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patterned openwork fabric made by plaiting, knotting, looping, or twisting. The finest lace is made from linen thread. Handmade laces include needlepoint and bobbin lace, tatting, crochet workcrochet work
, form of knitting done with a hook, by means of which loops of thread or yarn are drawn through other, preceding loops. Crochet stitches are all based on the chain or single crochet, i.e., a single loop.
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, and some fabrics made by netting and darning.

Varieties of Lace

Laces, often named for their location of origination, are of many types. Valenciennes is a fine, diamond-meshed lace much used for trimmings and ruffles. Mechlin is of similar type, but filmier; torchon is a simple, loose lace, made and used by peasants all over Europe; Honiton, one of the fine English laces, has a net foundation with appliqués of delicate, handmade braid. Brussels is a rich lace of several varieties. Duchesse has exquisite patterns with much raised work. Maltese is coarse and heavy, usually made of silk. Chantilly is a delicate mesh with ornate patterns, originally made of the yellowish undyed silk called blonde, later often dyed black. Point d'Espagne is lace of gold or silver thread.

A number of laces fall outside a strict classification. Guipure has a heavy pattern formed by a braid with a less valuable core covered with fine silk, gold, or silver thread. Limerick lace is tambour work on net. Renaissance or Battenberg lace is of heavy tape formed into a pattern and filled in with lace stitches. Carrickmacross is cutwork lace. So-called English point or point d'Angleterre is Flemish point, at one time smuggled into England and renamed.

Filet is a combination of knotting and darning, reminiscent of the earliest lace forms attempted. Cutwork, or various combinations of early lace forms with embroideryembroidery,
ornamental needlework applied to all varieties of fabrics and worked with many sorts of thread—linen, cotton, wool, silk, gold, and even hair. Decorative objects, such as shells, feathers, beads, and jewels, are often sewn to the embroidered piece.
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, also formed an important step in lace making. The better-known knotted laces are tatting and macramémacramé
, a technique of decorative knotting employing simple basic knots to create a multitude of patterns. The term derives from an Arabic word for braided fringe. Its first known use was recorded by Arabs in the 13th cent.
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; macramé evolved from the early Italian punto a groppo. Crocheted lace reached its finest development in Ireland. Knitted laces, for which many intricate patterns survive, have been mainly of peasant use.

Evolution of Lace Making

Lace was developed prior to the 16th cent. from the drawn work, cutwork, and lacis (darning on squares of net) of the embroiderers' craft. With drawn work, more and more threads were removed until the ground vanished altogether. A design was executed and its principal line supported the complete pattern. The first of such laces, reticella, originated in Venice and was based on geometric forms. Later, as laceworkers sought relief from the restrictions of symmetrical design, the illogical but beautiful designs of punto in aria (literally, a stitch in the air) were first created. The richest, most sumptuous of these needlepoint laces was the Venetian raised point of the 17th cent.

The vogue for lace began c.1540, and pattern books began to appear. Early reticella designs usually included pointed or scalloped edges. By the time of Charles I lace was used extravagantly for both costume and interior decorating; by 1643 lace making had become an established industry. In France patterns became increasingly more detailed and delicate; the light, flowery point de France was used for every conceivable decorative purpose. Later the laces of Alençon, Argentan, and Valencienne exemplified French style and design. The making of bobbin, pillow, or bone lace, which is mentioned as early as 1495, passed from Italy to Flanders, reaching its height of production there in the 18th cent.

Machine-made lace first appeared c.1760, and by 1813 a bobbinet machine was perfected. After 1832 cotton thread somewhat replaced linen. In the 20th cent. many lace patterns were revived and modified, and called Cluny lace. The chief modern centers of lace making are France, Belgium, England, Ireland, and Italy.


See E. Reigate, An Illustrated Guide to Lace (1986).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



a fabric without a woven foundation, in which openwork designs and patterns are formed by the interlacing threads (silk, cotton, wool, or metal). Lace is used as trimming for clothing (yard lace; insertions, zigzag edging) or as an inset (medallions, triangles, squares, and ovals). It is also used to make doilies, napkins, and bedspreads (wide laces).

Lace, a product of decorative applied art, is distinguished by its airiness, sheerness, elasticity, and ornateness. It consists of a combination of openwork design and ground (the net background) or the contrasts of the solid design (often raised) and the lace ground. There are various rhythmically constructed motifs. The color, sheen, and texture of the threads are also displayed. Often the effect of the lace is heightened by the color and texture of the fabric with which the lace is combined. Lace is made by hand and by machine.

Handmade lace is woven with bobbins (turned or carved slender pieces of wood) or is worked with a needle. Some laces are crocheted or knitted and imitate bobbin lace or needlepoint lace. One type of bobbin lace is made without a preliminary pattern according to the number of interweavings; it usually consists of geometric designs. Another type of bobbin lace (including straight and free lace) is based on a “pricked pattern”—a design pricked through a piece of cardboard or parchment that is secured to a roller. Pins are placed into the holes. The lace is formed by interlacing threads around the pins. In straight bobbin lace, the pattern and the ground are worked simultaneously. In free bobbin lace the main elements of the pattern are joined by threads with a crochet hook (series of sewings, or “rope sewing”). Straight bobbin lace consists primarily of geometric designs; free lace, of foliage designs.

