Dress Diary: Mardi Gras Italian Skirt

photo 2-fixedThe skirt was just going to be a simple knife pleated affair with the rest of the purple fabric. There’s a lot of this fabric, and it’s too tall to just run around with one selvage in the bodice and one as the hem. So once I cut it down and sewed the pieces together, I wound up with five yards of skirt. Clearly, I’m a very fancy lady of means. *hair toss*

THESE THINGS HAPPEN WHEN YOU’RE NATURALLY JUST FABULOUS, OK? Ok.

This is not my first pleating rodeo. I have learned hard, sad lessons. Measure a sturdy piece of 1″ grosgrain ribbon the same circumference as your bodice. Mark the halfway point on your ribbon and pin the halfway point of your skirt to this spot. Now you start pinning your pleats to the ribbon. It’s a stable method of attaching them and inserting them into the bodice. It also makes it really easy to adjust how big they are or how they’re spaced because you’ll know if there’s an issue before you get to the end of the skirt. It’s easy to hold up your ribbon and make sure you like how the pleats fall on your body, too. It usually takes me more than one try to get the pleats right, and this time, I got all five yards just perfect on the second try.

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See this fancy lady? Those dark stripes are called guards, and they’re usually velvet. Velvet is expensive and evil and requires handwork to look right. One day I will buy velvet, make strips and lovingly stitch them on with my hands. Today is not that day. I had intended to do satin ribbon stripes, but then I did all the pleating without thinking about that part. Italian skirts are rectangles, so adding these stripes is absurdly easy, IF you remember to do it BEFORE you pleat anything. I never remember. The guards are actually helpful in weighing the skirts down, giving nice drape, and in being some fabric reinforcement in the bodice over where you put your lacing rings. A big solid one at the bottom is an easy way to either fix where you didn’t have enough fabric to make the skirt full enough and long enough or to refresh old dresses whose hems have spent too much time on the ground.

I resigned myself to a plain skirt and a plan to tie on some existing gold sleeves to make the thing all Mardi Gras. But then I remembered some cream polysilk embroidered with gold fleurs-des-lys that I had in the stash. The drape is horrid, there’s only enough for half a skirt (or sleeves?), and ohmywordy’all – now it’s a split front Italian with a fancy underskirt with bands of gold satin ribbons carefully placed between the rows of fleurs. Woo! Maybe it’s wrong to put such a French motif on an Italian dress, but I don’t really care. It’s going to be pretty, and I’m finally using up a bunch of stash yardage.

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I’ve decided to run the gold ribbon up the split edges of the skirt and up the bodice. Here are a couple of paintings* from the first half of the 16th century showing two common treatments with a split bodice and a split skirt edged in contrasting fabric. Googling Renaissance portraits of Italian women will show you every variation on this you can think of. Anything I do is arguably “correct 16th c. Italian”. Whether the effect is worth the effort is the main question. And the fact of the matter is that I had planned to knock out a dress in maybe a maximum of three hours, but this plan is deteriorating rapidly (we’re well past the three hour mark) in the face of all the cool stuff I could do to make this the fanciest of all the dresses.

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Bottom line – I need to tie more green into the dress for it to be properly Mardi Gras. Adding green velveteen ribbon strips into the mix is an option, but I think too many ribbons will do unflattering things over the bodice. Or worse, I’ll wind up looking weirdly like 70’s supergraphics paint effects have taken possession of me. My guess is that it would all together wind up being a solid band of alternating gold and green vertical stripes 6″ wide across the whole bodice. I’m a big, curvy girl and can pull off some bold things, but that might be too much for anyone to pull off. I certainly don’t see any examples of a chest full of crazy ribbons in paintings.

I think keeping the vertical ribbons simple and working the green into the sleeves and maybe a necklace is probably the best and easiest way to manage my time and up the Mardi Gras factor.

*The lady in gold and red is Raffaelo Sanzi, c1505: Lady with a Unicorn. The lady in all green is an unknown Venetian from around 1520.Plus there’s the part where I’m lazy and don’t want to hand-sew on or carefully line up

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