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Types of Lace

Rebecca Boxwell

As I began to learn about lace, I started to notice it everywhere. Yet each piece of lace that I saw seemed different than all of the previous pieces of lace I had come across. Clearly some of the differences were attributable to the contrast between machine made items and hand made items. Usually I could puzzle out if something were knit, or if it fell into my broad category of "other". As time went on I became increasingly frustrated by my general lack of understanding of what lace was, how it was made, and just how many different types of products were lace. Unable to find a single resource that gave a simple overview, I began to take notes. What follows is my attempt to make a identify the distinctions between the different types of lace. This is by no means an exhaustive or authoritative list, nor does it mention the numerous regional variations within each category. Recognizing the vastness of the lace tradition helped me to understand how knit items played their own unique role in what we recognize as lace.

Definitions of Lace:

"A delicate fabric made of yarn or thread in an open weblike pattern. Also called lacework." (Second definition of Lace according to dictionary.com)

In contrast, the Lace Guild suggests that perhaps the defining characteristic of lace is that is contains holes and that "these holes are formed as the lace is made, and not cut out afterwards." (See http://www.laceguild.demon.co.uk/ )

Perhaps the most thoughtful definition of lace came from Rosemary Shepherd's paper "Lace Classification System" written for the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney. The definition that Shepherd arrives at is "lace as a decorative openwork fabric in which the pattern of spaces is as important as the solid areas." Shepherd goes on to note that this definition "was written from the point of view of a maker of lace as well as a lace historian, with the expectation that lacemaking will continue to evolve, possibly beyond any techniques we might currently conceive of." (See http://www.powerhousemuseum.com/pdf/research/classification.pdf )

Categories of Lace:

Needle Lace

As the name would suggest, needle lace is made using a needle and thread. Usually needle lace is constructed using a support backing of either fabric or paper. An outline of the desired design is stitched onto the backing, and then a variety of stitches are used to fill in, or elaborate on the design. When the piece is finished it is removed from the backing material. ( See http://www.laceguild.demon.co.uk/ for an explanation and photo.)

Bobbin Lace

Along with needle lace, bobbin lace is considered to be the other "traditional" lace. Bobbin lace is used by winding threads onto bobbins, and then winding the bobbins in different combinations, holding the work in place using a system of pins, a guide sheet, and a stiff pillow. Bobbin lace can either be made in one continuous piece, or the parts of the lace may be made separately and attached later. ( See http://www.laceguild.demon.co.uk/ and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bobbin_lace for explanations and photos.) As a side note, the bobbins used to be made of bone, and were often referred to as "bones" thus the name "bone lace." ( See http://www.marlamallett.com/l-bobbin.htm for many gorgeous examples of bobbin lace.)

Tape Lace

Tape lace is made using commercially produced tapes or ribbons. The tape makes up the outlines and motifs, which are then connected by handwork. Often tape laces are thought to be "lesser" laces because commercial production of tapes allowed less skilled workers to make lace. Tape laces gained popularity as lace makers tried to compete with the speed and affordability of machine made laces. (See http://lace.lacefairy.com/ID/TapeID.html for photos.)

Knotted Lace

The category of knotted lace covers macramé and tatting, both of which rely on a series of loops and knots to create lace. Tatting was the type of lace making that was usually done by American women from the 1800s on. Tatting can be done with either a shuttle or a needle. (The antique shuttles are beautiful and pricey!) Tatted lace is made with a foundation thread that forms loops and chains, with stitches created along the base thread. ( See http://www.wcnet.org/~scwheels/ for photos and vintage patterns.)

Crocheted Lace

Crocheted lace is made using a crochet hook, and a series of different stitches to form an open pattern. Crochet became popular for lace in the 19th century. The most famous crocheted lace comes from Ireland. (See http://www.marlamallett.com/l-other.htm for photos.)

Knitted Lace

Well finally! Knitted lace is made using yarn or thread and knitting needles. It is constructed of a combination of increases, decreases, and yarn overs worked in a single thread of yarn. It is the use of yarn overs that creates the decorative holes in the lace. Knitted lace is said to date back to the 12th century. It is this type of lace that we will be exploring this week during the lace symposium.

Machine Made Lace

This final category includes all types of lace that are commercially produced.



The Lace Guild

Lace Classification System


Structures of Antique Lace

Lace Fairy

Vintage Tatting