening and closing of many of the sections, especially having unison play at the end of the whole dance.

Further Reading

Jennifer Nevile: The eloquent body: dance and humanist culture in fifteenth-century Italy. If you want to understand more about the 4 misure or time signatures, Nevile’s book is the key that really unlocked my understanding of it. This is an expansion of her work for her doctoral dissertation.

“Fettuccine for Five” News

I will be teaching the dance I wrote last spring at Atlantian University tomorrow. In preparation for that, I have started to post more information about in on this site. It now has a page of its own! You can find directions (including in Italian), the score and mp3 for the music and more there. I have also added the handout for my class to the Class Notespage.

In February, I will posting another blog post about Fettuccine for Five, telling you about the process of composing and arranging the music. In March, I will be posting videos of the Canton of Sudentorre dancing it.

Come learn this very silly dance and get the music I wrote stuck in your head!

2020 Plans

A look ahead…


I plan to keep working on my over-the-top appliqueed and embroidered Norse smokkr. At some point, I’d like to work out a new serk (underdress) pattern and start the green serk for the same outfit. I already have the coat patterned, so I will hopefully get to start on that this year as well. Other than that outfit, my main sewing plan for this year is a lot of fixing and finishing. I have several mostly-finished projects that need a few details. I’m not currently planning to attend any major events this year that I have to have new garb for, so I’d like to get what I have in better order.


I finished arranging the music for Il Ballo D’Eleanor and we premiered it at the Red Mountain Mead Hall event in Isenfir. I will be teaching it at our Kingdom University in February and we will be sending a video for the Dance Showcase and Kingdom A&S in March. I will be posting the directions, music and more information on the dance in the next couple of months leading up to those events.

I want to really focus on getting the dance pages on this site in order. There are a lot of dances I have reconstructed and don’t have up. I also want to sit down and actually write up all my specific research on the dances in the Nuremburg Letter – currently it is in notes in lots of different places.


Over the years I’ve been sucked more and more into helping my husband and his buddies with planning the feast they cook for our local March event. This year, Jasper and I ended up pretty much planning the menu after I suggested the theme. It all started with the thought process “Italian food before tomatoes”. We test cooked it recently and I’m pretty excited about the food.  It’s all themed around the Battle of Pavia (1525) between the forces of Charles V of Spain/HRE and King Francis I of France over control of Lombardy. I’ll be baking bread for it, of course.


I managed to post more last year, at least until about July. This year I’d like to keep building on that and post at least once a month without giving up when the new school year starts in August.

2019 Sewing Reflections

Spent all of 2019 trying to catch up on the million things I sewed in 2018… (At least still 2 more 2018 dress diary posts I need to get up but I don’t have all the pictures I need for them yet.) What about what I sewed in 2019?

I didn’t sew nearly as many things in 2019. No wedding, no Pennsic, no dance competition that I randomly decided I needed a new outfit for… I also took on a couple of major projects that take a while.

In the beginning of 2019 I was helping plan the menu for the feast for Defending the Gate in March. I spent a bunch of time helping Jasper with recipe testing, as well as baking. I baked all the rye bread for one of the removes of that feast. I did also start a sewing project I was hoping to have ready for the event – a new smokkr in the style of the köstrup find. I almost had it sewn in time to wear to the event, except that I was so worn out from baking that I couldn’t make the pleats work and gave up.

I did come back to that project in the fall. I was able to figure out the pleats (I used 3 gather strings and basically made cartridge pleats) and the smokkr is now wearable. However,  that is only the first piece of the project. The smokkr is going to be the middle layer of a new outfit. I’ve got a nice green linen for the serk and a nice tan wool for a coat. The plan is to make a ridiculous heraldic Norse outfit (mostly because I can) with appliqueed hippocampi on the smokkr and coat. I’ve got the first hippocampus on the smokkr and am working on embroidering it. This is going to take a while.

The other major sewing project that took on in 2019 was of course entering the 9th Italian Renaissance Costume Competition. I already posted about that – if you haven’t, you can look at my detailed dress diary notes (link) and the competition results (link). I didn’t win any of the categories, but I finished my outfit in time and I am darn proud of it. I also did my first ever fancy photoshoot of one of my outfits. Need to do more of those!

Three-for-one Dress Diary: Gowns in the Style of Venice circa 1500

I still haven’t caught up on writing dress diaries for everything I sewed last year. I keep forgetting just how much sewing I did! A major portion of that was working on improving my Venetian wardrobe.

