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(Latin laqueus ; It. laccio, trine, merletto ; Spanish lazo, encaje, pasamano ; French lacis, dentelle ; German Spitze ).


(1) Classification

(a) Needle-made lace, or needlepoint ( trine ad ago ), which has three divisions:—(i) Lacis, lace made by working various needlepoint stitches on a specially prepared knotted netting ( modano ) or twisted netting ( buratto ). (ii) Lace made by the needle on a foundation of woven linen—the pattern sometimes made by drawing threads together by the needle, sometimes by cutting portions of the linen away and sewing over the remaining threads. This linen lace is called drawn-work ( tela tirata ) and reticello or cut-work ( tela tagliata ). A Venetian chalice-cover of the seventeenth century has a background of cut-work, the figures being worked in punto in aria . (iii) Needle lace made without any foundation at all, and hence called punto in aria . This includes every variety of needle-made or point lace made entirely without foundation, such as Venice and Spanish flat point and raised point, point de France, Alençon point, point de gaze, etc. However widely dissimilar these laces may be in their designs and styles of execution, they all come under the head of needlepoint lace.

(b) Bobbin-point lace, which is made with bobbins on a pillow ( trine a fuselli ) or by crochet, tatting or simply twisting and knotting threads by hand into fringe as in macramé (Sp. moresco ). There are three chief ways of making bobbin-lace. (i) Early or peasant lace.—A tape, sometimes plain, sometimes ornamented, is made on the pillow, and joined up as required, but is not cut or finished off until the pattern is completed. (ii) Genoese, Milanese lace, etc.—Complete sprays or patterns are made and finished on the pillow and afterwards placed as required and joined by brides or by a réseau. (iii) Mechlin, binche, valenciennes, etc.—The same bobbins which were first filled and placed on the pillow continue throughout the process, and complete both pattern and ground of the lace.

(2) History

Among the Egyptian antiquities discovered in 1909 by Professor F. Petrie, at Qurneh, it is interesting to recognize the square knotted mesh netting, similar to the lacis called modano . This netting covers the vases found at the side of the coffin of a remarkable burial of the seventeenth dynasty (1600 B.C.). Other specimens of lace made with bobbins and of lace stitches worked on linen have been found in Egyptian tombs of the first to the third century, and fine specimens of these are in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, and in the Cluny Museum, Paris. For many subsequent centuries we possess no actual specimens of lace fabrics, but records, illuminated manuscripts, sculpture, and paintings give us evidence that hand-work in lace and on linen was continuously and gradually developed into the beautiful products of the fifteenth, sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. It will be worth while to quote some ancient references. The "Ancren Riwle" of the thirteenth century cautions nuns against devoting too much time to lace and ornamental work, to the detriment of work for the poor. The record of a visitation at St. Paul's, London, in 1295, mentions lacis under the name of album filum nodatum (knotted white thread). A roll of the possessions of the Knights Templars after their suppression in 1312 includes an inventory of the Temple Church, London. An item in this is "one net which is called Espinum to cover the Lectern ".

On the question of design, as indicating the date of lacework, the early geometric character of design inspired by the East was modified as early as the eighth century, as we see, by realistic ornamentation, such as the flowing scrolls and vine leaves introduced into the initial letters of manuscripts of that date. These paintings were chiefly the work of monks of the Benedictine Order, and the lace at that time was undoubtedly the work of nuns and intended for church purposes. Therefore we may conclude that mutual assistance in design was given, as both were working for the same object, the ornamentation and glory of the Sacred Scriptures and the services of the Church.