Lace first appeared, seemingly in Italy, in the 16th century. Early needlepoint lace consisted of zigzag edgings with a geometric or foliage design or with representations of human figures and animals. At the end of the 16th century, guipure became wide-spread in Venice, Milan, and Genoa. In guipure, elements of a needlework or bobbin pattern are connected by fine threads. In the mid-17th century, the pattern of Venetian needlepoint guipures consisted of characteristically baroque dynamic scrolls and large flowers with raised contours. In the 18th century, Italy ceased to be the leading lace center, with Flanders and France taking its place.

In Flanders the production of lace began at the end of the 16th century. Needlepoint laces with geometric patterns were first to appear. Flemish bobbin laces appeared later, with the most well-known being Binche lace, Valenciennes lace, and Mechlin lace (named after the cities in which they were made). These bobbin laces are characterized by a pattern, formed by the close interweaving of threads, on a meshed ground sprinkled with figures. In the early 18th century, a delicate and light net, known as tulle, was manufactured, with such rococo patterns as garlands and scrolls. At this time, Brussels became the principal lace center. In the middle of the 18th century, appliques on tulle were made in Brussels. This method of manufacture was quicker and more economical, leading to the production of large articles, such as shawls and capes.

French lace-making developed from the mid-17th century. Needlepoint guipures, with elaborate patterns (small foliage designs, human figures, and cupids), were produced in Alencon, Argentan, and Sedan. In these cities in the 18th century, net grounds with designs of bouquets, garlands, and scrolls were manufactured. In the late 18th and early 19th centuries a narrow pattern was used as the border of tulle, and the remainder of the ground was sewn over with small flowers or spots. In the cities of Cannes, Chantilly, Bayeux, and Le Puy, needlepoint tulle laces of the blonde (from golden or black untwisted silk) and Chantilly (from white and black twisted silk) types were made.

In Russia the production of bobbin laces dates to the first quarter of the 17th century, at which time they were made in the tsar’s workshops. These laces, in the form of insertions, were made of gold and silver threads and were characterized by a large flat pattern. The introduction in the 18th century of the European manner of dress fostered the production of lace in Russian monasteries and on country estates. The artistic effect of Russian 18th-century laces, with their geometric and foliage patterns (often resembling the decorative patterns of peasant embroidery and weaving), was achieved by the use of various materials, including white flax, colored silks, and gold and silver thread. However, despite similarities, Russian 18th-century laces had the distinctive characteristics of various artistic centers, such as Galich (in present-day Kostroma Oblast), Rostov, Vologda, Balakhna, Kaliazin, Torzhok, and Riazan’. In the first quarter of the 19th century, the production of lace acquired the character of an industry. In Soviet times (in the 1920’s) an industrial cooperative was organized, bringing together the lacemakers of the principal lace centers. Courses in lace-making and special schools were established. In Soviet lace-making, which develops the rich artistic traditions of Russian lace, Russian types of designs and new decorative motifs are used.


Since the 19th century, inexpensive machine-made lace, which imitates handmade lace, has become common. The first attempts to mechanize the manufacture of the net were made in 1768, when a mesh resembling the ground of lace was made on a stocking knitting frame. In 1809, John Heathcoat, an English inventor, developed a net-making (bobbinet) machine equipped with a shuttle. Machine production gradually gained acceptance because embroidering the design on a ready-made net ground took relatively little time and was not as labor-consuming as the preparation of a net. Beginning in 1863, after the invention of an embroidering machine in Switzerland, the pattern was applied to the net by machine. At the same time, appliques of fine batiste were sewn onto the ground. In 1834 a Jacquard mechanism was successfully installed on a net-making machine. From then on, the ground and the pattern (that is, all of the lace) were made by machine. Net-making machines were first imported into Russia (St. Petersburg) in 1837, where the manufacture of curtains was organized.

Machine-made lace is made on bobbinet machines equipped with a Jacquard mechanism, on loom shuttles, on embroidering machines, and on ground-weaving machines.

Loom shuttles make lace by interweaving two systems of threads: the warp and the weft (shuttle). The shuttle and the reed interact on perpendicular planes combining darning and knotting of threads. These shuttles produce only cotton laces. However, the difficulties in using this process (the lubrication of the machine’s working parts with graphite) and its unsuitability for the manufacture of lace from chemical fibers made it necessary to abandon the process and seek new methods of lace manufacture. Subsequently, lace was made by the knitting method, which is several times more productive than the shuttle method and requires no graphite lubrication. The net ground of lace produced on loom shuttles has a rhomboidal structure; net made on warp-knitting machines has a rectangular structure. Lace with a rhomboidal net structure is called smooth tulle. Lace with a pattern imitative of lace produced on loom shuttles is made on raschel knitting machines with pattern-forming hackles. At present, there are machines with 12, 18, 24, 30, 36, 42, and 48 hackles. The operating width of knitting machines reaches 4,000 mm. Several dozen strips of lace are manufactured at the same time; they are removed from the machine in breadths and then cut or unraveled to form individual stríps.



Rabotnova, I. P. Russkoe narodnoe kruzhevo. Moscow, 1956.
Biriukova, N. lu. Zapadnoevropeiskoe kruzhevo 16–19 vekov, v Sobranie Ermitazha. Leningrad, 1959.
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


A patterned, openwork fabric made by hand with needles or hooks, or by machinery.
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Scientific & Technical Terms, 6E, Copyright © 2003 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.


1. a delicate decorative fabric made from cotton, silk, etc., woven in an open web of different symmetrical patterns and figures
2. a dash of spirits added to a beverage
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005


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