My Balzos, And How I Made Them


There is something missing when you’ve made this stunning new frock and you put it on and your feeling great, but there is something missing, a headdress.  The top end of costuming! 


Click on the above images to see more detailed photos of each of my Balzos.

The Balzo seems to be synonymous with Italian dress of the 16th century.  Hair taping is lovely and veils are nice, the coif seems sometimes a bit too understated.  But a balzo seems to be a little bit better and finishes that Italian outfit off a treat.

The Balzo is the one style that says ‘Italian’.  It feels more formal if you like to finish an Italian outfit with a Balzo.

This type has a crown on which the padded roll is attached.  The hair appears to always worn up with this style of balzo.


You can buy buckram crowns in shops around the place, or you can make your own if you have a form.  I choose not to use either of these options.


I used the crown of a felt hat from a second hand shop.  Just cut the brim off and away you go, you may have to trim the crown down a bit to but that depends on your head size and shape. 


My reasons for doing this were:

    Price.  It was cheaper to do it this way. Costing about $3 - $10 aust for a second hand felt hat.

    Ease of use.  It was easier than trying to make a form; I don’t have a form to mould buckram on.

    More authentic finish.  This could be debated as I did cover my base form.  I felt that a wool felt form was the most authentic form I could use.

    If the felt crown was a bit too small I could always stretch it out a bit after dampening it first.


After getting my crown the right size and shape by adjusting it in front of a mirror, I then stitched in hat wire around the edge of the crown.  This need only be a light tie wire if that is all you have as it is there it help stop the hat loosing it’s shape.


Next cover the crown with fabric.  Allow enough fabric to completely cover the crown with some left over to tuck under.

To reduce the amount of wrinkles I used the bias of my fabric as much as possible to stretch it into shape and fit, pin as you go.  There will probably be a few wrinkles but they can be easily dispersed so that they don’t really show.  When you are happy with the look of the covering stitch it down on the edges.  Turn the fabric under as you stitch down the covering fabric.


When that’s finished set it aside and start work on the padded roll.


The padded roll is tapered so that it is thickest at the front and top and thinnest at the back, which sits at the bottom of the headdress.

Make a loop of fairly heavy wire; copper is good and generally available, or even an old coat hanger if that is all that comes to hand.  Play with the sizing a bit until you are happy with it; remember you have to pad up over this wire.  Do this in front of a mirror and use your crown when making your estimates.  After all, the crown and the padded roll have to be in proportion to each other and the wearer.


Once you are happy with your wire you can cover the wire with plastic florists tape.  This helps to stop rust and corrosion in the wire and the padding tends to hold better to the wire this way. 

Now begin padding it up.  I use the sheets of padding used for toys or quilting.   Pad up over the join first, and then a light cover all over the wires, stitching down as you go along.  The padding shouldn’t be light and fluffy, rather it should be quite firm.  Work your way over the roll padding up and stitching down, as you go you should keep checking the proportions with the crown and with your mirror, and the taper.  If you padded roll is too big or too small you will be unhappy with the final results.


Padding completed, time to cover.  Using the same fabric as the crown, and cut on the bias fit the fabric over the roll.  Use the fact that it’s cut on the bias to stretch it into shape.  Again pin it as you go to help eliminate wrinkles and stitch down by had when you are happy with the look.  Ensure all cut edges are on the inside of the roll. 


If you have another fabric, like netting you want to add to the balzo do this now that the base parts are completed.  Likewise if you intend to incorporate some type of braid or cording, now would be a good time to apply it.  Also curled ribbons and beading can be incorporated as decoration.


When all the fabric is in place and stitched down, attach the padded roll to the crown.  A curved needle is best for this, as you have to stitch through the crown and the roll.  Try to keep the stitching as invisible as possible on the outer of the balzo.  The inside of the balzo doesn’t matter so much at this stage.


Once the roll is secured to the crown a lining should be stitched into the underside of the crown.  I use silk for mine and would recommend nothing else. 


Cut a piece of silk a little larger than the crown so that enough is allowed for turn under of the edges.  Pin the lining into place.  There is going to be either small gathers or small pleats at the edge of the lining.  This is unavoidable.  The lining should be one centimetre from the edge of the crown so that it does not show when being worn.  Stitch the lining into the under                    turned covering fabric. 

It is at this point you need to decide how you are going to attach the balzo to your head.  Unlike the first design this balzo does sit on the head.  If you intend to use combs as I do you will have to sew them into the balzo now.  They can be at the front and back or, the sides.  I find that I still have to use hairpins to secure my balzo.


If you intend to use pins only, you might like to consider the addition of a band of grosgrain ribbon to the lining at this point.  This will enable you to have something for the hair pins to bite into.


Now having finished the balzo you could pin or stitch a brooch or similar ornament into the centre front of the padded roll.

All that is left to do now is put on your Italian frock, all your beautiful gems, put your hair up and finish it all of with your beautiful new balzo.  Look in the mirror and you will see a beautiful Italian renaissance lady looking back at you.  Complete with balzo.


This is just one style of Balzo.  There are at least two other variants that I am aware of.  As with most things in life this ns dot the definitive ‘how to’, only my recommendation based on my own experience and research.










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All intellectual content, composition, layout, designs and photographs copyright 2007 to Deborah Lane © , 2003 to Deborah Murray © or Mistress Oonagh O'Neill ©. All Original renaissance art works and artefacts are not copyright to Deborah Lane, and are shown for educational use only.  If you see something you'd really like to use, please contact me!


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