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Pseudo Italian Renaissance Garb for Summer Camping With Nursing Access

The year 2000's Jubilee Old English Faire was my first time camping and doing SCA with my new baby. While I was happy at the campsite to wear "generic renn wench" garb and just unlace my bodice and pull my chemise down to nurse Timmy (which would be a period solution), I wanted something more discreet for walking around the fair. Jubilee is actually a demo, and there are more members of the general public than participants present.

Jubilee parade Some Black Wolf folks Joan and Timmy nursing
How many authenticity problems can you spot? :) Strollers, lawn chairs, nylon tents, carhartt baby overalls, sunglasses, birkenstock sandals... Oh my! :)
NC 104 My first step was to begin with a chemise built from a nursing nightgown pattern (Elizabeth Lee Designs, Nursing Classics #104), changing the top line of the yoke from a square to follow the lines of the overdress bodice. For dealing with the high heat and humidity, I like to use cotton gauze for my chemises. True to their reputation, the Elizabeth Lee pattern was very easy to follow. I ended up adapting to 45" wide fabric by sewing a center front seam, rather than burying two seams inside the deep front pleat as recommended on the pattern. It worked just fine for me. I also moved the sleeve elastic all the way down to the end of the cuff. Now, really I should have used drawstrings and not elastic, since elastic is not period. I do have chemises made properly that way, but I was lazy here. (Kids, don't try this at home!)

For the overdress, I intended to make a bodice, oversleeves, and an overskirt of a quilting cotton I had in my stash that had a nice "fake brocade" print to make the final dress appear more period, along the lines of View V in Period Patterns #41.

I knew, with only the small amount of sewing time available to me with a nursing baby, that I wanted to avoid actually making the dress from the Period Patterns pattern. Those times I had used that line of patterns pre-baby, my experience matched the general reputation of the pattern line: "recommended for amateur detectives". (One piece will be used for many uses with many different view lines scaled out to the sizes offered, etc.) I knew my current lifestyle could not support the frustration, even though the final result would be more authentic. PP41ViewV  PP41
Therefore, for the overdress, I decided to start with the bodice from View B of Simplicity 8192, and then make an underskirt and sleeves when that was completed. I checked out the reviews of this pattern and was not discouraged.
Simplicity pattern Comments in The Great Pattern Review don't address the authenticity of the Simplicity pattern, but do highly recommend it for ease of construction and accuracy in producing the pictured garment. This was a big plus for my situation. As to the authenticity, as stated in the Commercial Costume Pattern Reviews page, "View B is a lovely gown, even though it is complete stylistic fiction *very* loosely based on 15th century costumes. The sleeves and front lacing are Victorian romantic ideas of what medieval ladies wore. You could get away with this one if you made smooth fitted sleeves and added an overskirt onto the bodice part. ..." I wanted to keep the lacing, even though inauthentic, since then the bodice would hopefully still be useful post-nursing, when my chest dimensions would change.
I was hoping that with the boned bodice, I could go without a bra, using the bodice as an external bra. Alas, plastic boning can only do so much, and I kept falling out below the bottom of the bodice. So I still needed the old nursing bra. Other than that, it went together without mishap, and is comfortable to wear. One nice thing about adding a bodice is that it helps hold the pleat closed when I'm not nursing.

As is traditional for making garb in time for an event, I was still slipstitching on the bodice by citronella torchlight at the campsite the night before the faire. I never did get around to making the overskirt or sleeves. Once I get some mundane nursing dresses done, I'll probably get back to doing that, since I'm hoping to nurse Timmy into toddlerhood, so nursing access should continue to be an issue next year.

Go here for a more authentic look at Italian Renaissance Costume Construction

And here is a site with photographs of a much more authentic version of the era of Italian Renaissance I was going for. Timmy will have to get much older and more independent before I expect to have the time to do something as elaborate as this however.

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Hildegarde Stickerin, Barony of Wurm Wald, Midrealm
Copyright © 2000 Joan Schraith Cole.
Updated June 27, 2000

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