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Long have I coveted Scott Perkin’s leather jerkin, which is based off the jerkin at the Museum of London and written about in Janet Arnold’s “Pattern of Fashion”.

Scott's Leather Jerkin

Scott’s Leather Jerkin

Leather Jerkin from the Museum of London

Leather Jerkin from the Museum of London

But I am not a leather worker*, I didn’t want to get a very nice hide and ruin it with my amateur attempts. So I filed the idea away in the back of my head until one night I came across some leather on eBay.

dark brown leather for the jerkin

It was cheap and looked like there was enough to make a jerkin, one press of the buy now button and I good. The blitheful glow of a new project set in. I started planning out how I wanted it to look, what buttons I would need, to slash or not to slash?

But then I realized an important question needed answering, did women ever wear leather jerkins?

The common assumption is that it’s a male garment with origins as armor, and possibly evolved into the 17th-century buff coat. (I am not an armor historian if this is incorrect please let me know.)


In “Patterns of Fashion”, Arnold mentions:

“Alcega gives pattern diagrams of some petticoats or skirts (‘saya’) with ‘a jerkin, a little cassock such as women use in Spain’ as Minsheu translates ‘sayuelo’; others are with a ‘cuera’, translated by Minsheu as ‘a Spanish leather jerkin’. The latter is a bodice which has apparently taken its name from the leather from which it was once made.”

The diagram referenced in the quote

Saya y cuera de pano
Language is a living thing, the meaning of words change. In my look through the English translation of Alcega’s book, I found some of the translations questionable, but I am inclined to agree. Paño or cloth, being mentioned in the layout means it is not being made from leather.


Lexicon Tetraglotton, an English-French-Italian-Spanish Dictionary 1660 lists the following:

1660 definition of jerkin
1660 Cuera leather jerkin 1660 Cuera Cow Leather
1660 cordovano


Part 2: Digging through some Spanish and English Inventories.


*I did make a leather jerkin a long time ago out of chrome tanned suede cut from skirts from the thrift store. I looked like a badass female Iago in it, but I’ve learned a great deal about sewing since then.




The Mauritshuis collection Anthonis Mor van Dashorst (and studio), Portrait of a Man, 1561

Libro de Geometria, Pratica, y Traça

Lexicon Tetraglotton, an English-French-Italian-Spanish Dictionary 1660




Originally published at Centuries-Sewing. You can comment here or there.

Date: 2016-04-14 04:52 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] pinkdiamond.livejournal.com
I have pulled a huge number of garments for Spanish inventories and there are definitely leather named garments and I am pretty sure at least one was related to cordovano. There are a few though that seem to be related to Moorish terms so may mean a different garment all together. I've been trying to find a way to put it all in to a database, but it's a few thousand pages worth! Also some women owned male garments- possibly saved from a passed spouse or parent but they are listed. Fairly regularly!
Alcega et al really only cared about shell fabrics, not even linings and leather/fur goods were got from other tradespeople which may be why there are none listed in the manuals :)

Date: 2016-04-14 08:18 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] centuriessewing.livejournal.com
I've been pulling from what I can find online, in my next post I'm going to organize some of what I found in wills along with my very rusty Spanish translations.

My working assumption is cordovano is leather? It used to mean a type of goat leather according to some online dictionaries.

In one will there is a section of cueras and jubons listed together with none of them being leather. I need to dig into if cuera replaces jubon or sayo at some point, or if it became a shorthand name for outer garments.

Yup Alcega was rather brief in what he wrote, I haven't checked the other books yet so see if cuera pops up.

From a pure data nerd pov, what do you have the giant list saved in?

Date: 2016-04-14 10:00 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] clothsprogs.livejournal.com
"I am inclined to agree. Paño or cloth, being mentioned in the layout means it is not being made from leather."

Me too - especially as the cutting layout is obviously for cloth, not a leather hide.


Date: 2016-04-15 02:54 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] starlightmasque.livejournal.com
What an interesting post! Thank you!


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