This talk was probably the highlight of the event, where we got to see hot new research, practically fresh out of the ground. Nothing like 500 year old undies to get textile historians excited...
Lots of people have seen the article in BBC history pages about the linen clothes found in this castle, and the article is pretty thorough, so you have the highlights already.
Beatrice's talk started with a timeline of the castle, covering its construction in late 12th century, and its longtime ownership by the archbishops of Saltzburg (not clear, I'm guessing it came with the job).
There was some remodelling done in the late 15th c, when a new storey was added, and the chapel was consecrated in 1485, which implies that the construction was complete - or the work on the new floor (what was previously the roof) was at least finished.
The new ceiling was vaulted, but the floor above it was flat - leaving a sort of triangular 3D space in the corners of the vaulting that was filled with dirt and organic matter, including the clothes. As far as she can tell, these are thrown-away scraps, discarded when they're fully used, and the dry stable conditions in the remaining fill has preserved the linen, but not the wool - the wool was eaten by moths.
First up were 14-16 scraps of shirts, particularly pleated necklines - several examples of different pleating patterns with sewn-down facings. Some were possibly linings of gowns, where the wool gown has been eaten away. Since they are just fragments, all Beatrice can do is speculate on the shape of the rest of the garment, and who wore them.
She did consider one scrap to be a makeshift bonnet; a rectangle knotted together on one side, as if to fit over someone's head, but the edges were unfinished and torn.
There was a scrap of sprang, sewn to a piece of linen, but there was no clue as to what it was for: all she could say was the sprang had 48 threads in the warp.
There was a short piece of fingerloop braiding (15cm) that had three different patterns in it visible - as if someone was practicing their techniques, or demonstrating to someone else.
There are 800-1000 fragments of leather, including 10-15 complete shoes - again, worn through and discarded.
The linens have been carbon-dated, and all the fabrics date to late 15th c, which matches the suggestion that the space in the floor was filled with rubbish during renovations ending in 1485.
As for the undies:
First up was the hipster/bikini shape of a single thickness of linene, an oblong with basically 4 sides, wider at one end than the other, with ties on either side. Beatrice was definitive on calling them men's undies, and there's some contemporary artwork showing men stripping off to bathe (or be baptised), going down to their skimpy underclothes.
There is no equivalent artwork showing ladies' knickers, and in fact she says she could only find a novelty image of a 16th c Venetian courtesan wearing bloomers - a completely different shape from these bikini-cut bottoms.
The centre part, where the bulgy bit would be on a gent, had been patched twice, with linen the same fineness or finer than the original fabric (12-14 threads/cm for originals, 18 threads/cm for 1st patch, 11-12 threads/cm for second). The triple thickness of fabric made the crotch thick and probably not very comfy.
She was pretty critical of some reconstructions available commercially online - double thickness fabric (which would be easier to sew on the machine and not leave obvious machine stitch lines) with very thick side ties - she figured you were better off making your own in an evening rather than pay reenactment-merchant prices.
They did check for DNA evidence on the fabric, in the hopes of finding out if it had been worn by men or women...but the only DNA that came up was Beatrice's own, from handling the fabric.
On to the bras:
All these bras were in fragments - some more intact than others - so the best that you could say about the first one was that it was made of linen, Z spun, tabby weave, 17-18 threads/cm, with very basic needlelace on the bottom edge (2 rows of scallop shapes, filled out with buttonhole stitches), and fingerloop lace on other edges. This bra had been patched once in the cup.
The lace edge possibly makes the bottom edge stronger, and might keep it from stretching, and keep boobs from sliding down your front.
The one described as a 'longline bra' really does appear to fit down the torso, well below the bustline, and has wide shoulder straps. It no longer has a back piece, but the lacing at the edge suggests that the back would be almost as high as the front.
If you've seen Eleanor de Medici's gown in JA's patterns of fashion, you'll remember her bodice lacing lines were on her back, below her shoulder blades, and angled, rather than straight down at her sides - the back of this longline bra would have laced similarly. The reinforced edge might have had eyes on the lacing edge, which you'd run a lace through, rather than eyelets sewn through the fabric.
