A Mantilla for Josefina

I'd like to thank all of you who responded to my question about mantillas. I got almost 50 replies, and I'm grateful for them all. You have put me on the track of a very intriguing project! Here's a summary of the most useful responses to the question--


I want to knit a lace mantilla for my new American Girl doll, Josefina Montoya, whose historical context is Santa Fe, New Mexico, 1824. I'm having trouble finding out what shape a mantilla is (rectangular, square, semicircular?) and how it's fastened to the head (at a corner, center of a side, attached to the comb or just draped over, and would a ten year old kid wear a comb in colonial Mexico of 1824, or ever?)

Some photos on the web, showing mantillas. Hit your "back" button to return to my pages --


A great many of you remembered wearing mantillas to church, in the days when head covering was obligatory. ("Modern reports") For most, this covering was a triangle or oval or sometimes square, of lace that was held in place by hairpins or bobby pins, and was fairly short.

A few reported on mantillas they had seen or bought from Spain or Mexico. ("Mantilla sightings") These were more elaborate and longer, mostly intended for festive or ceremonial occasions, not for routine churchgoing.

Some people gave reports based on literature, historical reports, costume design sources, or other academic sources. ("Academics")

Some gave advice on other places to seek information. ("Info hints")

Some included other comments on the project that might be of interest. ("Other comments")


Modern reports:

Penny A. wins the award for the most creative description of a shape! -- When we were kids, we used to wear these to church back in the 50's. I can't think of how to describe the shape -- kind of like a flattened butternut squash or an eggplant (can't think of what else to compare it to!). The smaller part frames your face and gradually widens to cover your shoulders."

The one I had was square. It was worn with one point over the head, one down the back and the other two on the sides.

A mantilla is usually somewhat triangular shaped. Because it is created out of lace, the "points" are somewhat rounded. It can be as large as you want it to be.

I don't know what ALL mantillas are shaped like, but I got married with one. Mine was a right triangle. The long side was laid across a large comb on the back of my head so that the points on either side came down over my shoulders and the third one came down to the middle of my back.

I bought a mantilla for my mom when I was in Spain about 15 years ago. It is a lace square, maybe about 36 inches, with a fringe, that as I understand it is worn as a triangle. I guess one would drape it over combs, but my mom just wears it as a scarf.

Many years ago, I bought a mantilla in Nogales. It was triangular. I think a square would work as well. It could then be draped with a pointed end over the comb or with one of the sides draped over the comb. In either case it would have to be pinned to the hair somehow.

As I remember it, what I got was a triangle shaped lace and net piece that hung below my shoulders (probably to shoulders on an adult) The edges in particular were beautiful lace and made the edge somewhat scalloped, but it was definitely a triangle and the long edge went from one shoulder, up over the head, and down to the other shoulder. The pointed end was worn in the back.

Mantilla sightings:

Just took my Mantilla out of its special box and held it up and asked my husband (some art background) what shape it was. His reply was it's an elongated oval. I would say rectangle but it rounded on both ends and from top to bottom it's also rounded. It measures 61" long or wide and from top to bottom it's 22 1/2". Keep in mind that this one is from Mexico...

...Her sister is married to a Mexican, so it may have been the real thing. It was an isosceles triangle, with a relatively wide base, maybe as long as my arm

I have several lace pieces that were given to me about 40 years ago and referred to as mantillas. One is almost rectangular, except that it's wide in the middle and narrows down at the ends into curves, not points, but the basic shape is rectangular. The others are triangular -- one is a very large triangle. I think the long straight side went over the mantilla comb, and the points came down the sholders and the back. However, none of these might truly be a mantilla.

I did call my mother who has traveled extensively in Spain, Mexico, Peru and of course was raised in Brazil. She said they were always triangular or rectangles, never circles or squares and would rest on head w/o help or bobby pins if over a comb.

The only mantilla I've ever seen in person was oval with a ruffle around it. It was black and worn attached to a comb so that the ruffle framed the face. It draped just over the shoulders and was about waist length in the back.

The mantilla that my sister brought me from Spain o so many years ago is a rectangle in white lace. I don't have it here with me so I'm going by memory. It probably looks most like the Goya portrait of the young girl. There is a wide center panel surrounded by a wide edging. A young girl would probably wear one on special occasions and to church but probably wouldn't wear a comb until she was "old enough to put her hair up". Evidently putting your hair up was a sign of moving from childhood to adulthood. A young girl would also probably wear a white mantilla rather than black.

A dear friend had a lace mantilla for her wedding that was floor length and was fabulous! that one was similar in shape [triangular] but the back was really more rounded from one point to the other so that it hung like a skirt hem over her gown. Almost like a big half circle if that makes any sense.


