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Bobbin Lacemaking


Published: 07/22/2009

by Joan Wilson, The Simcoe County Lacemakers


TIhe history of "hand made lace" as we know it, begins in the 16th century. It is impossible to start an authentic history before this time. But there are many claims to the beginning of lace making in many countries as early as the 1500s and bobbin lace appears in some Dutch portraits around the 1580s. The oldest lace pattern book known is in the library of Arsenal in Venice and again there are very early portraits showing lace used in the costume. So it is thought then that Italy holds the honour of introducing bobbin lace to the world.

There are many earlier stories of lace in costume and church vestments, but they are a cutwork lace and needle laces, darned netting and drawn-work. Although there are many famous needle laces such as "Alencon" I will stay to the bobbin laces.

In the 17th century, every garment was trimmed with lace. Sleeves were trimmed with lace, lace hung from the tops of men's boots, and tips of the garters were edged with lace. The instep of court or dress shoes was adorned with a large rosette of lace. Ladies wore gloves, caps, aprons, and capes in double and triple tiers. Christening suits, cradles, bed and household linens were all richly trimmed with lace. Lace continued in popularity to the 19th century.

As people moved around Europe, taking their lace-making skills with them, each area became known for its particular type of lace. Many northern countries in Europe learned the art of bobbin lace-making from the Netherlands, through the refugees that fled the religious persecution of the 16th century. Eventually, lace making became an important part of children's education and is still taught in lace schools today.

Lace making was a cottage industry and was taught in convents, schools, or in a room in the teacher's cottage. Younger children were taught the art and the teacher supervised older children as they made lace to be sold. Children as young as 6 or 7 could earn a small amount of money per week. Working conditions were often very poor. Rooms were cold and damp and lighting was very bad. Many terrible stories are told of poor conditions leading to illness and early blindness. As a cottage industry, men, women and children made lace. Often men could earn more making lace than in the fields. They worked long hours, as many as 12 to 15 a day. In the mid-1800s, the invention of lace machines caused the decline of the cottage industry of hand made lace.
***This is a partial excerpt from the article by the same name appearing in the Summer 2009 issue of A Needle Pulling Thread Magazine, which can be purchased by calling toll-free at 1.866.969.2678 or online at: