To Make a Yellow Gamurra

My yellow gamurra began life in 2008 as nine metres of ‘shell pink’ linen, linen so light a pink that it was almost but not quite white.



I ripped the fabric in half (into two 4.5 metre pieces) and dyed half of it yellow with fibre reactive dyes.

I chose yellow because yellows, oranges and browns were (and still are) the most underused colours in re-enactment where I live, blue and red being the most overused. Also I have always loved yellows and oranges.

My first problem was that I didn’t have enough salt (my dad had used it for the pool- which is what it was bought for so I couldn’t really complain) but I figured to just go ahead anyway, and expected I might need to overdye, but I had plenty of dye.

Salt, according to the lady I bought the dye from is not used to ‘fix’ the colour, but to open up the fibres of the fabric and help the dye penetrate.

After soaking the linen in the dye and not-enough salt I added the soada ash which turned the dye bath bright red.

Then followed two hours of poking and prodding to keep the fabric moving, and the dye bath turning from red through to orange to yellow.


I was worried that the colour would come out too light, I’d dyed silk before but never linen.  I thought I would be left with a pale lemon yellow, but this is what I hung out on the line, so I was thrilled.


To date (which right now is nine years later), this dress is just as bright as it was when I first dyed it and I’ve never had an issue with the dye rubbing off onto my white camicia—which is more than can be said for some commercially dyed fabric.

Here is where things get a bit more interesting.  By now I had remembered that I had forgotten to dye some thread to sew the thing with. I had already dyed silk for a dress and hadn’t been able to get matching thread, so I swore nextime I would dye the thread with the fabric.

Sooo, back to my sewing box I went.  It turns out I had silk and linen thread not only the same colour, but the same shade as my fabric.  The linen was almost perfect but the silk matched sooo perfectly it wasn’t funny.  Now, it turns out I bought this silk (and linen) thread from the same lady that sold me the dye, so it would have been dyed with the same dye, but accounting for so many variations it was incredible luck it matched so completely.

Below is a photo of the sewn bodice back, you can see the stitches along the edg of the seam are a perfect match.


I altered my bodice pattern, the version I altered is the pattern I used for my pink V-necked cioppa. I chose that pattern over the brown gamurra bodice as my brown gamurra had armholes that cut in and I was re-shaping the front to give it a bit more shape anyway—I had lost weight and wanted something that emphasised my curves. I’d also be changing the neckline anyway.

I actually made a mock-up for this bodice, which is something you should always do but if you’re me you don’t do enough.
Here are the photos of my mock-up.





Keep in mind the neckline isn’t hemmed and there are no skirts pulling it down. I made the bodice longer than I wanted (apparently even longer in the back) as I wanted to work out the length on the finished bodice.


One change I did make from the mock-up is that I took it in a tad at the top of the back seam.  It was gaping a tad too much.

I made the mock-up with the layers I was planning to use on my finished bodice (except calico for the outer layer rather than linen).  The layers were meant to be yellow linen (outer) cotton canvas (interlining) and calico (lining).  I had never used cotton canvas on a gamurra before, but had on my cioppa.

I wanted to use it because this bodice will be closed fully, which meant that the lacing rings would be sewn a bit back from the edge (where you would place eyelets), and the linen was quite light weight.  I wanted the extra strength to anchor the lacing rings to in order to stop pulling and any possible damaging of the linen.

I also wanted to try out a heavier weight bodice.  It would also mean I could have less of a turn back along the front opening than I usually would, because I didn’t need the turnback thickness to anchor the lacing rings on.


So I sat down and in one day I made the final alterations to the bodice, cut out and hand sewed the whole thing.  I made the bodice by hemming all the pieces first and whip stitching them together. When I hem the pieces I stack all the layers together and tread it like a single layer (but I usually cut the lining to the finished sixe so I am only hemming over the fashion fabric.


But…. I completely forgot the cotton canvas layer. Like, I got the fabric out with the calico and linen, but completely forgot to cut it out at all. OOOPS.  Also, I got carried away and hemmed the neckline, which meant if I wanted to lower it I needed to un-hem it and cut it and re-hem it.


I spent a few days wondering what to do. I had nothing against a light weight bodice (I live in a hot climate), but I did want to try a heavier one for this dress.  I’ve never had any problems with lacing rings pulling in the past, but this fabric is a looser weave than any other dress where I’ve put the rings back from the edge.  While one front edge was sewn perfectly, the other wasn’t quite the smooth curve I wanted.  I was facing the possibility of having to redo the front neckline anyway.

I sat and thought about my choices. They ranged from leaving it as is and seeing how it turned out, to sewing handmade eyelets (that got knocked off the list pretty quick!) to completely re-doing it.

