Lace: A European textile art

Cité de la dentelle et de la mode

History and Techniques of Lace

Uniquely European
Open-work is used to weave the body of the lace as well as its pattern. The lace manufactured in Calais for almost 200 years is exclusively mechanical, but it was initially inspired by handmade lace before being developed further. Appearing in 16th century Italy and Flanders, this expensive handicraft, which was an outward sign of wealth,

has long been manufactured solely by the hands of the lacemakers.

Two techniques have been developed, the first using a parchment, needle and thread (needlepoint lace)

and the second, a set of bobbins with a tile as support (bobbin lace).

Mechanical Lace: English origins
At the beginning of the 19th century, English engineers from Nottingham invented warp and weft looms, which could reliably imitate the actions of lacemakers. In the early days, they were only able to produce tulle (an open-work textile made without a pattern).

Having been smuggled over from England during the first half of the 19th century, the loom became more complex

following adoption of the system of programming perforated cardboard drawings on a tulle loom, invented by Joseph Jacquard (1752-1834) from Lyon.

Portrait woven onto a commemorative plaque, dating from 1910

One of the Leavers crafts, from the Museum

This craft now bears the name of one of its inventors, the Englishman, John Leavers (1786 – 1848).

A true single industry: lace, which involved around 30,000 people at the beginning of the 20th century, has contributed significantly to the architectural redesign of Calais.

That is why the Museum of Lace and Fashion was able to move its collections into a former collective factory dating from the 1870s.

A complex creation process
From concept to realization,

there are more than 60 stages in the manufacturing process for Calais lace.

The lace's design is first created by a sketch artist.

Their work is a combination of graphic and artistic creation, with an in-depth understanding of the manufacturing process.

A "designer" and "adjuster" then translate this creation to program the loom using a system of perforated cards (Jacquard system) or digital files.

The carriage and the bobbin.

There are multiple preparation stages for weaving: assembling the threads on the looms and filling the shuttles ("weaving" or "winding" the bobbins mounted on "carriages").

A tulle worker regulating his machine

Having never been regulated by standardized construction guidelines, the Leavers lace looms required a variety of tool and thread adjustments.

Stage of separating bands or strips of lace.

Once woven, the lace undergoes various stages of treatment, including dyeing, washing, shaping, and dressing. It is then returned to the factory for the mending, cutting ("scaling" and "tapering"), and folding stages.

Re-embroidering process.

Lace can also be reworked by other artisans or industries to give it its finish (printing, embroidery, painting, and coatings of all types).

Stage to check for possible defects

This textile thrives on all of the expertise associated with French fashion, from the heights of industrialization to the delicate hands of the Parisian haute-couture studios.

The lace woven on Leavers looms is completely dependent on the knowledge of the men and women who produce it. This expertise is mainly passed on by showing and doing. Manufacturing this textile is a long and complex process, and the preservation of knowledge about it is fragile.

It is for this reason that the manufacture of lace in France is protected with the title "Métier d'Art" (Artisanal Craft), awarded by the Ministry of Culture.

Furthermore, its sale has been protected by various labels, the latest of which is the French label "Dentelle de Calais®" (Calais Lace) created in 1958 which, in 2015, became "Dentelle de Calais-Caudry®" (Calais-Caudry Lace).

Mechanical lace register dating from 1932

Credits: Story

Photos : Fred Collier | City of Calais ; F. Kleinefenn ; Museum of Lace and Fashion

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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