April 2009

What is lace and lace-making?

I was going to write an article about knitted lace and Irish crochet. Then I thought about different types of lace and wondered what true lace is and when lace making began. I had to find more about lace and its origins.

Lace is an openwork fabric, creating geometric and other wonderful patterns. People have always been looking for ways to make their clothing attractive. Archeologists have found samples of lace edgings in Egypt. However, it appears that lace-making took off in Italy and Flanders in early 16th century. The origins of lace were braiding and geometric drawn-work and cutwork. Some people think that there are two kinds of lace that can be called "True Lace", needlepoint lace and bobbin lace.

Needlepoint lace is extremely hard to work as it is embroidered on a piece of parchment or paper. The intricate lace patterns are drawn on paper then stitched with a needle. Later the paper is removed and what's left is very delicate openwork lace.

Bobbin lace is worked on a stuffed pad (pillow) with several bobbins with long thread wound around them. The most intricate bobbin lace was done with as many as 1200 bobbins. Since bobbin lace was easier to learn than needlepoint lace and the tools were inexpensive, it became more fashionable. With the popularity of lace during the 16th century, bobbin lace was taught in schools and convents. Bobbin lace paid more than spinning, weaving, and sewing, therefore it became a source of income for women working at home during that time.

Bobbin lace could be worked with coarse material, but the most elaborate ones were done in linen, wool, silk, silver, and gold filaments. Bobbin lace allowed the artist to create items with beautiful shapes, and gradually distanced itself from the earlier geometric forms. Bobbin lace has been very popular except when lace was not fashionable. Later machine-made lace replaced bobbin lace and these days it is only worked by hobbyists.

It is noteworthy that people have always been looking for easier ways to produce lace. As a result, they created techniques such as tatting, Irish crochet, filet crochet, knitted lace, and several other techniques. These techniques that produce wonderful lace fabric are not considered "True Lace" by some, but each one has its own place and incomparable beauty.

For more information about bobbin lace, check out:



To learn more about different types of lace, check out:


Nazanin S. Fard

Needlecraft University

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