New costumes start from the skin out, so that means new undies. Sure, I have shifts / smocks / chemises (depending on how historically accurate you want to be & which specific century you’re talking about). But for playing a Venetian courtesan at renaissance faires this year, I needed a specific type of undershirt, the camicia.
Jen Thompson on Festive Attyre and Bella Wake on Realm of Venus both have excellent analyses & instructions for making camicie. However, these were all written before Janet Arnold’s Pattern of Fashion 4 was published, which has diagrams of two extant smocks that look a heck of a lot like Venetian camicie, although the book doesn’t cite the provenance as Italian for either smock. But one of them, the 1575-1600 smock from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, looks exactly like the extant camicia that Bella based her pattern on, down to the embroidery & period fabric widths. So I used the Arnold diagram as my basis.
One funny thing I noticed when looking through all these sources was how much a camicia resembled the simple peasant blouses I made way back when I first started sewing for renfaire. The patterns even look like the instructions in the much-maligned Winter & Savoy Elizabethan Costuming for the Years 1550 – 1580 book! I made a ton of blouses like that for myself & friends because they were fast & easy & looked good with a wenchy peasant bodice. Kind of hilarious that this is now historically accurate 😉
For my first shot at a camicia, I roughly followed the diagram in Janet Arnold & was shocked to discover that the book’s smock measurements almost exactly matched my measurements. That’s never happened with anything in Arnold before (the diagrams are usually for clothing that fits vampire pygmies from outer space). I made it up in linen, all machine sewn except for the obligatory slip-stitching down of the neck & cuff bindings. I improvised faux pearls & some cording to make button-&-loop closures at the wrists.
The fit & function are quite satisfactory. I wore this camicia under my first Venetian gown (made by Sarah) at Beltane recently, & it was quite nice. The only change I might make is to slightly scoop out the neckline a bit so as to have the option of deeper cleavage. Because, c’mon, who doesn’t like more cleavage? The Arnold diagram is straight across at the neck, front & back, & this gives a rather shallow neck opening. Not totally insufficient, but y’know, one could stand for more flexibility.