1480s Ensemble - Camicia

        To wear under my 1480's Florentine gown I made a pleated camicia (an Italian chemise), handsewn using period techniques, fabric, and thread. My formal documentation is posted hereWhile no extant camicias from this period exist, looking at several of the 15th century pleated pieces from the Lengberg Castle archaeological finds as well as various extant linen smocks and chemises from the 16th century provide extensive material to work from. Herald states that due to the new fashion in the 15th century of the chemise being visible at the neckline and sleeves meant that "it became necessary to embellish it at the neck and wrist," as such a pleatwork piece here seems especially appropriate (193). While not Italian, the Lengberg Castle finds show extensive pleatworked shirts which pre-date 1485, demonstrating the use of pleatwork underwear in 15th century Europe. Additionally, Nutz states that there is a substantial Italian influence on the Lengberg garments due to the site being situated so close to the Italian city-states (87). Finally, several of the Ghirlandaio paintings show what appears to be pleats at the neckline at cuffs of camicias, making me confident in creating a pleatwork camicia for my underwear layer.

        While the outer layers of clothing were made by male tailors, the linen under layers worn by both men and women were mostly made in the home, and often even by the lady of the house. The wife of the powerful Lorennzo de' Medici, Clarice Orsini (who some people may know from the television series Da Vinci's Demons) part of perhaps the most powerful and wealthy family of the time, wrote her mother-in-law asking her to send Clarice "twenty braccia of linen cloth so that I can make camicie for these children" (Frick 41). Numerous other extant letters reaffirm wealthy women making the linens for their husbands, children, and themselves. This makes me smile, as it is quite possible that the camicias worn by the women in Ghirlandio's paintings were made by the women in the paintings or their mothers, and that these women would soon be making camicie for their own families and households. This is one of the reasons that this is the part of the project I was most looking forward to, as I felt it was the closest to a shared experience I would get with the women I am attempting to emulate with this outfit.

Materials and Sewing Methods:
    The fabric is thin white linen, with a thread count of approximately 50 threads/inch. This is in keeping with the thread counts seen in Nutz's analysis of the Lengberg Castle pleatwork finds, especially the linen shirt labeled find no. 386 which had a thread count of 17-21 threads per centimeter (41-53 threads per inch) (84, 85).

        In the late 15th century the camicia was long and voluminous to allow for folds at the neckline as well as puffs in between the laced openings of the sleeves (Birbari 40, 41). To create this effect, I used a raglan pattern where the sleeves create the shoulder line, as found in Mistress Rainillt's article "Evolution of the Italian Camicia", seen in the Spalliera Panels The Story of Griselda Part II Exile, and cited in Tortora (159).The camicia does not have gores to add width due to the massive amount of material used in the pleating and Arnold's analysis that gores were usually not seen on Italian camicie.The body pieces were as wide as the selvage width (54 inches - though finished size was 53 as the selvages were thick and needed to be cut off) and 48 inches long while the sleeves were each half the selvage width (27) wide and 32.5 inches long. The non-pleated width of the neckline, once sewn together, was 154 inches wide (I left larger seam allowances and then trimmed down when I flat felled which resulted in a few inches being lost). The pink line in the image of the unpleated neckline is a ruler for scale.

        The camicia is sewn with white silk thread, as documented in Crowfoot (152). While linen thread would also be historically accurate, I already owned white silk thread and decided to work from my current stash. For the seams I used the run and fell method, as this is seen in both extant 15th century pleatwork shirts as well as a late 15th and several mid-16th century English smocks (Nutz 85, Arnold 113, 115, 116). I tried to use very small stitches for this to keep the construction more in line with period sewing techniques. I averaged 10-12 stitches per inch for both sets of running stitches based on Crowfoot's statement that most of the extant running stitches show a stitch length of 2-3mm to be usual (156). My felled seam is 1/8th inch wide as documented in Arnold (113). This was the smallest I have ever made a felled seam (and was slightly terrifying to attempt at first - cutting so close to the edge of the seam made me paranoid) but it ended up working out very well as I was able to pleat on top of the seam without any issues. The very small stitches also were somehow much more time consuming than my normal 8-10, but I was very happy with how they were practically invisible in the finished seam. 

The Pleating: 
    I began by using two needles (using silk thread for strength and smoothness) to pick up a few threads every half inch. I selected this length based off of several of the Lengberg castle finds, especially find 121 which was dated 1440-1485 and made out of very fine linen. It had 1.4 cm per pleat, but I decided to go slightly smaller and use .5 inches (1.27 cm) due to using slightly less fabric (Nutz 85).

