A stitch in time

THE HISTORY OF... LACE

PRETTY dresses look even better with a touch of lace. The hand- made variety is what we consider to be "proper" lace and the most familiar types are bobbin lace and needle lace. Bobbin lace is made by plaiting and weaving threads attached to bobbins held on a firm pillow, onto which the design has been marked out. Needle lace evolved from the embroidery made on fine linen and is constructed with a single needle working with one thread.

The most important centres of lace-making in the 16th century were Italy and the Low Countries, where needle and bobbin lace was used to make the stiff ruffs worn around the neck in Tudor years. Then around 1665 Louis XIV encouraged lace manufacture to become a more commercial enterprise in France. In the17th century, soft, falling collars were preferred, as lace became heavier, richer and wider.

Lace was particularly expensive during the 18th century and as manufacture was slow, supply often didn't meet demand, hence lace smuggling was common. Towards the end of the century machine-made lace started appearing in England.

In the 19th century attempts were made to revive the hand-made lace industry in Europe. Towards the end of the century lace was still considered an essential part of a woman's wardrobe and was often given as a present, but more sophisticated machine-made lace was increasingly taking over from the finer hand-made variety.

Lace was used to decorate churches and the best hand-made pieces were kept as family heirlooms to be passed down through the generations.

Changes in fashion and the First World War threatened the manufacture and use of hand-made lace, and since the Thirties has all but disappeared from mainstream stores.

Lace trends in the last few years have included lace that has metallic threads woven into it, re-embroidered lace and beaded lace. Corded, ribbon and raffia lace are popular for bridal wear, in traditional colours like ivory and white, and machine-made lace features most commonly in lingerie.

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