In the book _The Spy Went Dancing_ by Aline Romanes, 1990. ...It was secured in her chignon with a high comb (also attached to shoulders with straight pins & put a brooch on the back of the high comb with folds of lace to take the weight of the mantilla off her head.)... It looks like a rounded rectangle.

I did some research at the Textile Museum of the Smithsonian, and they had one that was oval, made out of agave fiber!!!

I've done a little poking around into colonial Mexian clothing. I've found the most luck with books on historical costuming. I don't have any titles off the top of my head, but look through ones that cover american costumes through that time period, especially books that are designed for theatre costumers. Most of the drawings of Mantillas I've seen seen seem to be a square shawl attached by one corner to the hair by a tall comb. Although, like you mention, I imagine there was a variety of shapes and styles. The Spanish ladies of your time period would have had smaller ones to wear to the Catholic Mass and larger ones for social occasions. The one worn to mass would be draped over the head with the straight edge, if it were a triangle or a rectangle just framing the face. If it were a circular one it would be folded in half with the fold framing the face. If the hair were coiffed a hat pin or hair pin would be used to hold the mantilla in place. The large party mantilla was placed over the large tortoise shell comb. These combs usually had scalloped tops which would help the mantilla to stay in place. However the hat pin and the hairpin were much in use at that time.

Info hints:

You can find a picture of a mantilla in the book "Knitting Lace" written by Barbara Abbey, page 99 and there are the directions at page 100. It's square (not in a doll size).

If I remember correctly, I saw some samples of very finely knitted Spanish shawls made by Montse Stanley, or some of her relatives, in the "Readers Digest Knitting Book". [Boy, if it's there, I sure can't find it!]

Historical costuming is the way to search I think.

Historic needlework list: H-Needlework (discussion of historical needlework techniques) email to Majordomo@Ansteorra.ORG with subscribe h-needlework as the message Owner, owner-h-needlework@Ansteorra.ORG

Historic costuming list: H-Costume (historical costumes) email to majordomo@world.std.com with subscribe h-costume or subscribe h-costume-digest as the message. Elizabeth Lear, owner, owner-h-costume@world.std.com.

Have you put out your inquiry to the knitdesign list? knitdesign-request@list.gorge.net In body of text write only Subscribe

...look at the pictures about bull fights.. they often have women in them too.

Muenstras Y Montivos has a special issue called Manteles 1 the cover piece is rectangular and not knitted. I do not know where to get it in US but Sandy Terp of Moonrise imported knitted lace#1 and carries it in her catalog so she may be able to get it for you.

In one of the early Knitter's Meg Swanson has a mantilla pattern. It is a circle with a very large hole in the middle for the head to go through. [I had several reports of a mantilla by MS; some seem to refer to the mananita, as this one does, but some may refer to a different object, described as rectangular]

perhaps a theatre/costume company could answer the question definitively.

You may be able to answer yr question by watching Spanish language tv. There is at least one soap that takes place in the 1800's. The ladies appear to be accurately dressed.

Other comments:

unless the girl was of high means i don't think she would actually wear a mantilla, but probably something closer to a stole or shawl around her shoulders that she could then pull up over her head if needed, (weather, church, some reason like that)

For fibers, I'd definitely recommend silk! I don't recall a knitted mantilla, but they were definitely silk, probably bobbin lace.

The pictures that we have are of older women who always wore black because they are always in mourning for some one... so colors for a young person is ok.. size.. is what ever size you want.. she said mid-back to knees.. what ever you want. I asked wool or cotton.. she thinks cotton but... she doen'st understand thin wool.. She stressed all women would know how to knit and do needlework.. they would have just made the mantilla.

In Spanish "manta" is cloak or blanket, and "mantilla" is the diminutive form therefore a smaller one.

The Mantilla scarf pattern by Eugen Beugler says you use size 8 needles to make a filmy 16" x 114" Mantilla.

Usually worn with a high bun at the top center of the head, the mantilla was affixed behind the bun with a peineta (a comb with "crest" similar to a peacock's tail). The part where the peineta and mantilla meet the hair (behind the bun) was made to have a "neater" appearance by inserting some lovely carnations for decoration. > and would a ten year old kid wear a comb in colonial Mexico of 1824, or ever?) Yes. But, during festivals and major celebrations only. Children younger than child-bearing age (usually back then around 15 years old) usually went uncovered (headwise). Peinetas and mantillas were usually reserved for senoras and senoritas (not ninas).

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Judy Gibson
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