The advice I got was mostly along the lines of “why are you asking? Why dither? You know what you have to do and will regret it if you don’t.”—put in a nice and supportive way. So I started unpicking. Once I started unpicking it, however, I found the yellow panels seemed to have warped differently to the calico lining. It took me a whole evening just to pin the front panels flat with their linings after they were unpicked. I got around this with the back panels by pinning them to a cushion and peeling off the lining as I removed and replaced the pins and repeating once I had the interlining to add back in.

I believe it was at this stage the bodice got the nickname ‘the evil bodice of doom’


Anyway, I sewed the bodice together and most of the lacing rings (from the top down) and I had my mother mark the waist line, and I had a bit of a problem with the lacing rings at the bottom.

Here are the bodice try-on pics.



Please note the waist of the bodice is straight, I and the photo are not.


The top lacing ring isn’t sewn on in the pics, which is why the front is jutting out like that at the top (that and I haven’t finished the neckline) so here is me holding it together up the top.


It curves in once the top is held together (not quite the right shape as I am also pushing in a bit too hard to get a grip, but you get the idea)

At this stage I gave my bodice a break and worked on the skirt.

I used what has become my standard skirt pattern for renaissance dresses for the skirt.

My Z measurement was 29cm.

I pinned a string line to give me a guide for my ruler to draw the diagonal line.


I always remeasure and mark on each panel rather than using one cut piece as a pattern as I find the bias edge starts to stretch as soon as it is cut and that causes issues. I know this because I tried to use my first cut piece as a pattern piece on this skirt and it ended up more work, so I went back to my method of marking each panel.

I joined the skirt by hemming the pieces and whip stitching them together. This method ensures that by the time your garment is wearable the edges are finished.  By the time I had hemmed the panels (except for the actual hem of the skirt—that has to be done after construction) I estimated that I was 10 hours into the skirt including measuring and cutting

Here is my skirt sewn together


I decided not to cut the hem not by eye but by measurement. I extended the trapezoid shapes to make a triangle and set up a string line to act like a compass from its point. This took a long time as I had to make the skirt seams straight and make sure nothing was distorted.


It didn’t work. Like, it didn’t work at all. Don’t do this. It’s not worth the bother.

So then I tried my usual method of pinning and stringing. I mentioned my my diary at the time how much I hated it and commented “Now don’t get me wrong, it works, it just involves sticking HEAPS of pins into the carpet then having to put them all away again.” I don’t mind this method so much now!

Basically I put a pin at either side then stretch string between them then pin the string into a curve. I don’t Pin THROUGH the string, I pin above it which pushes the string down into the curve.  If the string doesn’t touch all pins, then a pin is in the wrong place.  As I said, it does work, it just needs a lot of pins.

Then I had the idea of bending my metal ruler to see if I could get a curve, it worked, but I needed two hands and one foot to do it so I couldn’t get any photos

Finally it was all cut 😀

I don’t know why I tried to go to such pains to get a good curve, I cut the curve of my light blue gamurra hem by eye and it was pretty much perfect.

To finish the dress I hemmed the skirt, finished off the lacing rings on the bodice neckline, pleated the skirt and whip stitched the skirt to the bodice edge.


I had a bit of fabric left over at the waist of the skirt so I decided to make a placard that pinned close.



Click here to go back to the finished gamurre page.



A lady would not go out in just her gamurra and there were many options of over dress for her to wear. A gironea is one of these options and was very popular in florence. They’re also very simply to make and can be made with very little fabric. You can read about one way to construct them here. You can also see the glossary page here.

1486-90 Domenico Ghirlandaio Birth of St John the Baptist detail

They were sleeveless, open down the sides and could be open down the front, which allowed the gamurra to show through. When made of lightweight fabric this made them cool in the warmer weather though young ladies especially would line them with fur to wear in the cooler weather. Sometimes these linings were removable, making the gironea suitable for both summer and winter wear.

My burgundy gamurra is made of cotton velveteen and lined in gold silk.


My blue gamurra is inspired by this image


It is sewn up the front and left open at the sides.

cDSCN4188 DSC_0685 (2)

My yellow “Giovanna Tornabuoni” giornea is made of reproduction silk and lined in cotton velveteen. It is open up the front seam. I drafted a new pattern for this giornea and I prefer the way it hangs.

Yellow Giornea from Cathelina’s wardrobe based on the paintings of Giovanna Tornabuoni.

Yellow Giornea from Cathelina’s wardrobe based on the paintings of Giovanna Tornabuoni.

Yellow Giornea from Cathelina’s wardrobe based on the paintings of Giovanna Tornabuoni.

Yellow Giornea from Cathelina’s wardrobe based on the paintings of Giovanna Tornabuoni.

