Sunday, June 2, 2013

Still More on the Lengberg Linen

Dürer , Self-Portrait (Wikimedia Commons)
Yes, I am going to write once more about the 15th century linen finds in Lengberg Castle.  For those of you who are tired of my posts about 600-year-old linen, I apologize.  But every article I read about the Lengburg linen gives me with new and fascinating information to think about.  It's nearly impossible to overstate how much those finds have to tell us about the undergarments of that period, and increasing our knowledge of the underwear of that period will have an impact on our deductions about underwear earlier in the Middle Ages.

Professor Nutz published a long, information-dense article in Issue No. 54 of  Archaeological Textiles Review; the full citation of which is as follows:
Nutz, Beatrix and Stadler, Harold. "How to Pleat a Shirt in the 15th Century."  Archaeological Textiles Review, No. 54, pp. 79-91 (2012).
It would not be possible for me to summarize the article without simply repeating what the authors said, but here's some critical details that will be of interest to those hoping to learn how to improve the authenticity of their 15th century underwear.

Nutz and Stadler's article focuses on the number of shirt/neckline finds at Lengberg. The ones discussed feature full shirts/shifts with round necklines.  The fullness has been pleated into many small even pleats which have been secured by a neckband, and sometimes also with additional stitching.   The sleeves were also full, and were pleated in ways similar to the neckbands.  The self portrait of Albrecht Dürer which is reproduced above, is dated 1493 and shows a similar type of shirt; the same portrait is reproduced in Nutz and Stadler's article.

Graphic by B. Nutz (p. 82)
Nutz and Stadler identified three different types of neckline pleats:  "rounded and either folded to one side (Type 1) or straight (Type 2)".  Type 1s may be folded either to the left or right--the researchers found both types.  Type 2s, so far as I can tell from the diagrams, are folded like a fan and caught with stitches, a little like very fine cartridge pleating.  

Graphic by B. Nutz (p. 83)
The authors also identify a Type 3 pleat, but it was found on only one garment.  I am having trouble distinguishing it from Type 2; the main difference appears to be that it involves significantly finer linen and finer pleats than the Type 2 garments but is of a similar shape; the authors call them "closely spaced, pointed, straight pleats that use a lot of fabric" (p. 79).  I have reproduced Professor Nutz's graphics from the article depicting the different pleat types in an attempt to clarify these descriptions.

The authors found four different techniques for sewing a band over the pleats, which they have labeled Types A, B, C, and D.  Type B was the most commonly found method; in it, the binding strip is placed right side against the pleated edge, sewn onto the pleats, and folded over the pleated edge.  Then the other edge is folded inward and sewn onto the pleats on the other side with whip stitching.  The other methods, though different in some details, still result in a band with a neat edge on both sides covering the raw edges of the pleats.

Interestingly, the bands were not the only means used to fix the pleats at wrist and neckline.  According to Nutz and Stadler all of the pleated samples had stem stitching about 0.5 to 2.5 cm below the band.  It is unclear from the surviving scraps whether this stitching was done before or after the bands were stitched in place or even whether the stem stitching showed on outside of the shirts/shifts when they were worn.  The stem stitching often was done in irregular rows, so the authors suggest they were not meant to be seen.  Analysis also shows, interestingly enough, that the sewing on this linen was done with a doubled thread, not a single thread.

As I've noted before, ATN is planning to make its issues available for free download after a few years, so this article will eventually be generally available.  For those who, like me, could not wait, Issue No. 54 can be bought for 20 Euros on the ATN website.  If you participate in 15th century European reenactment, it may be a worthwhile investment, just to examine Nutz and Stadler's article for yourself to learn whether your shift/shirt making techniques match what they found at Lengberg.
Finally, Professor Nutz also recently published a page discussing children's underwear found at Lengberg; that page may be found here.  This page includes two images that Nutz contributed to Jane Huggett and Ninya Mikaila's recent book, The Tudor Child. Both are torso garments, one sized for a very small infant, the other for a young girl, and both fasten with lacing. The article speculates about the purpose of the laced torso garment for a newborn.  The other garment appears to be the lining of a young girl's dress. If you cannot afford The Tudor Child at present, it may be worth checking out the photographs on the page--they suggest that structured garments could have been part of the wardrobe of some 15th century children.


  1. I love hearing about them! I find it quite fascinating and just wish I wasn't on the other side of the world (though the internet makes the distance less isolating)

  2. It may be worth noting that Ms. Nutz has an account at A number of her articles are available for download there, including How to Pleat A Shirt.

  3. mistressmagpie, thanks for the comment! I knew about Nutz's account; I should have posted that detail here.