The cups in the longline bra were formed from two oval or almond-shaped pieces of linen, seamed vertically rather than horizontally (most seamed bras today are horizontally or diagonally seamed). There wasn't much indication on how they were they attached to the bodice.
This piece was carbon dated to 1410 at the earliest.
The niftiest piece was a remnant that now looks like a halter top in the photo, because the straps are now tied together. What's left of the bodice is shaped a bit like a tiny bolero jacket - the front edges curve up, and the middle where your cleavage would be is gone. But originally Beatrice thinks the bottom front edge would again have needlelace edging, and the cleavage space would have been filled with sprang - there are fragments attached to the two remaining fronts, with 120 warp threads. There's also obvious small sprang inserts on the straps (might sit high on front shoulder), and it's not clear if these are decorative or functional (finishing edges) or both. They look like small lace inserts.
Sprang does stretch - it might have allowed a bit of stretch across the bustline, where even cutting linen on the bias would not 'give' enough for comfort. However, all these pieces of sprang are made of linen, not wool or cotton. Spun linen yarn would not stretch much, especially as fine as this. (Beatrice's article has excellent drawings of the sprang patterns.)
Surviving pieces of sprang from medieval Europe aren't hugely common. I know of its use to make hairnets and stretchy cord bags, but I know almost nothing else. It's awesome to find it in a completely new area, for a completely unexpected use.
To support the sprang idea, Beatrice had slides of 15th and 16th c artwork, of the Virgin 'weaving on a narrow loom' - but if you know what a sprang loom looks like, it's more likely sprang than woven narrow wares. She put it side by side with a photo of 1950s European peasants working on sprang, and the resemblance was clear. She also had examples of sprang table linens, something I'd never heard of, from Switzerland, dated to 15th/16th c.
Aside from the archeology, what really rounded out Beatrice's talk was the literature references - citations from German literature (and French) that I'd never heard of before - that describe women making breast-bags in their shirts, to hold sagging breasts, or to flatten breasts that are too big, when the medieval ideal is small, high and perky.
Eustache Deschamps (1346-1406) apparently wrote 'Balade sur les femmes qui troussent leurs tetins' ('Of women who bind up their boobs'). I'm hoping to find out more about him.
She also mentioned Henri de Mondeville (1306-1320 ish), a French doctor writing similar remarks, and a German writer Konrad Stolle (1480) who moaned about women putting cups into their shirts - 'all indecent!' (unlike the days of his youth when people knew how to behave...) See the BBC article.
Doing literature searches is one area that practical history buffs (like SCA folk) are probably weaker on; some people have formal education in history or languages, but I'd say they were in the minority. We're red-hot on pictures, and will try lots of different ideas ourselves - but reading the poetry and books of the period is heavier going, and not our first option.
Beatrice proved to have an excellent sense of humour; bringing up evidence of medieval bras (400 years earlier than the first US patent), complete with lace (100 years before the best known examples) didn't go down easily with some professional costume geeks. Fortunately she could laugh at the people who assumed she'd gotten her dates wrong, that it was an elaborate hoax, that she didn't know what she was talking about, etc. - at least, could laugh now, especially after the carbon dating data came back confirming all items dated 1390-1485. She said she didn't really like requesting carbon dating, because it would require removing samples - but it's harder to argue with.
In the discussion afterward, Jenny Tiramani commented that these pieces looked home-made. They didn't have the look of professional linen-workers, such as sempstresses, broiderers. They have the feel of something you made for yourself, or for your family, as needed.
Personal musings (not part of the talk)
At the same time, the bras had touches of decorative work that we might call 'feminine', with the patterned sprang and the lace. So even though they're underclothes, and not made by professionals, these were still finished with care.
For me, it's perhaps akin to making your own menstrual pads, which women did routinely until commercial alternatives became common (and recycled-cloth pads have regained popularity for some women who are trying to reduce their contributions to landfill).
Perhaps until recently far more women made their own boob supports, as they needed them, from torso wraps to criss-cross slings (classical world solutions), to fitted 'shirts' with boob bags to stays, depending on social status, time of life, need, etc, and it's just our commercial culture that has specialised down to lingerie. It's also possibly the first time these scraps have survived and been recognised for what they are.
The first question at the lunchtable, amongst us, was, well, who's going to make one? :-)