Few things are as romantic, timeless and as intricate as lace. Lace making is an ancient craft. True lace was not made until the late 15th and early 16th centuries. A true lace is created when a thread is looped, twisted or braided to other threads independently from a backing fabric. Originally linen, silk, gold, or silver threads were used. Cherished for its delicate workmanship and airy patterns, lace has been worn as an adornment since the 15th century.
Since its creation, lace has been held in high esteem. Due to its handcrafted nature, it was very costly to make, and therefore available only to the clergy and nobility. The handwork of lace making has largely been done by women throughout history, though the patterns were frequently created by men. Even today, the secrets of handcrafting exquisite lace are held by nuns, particularly in Belgium, who have retained their skills despite the rise of machine made lace. Throughout history, lace was desperately craved by the nobility during the Renaissance as a way to showcase their immense wealth, appreciation for beauty, and their sense of style. Although lace has come to be considered a feminine adornment, it was originally equally revered by men of wealth and status. As history tells us, lace was so influential in society that, in some European cities, only people above a certain social class were allowed to wear it. Inspectors were positioned at city gates and if someone non-deserving of lace was to enter the city, they were ordered to trim it down or face it being burned.
The most intense lace-making period came as a result of the demands of fashion, in particular by nobility wear. The magnificence of the jewel and lace trimmed garments worn by the nobles sparked the public's imagination. Many immortalized oil painting portraits in the 16th and 17th centuries show exquisite black needle lace. Chantilly Lace is the best known of the black Laces. It takes its name from the French town of Chantilly, which became an important lace-making center circa the 18th century. In addition to Chantilly Lace, Tulle Lace was also manufactured in more than one hundred nearby villages.
By the early 18th Century, people were so obsessed with lace that lands were sold and fortunes squandered just to acquire more pieces. The high cost of handmade needle and bobbin lace was due to the painstaking effort that went into creating even the tiniest bit of it; a one inch section could take a woman two hours to create. So detailed was the craft that lace makers went blind from the countless hours spent working tiny threads into intricate patterns.
Many styles and techniques of lace-making have been developed. Belgium is often described as "the cradle of lace" and today's lace techniques can still be traced back to the traditional lace-making techniques from the Flemish provinces of Belgium. Needle Lace, also called Renaissance or Brussels lace, for example, is manufactured in the region of Aalst. Bobbin Lace is an exquisite specialty of Bruges, a magnificent city in western Belgium. These are very expensive types of laces to produce; therefore, they are not manufactured for commercial purposes.
Perhaps the most popular period of lace use came throughout the mid to late 19th century, during the Victorian Era. This period marked by the reign of Queen Victoria developed a design style called "Victoriana", which embraced the use of lace for fashion and home accessories.
Lace is regaining popularity today as people gain a renewed respect for handmade treasures from the past. A word of caution, collecting lace can soon become an addiction! Its beauty is intoxicating.
Types of Lace & TechniquesNeedle Lace - Made using a needle and thread. Some purists regard Needle Lace as the epitome of lace making.
Bobbin Lace - Made with bobbins and a pillow. The bobbins hold threads which are woven together and held in place with pins stuck in the pattern on the pillow. Also known as Bone-lace.
Tape Lace - Made using a machine or handmade textile strip formed into a design, then joined and embellished with needle or bobbin lace.
Knotted Lace - Made with a shuttle or a tatting needle.
Crocheted Lace - Includes Irish Crochet Lace, Pineapple Crochet Lace, Filet Crochet and Koniakow Lace.
Knitted Lace - Refer to as the "wedding ring shawl lace", a lace so fine that it can be pulled through a wedding ring. Also known as "Shetland Lace".
Machine-Made Lace- All styles of Lace created using mechanical means, including antique Chemical Lace.
If you would like to delve further,
click here to view a very informative PDF on lace
identification written by Jeremy Farrell and published by The Museum of Costume and Textiles, Nottingham, UK.