Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Lace-What a Fine Web We Weave

A large and often complicated topic, I will concentrate here on the development of lace during the industrial revolution.  For the greater majority of us who admire and desire to own antique examples of this textile, the place to begin our collecting would naturally be with the wealth of material available from the 19th century.
The word lace evolved from the Latin laqueus, which means "noose"  This textile appears to have developed in Europe and may have derived from the practice of fishermen mending their nets.  The exact origins are obscure and many debate whether the resulting textile developed in the Netherlands or Italy.  Certainly our earliest recorded and extant evidence of lace can only go back to the end of the 16th century.  Interestingly, while embroidery appears in the textile heritage of many peoples, lace seems to be unique to Europe.

Drawnwork and cutwork seem to be the method of manufacture in these early examples with the practice of bobbin lace a close derivative of weaving.  However it was produced, it could take years to manufacture one piece and cost the equivalent in todays dollars of many thousands.  To control the industry and trade, it fell under sumptuary laws and was often smuggled to avoid strict laws and taxation.  Their are many humorous accounts of smuggling attempts.  Even corpses could be enlisted in the game to avoid customs officials.  If found, the textile was burned.  Imagine how much was lost to this practice. Certainly, to the owner, it was worth the risk for it was all about status.

Lace, prior to the 19th century was made from linen or silken threads and this is a good indication of age.  At least a starting point.  It is not always possible to rely solely on the patterns themselves as a clue to age, as they could be reproduced at any time.  If the lace is made of wool or more commonly cotton, chances are that it is of 19th century manufacture.  The exception would be, "blonde".  It is made of silk and was very fashionable during the 2nd quarter of the 19th century.
Blond, last quarter 19th century
Machine lace was a product of the industrial revolution, which itself had an enormous effect on the textile industry.  A net, first made on the Stocking Frame about 1764, created a continuous looped fabric which had the tendency to unravel, much like knitting.  Improvements could be found in the square net(1777-1830) and then the point net with its distinctive hexagonal net mesh (1780-1820).  By 1830 a diamond shaped mesh gave the net a lighter and airy appearance.  This buoyancy captured the character of the Romantic Period perfectly.

The next step was to make patterned laces in an attempt to copy the more expensive and labour intensive styles of the lacemaker.  Early nets were embroidered by hand in a darning stitch, known as needlerun, or chainstitch, known as tambour.  A spotted net, Point d'Esprit appeared around 1831.  By 1840, good imitations of many handmade laces began to influence fashionable dress.  Valenciennes, Mechlin and Bucks.  These early laces were often looked down upon by those who could afford antique examples of the hand made.  Unfortunately, many of these were cut and remodeled to reflect current tastes and so many fine examples were lost or ruined.  The 1880's saw the invention of chemical lace in Switzerland and Germany.  A derivative of machine embroidery, the background material, which was usually of silk, was dissolved or corroded away by chlorine or caustic soda, leaving only the cotton stitching in tact.  From a distance, patterns were similar to Reticella, Punto in Aria, Venetian Point, Irish crochet, Honiton or Brussels.
Point d'Esprit
Edwardian dinner dress, author's collection

The effects of the mechanization of lace manufacture were:

1.  Handmade lace was no longer a status symbol, the machine made versions were difficult to differentiate from the real thing.

2.  Lace trimming was used in greater profusion on dress and in home decor, and co-ordinated pieces, woven en disposition, were employed.

3.  It was no longer possible for handmade lace to be produced economically.  The industry would now have to rely heavily on royal patronage.

I began to collect examples of lace while teaching a course in Textiles.  The examples shown are from that collection and I now will use them for my reproduction costumes.

Embroidered Laces:

Cutwork:  Appeared as early as the 16th century:  Cloth is cut with holes which are then embroidered around their edges.  Most common example today would be referred to as, "eyelet".  In the 19th century it was called, "Broderie Anglaise" and can be found in many undergarments, collars and cuffs of the period.

Madeira Work (above):  Common to the turn of the last century.  Seen most often in table linens.

Drawn and Pulled Threadwork: Here some of the threads are pulled or removed from the weave and the subsequent openings are bound over with stitching.  Production in the 19th century moved from the Baltic area to England where it was known mainly as, "Ayrshire" work.

