Much like lace itself, this is a complex subject. SUPER complex. Lace has a long and luxurious history, starting as early as the Roman Empire, but recorded as early as the 14th century, it is a textile that has found itself in the middle of class wars for centuries (7 centuries – starting in Flanders). As Gemma Champ recently wrote in an article in The National (Fashion’s Enduring Love of Lace):
Once so precious that noblemen in France would sell their land to acquire it, so valuable that it sat in bridal trousseaus on equal terms with gems and gold…
But you may be thinking what I was thinking, LACE? Sure, it’s beautiful, but I can get it ANYWHERE now. Well, you can get machined lace pretty much anywhere, but not the type of lace that noblemen sold their land for. That lace is still fairly inaccessible.
Lace is an openwork fabric, made by creating spaces (either removing threads or threading patterns by looping, twisting or braiding) to a
lovely end result. Much like Scottish quilt patterns, real lace patterns are designed by certain ‘houses’ and regions.
The Big Bopper made Chantilly Lace quite famous with his 1958 hit about a beautiful girl, but the Chantilly Lace is a handmade lace originating in the 17th Century and named after the city in which it was originally made, Chantilly, France. It is known for its fine pattern, and abundant detail. The pattern is outlined in cordonnet, a flat untwisted strand of silk and is generally black. It is a bobbin lace, meaning it is handmade by twisting and braiding, then wound on bobbins to help control the threads.
There are several techniques to making lace, including needle (yes, with a needle and thread), cutwork (cutting out patterns into fabric – like I did as a kid with paper to make snowflakes), taping (I don’t quite understand this one, but it’s a series of twisting and flipping to create), fileting (using a needle to push the loose threads into a pattern), crocheting and embroidering. There are literally dozens of techniques you can read about here. It’s pretty mind-blowing.
The real lace today that is consumer-grade (to hand-make the amount of lace that most designers need would be impossible) is made with 19th century looms. Funny enough, when these looms came into existence, there was a public outcry that this was a bastardization of lace-making and that an art was lost. But today, these looms are what makes art. It’s not as easy as scanning a pattern into a machine and letting it go:
Each pattern on a loom takes three men two months – yes two months – to painstakingly load with thousands of threads. A new pattern takes two months to develop. After weaving, eagle-eyed women search for flaws to repair, and then a creative team comes up with an endless supply of innovative ways to use the lace – handpainting it, beading it, embellishing it in formica, embroidering it with repurposed magnetic tape from music cassettes. – from Fashion’s Enduring Love of Lace
Wow. It gives me a new appreciation for lace.
Lace is a timeless luxury. Maud Lescroart, co-owner (and descendant) of one of the oldest lace making houses, Sophie Hallette - located in the Northern France lacemaking town of Caudry - is quoted as saying, “as we lose interest in spending money on lots of cheaply made, disposable fast fashion, we are replacing it with fewer pieces of high-quality craftsmanship” and I agree. I definitely want to save up and invest in a beautifully loom made lace item someday rather than buy a closet full of machine or chemical made knock offs today.
But hey, in the meantime, I don’t know if these are loom made, bobbin made or machine made laces, but they sure are beautiful dresses: