Hi, all,

Has anyone else seen, just hitting the news recently, the story of the 2008 textile finds at Lengberg Castle in the Austrian Tyrol?  The finds date from the 15th century, and include several pieces (linen dress and shirt linings, and a surprisingly modern-looking bra-like undergarment) that are worked with small linear edgings and joinings of needle-lace.

Here are some links for more information about the textiles that specifically contain needle-lace elements.

1 --- One of the earliest reports is here, written by the Univ. of Innsbruck researcher who examined these textiles:


2 ---  The UK’s Daily Mail article (which mis-identifies one of the men’s undergarments as women’s knickers) can be found at:  http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-2174568/Found-castle-vaul... 

This article doesn’t discuss the needlework (needle lace) that's found on one of the “bras,” but has good clear photos.


3 --- Discussion of the underwear, specifically of the “bras,” including brief comments on the lace needlework trimming the “fourth bra,” can be found here:


4 --- Discussion of the needlework (lace) found on the linen linings for women's disintegrated wool garments (dresses, shirts) can be found at this link.  Saving the best for last, this article includes CLOSE-UP PHOTOS, which are pretty decent, of the actual stitching:


I remember reading in one lace history book that the first definite proof (up to that book's time of publication -- the 1980s) of the existence of lace as we know it occurs in the year 1491. In that year, an item appeared in a Sforza family will in Milan, describing a modern-sounding lace in the household inventory made by the testator (or his executors?), which was required to be made as part of the will.  As I remember it, the author didn't describe how it was determined that this item was actually describing modern, holes-held-together-with-string lace (as opposed to shoe-laces or garment lacings).  (Sorry, I don't know which book that was, and I may no longer own it anyway.) 

Other than this mention, though, most of us (?) generally accept that other than lacis (filet lace), the modern laces, including needle-lace, were inventions of the 16th century --- developed sometime between 1500 and 1550 or so, when printed pattern books started appearing on the market.   The Lengberg Castle finds, which have now been radio-carbon dated, seem to show that needle-work that sure looks like lace to me was being done on garments in the early part of the 15th century.

Really, though, the biggest attention-grabber in all this has to be that lace-trimmed bra!


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I also remember a reference to bone lace in an inventory of the late 1400s.  I tried to find it in Santina Levey, but couldn't.  Levey does say that the transition from needle lace as cutwork to true punto in aria occurred between about 1565 and 1585.

Several of those narrow bits in the photo are actually "faggotting", usually classed as embroidery and described in embroidery books.  It is a way of attached 2 piece of fabric with finished edges to each other in a decorative way.  You will also find, in embroidery books, discussion of "edgings" which are variants of buttonhole stitch worked onto the finished edge of a piece of fabric.  Obviously the same idea as some puncetto or oya edgings.  But one of the stitches often described for that use is a variant of Venetian petit point -- a buttonhole stitch with more of them made below it or on top of it.

I think calling these fragments "needle lace" is a stretch.  They are more the very early precursors to true needle lace:  embroidery techniques that were soon (within 50-100 years) to morph into needle lace.

But a fascinating find and article.

Peasant women often wore a sort of vest that was laced up the front with cord.  The vest stopped below the breast (suppose to make nursing easier.  Some soft of cloth would have to cover the breast.  This "bra" thing would do the job.  And being short, would be easier to lift for nursing.

Yeah, and "bags for the breasts" just about describes what some of us need after a certain age, doesn't it?   :-(      :-D

I wish I could remember which book it was that I read the reference to the household inventory for the Sforza will.  It may have been in either Anne Kraatz's Lace: History and Fashion, or in Emily Reigate's Illustrated Guide to Lace, both of which I bought at 'round-about the same time as I came across the will-inventory tidbit.  Does anyone have these books, and can look up the reference?  Or it could have been in yet another book, whose title I really have forgotten.

I haven't come across any faggoting method that uses detached buttonhole stitching:  the standard references describe a sort of diagonal figure-8 stitch.  You can see it here:  


Lorelei, I also wrote off the fragments as being "nothing but"  utility stitches for joining, at first.  Then I took a good look at those close-up photos, which clearly show the detached buttonhole stitches.  When I saw the buttonholing, well --- that's when I got excited!

Since painting in deeply realistic detail was only just starting to be accepted in the early middle of the 15C, we don't have a detailed (or reliable?) record of what garment trims and decorative utility stitches were actually being used at the time.  It makes a great deal of sense that the first true, large-scale needle-laces were developed out of a cultural repertoire of needle-work techniques that had been developed much earlier. That could certainly explain how needle-lace could seem to suddenly "bloom overnight" all over Europe:  any competent needle-worker could analyze and copy a Flemish or Italian example of lace.

I would call the Lengberg Castle fragments true needle-lace because, 1)  they are worked with various versions of detached buttonhole stitches, exactly the same as needle-lace looks that's worked today, and 2) some of it -- the edgings -- is just as useless as any "true" lace in history, serving no purpose whatsoever but to airily decorate and beautify.

Elsewhere in the articles, reticella, Sprang work, and finger-looping are mentioned.  Distinctions like these are a good hint that this researcher knows her techniques.  Anyway, no matter what name we call the needlework fragments by, they look like good basic needle-lace in all the most pertinent ways.

Back in the 1980s we were hearing speculations that sprang may have been involved in the development of bobbin lace, but that idea has been abandoned and is now dead.  Possibly the authors information is a little out of date.  The U Innsbruck article refers to the DMC Encyclopedia as a source for history.  I would never use it for that purpose:  how to do the stitches, yes, history, no.

I had not been following this group for a while, but was thrilled to see the articles about discoveries at Lengberg Castle.  Of course, the discussion of where needlelace was "invented" had me diving into my Raul d'Harcourt "Textiles of Ancient Peru and their Techniques"again.  He has found examples of pre-Columbian needle-made fabrics that were used for other purposed than fish netting.  They used techniques such as simple loops, twisted loops, corded looped stitch, superimposed loops, ardenza stitch, knotted stitch, two knit-looking stitches and a technique I can't quite understand (page 107).  He show  examples (page 107 and plates 66B and 70B) of  fabrics made with a diamond ground or pattern of closely spaced ardenza stitches.  In my mind, this looks like needle lace to me.  Who knows what else they did with these techniques that has not been found and analyzed?

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