Sunday, December 28, 2014

A Little More About Lengberg, Courtesy of Piecework

First of all, (since I haven't posted since before Christmas) happy holidays!

When I was in Barnes and Noble (a U.S. chain bookstore) doing some last minute Christmas shopping, I noticed that the current (November/December 2014) issue of Piecework magazine had an article about the Lengberg finds, so I bought it, to see how the author would address the topic. It turns out that the November/December issue is devoted to historical underwear, so the Lengberg linens make a reasonably good fit with the theme.  Here's the citation:
Ricketts, Laura.  The Case of the Medieval Bras.  Piecework, November/December 2014 (pp. 10-14).
Ms. Ricketts's article makes a few assertions that, given the informal approach Piecework takes to history, I'm not prepared to credit without further substantiation.  For example, Ms. Ricketts suggests, without flatly asserting, that the "bikini" style underpants were women's wear--ignoring the Durer art indicating that men wore such items.

More interesting, and even less credible in my opinion, is the author's assertion that the lacy decoration that appears on the bras is sprang. Sprang is worked with one continuous thread on a fixed frame.  If sprang fabric is cut, it unravels, so sprang can only be made and used in the shapes in which it was originally woven.  Yet the pictures of the Lengberg finds appearing with the article show small bits of lacy work which could not have been worked easily on a sprang frame, even a small one, and could not have been cut from a sprang frame and remained stable enough to sew into a garment.  I believe that Professor Nutz's theory that the openwork was a very early needle-lace, such as punto in aria, is much more plausible. Amusingly, the issue also includes a knitted lace project based on the Lengberg finds--a means of creating such openwork that is also more likely that sprang (and perhaps more likely than punto in aria, given that knitting was already known in Europe by the 15th century CE).

On the other hand, the article includes good color photographs of the Lengberg bras and some interesting tidbits of the history of some later versions of the bra that may be of interest.  Ms. Ricketts also attempts to come to reasoned conclusions about the origins of the bra.  Even though these attempts are unsuccessful, I think it's good to see such an approach tried in a magazine targeted at ordinary people.

N.B.  The same issue of Piecework includes an article by Chris Laning about medieval headwear and directions for knitting a medieval cap, for those who may be interested.

CORRECTION:  (12/28/2014)  My apologies for criticizing Ms. Ricketts for stating that the openwork on the Lengberg bras is sprang.  Carolyn Priest-Dorman has pointed out to me that Nutz's NESAT article states that the panel of openwork on the most highly decorated of the four bras found at Lengberg is sprang. (p. 223).   Nutz does not discuss why she concludes that this is the case, though the pattern in question (illustrated in the NESAT article, also p. 223) is the type of symmetrical design that is characteristic of sprang.  Nutz refers to at least some of the simpler openwork designs on the bras as "fingerloop lace and loop-stitch (needle lace)".  (p. 223).  I'm not sure what to make of these statements, but they are undeniably present in Professor Nutz's NESAT article.


  1. Interesting...

    Going by Beatrix Nutz's presentation at the MEDATS meeting in autumn 2012, the bras (as a whole, not sure about individual items) have both sprang and needlelace on them. You can see pictures of the needlelace and the sprang at these links:
    Nutz described the sprang as being between the cups of some bras. Hence, the bra size of the garments could not be estimated, as it provided some stretch and size adjustment.

    Re. the "bikini pants", Nutz unequivocally stated at that meeting that they were men's. The University of Innesbruck also lists them as men's underwear here:

    1. Hi, Panth! Thanks for the comments. I was not fortunate enough to attend MEDATS. As for the "bikini underpants" business, I learned about their being a male item after I blogged about them a few years ago (due to reader comments).

  2. You may be interested to read the new article by Beatrix Nutz regarding the fingerloop braids at Lengberg. Available here:

    1. Thanks so much! I am indeed interested.