Lace, a fabric made by twisting, plaiting. knotting, or looping fine threads of linen, cotton, or silk, so as to form an ornamental design. In the different kinds of lace various methods are adopted for filling in the space between the main lines of the pattern (called the "flower" or "gimp") so as to hold it together. One of the commonest "grounds" is a mesh of very delicate texture, resembling a honeycomb, which is termed a reseau; its most familiar form is the bobbin-net, now produced by machinery. The pattern and reseau may either be worked together, or the former may first of all be made separately, and then stitched down to the reseau; in the latter case - e.g. in Honiton lace - the work is called applique. Sometimes the ground consists merely of single threads called "ties" or "brides," or there may be hardly any ground at all, the design being such that the various parts touch here and there at the edges, and so give one another mutual support.
Lace may be either hand-made or machine-made. Of the former, often distinguished as "real" or "genuine" lace, there are two kinds, needle or point-lace and pillow-lace. Hand-made lace is usually made from linen-threads, whereas in machine-made lace the material commonly used is cotton. The art of making point-lace originated in Venice, where it was developed by gradual stages from embroidery-making in the earlier half of the 16th century. The first true lace, as distinguished from embroidery, was the punto in aria or reticella, which differed from modern lace only in the more elementary character of the work, and the invariable choice of rectilinear or geometrical patterns. The skill of the lace-makers of Northern Italy continued to increase during the next two hundred years, reaching its climax in the rich variety called "rose-point," which was produced in the early years of the 18th century. It consists of flowers and scrolls worked in relief as though they were embossed or carved, and joined together by ties or brides ornamented with picots (small loops running along the edge of the tie). From the North of Italy the art was carried to Flanders and France; in the latter country its course was extremely prosperous, and there are few varieties of needle-point which can rival the Alencon lace of the 18th century. Point-lace is made in the following manner: - The design is first of all drawn on a sheet of parchment, which is then stitched down to a piece of stout linen. Linen threads are then placed over the chief lines of the design, stitches being introduced here and there to fasten them on to the parchment and linen backing. The space within the threads, which form the outline of the pattern, is gradually filled in with button-hole stitches; when this is finished, the stitches by which the pattern is attached to the parchment and linen are cut through, and in this manner the now completed lace is set free.
The manufacture of pillow-lace arose, either in Flanders or in Italy, towards the close of the 15th century. It throve chiefly in Flanders and in England, where it was introduced by Flemish refugees in the latter part of the 16th century. The new industry was established at several places in the south-western counties, the most important being Honiton in Devonshire. Although the importation of foreign lace was prohibited from the reign of Charles II. onwards, smuggling was carried on extensively, and much of the lace sold as Honiton was really made in the Low Countries. Pillow-lace is so called because the worker holds on her knees a pillow with a piece of parchment fixed to it on which the pattern has previously been drawn. The parchment is pierced with holes at certain points on the outline of the pattern to mark the place where pins are to be inserted; this is an operation requiring special knowledge and skill When the pins have been placed in the holes, the threads of lace are plaited and twisted round them from a large number of small bobbins. Sometimes as many as 1,200 bobbins are used, and the work is so intricate that the skilled lace-maker completes only about one inch in three weeks. Amongst the more important foreign laces of this class are those of Mechlin and Valenciennes. Mechlin lace is celebrated for its reseau, which is composed of a number of hexagons, four of the sides consisting of double twisted threads, while in the two others the threads are plaited three times.
Machine-made Lace. Much ingenuity has been shown in the invention of machinery for making "imitation" lace, but, from an artistic point of view, work which merely consists of threads twisted together can never compete with that which is produced by means of the button-hole stitch or the regular plait. The manufacture of lace in this manner grew up in the 18th century, the first machine used for the purpose being the hosiery-frame, by means of which it was found possible to produce the net or mesh. The greatest advance was the invention of the Leavers machine (1813), which is now used at Nottingham and other centres of the lace industry. In spite of the inferiority of machine-made lace, it has driven hand-made lace almost completely from the field, and the attempts to revive the art in Ireland, at Honiton, and elsewhere have met with but scanty success.