Saturday, 14 June 2014

Project #1. F.67 -"Silk farthingale for a woman"

For my first reconstruction I'm actually jumping forward to one of the last patterns in the book, and one of the few that are underpinnings. It therefore makes sense to start with the "Silk farthingale for a woman" so that it can provide the suitable under structure for future garments. For a great overview of this style of "verdugado" or farthingale visit this page on

Fabric dimensions are given as 6 x 2/3 ells, or 5.04m (approx 16' 6") x 56cm (approx 1' 10").

Some mathematics & dimensions
Alcega instructs that the front and back main sections of the farthingale (left and centre respectively in the picture below) are cut with the fabric folded in half lengthways, reducing the width to 28cm (approx 11"). Then the godets (A for the front and B for the back) are cut with the remaining fabric folded across ways, using the full 56cm (approx 1' 10") width.

The measurement symbol "bm" on the front and back sections of the skirt = 126cm (approx 4' 1 1/2"), which means that allowing for a little extra for wastage where the waist and hem curves are this should take up around 2.6m (approx 8' 6"), leaving around 2.44m (approx 8' for the godets. This would mean that each godet is just a fraction smaller than the front and back sections, which from the diagram looks about right.

So, this all seems fairly straightforward in terms of the lengths of the pieces. At first glance I was disheartened thinking that Alcega had given no dimensions for the godets, but then I realised he had. We have established the approximate lengths of the godets using some maths, but the widths aren't immediately apparent.

It was then that I looked at the dimensions given on the front and back sections and realised that the hem and waist dimensions must include the godets. The hem of the front is given as "sb", which equals 70cm (approx 27 1/2"), but we have established already that the folded fabric is only 28cm (approx 11") wide. Bingo! The difference of 42cm (approx 1' 4 1/2") must be width of the hems for the godets. Judging by the diagram this would also look about right when you consider the full width of the fabric is being used.

The English translation in my edition states that Alcega notes that the front of the farthingale is larger than the back, however this contradicts his statement that the pattern piece on the left is the front piece, with the back piece cut next to it. You can see this in the waist measurements of the front and back sections. The measurement symbol "QQQ" for the back waist equals 63cm (approx 2' 1"), or about 7cm (approx 2 3/4") larger than the fabric width. This would also explain the flattened point at the waist edge of godet B, and the slight difference in angle of the bias edge as the hem is the same width but the waist is a little larger. The front section waist is shown as "t", which is equivalent to the width of the fabric.

I elected to follow the original statement that the piece with the smaller waist measurement is the front of the farthingale.

Whew. I hope you're still with me.

Therefore, the rough dimensions of the farthingale pattern pieces are waist = 182cm (a bit over 71 1/2"), drop from waist to hem = 126cm (approx 4' 1 1/2"), and the circumference at the hem = 280cm (approx 9' 2"). Alcega describes the finished width (he actually means circumference) as 13 hand spans wide, or roughly 273cm, which seems about right once you consider seam allowances.

I think a couple of things can be extrapolated from this:
  1. the farthingale is probably designed as a drawstring or gathered waist (no waistband is given or mentioned, but that doesn't mean it might not have been made from scraps?), however for my purposes I'm going with a drawstring
  2. the length to me initially seemed quite long, however I compared it to the dimensions elsewhere in Alcega for the front of over skirts and it is the same as most of them. (I have heard the theory that all the skirts in Alcega are quite long to allow for the high chopine shoes that were in fashion at the time. Your guess is as good as mine.) I had assumed it was probably designed for a number of horizontal tucks to be taken as casings for some form of hoop but now I doubt that is the case. Although the farthingale should no doubt be slightly shorter than the over skirt, tucks would probably make it way too short. I'll be applying a small casing strip instead,
  3. the finished diameter at the hem would be about 90cm (just under 3'), which would seem a reasonable width for walking, and give the farthingale an elegant and fairly narrow conical shape.
Detail of Spanish Women from The Trachtenbuch of Christoph Weiditz, 1505.

Alcega's construction notes
Alcega notes some important points regarding construction. The front and back sections do not utilise the fold, they are cut as separate pieces. Godet A is attached straight edge to straight edge to the front section (easy enough). Godet B is attached bias edge to straight edge, which must mean that you must have to flip the pattern pieces so that the bias edge of the godet meets the straight edge of the back section. He then notes that the side seams of the farthingale are straight edges, which only works if you place the bias edges of the godets at the CF and CB. He also states that there will be no bias edge on the sides, nor will it protrude on any side.

Putting it all together
Click to enlarge
The skirt panels went together pretty easily. One thing I thought might happen was that the bottom hem would be a bit up and down, and that came to pass. Trying to accurately draw the right curves, and take into account the length on the bias hypotenuse etc, means that the hem needed a bit of a trim. Especially the way the godets are drawn in the pattern they don't have a bottom curve, either by oversight or by design I'm not sure. When you sew them in they hang below the level of the hem. I actually don't care about this because it's easy enough and neater to trim the hem even.

Because I am working at a small scale I also had to add seam allowance to the pieces, which meant adjusting the layout on the fabric slightly, but not significantly.

Click to enlarge
I turned over the seam allowance at the waist of the farthingale and added a cotton twine drawstring. At this stage I haven't yet closed the back seam, and I will wait until the casings for the bonings are on as they will be easier to apply flat. But trying it on the form I'm happy with the volume and shape of the farthingale so far.

