Lace
In American Revolutionary War Reenacting

by

Sue Felshin

Pre-release version of 12 Mar 2014
Not Ready For Prime Time!

See copyright notice below.

The purpose of this article is to examine evidence of various types of lace in the 18th century in the American Colonies and the areas that influenced them, and to demonstrate appropriate lace for use in 18th century reenactment.

If all you want to know is what it's okay for you to use and how to get it, skip to Part the Second: What We Can Use and read the General Cautions and Types of Lace. You might also want to browse through the examples of Lace In Art for ideas of how to use (and how to not use) lace.

Contents

Introduction
In which the Author explains her Purpose. What Lace is, and a brief History. The scope of the Work, and intended Audience. Standards. A Work in Progress: Help!
Part the First: What They Had
In which we invoke the Aegis of Primary Documentation, touch upon Eighteenth Century Aesthetics, and explore the Vast Territories of Needle and Bobbin Lace; what they Are; what they are Not; how they were Used; examples in Artifact and Art. White work or "Dresden". Evidence for Crochet and Tatting found Lacking. Knotting is distinguished from Tatting. Other forms of Lace treated Briefly. Availability of Lace in the Thirteen Colonies; Lacemaking in the Thirteen Colonies.
Part the Second: What We Can Use
In which we Despair at the Impossibility of purchasing accurate Lace. Using Antiques a crime against History. To Make One's Own (Masochists Only). The debased Condition of American lace Manufactories. A small Hope from Abroad. Compromises, compromises.
References

Introduction

In which the Author explains her Purpose. What Lace is, and a brief History. The scope of the Work, and intended Audience. Standards. A Work in Progress: Help!

The purpose of this article is to explain and demonstrate "appropriate" lace for use in 18th century reenactment of the American Revolutionary War era, and how to get it. As reenactors, our ideal is to duplicate the actual lace used in the era, and so I begin (in Part the First: What They Had) by examining evidence of various types of lace in the 18th century in the American Colonies and the areas that influenced them. Thereafter (in Part the Second: What We Can Use) I explore ways to obtain lace for use in reenacting, discuss how to evaluate the relative authenticity of modern laces, and describe levels of standards for authenticity agreed upon by a large portion of the community of reenactors.

What is Lace? Lace is an open fabric, where gaps and filled areas combine to make a pattern which may be regular or irregular; geometric, pictorial, or random. Many methods of creating and embellishing fabric—for example, weaving, knitting, crocheting, and embroidery—can produce either lace or non-lace fabric. Some methods are more suited to one or the other; for example, weaving is rarely used to produce lace, and when fine threads are used, crocheting is nearly always used to produce lace rather than plain fabric. There are some borderline cases (for example, eyelet) where it is difficult or impossible to decide whether a fabric qualifies as lace. Happily, in the 18th century, the distinction was nearly always quite clear.

"Lace" has an alternate meaning as a narrow woven or braided strip, as in a shoe lace, or military lace. Such laces will not be discussed here except to distinguish them from lace as a open fabric.

(Some "purists" claim that only needle lace and bobbin lace are truly lace, and that all other forms (crochet, embroidery, machine-made, etc., etc.—sometimes even bobbin or needle lace when done in non-European styles) are "not true lace". Snobs, I say. But don't be surprised if you encounter that attitude.)

History In the history of lacemaking in Europe, needle lace and bobbin lace each developed by fits and starts, alternating from century to century or from decade to decade which was the most advanced craft with the finest result, partly according to when particular lace-making techniques were developed, and partly according to which type of lace was better suited to the fashions of the day.

By the 18th century, both types of lace had reached their technical peak. Bobbin lace is quicker to produce than needle lace, and was therefore cheaper on average. Much bobbin lace was made in imitation of needle lace, and bobbin lace undercut and reduced the market for needle lace. The 18th century was the heyday of bobbin lace. Needle lace was finer and more versatile than bobbin lace, and was still widely produced well into the 18th century, but economics eventually killed it.

Likewise, later forms of lacemaking imitated and undercut bobbin lace. For example, starting in the 19th century, Irish crochet was made in imitation of both bobbin and needle lace. Machine-made lace was eventually made in imitations of all forms and styles of lace. Even today, in paper doilies, you can sometimes identify the sequence of styles being imitated (e.g., paper in imitation of crochet in imitation of Valenciennes bobbin lace in imitation of ...). As cheaper laces became available, and were affordable to people of lower and lower economic classes, it became less and less of a status symbol among the wealthy. This economic change may have been a cause of or a result of the neoclassical fashion for "simple" clothing styles featuring plain (although still expensive) fabrics without lace. These economic and fashion trends along with assorted wars devastated the market for fine laces. Production reduced to a trickle and, for many styles of lace, ceased entirely. In the 19th century, the middle classes provided a large market for cheap- to middling-priced laces. There were various efforts to keep hand-made lace industries alive, but most depended on making coarser and coarser laces in a largely doomed effort to compete with machine-made laces. The techniques for making the finest laces were lost entirely; the necessary materials and tools—such as very fine threads, needles and pins—have not been available for years or even centuries.

Scope of this article

Time Frame
The years 1700-1783, with an emphasis on 1750-1775. Occasional forays will be made into earlier or later eras.
Geographical Area
The primary area of interest is the colonies which became the thirteen original states of the United States of America. Due to the paucity of documentation for this region, and because most if not all lace was made abroad, Europe (particularly England and France) and New France will also be considered. This article does not discuss lace in other areas; when I say "lace was such-and-such", I mean "lace was such-and-such in the geographical areas which I cover in this article". I make no claims about the presence or absence of lace of any type in other parts of the world, save that I do not know of any influence of these areas on the American colonies with regard to lace.

