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Summary Article: lace
From The Columbia Encyclopedia

patterned openwork fabric made by plaiting, knotting, looping, or twisting. The finest lace is made from linen thread. Handmade laces include needlepoint and bobbin lace, tatting, crochet work, and some fabrics made by netting and darning.

Varieties of Lace

Laces, often named for their location of origination, are of many types. Valenciennes is a fine, diamond-meshed lace much used for trimmings and ruffles. Mechlin is of similar type, but filmier; torchon is a simple, loose lace, made and used by peasants all over Europe; Honiton, one of the fine English laces, has a net foundation with appliqués of delicate, handmade braid. Brussels is a rich lace of several varieties. Duchesse has exquisite patterns with much raised work. Maltese is coarse and heavy, usually made of silk. Chantilly is a delicate mesh with ornate patterns, originally made of the yellowish undyed silk called blonde, later often dyed black. Point d'Espagne is lace of gold or silver thread.

A number of laces fall outside a strict classification. Guipure has a heavy pattern formed by a braid with a less valuable core covered with fine silk, gold, or silver thread. Limerick lace is tambour work on net. Renaissance or Battenberg lace is of heavy tape formed into a pattern and filled in with lace stitches. Carrickmacross is cutwork lace. So-called English point or point d'Angleterre is Flemish point, at one time smuggled into England and renamed.

Filet is a combination of knotting and darning, reminiscent of the earliest lace forms attempted. Cutwork, or various combinations of early lace forms with embroidery, also formed an important step in lace making. The better-known knotted laces are tatting and macramé; macramé evolved from the early Italian punto a groppo. Crocheted lace reached its finest development in Ireland. Knitted laces, for which many intricate patterns survive, have been mainly of peasant use.

Evolution of Lace Making

Lace was developed prior to the 16th cent. from the drawn work, cutwork, and lacis (darning on squares of net) of the embroiderers' craft. With drawn work, more and more threads were removed until the ground vanished altogether. A design was executed and its principal line supported the complete pattern. The first of such laces, reticella, originated in Venice and was based on geometric forms. Later, as laceworkers sought relief from the restrictions of symmetrical design, the illogical but beautiful designs of punto in aria (literally, a stitch in the air) were first created. The richest, most sumptuous of these needlepoint laces was the Venetian raised point of the 17th cent.

The vogue for lace began c.1540, and pattern books began to appear. Early reticella designs usually included pointed or scalloped edges. By the time of Charles I lace was used extravagantly for both costume and interior decorating; by 1643 lace making had become an established industry. In France patterns became increasingly more detailed and delicate; the light, flowery point de France was used for every conceivable decorative purpose. Later the laces of Alençon, Argentan, and Valencienne exemplified French style and design. The making of bobbin, pillow, or bone lace, which is mentioned as early as 1495, passed from Italy to Flanders, reaching its height of production there in the 18th cent.

Machine-made lace first appeared c.1760, and by 1813 a bobbinet machine was perfected. After 1832 cotton thread somewhat replaced linen. In the 20th cent. many lace patterns have been revived and modified, and called Cluny lace. The chief modern centers of lace making are France, Belgium, England, Ireland, and Italy.

  • See Reigate, E. , An Illustrated Guide to Lace (1986).
The Columbia Encyclopedia, © Columbia University Press 2018

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