        Once the neckline was pleated I gathered it to create my neckline. After a little bit of maneuvering I decided the fit looked the best at 38" so I tied off the gathering threads at this point and measured a 1.5" by 39" linen strip to use as my backing band. I based the band and the way I attached it to the pleating on Nutz's analysis of the Lengberg Castle find no. 430.02. "The trimming strip is equally broad on both sides, first one edge is folded in, and then sewn onto the pleats with a running stitch, the fold fastened with whip stitches, then folded over the edge of the pleats and the border then folded in once more and sewn to onto the other side of the pleats again with whip stitches" (81).


        Following the instructions (and graphic Fig 7, Nutz 82) I laid out the band and did a small running stitch to attach the pleats to the band, being careful to pick up each pleat individually as I went (just over 300). Next I folded over the band and whip stitched the fold of the band to each pleat, so that each pleat in the front had one running stitch and one whip stitch securing it to the band. I was initially curious why this method was used as it seemed to add a wasted step, but once I completed the running stitch I realized the pleats could still move more than I liked and did not lay completely evenly. Fortunately the whip stitch on the exterior helped them to even out nicely. Finally I folded the band over on itself, folded the raw edge under (effectively creating double-fold bias tape, though not cut on the bias), and whip stitched the back side of the band onto the pleats. In total this meant that each of the over 300 pleats required 5 hand stitches - 2 gathering stitches, 1 running stitch, 1 whip stitch in the front, and 1 whip stitch in the back, . The pleating at the neck in total took an entire week of daily sewing to complete (and gave me a bit of a panic attack when I realized I was nearly half-way through May and had only done the neckline).

Gussets and Seams:
    Once the neckband was complete I pinned the sleeves and body panels together, leaving space in the armpits unpinned, and figured out my gussets. After some trial and error I decided the fit was best with 6" square gussets. I have never made raglan sleeves before so I was unsure as to what the gusset size would turn out to be, but fitting the gussets was surprisingly easy.

    After I had the gusset size it was time to go back to lots of tiny running stitches to attach everything together. I stuck with the documented 10-12 stitches to the inch and completed all of the running stitches first. Once the garment was sewn I then went back and flat felled with the 1/8" seam. 

The Pleating - Take 2!:
    When the garment was completely sewn it was time to pleat the wrists. I followed the same process (running stitch, whip stitch, whip stitch) as I had used with the neckline, but pleated to a 1 x 8.25" band. I did slightly alter the depth of the pleats from 1/4" to 1/6" as there would be fewer inches of gathered fabric per inch than the neckline had (3 to 1 instead of 4.1 to 1) and I thought the increased number of pleats would look more consistent with the neck. It did increase the number of pleats in each cuff to just over 75, making about 450 pleats in total for the garment.
Finishing the Garment:
    I decided to go with a double-fold hem, sewn in silk thread with a hem stitch, with a depth of 1/4" as seen in Crowfoot which listed average depths of such hems at 6-9mm (1/4-1/3 of an inch) (157). 

    This had by far the most research I have put into a handwork project before. While I adore researching period techniques I have never made a garment by documenting the individual steps the way I did here. It was far more time intensive than I had originally guessed, with approximately 6800 hand stitches  (approximately 450 pleats, each required 5 stitches for 2250, 5.5 yards of seams sewn and then flatfelled means 11 yards of running stitches at 10 stitches per inch so 3960 for the seams, hem adds 600 stitches - a total of roughly 6800 stitches in the completed garment). I now feel a little less bad about it taking an entire month of sewing 20 hours a week to complete.


Works Cited/Consulted:

Birbari, Elizabeth. Dress In Italian Painting 1460-1500.  London: John Murray Ltd., 1975.

Crowfoot, Elizabeth, Frances Pritchard, and Kay Staniland. Textiles and Clothing 1150-1450.

London: Boydell Press, 2001.

Frick, Carole Collier. Dressing Renaissance Florence. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002.

Herald, Jaqueline. Renaissance Dress in Italy 1400-1500. London: Bell & Hyman, 1981.

Nutz, Beatrice and Harald Stadler. "How to Pleat a Shirt in the 15th Century." Archaeological Textiles Review No. 54 (2012): 79-91.

Tortora, Phyllis, Keith Eubank. Survey of Historic Costume. 4th ed.  New York: Fairchild Publications, Inc., 2005.