The practice of lace-making began in the 15th or 16th century. There is no known specific date or country of origin for lace-making, because of its delicacy and proneness to breaking down and being lost. The majority of European countries developed a style of lace-making, so most of the countries will claim to have been the first true lace-makers, even though the real truth is not known.
True lace-making is created when thread is looped, twisted or braided to other threads with no backing fabric, either with needle-lacing or bobbin-lacing. It was originally made with silk or linen, while modern lace is usually made with cotton or synthetic fibers. Lace began its rapid development in the 16th century. Lace-makers developed geometric designs that became widely popular, using a technique called “needle-lacing,” in which a needle was used to loop the threads together to create the design. These designs were used in home décor and fashion, beautifying collars and cuffs on garments. Lace-making was incredibly time-consuming so it was very expensive, causing it to be a luxury. Owning lace was a mark of wealth and high social status.
Bobbin-lacing was expanded in the 18th century, which was a faster way of making lace. Because of the increasingly faster process, it became a profitable business. Bobbin-lacing was completed by using pins in a pillow to hold the thread, that is on multiple bobbins. It made it easier and faster to wrap around multiple pins to create loops and lace than it would have been with one needle and hands. The style of lace changed, becoming the opposite of geometric- more fluid and floral. This was probably influenced by the baroque embellishment style, being popularized by Marie Antoinette and the extravagant styles of Versailles.
In the 19th century, styles were drawn towards simpler designs, sheer with little ornamentation. The American and French revolutions had some influence on the changing fashions, influencing people to break away from the luxurious baroque culture. The sheer paneling was also influenced by the new machines that were developed to create the netted structures that lace is based upon. The “Bobbinet” was invented by John Heathcoat in the 19th century, and it could create a net ground, also better known as tulle. It had a characteristic diagonal pattern, lightness, durability, and sheerness, that was on par with handmade netting. It was so ingeniously designed that modern netting machines have had little alteration.
The Pusher machine was the first machine invented that could produce a pattern. This lead to a very increased production of patterned lace, making it widely available, cheaper, and popular. The Leavers machine was a more advanced version that could create patterns. Unlike the Pusher machine, it did not need a handrun gimp, and the machine could work entirely without a human’s aid. This increased lace production even more, making larger lace pieces, like tablecloths and curtains. Hand bobbin-lacing still remained popular for clothing. Some of the patterns that were widely used and imitated by the machines included the youghal, limerick, and carickmacross patterns. These used the machine patterns with hand embroidery on top to imitate the handmade patterns as closely as possible. It difficult to tell machine made lace from handmade lace.
The art of lace-making by hand for profit disappeared with the industrial revolution. Machines were advanced so that they could produce any sort of lace material, for a fraction of the time that a lace-maker would need to create it. There still exists a community of lace-makers, however, who do it for some profit and recreational use.