lace, 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 Chantilly is a delicate mesh with ornate patterns, originally made of the yellowish undyed silk called blonde, later often dyed black.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 E. Reigate, An Illustrated Guide to Lace (1986).

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. Manufactured lace may be made of synthetic fiber. A few modern artists make lace with a fine copper or silver wire instead of thread.

Types of Lace

There are many types of lace, defined by how they are made. These include:

  • Needle lace; 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.
  • 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.

History of Lace

References to lace are made in the Bible in the Book of Exodus (28, King James Version). 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. The popularity of lace increased rapidly and the cottage industry of lace making spread throughout Europe to most European countries. Countries like Belgium, Russia, Ireland, Spain, Hungary, Malta and others all have their own unique artistic heritage expressed through lace.

In North America in the 19th century, lace making was spread to the Native American tribes through missionaries.


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