Bergdala Spinnhus

Ropa de letrado - a Spanish academic dress from 1589

or
on trying to interpret an old pattern, without having seen a living example


It is believed that Libro de Geometria, Pratica y Traça is the first published pattern book in the western world. It was written by Juan de Alcega, and was published in Madrid 1589. One copy of the book exists in Victoria and Albert Museum in London.
It was published again in 1979, now with the title Tailor's Pattern Book (ISBN 0-903585-31-6). The book is part facsimile, part translations and comments.
The book contains a pattern for a "Ropa de Letrado", which is translated to "a learned man's gown". Since I work with academic dress, I could not resist trying to make one.
This is what the pattern page looks like, text and all:
the pattern page

The first problem was to understand the pattern - which piece is which? The pattern pieces were identified:
pattern page with pieces identified

Then I had to understand the letters and markings. The book contains a table to convert the letters both to "bara" (a Castilian measure - one bara is 85 cm) and to centimeters.

Next problem was how to assemble the pieces, especially the sleeve.
Nowhere could I find a picture of a Ropa of this model, but there is a drawing of a similar one in Janet Arnold's Patterns of Fashion 1520-1620 (ISBN 0-333-38284-6). The one in the drawing is also spanish, from 1618. Comparing the pieces it is only the hood that differs significantly.

drawing of a similar robe
the hood is very small
Alcega's hood is much smaller, it can barely be put over the head.
Arnold writes that "the seam [of the sleeve] is put towards the back of the armhole".
From the drawing it can be seen that the upper sleeve forms a large puff, which means the lower part has to be hitched up. No matter how I "hitch" - the sleeve is still unreasonably long. I shortened it a lot, but it is still very long.

The sleeve puff is seen to the right.
detail of sleeve puff
detail of yoke, back view
The yoke is wider than most shoulders.
I cheated on the width, too, to get better use from the fabric I had. In my Ropa the hem is just 460 cm around - if I have understood Alcega's measurements it should have been 567 cm.

To the right is pictured Prospero (from Shakespeare's The Tempest) wearing my Ropa de Letrado. He also has a glass wand. (Ariel in the background.)
(See more pictures from the exhibition "Shakespirations" at clothing for fun)
Prospero clad in the Ropa, front view
Prospero clad in the Ropa, back view

Bergdala Spinnhus
Bergdala 27
360 51 Hovmantorp
Sweden
kerstin@bergdalaspinnhus.com

www.bergdalaspinnhus.com