Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Project #2. F.14 & F.14a - "Silk doublet for a woman"

This is the second project I'll be attempting, and is the first pattern in Alcega's 1589 tailor's pattern book specifically for a woman. The pattern pieces in folios 14 and 14a are identical, with the exception of the layout on the fabric. Consequently I have combined them here as 1 garment.

Both 14 and 14a are described as cut from silk and are specified as using 2 1/2 x 2/3 ells, or 210cm (approx 6' 11") x 56cm (approx 1' 10"). There seems to be no functional difference in the patterns or fabrics, except 14 has the fabric folded in half lengthways, and 14a (below) across ways, so that the selvedges would be on the left and right sides in the layout diagram.

Some mathematics and dimensions
All of the letters on the pattern diagram below are measurement codes (and rather helpfully there is a convenient table of modern equivalents in the translation of the book). Keep in mind that this is a generic ladies' size used primarily to show the amount and layout of fabric required, so if you were attempting to use this pattern to make a doublet at home it would be important to redraw the pattern to your own measurements, while keeping the basic shapes as close to the original as possible.

Having said that, let's look at the dimensions as given.

The 2 piece curving sleeve is shown as 63cm long (approx 2' 1"), with a wrist opening circumference of 21cm (approx 8 1/4") and a top sleeve head of 42cm (approx 1' 4 1/2") combined. The sleeve length is the same as the doublet front, from the base of the throat to the bottom point.

The doublet front is 63cm long (approx 2' 1") from the base of the throat to the bottom of the low front point, the side seams are 21cm long (approx 8 1/4"), and the back length, including collar back, is 42cm long (approx 1' 4 1/2"). There is a measurement given across the front of the doublet, which is presumably for the widest point (across the bust, just under the arm hole), of 31.5cm (just under 12 1/2"), and an equivalent measurement across the doublet back of 24.5cm (just over 9 1/2"). The back waist is shown as 17.5cm across (approx 6 3/4") and the front doublet width 28cm (approx 11"). There is no specific measurement given for the arm hole, and we can check that when we draft everything else, but it can't be larger than the 42cm (approx 1' 4 1/2") sleeve head or the sleeve will not fit..

On the doublet front the neck is shown as 14cm (approx 5 1/2") and the shoulder width is the same. The small separate piece near the doublet front is the front collar and that is also 14cm long, and although the back collar width isn't specifically given we should be able to determine that once we draft everything else.

So many numbers. I have number fatigue.

So, if we apply some of the numbers above we should find that the bust measurement is a fairly generous 112cm (44") and the waist is 90cm (approx 35 1/2"). This does not include any overlap for fastening, as there is clearly no overlap included when you consider the sharp point of the doublet front. Now it is true that I am only a bit of a shorty for a guy at 163cm (5' 4"), but my usual sleeve length is about 56cm (approx 22"). If you consider the length of this sleeve as specified in the pattern, the wearer would be something like 180cm (5' 9") tall, roughly.

My take on this is that the generic size shown on the pattern layouts is deliberately a fairly large size. If you are considering that the use of the book was to give amounts of fabrics and layouts required for different garments and fabrics, then it makes sense to use a large size. Laying out a smaller sized garment would not require any extra fabric than specified.

Developing the pattern
In my previous post I explained how I reworked the original sloper pattern to eliminate the dart, and create a flat pattern that should fit as well as possible. My first step in developing the pattern for the "silk doublet for a woman" was to take the measurements in Alcega and scale them all down by roughly a third to the measurements of my mannequin. As I mentioned in the last post, my mannequin's bust and waist are a little different from the ratio in the Alecga pattern, but other measurements such as width across the shoulders and upper back, the neck circumference etc are all pretty much in scale.

The photo below shows me using the modified sloper pieces to create the pattern. One of the features of the doublets in Alcega are the fact that the back of the collar is cut in one with the doublet back, and you can see me starting to develop that on the lower right. The small piece top right is the rest of the collar, the right edge of which attaches to the curving edge on the doublet back, and the bottom straight edge attaches to the neck opening on the front. (Hard to picture, but it will make sense when I show you the completed collar).

Developing the pattern. Click to enlarge.

The armhole size on the sloper ended up being exactly the right scale for the sleeve head specified in the pattern, and extending the doublet front to the equivalent length specified in the pattern also looked about right. Once I had drawn the sleeves and checked that the dimensions for the other patterns pieces were as close as possible to the pattern sizes in Alcega (allowing for the waist and bust issue), I cut them out and laid them out similar to the pattern diagram in the book.

The finished pattern. Click to enlarge.
Comparing the patterns.

I'm pretty happy with the end result. A couple of things are worth noting however.

After taking this picture I noted that I had drawn the outward flare on the sleeve back at the sleeve head a little too extreme, so I trimmed it back slightly (bottom right and top centre of the picture and diagram). The doublet front is obviously different (to allow for the bust), and the side seam on the doublet front does not angle as sharply, and highlights the different in the waist and bust ratio of my mannequin. The collar piece looks a little out of shape compared to the diagram, but I checked the dimensions of the edge that the collar attaches too and it is the right size. I thought that I might have drawn the collar on the doublet back a little lower than it should be, but it is correct to the measurements given.

In effect what it highlights is the the diagram is not an exact pattern, it's pretty close but if you draft the pieces to the measurements given there are some small differences.

