An Italian Renaissance Gown Project Vlog, Part I: Research, Patterning and Cutting a Gamurra

I endeavor to handsew a new gamurra in just two weeks, applying my latest research and learnings, based on extant clothing, portraiture, and documentary evidence such as wills and inventories, not to mention 23 years of experience making this type of clothing.

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Come along on my creative journey in designing and fashioning a new Florentine Renaissance gown known as a gamurra; accompany me through of all the sometimes frustrating stages, from conception and patterning, through to construction and finishing. There will be plenty of lessons learned and cheeky commentary along the way. First up, a little history!

First off, this garment is intended to be a recreation of a gamurra dating to the 1480s, in the Florentine fashion. I knew that I wanted to rework the pattern based on a better understanding of the base construction of the gamurra. The one I had been using for 20 years was founded on a misunderstanding of a later version of the dress, with a seam in the front that cannot be justifiably documented to my chosen era.
So after quite a bit of drafting and fiddling, I devise a bodice pattern that looks like this, designed to conform to my oddly shaped torso.
You see, my left and my right half are not even vaguely symmetrical, with one side of my ribcage bulging much more than the other. And sometimes I take this difference into account in my patterning, and sometimes I surrender to my inner pigdog (as they say in German) and just accept that there will be some discrepancies in how things sit. And sometimes my bodices are sturdy enough to enforce bilateral conformity.

#costume #renaissance #livinghistory #handsewing #sewing
So if you are creating or fitting your own pattern, you might want to take bilateral torso differences into account – and then you need to pay especial attention on cutting and assembling the parts of your bodice, lest you cut or sew two of the same side.
Although, that being said, the sewing Gods do demand habitual offerings from sewists in the form of tears and ripped and resewn seams…So it will happen at some point!
I also redraft my sleeve pattern, taking into account minor fitting issues from 21 years of wearing gowns with this sleeve type.
Now, part of my goal with this gamurra is to make it much less annoyingly fiddly than my most recent cotta, simplifying the dressing process for those sad times when I am senza dama di corte, and the sleeves were definitely part of that. The goal is to have minimum lacing while still allowing for alluring puffs of snowy white linen to show through – a quattrocento lady needs must show tantalizing bits of her underwear, after all!
Having the bodice and the sleeves drafted, it is time to choose the fabrics!
Now, I have a significant store of fabrics, silks, linens and wools in all sorts of weaves, purchased from drapers during various sales,…But I have a particular choice in mind for this project. That being this beautiful red wool.

Right…Next up – the lining fabric - or fabrics!
Which brings us to the topic of evidence of construction of these gowns. There are vanishingly few extant garments from the 15th century in Europe, full stop, let alone from Italy. However, more and more are coming to light as church crypts are opened for restoration work and archeological exploration. And also as institutions before aware of what they have in their store rooms.
Enter the gamurra of the Blessed Osanna, a nun who died around 1509 who was considered so saintly and holy that the gown in which she entered the convent was retained. Minus large pieces of the skirt, which were probably divvied up amongst her fellow sisters as holy relics. This dress is dated to the 1460s, when Osanna, a member of the upper class Andreasi family, joined the convent. It is made from a very fine white wool and constructed very beautifully.
Sidenote – dyeing with woad involves the use of fermented urine, the only source of ammonia in this period. Curiously, the dying manuals from the era recommend the urine of someone who has had “strong drink”, which would explain why dyers often sourced their urine from taverms, who had urinals on their walls to collect the horrifingly precious substance.
Anyhoo, clearly the relative rarity of evidence is not proof of a negative in the case of dyed linen.
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