Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Lace in 18th Century France

1760 Robe a la francaise with engageantes, quilles, and lappets of lace

In the 18th century, lace was used extensively to enhance the dress of both men and women. For women, lace could adorn the fronts of their robes and gowns (engageantes), the sleeve ruffles (quilles) and lappets on the headdress. Decorative lace aprons were also very popular.

Lace was created using delicate handwork techniques involving either a needle (needle lace or needlepoint lace) or bobbins (bobbin lace).

Needle or needlepoint lace involved a single needle and thread. In its earliest form, lace was created using a piece of fine linen or silk where the threads of the fabric were cut or pulled to form holes and shapes. Those threads were then secured with tiny stitches or embroidered into patterns.

As lace-making developed, another form of needlepoint lace was created whereby the lacemaker pinned a groundwork of linen threads to a parchment strip and the pattern was built up on them with buttonhole stitches. This allowed the lacemaker to break free of a rectilinear pattern and permitted the creation of curved shapes (often found in 17th century laces).

Part of a French needle-lace collar associated with Marie Antoinette, 1780s

Bobbin lace was created by weaving linen threads separated by weighted bobbins around pins stuck in a pattern on a circular pillow. The pins were removed as each section developed and reinserted into the pattern. Between 80 and 200 bobbins had to be manipulated to create the lace patterns, making it the purview of professionals, while needle lace was considered appropriate for the gentlewoman.

Brussels bobbin lace cravat possibly made for Louis XIV

This post was inspired by an inquiry by Melinda who is a student at Missouri Southern State University. To that end, I'll writing about lace all this week. Lappets are worthy of their own post!