Lace, a fabric of threads of cotton, linen, flax, silk, gold, or silver, interwoven to form a delicate plain or ornamental network. According to some authorities, lace was in use among the Egyptians and the Greeks and Romans. Mrs. Palliser and others suppose the articles referred to as lace in the Old Testament, and other early works, to have been elaborate needlework or embroidery, and that lace was not made until a later period. The invention of lace is claimed both by Italy and Flanders. While it is difficult to determine in which country the manufacture had its origin, it appears that lace was made in both as early as the 15th century. Italian lace is supposed to be referred to in an account dated 1469, and preserved in the municipal archives of Ferrara, while bone and bobbin lace are unmistakably mentioned in a document dated 1493. At a very early period the laces of Venice, Milan, and Genoa were the best known in the commercial world. The "Venice point" lace, wonderful for delicate texture and elaborate design, became specially famous. In England it was highly prized and in general use in the reign of Elizabeth, and it found its way into France about the same period. Toward the latter part of the 18th century the manufacture began to decline, and it has since become extinct.
Flemish pictures of the 15th century represent persons adorned with lace, and a Belgian writer asserts that lace cornettes or caps were worn in that country as early as the 14th century. The invention of pillow lace has been claimed for Barbara Uttmann, who in 1561, having obtained aid from Flanders, began to make laces of various patterns at An-naherg, Saxony; but it is asserted by other authorities that she only introduced the manufacture into Germany at that date, as contemporaneous paintings bear evidence to the existence of the art in Flanders more than half a century before. The lace manufacture of the Netherlands increased with remarkable rapidity, and in the 16th century was a source of great wealth to the country. The article produced was of great beauty; the old Flemish laces, the Brussels point and the Mechlin, rivalled the best of the Italian. Every country of northern Europe, France (excepting Alencon), Germany, and England learned the art of lace making from Flanders. Prior to 1665 this industry seems to have been of little importance in France. The lace made was of coarse and inferior quality, and was in little demand compared with the artistic productions of Italy and Flanders, for which enormous sums were annually spent.
Nor did the prohibitions against these foreign luxuries develop the native manufacture. In 1666 the manufacture of lace was established at Alencon by Colbert, who had secured from Venice 30 women skilled in the art. Through the aid of Louis XIV. a great demand was created for this lace, which became known as the point de France and afterward as the point d'Alencon. But its high price limited its use to the rich, who now bought this instead of the Venetian laces. After the success of this enterprise, lace fabrics were established in various parts of France, and the number of lace-workers increased with great rapidity. At the beginning of the 18th century the annual production of lace in France was estimated at 8,000,000 francs. The celebrity of Spanish point lace in early times was scarcely less than that of the Flemish or Italian; but the manufacture has declined. Little is known concerning the origin of the manufacture of lace in Great Britain; but as the importation of this article was prohibited in 1483, it is presumed that the manufacture existed at that time.
In 1640 lace making was a flourishing industry in Buckinghamshire, and in the 17th and 18th centuries it extended over a larger area than at present. - Lace consists of two parts, the ground and the flower pattern, or " gimp." In some cases, however, the design is not worked upon a ground, but the different parts are connected with threads. The flower or other ornamental pattern may be made together with the ground, as in Valenciennes or Mechlin, or separately, and then worked in or sewn on (applique). Lace made by hand is divided into point and pillow. The former, termed needle point, point a l'aiguille, etc, is made with the needle on a parchment pattern. Point is also applied to lace produced by a particular stitch. Pillow lace is so termed from the pillow or cushion which for more than three centuries has been used in making lace. On this pillow is fixed a stiff piece of parchment, upon which the pattern is marked by means of small holes pricked in it, through which pins are stuck into the cushion. The threads for the lace are wound upon bobbins - formerly bones, whence the term bone lace.
By the twisting and crossing of these threads around the pins, the ground of the lace is made; while the pattern or figure is formed by interweaving a thread thicker than that forming the groundwork, according to the design indicated on the parchment. The designs are prepared by persons who devote themselves to this branch, while their execution is intrusted generally to women. Sometimes as many as 12 of these are employed upon the same design or figure, each having a different portion to produce. Guipure is a term so extensively applied to lace that it is difficult to limit its meaning. It is, however, a lace without ground, the designs being joined by " brides," or large coarse stitches. The names of the different varieties of lace have been derived from the places where the manufacture originated or has been carried on with the greatest success. The most noted products are now those of Belgium, France, and England. In Belgium 150,000 women are said to be employed in lace making, the majority of whom work at home. Throughout the country there are nearly 900 lace schools, many of which are in the convents. One of the most important centres of this industry is Brussels. The thread used, which is made at Hal and Rebecq-Rognon, of flax grown in Brabant, is of extraordinary fineness.