Help! This article is a work in progress. It surely contains errors of omission and commission. Help me correct them! If you see errors in my work, if you have suggestions for organizing or presenting it more clearly, if you know of useful evidence which I do not reference, if you have researched any potential evidence which I cite here, if you can contribute images of lace (including URLs of images on the Web), if you have sources for lace which I don't list, if you wish to comment on standards for authenticity, or if you have anything else to contribute, please contact me.

Part the First
What They Had

In which we invoke the Aegis of Primary Documentation, touch upon Eighteenth Century Aesthetics, and explore the Vast Territories of Needle and Bobbin Lace; what they Are; what they are Not; how they were Used; examples in Artifact and Art. White work or "Dresden". Evidence for Crochet and Tatting found Lacking. Knotting is distinguished from Tatting. Knitting not used for Lace. Other forms of Lace treated Briefly. Availability of Lace in the Thirteen Colonies; Lacemaking in the Thirteen Colonies.

On documentation

I use the following standards for documentation.

Aesthetics

The rococo aesthetic of the 18th century favored light (especially complex reflections of light) and graceful movement. Most lace was white, and black lace was made of silk, so that lace contributed to the aesthetic of light through its color and/or sheen; intricate designs and raised gimps also contributed, by making lace reflect light in complex patterns. Patterns in lace, as in all 18th century rococo decorations, were generally laid out in S-curves which drew the eye to move gracefully along the pattern, rather than being either symmetrical or random. (Well, not mirror symmetry; S-curves are a sort of rotational symmetry.)

Early in the century, heavy, ornate designs were favored. Towards the end of the century, there was a movement toward simplicity and freedom. Some of this was political and social (monarchies were replaced by democracies, children given more time to play). In costume, brocades and prints were replaced by stripes and unpatterned fabrics, stays were replaced by (briefly) uncorseted neoclassical dress, and lace was largely abandoned in favor of plain muslin, with what little remained becoming very light and almost unpatterned. Light and movement were still favored, but now displayed through plain but richly reflective silks and ultrafine muslins that floated in the air, and in other "plain" but expensive ways.

Early 18c lace was quite heavy, with little ground between figures; the ground was usually of mesh, but sometimes of brides as a holdover from the 17c. Lace of the 1750-60s was generally moderately heavy with figures forming half of the area or somewhat less, and a mesh ground filling in the spaces between them. By 1775, lace had gotten very light, often mostly of ground speckled with occasional tallies and with narrow figures only along the edge. Post-RevWar 18th century lace was nearly all ground with some sort of border or figures along the edge and started to move toward 19th century styles, with small, repeated patterns. Throughout the century, metallic lace was usually made in simple patterns, more like torchon patterns, with lots of fans; this was probably due to the coarseness of the metallic thread (of various types such as non-metallic core wrapped in metal and narrow, flattened strip of metal).

From the beginning of the century to around the time of the American Revolution, patterns were inspired by nature, but stylized. More often than not, figures would be outlined in gimp.

Eighteenth century lace contrasts sharply with 19th century lace, which favored highly symmetrical patterns in near photographic realism, festooned with designs of tea roses (a 19th century botanical development), swags, garlands, sheaves, and ribbons. Alternatively, 19th century often imitated 17th century lace, and featured simple symmetrical, often geometrical patterns with braids and brides rather than mesh ground.

The exception to every rule of 18th century lace design—except the delight in the complex reflection of light—is French blonde lace. While every other popular style of lace in the middle half of the 18c followed the rules I've outlined above, blonde was geometric (nearly unheard of in other laces), could be multicolored (unheard of), used floss gimps (unheard of) and was silk (rare). (Most blonde was either off-white (“blonde”), black, or white, but some was multicolor.)

Needle Lace—yes

Needle lace is produced by sewing with a needle and thread. The thread can be worked into an existing fabric or worked "in the air" (punto in aria) over threads temporarily tacked to a stiff, smooth backing such as parchment. If worked into a fabric ("cutwork", sometimes not considered "real" needle lace), portions of the fabric are cut away; in some cases most of the fabric is cut away and the rest entirely covered, so that the original fabric serves solely as a foundation to keep the work in place.

When lace is worked into an existing fabric by distorting threads out of place rather than by removing threads, it can be considered a form of embroidery (see Dresden work), although it qualifies as lace by the definition I use in this article.

One particular style of needle lace is called hollie point. This is a relative coarse lace worked in rows of stitches looped into each other and was typically used to decorate baby clothing.

Bobbin Lace—yes

Bobbin lace is a form of lace made by twisting and plaiting threads together. The threads are wound on bobbins to facilitate the work. Pins are pushed through holes in a pre-pricked pattern ("pricking") and into a tightly stuffed pillow, to hold the threads in place while the work proceeds. Once removed from the pillow, the fabric of the lace is tight enough that friction holds the threads in place.

Bobbin lace is made in many styles, generally named for the town or area where the style was produced. This can cause confusion when an area changes its style of lacemaking, or a region's style of lace is produced elsewhere under the same name.

Bobbin Lace Making

I know of four images from the 18th century of lacemakers:

Here are a few 17th century artworks:

This 17th century painting is identified as The Lacemaker, but it looks more to me like she's stringing pearls, or at any rate holding unidentified string in her left hand and strung pearls in her right: Nineteenth century artworks:

Use of Lace

Lace could be used from head to toe as trimming for hats, bonnets, caps, neck frills, neck cloths, handkerchiefs, shirt collars and cuffs, shift cuffs, necklines, robings, and sleeve ruffles of gowns, stomachers, waistcoats, coats, riding habits, mantles, aprons, skirts of gowns, petticoats, garters, and shoes. Sometimes whole garments were made of lace, such as mantles. Lace was also used to decorate table linens and furnishings such as bed curtains, or rarely, whole items were made from lace. However, lace was very expensive, and was more often not used than used.

