Thursday, September 1, 2011

Lace, It All Starts Somewhere.... 1st in a Series of 4

Reticella, Venetian, Hedebo, Point d'Alencon, Needle, Filet, Pillow, Bobbin, Vosges, Brussels, etc. One could lose a bit of sleep at the thought of attempting to present a brief overview of lace... The world of lace is a mad world of regional techniques, styles and socio-economic conditions. .  

The story of Victorian and Edwardian lace starts long before either era exists. It is in the Bobbin (Pillow) Laces, Filet and Needle Laces of the Sixteenth, Seventeenth and Eighteenth centuries where the roots lie. Victorian and Edwardian lace is a culmination of all of these laces in an ever changing world of technology, fashion, migration and again, socio-economic conditions. Entire volumes can and have been written on lace. I only have one goal here. I merely want to give a brief overview of 3 types of laces whose techniques and motifs appear and reappear during the 19th and early 20th centuries.  The three types are: Filet, Bobbin/Pillow and Needle Lace. There are other types of lace, but they are for another day.

FILET LACE is the oldest of the three.  The most basic element is the creation of a grid made by the joining of knots much in the same way we see netting done biblically. The motifs are made by darning on the grid. The only tool is a needle along with a pair scissors/snips needed to snip the threads.

NEEDLE LACES develop during the Renaissance. Again, the only tool is a needle, but their forms are much more free-style and complex than those of Filet Lace. Reticella is the oldest type, and is formed by drawing threads from fabric. This early needle lace will give way to other forms that do not require any type of background fabric such as hedebo, Point d'Alencon, Venetian Point, etc. and are created "in air" so to speak.  
If you look at the sample to the left. The tiny rings, all the connecting threads, and the thin "stems" are made only with a needle and thread. The thicker strips of fabric that form the leaves are known as tape. Tape will appear in many styles of lace.  

BOBBIN OR PILLOW LACE takes its name(s) from the two main tools used to make it: thin bobbins that hold the thread and the pillow used to hold the lace while it is being made. Bobbin lace is said to be an incarnation of the Sixteenth century.  It is made be twisting threads together. Simple patterns may require only 4-6 bobbins full of thread. Complex patterns will require dozens of bobbins of thread. The patterns can be infinitely complicated. Below is an example of bobbin lace.
     As the Victorian era progresses, needle and filet laces grow and change. The techniques are borrowed, imitated and combined. Technology will streamline techniques and increase the audience for these laces. Handmade grids will give way to machine-made mesh allowing for more time to be spent on the darned motifs.  The widespread publication of lady's magazines will provide an audience for regional, specialty laces throughout the United States and Europe. Bobbin lace, however, will suffer. In a world of increasing speed, mechanization and the changing roles of women, bobbin lace does not progress in the same way.  The progression of bobbin lace leads to entirely machine-made bobbin lace eliminating any need for handmade, but that is also a topic for another day. It is here in what arguably is the peak of lace popularity that we begin to see the seeds of its decline.

            Now for the time being, it is time to put this topic to rest and as this piece of Bobbin Lace states in Swedish: "Sleep Well".
de Dillmont, Therese (1884 (reprint 1996)). The Complete Encyclopedia of Needlework. Running Press Book Publishers; Third Edition

Warnick, Kathleen (1988). Legacy of Lace. Crown Publishers; First Edition


  1. I took a hedebo class last winter. It was fun, although I haven't had any time to keep up with it. I want to try bobbin lace!

  2. It's awesome you were able to find a class. I found a lovely piece of hedebo in the OWW last winter. It's a boys collar.

  3. On the BBC show Larkrise to Candleford (aired on PBS), one of the characters was making bobbin lace. It looked so cool! I can't imagine having made something that complicated in the dim candlelight of an 1890s house.

  4. lovely! makes me want to pick up bobbin lace making again

  5. When Karl and I used to volunteer at the Apple River Fort Historic Site in Elizabeth, IL, there was a woman who used to demonstrate bobbing lace. I found it mesmerizing. Michele, I didn't know you had experience making bobbin lace.