The vogue of filet lace, or darned netting, is at this moment greater than ever. The fact that this work has been in use more or less since the Middle Ages makes it only the more interesting, and the knowledge that we must search back to those remote times for inspirations only makes our quest the keener.
This work, known at different periods by different names - opus araneum, lacis, point coute, and many others - is one of the earliest and simplest forms of lace, and there are specimens extant which are believed to have been made in the thirteenth century.
In the present day the word "filet " describes the various modern forms for all practical purposes. The French distinguish the different modes of working on the square mesh as " filet brode," " filet italien," and ' filet d'art." The Venetians were probably the first to employ the darned square-meshed netting to ornament linen fabrics for domestic and ecclesiastical purposes, and they have continued to produce it from then till now.
In the earliest days the darned designs were chiefly geometrical, but later developed into classical figures, birds, beasts, and fishes, trees and flowers. The simplicity of this rather primitive mode of decoration has always been one of its chief merits. It is a peasants' industry in France, Spain, Germany, and Russia, in addition to its native Italy. Naturally, the designs vary with the country of production, but the method is always more or less the same, and the square-meshed ground cannot be improved upon.
The French peasants supply the market with the hand-made square-mesh material in strips, squares, and curtain lengths. It is a matter for surprise and regret that in the peasant class of our own country there never seems to have been woman or child to take up this most interesting occupation. The materials required are so few and inexpensive, and the work so simple, mechanical, and portable, that one can but hope to see it one day supersede the crochet which (to judge from appearances) seems the only form of fancy work available at present.
For the making of filet there are required thread of suitable size for the object to be constructed, netting needles to fit the thread, meshes of various sizes, frames, and long, blunt-pointed needles with round eyes for the darning. The thread of the netting and darning should be, as nearly as possible, of the same size, and of a smooth texture, tightly twisted. A loose make of thread is unsatisfactory, as it soon works woolly, and spoils the effect of the darning. The fineness or coarseness must be determined by the desires of the worker and the purposes to which the finished work is to be applied.
For dessert doyleys a No. 17 mesh and 70 thread may be used, while for sofa-backs, cushions, table-centres, and so forth, a much coarser mesh and thread would be suitable. The netting needle must accord with the size of the stitch, which is always twice as big as the mesh itself. Care should be taken not to fill the netting needle too full of thread, as it has to pass through such a small opening in making each stitch. In netting the foundation the old method was to tie the thread to a stirrup of ribbon through which the worker's foot was passed, but a much more convenient plan was to fasten the loop to a weighted cushion, or one of those which can be screwed to the table. Having filled the netting needle with suitable thread, and fixed a loop to the cushion or weight, take the mesh between the thumb and forefinger of the left hand, pass the thread over the mesh, round the thumb and finger, under the thumb, and round the whole hand. Pass the mesh under the 1st thread, over the 2nd, and through the loop, release all except the thread on the little finger, draw the knot tight, and gradually let off the loop remaining round the little finger.
To make a square, commence at the corner, work 2 stitches over the loop, turn the work, take out the mesh, net 1 stitch in the first loop, 2 in the last, and repeat, always netting 2 in the last loop until the number of stitches required is complete. Then net 1 plain row, and decrease by taking 2 loops together at the end of each row, and always allow 1 extra stitch when counting for a square.
Strips of any length may be made by the same method, commencing in the same way as for a square, and having netted as many stitches as are required for the width of the band, and 2 over, work alternately 1 row decreasing at the end, and I row increasing at the end. When as many stitches are worked on the increasing side as are required for the length of the band, finish off by decreasing at every row.
The frame should be rather larger than the work it encloses, and the edge laced with thick thread through every stitch. It is a good plan to fasten the corners first
A band may be made into a scalloped lace by cutting away the superfluous squares, and buttonholing round the edge. It may be said in passing that the hand-made netted background is so easily procured in all shapes and sizes, and in every degree of fineness or coarseness, that comparatively few workers care to give up the time for making it themselves. There is also obtainable a machine-made net in various sizes which so closely resembles the hand-made variety that only a very experienced eye can detect the difference. Much of the beautiful and costly French filet work is found, on examination, to be made on this superior machine-made material, which is considerably cheaper than the hand-made. The ordinary machine-made square-mesh net, as sold by drapers, is quite unsuitable for anything but coarse, though effective, dress trimmings. Very good results may be obtained with coarse wools and gold threads for darning, but these should be used sparingly.