Short History of Lace - For the Love of Lace
What is it that makes lace decor so intriguing?
Why do so many people treasure it?
What mystical hold does lace have on us?
Lace is probably one of the oldest treasures in the world. Starting with the Kings and Queens of Europe, from the sixteenth through the eighteenth centuries, lace was a status symbol for the aristocrats. Lace products were created mostly by women, by hand, in abject poverty and who were forbidden by law to wear their creations. The Seven Years War 1756 and the French Revolution, the revolt against the aristocratic society and all the ostentations it represented, brought an end to the lace making industry. Lace was disdained, as it was symbol of the aristocrats and all they represented.
Subsequently the Industrial Revolution introduced quite a few lace-making machines, and lace became affordable to the middle class. After 1830, cotton thread, rather than linen, was used to further reduce the price of lace. Everything from lace curtains, to bedding and table covers were now fashionable for the middle class. In the mid 1800’s, Queen Victoria’s wedding dress was made of lace and revived an interest in lace.
In the US, 2 World Wars and the Depression caused lace to slip into a decline again. In the 1990’s the appeal of lace has returned as symbols of a gentler lifestyle, nostalgia, and a little romance for our hectic lifestyles. Much of the above comes from Living with Lace by Bo Niles, an excellent resource for lace to about 1990. There is also much history on the web.
Lace collecting usually refers to older laces, those made of linen or cotton, both handmade and machine made. There are many Lace Guilds and Museums dedicating to showing and preserving lace.
As the lure of lace still has its grip on us, and as the prices for linen and cotton climb, lace has once again become the province of the wealthy. The cotton Scottish Lace made today are created on antique Nottingham lace looms in Scotland. There is only one mill left. The machines are gigantic in size and require 7 years of apprenticeship to operate. The patterns are revived from archives dating from 1850.
The US had at least 2 mills making cotton laces and they have both closed in the last couple of years.
Lace is now made on the modern looms and the thread has evolved to polyester, or a polyester/cotton blend, which is highly durable, easy-care and reasonably priced, and once again readily available to the middle class. Lace, especially lace doilies, runners, tablecloths and curtains are often imported from China. These are often a mixed fiber.
Lace has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be a part of home decor for many more years. Preserving and collecting lace will always be a time-honored tradition around the world.