Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Austrian Linens

So a week went by, and now it's the end of July, and, to my chagrin, I have continued to be too busy to blog here.  Not wanting the month to end without a few costume-related words, I figured I'd comment on a phenomenon that even some of my costume-disinterested friends have remarked upon, namely, the fascinating 15th century CE underwear finds at Lengberg Castle.

The international popular media has published a surprising number of short articles about the "15th century bras" found at Lengberg. Many of my readers likely will have seen one or more of those.  The University of Innsbruck, which unsurprisingly has posted a much better article than the short "news" pieces that simply tout the "bra" finds; it can be read here.

There is another, equally interesting dimension to the Lengberg linens that the media isn't talking about. Some of the Lengberg finds are trimmed with what appears to be the earliest and most primitive form of lace--needle lace, a form of lace that has been traced to the late 15th century through artwork or other references but of which few datable period examples have been found.

This article from the University of Innsbruck briefly describes and discusses the needle lace finds. It includes lovely pictures of at least eight different specimens of needle lace, and suggests that needle lace may well have originated in the East Tyrol and not in Italy, as has typically been assumed.  Perhaps further study will provide more specific information that will confirm, or refute, the theory that Italy was the birthplace of such lace.

Finally, the Lengberg finds include underpants as well as bra-like garments and early lace. I referred to this find in a post last year, in which I noted the resemblance of such a garment to a type of classical Roman underwear called the subligar.  As I mentioned in that post, Professor Beatrix Nutz has prepared a paper about the bra finds that will be published in NESAT ("Northern European Symposium on Archaeological Textiles") XI; that volume should be published later this year. A PDF copy of the abstract for Professor Nutz's article may be found and downloaded from this page.

These finds will change the way both scholars and ordinary people think about medieval underwear, which is why I am glad that they are getting this much publicity, even if it is slightly sensationalized publicity. I look forward to reading Professor Nutz's article in the NESAT XI volume and learning what she has been able to deduce and discern from these humble scraps of linen.

UPDATE (8/6/2012):  It occurs to me that, whether or not needle lace was born in the Tyrol or in Italy, the Lengberg finds demonstrate that the linkage of lace and underwear is more than 500 years old.  The ramifications of that linkage is that the basic forms of our clothing change more slowly than people realize, even in these modern days of transient fashion fads.


  1. Austrian Linens are really great..nice post on detailing em out..great

  2. I looked at the link on the needle lace, and to my eye figure 3 of that article just looks like York stitch nålbindning and a variant thereof in the second half of the figure. That technique goes way further back in time than 15th century!

  3. i was also reading that Nutz is seeking funding to put out a small public booklet with pictures and patterns of the breast bags and underpants; she hopes to have it out this fall.

  4. @ synj-munki A public booklet on the finds would be great! I hope Nutz succeeds in getting her funding.