Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Machine Lace

Thanks to Bev for this interesting article.


We are often told that period lace was all handmade and that machine made lace is not appropriate for use on period clothing and accessories. However research shows us that by 1841 lace was widely available. True many of the modern day fibers used in lace are not appropriate but it is not the fact that the lace is machine made that makes it inappropriate.

In fact, the first machine to make lace was developed in the late 1770’s from a machine that made stockings. This machine only made the netting or on which workers embroidered the lace pattern using a needle.
(Picture from
John Heathcoat, who worked with as an apprentice making fancy stockings, improved these machines and by 1808 he applied for a patent for a machine that produced a twisted netting that closely resembled Lille bobbin lace. This netting was still embellished with embroidery or tambour hook chain stitching. Some lace from Ireland had fine muslin appliqu├ęd on the net. These machines were so successful that his factory was destroyed by those who opposed the use of this method. In 1812 an Act was passed which set the penalty for such destruction as execution. One man was executed for this crime.

The continued improvement of machines allowed for the pattern to be worked by a machine called a Pusher. The raised outline called gimp was still applied by hand. Some of this lace was difficult to distinguish from the handrun gimp such as Chantilly.

Other types of lace were made using only slightly different methods and machines. Tape lace was a popular lace making method using tapes embellished with needlework. Battenburg is a tape lace. Another type of lace was produced by using a sacrificial fabric of netting. Patterns were embroidered on this base and chemicals were used to remove the base fabric, leaving only the lace pattern. Schiffli lace is an example of chemical lace.

Improvements by Leaver and Jacquard led to a led to a machine that would also apply the gimp. By 1841 lace produced was difficult to distinguish from hand made lace. After this development, the use of lace machines developed so quickly that the market was soon flooded with this new inexpensive lace.

Heathcoat’s factory is still in operation and uses the Heathcoat machines.



LACE AND LACEMAKING by Alice-May Bullock


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