You will find many portraits of wealthy gentlemen and ladies and especially royalty festooned with lace, but also many portraits where people sport little or no lace. American portraits are less likely to show lace, but I don't know yet whether this is because Americans were less wealthy or had less access to lace, or whether this is for political or religious reasons (e.g., Puritans and Quakers favored plainer clothing).

Among the middle classes (mid-level merchants, professionals and wealthy farmers), you will find some lace. Most often, no lace is worn, but you will sometimes see modest trims.

Ladies' maids sometimes sport lace on the cap, but other house servants rarely have lace. Poor farmers and laborers are unlikely to wear lace. (Continental Europe has an interesting tradition of highly regionalized peasant costume. Many of these peasant costumes, for women, involve complex caps made of or trimmed with lace. The documentation I have so far on these costumes is all 19c, except for a couple of portraits of women of Arles. It seems likely that these costumes were only worn on special occasions—they are too ornate to work in. So there may or may not have been lace among Continental peasants, but I have no evidence for it in America.)

hats
Lace is occasionally seen around the edge of a silk-covered hat. I have yet to note lace around the crown of a hat; ribbons seem more typical there.
bonnets
The most common trim for bonnets seems to be self-fabric or ribbon ruching or a ruffle along the join between brim and crown, often with a bow at front and/or back, but there are a couple of examples which appear to have lace.
caps, pinners, and lappets
The word "lappet" is used both for extensions of the cap brim that come down on either side of the face, and sometimes extend as much as a foot or more, and for long bands which hang down from the back of a pinner, or are pinned to the top or back of the head without being attached to a pinner. I have never seen the first kind of lappet made of lace or even trimmed with lace, unless you count one early-century French coif. I will only address the second kind of lappet here.
neck frills
I don't know the correct period name for these—perhaps "German collar"?—, but you sometimes see women wearing a gathered "choker" of lace (or muslin?) at the neck as a sort of necklace.
neck cloths
Lace ends on men's neck cloths were in fashion in the early 18c but were rarely if ever seen by the Revolutionary Era.
handkerchiefs/mantles/tippets
Your canonical handkerchief is a diagonally-folded square or a plain triangle. Your canonical mantle (fancy shaped version of short cloak; probably also called "short cloak") is basically cut like a cloak (i.e., half circle with slight gathering at the neck), only shorter, and cut considerably shorter at the sides to leave the lower arms free; it usually has a hood. Your canonical tippet—assuming that I understand properly what tippets are—is cut like a mantle only so small that it only covers the neckline area; it has no hood. Those are the standard forms of these garments, but there are enough garments that blur the lines that I'm just going to treat them all together.
While as I've said, it's difficult to draw firm lines between these garments, I'd say that although handkerchiefs are sometimes edged with lace, they are very rarely entirely of lace unless Dresden or other white work (which is arguably embroidery rather than lace). Mantles are nearly always edged with something, whether lace (usually black), fur (often ermine although I sometimes wonder how much of this ermine was artistic convention), self fabric, or muslin (particularly in the 1780s when lace lost much of its chic). Mantles are sometimes entirely of lace, in which case they tend to run small. Tippets(?) are sometimes entirely of lace, sometimes (I think) entirely of fur; I don't recall seeing any of non-lace fabric.
shirt collars and cuffs
Lace is uncommon, particularly later in the century. It's nearly unheard of for American men.
  • Reynolds, Joshua (English, 1723-1792). Portrait of the Honorable Henry Fane with his Guardians Inigo Jones & Charles Blair, detail of Inigo Jones, 1766, oil on canvas, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. On the Web at CGFA. Lace cuffs on both men. Probably plain ground with a narrow edging (approx. 1/2″) of figures, or could be net edged with lace. Inigo Jones's shirt is edged with similar lace along the neck slit.
  • Reynolds, Joshua (English, 1723-1792). Lady Elizabeth Delmé and Her Children, 1777-1779, Andrew W. Mellon Collection. On the Web at the National Gallery of Art at Washington D.C.. The boy's collar and cuffs are edged with simple lace—see detail image.
    Similar lace at cuffs and at neck slit of shirt can be seen in Reynolds' portraits of Colonel St. Leger, 1778 and Portrait of Admiral Viscount Keppel, 1780.
  • Wheatley, Francis. Family Group, c. 1775/1780. On the Web at the National Gallery of Art. Lace-trimmed shirt slit with lace pulled through waistcoat opening. See detail image.
shift sleeve ruffles
In the second quarter of the 18c, when sleeves were a little shorter and wider and before sleeve ruffles (engageantes) became fashionable, it was common in fancy dress to apply a lace ruffle to the ends of shift sleeves (usually as an extension to a ruffle of the shift fabric or a finer fabric), e.g.,
  • Copley, John Singleton, Mrs. Daniel Hubbard (Mary Greene), c. 1764. On the Web at the Art Institute of Chicago. (For jollies, compare this portrait to Copley's nearly identical portrait Mrs. John Amory (Katherine Greene), about 1763, on the Web at the MFA, which has a double shift ruffle(?) or early, even-depth form of sleeve ruffle (engageante).)
sleeve ruffles (engageantes)
In portraiture, often either entirely of lace, or of muslin edged with a wide band of lace. I suspect that plain muslin sleeve ruffles were more common in actual use...
  • Copley, John Singleton, Mrs. James Warren (Mercy Otis), c. 1763. On the Web at at the MFA. Double sleeve ruffles. This gown (so ill-suited to Mercy Otis's political and philosophical leanings) appears in several Copley portraits of women in the same social circle.
  • Copley, John Singleton, Mrs. Richard Skinner (Dorothy Wendell), c. 1772. On the Web at at the MFA. Triple sleeve ruffles. (For a suspiciously similar portrait, see Copley's Dorothy Quincy (Mrs. John Hancock), about 1772, on the Web at the MFA.)
