Historical · Sewing

Italian Peasant Dress – Part 1: Camica

Part 1: Camica
Part 2: Skirt & Bodice Drafting >>
Part 3: Bodice & Result >>>

Hi everyone! In this and following week’s posts I will be showing you how I’m making my Castlefest costume for this year.

Castlefest is a biannual Renaissance Fair set in De Keukenhof, the worlds most famous tulip garden during spring but the rest of the year it’s a wonderful park to take a stroll, watch the outdoor exhibitions and of course the Keukenhof Castle.

I’ve been attending Castlefest yearly since 2012, most of the time in costume. This year I wanted to do a peasant dress, and in particular an Italian peasant dress because I was gifted a couple of yards of gorgeous red linen. I just can’t think of anything but Italy when seeing this shade of red.

ItalianPeasant (4)
Jaeremias van Winghe (1578-1645), “Kitchen scene”, 1613 (source)

I’m taking my inspiration from these two paintings. The first shows the layers of the 16th century Italian peasant dress: a white chemise or camica, a bodice laced in the front and what looks like a separate skirt in a different colour. It really is all very simple.

ItalianPeasant (5)
Vincenzo Campi (c.1530/1535–1591), “Kitchen” 1580s (part / source)

Here we actually see that the skirt and bodice might be attached, and the different colour shown in the first painting might be an apron. Also visible in this painting is the partlet worn by the woman in the bottom right, and the separate sleeves on the woman with the apron.

Thus I had to make a camica, bodice, skirt and apron for this costume. In today’s post I’ll be showing how I made the camica.

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I followed the tutorial on Realm of Venus and came up with these shapes. The sleeves are two rectangles attached to another long rectangle for the body. Gussets are added to the armpits to allow movement.

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I pinned a square piece of fabric on the neckline as a facing.

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Stitched it all around and down the slit opening in the front.

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Then I cut the excess fabric. I am using batist, a very thin cotton (which is not historically accurate since a thin linen would have been used but this is what I had at hand and it LOOKS convincing).

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I also clipped the corners of the front slit.

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Then I notched the round neckline for better turning.

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I turned and pressed the facing. I kept it square as you can see here.

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The facing stitched down. I debated doing some embroidery, but that would not be very fitting for a peasant wouldn’t it?

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Laying the sleeves flat, preparing for a French seam.

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French seams are also not historically accurate, they probably would have used a flat felled seam. Then again, they probably would have sewn it by hand too!

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The gussets were also sewn in with French seams at one side, the other side was sewn in with a regular machine stitch and felled by hand.

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The camica is taking shape!

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The sleeves ended up being VERY long so I snipped about 10cm off. A little bit of volume in the sleeves is fine but this was a little ridiculous!

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I then cut two strips of fabric for the sleeve cuffs.

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I gathered the end of the sleeves down to the width of the cuffs.

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I stitched the gathers to one end of the cuff, then turned the other end inward and over the fraying edges. This created a pretty net finish.

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Everything stitched, but it could use a good press!

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I also hemmed the camica, and now it’s done!

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The camica doesn’t have as much volume as some other 16th century chemises I’ve seen online, but I think it would be fitting for a peasant to only use the fabric they need. The sleeves are pretty voluminous though, as indicated by the painting.

Next week will be the skirt!

See you then and thanks again for reading,

~ Mardie

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