Making a 16th-Century Leather Jerkin: Research

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.)

leatherjerkinMor

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:

Jerkin
1660 definition of jerkin
Cuera
1660 Cuera leather jerkin 1660 Cuera Cow Leather
Cordovano
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.

References

http://blog.museumoflondon.org.uk/leather-jerkin-well-examined/

http://garb4guys.blogspot.com/search/label/Leather%20Jerkin

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