  • Aved, Joseph. Portrait présumé de Françoise-Marie Pouget, seconde femme de Chardin (Portrait presumed to be Françoise-Marie Pouget, second wife of Chardin), between 1755 and 1765. Musée Carnavalet, Paris. On the Web at La Garde robe de Mademoiselle. The sleeve ruffles consist of a fine lace edging attached to what appears to be a coarse lace in a diamond pattern.
tuckers and modesty pieces
A modesty piece is is a strip of narrow lace across the top of a stomacher (probably tacked to the back of the stomacher) which lightly covers the decolletage and a tucker is the strip of lace that goes around the rest of the neckline. Or maybe either is a tucker. On closed bodices, there's only one piece of lace—is it a tucker, modesty piece, or what? Regardless, this is often of narrow lace on a fancy gown. The strip across the top of the stomacher is usually wider that the strip around the rest of the neckline. For a while, it was fashionable to apply a strip of lace (still called a tucker or modesty piece?) to the outside of the gown neckline. (Can anyone cite an example of this outside of a formal portrait? E.g., in a fashion plate, street scene, or ever conversation piece? Since it is seen in 2nd quarter portraits with closed gown bodices, an era when open bodices were more common, I wonder if it is a fantasy convention of portraiture...)
gowns and petticoats
Trim on gowns (and petticoats) may generally be divided into white (or near-white) trim and all other trim. All other trim—self-fabric, fringe, braid, ribbon, and metallic or colored lace, including both trims applied directly to the gown and trims applied to trims—"must" be of colors contained within the fabric itself ("contained" by being woven in or printed or embroidered on). Lace trim, when used, is most often applied to self-fabric trim. Much less often, lace may be applied directly to the gown or petticoat. I am not aware of any petticoats trimmed with lace except for petticoats that are part of matched gown-and-petticoat ensembles.
White (or near-white) lace may be used as trim for gowns and their matching petticoats. When it is used, it is usually applied to self-fabric trim, but occasionally to the gown (or petticoat) itself.
Metallic lace may appear on gowns and petticoats fabrics incorporating metal, e.g., brocades with metal. When it is used, it is usually applied to self-fabric trim, but occasionally to the gown (or petticoat) itself; it is applied directly to the gown somewhat more often than with metallic lace (comparing among lace-trimmed gowns only, not all gowns).
  • Woman's Robe à la Française for Court (Sack Gown). England. Textile: late 1740s to early 1750s; Constructed: circa 1760-1770. Silk taffeta with flush pattern in filé, frisé, and plate metallic foil-wrapped thread, metallic bobbin lace (orris) trim. LACMA, Council Costume Fund M 57.24.7a-b. On the Web at LACMA. Displayed at LACMA with possibly matching stomacher trimmed with some colors not in the gown itself.
  • Woman's Robe à Française (Sack Gown). England, circa 1760-1765. Metallic thread brocaded silk taffeta, metallic bobbin lace (orris) trim. LACMA, Council Costume Fund M 59.24.1a-b. On the Web at LACMA. Most of the metallic lace is applied as trim to the self-fabric trim, but some is applied directly to the gown, e.g., see a horizontal curlicue near the top of the petticoat.
  • Woman's Robe à Française for Court (Sack Gown). England, 1760. Metallic foil-wrapped thread brocaded on silk diapered ground, metallic bobbin lace (orris). LACMA, gift of Mrs. Henry Salvatori, M.79.118a-b. On the Web at LACMA. Metallic lace applied directly to gown and petticoat.
Colored lace is vanishingly rare. I know of only one example.
  • Mantua. V&&A. Pictured in Fashion In Detail, p. 91. Trimmed with colored silk blonde.
I am not aware of any examples where the base fabric (as opposed to trim) of a gown or petticoat is itself lace, with one very exceptional exception: a gown of Queen [whatername], where the base fabric is entirely covered with lace that was presented to her by the [lacemakers of the country] [look in up and fill it in -- appears on the cover of Santina M. Levey's Lace: A History -- I just reread it two days ago, doh!].
stomachers
There are a few artifacts of single pieces of lace in stomacher shape, made to be applied to a fabric stomacher; all those I know of are metallic lace. Lace trim can also be applied to a stomacher. However, it is far more common for a stomacher to be trimmed with ribbons or ruching (often with fringe applied to the ruching), or, particularly earlier in the century, embroidery.
waistcoats
[&&& Cite that white-lace-over-pink-fabric one...]
coats
Metallic lace only?
riding habits
Metallic lace only?
aprons
Most all-lace aprons are white work ones which are more embroidered than lace. A lace ruffle around the apron is rare, but does occur.
  • apron marked "Ann Knapp April 1713", England, 1713. Linen with linen embroidery, pulled thread, linen bobbin lace. At the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 50.291.
  • apron, Italy, early 18th century. Cotton plain weave with cotton embroidery and drawn work and bobbin lace trim. At the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 58.946.
  • Cotes, Francis, 1726-1770. Portrait of a Lady, 1768. On the Web at the Tate. Gauze (silk gauze according to the Tate) apron edged with lace.
garters
Can't think of any examples at the moment. Presumably only lace trim on garters...
shoes
Silk-covered shoes and slippers occasionally have lace trim, usually (always?) metallic, often in a straight band running down the front of the shoe.
  • Woman's buckle shoe (one of a pair). Italy, possibly, 1760-1770s. Silk brocade with silk and gilt metal thread, gilt metal lace, silk binding tape, leather lining and inner sole. At the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 44.488b.
furnishings
[&&& Cite a couple of royalty dressing tables...]

Lace Artifacts

I've tried to arrange these artifacts chronologically, but since many are dated with a wide range, it's pretty approximate.

Lace in Art

It is often difficult to distinguish bobbin from needle lace without examining the lace closely. An experienced person can sometimes distinguish the two by knowing which styles were only made in needle lace and which only in bobbin lace. Since bobbin lace was frequently made specifically in imitation of needle lace, it requires a great deal of knowledge to detect these distinctions. As I learn more, I will try to identify the laces cited below in more detail.

