You are here

Mathematical Treasure: Practical Geometry for Tailors

Frank J. Swetz (The Pennsylvania State University)

Little is known of the Spanish tailor Juan de Alcega (fl. 1580) except that he left posterity a fascinating geometry book: Libro de geometria pratica y traça (The Book of Practical Geometry and Tailoring), published in 1589. In this book, he discussed the most practical and economic geometric tracings to lay out patterns for clothes on a piece of cloth. Mathematically speaking, this is a study of “packing problems.” The book also supplies valuable information on units of weight and linear measure and the cost of materials at this point of history.

An example of one of Juan de Alcega's layouts is an attempt to make the best use of a rectangular piece of cloth:               

These images are obtained through the cooperation of the Hispanic Society of America Museum and Library.

Index to Mathematical Treasures

Frank J. Swetz (The Pennsylvania State University), "Mathematical Treasure: Practical Geometry for Tailors," Convergence (August 2017)