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Who Invented Lace In The First Place?

May 13, 2008

Please Welcome Today's Guest Editor: Jeane Hutchins of Piecework magazine!

Note: This week's free pattern, Knitted Lace Trimmings, came to us from Piecework, and so I invited Jeane to write today's post. Now heeeerrrre's Jeane!

I hope you are having lots of fun with Knitting Daily’s Lace Week! As the editor of Knitting Daily’s sister publication, PieceWork, I am delighted to be a part of Lace Week and to offer several knitted lace patterns from the PieceWork archives for free.

PieceWork looks at the historical background of needlework, and we’ve covered everything from horsehair hitching to the “Pearly Kings and Queens of London” to Rattlesnake Kate. But knitting always has been, and is, a major component of the magazine, and I have a particular love of lace knitting.

Free Pattern: Knitted Lace Trimmings

I honestly don’t know why I am so fascinated with lace. Who even came up with the concept of lace? The best guess is that some ingenious person decided to emulate a spider’s web, and over the centuries, lace has evolved as it has gone in and out of fashion. The precursors to needle and bobbin lace were undoubtedly drawn-thread and cutwork embroidery; as more and more threads were withdrawn or cut away, the fabric became more airy. The next logical step was to create the fabric itself.

By the mid-sixteenth century, needle- and bobbin-lace collars, cuffs, ruffs, and cravats were the rage with Europe’s upper crust and royalty—the higher and wider the better; settlers in America followed suit. Lace was made from the finest linen, silk, gold, and silver threads and was very expensive (although the majority of actual makers earned mere pennies for their labors). Countries fought over lace, imposed laws regulating the wearing of lace (called sumptuary laws), and enticed lacemakers from other countries to emigrate.

The intrigue surrounding lace, particularly in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, is amazing: People smuggled lace from one place to another, including in coffins. By the end of the eighteenth century, lace aprons, kerchiefs, capes, coverlets, bed sets, fans, parasols, curtains, and shawls were produced. The rage for lace continued.

It seems quite logical to me that skilled knitters in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries would have knitted lace to emulate the widely popular bobbin and needle laces of the time. We do know that lace knitting in the Shetland Islands was in full force and well known by at least 1840, and that numerous countries, including Russia, Estonia, and Iceland, went on to establish their own lace knitting traditions. And all of this brings me back to today. From Knitting Daily’s Lace Week to various blogs, more and more people are becoming interested in lace knitting. I, for one, am thrilled!

—Jeane Hutchins
Editor, PieceWork

Questions or comments? Let us know! After all, reading the comments is one of the favorite parts of the day for all of us here...


Sandi Wiseheart is the founding editor of Knitting Daily. She is now the author of the popular Knitting Daily blog: What's on Sandi's Needles.

Knitting Lace: Knitting Daily Presents 7 Free Knitted Lace Patterns

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+ Add a comment


Katneedle wrote
on May 20, 2010 8:10 AM

I'm looking for two things that seem impossible to find. First, I'd better tell the 'backstory'. I loved the Estonian lace stole featured some time ago but found it hard to get the pattern right, so I changed to a trailing vine stitch over approximately 30 stitches, in size 10 crochet cotton. The trailing vine centre is finished now, but is of a different measurement than the original Estonian pattern.

I would like to find both an insertion and an edging pattern to finish off this stole to a reasonable size. At the moment it is 74 inches long x 81/2 inches wide,

(188 cm x 21.5 cm.

Does anyone know of insertion and edging patterns that will compliment each other and existing trailing vine centre, with the ability to mitre the corners neatly, please?

on May 27, 2009 9:50 AM
Pingback from Knitting For Profit. |
on May 16, 2008 5:47 PM


do you have any suggestions about how to weave in ends on lace knitting pieces?

Comment by: Terri S | May 14, 2008

I suspect we'll never know who invented lace - but kudos to those modern people who resurrect older patterns and create fresh ones so that newbies like me can learn!



Comment by: Kristina K | May 14, 2008

I would like to access the Fiddlesticks Knitting bonus offer, but the link from the banner ad in today's email is not working. Please let me know how to find out what Fiddlestick's special offer is.

Comment by: Lynne P | May 14, 2008

Are you going to develop a site where we can talk about patterns at IWK, problems and resources?

