The Lengberg Bra re-construction

Please note: If you wish to reproduce this in any way please credit me. We all work very hard and share our knowledge freely in the SCA. It would be a shame to find my work in someone elses name. Thank you. 

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The Lengberg Bra find.  1440-1485c found during renovations in Castle Lengberg.

Photo: © Institute for Archaeologies

Background:

In 2009 I went to England and witnessed a lot of paintings, which in all honesty, being from New Zealand, is not hard…..

Before I left, I had been looking into the ‘French gown’, “or as most people would call it  – the ‘Tudor Gown’.

I had been contemplating the different supportive garments that could go under it, and could have gone under the dresses that had come directly before them.

Incidentally at the same time I had been also pondering how the sleeves could sit right on the edge of the shoulder without falling off but still give full movement of the arms and support such heavy sleeves. The answer to which I now years later, and quite by accident since developing my ‘anti-gravity’ bodice pattern, have some insight into.

I could see that stays were evident in the line and shape of the garments in and after 1530 in English costume, however, the shape and line before that in many countries was not one of stays with a soft cup as extant example of the effigy gown of Elizabeth the First had shown us, it was natural and with a definite bump – especially in Italy in the 1530’s.

I had read years ago that the Romans had bound breasts, and seen art to this effect. I knew that people bound their breasts in later period due to mention in it in period writing. I knew that people my size would have needed support and really in all honesty, would not have been comfortable in period without it. I also could not understand how we could go from  to  nothing but binding breasts straight into stays – especially if they had soft cups in the stays – the logical progression wasn’t sitting right for me.

I had surmised with NO evidence that maybe there had been a kind of soft cup supportive garment, shaped like the stays – but without the rigid boning.  At that time I was a few years away from developing my supportive ‘anti-gravity’ bodice pattern, and like any thing you do pondering on but don’t record in a public domain (although I do have the notes)  I am now kicking myself for not pondering it more or publishing those musings.

Quite simply however, and at the end of the day, I was over the moon when I saw the Lengberg Bra find, and when I found out about it I did a little fist pump at my desk at school and said under my breath ‘I knew it!’

For me what it really meant that through all the self doubt and musings that one does in this area of ‘experimental archaeology’, if my ponderings on that had been founded, then other things that I think around and about, might actually be correct.

The research that I had been doing for the blue dress in terms of the treatment of the breasts was also pretty obvious when you started to read more into it and the idea of ‘breast sacks’ was an amusing one at the time of researching it.

What is written below can be found in my A and S class write up for Festival in 2014 for th blue French/Italian dress 1390’s on-wards:

https://chantellegerrard.wordpress.com/1390s-frenchitalian-fitted-gown-and-its-evolution/

“Breast binding and Bra’s:

“If her breasts are too heavy, she should take a coverchief or cloth to bind them against her chest and wrap it right around her ribs, securing it with needle and thread or by a knot; this allows her to be active at her play”. P10 Illuminating fashion. (taken from the Romance of the Rose, begun by Guillaume de Lorris in the early 13th century and completed by Jean de Meun’s towards the end of 1200’s) p10 Illuminating Fashion.

In the “Poem by Eustache Deschamps (1340-1406) with the refrain “Lady let the teats have mercy” he complains that women are no longer binding their breasts under a single cloth (as was recommended by the Old Woman in the Romance of the Rose), but placing them separately in pockets in their smocks held up by knotted cords. “P12 Illuminating Fashion.”

The below information comes from a website that was interesting to read with a good bibliography.

The only thing that I say is that as always – it is on the internet, and I take everything on here with a grain of salt, and the surmising that cleavage was a socially unacceptable thing due to the writing of the time, doesn’t always sit the best with me.

Writing of the time is someone’s opinion, no matter what period it is in. Too many things in history were written by men for men, and for that matter, written by men passing judgement on women in a highly religious time with Eve being the bearer of the original sin and all. It could also be a case of someone wanting to pass judgement on the bad points of society at the time.

The fact that we know about ‘medieval midwifery’ of the time from a monk (men were not allowed into the birthing chamber, and you were definitely not  allowed you were a monk) always makes me a little weary of what is to be taken as gospel from a time period, where we are not only piecing together the past with every discovery, but also we are also tainted by a modern lifetime of media and it’s suggestion of ‘women’ in society.

If cleavage was so unacceptable, why is it in most paintings from many different countries, where painters were often given ‘instructions’ on how to paint,and what to paint (i.e. colours and symbols etc.) that the 200 years of fashion from the 1300’s to the 1500’s did not only show it, but support it? If it had been so wrong – would it not have been disregarded and taken out of paintings on purpose?

http://designerhistory.blogspot.co.nz/2013_06_01_archive.html

“There are limited amounts of written medieval sources on possible female breast support, but they are rather vague on the topic. Henri de Mondeville, surgeon to Philip the Fair of France and his successor Louis X, wrote in his Cyrurgia in 1312–20: “Some women… insert two bags in their dresses, adjusted to the breasts, fitting tight, and they put them [the breasts] into them [the bags]every morning and fasten them when possible with a matching band.”

The ‘bags’ referenced served the same purpose as antique breast bands – that is to contain very large breasts. However, in Konrad Stolle’s chronicle of Thuringia and Erfurt in 1480, he complains that the “shirts with bags in which they put their breasts” seems to have had obtained the opposite effect one would think, as he concludes his description with the words “all indecent”.

Additionally, the following is an extract from “Meister Reuauß”, a satirical poem of the 15th century (Vienna, Austrian National Library Cod. 2880, fol. 130v to 141r), from: Schönbach 1873, p. 18. Below the extract is the English translation, translated by Ms. Nutz.