Bobbin and needle lace were by far the most commonly used forms of lace in the 18c. I have lumped in examples of other laces here (those rare examples I have found).

In addition to examples of lace, I also include examples of people not wearing lace to show how clothing was decorated without lace.

American
  • Copley, John Singleton (American, 1738-1815). Hannah Loring, 1763. On the Web at the Detroit Institute of Arts and also in their Colonial art section. Lace at neckline of gown, double frill in lieu of engageantes, narrow lace on hat. Lace ruffle at neck.
  • Copley, John Singleton (American, 1738-1815). Mrs. Benjamin Pickman (Mary Toppan), 1763. On the Web at CGFA. Lace at neckline. Lace engageantes may have been made as one, or more likely are edging seamed onto plain netting or gauze. Check out the umbrella.
  • Copley, John Singleton. Mrs. William Coffin (Ann Holmes), about 1770. On the Web at the MFA. Mrs. Coffin wears no lace.
  • Copley, John Singleton. Mrs John Winthrop, 1773. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. On the Web at Web Gallery of Art. Her engageantes are part lace: medium width strips of lace are sewn onto fine plain muslin.
  • Copley, John Singleton (American, 1738-1815). Mr. & Mrs. Ralph Izard, 1775. On the Web at CGFA. Note the sheer kerchief and shift ruffles (or modest engageantes) rather than lace. This is probably what we should all be imitating rather than trying to find lace.
British
  • Hudson, Thomas (British, 1701-1779). Mrs Sarah Ingram, circa 1750-5, oil on canvas, Tate Gallery, London. On the Web at the Tate. Mrs. Ingram wears no lace. Her cap, handkerchief, and engageantes are all of the same fine white linen. Also of note: Her cap is of the "kissing strings" variety (ruffled band extends at each side to fasten under chin), which is typical of early mid-century (many, many Hogarth caps are in this style). The little fold in her cap ruffle at her widow's peak is a hallmark of early mid-century. Her gown is a closed gown which is also more common early in the century (and popular again much later). Her gown is reasonably current for the date, but is not on the forefront of fashion, which is no surprise given her apparent age.
  • Reynolds, Joshua (English, 1723-1792). Portrait of Suzanna Beckford, 1756, oil on canvas, Tate Gallery, London. On the Web at CGFA. The neck frill and double engageantes are of the same lace; the half handkerchief is a slightly different pattern but of the same style. The pattern is unusual for the 18c: a strictly geometric pattern of complex chevrons (plain fans on the the half kerchief). By its sheen, the lace appears to by silk; that, and the very light appearance of the ground in contrast to the very heavy motifs, plus the geometric pattern, make it likely that this lace is blonde bobbin lace.
  • Reynolds, Joshua (English, 1723-1792). Nelly O'Brien, 1762, oil on canvas, Wallace collection in London. On the Web at the Wallace Collection, at the National Gallery of Art at Washington D.C. (very yellowed image) and at CGFA. The portrait gives few details of the lace. She wears double lace engageantes of a fairly uniform look—probably bobbin lace made of mostly ground spotted with occasional small figures and with a narrow figure along the edge—see detail image. It is also possible that the engageantes are embroidered muslin or net. Her short cloak or half handkerchief is black gauze, either wrinkled or embroidered, or possibly lace (if lace then probably leno, a woven lace)—see detail image. Her apron appears to be gauze rather than lace. There is probably a narrow edging of lace along the wired edge of her cap, under her hat, but I can't be certain—see detail image.
  • Reynolds, Joshua (English, 1723-1792). Lady Caroline Howard, 1778, canvas, The National Gallery of Art at Washington D.C. On the Web at the National Gallery of Art at Washington D.C. and at CGFA. The lace on her cap is indistinct even in this detail image—it might be blonde or embroidered net. The black lace edging on her mantle is about an inch and a half wide and consists largely of a plainish ground with about a half inch of figures along the edge—see detail images of upper left, center, and lower right.
  • Reynolds, Joshua (English, 1723-1792). Lady Elizabeth Delmé and Her Children, 1777-1779, Andrew W. Mellon Collection. On the Web at the National Gallery of Art at Washington D.C.. The boy's collar and cuffs are edged with simple lace—see detail image.
  • Reynolds, Joshua (English, 1723-1792). Anne, 2nd Countess of Albemarle, 1760. On the Web at the National Gallery, London. Lace engageantes, narrow black lace edging on her black short cloak, possibly lace edging on her cap. And she's knotting!
  • Reynolds, Joshua (English, 1723-1792). Lady Cornewall, c. 1785-1786, Widener Collection. On the Web at the National Gallery of Art at Washington D.C.. Her felt hat and lace collar/jabot give the impression of a riding habit but the black garment, whose form is difficult to distinguish, gives more of an impression of a short cloak with hood lined with grey silk than a riding habit with grey revers, particularly when one examines the detail images of the bust and waist. (However, compare Reynolds' Lady Elizabeth Seymour-Conway on the Web at the Wallace Collection for a chemise a la Reine with a vaguely similar neck treatment.
  • Reynolds, Joshua (English, 1723-1792). Portrait of the Honorable Henry Fane with his Guardians Inigo Jones & Charles Blair, detail of Inigo Jones, 1766, oil on canvas, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. On the Web at CGFA. Lace cuffs on both men. Probably plain ground with a narrow edging (approx. 1/2″) of figures, or could be net edged with lace. Inigo Jones's shirt is edged with similar lace along the neck slit.
    Similar lace at cuffs and at neck slit of shirt can be seen in Reynolds' portraits of Colonel St. Leger, 1778 and Portrait of Admiral Viscount Keppel, 1780.
  • Ramsay, Allan (English, 1713-1784). Mrs. Martin, 1761, oil on canvas, Birmingham City Museum and Art Gallery. On the Web at CGFA. Her triple engageantes are of wide lace with a large, relatively heavy pattern. She wears a length of black lace (probably a half handkerchief), possibly leno, over her head, possibly over a cap. Her black short cloak is edged with black lace.
  • Ramsay, Allan (English, 1713-1784). Portrait of Janet Dick, 1748. Oil on canvas. Prestonfield House Hotel, UK. On the Web at Olga's Gallery. Her cap, of the "kissing strings" variety, is edged with two layers of inch-or-so wide lace, or she may be wearing two caps. Her (half?) handkerchief is edged with lace as are her muslin engageantes. (The style of cap, the sack gown with shaped cuffs rather than sleeve ruffles, the robings and stomacher with attached ribbon behind which the kerchief is tucked, are all hallmarks of the mid-century date of this portrait and were all out-of-date (except the sack cut) by the American Revolution.)
  • Ramsay, Allan (English, 1713-1784). Portrait of Margaret Lindsay, Mrs. Allan Ramsay, c. 1757. (Also cited as Portrait of the Artist's Wife, 1754-55.) Oil on canvas. National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh, UK. On the Web at Olga's Gallery and at the Web Gallery of Art. Her hooded short cloak is white or off-white lace, possibly blonde. Her triple engageantes are of a very light, airy style of lace.