The two earliest known specimens of lace-worked linen albs are that of St. Francis, preserved at St. Clare's convent, Assisi, and the alb of Pope Boniface VIII , now in the treasury of the Sistine Chapel. The Assisi alb is said to have been worked by St. Clare of Assisi and her nuns, and to have been worn by St. Francis himself (d. 1226). This alb is of hand-woven linen, very fine in texture, and the tela tirata work introduces no less than twenty varieties of polygonal design. Many of these are formed of the Coptic gammadion or symbol of the cross. Symbolic animals and chimeras are also introduced, and the Eastern character of the design is obvious. The other ancient alb is also of linen lace and is said to have been worn by Pope Boniface in 1298. As to its possible history, it is known that St. Nilus and his monks were driven from the East by the Saracens in the tenth century and were welcomed in Italy by Pope Gregory V. He established them near Rome, where their successors still worship with the Eastern Rite. The famous alb may have been brought by these monks or by those who followed them from the East. The design is worked in punto tirato and is evidently of Eastern origin; the flounce of pillow lace was added at a later date.

Dr. Daniel Rock has pointed out that the long strips of lacis and linen lace of early work, now sometimes found, were covers for the lectern ; and this is confirmed by the fact that the figure subjects are usually worked across the width of the piece, as in a remarkable piece dating from the fifteenth century. This is a strip of tela tirata , six feet by twelve and one-half inches, probably worked by the nuns at Assisi as a lectern cover, and representing, among other sacred subjects, St. Francis receiving the Stigmata. Existing records as early as the twelfth century mention "worked albs " belonging to the Abbey of St. Albans , and in an inventory of 1466 of St. Stephen's, London, we read of "worked altar cloths and towels" and some with three "rayes" at each end. These "rayes" were rows of insertion of reticello work.

There is no doubt that the Church was the first patron of lace-making in Europe, and the finest existing specimens both of early and late work were made to decorate albs, Mass vestments, etc. A very curious specimen of linen lace of pre-Reformation times is the pyx veil now existing in the parish of Hesselt in Suffolk. This beautiful square, entirely worked in tela tirata, has a hole in the centre through which the chain passed to hand the vessel containing the Blessed Sacrament.

The earliest lace-pattern books now existing are dated 1527, which proves that the art was already well known and practised, as the patterns given in these books are only practicable for very experienced workers. From this time in Venice began the punto in aria , worked first as flat point and punto avorio , and then with numberless enrichments constituting raised, or rose, point, point de neige , or rosalline point, caterpillar point, etc. The flowing scrolls and graceful, though always conventional flowers, are characteristic of the splendid Venetian laces. In the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, is a very remarkable set of Mass vestments, chasuble, stole, maniple, and chalice veil, made entirely of the finest seventeenth-century Venetian rose point; the veil has emblems of the Blessed Sacrament, the vine, ears of corn, etc. In the same place is a splendid altar-frontal of seventeenth-century gros point de Venise .

It should be remembered that many articles made for church use in early times are much to be admired as a testimony to zeal and devotion. But some the rubrics at present in force would not approve of for use in the sanctuary. Albs and cottas should have the major part of linen; lace, to be correct, should be only twelve inches deep, as an alb flounce, and there should be no frill of lace at the neck.

Two examples of the flourishing industry of modern production of needlepoint are work done at the convent at Youghal, Ireland, and from the school of Burano, in Venice, patronized by the Holy Father, the Queen of Italy, and others.

Spanish needlepoint laces may be identified by a certain over-elaboration of design and ornaments. Much seventeenth-and eighteenth-century church lace came from Spain at the time of the Revolution and suppression of the monasteries in 1830; hence the name "Spanish point" is often given to gros point de Venise . The lace now made in Spain is distinctly derived and actually named from Flemish and Italian originals. Barcelona makes much silk lace.

