Saturday, 27 September 2014

Project #10. F1.6 - "Women's silk skirt and bodice with full-length pointed sleeves"

This is Project #10, which is quite similar in style to Project #6 the "Skirt and bodice of cloth with puffed sleeves", but with the exception of long pointed sleeves instead of the curved back sleeve of previous projects.

This pattern is one of a small collection of 6 patterns in the book which are all laid out for the narrow silk fabric but because of the size of the garments are very wide patterns. In order to fit these on the page they have been presented on a double width fold out page, 3 to a side. The scale of the drawings is also a little smaller than the other patterns in the book, and the pages show some damage with folds and tears. Unlike the other patterns in the book they have had minimal cleaning up to make them legible.

The Infanta Isabella Clara Eugenia, by Federico de Llano.
Isabella of Valois, by Sofonisba Anguissola.

Alcega states that this garment requires a length of silk fabric 18 2/3 ells long x 2/3 of an ell wide, or 15m 68cm (approx 51' 5 1/4") long x 56cm (approx 22") wide. The fabric is folded crosswise, so the full width of the fabric is used.

Some mathematics and dimensions
Read from left to right the pattern pieces are the skirt front, godet A for the skirt front, godet B for the skirt back, the bodice back, the skirt back, the front side of each sleeve, the back pointed section of each sleeve and the bodice front. The bodice back and fronts are a little hard to see (especially as the front is disappearing into the spine of the book).

F1.6 pattern as presented in the book.

I did some minimal tidying up of the pattern a little in photo editing software to try and make it as clear as possible, removing some of the fold marks and drawing in a line over the tear. A few of the codes used to show the sizing are quite hard to read, but can be extrapolated.

F1.6 pattern cleaned up a little.

Many of the pattern pieces are the same size as in Project #6.

The skirt:
The front of the skirt on the left in the pattern is "bm" or 126cm (approx 4' 1 1/2") long, with a waist of "t" or 28cm (approx 11"). The bottom hem is shown as "b", 1 full ell wide or 84cm (approx 33"). The fabric is only 56cm (approx 22") wide, which means that the bottom edge of godet A must be "t" or 1/3 ell, 28cm (approx 11") wide.

The back skirt waist is "m" or 42cm (approx 16 1/2"), and the full width of the back piece at the hem is achieved with a side piecing godet B, which also takes the full width of the fabric. The back length of the train is "bbb" or 3 ells in total, 252cm (approx 8' 3 1/4") from waist to hem. As the fabric is folded crosswise, there is no centre back or centre front fold and so a seam runs down the centre back of the skirt.

The bodice:
The bodice front and back are tough to see but appear to be identical in dimensions and shape to the doublet from Project #6. The bodice front is "QQQ" or 63cm (approx 2' 1") long, the side seam is "Q" or 21cm long (approx 8 1/4"), and both the shoulder seam and the front neck opening run off the edge of the pattern into the spine of the book but are most likely both "s" or 14cm (approx 5 1/2"). The back waist is also shown as "s", and although the shoulder and back neck opening aren't labelled they are most likely "s" or 14cm (approx 5 1/2") and for the shoulder and "o" or 10.5cm (just over 4") for the back neck opening. (Instead there is one dimension given for the total width across the upper back, "Q" or 21cm long (approx 8 1/4") wide, which is consistent with the other patterns.)

The back length is shown as "m" or 42cm (approx 1' 4 1/2"), and although there is no side seam dimension given on the back, it must be "Q" also in order to match the side seam on the bodice front. There is no specific measurement given for the arm hole, but as in the other doublet and bodice patterns, it can't be larger than the sleeve head or the sleeve will not fit. It is very difficult to see because a fold line runs through the middle of them, but it is also clear from the armhole of the doublet back that there are 8 tabs detailed for the armhole as in Project #6.

The collar:
There is specific mention of cutting the collar from the excess fabric, so although it is not shown in the pattern I'll use the same collar pieces from Project #6.

The sleeves:
Each sleeve is made up of 4 pieces, 2 pieces of each sleeve are detailed in the pattern layout and are cut double as the fabric is folded crosswise. The sleeve head (where it attaches to the armhole) is shown as "Q" or 21cm (approx 8 1/4"). Doubled this makes the sleeve head "m" or 42cm (approx 16 1/2"), the same size as the other sleeves in the previous projects. The front sleeve length from armhole to wrist is "QQQ" or 63cm (approx 2' 1") long, the same as the sleeves in the silk doublet. The sleeves are made up with a godet, godet C. The front edge of the sleeve, from the wrist to the bottom of the point on godet C is "bm" or 126cm (approx 4' 1 1/2") and the back curving edge is "bQQQ" to the point, or 147cm (just under 4' 10").

Developing the pattern
The most unusual and dramatic feature of this gown is the sleeves. I was scratching my head at first as to how they went together, but when you consider the 4 pieces of each sleeve it becomes a little clearer.

The 4 pieces of each sleeve in detail. Click to enlarge.

I decided to draft the sleeve first and draw one half of it out on a single piece of paper to check the dimensions and curves. One thing I discovered was that unless I changed the angle of the sleeve dramatically from the pattern, I actually couldn't fit the front and back dimensions of "bm" and "bQQQ" on the double width of the fabric.

Sleeve pattern draft. The black lines represent fabric widths. Click to enlarge.

However, if I continued the front and back edges out slightly further past 2 fabric widths, and drew the sleeve back with a smoother curve, then I could accommodate all the dimensions exactly as written in the pattern. I think there is a small piecing required on the far right which has been omitted from the pattern, and it makes up the sharp point of the sleeve. It also explains why the point of the sleeve looks so cut off in the original pattern above.

The Mystery of the Missing Sleeve Point.

Once I had drafted the sleeves I moved on to the other pattern pieces.

Finished pattern layout. Click to enlarge.

The skirt front is the same as the skirt front in Project #6 and Project #7, with adjustment for the narrower silk fabric. The skirt back is almost the same as the one in Project #6, it's the same length but even though the fabric is narrower the large godet B means that it is actually wider at the hem. The waist size is the same however, so the angle of the edge that forms the seam to the skirt front swings out a little wider also.

The bodice front and back are also the same as the ones in Project #6, including the tabs detailed for the front and back armhole. There is mention of collar pieces but they are not detailed in the pattern, so I'll reuse the pattern pieces I developed in previous projects. I'll also add the missing sleeve point pieces to make up the sleeves.

Putting it together
I made up each sleeve in two halves first, sewing the small point piece to the middle piece of the three pieces, and then sewing them to the piece that makes up the front side of the sleeve.

Completed sleeve detail, with seams highlighted. Click to enlarge.

This sleeve has a large opening from armhole to cuff, so once I had made up all four pieces for the two sleeves I joined them in pairs along the curving back of the sleeve first. I then just joined the front in two small sections, at the top near the sleeve head and at the bottom near the wrist. Once I had done that I neatened the front edges by turning them under and sewing them down, although if I was making this as a full size garment this sleeve would have a lining and the raw front edges would be dealt with by folding under and having the lining attached.

I then made up the bodice in the same manner as the previous projects, sewing the fronts to the back piece by sewing up the side seams and then sewing closed the shoulder seams. I then made up the 4 pieces of the collar, and carefully matched the seams to the centre back and shoulder seams before sewing it on. I then turned under the front and bottom edges of the bodice and sewed them down to neaten.

In Project #6 I had made up the similar style of garment by attaching the skirt to a separate waistband, and making the bodice separately. I decided to use the alternate approach here and attach the skirt and bodice in this version, so it is one large garment that opens entirely down the centre front. I personally think a garment like this makes more sense as a bodice and skirt that are separate, but worn together. In terms of dressing, storing and cleaning the garments it just makes a lot more practical sense to me. I present this version as an alternative, but if making this up full sized I would opt for two separate pieces.

The completed gown. Click to enlarge.