Filet or Buratto:  One of the earliest lace techniques.  The meshes are usually square and the motif  is embroidered using a darning stitch.  Variations in thread thicknesses could produce a shaded effect.

Needlepointed Laces: The basic unit to look for here is the buttonhole stitch, and so, if the lace looks as if it has been embroidered, it is probably a needlepoint lace.  This technique produces some of the most beautiful examples and many machine copies were manufactured in the 19th century.  Usually it is these laces that appear to embellish a Worth gown if the antique piece was not available.

Alencon:  Originally of French manufacture.  Extremely time consuming to produce.  At the 1867 exhibition a dress was shown made from this lace that took 40 women 7 years to complete!  Obviously, the mechanization of this lace made it very popular for mass consumption.

Brussels (above) "Point de Gaze":  One of the most delicate and expensive laces of the 19th century.  Look for fine threads creating rose medallions.  Buttonhole stitch protects and defines the cordonnet.

"Point de Colbert" (below):  Mid 19th century copy of the heavier Venetian points.  Characterized by the stiffness of the hand and large stitches.  None the less, incredibly beautiful.

Bobbin Laces:

"Genoese" The example below, is quite different from its 17th century namesake.  The central motif is the characteristic of the original that lends its name to this sample.  Like Valenciennes, it was used extensively for lingerie trims and insertions.

"Chantilly" (above):  Examples dating to the 18th century are extremely rare.  Characteristically black, the mordant used to set the colour contained iron which would later eat away at the fibers.  Specimens dating to the 19th and 20th century are plentiful and the lace is still manufactured today.  Naturalistic flowers and Neo-classical themes such as swags and putti are found in the older and better examples.

Edwardian recreation by author
"Honiton":  Forever associated with Queen Victoria through her royal patronage.  The toile, tape or ribbon like, is fixed by linking brides.  The design is worked over a cartoon to insure accuracy.  Much like "Battenburg" lace except finer.

Alan Suddon Collection

Coarser in texture, linen tape is linked by twisted stitches of linen or cotton thread.  Notice the button hole filler or "wheels".  Characteristic of this style of lace.

Edwardian Lace dress,
Metropolitan Museum
Original owner in dress above
Irish crochet lace:  A craft lace.  Usually of cotton, highly textured.  Motifs of roses typically joined by picoted brides.
1920 Lingerie dress, authors collection
Throughout the 20th century, lace has come and gone out of fashion.  Currently, it is enjoying a revival and while examples of hand made lace are beyond the pocket books of many of us, the art of lace making is still being practice by a select few who desire to keep this craft alive.  To them and their patience, I dedicate this blog.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Study Tour-April 15-23, 2012

In 1997, I organized and led a study tour for the Costume Society of Ontario to England.  That tour was a huge success and so, 15 years later, I am ready to go back again.  If you don't know, next year is the Diamond Jubilee of Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II and this tour promises to be the opportunity of a lifetime!  Special exhibits and access to go behind the scenes, along with the birthday celebrations of the Queen herself are all offered on this unique tour devoted to Costume and Textile study.


Sunday April 15, 2012:  Depart from Toronto for an overnight flight to London. (Or contact travel agent to arrange for earlier weekend departure + accommodation and enjoy London on your own before our weeks events begin).

Monday April 16, 2012:  Arrive London and transfer to hotel.  Today we visit Kensington Palace for 3 very special exhibits.  Welcome dinner included.

Balmoral walking dress of Victoria, 1855
"Victoria Revealed" will explore the world of the princess, queen and future empress through her clothing and other royal artifacts.  What better venue than her childhood home to explore her world.  Walk through the corridors and spaces that haven't changed since she was a girl!

"Jubilee-The-View From The Crowd" captures the celebration of Queen Victoria's own Diamond Jubilee of 1897 from the perspective of the lens and publications of the day.  Artifacts will allow for the comparison between the two jubilees of Victoria and Elizabeth.

Installing exhibit 
"Wildworks"  Contemporary British designers create fashions based on the personalities of past princesses who have inhabited Kensington Palace.  From Queen Anne (1702-1714) through to Diana, Princess of Wales, (1961-1997) This exhibit is sure to generate some conversation amongst your fellow travelers.

