In my Work in Progress (WIP), A Touch of Love, there is a simple scene in a mercantile where the women are discussing the purchase of lace, which sent me on a hunt for the history of lacemaking. Below is some of what I have found:
Lace is an openwork fabric, patterned with open holes in the work, made by machine or by hand. The holes can be formed via removal of threads or cloth from a previously woven fabric, but more often open spaces are created as part of the lace fabric. 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. Now lace is often made with cotton thread, although linen and silk threads are still available. Manufactured lace may be made of synthetic fiber. A few modern artists make lace with a fine copper or silver wire instead of thread.
The Chancellor of Oxford University. The robes of some high officers of state and university officials are trimmed with gold plate lace or gold oakleaf lace.
There are many types of lace, classified by how they are made. These include:
Needle lace; such as Venetian Gros Point is made using a needle and thread. This is the most flexible of the lace-making arts. While some types can be made more quickly than the finest of bobbin laces, others are very time-consuming. Some purists regard needle lace as the height of lace-making. The finest antique needle laces were made from a very fine thread that is not manufactured today.
Cutwork, or whitework; lace constructed by removing threads from a woven background, and the remaining threads wrapped or filled with embroidery.
Bobbin lace; as the name suggests, made with bobbins and a pillow. The bobbins, turned from wood, bone or plastic, hold threads which are woven together and held in place with pins stuck in the pattern on the pillow. The pillow contains straw, preferably oat straw or other materials such as sawdust, insulation styrofoam or ethafoam. Also known as Bone-lace. Chantilly lace is a type of bobbin lace.
Tape lace; makes the tape in the lace as it is worked, or uses a machine- or hand-made textile strip formed into a design, then joined and embellished with needle or bobbin lace.
Knotted lace; including macramé and tatting. Tatted lace is made with a shuttle or a tatting needle.
Crocheted lace; including Irish crochet, pineapple crochet, and filet crochet.
Knitted lace; including Shetland lace, such as the “wedding ring shawl,” a lace shawl so fine that it can be pulled through a wedding ring.
Machine-made; any style of lace created or replicated using mechanical means.
Chemical lace; The stitching area is stitched with embroidery threads that form a continuous motif. Afterwards, the stitching areas are removed and only the embroidery remains. The stitching ground is made of water-soluble or non heat-resistant material.
The word lace is from Middle English, from Old French las, noose, string, from Vulgar Latin laceum, from Latin laqueus, noose; probably akin to lacere, to entice, ensnare.
In the late 16th century there was a rapid development in the field of lace. There was an openwork fabric where combinations of open spaces and dense textures form designs. These forms of lace were dominant in both fashion as well as home décor during the late 1500s. For enhancing the beauty of collars and cuffs, needle lace was embroidered with loops and picots.
Objects resembling lace bobbins have been found in Roman remains, but there are no records of Roman lace-making. Lace was used by clergy of the early Catholic Church as part of vestments in religious ceremonies, but did not come into widespread use until the 16th century in northwestern part of the European continent. The popularity of lace increased rapidly and the cottage industry of lace making spread throughout Europe. Countries like Italy, France, Belgium, Germany (then Holy Roman Empire), Czech Republic (town of Vamberk), Slovenia (town of Idrija), Finland (town of Rauma) England (town of Honiton), Hungary, Ireland, Malta, Russia, Spain, Turkey and others all have established heritage expressed through lace.
In North America in the 19th century, lace making was spread to the Native American tribes through missionaries.
St. John Francis Regis helped many country girls stay away from the cities by establishing them in the lacemaking and embroidery trade, which is why he became the Patron Saint of lace-making. In 1837, Samuel Ferguson first used jacquard looms with Heathcoat’s bobbin net machine, resulting in endless possibilities for lace designs.
Traditionally, lace was used to make tablecloths and doilies and in both men’s and women’s clothing. The English diarist Samuel Pepys often wrote about the lace used for his, his wife’s, and his acquaintances’ clothing, and on May 7, 1669, noted that he intended to remove the gold lace from the sleeves of his coat “as it is fit [he] should,” possibly in order to avoid charges of ostentatious living.
With the passage of time and an increasing demand in the market for lace, the way the world produced goods changed. This led to the production of machine lace. In 1768, John Heathcoat invented the bobbin net machine. This machine made the production of complex lace designs more quickly. This Industrial Revolution was the downfall for the handmade lace industry. The teaching of handmade lacemaking disappeared in schools as emphasis shifted from trades to academics, which paved the way for lacemaking to become a hobby instead of the business it once was.
The term ‘lace’ is used by the British to refer to the gold bands sewn onto the sleeves of naval officers’ uniforms to indicate rank, and to name the similar decoration elsewhere on other uniforms (such as Italian caps and Polish collars) because of the procedure used to make it. In America, the term is not used for this purpose because the bands are metal compactly sewn, while ‘lace’ seems to imply cloth sewn into patterns with holes in them.