Pattern Details

I began with several patterns for cloaks from Juan de Alcega’s Tailor’s Pattern Book[1] 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. Alcega also provided yardage equivalents for this type of cloak for various widths of fabric[2]. I initially thought that these would create a full-circle cloak, but later realized that the full circle of fabric was likely intended to be folded in half to create a self-lined cloak[3].

The measurements on the patterns in Alcega are given in ells. Alcega describes the measurement system, where the ell is divided into fractional measurements as shown:

1/12 ell


1/8 ell


1/6 ell


1/4 ell


1/3 ell


1/2 ell


5/8 ell


3/4 ell


5/6 ell


7/8 ell


1 ell


These units can be combined using notation similar to Roman Numerals, where a smaller unit added in front of a larger one means that it is subtracted (eg. ob is 1/8 less than 1, or 7/8)[4]. The Castillian ell was equivalent to a modern measure of 33”[5], which allows these measurements to be translated to modern inches. It is not necessary to translate all of the fractions, however – a period tailor would have used a bara stick, which would have been the equivalent of a modern yardstick. It would have been an ell long, with all of the fractional measures marked. I made one of these out of twill tape for my full-scale measuring, as well as a miniature one for some small-scale tests of patterns.

I decided to test folio 32 – a Herreruelo cloak of silk[7]. This pattern was for a shorter cloak – 7/8 ell (ob), equivalent to about 29”. It uses 4 5/6 ells of fabric that is 2/3 ells wide – the standard width for silk at the time.


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




Sample for f. 32 - drawn

Sample for f. 32 - pieced

Sample for f. 32 - sewn


This type of pattern is extremely efficient in the use of fabric – it creates 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. 


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


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. I decided to use this patterning instead of one of the Alcega patterns.


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[8]. 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. 

My scale patterns from Alcega had shown me that the length of cloak patterns varied widely, and I knew that I wanted a shorter cloak. The Janet Arnold pattern was slightly longer than I preferred, so I adjusted it.

To choose a new length, I consulted Alcega, and chose the 7/8 ell length from folio 32. Using my bara tape, I measured down ob (7/8 ell) from the neck edge all the way around the cloak. This actually cut more from some areas than others, since this pattern was made to be worn over the shoulders and therefore the front and back were shorter than the sides to drape correctly. Since I mostly intended this cloak to be worn draped over one shoulder, I was satisfied with this shape although once it was constructed, I did end up adjusting the bottom edge slightly so that it was not too uneven were it to be worn over both shoulders.





Full-scale pattern – cloak panels

Full-scale pattern - lining

Appendix A Footnotes

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

[2] Alcega p. 58

[3] Alcega p. 63

[4] Alcega pp. 17-20

[5] The Modern Maker, Mathew Gnagy, p. 17.

[6] Alcega p. 32

[7] Alcega p. 30

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