Documentation Drafting, Part 2


What’s This?

Second day of working for an hour on my documentation.  I have a lot more to say off the top of my head about my process in interpreting paintings, household accounts, tailors’ pattern books, and the occasional extant garment.  Again my process is to spit it all out first, then make sure that I can back up all my statements (other than stuff like “I did X”) with reference to my sources.

Draft Continues:



Unlike many other cities of this period, there was no tailors’ guild in Florence.  In the fifteenth century, tailors were generally part of the Arte dei rigattieri e linaiuoli e sarti (guild of used cloth/clothing and linen merchants).  Surviving documents from 15th century Florence refer almost exclusively to male tailors, though there are a few elusive references to women working as tailors.  An early fifteenth-century Venetian sumptuary law references both male and female tailors (maestri e maestre).  [Determine what evidence, if any, for how tailors learned their craft.]

A handful of tailors’ pattern books are extant from the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries [List in footnote?].  None of these are from the Italian peninsula but for some aspects of my craft they are the best evidence available.  It seems [add citation] that in order to become a master tailor, a candidate had to be able to demonstrate an ability to draft and cut some set number of styles of garment.  Mathew Gnagy has reconstructed, for one of the Spanish tailors’ books, a proportional measuring system that varies with the height and waist circumference of the individual client [citation].  It’s possible that similar systems were used in Italy though to date no information about what systems were used or what benchmarks were used to demonstrate mastery have turned up in my research.

Where a tailor was being asked to make a new style of garment, household and wardrobe accounts from the Italian peninsula and elsewhere in Western Europe show that the tailor could be provided with lengths of lower-quality cloth in order to test the pattern out [Citation].  More often, however, the tailor was provided only with the fashion fabric as well as any lining materials and expected to be able to produce a garment that fit, or that needed only minimal additional fittings, on the first draft.  This seems to be in keeping with the candidacy requirements mentioned above [out of which tailors’ book?] to draft and cut set styles of garment.

When I drafted and cut this particular kirtle and gown, I did not need to use any practice fabric or do any fittings because I was using a bodice pattern that I had previously drafted and fit with the help of Mistress Issabbella (it being quite difficult to fit a pattern to oneself).  I keep this pattern as pieces of cloth cut in the requisite shape.  [Is there any evidence for doing it this way in period?].  It seems more likely that 16th century tailors would have stored not individual patterns cut in fabric or paper, but instead would have memorized formulas for drafting particular garments using a proportional measuring system.  Mathew Gnagy is purportedly working out a selection of such formulas but has yet to publish his findings.  I may still have to do my own experiments as his focus is later in the sixteenth century than mine, but because both of time constraints on this project and the fact that I already had a working pattern, I did not use any proportional measures on these garments.


There are no extant gowns or kirtles of exactly this time period so I drew on a variety of different sources to determine an appropriate cutting pattern.

  • Examination of the reference painting “Sacred and Profane Love” gives a general indication of how the gown should look, especially with respect to the placement and shape of the neckline and waist seams, but it doesn’t provide information on where or how it is fastened.
  • Examination of a variety of portraits and other paintings from Florence and Venice in the first quarter of the sixteenth century shows that gowns are not fastened at the centre back or side back, and only one instance of a front fastening [include reference pictures]
  • Two extant Florentine gowns of the 1560s, one being the burial garment of Eleanor of Toledo, [Grand?] Duchess of Tuscany, and another thought also to be associated with her, have side back fastenings. These side back fastenings are also shown in paintings from the 1560s.

Because no back or side back fastenings are shown from the relevant time period and only one front fastening, I determined it was most likely that most garments were fastened at the sides under the arm at this time.  This means that both front and back bodice pieces can be cut on the fold.  The kirtle and gown bodices are both cut using the same pattern.


Janet Arnold provides a diagram of the conjectured cutting pattern of the skirts of Eleanora of Toledo’s burial dress.  I have had an opportunity to view this museum exhibit [at what museum?] in person and I am in agreement with her conjectures.  The cutting patterns in Juan de Alcega’s pattern book, approximately 30 years later, are almost exactly the same.  Examination of a variety of portraits and other paintings from Florence and Venice in the first three quarters of the sixteenth century show a skirt shape that does not change much, in contrast to bodice and sleeve styles which change quite frequently.  I therefore followed these slightly later examples of skirt cutting patterns in cutting the skirts of my kirtle and gown.

The kirtle has no train and I therefore cut the skirts at approximately the same length all round, as is shown in some of Juan de Alcega’s patterns.  The gown, like Eleanora of Toledo’s burial dress and certain other of Juan de Alcega’s patterns, has a train.  I followed the oval skirt back shape shown in these patterns [and I was also informed by certain sumptuary laws I read about as to how long a train was allowed to be.]

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