Characterized by its delicate workmanship and intricate, airy patterns, lace has been cherished as a decorative adornment for centuries. There’s been some controversy as to when and where lace-making began. Some believe that its origins are in ancient Rome, where relics of bobbin-shaped bone cylinders have been found. Others say that net-work (the art of making decorative nets) is the earliest form of lace, and that examples of this date back to 2000 B.C. And there are those who point to the land of the Pharaohs, who used to decorate flax cloth with colorful threads worked into geometric patterns. What we do know is that some of the earliest documentation about lace dates from the 15th century, when King Charles V decreed that lace-making was to be taught in Belgian convents. But whether the origins of true lace-making actually began at this time in Flanders (Belgium) or Italy is still up for debate. The fact is, though, that lace-making was a very important industry in both of these countries, and that over the following two centuries it spread to all the countries of Europe.
So what is lace? It’s an ornamental openwork fabric, patterned with open holes in the work. These holes can be made by removing threads from a previously woven piece of fabric. But true lace—bobbin lace and needle lace being the oldest—is when a threads are twisted, looped or braided together. These threads can be made of flax, cotton and silk, as well as metallic threads like gold, silver and copper. Even hair—especially the silver hair of older women—was sometimes used to create "hair lace."
The threads can be worked with a needle, known as "needle lace"; with bobbins, pins and a pillow or cushion, known as "bobbin lace" or "pillow lace"; and, centuries later, by machinery. Needle lace was more popular in Italy, whereas in Flanders, lacemakers preferred working with a bobbin.
The making of lace was firmly rooted in fashion and the desire to make clothing more decorative. And, unlike embroidery, a piece of lace could be unsewn from one garment and replaced onto another, reusing it time and time again. Thus lace became traded like a commodity.
Because of the skill and labor involved in producing lace, it was extremely expensive. By the 17th century, the wearing of lace was restricted by law to the nobility. But that changed in the 18th century, when anyone with money could purchase it. Wearing lace became an important status symbol among the upper classes, and the buying of lace was blamed for the loss of many a fortune. A man might sell a few acres of a vineyard, or an entire farm, in order to purchase enough lace for a large ruff. Because needlework was considered a highly acceptable pastime for upper class women, many of them made their own lace. These cherished textiles were often listed amongst the most valued possessions in the wills of great ladies and gentlemen.
During the height of its popularity, lace-making was one of the few respectable ways that a woman could make an honest living. Girls were schooled in the craft, sometimes starting as young as five years old. Through the years, they would learn all of the skills involved in making lace—from measuring thread to pricking out the patterns, and finally, to working on the lace itself, starting with the background pieces. Some of these girls would never get beyond a certain ability level and would spend the rest of their lives doing that one skill. Only the most talented lacemakers would be allowed to work on the intricate lace patterning. Thus one piece of lace could pass through many different hands, and it could take several women many months, or even an entire year, to create a single piece of lace.
With the 19th century came the invention of the lace machine, making lace easier and faster to produce, and therefore much more affordable. While gaining in popularity among the masses, lace also began to lose its luxury status. Fewer and fewer women were making lace by hand, and the craft almost became extinct. Fortunately, a few lace-making schools were revived in Belgium and Italy, and so the art and craft of making lace was not lost. Today, there’s an increased interest in newer forms of lace-making, such as tatting, crochet and knitted lace.
At Peruvian Connection, our greatest love is the preservation and perpetuation of ancient and important textile traditions, like lace-making. You’ll find a plethora of gorgeous lace designs throughout our latest collection—from the Victorian-inspired Chatsworth Blouse to the summery, hand-crocheted Belvedere Tunic and Bayshore Lace Cardigan, amongst others.