Crimson Pisa Dress

Sunday’s Someday Project
Crimson Pisa Dress

Several years ago, I came around the corner at the Masters of Florence exhibit in Memphis and found myself face to face with a gown from 1560. The dress is extremely old and the materials are quite worn with age. Nonetheless, I fell in love instantly! At the time, there was very little information available about this exquisite red velvet gown, but a colleague of mine, Anéa, has done a great deal of research into the history of the crimson Pisa dress. (Visit her website here, and scroll down for a detailed description of the gown.)

Pisa Dress

Crimson Pisa Dress ~ © Anéa

It was my original intention to create a replica of the dress for myself. Silk velvet is difficult to find, however, and quite expensive. Even cotton velveteen is pricey. It occurred to me, however, that I didn’t necessarily have to make the gown full-sized. I decided to make a miniature version of the dress, made to fit either Gene, or Rose from Titanic, both 16” fashion dolls.

Gene & Rose

Gene & Rose Dolls

I bought a yard of a dark red cotton velveteen, which should work perfectly. I’ll make a thin shift to go under the dress. This will protect the doll’s body from the crimson dyed fabric, and the sleeves of the shift can be pulled through tiny slits in the sleeves to form the puffs that the original dress would have had. The hardest part will be the embroidered trim. It will be difficult to recreate that in such a small scale, so I may settle for using a narrow gold braid to give a similar effect. The time-consuming but more realistic alternative would be to search for a metallic gold thread and actually embroider lengths of narrow velvet ribbon with a similar motif, and then stitch that to the dress.


Detail of Trim ~ © Anéa


What do you think of the Pisa dress? Will it translate well to doll-scale? How would you handle the trim?

(Special thanks to Anéa for the gracious use of her photographs and to the Palazzo Reale in Pisa for permitting the photography.)

About Lisha Vidler

I am a sewing instructor living near Memphis, Tennessee.
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