Tailoring was serious business in the Middle Ages & Renaissance. They had guild charters, rules, and TESTS. Thankfully, people needed to cram back then, just like today, so there are some surviving tailor’s books.
A Tailor’s book gives pattern layout, so you can make the best use of fabric, for many different types of items – clothes, accessories, house equipment, tents, and even flags. It tells how MUCH fabric is needed for each type of garment, a task often complicated by the different width, depending upon fabric type, and different measuring stick lengths, depending upon place of origin. Exact construction instruction are rarely included, so the modern reenactor just has to do their best.
Thankfully, we don’t have to stumble around blindly. To go with the various tailor’s books (more & more are being discovered, digitized, and analyzed), we can use guild regulations and sumptuary laws, as well as extant garments, to help guide us.
And the wisest modern tailors, in many cases, consult the experts.
Yes, some of the period manuscripts are available online. Download & study them. Then read the books recommended, and so many more details will begin to make sense.
Juan de Alcega‘s book on Geometry, Practice, and Patterns (1580) is in many ways the key book. Rather than just a study document for internal guild use, Alcega managed to get a royal license, and this was the first published work on tailoring and patterns. His incredibly detailed drawings contrast with his relatively vague comments. Many historians use the 1859 translation of the notes into English, and this tailor’s book has been known and widely referred to by costume historians and tailors since that time. This is the source that Janet Arnold often cites. Find it in library near you. If you want a tiny facsimile of the original, look here.. Or just Download for free.
But your better choice may be to purchase Matthew Gnagy‘s book. (Also know as Master Jose.) He has been working with the math for years, and has more books in the pipeline we all want him to finish.
The Modern Maker: Men’s 17th Century Doublets (Volume 1).
The Modern Maker Vol 2: Pattern Manual 1580-1640
The Modern Maker Vol 3: Men’s Breeches
The Modern Maker Vol 4: Women’s Bodice, Skirt, and Doublet
In 1969, a journal article by Ingeborg Petrascheck-Heim mentioned several extant German tailor’s books, including those from Innsbruck, Enns, and Leonfelden. That article doesn’t seem to be available for free, but is located here. Digital images of the Leonfelder Schnittbuch are available.
However, I’d certainly recommend getting your hands on Drei Schnittbucher: Three Austrian Master Tailor Books of the 16th Century, by Katherine Barich and Marion McNealy. I was part of the kickstarter to get this book published, and proud to say so. Each garment is cross referenced with documentary and pictorial evidence. They also have some fun details on their Facebook page. They are working on further tailor’s books that have been uncovered, so the future looks bright for late period German clothing.
The Milanese Tailor’s Handbook, written in the 1570s, and held at the Querini-Stampalia Library in Venice. It was published in A Tailor’s Book, ed. Alessandra Molfino, pub. Fondazione Querini Stampalia in Venice, which is unfortunately not in print. If available, it will likely be as expensive as this one. Fairly low-resolution scans of the fascimiles pages (those that are not under copyright) are available here if you are interested in Italian clothing.
Citations courtesy of WorldCat. If the book is not in any library near you, search for the author/title again, because often there are multiple entries for a single book. Especially for Alcega.
Barich, Katherine, and Marion McNealy. 2015. Drei schnittbucher: three Austrian master tailor books of the 16th century.
Fondazione scientifica Querini Stampalia. 1987. Il libro del sarto della Fondazione Querini Stampalia di Venezia. Modena: Edizioni Panini.(in Italian)
Mottola Molfino, Alessandra. 1987. A tailor’s book: from the Fondazione Querini Stampalia in Venice. Modena, Italy: Edizioni Panini. (in English)
See also – Late Period English Pattern Library