Around Home : Old Lace

IN SPITE OF the complex results, lace making is basically simple--a technique for twisting threads together to form an open-work fabric on which a selected pattern stands out against a net-like background ( reseau ) . Almost any kind of thread can be used; cotton and silk are common, but the most usual material is linen. There are two types: bobbin (or pillow) lace and needlepoint lace.

Bobbin lace is made on a round or oval pillow, held on the knees of the lace maker. A pattern is drawn on a piece of parchment, pins are inserted to point up the design, and a thread is looped around each pin before being attached to a bobbin. Bobbins act as weights; they are generally made of wood, bone or ivory, and as many as 1,000 can be used at one time. Almost anything can serve as bobbins--pencils, chicken bones, nails, even railroad spikes.

The different kinds of lace are named after the countries and towns in which they were made: point de Venise , for example, point d’Angleterre , point de Bruxelles (Brussels lace) and so forth. As early as the 15th Century, Flanders lace was considered one of the very best. Its schools had an international reputation, and Flemish craftsmen carried their techniques to France and England.

Lace was found in the forms of table cloths, doilies, dresser scarfs, collars, cuffs, ecclesiastical vestments and mantillas for Spanish ladies (point d’Espagne referred to lace made with gold or silver thread). It formed part of the costume of the Elizabethan age in England and of pre-revolutionary France. By 1700, there were insatiable demands for lace from the Roman Catholic Church and the aristocracy.

The working life of the lace maker--prey to poor eyesight and pulmonary diseases--was often over before the age of 30. Valenciennes lace, for example, could only be made in damp cellars (the moisture is necessary to keep the thread from breaking).


With the coming of the Industrial Revolution, bobbin-net machines and other devices were invented, and by 1870 handmade lace virtually disappeared, except for a few places in France and Belgium. Today in Bruges, once one of the world’s great lace-making centers, there is no trace of artistic handwork. Antique lace made before the 19th Century is extremely expensive. At auction in 1988, one might have found a flounce of Venetian bobbin lace, c. 1690 (7 1/2x160 inches) for $1,300; a pair of cravat ends of Brussels bobbin lace with the monogram of the Sun King, Louis XIV, c. 1710 (12 1/2x16 inches) for $5,500; or English needlepoint lace, c. 1700 (8 1/2x98 inches) for $5,500.

Look for old lace at Dorothy’s Old Fashioned Corner in Los Angeles; Big White Elephant in West Hollywood; Something Old, Something Nouveau in Santa Monica; Golyester in Venice; BTW Ltd. in Mar Vista; Gift Garden Antiques in Pacific Palisades; Uncle Tom’s Antiques in Orange; Pasadena Antique Center in Pasadena; Antique Warehouse in Solana Beach, and Norma Dee Antiques in La Jolla.