Pattern from the book Drei Schnittbucher web

Austrian Master Tailors from the 16th century

Manuscripts containing Tailors’ patterns from the 16th century may not be that rare as they were used to help apprentices to pass their exams and become master tailors. However, they are often overlooked in libraries. Now three have been transcribed and fully edited.

Drei Schnittbücher CoverDrei Schnittbücher. Three Austrian Master Tailor Books of the 16th century.
Ed and translated by Katherine Barich and Marion McNealy.
Nadel und Faden Press 2015
ISBN 978-0-692-47245-3

Clothes from the 16th century have very rarely survived. Furthermore, most of the extant pieces are royal or elite origin. However, there exist a few tailors’ patterns books, which details the look and construction of more modest costumes, worn by burghers and well-to-do artisans.

Recently three such Austrian manuscripts were prepared for edition. It appears that these master tailors were not only responsible for making clothes and liturgical garments, but also for sewing tents, saddles, covers and flags.

The three manuscripts were created by tailors from three different cities in Austria, but for a similar purpose: to help apprentices to study and pass the exams as a master tailor. Perhaps they were also presented to customers in order to get a sense of what precisely they wanted.

In each of the three books, the largest number of items were reserved for men. Perhaps the construction of well-fitting jackets were more complicated than sowing dresses for woman, which might be accomplished at home by dexterous women. The major part consists of patterns for rocks, jackets and capes designed to be worn by burghers. However, clothes for ceremonial coats as well as servants may also be found.

The manuscripts have been transcribed and translated into English. To assist the modern reader, additional information has been included to explain the historical context of the manuscripts and the different garments. Also included are: pattern diagrams, detailed descriptions of the cut and style, illustrations and paintings plus photos of extant museum pieces where this has been possible. It also contains detailed chapters on fabrics and the sumptuary laws, which governed the art of fashion in the 16th century.

The three manuscripts come from Enns in Upper Austria (c. 1590), Leonfelden ( end of 16th century) and Innsbruck (c. 1544 – 68).

This is a very interesting publication, which beautifully complements the growing literature on fashion and textiles in the 16th century.

Karen Schousboe