Oh my—it’s underwear! This often-overlooked element of textile history is the focus of this issue of PieceWork. For centuries, people have constructed all manner of underwear, using a variety of techniques. Compelling, often personal, stories go hand in hand with this specific element of dress. Projects bring the unmentionables out of the closet.
Here are a few highlights:
• Laura Ricketts details the discovery of four fifteenth-century bras in a vault in Lengberg Castle in Nikolsdorf, East Tyrol, Austria, in “The Case of the Medieval Bras.” She aptly calls them “the Dead Sea Scrolls of undergarments.” The fact that one of the bras incorporates needle- and sprang-lace work is icing on the cake.
• In “The Well-Dressed Head,” Chris Laning explains: “Caps were essentially underwear for your head. A layer of plain undyed linen next to the skin was a routine part of clothing, worn to keep body oils and sweat off outer clothing.” Caps were ubiquitous from the early Middle Ages through the end of the Renaissance.
• For “The Under Side of Weldon’s,” Karen Brock, our managing editor, writes, “No historical study of hand-stitched undergarments would be complete without a glimpse into the pages of Weldon’s Practical Needlework, one of England’s beloved resources for Victorian patterns.” And those Victorians certainly were intent on covering up everything—be it household objects or bodies. We are still puzzling over the “Lady’s Leggings or Riding Pants”: “These leggings can be used as riding pants, and also may be worn over the ordinary calico drawers whenever additional warmth is required. . . .”