The making of an openwork fabric by the manipulation of a single thread (needlelace) or multiple threads (bobbin lace) by hand.
|Historic area of significance||East Midlands, Devon|
|Area currently practised||UK|
|Origin in the UK||16th century|
|Minimum no. of craftspeople required||201-500 (rough guess)|
|Current no. of trainees||Unknown|
|Current no. of skilled craftspeople||1000+|
|Current total no. of craftspeople||1000+|
Lace is an openwork fabric, with the holes created as the lace is worked. There are two main methods of making lace – with a needle and single thread (needle lace) or with multiple threads (bobbin lace) – although lace can also be made with a crochet hook, knitting needle or tatting shuttle. It is believed that lace originated in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, and rapidly developed from the 1550s onwards. By 1600 high quality lace was being made in many centres across Europe including Flanders, Spain, France and England. The demand for lace continued to grow in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, with the styles changing to meet the changing demands of fashion.
The Industrial Revolution heralded profound changes for lacemaking, bringing about the mechanisation of this painstaking craft. The first machine lace was made in the late-eighteenth century, and was followed in 1809 by a machine which could produce net fabric which did not unravel by hand. Technological developments continued throughout the 1800s and by 1870 almost every type of handmade lace could be made by machine, leading to the disappearance of the handmade lace industry in England by 1900. The twentieth century saw the revival of handmade lace as a craft undertaken for pleasure.
See the Lace Guild website for a full history of the craft.
The two main forms of lace are:
Bobbin lace: worked on a firm pillow using bobbins to manipulate the threads and pins to hold the stitches in place – historically Honiton lace, Bucks Point lace, Bedfordshire lace and Torchon lace in the UK
Needle lace: made using a needle and thread, mainly with variations of the detached buttonhole stitch – typically Hollie Point lace in England
Other forms of lace:
Fabric-based lace: made by removing threads from a woven background, and wrapping or filling the remaining threads with embroidery, e.g. cutwork, whitework, Ruskin
Net-based lace: e.g. Carrickmacross, Limerick, Princess and Filet lace
Tape-based lace: e.g. Branscombe Point and Renaissance
Knotted lace: made using macrame and tatting techniques
Crochet lace: made using crochet techniques
Knitted lace: made using knitting techniques
The main lacemaking centres were in the East Midlands (Buckinghamshire, Bedfordshire and Northamptonshire) where straight laces were made, and around Honiton in Devon which specialised in part laces.
Bobbin lace is a discrete craft and is considered to be endangered (although not in imminent danger of disappearing)
Other forms of lace cannot be easily detached from their parent crafts – embroidery, knitting, crochet, knotting
Issues affecting the viability of the craft
Market issues: Lace is not a craft which is affected by market issues – it is more than a century since lacemaking was a commercial activity in the UK. Very few lacemakers sell their work (the time needed to work most pieces means that it is rarely possible to earn a reasonable rate per hour). It remains a rewarding hobby with a few lacemakers earning a small income from teaching and writing.
Ageing craftspeople: Most practitioners are elderly and many who once taught no longer do so. There are only a few very keen youngsters.
Training issues: the imposition by the Adult Education service of repetitive testing has killed off most of the classes that once introduced newcomers to lace skills and was a severe blow to giving people an entry into the craft.
Training issues: Making lace for sale is not a commercial option, so there is no opportunity for an apprentice lacemaker to learn his or her trade.
Training issues: There are currently few teachers who specialise in maintaining English lace traditions and we have no scheme in the UK for training lace teachers.
Training issues: Shortage of teachers in some areas of the country.
Lack of awareness: We also struggle with a variety of outdated myths – that it is difficult, takes a lot of patience, is only good for doilies – none of which are true!
Craftspeople currently known