Putting it together
My first step was to sew the 2 piece doublet back together along the centre back seam. Having a centre back seam would have allowed tailors of the time to fit the doublet back closely without the need for any darts, especially if they had issues to contend with such as prominent shoulder blades or a slight forward stoop.

I then attached the front collar pieces to the doublet front, which is quite a tricky manoeuvre as you are attaching a straight edge to a curved one. In the diagram (right) I have colour coded the edges to try make it clearer as to what goes where. I have put together a few doublets for myself using this form of collar construction and personally I find it easiest to attach the collar front first, then when sewing the shoulder seam closed continue up the side of the collar back (shown in blue) as 1 single seam.

I sewed the side seams together, and then sewed the seam along the shoulder and up the collar front to collar back edge.

Here is the thing about this whole collar cut with the doublet back business. I find it a pain in the butt. As I mentioned I have used it on my own doublets, and this was in an effort to be more historically accurate. I find it fiddly to sew together when you get to the shoulder/collar seam, and worst of all it sits poorly at the back of the neck.

Back of the neck ugliness. Click to enlarge (not that you'd want to).

The trick that I've used, and that I have never yet seen in a primary resource (but have it on Good Authority that it was both advocated and used in period) is to take a horizontal crescent shaped tuck across the back of the neck. It eliminates the bulk and helps the collar sit more upright and less tilted forward.

Collar niceness. Click to enlarge.

All this fussing. Why on earth they didn't just cut the collar separately I'll never know. Anyway, moving on.

Unlike modern sleeve patterns the sleeves in this pattern have minimal sleeve head shaping where the sleeve joins the arm hole, and the left and right sleeves are interchangeable. After sewing the two pieces of each sleeve together, I turned the seam allowance under at the wrist and finished that edge. Because of the tiny scale of my mock up I didn't leave any opening for closures at the back of the wrist, but if I was making this full scale I would leave something like 5 - 10cm (2 - 4") open at the bottom of the outward curving edge of the sleeve for an opening to allow the hand to pass through easily. This could then be closed with buttons.

Modern sleeves tend to give you a clear indication of where they fit in the arm hole, by notches indicated in the pattern or sometimes by their very shape. These sleeves don't give you any such clear indicators, but there is a subtle one if you look at the shape of the sleeve itself. There is a slight outward flare at the back of the sleeve head, and if you consider how the body moves the most sensible place to allow for some extra roominess would be at the back of the arm near the shoulder blades. This would then place the inner curve of the curved sleeve along the front of the arm, where cunningly your arm normally curves forward. A quick look at similar doublets in period portraits seems to back up this theory.

Portrait of a Lady, attributed to Sofonisba Anguissola.

Note the braid covered seam line along the front of the sleeve. Exactly where we would expect it to be!

I inset the sleeves with the back of the sleeve at the back of the arm hole, in line with the shoulder blades. The front seam then ended up at the front of the armhole, and the sleeves curved gently forward in a similar stance to that of the portrait above. Once the sleeves were in the basic doublet was essentially completed.

Sleeve seam at the rear of the arm hole. Click to enlarge.

I whip stitched the doublet front closed (in lieu of trying to create teeny tiny buttons and buttonholes!) and I'm pretty happy with the result.

Doublet front. Click to enlarge.

Finished doublet. Click to enlarge.

Let's pretend there are some arms filling out those sleeves. One thing about this style of sleeve is that because there is so little shaping in the sleeve head it allows a large range of movement, but the trade off is that you do end up with a bit more fabric bulk in the armpit than we are used to these days. It's hard to get them hanging attractively on the mannequin, but I think they are doing exactly what they should be doing and hanging correctly.

Detail, portrait of Isabel Clara Eugenia.

This style of doublet seems to frequently appear as the highly decorated under layer in formal clothing. If you were creating this garment in silk as a high status garment, you could trim the lower edge of the doublet with tabs (as above), and use small tabs at the wrist and collar edges. Horizontal lines of braid across the main body of the garment, horizontal or slanting lines of braid on the sleeves, and/or rows of pinking or embroidery would also be appropriate. 

If you simplified the decoration, and perhaps kept the ideas of tabs at the waist, ran a line of braid over all of the construction seams and one or two rows up the doublet front, then this doublet could also make a lovely more middle class style garment too.

Next I'll be tackling the F.55 "Skirt of cloth for a woman".


  1. I particularly enjoyed this project. I have made several doublets using some of Alcega's patterns and the necks always sat poorly. I has assumed it was my lack of skill in pattern draughting. I gradually reduced the neck height until it fitted well. I'll know better next time. Really nice work.

  2. Thanks Ray! Thanks for the feedback and I hope it helps with your next doublet.

  3. From looking at the original pattern I would have thought that the under arm seam would have started not at the bottom of the arm hole but up the back about a third of the way. Is this different to your take on it? If so, do you have a reason? Not criticizing, just curious.

  4. Hi Libby, there is no seam at the bottom of the arm hole. If you mean the side seam of the doublet it starts part way towards the back. I tried to preserve the basic shaping of the back piece compared to the shape in Alcega, while allowing for the limitations of the shape of the mannequin. If you have a look at the previous entry I wrote about eliminating the bust darts, you can see how I drew the seam starting part way up the back of the arm hole down to the waist, trying to keep the angle about the same as in the original pattern.