The Lengberg Finds: Remnants of the Lost 15th Century Tailoring Revolution

A paper presented at NESAT XIII in Liberec, Czech Republic, 2017 by Rachel Case, Marion McNealy and Beatrix Nutz


Among the more than 2700 textile fragments discovered in 2008 at Lengberg Castle in East‐Tyrol, Austria, were a few almost completely preserved pieces of garments. Amid them were several nearly complete linen bras and fragments of possibly skirted corselettes, some elaborately decorated with plaited borders and sprang worked parts. The fragments of three gowns, two dresses of a small girl (one of blue wool and one of red silk) and one blue woolen dress of an adult woman, all three with linen lining, are most noteworthy for the techniques applied in their tailoring. Thanks to the support of the Janet Arnold Award it was possible to study the undergarments in detail and attempt their reconstruction. In order to complete a female apparel of the second half of the 15 th century the three gowns and some of the shirts are too being reconstructed. Up till now, the reconstruction paradigm for 15th century German and Austrian Gothic garments has been based on the Greenland finds, gowns made from panels and gores, with a sudden transition to Italian style garments with shaped panels around 1500. However, when this method of panels and gores was used to create Gothic style gowns, all reconstructive efforts have failed. This is because the use of bias grain in garments was not just limited to men’s hose in the Gothic Era, but also included women’s gowns, as demonstrated by the 15th century dress linings found at Lengberg. The Lengberg dress lining remnants demonstrate that the tailors had a highly advanced understanding of the bias properties of the fabrics that they worked with, far beyond anything expected, and not to be duplicated in fashion until the 1930s. Instead of using straight grain panels and gores, the tailors used the bias collapse and drape of the fabrics to provide the shaping around the individual breast mounds, which the fashion required, a dramatic revolution in tailoring techniques. While this design augmented the shape of the breasts, it provided no support, and thus separate supportive garments were worn under the gown to support, shape and lift the breast. With the transition to Italian style garments at the beginning of the 16th century, these bias techniques of women’s tailoring were lost, with bias cut hose and stockings being the only remnant of this tailoring revolution. The intention of this paper is to disseminate the results of the reconstruction project to the scientific community as well as to the broader public.

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