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Spun by fairies - The art and wizardry of lace

Updated: Jul 14, 2023

October 17, 2020

close up look of vintage lace with floral pattern
Vintage lace


“On the charms of lace, as beauty’s aid, it is hardly necessary to dwell: all acknowledge the graceful and softening effect of filmy ruffles and delicate webs of flax thread.


Never does an old lady look so charming as when she drapes her head and shoulders with old lace, and never are the charms of youth and beauty so apparent as when enhanced with lace.”


- Emily Jackson, A History of Hand-Made Lace, 1900


Queen Victoria of England in a haute couture white lace wedding dress
Portrait of Queen Victoria of England in her wedding gown and veil, by Franz Xavier Winterhalter.


The Art and Wizardry of Lace

Lace has always fascinated me. I can look in awe while visiting any textile museum that houses antique lace and just marvel at the skill and time it would have taken to produce something so complex and beautiful. The airy, diaphanous, open work fabric created by the twisting, looping, and plaiting of delicate threads conveys something exquisitely romantic and timeless. Long favoured by many brides the world over, lace and embroidered embellishments adorning a bridal gown has been a go-to aesthetic for a great number of years.

Queen Victoria of England set this time-honored trend in the Western world by wearing a white gown with delicately trimmed Honiton lace neckline and sleeves, lace flounce, and a lace veil, bringing back a nearly extinct art and craft into fashion. Victoria treasured her lace flounce and veil so much that she was known to wear them at other special occasions in her life.


Frances Marbury in lace with cuffs and headdresses. Lace accessories.
Portrait of Frances Marbury with her daughter in high lace collars, cuffs, and headdresses in intricate needle lace. English school 1613.

A Condensed History

For many centuries, handmade lace was very much in demand by European royalty and the aristocracy. It was worn by both men and women, and regarded as an ultimate luxury item, symbolising refinement and wealth. The time, skill, and patience that went into producing exclusive lace was a true art and craft and highly regarded as a prized possession. So prized, that fine lace used to be considered one of the most valuable and extravagant commodities one could own, and only the most affluent and those of the highest rank could acquire it.

The art of lacemaking hit its peak of quality, intricacy, and beauty in the 17th century. In times of war and upheaval where trade was restricted or forbidden between countries, lace was smuggled in and out using various (and truly unconventional) methods. One such method was sending dogs across land borders padded with lace and then wrapped with another dog’s hide sewn onto them to conceal it, or even having bodies expatriated back to their homelands in coffins with the torso removed and replaced with the padded “body” of a pillow stuffed with costly lace.


The man wearing a lace cravat in 17th century. Lace accessories for male.
Portrait of a young man of the Chigi family, Jacob-Ferdinand Voet, 1670.

By the time of the French Revolution and the revolt against the monarchy, luxuries such as lace were considered to be unconscionable and as such, the art of lacemaking and the lace industry in France hereafter was virtually wiped out, along with its wearers and makers by the end of the 18th century.


“It is no exaggeration to affirm that the sharp blade of the guillotine which severed the head of the beautiful Marie Antoinette, also severed the thread which wove the masterpieces of lace.”


- Emily Jackson, A History of Hand-Made Lace, 1900


However, lacemaking did slowly start up again, as Napoleon I placed a strong emphasis on bringing the craft back into production in France when he came into power. He revered fine French lace and required his court to wear it. It was in 1841 that the Leavers loom was invented and in turn helped revive the industry even further, coinciding with the popularity of Queen Victoria’s lace-trimmed wedding gown.


Most laces were and are named for the region or town they are produced in. Some examples are Alençon lace, Chantilly lace, Brussels lace, Honiton lace, and Venetian lace, originating from France, Belgium, England, and Italy, respectively.


Original lace producing methods are usually divided into two types, depending on how they are made: needle point lace or bobbin lace.


A drawing of a bride in long shelves white bridal dress
A drawing of a bride in a lace wedding dress

Needle lace


Dates back to 15th century Europe, and is the original, very labor-intensive method of making lace, producing it all by hand with a needle and thread. It is truly a dying art that few in the world are still able to do these days. A beautiful example of this lace is, la dentelle au point d’Alençon.


Needle lace with organic pattern made by hand with needles and thread
Close Up Look of Needle Lace

Bobbin lace


Is also created by hand, and started being produced in the early 16th century. The bobbin method uses strategically placed pins, or bobbins, placed in a pattern on a pillow or cushion to create the template of the lace’s desired motif to anchor the threads to while working and “weaving” the pattern.


Handmade traditional bobbin lace with geometry patterns
Handmade Bobbin Lace made with Pins and Bobbins


Nowadays, most lace that is used in the making of wedding dresses is manufactured in China. It is made using cheaper materials, primarily with synthetics in large factories. The waste and pollution produced from this, along with that of all other “fast-fashion” producers, harms the environment.


All of the lace types listed below are available in cheaper “knock-off” versions produced in China and elsewhere in the fast-fashion garment industry. Sustainable lace is indeed rare and difficult to find, and only handmade lace and the traditional French laces that are still being made today by a select few lace houses are truly eco-friendly.


Lace market displays delicate lace in different colors and patterns
Lace in diverse colors and motifs

Lace has an enduring and timeless charm and has remained a staple in wedding fashions. Lending a feminine, romantic, and dreamy element to any bridal gown, the choice of colours, motifs, and finishes brides of today can choose from is very broad.


