Who Invented Lace In The First Place?

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to needle and bobbin lace were undoubtedly drawn-thread and cutwork embroidery; as more and more threads were withdrawn or cut away, the fabric became more airy.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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