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The History of Lace

The late 16th century marked the rapid development of lace, an openwork fabric where combinations of open spaces and dense textures form designs. Needle lace is made with a needle and a single thread, whereas bobbin lace is made from multiple threads. These forms of lace were dominant in both fashion as well as home décor during the late 1500s. To adorn collars and cuffs, needle lace was embroidered with loops and picots. To link widths of fabric, open-work seaming techniques were used. Through cutwork, the most decorative of the three lace techniques, elaborate patterns could be constructed.

Lace Spreads.

By 1600, high quality lace was made across Europe, beginning in Venice, Italy and spreading throughout Spain, France, and England. Women who were adept in textile crafts picked up the new lace techniques with ease. As lace became more popular among the wealthy, affluent families sought after innovative lace techniques to reflect their status.

Lace Trends.

As fashion trends evolved, the demands for lace grew. Textile workers refined their skills and were able to produce extremely intricate patterns, including Gros Point, the raised needlework, and flowing Milanese bobbin lace. Alencon and Argentan (French needle laces), as well as Binche, Valenciennes, and Mechlin (Flemish bobbin laces), became popular as lace continued to indicate one’s social status.

Industrial Revolution.

As the industrial revolution changed the way the world produced goods, it led to the production of machine lace. In 1768, John Heathcoat invented the bobbin net machine. Making it easier to produce complex lace designs more quickly, the Industrial Revolution was the downfall for the handmade lace industry. The teaching of handmade lacemaking disappeared in schools as emphasis shifted from trades to academics, which paved the way for lacemaking to become a hobby instead of the business it once was.


Lacemakers and other hosiery workers found themselves unemployed since they could not compete with the machines. Many of the unemployed who took their anger out on the factories became known as Luddites. In 1811, the Luddites destroyed factories and machinery, and the British government brought in the army to protect the industry. Luddites who were caught were tried and hanged or transported to a colony of criminals for lice.

Endless Possibilities.

In 1837, Samuel Ferguson first used jacquard looms with Heathcoat’s bobbin net machine, resulting in endless possibilities for lace designs. The types of lace are classified by how they are made. Varieties include tape, knotted, crocheted, knitted and chemical lace. 

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