I then applied the sleeves to the bodice, making sure that the front opening of the sleeve was roughly about mid way between the bust and the shoulder seam, so that the sleeve opening would be placed at the front of the arm. This then placed the back curve of the sleeve at about shoulder blade level on the back of the armhole which seemed perfect. It's worth noting that there is minimal shaping in the sleeve head (and both sleeves are interchangeable) so although the finished result looks fine and would give fantastic freedom of movement, you do end up with some folds and extra fabric under the armpit that does not happen with the shaping in modern sleeves.

Oops. It wasn't until I had finished the entire garment and dressed the mannequin that I realised I had totally forgotten the sleeve tabs for the armholes. They aren't a major construction point, but for more detail on how they look and are applied please have a look at Project #6.

Completed back view. Click to enlarge.

I then made up the front skirt panels by attaching godet A, and made up the back skirt by attaching the large godet B to each half of the skirt back and then sewing the centre back seam closed. I then attached the skirt fronts to the back along the side seams, and turned under and finished the front edges of the skirt front.

Skirt detail, with godets highlighted. Click to enlarge.

As I will be attaching the skirt to the bodice, I turned under the seam allowance of the waist and cartridge pleated the entire back before attaching it. I measured the flat skirt fronts on the mannequin and started pleating at a point on the skirt front where the hip was, all the way across the back to the same point on the other side. I then attached the skirt to the bodice, and I found the easiest way to do this was to overlap the bodice fronts onto the skirt fronts, and match the front opening edges of both, before drawing up the pleats and attaching the cartridge pleated section first.

Clunky to describe, but the end result is that the skirt edge and bodice edge are sewn together across the back from hip to hip, and the skirt fronts are tacked in place underneath the bodice point and sewn down firmly along the front opening. As I said, probably best to make this as a two piece garment, but there is historical precedent in existing garments for the excess fabric of the skirt fronts being left tacked in place behind the bodice fronts like this.

Completed gown, side view. Click to enlarge.

I think if you compare the finished gown with the portraits above you can see how extravagant this gown could be as a high status garment with trims and embroideries added, or as a more sombre garment with comparatively fewer embellishments.

I dressed the mannequin with the underskirt, fartingale, kirtle and doublet from previous projects, with the gown over the top of it all. I left the skirt open to show the layer underneath, but in reality it seems that Spanish ladies pretty much always wore the fronts closed. Some portraits also seem to show a row of ties or closures down the curving back of the sleeve, whether functional or purely decorative I'm not sure. I pinned the bottom wrist section of each sleeve to the doublet underneath, slightly up the sleeve in the manner shown above, which further opens out the flare of the front opening.

I'm pleased with the end result and I think the sleeves give a lovely alternative and dramatic effect when compared to the similar gown in Project #6.

My lovely friends clubbed together and bought me a half sized male mannequin for my birthday earlier this month, and have informed me that it has arrived from the U.S. at the same time that I am finishing up with the women's patterns in the book. Yay! So the next project will be the start of the men's patterns, and then once I have worked through those I will go back and see if there are any interesting or curious variations of the garments I have already made that are worth looking at.


  1. Wonderful to see these amazing sleeves made up - the whole dress is very beautiful and very dramatic. I have used several Alcega patterns in costuming projects in New Zealand and could not have made them without the help of your blog. I also really love the full-size doublets and cloaks you have made. I hope you will continue the amazing work.

    1. Thanks for the feedback Cody!! I'm glad you found it useful, and thanks for the comments on my full sized garments. I do intend on finishing the project once I get back from overseas in a few months, although there are only men's garments and a few assorted odds and ends left now.

  2. I’ve just bought a Facsimile copy of the Alcega’s book in Amazon. I’m spanish and it costed me 15€ in original spanish language. The spanish they spoke in 16th Century is a bit different than we speak today and the way they wrote and the way they express what they wanted to say is also very different than todat so to me is sometimes very difficult to understand what Alcega is meaning. I was very impressed by the patterns in the book and wondered how did they look when the taylors used them in that period. Your blog is the answer and it’s simply amazing. The way you explain all the processing to make the costumes is great. Thank you for sharing your art with us. Your Alcega project is very useful for period costume lovers.