Two Spanish 13th century outfits

This was a project long time coming. 20 years after Ingeborg, Arnaut and I, had the idea to have a 13th century Spanish themed party in the medieval group Nylöse, I  finally made not only one, but two 13th century Spanish outfits: A more luxurious one with a silk saya encordata and a silk pellote, and one version with a wool saya encordata.

Everything on this outfit is hand sewn.


Spain is a wonderful place if you want to have lots of sources for clothing and life in the 13th century.There are lots of period images of clothing, and there are preserved garments, there are cookbooks, books of music to sing and play, and there is of course Alfonso X's "Book of games", so you can be period in everything you do at an event.


Being plus size, with 36 G cup size I thought that I needed to work on the construction of the shift, to give some of the support - it turned out that the saya encordata does that just fine on its own. But the shift has extra fabric hand quilted to it on the inside, as a sort of lining that forms a very low cut top. It also has lacing in front to close it, but since I can pull it over my head as it is I decided to sew the front shut too.It is all hand sewn from linen.

The embroidery on the sleeves is made in cotton yarn. Silk, or even wool, would probably have been the period choice, since they take dyes so much better than vegetable fibres, especially linen. But cotton is actually not that hard to dye, and cotton was both grown and woven in Spain in the 13th century, so I could make some kind of argument for using it. But it's really because I already had the yarn, from thrift stores, and because I want to be able to wash my underwarm in hot water. 

I don't have either the eyesight or the patience to make counted thread embroidery, so I used water soluble aida weave as a guidance for the embroidery. The embroidery is extremely simple brick stitching, since I saw it used on some 13th century German textiles when I was looking around for period embroidery stitches.

My inspiration was this illumination, which you can see more of below. I have not made the embroidery ove rthe chest, mostly because my saya encordata is more covering than hers.

Saya encordata(s)

So I made two different saya encordatas (laced sayas). Since the model was new for me I felt the need to try my pattern in somethign cheaper than silk, so I started with a wool version. I am also as obsessed with horisontal stripes as the people in 13th century Spain apparently were.

13th century illumination.

Preserved striped silk from the Monastery of las Huelgas in Burgos, now at the Cleveland Museum of art.

The cut of my saya encordatas are based on this preserved one from the monastery of las Huelgas in Burgos, in Castile. It belonged to Queen Eleanor of Castile, who died in 1244.

Here's a link to another saya encordata from las Huelgas, where you really see the shaped gore on the closed side of the saya.

It was pretty tricky to get the stripes aligned between the rectangular pices and the (sort of) triangular gores, but it was do-able - if you stretch, and pin, and sew it by hand and from the right side.

Like in the original the gores are not perfectly triangular, but more rounded at the top. It is visible here where the saya is lying on my day bed.

After all, I need space for my hips :)

The lacing on both sayas are done by sewing the top fabric and a facing togeher at intervals, which is my interpretation of how it was done on the preserved saya - however, neither Clothing the Past nor Vestiduras ricas: el Monasterio de las Huelgas y su época, 1170-1340 gives any details of how it was done, so this is only conjecture based on the images shown above.

The silk saya is made very much like the wool one, except that I made the skirt wider by widening teh gores. Silk taffeta is much stiffer than wool so my boobs get sort of crushed - it's not uncomfortable, I'm just not used to being this flat chested ;)

Here are some more 13th century images of saya encordatas. They could be both sleeveless and with sleeves. All these images are from a manuscript of Alfonso Xs "Book of games".

Red sleeveless saya encordata, blue pellote and blue cloak on the woman to the left. The woman to the right have a more general medieval outfit with a pink gown with gold trim.

The woman to the left is a little bit unclear, but she might be wearing a dark green saya with sleeves, and a matching cloak, but I need a better photo to see this. The one on the right has a white shift with embroidery, a red saya, red pellote with white trim and a red cloak, probably lined with vair.

The woman to the right wears a red saya encordata with sleeves and gold trim along the arms and around the wrists. She has a light blue pellote with striped trim, and no cloak. The woman to the left wears some kind of Muslim dress.

The woman to the right wears a white shift with black trim, a pinkish saya encordata and a light blue pellote with white and black trim.

