Design, Photography, & Fashion

Learn About Lace: Discover the History of Lace With a Guide to the Many Different Types of Lace

Written by MasterClass

Jul 10, 2019 • 4 min read

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From wedding veils to lingerie, lace is a favorite decorative fabric that boasts countless designs that can spruce up any look. The beautiful material can be made from a variety of fibers using many different methods, but all lace is known for its intricate, open designs.

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What Is Lace?

Lace is a delicate fabric made from yarn or thread, characterised by open designs and patterns created through a variety of different methods. Lace fabric was originally made from silk and linen, but today cotton thread and synthetic fibers are both used. Lace is a decorative fabric used to accent and embellish clothing and home decor items. Lace is traditionally considered a luxury textile, as it takes a lot of time and expertise to make.

What Is the History of Lace?

The word “lace” comes from both the Middle English and Old French word, las, derived from the Latin laqueus, which means noose. The exact origin of lace is undetermined by historians, as the process evolved from other textile methods. Lace sprung to popularity in the late sixteenth century, where lace was common for adorning homes and clothing. Royal and noble classes would wear lace collars to signify their status.

Lace continued to be a popular textile in Europe through the end of the eighteenth century. Italian, French, and Belgium became known for producing some of the best handmade lace. The Industrial Revolution brought about many new machine technologies for making lace quickly and more cheaply, making it more accessible to the masses.

How Is Lace Used?

Lace is a decorative fabric that has a variety of uses throughout the home and in fashion.

  • Lace trim: Lace is often used as a trim for garments or home items, like towels and curtains. It provides a decorative, patterned edge to the fabric of the item.
  • Lace collars and shawls: The open weave of lace was very popular in the sixteenth century for royal collars, and the decorative nature also makes for a nice shawl or scarf as an accessory or adornment.
  • Curtains and drapes: While lace window treatments might not provide privacy or darkness, they are a beautiful way to decorate the home.
  • Bridal wear: Lace is a fixture of bridal wear and is used prominently for wedding dresses and veils. Since lace is see-through, it is often overlaid on an opaque fabric, like silk or satin to showcase the beautiful design.
  • Lingerie: Lace is very popular for decorating undergarments. It is often overlaid with another material, like silk, but can also be used on its own.

What Are the Different Kinds of Lace?

Lace can be made in hundreds of different methods and patterns, all creating different types of lace. Each type of lace is classified by how its made and the type of thread work. These are just some of the many different types of lace:

  • Needle lace: Needle lace is made with a single needle and single thread. Tiny stitches are what create the final fabric. This is one of the most common and simplest forms of lace.
  • Alencon lace: This type of lace is a fine needlepoint lace named for the French city of Alençon, where it was first made. It is usually a floral lace.
  • Bobbin lace: Bobbin lace is made by winding spools of thread on several different bobbins and then feeding those various lace threads around pins in a design. Belgium is regarded as one of the prime centers for bobbin lace.
  • Chantilly lace: Chantilly lace is a type of bobbin lace that originated in seventeenth century France and named for the town where it originated. It can be a white lace or a black lace.
  • Knotted lace: Knotted lace is made using macrame, which has an arabic origin, and the lace pattern is created through a series of knots and loops.
  • Knitted lace: Knitted lace is created by looping between knit stitches in an open pattern design.
  • Valenciennes lace: This is a type of bobbin lace named for the town in France where it originated. Valenciennes lace has a simple mesh background with design woven throughout, and there is not usually a heavy border. Flemish Valenciennes is a variation made in Belgium which has a tightly plaited border and is usually diamond shaped.
  • Torchon lace: Torchon lace is a slightly rough, pillow lace with is composed of a series of twists and simple designs. While it was originally made on a pillow, torchon lace is machine made today.
  • Guipure lace: This is a type of bobbin lace which connects lace designs with threads and twists rather than a mesh-like pattern. It is also called tape lace because Guipure is a French word that means tape.
  • Venetian point lace: This type of lace is characterized by scrolling floral designs and was very popular for lace collars.
  • Irish crochet lace: Irish crochet lace takes crocheted patterns and connects them with a mesh net-life design. It is an imitation of Venetian point lace.

Fabric Care Guide: How Do You Care for Lace?

Since lace can be made from a variety of fibers, make sure to check what type of textile your lace is made from and follow the care instructions carefully.

Since lace designs are open, they should be treated very delicately. Most lace should be hand washed in cold water with a mild detergent. Make sure not to wring the fabric at the risk of distorting the fibers. If you want to use the washing machine, make sure to place the item in a mesh delicates bag.

Learn more about fabrics and fashion design in Marc Jacobs’s MasterClass.