  • Ramsay, Allan (English, 1713-1784). Portrait of Martha, Countess of Elgin, 1762. Oil on canvas. Earl of Elgin and Kincardine, UK. On the Web at Olga's Gallery. Her lace hooded short cloak is black lace edged with black lace. Her engageantes are of a moderately light, airy style of lace. (Possibly they are a two-sided frill (see Copley's Hannah Loring for an example of a two-sided frill) over a one-sided frill with the top side of the top frill folded down. She wears a lace tucker across the top of her stomacher and the neckline of her gown is edged with lace. Nice muff!
  • Ramsay, Allan (English, 1713-1784). Portrait Of Jean Abercromby, Mrs Morison. Oil on canvas. On the Web at the Art Renewal Center. She wears a hoodless mantle (or possibly it could be classified as a handkerchief) and engageantes, of similar but not quite matching patterns. In the high resolution image, you can easily see the square meshes of the ground. I think this is blonde lace with torchon (or dieppe) ground, but given the size of the meshes in comparison to the figures, it's possible that it's embroidery on net. (It's also possible that the artist painted the ground larger than actual size, or that the ground is a braided or multiply twisted ground much large than torchon or dieppe.) I believe the decoration in her hair is the same one worn by the artist's wife in Portrait of Margaret Lindsay, Mrs. Allan Ramsay.
  • Devis, Arthur. A Lady in Blue, 1757. On the Web at the Tate. Transparent gauze handkerchief and engageantes edged with a simple blonde (?) fan (?) edging.
  • Morland, Henry Robert (British, 1716-1797). A Lady's Maid Soaping Linen (circa 1765-82). On the Web at the Tate. Very coarse lace(?) edging cap. Possibly torchon, or possibly a coarse women trim. The tucker across the top of her stomacher and the ruffle around the neckline of her gown are of good quality plain fabric, not lace. Nice necklace of wide velvet(?) ribbon tied in back. Check out how she's pinned up her sleeve flounces to keep them out of the way while working!
  • Portrait of George Jaffrey I (about 1638-1707). United States, New Hampshire, (Portsmouth), about 1705. At the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 1999.502. His neckcloth has wide lace ends.
  • Ramsay, Allan. Portrait Of Elizabeth Gunning, Duchess Of Argyll. 1760. On the Web at the Art Renewal Center. Bright pink silk mantle with simple lace trim in the same general style as that of Liotard's Julie de Thellusson-Ployard, only slightly S-curving in style. More complex lace engageantes in a more obviously rococo style.
French
  • Nattier, Madame Louise de France, 1748. Pictured in Plate LIII (opposite p. 178) of History of Lace [Palliser/Dover 1911/1984] with the caption "Madame Louise de France.—Trimmings and tablier of Point d'Argentan / Painted by Nattier at the age of eleven, 1748. M. de Versailles." (Also of interest, though not in terms of lace, are that her "tablier" (apron) is bibbed, and that the lace ruffles on her sleeves, while different in construction, are reminiscent of the tubular shirred sleeve ruffles that came into fashion around the time of the Revolution. [&&& Describe them better and/or cite a URL with an example.])
  • Duplessis, Joseph-Siffred (French, 1725-1802), Madame Lenoir, Mother of Alexandre Lenoir, the Founder of the Museum of French Monuments, canvas, Musie du Louvre, Paris. On the Web at CGFA. Her triple engageantes are probably bobbin lace (they might be needle lace but that would have been more expensive). The lace has a very open ground (&&& look up what the ground is) with only a few figures, very densely worked, probably in cloth stitch. I think it's blonde. The figures appear to be edged in gimp, but it is difficult to tell. The robings of the gown are trimmed in very narrow lace, almost certainly bobbin, apparently in a simple fan design. Somewhat wider lace borders the neckline vertically, with what is likely a slightly wider lace tucker largely obscured by the roses. [&&& Try to date portrait. By cut of cap and gown, probably 1750s or 60s.]
  • Drouais, Jean-Germain (French, 1763-1788), Madame Drouais, canvas, Musée du Louvre, Paris. On the Web at CGFA. The white cap lace and black lace over it are fairly similar to the engageante lace in the Duplessis portrait of Madame Lenoir but the ground is hexagonal rather than square. Her tucker appears to be a lighter lace but the details are obscured. [&&& Try to date portrait. By cut of cap and gown, probably 1750s or 60s.]
  • Liotard, Jean-Etienne (Swiss, 1702-1789), Portrait of Julie de Thellusson-Ployard, 1760, pastel on parchment, Oskar Reinhart Foundation, Winterthur. On the Web at CGFA. Her lace mantelet, her engageantes, her tucker, and the narrow trim along her robings are all in different patterns but similar styles of mostly plain light ground with a very modest quantity of dense gimp-outlined figures (probably cloth stitch). (The lace on her mantelet runs in unusually straight lines rather than the typical sinuous 18th century esthetic.) Lovely stuff, and while you're at it, note the way the ends of the ribbons are trimmed, how a ribbon is used as a drawstring for the mantelet, the miniature worn on her wrist attached with a toothed-edge ribbon, and the utterly plain knotted black cord or narrow ribbon that adorns her neck.
  • Liotard, Jean-Etienne (Swiss, 1702-1789), Portrait of Isaac-Louis de Thellusson, 1760, pastel on parchment, Oskar Reinhart Foundation, Winterthur. On the Web at CGFA. His lace is of the same general style as that of Julie de Thellusson-Ployard (see previous item), but is slightly heavier, has a slightly higher proportion of figure to ground, and more thoroughly follows the typical sinuous 18th century esthetic. Apparently the Thellussons have a thing for bright blue, and also for miniatures. Check out the buttons at the collar of his shirt; possibly thread buttons.
  • Voille, Jean 1744-1796. Lady with a book. On the Web at the Bowes Museum. Her sleeve ruffles and robings are covered with lace—this is the only example of this that I've seen. No date is available, but I would guess 1760s by the low hair combined with sleeve ruffles.
  • Descours, Michel-Pierre Hubert. Portrait of Elizabeth de la Vallee de la Roche. On the Web at the Bowes Museum, at europeana think culture and at Old Rags. Note the similarity of the lace engageantes to Suzanna Beckford's lace mantle and neck frill.
Other
  • Levitsky, Dmitry (Russian, 1735-1822). Portrait of Duchess Ursula Mniszek, 1782. On the Web at at CGFA. Wide (2 to 2 1/2 inches) lace ruffle on shift; ivory colored; mostly ground, with fine but densely worked leaf, fern and flower figures. She may be wearing a masquerade costume (note Renaissance style slashed sleeve).
  • Levitsky, Dmitry (Russian, 1735-1822). Portrait of Maria Dyakova, 1778. On the Web at at CGFA. She wears a lace handkerchief, apparently consisting entirely of ground, edged with wide lace with the same ground and a light geometric pattern of densely worked figures.