This woman wears a sleeved saya, it is unclear if it is tight and laced or not, and a green pellote and cloak, both with white and black trim.

Here we see a white shift which only trim is two rows of black tape or cord at the sleeves. The saya has no visible lacing, but is very tight, and the pellote is a greyish blue with white and black trim.

One woman and at least one man, probably the other one too, judging from the fit, wear a saya encordata. The woman furthest to the left might be wearing a looser tunic in pink with her blue pellote, but the woman playing wears a white shift with embrodiered or woven trim, a red, sleeveless saya encordata, a blue pellote, and a red cloak, draped over her lap. 

I have this far only seen men's saya encordatas with sleeves, and there is also a preserved example of this type of saya encordata, the one that belonged to Don Fernando de la Cerda. This garment is often called and aljuba in literature, but it has the same cut and lacing.

The preserved silk brocade saya encordata from the las Huelgas monastery in Burgos had a matching pellote (a sleeveless surcoat).

However, as you could see from the illuminations above tthere are also examples with sayas and pellotes maade from differetn,. often constrasting fabric, just as you see with tunics and surcoats in Europe north of the Pyrenees/Alps. However, the the matching sets seem to be more popular in Spain and Italy than further north. I used striped silk tafffeta from for the pellote, and while it was less complicated to align the stripes on the pellote than on the tight saya, it still took some patience, and sewign from the right side.

The brocade pellote shown above was lined with rabbit fur. I actually have a white rabbit fur coat that used to belong to my mother, and which is older than me. However, even if the fur is in good shape for being so old, there's no saying how long it will remain so, and if it's one thing that I hate more than sewing fur it is removing dried out fur which crumbles into fragments.
I could have used fake fur, slightly less annoying, but I don't like using fake fur when I am hand sewing and using real silk taffeta, it just feels wrong. 

So I decided to use wool instead, after looking at some other garments from las Huelgas, which apparently were lined in wool.

Both as a nice detail, and to protect the fabrics I sewed a cord to the hem of the pellote. 

I think it is interesting that you see the sideless surcoats in Spain c. 100 years before they become popular in the rest of Europe.


Headwear was one of the things that really drew me to 13th century Spain. Because a lot of it is really insane - you could see some of that in the images from the Libro de los juegos above. Which is where I first got enthusiastic about piling rows of fabric ruffles on my head.

But there is more. My main inspiration were these sculptures. Sculptures are lovely, because you can really get the three-dimensinal effect. And compared to 13th century art you really see how they are constructed.

Image from this blog.

Image from this blog

These two are from the cathedral in Burgos, but were uploaded to Pinterest, so I have no site link.

From Burgos there is a preserved piece of fabric with a woven in ruffle which probably was a part of a wrapped headdress. 

Images taken from this blog.

Åsa Martinsson, has reconstruncted 14th century frilled veils based on how these were woven, as you can see in her blog (In Swedish, here's a link to the English pdf-version).

However, if you look at for example this statue (and actually most of the ones above) it is highly likely that there were also versions where a stripof fabric was gathered and then sewn to another strip of fabric.

There is also a veil from Burgos showing a pleated or gathered frill sewn to the striped veil. 

Image taken from this blog.

So it appears that both methods were used, and I think that it would be easier to get the very tight ruffles shown on many of the statues with the latter one. I made mine from cotton tape sewn to a strip of cotton. I used double box pleats, since it is easy to get the "figure eight" ruffles that way, but next time I will gather the ribbon instead, like 16th and 17th century ruffs were made. As you can see, my ruffles didn't get small enough.

The strip is 4,5 metres long, which gives a modest version of the headdress, and the ruffles took almost 25 metres of cotton tape. The sewing was done while listening to audio books, bu the starching and shaping was done while I attended the Association of Dress Historian's new research conference. NOT while I was presenting, but whebn others were speaking, like here, where Josefine Kilner from the Röhsska museum is talking about recycled fashion.

It took some space to dry it ;)

When I wear it I just start wrapping it around my head, pusing the rows upward as I add another one.

I need both a muchlonger strip and more practice to reach the truly insane heights of some of the examples, but it is a start.

And then I can make this:

Images from this blog.

Stripes! Coloured frills! Is it wrong of me to think about a rainbow coloured one?

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