Tampa seamstress outfits 21st century Sant’ Yago knights in 12th century fashion

Published February 6
Updated February 8

By Amy Scherzer

TAMPA — El Rey XLVI Edward Banks, a 21st century Sant’ Yago Knight, will lead Saturday’s annual illuminated parade through historic Ybor City dressed in 12th-century gear.

The king’s court of squires, pages and a swordbearer, and his loyal Knights of the Krewe of St. Yago, will walk or ride alongside him, also wearing the knee-length velvet tunics with puffy sleeves in the style of the Spanish caballeros who protected the sacred remains of patron St. James (Yago) and inspired the formation of the Latin men’s club.

Their elaborately embroidered costumes are the stunning handiwork of Emelina Calles. The Cuban-born and trained seamstress outfitted almost every member of the 2018 court, more than 20 squires, four ladies-in-waiting, seven knights — everyone but the queen.

Each costume can take a month or longer to create, and typically requires three fittings by Calles at her shop, Emelina’s Bridal and Boutique in North Tampa.

"The first one I made was for my son, Ruben Calles, in 2004, and now at least 100 since," she said.

Calles, 70, learned to sew in her birthplace, Colon Matanzas, Cuba. She refined her skills living in Madrid from 1971 to 1974 when she moved to Tampa. Calles opened her business in 1992, sewing and altering bridal gowns, prom and quincinera dresses. She made her son and daughter’s clothing when they were young, and made both her daughter’s and her daughter-in-law’s wedding gowns.

Price is determined by the amount of work entailed, in the range of $2,500 for a knight’s tunic. Calles has three assistants, one just for embroidering.

"Some years, they’re more ornate than others, some more traditional," said daughter-in-law Amanda Calles. "The king picks a Renaissance style and colors and she follows the request."

This year, King Banks chose the green and orange colors of his University of Miami alma mater.

Each knight designs his own crest to reflect a family tree, hobbies and interests which Calles then creates with crystal appliques and trim.

"No glue ever," she said. "It’s easier, cheaper, but leaves a spot if you have to remove it."

Comfort, durability and practicality are just as important as design authenticity. So Calles adds pockets with invisible zippers to hold credit cards and drivers licenses.

"They walk miles in them," said Amanda. "And depending how much trim and the motif, they can weigh 15 or 20 pounds.

"Some get kinda crazy in the parades and they don’t last as long but they’re meant to wear for easily 15 years."

Contact Amy Scherzer at [email protected]