An Elizabethan Man's Cloak

This project was undertaken to create a cloak to be given to a friend at his elevation to the Order of the Laurel. The suit he made himself for his elevation was a hand-sewn late 16th century silk doublet, breeches and jerkin. So, the cloak had to be suitably elegant.

Cloaks were worn by Englishmen of almost any station in late Elizabethan England. Rough, warm woolen cloaks would have been worn by peasants and farmers, while men of the merchant class might have finer wool cloaks that reached to the ground. The gentry often wore decorative short cloaks, not for warmth but for show. The Puritan Englishman Philip Stubbes described this array as follows:

       "They have clokes there also in nothing different from the rest, of dyverse and sundry colors, white, red, tawnie, black, greene, yellowe, russet, purple, violet, and infynite other colors: some of cloth, silk, velvet, taffetie, and such like, wherof some be of the Spanish, French & Dutch fashion: Some short, scarcely reaching to the gyrdlestead, or waist, some to the knee, and othersome trayling uppon the ground (almost) liker gownes than clokes. Then are thei garded with Velvette gardes, or els laced with costly lace, either of golde, silver, or at leaste of silke three or fower fingers broad doune the back, about the skirts, and every where els. And now of late they use to garde their clokes rounde about the skirtes with bables, I should saie Bugles, and other kinde of glasse, and all to shine to the eye. Besides al this, thei are so faced, and withal so lined as the inner side standeth almost in as much as the outside: some have sleeves, othersome have none; some have hoodes to pull over the head, some have none; some are hanged with points and tassels of gold, silver, or silk withal, some without al this. But how soever it be, the day hath been when one might have bought him two clokes for lesse than now he can have one of these clokes made for, they have such store of workmanship bestowed uppon them." [1]


A few details from a painting of a winter landscape illustrate a variety of lengths and styles of cloaks:

HendrickAvercamp-WinterLandscape-Detail1   HendrickAvercamp-WinterLandscape-Detail2
 HendrickAvercamp-WinterLandscape-Detail4  HendrickAvercamp-WinterLandscape-Detail3
Winter Landscape with Ice Skaters, Hendrick Avercamp, c. 1608, Netherlandish, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.



There are quite a few cloaks that survive, allowing us to examine fabrics, decorations and construction details.

 GermanischesNationalMuseum3-crop  VACloak2a-crop
Red, short velvet cloak with gold embroidery, late 16th century, German, Germanisches National Museum. Red satin cloak with silver-gilt strapwork, late 16th century, French, Victoria and Albert Museum. 
 VACloak1a-crop  ma-2383293
Silk cut velvet cloak, late 16th century, Spanish, Victoria and Albert Museum Silk damask cape, c. 1600, Spanish, Los Angeles County Museum


There are also many images in portraits and other artwork that illustrate men wearing cloaks.

 Stalbent-SciencesAndArts-Prado-Detail1  elizaprocession-detail
A Collector's Cabinet (detail), attrib. Hieronymus Francken II, c. 1620, Netherlandish, Private collection.  Queen Elizabeth's Procession to Blackfriar's (detail), Robert Peake, c. 1600, English, Sherbourne Castle.



I will give an overview of my patterning process here. For a more detailed discussion, see Appendix A.

For the pattern, I consulted a number of sources. I began with Juan de Alcega’s Tailor’s Pattern Book[2] from 1589. There are quite a few cloaks of various types – Bohemian cloaks, clerical cloaks, Herreruelo cloaks and travel cloaks. I chose to test several of the Herreruelo cloak patterns, since this seems to relate to a shorter cloak with a standing collar. One of the patterns that I tested was folio 32 – a Herreruelo cloak (long cloak or soldier's cassock) of silk[3]. This pattern was for a shorter cloak, about 29” long. I drafted the pattern in a miniature scale, cut it out and sewed it together. The modern notations for this type of cloak indicate that it was cut as a full circle, but folded in two to give it more substance. [4]


Tailor’s Pattern Book, Juan de Alcega, p. 30



Sample for f. 32 - drawn

Sample for f. 32 - cut



Sample for f. 32 - pieced

Sample for f. 32 - sewn


This type of pattern was extremely efficient in the use of fabric – it created a circular cloak shape from a rectangular piece of fabric with very little waste. In order to accomplish this, the cloak was pieced in areas that appear odd to the modern eye. This piecing can be seen in a number of extant cloaks, including the embroidered crimson velvet cloak that was one of my inspiration images (below, left).

However, one of the other extant cloaks – the cut velvet cloak in the Victoria and Albert Museum – was made from numerous wedge-shaped segments, such that the seams run vertically rather than at block angles through the cloak (below, right). I decided to use this patterning instead of one of the Alcega patterns.