The finest quality is spun in dark underground rooms, to avoid the dry air, which causes the thread to break, and to secure the best light, which is done by admitting a single beam and directing it upon the work. It is the fineness of the thread, as well as the delicacy of the workmanship, which has given to the best Brussels lace such celebrity and rendered it so costly. It is often sold at $1,200 a pound, and has been mentioned as high as $2,500. In the old Brussels lace the design was worked in with the ground. The applique lace is now extensively produced, the designs being made on the pillow and afterward attached to the ground with the needle. Mechlin lace, which has been made at Mechlin, Antwerp, Lierre, and Turnhout, formerly had a wide celebrity; but the manufacture has long been on the decline, though it appears to have partially revived. This has been called the prettiest of laces. It is fine and transparent, and is best adapted to summer use, being most effective when worn over color. It is made in one piece on the pillow, with various fancy stitches introduced.
Its distinguishing feature is the flat thread which forms the flower, and gives to this lace the character of embroidery; it is hence sometimes called broderie de Malines. The most important branch of the pillow-lace trade in Belgium is the manufacture of Valenciennes, which, having become extinct in its native city, has attained great prosperity in Flanders. This lace is now chiefly made at Ypres, Bruges, Courtrai, Menin, Ghent, and Alost. The productions of Ypres are of the finest quality and most elaborate workmanship. Valenciennes lace is made upon the pillow, the same kind of thread being used for the pattern and the ground. It is remarkable for the beauty of its ground, richness of design, and evenness of tissue. It is said that more Valenciennes lace is used than any other kind; but the productions of this century are not equal in quality to those of the last. Gram-mont, Enghien, and Binche are also important centres of the lace industry. The last few years have witnessed a marked development of the manufacture throughout Belgium, and now white and black point and pillow lace is made in every province of the kingdom. - It is estimated that there are 500,000 lace makers in Europe, of whom nearly one half are employed in France. Almost all of the latter work at home.
Of the French laces, the most noted is the point d'Alencon, which has had a wide celebrity for more than two centuries, and has been styled the queen of lace. It is made entirely by hand with a fine needle upon a parchment pattern, in small pieces which are afterward united by invisible seams. The firmness and solidity of the texture are remarkable. Horsehair is often introduced along the edge to give firmness. Although the workmanship of this lace has always been of great beauty, the designs in the older specimens were seldom copied from nature. This circumstance gave a marked advantage to the laces of Brussels, which represented flowers and other natural designs with a high degree of accuracy. The defect, however, has disappeared in the point d'Alencon of recent manufacture; at the Paris exposition of 1867 were specimens containing admirable copies of natural flowers intermixed with grasses and ferns. Owing to its elaborate construction, this lace is seldom seen in large pieces. A dress made of point d'Alencon, the production of Bayeux, consisting of two flounces and trimmings, was exhibited at the exposition of 1867, the price of which was 85,000 francs. It required 40 women seven years to complete it.
Lace made at Chantilly formerly held a high rank, but the manufacture has greatly declined; but Chantilly lace is produced at Bayeux and other places. Bayeux and Caen are important centres of the lace industry, and are specially noted for black laces. The productions of Lille and Arras are well known, though that of the former place is greatly diminished. The Lille lace is noted for the beauty of its ground, "the finest, lightest, most transparent, and best made of all grounds." The work is simple, consisting of the ground and the pattern marked by a thick thread. The lace of Bailleul is strong and cheap, and is extensively used for trimming; much of it is sent to America and India. The lace manufacture of Auvergne, of which Le Puy is the centre, is considered the most ancient and extensive in France; the estimated number of women employed is about 130,000. Nearly every kind of lace is produced here. - In England the manufacture of lace is carried on chiefly in the counties of Buckingham, Devon, and Bedford. The work is mostly done by women and girls at home. The best known of the English hand-made laces is the Honiton, so called from the town of this name in Devonshire, where it was first made.