Lace in Writings

The Pennsylvania Gazette, June 14, 1775, item #57716. We have no indication whether she "had on" or "took with her" the lace, nor whether she kept it or sold it.
RUN away, May 20, 1775, from the subscriber, living in York town, an Irish servant girl ...; had on, and took with her ... one fine shift half-worn, with robins and Dresden lace round the neck ...

White work or "Dresden"—sometimes, depending

"White work" is white-on-white embroidery on fabric where the fabric is embellished with embroidery and threads may be pulled out of place, but threads are not cut and removed. In the 18th century, this work reached its pinnacle in the form known as "Dresden work", although simpler forms were practiced. [&&& Cite 18cCl@W'burg, LACMA, St. Aubin, Dover book, PA Gazette, etc.] White work may or may not have holes in it [&&& is it lace or is it ain't, discuss use in place of "real" lace, etc.]

Eyelet, which dates from the nineteenth century, can be considered a form of whitework. In eyelet, threads are either pushed aside, or cut but not removed, and the holes whipped or buttonholed to keep them open. Eyelets appear, rarely, in eighteenth century white work, but the work does not resemble the fabric called "eyelet".

White-on-white tambour work seems to have appeared only after the Revolution. For examples, see Plain and Fancy, pp. ?-? [Swan 1995]. [&&& I should pull out tambour work into its own section, perhaps here -- right now it's buried under Crochet.]

Crochet—no (except some chain)

Crochet is performed by wrapping one or more loops around a crochet hook, optionally inserting the hook through the work, catching the thread with the hook, and pulling it through (the work and) one or more loops on the hook.

The chain stitch as now used in crochet was known in the 18th century.

All the pieces were in place: the crochet hook, the length of chain stitch, the making of a chain stitch into another chain stitch; it lacked only creating stitches more complex than the simple chain.

Nevertheless, I know of no evidence that crochet did in fact develop, until 20 or 30 years later. I consider it somewhat probable that crochet of some sort was being worked somewhere in the world during the American Revolutionary era, but this is not adequate reason to use it in Revolutionary War era reenacting.

(Note that Revolution In Fashion contains a photo (p. 39) including a reticule which they describe (p. 140) as "possibly Spanish, paper lantern shape crocheted with prickly pear fibers." The photo is not sufficiently detailed to tell whether the reticule is crocheted: the reticule has a solid center panel and lace(?) side panel; the solid panel appears to be coarse weaving, crochet, or needle lace embroidered with colored flowers, and the side panel appears to be crochet or needle lace. While the ensemble photo is labeled 1750-60 (&&& verify date—was it 1750s-60s?), only the gowns and jacket are specifically dated, and the image date may be based on these dates. If anyone can provide any further information on this artifact, please contact me!)

Tatting—no

I have found no primary evidence of tatting before the end of the Revolutionary War (nor during the rest of the century, though I haven't looked as hard for any).

The article Tatting Myths Dispelled - A Series is an excellent and succinct treatment of tatting myths, if somewhat technical.

Furthermore, the following unsubstantiated secondary claims do not constitute evidence of tatting.

If you have primary documentation which backs up any of the claims made below, or any primary documentation, or even secondary documentation which gives information other than what can be found below, please contact me.

