A Needlelace Shirt

detail of the top of the shoulder

In the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, accession number T.49-1934 is the designation for a boy’s white linen shirt of outstanding craftsmanship. This beautiful shirt is decorated with white silk cutwork and linen drawnwork along the seams, front opening, and shoulders. The shoulder pieces are the most impressive: a rectangular piece of linen is decorated with buttonhole insertion stitch, pulled threadwork, buttonhole eyelets, French knots and bullions in white silk thread. Every pattern piece is surrounded with pulled threadwork and attached to its neighbours with decorative insertion stitch. A 3/8” wide strip of linen reinforces the neckline and is adorned with French knots, bullions and picot-stitch edging. The front opening is similarly edged and the bottom reinforced with more insertion stitch. The sleeves are exceedingly wide and pleated across the top of the shoulder. The linen is fine enough to be called transparent. Although believed to be of Italian manufacture, this type of shirt and its embellishment are seen all over Europe in the late 16th century to mid-17th century. Pictures of this marvelous work of art can be seen in Hart and North’s Fashion in Detail.