Born of Thread and Air
Stretching the Limits of Needle and Soul

October 1st, 2007 - February 2nd, 2008

Slide Show
Exhibit Catalog

The most precious of all laces,
needle lace,
at its zenith reached a perfection of skill
beyond comprehension of all that is human.

If perfection exists
it goes beyond technical skill...
it is in the embodiment of the needle and soul of the lacemaker.

It is the close examination and touch of this fabric
that draws one into a world of myth, fantasy and wonder.
It is a glimpse of workmanship
that surely will never again be equaled.
To see first a design of open and solid areas
and then to comprehend
that this has been transcribed into a fabric
formed from threads
as fine as those of a spider's web,
where even the finest line is constructed
of the minutest of twistings, plaitings and loopings,
and then to feel the weightless character of this fabric
is to be caught
in the addictive spell of lace

 The creation of this magical fabric took place in a technically simple world where lighting was a candle and a magnifier was a globe of water...a world where patience and dedication to achieve unprecedented heights of human skill reached near fanatical levels. This was the Renaissance in all its glory, and lace embodied this spirit.

Nurtured by the Renaissance, lace, an openwork formed threads alone, without any ground fabric evolved in two distinct forms: bobbin lace, where multiple weighted threads were manipulated to create woven designs, and needle lace, where designs are formed by a single thread drawn by a needle. These two techniques are referred to as “true lace” and reigned from the early 16th century to the early 19th century when the “popular” or "imitation" laces were conceived to serve the new bourgeois society of the industrial age.

Needle lace is the child of embroidery. From its initial beginnings as decorative infillings in a fabric base, it reached its peak of perfection between 1625 and 1775, supported by the courts of Europe. The needle held its own with the 19th century popular laces, but remains today as little more than a ghost of its former glory in such contemporary needle laces as Battenberg or tape lace.

In examining any piece of lace, the toile, or solid areas of the design, and the entoilage, or connecting areas are first observed. All true needle lace is constructed by manipulating a single thread, the punto a festone commonly referred to as the buttonhole stitch, whether worked tight or loose or twisted before looping, or stitches piled on top of stitches like grains of wet sand to produce the dense sculptural quality of the Venetian point laces. By control and design, the dense toile and well as the open entoilage can be created. The entoilage can be short bars, or brides, joining the toile portions, or it can be a delicate net called a reseau.

Needle lace is typically worked in sections, first the toile motifs and then the entoilage joining these pieces, often worked by different lace makers. A third technique would later be developed referred to as applique, where the toile sections were sewn to a premade net. This gained much popularity in the 19th century, when machine made nets became available.


The Elements of this Exhibit

As with most needlework of the past, origins and maker are unrecorded and unknown. We might know where we obtained a specific piece of needlework but this would rarely reflect its origin or its initial purpose. Most needlework was revered and consistently transformed into other works for new use or simply as way of preserving its beauty.

There are obvious technical characteristics which help identify a work and there are physical characteristics which can identify a fiber, but actual dating and origin must be left to conjecture. Techniques spread rapidly and innovation became the pleasure of the needleworker

The primary purpose of this exhibit of  whitework is to show the connection of the human spirit to the piece executed…to see and understand and somehow comprehend the dedication and skill of the worker in this involvement. It is this intrinsic value of each piece which goes beyond a name or date that demands our attention.

There will always be the need to know more and we at LMLT have done our research, but much is conjecture, and more questions than answers are the norm. We can only share what we see and what we have discovered and hopefully seduce you into this marvel of mankind’s achievements.

Lacis Museum of Lace and Textiles