ATape Lace from the 17th to the 21st Centuries

October 4th, 2008 - Febuary 3rd, 2009

Slide Show

The origins of tape lace date back to the 17th century
when it was conceived as a technique to satisfy
the insatiable demands for lace in this new age
by simplifying the production of the time consuming
and very expensive hand needle laces.

It was not, however, until the mid 19th century that this

technique evolved into a new and unique lace in its own right,
supporting designs that reflected the broad brush of the creative artist,
as well as the needs of a generation focussed on innovation and creativity,
a direct reflection of the Industrial Age.

The magic of openwork design in thread, as explored in the 16th century, quickly led to demands for more ethereal fabrics, finer threads, and extraordinary skills for its execution. Demand quickly exceeded production as the wearing and display of lace filtered down from the highest levels of nobility.

A new technique, bobbin lace, emerged, which was far quicker than needle lace and could be mastered with far less training. Nonetheless, needle lace, which required the outlining of the motifs with a fine thread that was later completely covered with buttonhole stitches, remained the preferred lace. By the mid 17th century a new concept of lace making evolved to meet the demands of a new age. Rather than outlining the motifs with a fine thread, a narrow, flat bobbin lace tape was used. Infilling stitches were connected to the edges of the tape and the buttonhole stitching was eliminated. As the tape grew wider, more space was filled and fewer needle stitches were required. 

In the mid 19th century, the emerging middle class renewed the demand for lace. The new industrialists had wealth, and lace, which was previously restricted to the nobility, proclaimed their new social position. There were revivals of the needle and bobbin laces of the previous century, but the time-consuming techniques of traditional laces limited production. New lace techniques were developed to bring lace of age, such as Irish crochet, embroidered tulle, tatting, knitted lace and a revival of tape lace. The printed word was available to every household and women’s magazines proliferated, extolling the virtues of hand work.

Tape lace now became one of the most popular techniques, as evidenced by the number of patterns published in magazines and printed on cloth that could be ordered for a few cents. The tapes were now made by machine and evolved from a simple straight tape to a wide variety of shapes, simulating the designs of bobbin lace. From mimicking needle and bobbin lace, the new tape lace soon took on an identity of its own with bold designs, applique techniques and works of large scale appropriate for garments, curtains and table covers. Traditional needle lace stitches were explored and new stitches were invented, stressing ease of working and quick filling of the open areas. Buttonhole bars were reduced to twisted threads and net infillings were replaced by webs of tulle. Tapes became wider to further reduce the open area that required needle infillings, and eventually reached a point where no infillings were necessary, since the tapes simply attached to themselves.

Lacis Museum of Lace and Textiles