It's worth noting that if you are looking at other reconstructions of this farthingale online, a few people get the construction wrong by placing the back godets B at the side. The problem seems to stem from an error made by Janet Arnold in "Patterns of Fashion", possibly because she may not have had an accurate translation of the Spanish text. Also, the way the godet B is drawn in the pattern the small curve at the top waistband edge is a little off, shown curving down slightly when it would be better more flat or even curving slightly the other way. It's not a big error and doesn't really affect the construction. It may have been enough to confuse some reconstructionists however.

Hoop channels. Click to enlarge
I cut narrow bias strips and applied them at 5cm (approx 2") intervals, following the curve of the hemline. (The picture shows the top casing partially sewn on, and the lower casings have been applied and the narrow and moderately stiff plastic tubing I decided to use to form the hoops is in place.) No dimensions or details for the hoops are given in Alcega, but if you were constructing this at full scale I would place the first hoop at roughly hip level, and then divide the distance between that and the hem by the number of hoops. I used 6 hoops, and at full scale they would be roughly 15cm (6 inches) apart. I tried to keep the base layer of the farthingale as flat as possible, and the casing semi circular. It's worth noting that the length of the farthingale was still reduced slightly by the casing channels, so the finished farthingale would automatically be slightly shorter than an overskirt with the same given length.

Front. Click to enlarge
The finished farthingale, and I couldn't be happier with it. Alcega's point of the farthingale not protruding on the side I took to mean that the finished item will be oval in shape, and that is exactly how it hangs on the mannequin. The front and rear godets extend the hem slightly at front and back into a gentle oval.

Back. Click to enlarge
I left a small gap between the hoop channels at the centre back seam so that once the seam was closed I would be able to reinsert the tubing. I also rotated the joins in the tubing to the left or right on the alternating channels to avoid a line of joins. This seemed to help keep a nice smooth shape. I left the centre back seam open at the top near the drawstring, but honestly the waist is cut so large that you could almost close this all the way up and the garment would still fit over hips or shoulders.

Also, in hidsight I would raise the starting point of the top hoop slightly to be closer to the hip line. Mine is just a little low I think. I would then either space the hoops slightly further apart or decrease the distance and add in a 7th hoop.

Profile. Click to enlarge
I think the decision to place the narrower pieces and godet A at the front was correct but there is some guesswork here. The finished profile shows how the front hem protrudes slightly and would aid walking. Rotating the skirt would give a flatter front, with the back angled slightly backwards in line with a train. If anyone has thoughts on my assumptions I'd love to hear your feedback.

Also, the hoop material I used is only moderately stiff, so if something stiffer like reeds were used potentially the finished shape would be more circular. I would also imagine that the weight of over skirts would also compress the shape to be a little more circular.

Above. Click to enlarge
One last pic, and this time the scale of my dummy fortunately allows for an overhead shot. You can see that the finished shape is moderately oval but not too exaggerated. I think the finished farthingale has a lovely elegant line to it.

My aim here is to explore the patterns and figure out how they go together by experimenting with them in scale. I do understand therefore that I haven't fully explored things like what type of material would be used to construct hoops for a full sized reconstruction. If you are interested in making a farthingale to Alcega's instructions, I would urge you to look at other reconstructions and perhaps explore the links at the top of this post. Hopefully my thoughts on the pattern and construction will help you along the way.

Next I will be jumping back to the first of the women's patterns in the book and looking at the pattern and construction of f.14 & f.14a the "Silk doublet for a woman".

This first post has already created quite a bit of discussion on the Elizabethan Costume facebook group, and prompted a fantastic re-translation of the Spanish text by Matthew Gnagy. (Oh how I wish I could read Spanish.) My interpretation of how to place the godets is the main point of discussion, along with the decision not to utilise the fold when cutting out the front and back sections. This is wonderful, and one of the reasons I am undertaking this project is to learn by doing and to explore the nature of these patterns. Getting alternate points of view is an important part of that process.

If you intend on reconstructing the farthingale yourself I would suggest looking at other reconstructions as well, because my interpretation is only one of several.


  1. Very interesting. Where is Alcega writing? That will affect both the width of the fabric and what his measurements mean. Braccia gets translated as the English ell, or the French elne, but it's not the same thing and there is considerable variation between city states as to how long a braccia actually is. Similarly the standard width of fabric varies considerably too. I don't buy the argument that skirts in Alcega are longer to allow for chopines - that would defeat the purpose of the chopines to keep the skirts out of the muck - as your pictures show. So I wonder if a different measurement for the braccia might help? Also, have you thought of padding under the bust on your model? It might give her a figure like a waist paper basket, but it might give you a better fit than a modern bustline.

  2. Alcega is Spanish. It is a Castilian ell (or bara), and is given as 1 ell = 84cm. I'm a little doubtful about the chopines story too, but the argument that the over skirts are shown in the same dimensions is true so I think the decision to add the casings rather than take tucks is sound. It may be that the skirts were shown long, and they would be hemmed to the appropriate length or redrawn by the tailor using the book. The garment dimensions are largely all 1 size in the book, except where they are described as 'for a youth' or 'for a fat woman'. I considered padding the waist but that just changes the problem by making the waist size out of proportion with the doublets in the book. I'm going to work with the bust as is and see how I go.

  3. That all makes sense - I had forgotten he was Spanish.