Thanks Patty

Comment by: Patty B | May 14, 2008

I have a general question about selecting a lace pattern. A friend has just made lace scarf from a 70% silk, 30% Seacell (natural kelp fiber) yarn. Even though it was thoroughly blocked, it won't maintain its shape. Instead, the sides roll inward toward the front. Instead of a flat piece of lace, the scarf becomes a tube with the back of the scarf rolling in and obscuring the lace pattern. The pattern she used is a chevron pattern with all the design stitches on the front and all the wrong side rows purled. I am wondering if some inconsistency between the tension of her knit and purl stitches could cause the scarf sides to roll forward? If that's not it, is there some other possible explanation? Since this is lace week, can someone recommend what to look for in selecting a lace pattern that will ensure that a silk/seacell scarf will lay flat and show the lace pattern?

Comment by: Anne P | May 14, 2008

I've become hooked on lace knitting. I wish I could find more patterns for knitted lace doilies, and it's hard to find the correct threads to use.

Could the problem with the scarf made in silk/seacell be the yarn itself?

Comment by: Joan S | May 14, 2008

I made the Candleflame Shawl last year, and since then everything I've made has had a lace pattern in it. I'm just drawn to lace, its beauty, its challenges.

Comment by: Dawn S | May 14, 2008

I think it's astounding that the editor of PieceWork totally neglected to mention crochet and tatting when doing her research on lace; both of which continue to be integral elements of the art of lace. Perhaps starting with the local Lace Guild might have been a good idea. Jeane Hutchins needs to learn more about lace, i.e., it's NOT just knitting.

Comment by: Josie A | May 14, 2008

I've never done lace. What yarn and needle size do you use?

Comment by: Suzi Q | May 14, 2008

I'm an avid crocheter of lace - from size 20 thread up to WW, I'll make lace out of it! I wish crochet lace got more attention in this.

Comment by: Ingrid s | May 14, 2008

I downloaded the patterns, however couldn't find the needle size or gauges for the lace patterns.

Comment by: Kristen F | May 14, 2008

I am not certain if I agree with your assesment of the origin of lace.

I think the first humans who knitted together fibers to make a net should be designated the originators of lace. Macrame and other large format knot work certainly predate looms for weaving which would be required for the drawn thread and cutwork embroideries.

Finally, ancient literature refers to the mortal woman who claimed she could weave a web finer even than Athena. When she failed to make good her boast she was cursed to spend the rest of her life spinning and weaving webs. Her name was Arachnid, her fate was to become a spider.

I'll do a little more research and see if I can offer any scholarly documentation to demonstrate my thoughts...


Comment by: christine H | May 14, 2008

I love knitting lace, and would like to start a wedding lace like a veil for my daughter. Can you direct me to a source, or I dare challenge you if you would have a issue devoted to knitted wedding lace with patterns, styles and history, wouldn't that be lovely. Thanks Angeli Hsu-Mackey

Comment by: Angeli H | May 14, 2008

Thank you so very much for the article on lace trimmings. I was musing just this week that I have never seen a lace trimming knitted, but only crocheted and lo and behold, I recieved the article! I am happy to try it out, for some reason it does not seem too scary, compared to knitting a lace shawl! thank you, grace in Vermont

Comment by: grace b | May 14, 2008

I am so excited to have these patterns and try them out - I love lace too. However, I'm not sure what size needle or thread I should be using and what the gage should be. Is it just up to me? Thanks for your interesting article and patterns. Mary

Comment by: Mary P | May 14, 2008

You forgot one very important contribution to the lace making industry. Belgium. "Of many Arts, one surpasses all. For the maiden seated at her work flashes the smooth balls and thousand threads into the circle, ... and from this, her amusement, makes as much profit as a man earns by the sweat of his brow, and no maiden ever complains, at even, of the length of the day. The issue is a fine web, which feeds the pride of the whole globe; which surrounds with its fine border cloaks and tuckers, and shows grandly round the throats and hands of Kings." - Jacob Van Eyck, 1651, Flemish Master of oil painting describing the art of lacemaking. It was a unique way for a "maiden" to make an honest living, and as such, lacemaking as an industry on a larger scale is unprecedented and unique in women's history. Thankfully, the art has not died like many other forms have. J. Van Der Straeten

Comment by: J B | May 14, 2008

Isn't bobbin lace the same thing as tatting?

