One Last Thing: the Translation and Assumptions
One of the most tantalizing things, for me, about the Alcega Farthingale has always been a discrepancy in translations regarding the front gore. Arnold says:
The front of this farthingale has more at the hem than the back. (Patterns of Fashion, pg 7)
While the translation says:
The Front of this farthingale is wider than the Back [not clear from the measurements given] and from the remaining silk you can make a hem (ruedo). (pg 49)
So what’s the case? The original text of the contended passage is:
Y la delantera defte verdugado lleua mas ruedo que la trafera, y de la feda que fobra fe podra echar vn ruedo. (f. 67, untranslated)
Now, if you’re not used to reading things from the 16th century, there’s some tidbits you should know: ‘v’ may be a ‘v’ or a ‘u’ – this apparently goes back to the days of carving messages into stones, when angles were easier than curves. ‘f’ may be an ‘f. but since the spanish for ‘silk’ is ‘seda’ rather than ‘feda’, we might surmise that it could also be an ‘s’. (On the other hand, Alcega might have had a bit of the Castilian lisp. Spelling was pretty phonetic, back in the day.) Apostrophe’s were hoarded, instead of being used where needed. So a rough translation to a sounding-out of the phrase might be:
Y la d’elantera d’este verdugado lleua mas ruedo que la trasera, y de la seda que sobra se podra echar un ruedo
My spanish, unfortunately, is mostly limited to things I can shout at a cook who has mysteriously forgotten english while I attempt to get food out to a table. This particular recipe has neither ajo nor sebellos for me to say nada to, so I’m looking at a dictionary. I’m specifically looking up the word ‘ruedo’, which seems to be the crux of the matter. According to dictionary.reverso.net, it can be translated in the following ways: a bullrign or arena, a ring, an edge or border, a circumference, a hem, a mat or round mat, the idea of luck or a gambler’s luck, a turn or rotation.
Well, now, ‘hem’ would confirm Arnold’s translation. But I’m intrigued by ‘an edge or border’ as well as ‘a circumference’. Does this mean that the extra fabric cut during hemming might be used to bind the waist edge (edge or border) and provide casings to be applied for the bents (circumference)? Again,I’ve no idea, but it’s an intriguing possibility. After all, any hem you cut off will be on a slight bias – that makes it perfect for any of these uses.
Assuming you only cut off the bottom of the gores as you hem them, you get this:
Again, this is based on Arnold’s layout. You can see that there is much more waste at the bottom of the front hem than the back. The gores aren’t wider, as the translation suggests, but longer, per Arnold. The precise fate of the extra fabric is not to be known.
The Last Assumption
Arnold’s reproduction uses tucks in the pattern to hold osiers, or bents, to stiffen the skirt. Every image I’ve seen of a farthingale shows bents encased in an applied band. Why?
Well, for the full length of the Alcega farthingale, the length is 49 1/2″. Apply a little trigonometry, and you’ve got a waist to ground measure of 47.3″. That’s.. tall. I have had a client with a 45″ waist to ground measure. I believe she’s 5’11”.
Now, it seems to me, from the information and measurements given, that a fairly clever tailor (without any triginometric formulas) could substitute the waist to ground measurement he needed (plus a hair for the angle) for the 49 1/2″ panels, then follow the rest of the instructions. It’s just easier to sew that way. Alternately, he might make up the pattern, hem it on the client, and use the leavings from the hem to make casings for the bents. Again, it’s easier.
I could throw a lot of maths at this, but the truth is that I just don’t think lazy is anything new to the human species. If there’s an easy way (where you just shorten a length or trim a top) and a hard way (where you have to pregather lines for the large sides of channels), who’s going to take the hard way? Especially when the hard way is less aesthetically pleasing because it’s covered in puckers and creases…. (Yes, this is the ‘gut instinct’ part.)
- By the later 1500s, tailors had a sophisticated knowledge of gores.
- The Alcega diagram relies firstly on measurements listed, and secondly on specific details of the illustration
- The front gore of the farthingale is intended to have a greater angle, while the back gore is intended to be significantly wider at the waist.
- The widths of the gores equalize by the hem.
- the “patterns” in period tailor’s books of the 16th century are more like cutting diagrams with some suggestions about how to assemble the pieces.
- I’ve gone on long enough…
Alcega, Juan de. Tailor’s Pattern Book 1589. 1979. Trans. Cecelia Bainton and Jean Pain. New York: Costume & Fashion Press, 1999.
Arnold, Janet. Patterns of Fashion: The Cut and Construction of Clothes for Men and Women c1560 – 1620. New York: Drama Book Publishers, 1985.
Arnold, Janet. Queen Elizabeth’s Wardrobe Unlock’d. Leeds: W. S. Maney & Son Ltd, 1988.
Mikhaila, Ninya, and Jane Malcolm-Davies. The Tudor Tailor: Reconstructing Sixteenth Century Dress. London: B T Batsford, 2006.