Ir manche macht zwen tuttenseck

Damit so snurt sie umb die eck,

Das sie anschau ein ieder knab,

Wie sie hübsche tütlein hab;

Aber welcher sie zu groß sein,

Die macht enge secklein,

Das man icht sag in der stat,

Das sie so groß tutten hab.

Translation:

Many a woman makes two bags for the breasts with

it she roams the streets,

so that all the guys look at her,

and see what beautiful breasts she has got;

But whose breasts are too large,

makes tight pouches,

so it is not told in the city,

that she has such big breasts.

This and other written sources can also be found in: Kania 2010, p. 132-133 (in German).”

What I take from these writings of the period is that the ‘breast bags’ or ‘bra’s; existed in period, and that some people did not appreciate cleavage – just like the modern day.

 The Process:

Why:

A friend had asked me if I could re-create the Lengberg  Bra for her and so, as with all of these things, it usually comes from someone going “hey, can you……”

This was no exception, and as with all these things, I usually say  “sure”, but secretly in my head I am thinking “um, what if I can’t do this? What if it doesn’t work? What if i can’t actually re-create it – or figure it out?”…

I had done lots of thinking, lots of reading about it at the time when it came to light, and went in going well, you don’t know till you try!

This had been something I knew I would have to tackle for me at some stage, as the idea that these were under my supportive gowns was a perfectly acceptable one, and it was something I had seen evidence of in the writing of the time, and had discussed in my class at Festival in 2014 mentioned below.

WHAT:

The Lengberg bra was found in The Castle Lengberg in East Tyrol and date from 1440-85 during renovations, due to copy write articles and images on the bra can be found below:

Links off the internet for the bra finds:

http://www.historyextra.com/lingerie

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2012/jul/20/medieval-bras-history-women-support

http://www.livescience.com/21691-600-year-old-medieval-bras-discovered.htmlt

http://designerhistory.blogspot.co.nz/2013_06_01_archive.html

Process:

Thoughts surrounding my re-production:

Usually when I re-produce things, I don’t like to look at what other people have done to create their re-productions. This is not for any other reason other than if I am making something, I like to analyse it and come to my own conclusions. I will read up on the original, or look at things surrounding it, but I prefer not to look at modern versions.

The lacing on both sides was a decision that my friend and I both came to. I know from having made my previous Italian dresses, that this is good for tension and weight fluctuation.

Looking at the original, it looked like there was a twist / scrunching in the middle of the bra. When I was a child, we were given swimming costumes that had a twist in the chest areas, and this memory came in handy when making this re-production as you will see.

Step by step :

I used my pattern (front and back) as the base for this – as the garments going over it would need the same  shape on the shoulder straps etc.

2

I cut one hole and placed it on, I decided it was too large

3

So, on the second half I cut a smaller hole (I was expecting to have to make this pattern several times – as it stood, I only had to do one draft)

6

I tried it on my friend.

5

4

I decided to construct the second hole (the smaller one)

1

I was too small, so I took out the cup, cut it bigger, and made the cup for the bigger one.

7

The original has the join vertical.

8

The bra sewn up. It sat too far out, so I sewed it closer in the middle to bring it closer.

10

With this, the middle sat out from the body.

9

This is where I said to my friend – bear with me – and decided to undo the sewn line and follow my gut instinct about the twist.

11,

The twist was a hunch based on past knowlege, and looking at the original. It looks like there is a twist in the middle and there is an extra line of sewing beneath the cup seams on the original also. Which meant that cutting under the cups made sense. This allowed the twist to happen, and it gave a reason for the sewn line under the cups.

12

The bra now sat right.

13

The cups now needed adjustment (ie taking in and making a smaller circle), the back needed to go on for full support and the straps needed to go on for the same reason.

15

Half the bra done – the side attached, and a strap attached, the cups taken in.

14

THE FINAL:

Unfortunately I was silly and didn’t get a picture of the final pattern before i tore it apart to create what is below for my friend to be able to cut her linen out and make it up. So! the plan is to make my own in the next month. We were pushed for time, friends arrived at the house and I had my other friend to help with her ‘bath house’ chemise – which made me forget about pictures (which I do at the best of times…..)

I really kicked myself at the end, as the cups fitted, the straps were on and the Bra even gave her some cleavage.

The final pattern: Re-cut from the original:

This is the back – the V sewn up accounts for the curve in the back and gives the right tension to support her (like my original ‘anti-gravity’ pattern).

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The pattern re-cut, one breast is slightly larger as you can see by the holes in the picture.

16

Pictures will come of the constructed one when my friend makes it and possibly when i have made mine, if I am not too camera shy….

Summary:

The pattern fits underneath the anti’gravity’ sleeve dresses due to it starting from that bodice pattern.

It is side lacing like the original.

It fits the breasts and gave some cleavage to my friend on its own

It was comfortable.

It looks like the extant bra – as much as it can and takes note of the ‘gathering’ in the middle and the extra seam under the cups.

Other finds at the site can be found here, from the University of Innsbruck

3 Responses “The Lengberg Bra re-construction” →
  1. would this be suitable for someone who is a 38M bra size (UK or NZ size) or would I need to add extra support. it needs to work under modern garb as well as period as I am hoping to wear it on a daily basis (have developed a reaction to something used in making the bands on modern bras and this strikes me as being a good alternative as I have read good reports on its effectiveness, just not on whether it is as good for large sizes as well as more average sizes.

    Reply
  2. Nice work! However, the extant garment does not have a twist between the cups. What you are seeing is a stretched area between the cups that is sewn together. Along the “v” between the breasts there is needlelace, which makes the area where the cups meet look very Bunche. Also, there is no extra seam under the cups. It is also important to note that the extant “bra” is quite small, and the original wearer had small breasts. I love your experiments!

    Reply
  3. That should say “…which makes the area where the cups meet look bunchy.”

    Reply

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