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A decorated openwork fabric created with yarns that are twisted around each other, braided, or interlaced to form complex patterns or figures.

Lace is hand- or machine-made by a variety of methods including tatting, bobbin, weaving, knitting, crocheting, and knotting. Its delicate openwork and embroidered designs, often enhanced with beading, make lace a desired fabric for special occasion clothes and for everyday wear, as the main fabric or as an embellishment..

The many varieties of lace provide options for bridal and formal wear, heirloom designs, embellishments, and trims for women's and children's clothing.

Lace can be made of silk, cotton, rayon, blends, and synthetics.

Lace is often classified according to the method of construction or by the city or region where it originated. Some popular types of lace include:

  • Ajour
  • Alençon
  • Allover
  • Antique
  • Argentan
  • Battenberg
  • Belgian
  • Bobbin
  • Breton
  • Brussels
  • Chantilly
  • Cluny
  • Crocheted
  • Guipure
  • Hairpin
  • Irish
  • Needlepoint
  • Nottingham
  • Re-embroidered
  • Tatted (knotted lace)
  • Valenciennes
  • Venise (aka Venetian, or Venice)

Use lace for blouses, dresses, skirts, and lingerie; for embellishments on clothing; for accessories such as scarves and veils; and for heirloom sewing. Lace is also traditionally used for curtains, doilies, tablecloths, and other home decor items.


The origin of lace has not been firmly established; however, remnants and bobbins found in excavations lead one to speculate that the art of lace making has a long history. Samples of lace have been dated to the Bronze age.

The manufactured of lace by one method or another has been documented since the 15th century, when the fabric was made in Flanders. During his reign, Charles the Fifth decreed that lace making was to be taught in Belgian schools. It is thought that lace was intended to replace embroidery, as lace could be applied to and removed from clothing as a fashion accessory. Two methods of lace making survive from that era: needle lace and bobbin lace. Most of today's needle- or bobbin-lace makers are women between the ages of 50 and 90; they preserve this ancient art and can be observed at their work in such cities as Bruges and Aalst, in Belgium.

Other areas in which hand-worked lace was produced include the north of France, Ireland, the Czech Republic, England, Russia, and Spain. Each area had its own distinctive style of lace.

Machine-made lace was first developed in Nottingham, England, in the 17th century. The town was already an established textile manufacturing area, where hosiery was knitted by hand. Toward the end of the century, the Reverend William Lee invented a machine to knit stockings more speedily. His machine was a stocking frame, a sort of knitting machine that enabled workers to knit rows more rapidly than they could by hand. Fearful that the invention would put knitters out of work, Queen Elizabeth I disapproved of the machine. Lee took his invention to France; but after his death, knitters around London established a stocking-frame industry, working in their homes. This industry migrated to the East Midlands, and found a receptive climate in several towns, among them Nottingham.

In the 18th century, as fashions changed, frame knitting declined. The frames, however, remained, and creative men tried to make lace on the old stocking frames. After several tries and some evolution of method, lace making by machine became one of the main trades and occupations in Nottingham. By 1832, there were 186 lace manufacturers (and only 70 remaining hosiery manufacturers) in that city.

An inventor named John Heathcoat perfected a technique of mechanically producing lace in the same way that hand lace makers did, by throwing bobbins over each other. When his patent expired, bobbin-net machines became generally available. Anyone with the means could buy a machine and make lace.

The industry increased and became a dominant part of Nottingham's economy in the second half of the nineteenth century. The Lace Market provided finishing and commercial operations and support. A visit to Nottingham today might include a tour of the Lace Museum and the part of town where the industry began and is recognized as a historic district.

While some artisans continue to make bobbin lace and tatted lace, today most lace used in clothing manufacture is made in China, India, and other textile-producing areas.

Tips & Tricks

Sew stretch lace as you would a single knit.

Line stretch lace with nylon tricot.

Stabilize shoulder seams and waistlines of lace garments with stay tape or organza.

Lay out and cut lace using the "with nap" guidelines.

Use scalloped edges for hems or center front openings.

Sew with a 70/10 or 75/11 Microtex needle, or a stretch needle for stretch lace.

Because of the texture of lace, it is extremely difficult to unpick seams.

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