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How do you Reproduce the Alcega Farthingale Pattern?


The Alcega diagram, with my cut pieces
I've cut out my tracing of the diagram, and laid the pieces over the original to check for accuracy.
Tracing out the pieces for a paper mockup
I've traced out the pieces, by my understanding of the directions.

There are several things that are very clear from looking at this. First off, the front (below) looks almost exactly like a gore. I was especially awed by just how nice the waist curve is. It brought a little tear to my eye, actually. The back gore is weird. (I’ve based my piecing on Arnold’s diagram on pg 196 of Queen Elizabeth’s Wardrobe Unlock’d.)

The second thing I get out of this is that period tailors knew how to properly hem a gored skirt. It’s just sort of assumed here. Alcega has drawn surprisingly faithful curves for the waist and hem on the front panel, and the hem on the back panel, but the gores are basically left as an exercise for the reader.

In the interest of fairness, the only real information we have on the right way to arrange the pieces is Alcega’s instructions, and the only thing they really tell us about how the pieces go together is,

“Note that the front godets are to be joined straight edge with straight edge, whearas the back godets are to be joined bias edge with straight edge. Hence, there will be no bias edge on the sides of the farthingale, nor will it protrude on any side.”

There are, in fact, three layouts that join the front panel and gore (“godet” in the translation and cuchillos in the original folio) on the straight while joining a back panel to the bias side of a back gore.

An alternative arrangement of the back panels
The second possibility. Does that back look right or wrong?
Another alternate arrangement of the back panels
This is the third possibility.

The third possibility is the piecing arrangement used in The Tudor Tailor (Mikhaila and Malcolm-Davies, 2006), so I take no credit for original thinking here.

I have done a small amount of tweaking to provide a proper hem line, and smooth out some of the awkward angles that result from joining up the back pieces. Here are the resulting skirts:

Mockup 1, from the front
The first mockup, based on Arnold's work, seen from the front.
mockup 1, from the side
From the side, we see that the front (right) falls at a sharper angle than the back.
mockup 2 from the front
The second mockup seems to be working when viewed from the front...
second mockup, from the side
In the side view, we see that the angle of the back gore (left side) has some fairly dire results.
mockup 3 from the front
The third mockup, with the Mikhaila/Malcolm-Davies piecing arrangement, seen from the front.
mockup 3, seen from the side
From the side, we see this mockup shares an odd characteristic of the first - the front (right) lies at a sharper angle than the back.
the three mockups, from the side
For comparison, here are all three mockups in order, left to right. The are all facing right.

I like the piecing and layout of the first mockup best, but the first and third both seem to work well straight out of the box (or off the page, as it were). The second seems critically flawed. It is worth noting that in any case, the top of the skirt should be pleated or gathered down – it is disproportionally large right now.

One particularly interesting trend that shows up in the first and third mockups is the difference in the distribution of fabric in the completed front and back panels at the waist compared the the hem. ¬†Oh, hey, wow, that sentence was a doosey… Sorry. Too much time in college. What I mean is this:

tracings from the hem and waist of the Alcega mockup
I traced around the hem and waist of my first Alcega farthingale mockup, and noted the location of the side seams.

At the hem of the skirt, there’s roughly the same amount of fabric at the front and the back. At the waist of the skirt, there’s far more fabric in the back panel than the front – almost a 7:4 ratio. When pleated down, this will pull a lot of the farthingale to the back of the wearer. (Is it enough to compensate for the weight of skirts pushing the farthingale forward? I’ve no idea. I haven’t started those experiments yet!)
Next: How Accurate is the Alcega Drawing?

Pages: 1 2 3 4


  1. Anna-Carin
    Anna-Carin October 13, 2010

    Maybe Arnold simply has a typo in the metric equivalent of 49 1/2 inches, saying 127.5 cm where 125.7 was intended?

    My personal impression is that metric equivalents in UK/US books are wrong as often as not… While I haven’t seen Arnold’s conversion table for Alcega, I think it’s probably just a matter of rounding errors. If 1/48 bara was exactly 11/16″ then it converts to 1.74625 cm, which was neatly rounded off to 1.75 cm for the book. The difference between 11/16″ and 9/13″ is only about 1/200″ or 1/8 mm; a quite acceptable rounding error in itself, though the rounded numbers give very confusing fractions when converting back to inches.