Red, short velvet cloak with gold embroidery, late 16th century, German, Germanisches National Museum.

Silk cut velvet cloak, late 16th century, Spanish, Victoria and Albert Museum


This cloak was evaluated and patterned by Janet Arnold in her book Patterns of Fashion[5]. This cloak is made from ten panels, with the nap running upwards in some panels and downwards in others. The wedge shapes make particularly efficient use of space when half of the panels are rotated 180 degrees so that they fit together closely.

I scaled up the pattern to its full size, using non-fusible interfacing with a 1” grid pattern throughout. This allowed the Janet Arnold pattern to easily be counted and scaled onto the grid.  [Note: In the Elizabethan period, paper (or fabric) patterns would rarely have been used, since those materials were expensive. That is why a pattern book such as Alcega would have been used – a few key measurements would allow the tailor to draft a pattern directly onto the fabric with chalk[6]. However, in our modern world, we have patterning material easily available, and I was working from a scaled pattern rather than a pattern book, so I chose not to attempt drafting directly onto the fabric.] I shortened the pattern slightly, in order to make a shorter cloak.

JanetArnold-scalePatternJanet Arnold, Patterns of Fashion: The Cut and Construction and Men’s and Women’s Clothes 1560-1620, item 32, p 95.




Full-scale pattern – cloak panels

Full-scale pattern - lining



With the pattern done, it was time to select fabric. Many of the extant cloaks are made of either silk satin or silk velvet. Silk satin is particularly difficult to find modernly – it is primarily made for wedding dresses and evening gowns, so the colors that I found were not what I was looking for. I got some samples of silk velvet (which is actually silk pile on a rayon ground), but again the color and feel were not what I had hoped for. I also examined samples of silk taffeta, and found it to be too shiny and not of the texture I was looking for.

Stubbes’ quote from Anatomie of Abuses (above) made it clear that a cloak with pretty much any combination of fabric, color, length and decoration would have been at home in late Elizabethan England. So, I continued looking and found a high-quality 100% wool fabric that was woven in a sateen weave (this is the same smooth-surfaced weave as satin, but that term is generally only applied to silk). There was not a particularly obvious difference in appearance based on nap, which would work well with my pattern, in which half of the pieces are “upside-down” compared to the other half. The color was a medium-tone olive green. Looking at samples of yarn dyed with period dyes, it seems like these yellowish greens were more common than a forest green, so I decided to use this fabric.

For the lining, several of the extant cloaks are described as being lined in linen, so I chose to do the same. I also felt that a less-slippery lining might be a benefit to avoid having the cloak slip from the shoulders too easily. The lemony yellow linen that I found also falls easily into the range of naturally achievable dye colors.

colors04TNYellow dyes from weld, buckthorn berries and Dyer's greenweed


Green dyes from overdyeing yellow with woad, or from dyeing with nettles

British natural dye samples – from Historic Enterprises


Appendix B contains a list of the supplies that I used for this project.


Construction Techniques

I traced the pattern directly from the book in order to make a miniature sample version, and laid out the pieces on a piece of sample fabric that was the equivalent of the 2/3 ell (22”) width that a period silk would have been.  I traced the patterns onto the layouts with and without nap (i.e. with and without rotating half of the pieces). The version without nap (with pieces alternating direction rather than all the same) was considerably more fabric efficient, and was the approach taken on the extant garment, so that is the method that I used.


Sample for Janet Arnold item 32 – layout drawn without and with nap


Since my fabric was 60” wide, rather than the period width of 22”, my actual placement was somewhat different than that shown here. However, the nap of each piece corresponded to that in Janet Arnold’s original pattern. The size of the pieces for the lining means that the linen fabric must have been woven in wider widths. I laid the lining pieces onto the 60” wide linen fabric and cut them as illustrated.

cloakPatternLayout  cloakPatternLiningLayout


I sewed the construction seams using running stitch. I worked to keep the stitches as small and even as possible while still maintaining the running stitch style (with the needle angling up and down only slightly) rather than switching to a stab stitch (with the needle being perpendicular to the fabric for each stitch).  Lining-runningStitchSeam  
For the linen lining, I folded the raw edges under and used a fell stitch to secure each folded edge, in order to minimize any fraying.


The cloak sections were sewn together using a running stitch as well, though it was more difficult to maintain a small stitch length with the thicker fabric. I decided I did not need to treat the raw edges of the wool, since they seemed less susceptible to fraying, and would be enclosed in the lining in any case.


Further details on the construction process can be found in Appendix C.