While white and ivory are still the most popular hues, ecru, champagne, rosy pastels, silver, and pale gold are other lovely options to give thought to.



Chantilly lace


Originally a type of bobbin lace, Chantilly lace originates back to the 17th century in Chantilly, France. It is a delicate, lightweight lace with a beautiful drape and airy movement to it. Chantilly consists of a hexagonal mesh/tulle background and is designed with an array of elaborate and detailed floral motifs, usually with a scalloped border.


Bridaldress made with delicate and light Chantilly Lace
Chantilly Lace Bridal Dress

Chantilly lace can also be made with cording or embroidered embellishments for a more extravagant effect, like Alençon lace, for example. Made in the traditional way on antique Leavers looms in place of hand-weaving on bobbins, it is romantic, soft, and classic. Perfectly lovely for summer wedding gowns and also incorporates splendidly into vintage-style gowns.


Poster of Vintage Long Sleeves Bridal Gown and veil with Chantilly Lace
Vintage Bridal Gown with Chantilly Lace

Alençon lace


Originating from Alençon, France, this type of needle lace is often called the “Queen of Lace”. A distinguishing factor of Alençon lace is that is has a raised cording to create floral motifs that is constructed with tiny loops and stitches on a base Chantilly lace. It is a very tactile lace that has a beautiful 3-D quality to it. Within these corded borders, beading, crystals, or intricate designs are embroidered onto the backing mesh.


Close up look of "Queen of Lace" Alençon Lace with pink floral motifs
"Queen of Lace" Alençon Lace


True Alençon handmade needle lace is only made these days by a select few talented artisans that have luckily kept the art and craft alive. Since the 1840’s, it is produced on Leavers looms in France. This method is also a very intricate and fine art to master as the cording and embellishments are all done by hand.



Lyon lace


From Lyon, France, this lace is still being made today via the traditional methods on still older Leavers looms of a specific design that only Lyon lace makers are authorised to use. Lyon lace is the highest quality lace in the world? Truly exclusive, this lace is woven from cotton, linen, and wool. Our head designer at Maison M’Elise sources many of her favourite lace designs from one of the only Lyon lace manufacturers that exist today.


Close up look of Intricate Lyon Lace with  authorised motifs
Intricate Lyon Lace

Close Up Look of traditional Lyon Lace with floral and organic motifs
Close Up Look of Lyon Lace

Guipure lace


Guipure is a meshless lace that is created with raised, embroidery-like stitches and has no backing fabric, or tulle. This type of lace is more dense and thicker than most other laces with a very open “weave” and look. The designs or motifs connect to each other via braided bars or twisted plaits creating intricate floral or geometric patterns. This type of lace is well suited for weddings in colder climates or seasons, and has a bold and dramatic aesthetic.


Guipure Lace with floral and geometric patterns for bridaldress
Guipure Lace

Bride in puff long-sleeves wedding gown in Guipure Lace from the 1930
1930´s Wedding Gown in Guipure Lace

Point d’Esprit lace


This type of lace has a simple dot pattern on a mesh backing and looks great on tea-length or 50’s silhouette dresses for a feminine and retro look. It is often used for less formal bridal looks.


Point d’Esprit lace with dot pattern displays the beauty of woman
Point d’Esprit lace

Embroidered, beaded, and embellished lace


This includes the ornate, corded Alençon lace, beaded or sequined Chantilly lace, or any lace variety with adornments of appliqués, pearls, metallic filigree thread, or shimmering beadwork. They are perfect for creating an elegant and luxurious look for your wedding day.


Embroidered, beaded, and embellished lace with an elegant and luxurious atmosphere
Embroidered, Beaded, and Embellished Lace

Laser-cut “lace”


Technically a fabric rather than a true lace, various types of fabrics can be cut with a laser to create complex patterns that give the appearance of lace. Innovative and edgy designs and motifs can be made using laser cutting, and many modern designers have utilised this technique in their collections to bring something contemporary For the unconventional bride that wants something different and trend-setting, laser cut “lace” is a perfect option.


Laser-cut lace with contemporary pattern design for unconventional bride
Laser-cut “lace” is a fabric rather than a true lace

Eyelash Lace


The term “eyelash” is a feature of many types of lace and refers to the edge of the lace when it is cut, leaving a fringed and scalloped edge that resembles eyelashes. The fringed threads are an integral feature of the lace and is a sign of the high quality of the lace. It is usually never trimmed off as the lash is a distinct element of its design and of its distinguished quality.


 fringed and scalloped edge of Eyelash Lace with floral motifs
Eyelash Lace


I do hope that lace remains a beloved feature of bridal wear and also just as an incredible sartorial art form in itself. I also hope that we can help preserve the traditional lace making industry and to inspire others to appreciate the craft and those who devote their lives and livelihoods to it.


We at Maison M’Elise create our own signature storytelling lace in Tilburg, Netherlands at the Tilburg Textile Museum. Hand drawing the motifs, we can then produce everything from design to the finished textile locally, applying beautiful appliqué designs and embroidered embellishments by hand.


Hand drawing Lace Motif from Maison M'elise in Tilburg Textile Museum, the Netherlands
Hand drawing Lace Motif

Other lace companies we work with are all of European origin and are produced in the traditional, time-honoured manner. Supporting traditional methods ensure that we are not contributing to the fast-fashion produced laces and textiles that dominate the market, and also to encourage the traditional lace industry to once again flourish.

– Valerie Torres

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