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Ropa according to Alcega

Alcega layout Thanks to a local class held about pattern layout according to Alcega I was able to copy plate #69. This was one of my sources of inspiration for making my own ropa. Someone commented on that garment, and I opined that they could make their own ropa in four measurements and a couple of hours of machine work. Well, once I said that, I figured it was best to pony up, so I took out my Alcega plate and added a few notes. The following is how You too can make your own period correct Spanish ropa. For those who know how, this pattern works for hand-stitching as well as machine stitching.

Measurements to take
A = Measure from the side of your neck out to the point of your shoulder.
B = Measure from the top of the shoulder straight down (ontop of bust etc) to the floor.
C = Measure around the chest at nipple level (or wherever you are largest) add 4 inches (10 cm).
D = Measure from top of shoulder to point where you measured C.
E = B - D

Now look at the diagram which is copied directly from Juan Alcega's pattern book (for interest the measurements he gave are marked and calculated in cm). This is a layout on the fabric folded double. It works fairly well, for a normally built person, but substitute your own measurements if it differs greatly.

For the neckline, cut out a shallow dip in back and slightly more in front (see diagram)
For the sleeve, the straight edge is the cuff, the curved edge marked m is the sleevehead and the seam goes up the underside of the arm.

Making it up

The way you do this is fold your length of fabric, approximately twice as long as your measurement (B), double so it looks like the rectangle in the diagram. Alcega's pattern is laid out on 60 inch (~150 cm) wide fabric folded in half, conveniently, most fabrics sold today are also 60 inches (~150cm) wide.

Starting from one end, on the fold, measure up to B + 2 inches (5 cm). Mark this point. Also mark the distance E + 2 inches (5 cm) from the end, then draw the horizontal line C/4 on the back.

Continue in the same fashion marking out the measurements you have according to the diagram. The angle of the line marked (E) depends on how wide your fabric is, and can be adjusted by moving the front and back pieces relative to each other (closer together or more likely further apart). To maximise hem width, measure out the distance E + 2 inches (5 cm) in a straight line at whatever angle hits the other edge of the fabric.

For the sleeve, measure around the widest point of your arm and make sure that this measurement + 2 inches (5 cm) corresponds to the curved edge of the sleeve pattern marked m. Adjust the armscye to fit this as well.

A collar can be as simple as a straight or slightly curved rectangle to the same length as the dips cut to form a neckline. On other slides Alcega has collar patterns in four parts, to create the flared look. See my ropa's collar pattern for an example. Cut this piece (or these pieces) out from the scraps of cloth left over from the larger pattern pieces.

Cut out all pieces in good quality cloth, I recommend wool, and a lining of your choice, I recommend silk or a silk-substitute that fits your wallet.

Separate the front halves, lay them right sides together on the back panel. Sew up side seams and shoulder seams on cloth and lining separately. You should now have two ropas, one of cloth and one of lining. Press open seams, and finish them in whatever manner you prefer.

Then match shell and lining up right sides together and stitch around the front opening from hem up, around the neckline and down the other front. Turn right sides out and press. To add bling and neaten things off, add a line of trim down the front, simultaneously topstitching the seam, making sure to roll the lining to the inside so as not to show. Or topstitch and then add trim. A line of trim down the front can also be used to hide stitches used to sew on hooks and eyes on the inside as front closure. To close the ropa in front you could also opt for silk ties (so called points), or frogs ending in loops and buttons/toggles.

The type of sleeves that goes with a ropa are called Spanish round sleeves. They were very often open along the top of the arm. If you so wish, cut the sleeves in half in a straight line from top to bottom, like this. The back seam can be closed up or open at intervals. Depending on look you can bagline each half of the sleeves, turning through at the sleevehead, and whipstitch the halves together right sides together for 1.5 inch at the cuff and sleevehead, and turn right sides out. Catch the underarm seam at intervals, decorate with buttons, ouches or add points to tie together. Leave top seam open, or similarly caught together depending on your tastes. Some variations can be found here, though they are by no means the only ones - find a portrait to copy and go crazy. To add bling to the sleeves you might consider trim around all edges and seams, tabs at the shoulder seam decorated with trim, or a fancy lining that will really stand out.

One period way to add sleeves was to finish off the armscye and sleevehead separately and then whipstitch the sleeve into place. Bias tape can be used to finish these two edges neatly. Or you can turn the ropa inside out and match up the sleeves, right side out, from inside, sew around the armscye and finish the seam off on the inside. If the sleevehead is larger around than the armscye, gently gather the sleeve at the top of the shoulder. If the sleevehead is smaller than the armscye, leave the bottom half unattached. Neither case is a disaster as long as your arm fits in the sleeve.

The collar can be finished separately. If it is a single piece, bagline and turn right sides out, add trim if you want. If you want the collar to be sturdier and stand up, add interlining. After it is made up whipstitch collar into neckline. At this point it becomes important that your measurements are accurate so that collar and neckline match in length.

Leave the ropa to hang for a couple of days to let the hem drop, then finish off the hem in whatever manner you prefer, separately, or together. You may want to add a line of trim around the hem as well. The Spanish liked their bling.

N.B. When I say trim in the above I mean trim, or couched cord, or embroidery, or goldwork in whatever manner catches your fancy.

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