Garment Started June 27th 2005 - Finished November, 2005.
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For comparison, I wrote an article on how to turn Alcega's pattern plate #69 into a ropa using only four measurements.

Research and background

Running costs

Black 80% wool (4 metre @ 89) 356 kr
Black acetate lining (4 metres @ ?) ? kr
Black silk satin (0.15 metre @ 279) 42 kr

Total: 398 kr
Wanting something of a warm winter-wear for my 16th Century wardrobe I found inspiration from my local sewing circle hostess as well as a myriad of Spanish portraits. The Spanish ropa was often made out of black wool and worn as an outer layer for warmth - this is an attempt to make such a garment.

After Double Wars XVIII (May 2005), when I managed to come to the event with a great big cloak and go home without it, I decided I needed more period specific and appropriate outer wear. My biggest periods of interest at this time are the 16th and the early 15th centuries, and I thought it most fun to start on the later period garment first. Inspired, as always, by the lovely Viscountess Helwig I settled quickly on a garment the Spanish called a 'ropa'. This is a term which can roughly be translated to 'loose gown'. I purchased the fabric and put my fingers to work researching on the 'net.

Links of Interest:

Inspirational Images

La dama del armino by Coello Viscountess Helwig


Creating the pattern
Sleeve variations
With research done I set to work creating a pattern. I had just made up a doublet pattern and tested it out in the doublet bodice kirtle (Dress Diary here). Keeping Alcega's pattern book in mind I combined my doublet and petticoat patterns. Placing the two patterns directly on the fabric I drew around it all with chalk using a fairly generous seam allowance. The picture to the left shows how I laid the patterns out and, ignoring the tight fit of a doublet, simply extended the line of the side seam from the armscye of my doublet pattern to the hem of the petticoat pattern. In this way I was able to quickly and easily create a pattern that would be quite well fitted at the shoulders and neck, give the right drape and still be long enough to go over a farthingale. It was quite exciting to see how the pattern pieces ended up looking very similar to the ropa patterns found in Alcega's book.

Next was figuring out how to do the sleeves. I knew I wanted a Spanish round sleeve, so I took the essential measurements of my arms (length, armscye and wrist) and sketched out a shape taken from Alcega directly on the fabric to utilise as much of it as I could. Unfortunately I was somewhat limited and could not make the pattern quite as round as I would have wanted and the pattern looks a little squished in. However, upon making them up this will hardly be noticeable.

This was unfortunately not the end of the sleeve problem. Looking again at my inspirational portraits I realized I needed to slice open the sleeves along the top of the arm. Pondering this problem I created a graphic to show the variations I had in mind. I knew I did not want to split the sleeves in half width-wise as many portraits show, it looks too stiff for me, but I was unsure how I wanted the opening length-wise to look.

From Plan To Action

The seams Going ahead with stitching I used waxed black linen thread in a simple running stitch along all the seams of my shell fabric, excepting the shoulder seam which I did up in a backstitch. After doing this running stitch I folded the seam allowances to either side and used black silk to hold it down. After that I went a little mad and overstitched on both sides of all the seams. It looks very nice though, very much a finished look. Handstitching in wool using silk thread is not exactly an odious task either.

The lining was cut out and, since it is not silk but a modern substitute, I decided to forego the "pleasure" of binding the edges by hand and ran a zig-zag on the machine around all the pattern pieces (the wool fabric of the shell needed no such treatment and was left raw) and then machined all the seams of the lining. Next up was to somehow make shell and lining into one garment. I opted for quite simply doing a running stitch to attach the seam allowances of shell and lining to keep it all together. The front I left open for the time being, waiting for the collar to be finished.

La dama del armino by Coello
Silk lining insufficient
Halving the sleeves
Sleeve linings
The body of my ropa had lining, but what about the collar and sleeves? These are both quite visible parts of a ropa and I decided I could not skimp here. I had, by an insane whim some weeks or months before, bought a small offcut of an acid green silk and when I saw the portrait La dama del armiño by Coello (fourth picture down), I knew this is where I would find use for it. I needed to line my sleeves in the acid green silk! There was only one problem - the cut of silk I had was not quite up to the task of lining the sleeves in their entirety. I decided that if I could use the silk to line up to the slit I wanted along the length on top of the sleeves, they would look stunning and nobody would have reason to go poking at the back of the sleeves anyhow. This prompted a search for some suitable fabric to fill in the gaps. Eventually, I found it and could do my piecing and cut my sleeves in half and start the process of making it all look nice and neat.

The final collar pattern Then came the collar affair. I attempted a pattern in four pieces after some pondering and looking at Alcega. I did a test fitting and attempted to drape a pattern for my collar. The draping experience itself was rather nice, but the sewing up of the collar was an unmitigated disaster. My second attempt was also not quite a success. On the third attempt I proceeded more scientifically and measured the circumference of the neck on the ropa and divided it in four. Drawing on gridded paper I sketched out a two-piece pattern which mirrored would give a four-piece collar. Third time lucky is the term, I think. I stitched the wool up, clipped and pressed the seam allowances on the collar as well as the neckline of the ropa. This resulted in a nicely looking collar from the outside. I then cut out the pattern in black silk satin and lined the collar with this, which rather showed up the acetate lining to be very lack-lustre in comparison. However, since the collar is the only lining to be visible I shall not have to worry about it.

The front closure neatly finished After entirely too much trouble getting the lining to behave nicely around the armscye I turned my attentions to getting the front closure right. My first thought for this was to use buttons and loops, but I opted on hooks and eyes instead. Folding in a seam allowance at the centre front I then stitched on the hooks and eyes and butted the lining up to hide the stitches. Letting it hang up for a few days I then went ahead and evened out the hemline of shell and lining separately.

Adding Bling

Copper trim Cording the sleeves December, 2005 - After the ropa was entirely finished I took another look at it and decided that there was entirely too much black and not enough of the screaming green sleeve-lining. It needed more bling, so I went and found copper coloured trim and cord. The trim I placed down the front opening, as well as twice around the collar and once around the cuffs. The braid was not enough, however, so the cord was then applied to the sleeves. I used a red thread to couch the cord down every half inch or so in a pattern I sketched out with chalk directly on the ropa.

The Result

Trying it on Blinging Ropa Trying the ropa on during the process of hooks and eye addition I thought I looked rather good, and the vivid green sleeves spice the whole thing up quite nicely. Although the ropa is finished for wear, I might come back to this garment and add decoration in the form of laid goldwork.

December, 2005 - To the left is the image before trim and cord was applied, and to the right, after the ropa was so decorated.

Photo Gallery

For images I may not have linked in the diary, close-ups and overviews et cetera please have a look at the photo gallery.

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