1590s Italian Peasant Dress

May 2005

This dress, based wholly on the research of Jennifer Thompson at A Festive Attyre, was meant to be a simple green “Campi.” But as you can see, that’s not exactly the way it came out…
I wanted another Italian costume to go with Aaron’s Cardinal, for our trip in June to the Renaissance Faire. I might have picked red for this Campi project, but given Aaron’s costume, I thought we’d look pretty silly in matching red outfits. My second choice was green, but I exhausted every fabric store in driving distance, before I located some wool suiting on sale in a dark, foresty shade. It wasn’t exactly the color I’d envisioned…but the Faire was one month away. Unfortunately, after making up the entire bodice and most of the skirt in the green I purchased, I decided that the fabric looked synthetic. It was reminiscent of a polyester leisure suit.

With very little time until our trip, I quickly ordered more wool on-line, this time picking flannel instead of suiting. I had to choose between blue or orange, so it wasn’t a hard decision. I had intended to use my left-over red wool from the cardinal hat as trim, but the problem was, I was now going to have an exact copy of Thompson’s red and blue peasant costume! I went back and forth about this, fretting over what to do, and finally decided to just start sewing, as the colors really do go together beautifully. I ended up using this cute peasant image by Vecellio, from the research section of her site, as the answer to my costuming dilemma. It just took a little more red wool than I had in the stash. My dress is a cross between this illustration, and elements from several other Italian peasant images, which I hope has modified it enough to have it’s own identity.
The bodice (my own pattern) has a very slight “v” in front, and the skirt is cartridge pleated to it, and hemmed by hand. I added 3 rows of spiral boning to each side for support, and to keep the lacing straight. All the red wool trim was sewn down by hand. The cotton embroidered trim was from a bag of remnants that I got as a gift. I had just enough for one row around the bodice, and not an inch left over, so I figured it was meant to be. The trim’s design could pass for Italian, though I don’t know how “peasanty” it is. The undergarments for this outfit consist of an Italian peasant partlet, a corded petticoat and a camica.


The linen apron was really fun: I found some incredibly cheap rustic braid, of jute and cotton. Then I cut a bunch of triangles and machined them on with a decorative stitch that resembles overcast. There is one row of hand-sewn overcast stitches at the bottom in red embroidery floss. The final accessory was from my mom: a basket!