Do You Know the History of Your Bra

I can't tell you how excited I am about the November/December issue of PieceWork. This is their first underwear issue. Yes, you did read that correctly, underwear. Did you know that bras have been worn since at least the 1400s? I didn't.

 
Jennifer Raymond's inspiration for this lovely camisole was the Rose Yoke that her great-great grandmother Mary Ann (MacLeod) Worth created in the 1900s. The camisole features a filet-crochet rose on the front.The back of Jennifer Raymond's Mary's Rose Camisole, showing the filet-crochet leaf.  

PieceWork uncovers the stories of these little talked about, but incredibly important, pieces of our wardrobe, from crochet camisoles to drawers and petticoats. Here is editor Jeane Hutchins to tell us about the issue.

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.

 
  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; they are easily put on and taken off, and are held in position by a narrow belt of knitting that passes round the waist.

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. . . .".

 
Embellished lingerie (top drawer) that was in the willow trunk the author's mother brought with her when she immigrated to the United States in 1931. Vintage bloomers (lower drawer) from collection of Karen Brock.  

As we close out another year, I send my very best wishes to each of you for a holiday season and a new year that are ­filled with joy.

–Jeane Hutchins

It's all so fascinating! I will now be looking at my underwear differently, and I might need to add a few of these historical undergarments to my wardrobe.

Subscribe to PieceWork magazine today and learn more interesting facts about the history and stories of textiles.

Best wishes,

P.S. Have you ever crocheted underwear? Tell us about your experience in the comments.

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