  2. Anna-Carin
    Anna-Carin October 14, 2010

    Actually, I was so carried away with the oddities you pointed out in your interesting article, that I forgot to also mention how much I enjoyed reading it. Sorry! :-(

    At first I thought it seemed strange to attach the flared edge of the back side gores to the back piece, while the front pieces were joined on straight grain, but afterwards it struck me that if you picture the pieces lined up side by side in the order of assembly, like Arnold does in her books, it makes perfect sense. In her 19th century examples, each side gore still has the front edge cut on grain and a flaring back edge; only the proportions of the gores are different. (BTW, she has an interesting remark on the pattern diagram facing page 28 – cutting gores so they flare towards the front instead of the back seems to have been a common mistake.)

  3. missa
    missa October 14, 2010

    Oh, oh, I wanna play! Page 28 of which book? :)
    Thanks for your comments, Anna-Carin – I agree the the numerical differences between what’s in Arnold’s work and what’s in the Alcega conversion table (provided just after the beginning commentary) is probably just a rounding thing, but it’s a rounding thing that’s always bothered me. It’s too small to make a huge difference, sure, but it doesn’t *feel* right. And when the basic numbers in a system don’t feel like the right numbers to be using, it makes me suspicious of the whole thing. It’s sort of like being served a blue egg for breakfast….

  4. Anna-Carin
    Anna-Carin October 14, 2010

    Oops – I did have a feeling I’d left something out… :–( I meant Patterns of Fashion 2.

    It would have made more sense if Arnold had stuck to the base unit of the original text, but then I guess it would’ve confused and frustrated lots of people who were less able to sort it out!

  5. Monique
    Monique November 30, 2010

    I have an issue with my farthingale. I tend to trip over my skirts and I get caught on the bottom hoop.

    Where should my length be? How far from the ground without showing my ankles should I allow?

    Thanks for ANY help you can provide.

  6. missa
    missa November 30, 2010

    Hi, Monique,
    The problem isn’t the length of your hoops. It’s that you walk like a modern western woman. We tend to have a fairly long stride, and to lift our toes as we step. If your stride is longer than radius of your farthingale, you’re going to risk stepping on it. Additionally, if you raise your toes as you step, you’re at risk for catching the hoops.

    The solution is to take smaller steps, and walk more like a small child than a model in an athletic shoe ad. You can also just shuffle along- your skirts can’t get under your feet if your feet don’t leave the ground. (I can “run” over uneven ground in a skirt that’s 6″ too long and a heel with the shuffling trick. No joke – I have witnesses. It’s also the key to successfully backing up in a trained gown. While we’re at it, it’s completely possible to walk up stairs *without* lifting your skirts from the front. There’s an easy way, and an advanced version that leaves your hands free. You can use a hand to press on your hoops from behind, thus raising the front slightly without mussing all your layers. If you don’t have a free hand, you can take a sort of ballet approach by running your toes under your hoop from the side, sliding your foot forward until you locate the stair in question. Then, draw your toes smoothly up the face of the stair and across the stair into position to take a step. If you’ve kept your toes under the edge of the hoops and skirts the whole time, you’ve just gracefully managed to get your foot on the stair without your skirts being under it. I strongly recommend practicing before taking on a full flight…. )

    Practice really is key. You need to know exactly how long of a step you can take, and where your toes will run into the hoop. (I measured, actually, then marked out the living room floor for practice. I’m sort of a geek like that.) You’re going to be safest in your costume when it’s as familiar as clothes. It’s no different to learning to walk in heels, really. You just have to adjust your movement (balance, length of stride, the angle your foot hits the pavement at) slightly. You’ll end up with a walk that’s safer, and an overall look that’s far more natural.

    That all said, I make my hoops so they’re about 1-2″ above ground level so I’m not replacing the bottom hoop casing all the time.

    I’m not sure that’s quite the answer you were looking for, but I hope it helps!

  7. Michael
    Michael August 11, 2011

    While I won’t lie, I got tripped up in all the math but that’s probably because I’m just a tad bit tired at the moment! Loved the work put into this. I also have had issues with the whole “the extra length is for creating tucks/casings for the reeds/boning” issue simply because of the pain it is to create a smooth casing on a conical surface. Now I’m tempted to tackle a scaled down version of this to see if it’s any better!

  8. […] I’ve been reading up heavily on farthingales (and many thanks to the sempstress for her in-depth mathematical analysis. If you didn’t guess from the excel charting of the […]

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