Yellow Giornea from Cathelina’s wardrobe based on the paintings of Giovanna Tornabuoni.

Yellow Giornea from Cathelina’s wardrobe based on the paintings of Giovanna Tornabuoni.

This Giornea was based on the following paintings.

1485-1590 Domenico Ghirlandaio Visitation detail

1488 ghirlandaio_tornabuoni

Constructing a Giornea

A giornea is one of the simplest items in my 15th century wardrobe to construct and can be made with as little as 3 metres of fashion fabric (less if you are short!). After completing a basic wardrobe of under layers a couple of giorneas were on the top of my ‘to make’ list before my first living history show for just these reasons.

If you haven’t already, you can see the ones I’ve made here.

They’re a great way to use that expensive fabric you might not be able to afford otherwise. They’re also like a blank canvas and I intend on decorating mine one day with embroidery and/or trim. Gold work, brocade trim, velvet cut into trim, dagging, beadwork… there’s just so many options!

I have drafted two giornea patterns but have only made the first, which requires the least amount of fabric. I hope to make up the second pattern this year and have my eye on some scrummy (and expensive!) fabric for it. Lets just say gold silk brocade and leave it at that.

The first pattern can be used for any fabric even if it has a right and wrong side or a pattern. The downside is if you use it for a one-sided fabric with a pattern that has a direction to it then the pattern will be upside down on your back (or front if you so choose).

The pattern allows for a very slight train but if you want a significant train you’ll either need to waste a bit of fabric (in which case you’d be better off using my second pattern) or use a fabric which doesn’t have a noticeable right and wrong side. I’ll include instructions for a train at the end.

Please understand there are many ways to make a giornea and this represents only a way, not the way or even the best way. I’ve used this pattern on fabric around 112 cm wide.

To work out how much fabric you need measure from your shoulder to the ground, add a couple of inches and multiply by two.

You will also need to find a measurement we’ll call x. Find the point at the top back of your shoulder where you wish for the outer edge of your giornea to sit and measure from there to your centre back. You might need a friend to help you. This measurement will be x.

The pattern is below:


Your selvages are down the left and right sides and the arrows point in the direction of any pattern/nap to the fabric.

The black lines show your cutting lines. The horizontal line is halfway down the fabric.  essentially you cut the fabric into two rectangles. With the first rectangle measure in from the top left a distance of x and from the bottom right a distance of x. Draw a straight line between the two and cut. With the second rectangle you do the opposite, measure in from the top right the distance from x and from the bottom left. This is very important not to cut them both the same way, if you don’t cut them as mirror images then you will get two right sides or left sides only of your garment!

If you are flatlining/interlining your fabric (which is a good idea if it’s a light weight fabric) then you’ll need to cut your lining the same size, tack or pin the lining to the fabric and treat them as one. Now you’ll arrange your pieces as follows below:


you’ll be sewing the short seams together to form shoulders and the straight back seam(between the yellow and blue pieces) together. You can sew the straight front seam for a closed front giornea or leave it open. You’ll also need to mark a neckline which should be a ‘V’ shape front and back. I like to pin my pieces together, mark the neckline and then sew them. I like to mark my hemlines flat on the ground by drawing a smooth curve but if you have a helper you can have them pin your hem if you like.


As the inside of this garment is usually visible, especially in the back, I recommend lining it using your prefered method which will hide the seams.

When you wear this you can sit the shoulder seems just to the back of your shoulder and belt the front. This will create a very slight train (more of a bit of a trail) at the back.

If you want a more substantial train then you have three choices.

Option one, for a fabric with a right and wrong side: work out how long you want the train to be, multiply that by two and add that to your starting length of fabric. This will add a train to the front AND back so you’ll need to cut it shorter in the front. Hopefully you can use the waste to make pouches or sleeves or something.

Option two, for a fabric without a right and wrong side: work out the length you want the train and add this WITHOUT multiplying it by two and add this to the initial length of fabric. When you cut your two rectangles one (lets say the blue/green rectangle in the first diagram) will be the shoulder to floor measurement and the other (red/yellow rectangle) will be the shoulder to floor plus train measurement. You will use the red/yellow pieces to form the back pieces and the blue/green to form the front. This means half of your dress will have the other side of the fabric showing so make SURE there isn’t a right or wrong side.

Option three is to come back when I’ve uploaded my other pattern. 🙂

As I said, this is a very basic pattern. A great alteration is to get a bit of extra fabric and put a gore in the centre back to add fullness. You can also put two half (or even full gores!) in the centre front.

If you have a very wide and/or stiff fabric that doesn’t drape well you may find this pattern is too wide across the back, especially if you are slender. If this is the case then cut down the top of the giornea at the sides a bit.