16th Century, Costumes, Elizabethan, Leather Jerkin, Research

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.)


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




2 thoughts on “Making a 16th-Century Leather Jerkin: Research

  1. I have a star and heart punch sitting ready for use, but I just got done moving and I’m still finding things again. I was gifted some light weight leather that I’m going to use, I may interface it to give it a bit more weight which will work fine for version 1.

    I’m still learning about leather weights and hide sizes so I haven’t decided on anything else yet.

  2. So… What have you decided? Also, what kind of leather did you buy?

    Hobby Lobby had single leather punches on clearance for $2.15 each so I bought a couple 38th some nebulous idea of making a leather jerkin (more likely a Landsknecht wams really) for the husband.

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