Gold lace from a man's coat worn at the Court of Napoleon.
Although there is no open-work, such decorations are "lace " in the old sense of the word of lace and embroidery, heavy with ornament, and rich with gold, silver, and silken decoration. It possesses the subtle appeal of costly simplicity.
The making of rich needlework on simple home-spun linen is as old as the time of Solomon himself. Translators from Chaldaic, Hebrew, and Arabic tell us of network darned or embroidered at the hem with gold, silver, and coloured silks, and from Homer onwards the wear of lovely women has been of stuffs of a splendour that, though barbaric, yet is subdued or only half revealed.
Many people are unaware that gold and silver laces were made long before the more filmy fabrics of flax thread. On the opening of a Scandinavian barrow a piece of gold lace in the old lozenge design was brought to light; another fine example of antique gold lace was discovered in the coffin of St. Cuthbert in Durham Cathedral. The saint had been buried in his cope, and maniple, and the lace, made separate from the brocade, had been stitched on to it.
In tracing the evolution of hand-made lace as we know it to-day, laces of precious metal have played an important part, for when sumptuary laws of the fifteenth century, forbidding the wearing of gold and silver lace, spoiled the trade of gold lace-making in Italy, many of the workers left their own country and migrated to others, taking with them their industry. Thus did the fine art of lace-making spread over Europe and add to the beautiful handicrafts of the countries of its adoption.
Another most important effect of these sumptuary laws was that the gold and silver lace-makers began to substitute flax threads for the forbidden gold and silver, and then it was they found that increased facility in working the pliable linen threads enabled them to enrich their patterns with ingenious stitches, impossible with the threads of metal. So it came to pass that the metal laces were the parents of the linen laces, and beauties undreamed of in the gold thread days could be achieved in the humbler material.
A Drastic Enactment
How would the ladies of to-day care to hear that the Chancellor of the Exchequer had brought in a Bill to the effect that " No burgess must have a carriage, nor be dressed in green nor grey, nor must he wear ermine. No burgess must wear gold nor precious stones. No lady, if not a lady of the manor, must have more than two dresses a year. It is forbidden to a burgess to spend more than six francs a yard on any material, and no more than eight francs must be spent by ladies of superior rank." The penalty for infringing these laws was forfeiture of the forbidden article for a year, from Easter to Easter.
Such legislation would not be very popular, and it is safe to prophesy that any Government of the present day who brought it in would not be long in power.
The humours of sumptuary laws and their futility are a fascinating subject, but we must return to the beautiful laces of gold and silken thread, such as are exemplified in the lovely harmony in mauve and green in the picture that forms the frontispiece of Part 19 of Every Woman's Encyclopedia.
Gold lace of simple torchon pattern. Such designs are much used for gold laces, as the metal is not so easily worked as the linen thread
The old guipure of the Middle Ages and later was very different from the lace we call guipure d'art of the present day, being the name given to a kind of gold and silver thread lace. Very often the metal wire, or strip, was rolled round a card, or cartisane, made of a thin strip of parchment. On this the gold or silver was firm and workable. Sometimes bobbins were used in gold lace-making, as they still are, and sometimes the needle was used.
On account of its costliness, such metal guipure was only worn by the very rich or on the livery of the King's servants. It is perfectly correct to talk of the gold lace on liveries and uniforms; though there is no open-work, the flat braid-like decorations are lace in the old sense of the word; men who provide the same still call themselves lace-men.
Gold lace came from Cyprus before it was known in Italy, and was celebrated there before we read of "the fringe of gold of Venys," and before Genoa and Lucca workers twisted the metal threads; into borders of great beauty, though never of very complicated design, because of the difficulty of working it.
Geometric patterns were adhered to, even at the zenith of gold and silver thread lace-making during the latter half of the seventeenth century.
Point d'espagne is a gold lace. Its name is misleading to the uninitiated, for much of it was made at Aurillac and Lyons. Paris has always been noted for its gold lace, and well do the great modistes know how to use a few touches of it on their finest creations.
A Royal Patron
Napoleon, brilliant stage-manager of a Court that he was, encouraged the lace industry by subsidies and also by large orders. A cravat of fine lace was ordered to be worn as part of the Court dress. He also encouraged the making of gold laces. Those shown in one of our illustrations were taken from a Court dress of the First Empire. In their effect they accorded well with the Persian and Indian shawls, scarves, and draperies beloved by Josephine. In planning a dress that includes in it the bright glint of metal, we should remember its effect is one of pseudo-orientalism, and great care, therefore, must be taken to strike no jarring note, or the result will be, not a more or less barbaric yet artistic effect, but, alas, one of vulgarity and garishness.