For the embroidery design, I looked at extant cloaks as well as extant books of embroidery patterns. Some of the extant cloaks had embroidery and applique that I used as inspiration, such as the couched cord on one cloak examined by Janet Arnold and the applied satin edged with couched cord in another[7]. The embroidery on the second of these was described as being "acid yellow" rather than metallic gold, which I felt was also an appropriate choice for this cloak. So, I chose a medium golden yellow color for the silk fabric and embroidery thread. 

 GermanischesNationalMuseum-embroidery  GermanischesNationalMuseum2-embroidery

Detail of embroidery on a crimson velvet compass cloak, from Janet Arnold Patterns of Fashion, p. 34.

Detail of applied satin and couched cord on a short cloak, from Janet Arnold Patterns of Fashion, p. 34.


Since this cloak was made to celebrate the occasion of a friend’s elevation to the order of the Laurel, I wanted the embroidery to be laurel leaves. I looked at some extant embroidery design books, including a book of embroidery and lace patterns by Allesandro Paganino[8]. There were some patterns that included repeating, scrolling leaf motifs, but nothing that resembled a laurel leaf.

 LibroPrimo2a  LibroSecondo2a

Image from Libro Primo, from Il Burato: libro de recami by Allesandro Paganino

Image from Libra Secondo, from Il Burato: libro de recami by Allesandro Paganino


A wreath of laurel leaves was often used in portraiture to indicate that the sitter was learned or artistic, but I was unable to find any embroidery patterns from the period that included what appeared to be laurel leaves.

 Dante Luca  MichaelDrayton-LaurelWreath-crop

Dante, Luca Signorelli, part of affresco della cappella di San Brizio, Duomo, Orvieto, c. 1500, Italian.

Michael Drayton, Unknown Artist, 1599, English, National Portrait Gallery.


Since the laurel leaf was my desired motif, regardless of whether it had specifically been used in period, I developed a designed based on illustrations of actual laurel wreathes as well as modern laurel wreath embroidery designs. Most representations of laurel leaves have a stem running straight down the middle, rather than a winding stem, so I incorporated that into my design. The even spacing of leaves on each side of the central stem made for a simple, consistent, and yet recognizable representation of the laurel.

If I had been using a more complex design, I would have liked to try some of the pouncing and tracing methods illustrated in the period embroidery pattern book. However, my pattern was simple enough that it really only required an occasional measurement and mark.


Many period illustrations of embroidery show the work being stretched on a frame to be worked. I did use a frame and a stand for stretching and supporting the collar while I worked the embroidery on it. However, it really didn’t work out to attach the cloak to a frame while it was being worked, so I simply worked with it unsupported.


Additional details on the embroidery can be found in Appendix D.

Il Burato: libro de recami by Allesandro Paganino


The final task was to create the ties to close the cloak. I chose to do fingerloop braiding with the same silk thread as I used for the couching. I chose an eight-loop braid, since it would have a nice thickness – neither too fine nor too thin for tying a cloak closed. The pattern is taken from an extant manuscript of miscellaneous information, dated 1655, including patterns for fingerloop braids[9]. A similar version appears in an earlier manuscript from the 15th century, with the bows being reversed (twisted) as they are moved from one hand to the other[10]. These are the original directions.

A lace corduve of eight bowes.  Take eight bowes, four of one colour and foure of another, and be all that one colour upon that one hand, and thother colour upon thother hand, and then shall A right change with D. left, and B.right with C. left, and C. right with B: left, and D. right with A. left and begin againe. [11]


I used a single color rather than four bows in each of two colors. I then created a tassel at one end of each braid, and sewed the other end onto the inside of the cloak where the collar meets the front edge.



This is the final completed cloak – displayed on my dress dummy tied around the neck, and as worn by my friend tied across the chest.

cloak-completed-front   cloak-completed-back 
ercc-cloak-front  ercc-cloak-back



[1] Anatomie of Abuses in Shakespeares England, Philip Stubbes, 1583, compiled by Drea Leed.

[2] Libro de Geometria, Pratica y Traҫa by Juan de Alcega, Madrid, 1589, translation published as Tailor’s Pattern Book.

[3] Alcega, p. 30.

[4] Alcega, p. 63.

[5] Patterns of Fashion: The Cut and Construction of Men and Women’s Clothes 1560-1620, Janet Arnold, pp. 35 and 95.

[6] The Modern Maker, Mathew Gnagy, p. 36.

[7] Arnold, p. 34.

[8] Il Burato: libro de recami by Allesandro Paganino, 1527.

[9] Natura Exenterata or Nature Embowelled, The making of laces by Elizabeth Serene, 1655.

[10] Harley MS 2320, folio 64r and 64v, also discussed in Take V Bowes, Departed, Elizabeth Berns and Gina Barrett, p. 82.

[11] Ibid