Spanish Inspired Dress

The Inspiration

Click on images for bigger version

The Infanta Isabella Clara Eugenia, 1584. Fernando de Llano. The Infanta Isabella Clara Eugenia, c. 1579. Sanchez Coello. Infantas Isabel Clara Eugenia and Catalina Micaela, c. 1571. Alonso Sanchez Coello.
Anne of Austria, Queen of Spain, 1571. Sanchez Coello. Diane, comtesse de Guiche, known as La Belle Corisandre, with her daughter, c. 1580. Queen Margarita of Austria, 1609. Bartolomé Gonzalez.


The Fabric

Spring 2008

I have long followed the mainstream way of thinking that using natural fibers is the only Right Way to do things. The more I research clothing of the Renaissance and Middle Ages, the more I realize that modern fibers, even if they are wool, silk or linen, have little to do with their period equivalent, because of the way they're produced. Anybody who's seen the Bayeux Tapestry will tell you that the linen they used is amazingly fine and perfect, very, very far from even 3.5 oz linen we use today. I'm slowly coming to the conclusion that some of the man-made fibers we have will in fact produce a result much closer in appearance, hand, weight and general "way of being" than a lot of the natural fibers we can get our hands onto - except of course if we're willing to pay insane amounts of money to get the Real Stuff meant for museum repros or high-end customers.

I found a huge roll of unnamed contents but otherwise suitable fabric in the sales rack at Fabricville. It was 4$ a meter, so I bought 10 meters. After looking a it for a few days (and making sure it can be ironed without melting), I came to the conclusion that, not only would it make a really nice Spanish gown, it was also a very nice pattern for Japanese clothing, so I went back for more - by which time the price had come down to 2$ a meter, so I bought the remaining 10 meters.

The Pattern

Summer 2008

The pattern is taken from Alcega's Tailor's Pattern Book, 1589. It's the pattern on f.1.6, Woman's silk skirt and bodice with full-length pointed sleeve. It uses 18 2/3 by 2/3 ells of fabric. For this kind of fabric, 2/3 ells or 56 cm was the standard width at the time, so I cut my fabric to this width. The pattern requires 18 2/3 ells or 15 2/3 meters. I have about 10 2/3 meters, cut in two strips, so I have more than enough.

I will finish the edges of the fabric by machine. This would normally be a selvedge and the tailor would have received the fabric already finished on those edges.

About the Size

Summer 2008

It has been said many times that Alcega's patterns are meant as guidelines and should be scaled for the person for whom the clothing is built. However, since all exact measurements are carefully written on the pattern themselves, I believe the skirt and sleeves, at least, might have been made all the same size - that might even explain the mysterious tuck at the front of the typical Spanish skirt (see images).

Making the Pattern

May 2009

I have scanned the pattern, enlarged it on the computer, printed it out and assembled the pages. I could have enlarged it using period methods (by measuring, or using a grid) but I chose to use the computer to save time. I wanted to get to the sewing part as soon as possible.

The enlarged pattern is not quite to scale yet, because the original is not in such a good state and the facsimile is a little distorted. It will be a good guide for tracing the final pattern onto the fabric, because all the measurements are written on the pattern itself, so I can correct the size on each piece as I trace it out.

Making the Pattern, take two

June 2009

I have printed the doublet pattern (f.14). I don't think I'll be using those sleeves for the narrow sleeves, they seem too wide for an undersleeve.

About back necklines

June 2009

Alcega has something interesting to say about the wrinkles commonly seen at the back of period doublets...

Note that on his patterns the back of the neck is cut as one piece with the bodice back piece. I think the cut he's talking about is a horizontal cut around the neckline, to make a separate neckband, and not a vertical cut in the middle back of the neckband itself.

f. 14, Silk doublet for a woman. [...] Note that you could, if you wish, cut the collar at the back and so it will fit better. Many tailors find that it is usually better to do this as it avoids wrinkles around the back neck-line. If indeed you wish to do this, you can take off it a little at the back neck-line, reverse it for sewing and cover the join with the same trimming or stitching as the remaining seams.
f. 14a Silk doublet for a woman, from open silk. [...] Note that if you wish to cut the collar at the back [forming a join] this will be justified as there will be no wrinkles round the back neck-line (cabeçón). Many experienced tailors of women's clothes hold that the neck-band of any woman's doublet should be cut at the back; and having done this it will fit better and will not be considered a fault, indeed may do so intentionally.

I'll probably be using the pattern as is, just to see what happens with the neckband cut in one piece with the back piece.


Cutting the fabric!

September 12, 2009

I finally decided to use the pattern as it came out of the printer. It's long close to the actual measurements marked on the original and, even if it's slightly shorter than it should be, it's still long enough for me. I marked out the lining fabric laying it on a glass table and shining a flashlight through, then I laid out all my fabric, two layers of fabric and two of lining, on top of each other and cut them all together. I'll have the skirt and sleeves ready tonight.

I'll have to cut the bodice separately though - adjusting doublets gives me fits, it's the one step I'm NOT looking forward to.