The average person doesn’t take a closer look at the things that designers and fabric manufacturers spend their days mulling over, for us, no detail is too small or delicate, and it is this attention to detail that makes design an ever evolving and shifting field. One of the few untouched luxuries that has stood the test of time is lace, and no matter how widely used it becomes there is never anything “common” about lace, it oozes luxury, romance, and femininity. Perhaps what makes it so sought after and reveered by more than just lace lovers is it’s unique qualities, but what are those really? Let me give you a closer look at this sensual material in action and in the making…
A Brief History of Lace
Lace’s high society beginnings are probably the biggest contributor to its being pursued with diamond-like lust, we all tend to seek that which we cannot have and in its earliest form lace (venetian lace) was painstakingly handmade and so used in small touches on the ends of sleeves or on collars. often times those elaborate lace collars and cuffs were detachable so they could be worn with different robes and gowns, after all with such a rare commodity you wouldn’t want to have it stuck to something, and so it was worn much more like a bracelet or a necklace with different outfits.
Lace schools began and lace making became an important craft and was made in homes throughout Europe by skilled artisans. It wasn’t until 1812 that an inventor named John Leavers invented the Leavers machine which was able to more rapidly create those intricate designs. This invention was so prized that England banned the export of this technology. This was the height of the industrial revolution that would change the face of the garment industry with the invention of many other machines that streamlined apparel manufacturing.
It was at this time that the use of lace in everday clothing became a possibility and almost immediately you would find lace trimming the hems of slips and petticoats as well as gracing the edge of undergarments, in addition to other items of apparel.
A Lace by any other name would be just as Sweet…
Dior chiffon/ chantilly lace dress found: here
Chantilly– A bobbin lace that is still made in the traditional methods, known for its delicate open net ground the designs oulined in a heavier thread. Chantilly lace is the most expensive of all the laces you will find on the market today because it is only made by hand in france and requires an intense amount of hand labor (think $50+ per foot)
Leavers – a machine developed by John Leavers in the early 1800’s and still in use today, this machine creates the intricate patterns and backgrounds at the same time and so competed artistically with designs previously only seen in handmade lace. Leavers lace can be made into a variety of shapes and is usually woven in a rectagular shape and then cut along the scallop, where the lace is attached along the length and cut there are tiny “filaments” left behind and these are the eyelash that you see on eyelash lace. It might not be AS pricey as Chantilly but Leavers is close behind.
Venetian– a heavy lace featuring intricate designs made in Venice, Italy. This was the lace prized by aristocracy and valued higher than jewelry at one point in time. (You do not see lace made this way today)
Rashel – the lace most commonly seen today is made on a Rashel knitting machine that produces a much more affordable lace at a faster rate.
battenburg lace appliqued onto cotton
Battenburg – made by creating loops of a wider tape connected by interweaving threads, a popular home-made craft at one point this is now more commonly machine made. My favorite modern itteration of this is fans and parasols, I’ve also seen some really interesting uses of this in both apparel and intimates.
Guipure– a lace with no ground or net/mesh connecting it, instead designs are connected by bars of thread. Many different forms of lace have been referred to as guipure but what is today known as guipure is often made more like embroidery where a fine net is embroidered and then dissolved, the result is a finely woven design with no ground with more intricate edges that cannot be achieved on a lace machine.
There are a couple of other “lace varieties” that in fact are not true laces in the sense that they are actually meshes with varying densities that give the appearance of lace but are not TRUE lace. These designs are actually what is commonly referred to as lace because they are much more easily manufactured into apparel and many of them also have stretch qualities that lend themselves more appropriately to modern inimate apparel, however I would counter that the true lace lover will always be more drawn to the true laces.
The other reason lace is so expensive is that in applying it to other materials great care must be taking in the cutting, sewing, and finishing to avoid damaging its delicate construction. If using a chantilly or leavers lace you would NOT want to apply these luxe materials to something of lower quality or composition so often times the lace is used in conjuction with silk chiffon, charmeuse, habotai, organza, or coutile. All of these drive up the cost of the garment and the final result is a truly luxurious lingerie or a artfully luxe gown. This is not to imply that all lace garments are for special occassions but that there are wide range of applications for this sensual material and that to understand why one piece is more expensive than another one must have a true appreciation for the materials and craftsmanship used in lace fashion.
So whether you are shopping for a piece of luxe intimates, searching for a lace wedding gown, or looking to add a touch of lace’s boudoir look and romantic ease to your wardrobe I hope you can appreciates its unique qualities and see these fashionable works of art with a fresh perspective.
about the author: Layla L’obatti is the designer and founder of Between the Sheets Lingerie where she designs two lines of luxury intimates sold in upscale boutiques around the world. Previously she worked as a lingerie designer for the intimates licenses of Tommy Hilfiger and Nicole Miller as well as another successful line of boutique lingerie, Tra la la. She also offers her services as a writer and has worked with companies like freshpair.com where she offered expert advice on proper fit and insight on how garment construction, shape, and brand fit all impact not only the quality but the fit of garments as both a fit specialist and writer for An avid lingerie lover, Layla herself has a vintage lingerie collection as well as a ever growing library of fashion and lingerie books to feed her intimate knowledge of fashion and the history of undergarments.