A Venetian lace-designer was invited to France by Henry III about 1580, and lace-making was established in Auvergne. Fifty years later an edict of the Toulouse Parliament put a stop to this flourishing industry, and the inhabitants of Velay and Le Puy were reduced to misery, but by the exertions of the Jesuit Father John Francis Regis (afterwards canonized by Clement XII ) the obnoxious law was repealed, and the saint is still the patron of lace-making. Lace in those days was even technically under the protection of the Church, among the names of stitches being "Pater", "Ave Maria", "Chapelet", etc. More than 100,000 workers now make pillow lace and point Arabe , as the modern guipure is called, at Le Puy , and lace is also made in the departments of Cantal and Vienne, and at Mirecourt in the Vosges. Alençon had an early lace-making industry, and portions of laces made for church use about 1550 by the then Duchess of Alençon are now to be seen in the museum of that town. Later, the needlepoint industry of Alençon was founded by Venetian workers imported by the State in 1665, and the magnificent point de France was the result. The French modifications of Venetian design were most ambitious and ingenious, and in any important piece of point de France may be found every variety of realistic design, or emblems of religion, war, or the arts, together with portraits of great personages and heraldic devices. Towards the end of the eighteenth century a less ambitious style was adopted, the Alençon laces lost their Venetian character, and the designs became for the most part a series of small floral patterns. Needle point is still made at Alençon by two or three hundred workers. Pillow lace flourished in Belgium and Holland from the fifteenth century and attained its apogee in the eighteenth; the designs closely followed the fashions of France and Italy. Magnificent flounces for albs of Brussels point d'Angleterre are mentioned in the inventories of Paris churches from 1740.

At the same time that France began to rival Italian lace King Charles II of England revived a previous edict against foreign laces. But while the French successfully rivalled Venetian laces, the fine bobbin laces of Flanders called point de Flandre and point d'Angleterre were never approached by English workers. Hollie, or holy, point is the only English distinctive needlepoint lace; this was principally used for infants' caps and other garments at baptism, and the Holy Dove, a pot with flowers reminiscent of the Annunciation, etc., were devices often used. Bobbin lace has been made in England since early in the sixteenth century. Devonshire lace was and is the most important. Buckinghamshire and Bedfordshire follow closely, and nearly every county in England at the present time has taken up the industry with praiseworthy results.

The needlepoint lace of Youghal, Ireland, was started by the nuns of the Presentation Convent, at the time of the terrible famine of 1847. It is celebrated for excellence both of design and execution and received a gold medal from the Vatican. Lace has been made at Youghal for empresses and queens. In 1905 the sum of $17,500 was paid to workers, and the quantity of lace made is always increasing. Needlepoint lace is also the specialty of the Poor Clares at Kenmare; the industry was founded in 1862, and beautiful lace was made for the Archbishop of New York and other prelates. The Institute for Deaf and Dumb Girls, St. Mary's, Cabra, Dublin, is most successful with Limerick darned lace. Much is made for church use, and it has received honours both at home and at Chicago in 1893. The Convent of Mercy has made Limerick and crochet laces ever since the Famine year in the beautiful old town of Kinsale. Large quantities of lace were sold at Chicago ; about a hundred and fifty workers are employed. The Co-operative Lace Society established at the convent at New Ross makes every kind of crochet lace, and because of its durability this lace is much used for church purposes. Many other convents and institutions impossible to enumerate encourage this beautiful industry with success. In the report presented to Parliament in 1909, the value of lace exported was estimated at $475,000. But as many convents sell privately, this is a very low figure.


The beautiful laces made by machinery are the most widely known and used at the present time. England originated lace machines, and France may claim to have perfected them. The stocking machine was no doubt the parent of lace-making machinery. The machines were started at Nottingham in England, early in the nineteenth century, and were called bobbin-net, or point-net, or warp-net, machines, and the lace first made was often finished and enriched by hand. Owing to the destruction of more than a thousand stocking frames and lace machines by rioters, it was made a capital offence in 1812 to destroy machines. Imitation lace was shown at the Exhibition of 1851, and Nottingham now employs designers for lace of all kinds, and produces machinery for making the heaviest, as well as the finest, of modern laces. Calais in France, St. Gall in Switzerland, and Plauen in Saxony are centres of activity and enterprise in the production of lace fabrics, and the value of lace manufactured in England, France, Switzerland and Germany exceeds a billion dollars annually.

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