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A Brief Narrative of Lace

Most of us would find it challenging to look at Lace and not wonder about its origin, how it’s made, and the history that brought us its unique beauty. Lace, as it turns out, is very old. Records of its origin date back as far as 2500 BC, when it was found to adorn various tombs in the ancient city of Thebes, Egypt. References to this precious fabric are found as far back as the Bible’s book of Isaiah. Throughout history, it became a favorite amongst the European royalty, a favorite amongst brides, a complement to the attire of religious and political dignitaries, as well as endlessly adorning children’s items with delicate beauty.

Lace’s rich legacy of elegant fashion trends can first be traced back to the 12th and 13th centuries. Since those early times, many styles and techniques of lace-making have been developed. Belgium is often described as “the cradle of modern 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.

Although lace-making is an ancient craft, the crafting of true or modern lace did not become significant until the late 15th and early 16th centuries. Adopted by European countries like Belgium, Russia, Ireland, Spain, and Hungary, the production of this beautiful fabric swelled to include use by distinctive families, royals and religious leaders. While today cotton thread is commonly used, vintage Lace used linen, silk, silver or gold threads.

By the turn of the century, crafters started using lace to express their own artistic heritage. In 1758, a French lace-maker discovered the invisible method of joining smaller pieces or strips together with a needle. This technique was called “point de racroc”. After this technique was discovered, the industry flourished, especially in Italy, with Venice being the center of the trade.

As history tells us, this beautiful fabric 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.

Did you know? – the term “straight laced” commonly used for someone being honest, originated from the fact that European ladies wore corsets which would lace up in the front, therefore considered proper and dignified.

Types of Lace, defined by how they are made:

Needle Lace – Made using a needle and thread – the most flexible of the lace-making arts; some purists regard Needle Lace as the height of lace-making.

Bobbin – 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 – Made using a machine or hand-made textile strip formed into a design, they joined and embellished with needle or bobbin lace.

Knotted – Made with a shuttle or a tatting needle.

Crocheted – Includes Irish Crochet Lace, Pineapple Crochet Lace, Filet Crochet and Koniakow Lace.

Knitted – 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- All styles of Lace created using mechanical means.

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 was also manufactured in more than 100 nearby villages.

Perhaps the most popular period of this timeless fabric 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.

In addition to a fascinating chronicle, lace’s history continues today by remaining a delightful air of elegance and charm to our lives.

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