A good friend of mine who is a workout and sewing buddy got married last April. She decided to have an in-garb wedding with a variety of times and places represented to represent her and her husband’s interests within the SCA. There were Italian Renaissance outfits, Viking-era Norse outfits, Japanese outfits. I was both in the wedding party and a major contributor to planning and sewing of outfits for the non-sewers in the group. I pleated SO MANY THINGS in the lead-up to the wedding. Somehow I became the pleater-in-chief.

The bride’s own dress was very much in the Florentine ~1480s style that my current outfit I am working on for IRCC is based on. For my bridesmaid dress I decided to revisit my circa 1500 Venetian outfit. I had not made anything in that style since the 12th Night Gown in 2015 and had learned a lot about patterning, fitting and draping self-supporting bodices since then. I felt that I could create something even better fitted than the previous gown. I also felt that I really needed an outfit in proper Venetian colors of red and gold. My own heraldry is blue and silver and I love those colors, but really reds and golds and blacks are so much more prominent in Venetian art. I needed at least one outfit in the correct color scheme. (The bride’s colors for the wedding were autumn colors – reds and oranges, and the groom’s were greens, so there was a large variety to work with as well.)

the original plan for the outfit

This is the outfit teased in this post. In addition to that outfit, I also sewed a dress in light rose pink based on the same pattern. I’m not a pink girl normally, but I was helping to run the Flamingo Ball at Pennsic last year and felt that a new ball gown to fit the theme would be appropriate. I made both gowns from saris bought from Miriam’s fiber store the previous year for the purpose. I also ordered some gold silk from Dharma for the vestito (sleeveless overdress) I had intended to make to match both gowns. Finally, I sewed a third, very last-minute, dress in the same pattern out of a teal and white cotton print I found at JoAnn’s on clearance and couldn’t resist.

I worked with my sewing partner-in-crime, Lady Valla-Ragna in Spakka, to update the pattern first. We started from my bodice pattern from 2015. We cut a new draft of that and pinned it on me and made adjustments. And made more adjustments. I lost track of how many rounds of adjusting and recutting and testing new ideas we did before we were satisfied with the pattern. One of the things that we ended up doing that I’m not sure is historical is adding side darts. I simply could not get the fabric to not wrinkle on the side of my bust without them, no matter what we tried. There are two different variants on the bodice pattern, one with a higher neckline than the other. I didn’t want to show cleavage for the bridesmaid dress so the red has the higher neckline and the teal and pink are the lower.

cutting process

As I usually do with Italian gamurre the bodices of both gowns were lined with linen in similar colors to the silk and interlined with woven interfacing. The sleeves were lined but not interlined. The red silk was very pleasant to work with being a sturdier weave, actually a shot silk with red threads one way and black the other. The pink, which I picked mostly for color scheme, was very light weight and a looser weave. This made it rather a pain to work on.

Due to the differences in the fabrics I used two different construction methods in sewing the gowns. The pink being so much more difficult to work with, I used the sew, clip and flip method. I stitched the interlining to the lining fabric, then sewed that to fashion fabric and flipped to right side out. I top-stitched the edges. I then gathered the skirt and sewed that in to the waist. I find that very light fabrics gather more comfortably than they pleat. (You may notice in the pictures above that my pattern pieces are not symmetrical. Neither am I!)

The burgundy I used a slightly different method as you can see. This involve turning down the edges of the silk over the lining and hand-stitching it down. I also pleated the skirt to a tape first, then sewed it in to the bodice.

Sleeves! Sleeves have been my nemesis for a while now. The one thing I do love about Italian Renaissance clothing is that I don’t actually have to care if the armscye and the sleeve head are the same distance around since they only attach at the top. We spent a good amount of time on draping a new sleeve pattern for this project. We started with getting a very tight-fitted sleeve pattern, and then worked on drawing the openings for the sleeve style that would show multiple poufs of camisa underneath for the burgundy gown. I decided to go for a different style on the pink, straight-edged sleeves with ribbons across. Both sleeve designs were inspired by the famous Carpaccio painting of two Venetian ladies on a balcony. The green and gold outfit her sleeves appear to be more cut with curves, like my red gown. The red outfit is what I based the sleeves on my pink gown off of.

Vittore Carpaccio circa 1490

Although I did start drafting the pattern for the gold silk vestito to wear over both outfits, I still haven’t sewn it. My work on my dress for the wedding got delayed by my needing surprise hand surgery last March so I was rushing to get my gamurra finished. I used my existing black velvet vestito to complete the outfit for my friend’s wedding. I wore the pink gown on it’s own for the Flamingo Ball because I didn’t want a third layer running a ball at Pennsic anyway.

