Alcega's Farthingale (f.67)


This Paper covers my work with the Farthingale pattern that comes from Juan de Alcega's "Tailor's Pattern Book 1589". This pattern produces a cone shape hoop skirt, which was common in Spain and elsewhere in Europe during the mid 16th century. There is an English translation of the text provided in the book. We also need to convert the measurements given from ells to inches and yards. But to save time and space, an ell is 33 inches. If you want to find out how we know this please read my Understanding Alcega's Tailor's Patterns handout.

The pattern calls for 6 x 2/3 ells of fabric; this would be 5yrd 18 inches x 22 inch wide fabric. It also lets us know that the original fabric intended was silk. You can make the farthingale out of silk or any sturdy woven material. I decided to use a cotton twill, which came 45 inches wide, since the fabric store had it on sale for 2 bucks a yard. To stay with the layout of the fabric, I measured and cut a strip of fabric that was 22 inches wide. You could, depending on how true to 45" your fabric is, fold it in half and cut down the middle. This would allow you to get two farthingales from a piece of fabric that was five and a half yards of 45 inch wide.

Next we need to convert given measurements to inches.

bm = 1 1/2 ell = 49.5 inches
t = 1/3 ell = 11 inches
qqq = 3/4 ell = 24.75"
sb = 5/6 ell = 27.5 inches

This leads into the first confusing questions on the Alcega pattern for the farthingale. How do we use the numbers given on the pattern?

We know from the text that to cut the front and back you need to fold the fabric in half length wise. This would give you a width now of 11" on your fabric. We also know by both the text and the position of the labeling in the pattern that the length of the Farthingale should be 1 and a 1/2 ells (49.5 inches). Along with the length measurement given in the text is how wide the garment is meant to be: "The Farthingale is 1 1/2 ells long and a little more then 13 hands-spans wide, which seems to me to be sufficient."

So how wide is Alcega's hand-span? Or is a hand-span a standard unit of measurement in Alcega's time? How wide is my hand-span? Does it truly matter? But more importantly is he telling us how wide the total hem is or just the width of half the garment laying flat on itself.

Let's just look at some numbers.

Usually, for a hem for a gown I like to have the total hem twice the cape length of a person. If you’re 65" tall, I would have a hem of 112" or, if you’re 70" tall, a hem of 124". And, if you happen to be 62" tall, the hem would be 106". Then depending on height of the woman, a hem that is around 105" to 125" would look right. My hand-span, depending on how you measure a hand-span, ranges from 4 1/2 to 8 1/2 inches. So, 13 of my hand-spans could be anywhere from over 59 inches to 110 1/2 inches. That is depending on how you define what a hand-span is. But more importantly, let's look at the measurement given on the pattern. Both the front and back are marked sb which is of course 27.5 inches. Four panels at 27.5 inches would give us 110 inches.

Is sb the quarter panel marking? If we look at the front panel piece, we know a couple of things. The fabric is 22 inches wide and folded in half to give us 11 inches to work with. We are also shown in the pattern what the curved line for the hem should look like. Right away we know that the 27.5 inch line can not be drawn by it ‘self on the folded fabric. I don't think that the 27.5 is just the measurement of the front piece. If we did this and took half of sb for 12.375, this line when drawn into an 11" wide rectangle, gives you a much sharper curve line for a hem as shown. We are also then at a loss for what the lengths of the gores should be. The gores here are the key. We are not given any measurement to what they should be. We also know that 27.5 inches is too much to draw just on the front panel. Though if we draw the hem line on the folded fabric as shown on the pattern then subtract that measurement from 27.5, which would give us what the gore needs to be so that half of the front panel plus the gore equals 27.5 inches. When completed, this gives us a final measurement of 110 inches for our hem.
Quarter view of the front Full view of the front

For the top of the front, we see that it is marked t (11 inches). Luckily we can draw a line as shown and have it measured 11 inches. We know that 11 is the length of the line for the folded fabric and not the total measurement for the top of the front panel. The reason for this is that if it was the total of the top of the front panel, then the line drawn would just be 5 1/2", and a curved line that is just 5 1/2 inches would fall short of the middle of the folded fabric. It is clear though the line extends almost to the end of the folded fabric, so the length of the line must be 11 inches. This gives the front panel a total measurement of 22”.

The Top of the back panel is different then the front, though labeled the same way. We are told that the measurement is 24.75 inches. The line goes all the way to the edge of the folded fabric and is a sharper curve then the front. But we still have just 11 inches to work in, so it's obvious that 24.75 inches isn't going to fit. We could draw the line the same way we did with the bottom hem and carry the remainder of the line to the top of the gore, but this would mean the top of the gore would have to be at least 11 inches or greater. If you have read Alcega's intro to his book, we know that he laid out the patterns very proportionally. The patterns show both the fabric folded section for the front and back panels and unfolded for the side gores. Notice that on the back Gore labeled B, we see that it is just around a quarter of the width of the folded section, proving that it is not close to 11 or more inches, but instead more around 4 inches. This does rule out treating the top of the back gore like the bottom of both the front and back panels. If we use the QQQ measurement as the total length of the curved line of the back panel, we are able to fit half of QQQ, which is 12 3/8th inches into the folded fabric as shown.

Now we know that the total length of the front panel is 22 inches and the total length of the back panel is 24.75 inches. Also, we know that the bottom of the gores are 27.5 inches minus 1/2 the amount of the front or back gore. The front gore is just a triangle, but the back gore as a curve line that should come out at least 4 inches into the fabric. We know the length of the gores should match their sides of the panel. That just leaves one question about the length of the angle on the ends of the front panels. Again measuring the proportions of the pattern, this looks around 4 to 5 inches.
Quarter view of the back Full view of the back

This pattern produces 6 pieces. Alcega tells us to first fold the fabric in half width-wise, and cut out the front then the back piece. This gives you one piece for the front and one piece for the back. Next you are to unfold the remaining fabric and then fold it lengthwise over itself. This gives you fabric that is still 22 inches wide but half the length. This is so when you cut out the gores, you are cutting out two front and two back at the same time.

There are specific instructions given to putting the pieces together. The straight edges of the front gores are sewn to the straight edges of the front panel. Next the bias (angled) side of the back gores gets sewn to the straight edges of the back panels. Finally, the new front bias edges are sewn to the straight edges of the new back panel piece. This is important because it means that there are no bias-to-bias seams in the garment. This aids to the strength structure of the garment.

More to come.