Comment by: Lana | May 14, 2008

I'm interested in making a wedding veil ala lace mantillawhich needs to be long enough to have a train.Any ideawhere I can find a pattern?

Comment by: Diana C | May 14, 2008

I have been knitting lace, crocheting lace and tatting lace for almost 30 years and would like to add one comment: During my service as a docent in the Peruvian Exhibition at the St. Petersburg International museum I was asked by the museum directors to stand in front of an ancient textile exhibit from Machu Pichu - a knotted fishing net made from an intricate lace design - and demonstrate tatting(!) as an example of a similar and ancient technique. For those looking for lace knitting patterns, there are dozens of wonderful modern books available - just Google search: lace knitting patterns and you will be overwhelmed!

Comment by: Deborah C | May 14, 2008

Am very appreciative of the Lace knitting items as it is my favourite form of knitting. The American patterns are intriguing to a Scot

Comment by: Pamela T | May 15, 2008

This post is absolutely wonderful, both Jeane's comments and the free patterns!!!

Comment by: Kathleen P | May 15, 2008

I was surprised by the absence of any mention of Irish lace! I realize that crocheted lace made its entrance into world awareness later (early 1800's), but that time period was not left out of the article, only the mention of ANY crocheted lace. Crocheted lace was invented to overcome many of the difficulties and lack of versatility in direction, texture and sculptural quality of knitted laces, just as tatted lace addresses those concerns in the bobbin lace realm. When discussing the laces of the Victorian era, it would have been appropriate to at least mention the beautiful and highly original work of the Irish (and other)crochet lace makers!

Comment by: Deb E | May 15, 2008

I would like to make knitted lace edgings similar to the ones my grandmother made for the ends of pillowcases. However, I would like to avoid the starching and ironing she went through with each washing. Any ideas?

Comment by: roseanne C | May 15, 2008

Maybe she deliberately did not mention crocheted lace because (1) this is Knitting Daily and (2) previous mentions of crochet have been bashed because of (1)!

Comment by: Joan S | May 15, 2008

The knitted lace is beautiful, but -- am I missing some directions? I find nothing about yarn (thread?), needle size, guage??? What do we use to make the lace, so that it looks like the samples?

Comment by: | May 15, 2008

I was a charter subscriber to Interweave's PIECEWORK, which introduced me to the glory of handmade lace -- from its origins in netting, its development in drawnwork & reticella, its formal height in needle lace and bobbin/pillow lace, its later developments in macrame, teneriffe, crochet, knitting, tatting, and other techniques. May we forever continue to preserve old lacemaking methods and create innovations!

Comment by: Cynth B | May 15, 2008

I've missed the last few posts...For some reason I no longer get this emailed to me. I have checked my 'spam' folder and not there...I have also checked the email on my account and all is well. Is this no longer being 'pushed'? Thanks, Glenna

Comment by: Glenna E | May 15, 2008

One of the things I hate about lace knitting is the yarn overs. I hate trying to pick up stitches that are just looped over the needle; Because there is no little front or back "leg pocket" to put the needle into I find my self twisting, stabbing and jabbing at the stitches and working myself up into quite a lather. It slows me down and frustrates me no end. Does anyone have any good hints about how to deal with this? Thanks Cathy in San Jose

Comment by: Catherine L | May 15, 2008

I enjoyed reading today's post by Jeanne. I have been a loyal reader of Piecework for many years. I especially love the articles covering the history of the many forms of needlework that have been done throughout the ages. For those who left comments inquiring about other forms of lacemaking, ie. tatting, Irish lace/crochet, bobbin or needle laces, etc. I would suggest they read the current and back issues of Piecework. All of these forms of lace making have been explored numerous times..and I'm sure will continue to be featured in the future. Thanks for another great publication!

Comment by: beadntat | May 15, 2008

About starching and ironing (or not) lace edgings: spray-on starch is available today. I've knitted lace edgings for pillowcases that I never iron. Look for an edging based on garter stitch, not stockinette, that won't curl. The free pattern edgings are garter stitch.

Comment by: Sherry P | May 16, 2008

I don't know who invented lace, but she(or he) was an absolute genius. Even simple lace patterns add so much to a pattern.

Comment by: joan e | May 16, 2008

I don't know who invented lace, but she(or he) was an absolute genius. Even simple lace patterns add so much to a pattern.

Comment by: joan e | May 16, 2008