I also sewed a new camisa to wear with the new gowns with a wide neckline fitted to this particular bodice pattern. I gathered it into a band made from the camisa fabric that I measured to fit the neckline.

Finally, the surprise gown. I was at JoAnn’s buying the linen for the camisa and found this fabric on clearance. There was very little of it there, less than two yards, but the pattern was so very Italian Renaissance! and in some of my favorite colors! I bought it and determined to try and make a dress. I would make sleeves out of another teal fabric I had so I just needed enough for a bodice and skirt. This I did the laziest/quickest way possible for every step. Bias tape finishing the bodice! Use selvedges!

In the end, in order to make a skirt I had to do some interesting piecing to make a long enough back piece. I also added the guard of the same teal for the sleeves to make it a bit longer since I got it all cut out and discovered a miscalculation. It’s also a bit tighter than I usually like skirts on these gowns to be. (My rule of thumb is minimum 3x my waist measurement.) However, I did get a dress out of it. I haven’t sewn up the sleeves yet, I just wore it without sleeves as an informal day dress at Pennsic so far.


I am very pleased with all three gamurre that I made from this pattern. The pink one that I made for the Flamingo ball I think actually best captures the silhouette of the Venetian style, making my shoulders look long and droopy in a way they never normally do. The higher neckline on the red gown lessens that effect, although it still looks right to me. The cotton surprise gown was a great last-minute addition to my washable Pennsic wardrobe.

I didn’t achieve everything I wanted and I still have work to do on each dress. I had intended to trim the neckline of the red gown with gold ribbon which I need to go back and do, as well as sew that gold vestito to wear with it. The black velvet one worked, but it is heavy and warm and less than ideal for summer wear. I need to actually sew the sleeves for the cotton gown and also fix some unraveling issues at the hem that showed up when I washed it after Pennsic. I also need to actually sew the eyelet holes for lacing on the Flamingo gown, I was just sewn into it for Pennsic as I was working on it right up to the night of the ball. (Mostly the gathering and sewing on of the skirt, that silk was such an enormous pain to work with.)

Overall, this project brought me a lot closer to having the correct clothes for my persona. I also made a lot of progress with drafting patterns so that I can easily make more gowns in this style.

Entering IRCC

This year I decided to enter the Italian Renaissance Costuming Challenge hosted by the Realm of Venus site. In this challenge, sewers create an entire outfit (three layers and accessories) appropriate to Renaissance Italy in 4 months. Extensive handwork such as embroidery is allowed to be started early, but otherwise all cutting and sewing is to be done from April 1st to July 31st. I thought about entering it last year, but I needed my outfit that I was making for my friend’s wedding to be completed in April, so that didn’t really work with the timeline of the competition. I don’t really expect to win in any of the categories, but I like having the structure and deadlines to keep me working on this project.

Portrait of Giovanna Tornabuoni by Domenico Ghirlandaio, ca. 1490

The outfit I am working on is a 1480s-90s northern Italian style outfit, loosely inspired by the artwork of Ghirlandaio and Botticelli but not referencing a specific painting. I think of this particular style as more associated with Florence but it shows up elsewhere as well. I will be making a camisa (shift), gamurra (gown), and giornea (sleeveless overgown). On the portrait above, the camisa is the white layer peaking out in places. The gamurra is the red/black layer. My sleeves will not be quite like those in this portrait as I am opting for a slightly simpler style, although I plan to use the diagonal trim decorating idea. The giornea is the gold brocade layer. For my accessories I will be making jewelry, and if I have time possibly a hat, pocket or belt.

My fabric

Most of the materials for this outfit were bought 2-3 years ago and then left behind in favor of some other projects. My goal was to make an outfit in this style in my heraldic colors of blue and silver. They are not the most historically accurate in terms of fiber but are what I could afford and find at the time that worked in terms of look and pattern. The aqua/jade linen in the top middle is the fabric for the gamurra, it is woven with blue threads one way and white the other, like a shot silk. The plain jade linen below it will be the lining of the bodice and sleeves of the gamurra.

There are two white linens pictured. The larger volume is for the camisa and the smaller is a piece of Irish linen that is intended for the cap if I get to it. The off-white fabric is cotton broadcloth for interlining the bodice of the gamurra. The silvery cotton damask fabric is for the giornea.

The competition officially started April 1, although we were able to plan and buy materials before that. Each month we send in updates on what we have accomplished. You can go to my page in the competition to read my progress reports as they come in.