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A lace in the fabric of history: A brief history of lace

By: Kristen Cnossen

Brief history lesson:

The sixteenth century marks the beginning of lace popularity. Although lace-like textiles had been used for centuries, what we now regard as lace originated in the early sixteenth century (Lace Guild). By the seventeenth century, lace-making had spread throughout Europe as trade and immigration introduced new lace-making techniques to women who worked in textile-crafts – who then picked up on the new techniques with ease (Lace Outlet). Bobbin lace and needle lace were the most common forms, but the style of lace differed depending on what country, even what city, the lace was made in. Bobbin lace is made with many threads of yarn and a pillow for support, whereas needle lace in made using a single thread and needle. The different styles of lace are so distinct that they can be sorted into categories depending on their origin. For example: Honiton, Bucks Point, Bedfordshire, and Torchon bobbin lace in Britain; Machlin, Valencienes, Brussels, Duchessem and Bruges bobbin lace in Flanders; Gros Point, Rose Point, Point de Neige, Point Plat, and Burano needle lace in Venice; and Armenian, Bebilla, Dandells, Nazareth, Oya, and Pheonician needle lace in the Eastern Mediterranean, to name just a few (Lace Guild). With the Industrial Revolution came the invention of the bobbin net machine by John Heathcoat in 1768 (Lace Outlet). The production of machine lace marked the downfall for the handmade lace industry. The addition of jacquard looms to Heathcoat’s bobbin net machine in 1837 by Samuel Ferguson resulted in endless possibilities for lace designs and the beginning of hobby lacers (Lace Outlet).

Lace on undergarments in the collection:

This week I worked on a few petticoats, shirtwaists, and a chemisette – all featuring lace in one form or another. Although it would take a full year of study in order to identify each type of lace for its origin, the difference between hand-stitched, machined, bobbin, and needle lace is fairly easy. The following are a few examples of lace I worked on this week:


“The History of Lace,” Decorating with Lace Outlet.

“Craft of Lace” Lace Guild. (1997-2016)

More reading:

Burkhard, Claire; Nüw Modelbuch facsimile published as part of Fascinating Bobbin Lace (Haupt, 1986: ISBN 3-258-03610-1)

Dye, Gilian; Silver Threads & Going for Gold (The Lace Guild, 2001: ISBN 1-901372-10-3)

Levey, Santina; Lace, a history (Maney, 1990: ISBN: 0-901286-15-X)

Nottingham, Pamela; The Technique of Bobbin Lace (Batsford, 1976: ISBN 0-7134-3230-6)

Shepherd, Rosemary; An Early Lace Workbook (Lace Daisy Press, 2009: ISBN 978-0-9591235-4-8)


Needlelace: and

Bobbin lace: and