The high rank held by Honiton lace in recent years is attributed to the fact that Queen Victoria, commiserating the condition of the lace-workers of Devonshire, and wishing to bring their manufactures into notice, ordered her wedding dress, which cost £1,000, to be made of this material. Her example was followed by two of her daughters and the princess of Wales, and Honiton lace has continued to be fashionable and expensive. In making it, the designs, which often consist of simple sprigs, are formed separately and then attached to the ground. The Honiton guipure has an original character almost unique, and is said to surpass in richness and perfection any lace of the same kind made in Belgium: British point is an imitation lace made near London. Lace is made to some extent in Ireland, of which the Limerick is the best known, and in Scotland; also in most of the countries on the continent. - Machine-made Lace. Nearly every kind of lace is now made by machinery, and such excellence is attained that it is often difficult even for a practised eye to distinguish between the two kinds.
According to Mrs. Palliser, however, "the most finished productions of the frame never possess the touch, the finish, or the beauty of the laces made by hand." While the invention of this machinery has brought lace within the means of a large number who were formerly unable to buy it, the demand for the finer products of the pillow and the needle has not been diminished. The manufacture of lace by machinery is carried on chiefly in England and France, the great centre of this industry in the former country being Nottingham, and in the latter Calais. The first attempts to apply machinery to the work were made in 1758 by a stocking weaver of Nottingham, and his machine, which was called a pin machine, making single press point net in imitation of Brussels ground, is said to be still in use in France for making the variety known as tulle. The stocking weavers of Nottingham invented other machines, the first for bobbinet in 1799; and though they were all inferior, they made lace more cheaply than by the old methods, and caused Nottingham to become the centre of the trade.
But the first really successful machine for bobbinet (so named from the threads crossing the warp being supplied from bobbins) was that of Heathcoat, invented in 1809, and suggested by the machinery employed in making fishing nets. The principle of the invention was in the use of fixed parallel warp threads, round which the bobbin threads were worked as the weft of the fabric, one set going obliquely across from right to left and the second set obliquely across from left to right. Heathcoat was compelled by the opposition his machine excited to remove from Nottingham to Devonshire, and it was not until the expiration of his patent in 1823 that the machine was introduced in the former place. In the machine the warp threads, to the number of 700 to 1,200 in a yard of width, are stretched from a roller, which extends the whole length of the thread beam, and the weft threads are wound each upon a bobbin formed of two thin brass disks riveted together, leaving a narrow space between them for the thread. Each bobbin holds about 100 yards of thread, and there are as many as 1,200 of them to a machine. The arrangement and movement of these in the machine can be understood only by careful inspection and study of the machine itself.
The pieces of bobbinet measure from 20 to 30 yards each; the width is variable. The narrowest strips, even the narrow quillings used for cap borders, are made on the same machine, many breadths together, which are temporarily united by threads that are finally drawn out. There are special machines called warp machines, of great variety, for making the sorts of lace known as warp lace; and there are others called point net for making this quality. A Jacquard apparatus is attached to some of the machines for working in the thick thread of gimp for the ornamental figures. Where the thread passes from one figure to another, it is clipped off by children, who use the scissors for this purpose with great dexterity. The patterns at many of the factories are worked in by hand. The government school of design established at Nottingham has served to educate many skilful designers, who prepare the patterns upon wood or stone as for engraving or printing, those parts intended to leave a mark being in relief. The block, being moistened with some colored pigment, is repeatedly impressed upon the net, until the pattern is transferred to the whole surface designed for it; and the figure is then worked with the needle, the web being extended horizontally in a frame.
Before being embroidered the net is carefully examined, and the defective parts are skilfully repaired by a class of workwomen called lace menders. It is also singed by drawing it rapidly over the flame of gas lights. Bleaching and dyeing are final processes, preceding those belonging to calendering. "The labor of washing lace is almost an art; and only the most skilful are engaged in it. After washing, lace is spread out to dry on a cushioned table, and pins of a peculiar sort are run through each hole to prevent it from shrinking. When very fine, or the pattern intricate, an entire day will be spent upon one yard of lace." By means of the application of machinery to lace making, the price of the fabric has been wonderfully reduced; so that a rack of lace, equal to 240 meshes in the length, which in the early part of the present century cost to manufacture 3s. 6d., now costs not more than one penny; and a 24-rack piece, 5 quarters broad, formerly worth £17, is now sold for 7s. - Full information on this subject is given in the "History of Lace," by Mrs. Bury Palliser (London, 1865; 2d ed., 1869). See also the "History of Machine-wrought Hosiery and Lace Manufacture," by W. Felkin (London, 1867).