Tuesday April 17, 2012:  The Royal School of Needlework at Hampton Court Palace is our host today.  We will be given a special 2 hour guided presentation followed by access to the new exhibit, "Royal Connections".  This exhibit focuses on the needlework created by members of the royal family!  Queen Mary is sure to be the star of this show.  She was an accomplished embroiderer.   Plenty of free time to explore the palace and grounds later.  Being late April, the gardens should be lovely. Breakfast included.

Wednesday April 18, 2012:  An early start today as we head toward Manchester to visit the Gallery of English Costume at Platt Hall.  This collection is second only in its' scope and depth to that of the Victoria and Albert Museum.  Over 20,000 articles related to dress are in their collection.  We view the permanent galleries on our own.  Then back to London.  Tonight, why not join me on one of my London walks?  A very different city at night.  Breakfast included.

A chronological display of the history of fashion is on view at Platt Hall.  These museums are very generous in allowing photography in their galleries! Contrary to how we feel here in North America.

Thursday April 19, 2012:  Another early start today as we venture out to the UNESCO world heritage city of Bath Spa.  Truly an architectural gem and home to the renowned Museum of Costume.  With a collection on display that covers over 300 years of dress and artifacts you are sure to be pleased with your day.  We will also have the opportunity for a behind the scenes visit to the Costume Research facilities.  The staff are preparing to dig out some real treasures for our visit.  Still time to visit this remarkable city which includes textile and antique dealers shops before we return to London.  Breakfast included.

Museum entrance at the Pump rooms of Robert Adam

1660 dress of cloth of gold

The museum also offers theme based shows in its rotating gallery, such as this previous show on the work of designer Bill Gibb.

Friday April 20, 2012:  Two venues are visited today.  For the theatre lover, a tour of the famous Globe Theatre and then afterwards, it's out to Greenwich and the Fan Museum.  An afternoon tea is ours to enjoy today at the Orangery located at the museum. Breakfast included.

Typical display at Fan Museum

The Orangery for Tea

Globe Theatre

Theatre costumes on display at the Globe Theatre.  For those of you interested in recreating as I am, the work here is truly astounding and, for me, humbling.

Saturday April 21, 2012:  The Queen's Birthday today!  All of London is sure to be a buzz.  The day is free for you to take part in the festivities.  See the royal family progress through the city on their way to a special service at St. Paul's Cathedral.  Hate crowds, not a royalist?  Then spend the day hunting through the flea markets and vintage clothing shops of the city or visit the many world famous retailers, such as Liberty or Harrod's.  You still have many more art galleries and museums at your disposal today.  This is our last day so make the most of it. Breakfast included.

Merchandising students at Alfie's

The textile department at Liberty

Vintage fashion in Portobello Market

Sunday April 22, 2012:  Another free day to attend to your loose ends.  Breakfast included

Monday April 23, 2012:  Today the tour returns back to Toronto OR add on a few days to continue on your own personal odyssey.  Breakfast included.

Tour Includes:
Return air fare Toronto Pearson International to London Gatwick
Twin bedded, 4 * accommodation with private bath, centrally located in London
Breakfast daily
Welcome dinner
Afternoon Tea at the Fan Museum
One week London Transit card for unlimited travel-all zones
Private motor coach to Manchester and Bath Spa
Entrance fees as high lighted on itinerary

Tour Cost:  $2270.00 Canadian dollars per person based on double occupancy
Land Only:  $1565.00 Canadian dollars per person based on double occupancy
Deposit:  $500.00
Cancellation insurance is strongly recommended at time of booking
Final Payment due:  on or before February 10, 2012

For complete details including terms and conditions contact:
Worldwide Central Travel (2007) Ltd.
295 Weber Street North, Unit 3
Waterloo, Ontario N2J 3H8
(888) 667-8881 Toll free
e-mail to:
TICO Ont Lic. #50016255

Note:  For those participants not traveling through Toronto,  or wishing to use air miles points, the Land only option is recommended.  If you choose this option, the office can still arrange your departure details from anywhere worldwide, as well as, extra nights accommodation in London.  I would strongly advise arriving a day or two early in London to get over jet lag before we begin our tour on Monday  April 16, 2012.