French Farthingale Roll, c. 1600 | Part One: Pattern & Materials

Ball at the Valois court, painting, French School, c, 1580. Musée des Beaux-Arts de Rennes (detail)


  1. French Farthingale Roll Part One: Pattern & Materials

So far I’ve blogged about my reconstruction of two seventeenth-century ‘bodies’, however, I’ve also undertaken two farthingale reconstructions for my PhD as well. One of those reconstructions is what was known during the late-sixteenth and early-seventeenth centuries as a French farthingale roll (smaller versions of the farthingale that I made were also colloquially known as ‘bum-rolls’ and later in the century simply ‘rowls’).

Janet Arnold has discussed the introduction of the French farthingale roll to England, stating that on the 17 March 1577 the English ambassador to Paris, Amyas Paulet, sent a new type of farthingale to Queen Elizabeth I stating that it was “such as is now used by the French Queen and the Queen of Navarre.” Although no description is given, Arnold surmises that it was probably a Spanish farthingale with a padded roll which extended at the hips, giving a bell shape to the skirts, as opposed to a conical one.[1] This padding at the hips became the French farthingale roll and by the start of the seventeenth century these rolls also began to be worn alone.


The pattern

Unlike the Effigy and Filmer bodies that were both reconstructed from patterns made of the surviving garments, accessing an original or observation based pattern of a French farthingale roll is impossible as no French farthingales of any style have survived anywhere in Europe.[2]

Therefore my reconstruction had to take a rather experimental approach whilst still striving to remain historically accurate to the surviving archival materials that rather vaguely describe these garments. The pattern for my French farthingale roll is largely based on one of the only depictions that we have of it in a French/Flemish satirical engraving The Vanity of Women (1600).

The Vanity of Women: Masks and Bustles, Attributed to Maerten de Vos, c. 1600. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

The engraving depicts a tailor’s shop and in the image two women are being dressed in french farthingale rolls. The rolls appear to consist of a round tube that contained a series of vertical casings into which boning or stiffening would have been slotted to give it shape. After being filled with a stuffing, the consequent garment resembled a modern lifebuoy tied around the waist.

My pattern therefore consists of four layers of semi-circular fabric, which resemble the shape of the roll hanging in the top right hand corner of the engraving. There are four pattern pieces as boning channels need to be sewn between two layers. The waist measurement of the pattern pieces is designed to fit the small waist measurement of the previous bodies that I reconstructed.

The Materials

Archival evidence such as wardrobe warrants, inventories and artisan bills reveal that the most common fabrics used to make these rolls (in elite wardrobes) were different types of silk, such as taffeta and damask; so for my reconstruction I decided to use blue silk taffeta. For example, Queen Elizabeth I’s wardrobe warrants reveal that in 1585 the Queen’s farthingale-maker, Robert Sibthorpe, was requested to make “a Rolle of blak taphata with whale bone & bent to it.”[3]

The same archival sources also reveal that the most common materials used to stiffen this style were buckram, bents, wire, tuke (a type of buckram), whalebone (baleen) and wool. Therefore, in order to stiffen the tube I used 12mm wide plastic ‘whalebone’ that mimics the properties of real baleen and real lamb’s wool to pad it out.



[1] Janet Arnold, Queen Elizabeth’s wardrobe unlock’d: the inventories of the Wardrobe of Robes prepared in July 1600, edited from Stowe MS 557 in the British Library, MS LR 2/121 in the Public Record Office, London, and MS V.b.72 in the Folger Shakespeare Library, Washington DC (Leeds: Maney, 1988), p. 122.

[2] A miniature Spanish style of Spanish farthingale survives on a funeral effigy in Spain, as does a pattern for this style in Alcega’s 1580s tailoring manual.

[3] Wardrobe Warrant, 16 April 1585. British Library, MS E 2806, fol. 205r. Available here:


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