In its purest form the only equipment and materials used are a needle, thread and scissors. This form of lace making originated in Armenia where there is evidence of a lace making tradition dating back to the pre-Christian era. Turkish needlelace is also very popular around the world. This form however arose separately from what is usually termed needlelace and is generally referred to as knotted lace.
Beginning in the 17th century in Italy, a variety of styles developed where the work is started by securing heavier guiding threads onto a stiff background (such as thick paper) with stitches that can later be removed. The work is then built up using a variety of stitches - the most basic being a variety of buttonhole or blanket stitch. When the entire area is covered with the stitching, the stay-stitches are released and the lace comes away from the paper. See reticella.
Needle lace is also used to create the fillings or insertions in cutwork.