Non-evidence of Tatting

Tatting Patterns and Designs [Blomquist and Persson ????]
This book cites a poem The Royal Tatter, by Charles Sedley, 1707. I cannot find this poem. I believe that the authors have mistaken the name of the poem The Royal Knotter by that author, dated 1707 according to The Illustrated Dictionary of Lace [Gwynne 1997] (p. 168).
Tatting Patterns and Designs says:
Tatting reached a height in popularity in European countries in the second half of the eighteenth century. It appears to have been a craft which the ladies of rank especially enjoyed as it is easy and graceful.
No primary evidence is given for this claim. Knotting was a craft which the ladies of rank enjoyed in this era as they found it easy and graceful; it is possible (and I consider it likely) that the authors mistook knotting for tatting.

This book says:

The photograph above shows a few examples of such shuttles. The one top left is made of mother-of-pearl, with the crest of a distinguished Swedish family (the Mannerheims) on one side. The initials JEM on the other side probably belonged to a daughter of the Mannerheims—Johanna Elisabeth—who lived in the eighteenth century.
A scan of this photograph is available at the Web site "Tatting". To me, the top shuttle and two bottom shuttles look like knotting shuttles. The two shuttles in the second row from the top are ambiguous; they are smaller and more pointed than standard knotting shuttles but larger than standard tatting shuttles (in fact, they are highly reminiscent of the shuttle in the engraving Keep Within the Compass [unsigned, undated]). The rest appear to me to be tatting shuttles. However there is no primary documentation cited which indicates the use of these shuttles, nor even the origin of any but one. As to that shuttle, I'm not sure what "the one top left" is supposed to mean since the top one is at center. "... probably belonged ... lived in the eighteenth century" is insufficiently precise to indicate whether this is an 18th century artifact or what it was used for.

The Illustrated Dictionary of Lace [Gwynne 1997]
From pp. 167-8:
Another and possibly the earliest form of Tatting was String Work, when long cords were made, both fine and heavy. They were decorated with evenly-spaced large and small Josephine Knots (and other knots). The fine products were used couched down on embroideries and the heavier cords used to embellish furnishings. The production of these String Works was very popular in C17 and C18 as an amateur pastime, when great quantities were made, usually for domestic use. The first recorded date for the Tatting is 1700, but it was undoubtedly made before that date, and was related to Punto a Groppo' (see page 86).

(I can find no entry for "String Work" in the body of this dictionary or its glossary of lace terms. Punto a Groppo, as described and pictured on page 86-87, only resembles tatting or knotting in that both use knots; Punto a Groppo uses the buttonhole stitch.)

No specific sources are given for any of the claims made in the section on tatting, other than photos of post-1800 tatting. The bibliography of this book cites no sources before the 19th century; the only citation specific to tatting is The Art of Tatting, Lady Hoare, B.T. Batsford, London (1988).

Introduction to Tatting in Lace [Konior ????] says:
Dr Johnson is quoted by his biographer Boswell in 1784 as saying:
Next to mere idleness I think knotting is to be reckoned in the scale of insignificance; though I once attempted to learn knotting. Dempster's sister endeavoured to teach me it; but I made no progress.
Presumably he couldn't manage 'the Transfer'.
I do not see any basis for Konior to assume that knotting involves a transfer, or that this is what caused Johnson to fail at knotting; apparently she assumes that this "knotting" is actually tatting (which does have a movement called a "transfer"), but why? Perhaps he couldn't space the knots evenly, or pulled them too tight, or failed purposely because he didn't want to succeed at a "womanly" craft.

History of Tatting / Tatting through the Century [Norma Benporath ????].
(This information was sent to me by two correspondents. I can't find a book by this title but I do find citations of Every Woman's Complete Guide to Tatting by this author.)
This book gives the following information. This information is an unsubstantiated secondary claim:
Tatting has gradually developed from the rudimentary looping and knotting of threads into circles and rings of which one reads in ancient Egyptian myths and hieroglyphic texts. It remained in that primitive state for centuries, until in the East it gradually assumed a definite shape and form which was (and still is) called Makouk, from the shape of the shuttle with which it is worked. [...]

With the progress of civilisation, tatting spread, westward to Europe where, in Italy, it was called Occhi (eyes) from the shape of the rings; Frivolite in France, from its frivolous or fragile appearance; and Schiffchen arbeit (little boat work), from the shape of the shuttle, in Germany. In the 15th or 16th Century it reached England, where it eventually acquired its present name of "Tatting", probably from the little separate pieces or tatters in which it was then worked, these being later joined with needle and thread.

With the Pilgrims it was taken to America, where beauty-starved women among the earliest settlers, deprived of all but the necessities of living, turned to any means at hand to beautify their surroundings. Many of them able to do a form of tatting made shuttles from suitable bone or slips of wood, and with whatever thread was available set to work to make trimmings for furnishings and clothing.

Tatting, Origins and History [Jones ????]
This book says:
[...] tatting, as such, is thought to have originated in Italy in the sixteenth century. It was probably made by nuns, as many forms of lace and needlework owe their existence to convents. The early forms of tatting were quite different from today. There were no chains and the work consisted of only rings which were made in rows or groups using only a single shuttle and then tied or sewn together afterwards. Sometimes the rings were made with a needle instead of a shuttle.

During the early eighteenth century tatting was gradually taking over from knotting in England, although the word tatting did not actually appear in print until 1843. It is thought that early examples of tatting were still referred to as knotting.

A Mrs. Mary Delaney in 1750 made a pair of chair covers having a border of oak leaves in white linen which were outlined in knotted threads, some of which are tatted rather than knotted. Later, in 1781, Parson Woodforde mentions buying a pair of small ivory shuttles for his niece for one shilling. It is presumed that these shuttles were for tatting since knotting tat shuttles were of a much larger size.

See Tatting Myths Dispelled - A Series for a picture of one of Mrs. Delaney's seat covers and evidence that these seat covers are not tatted. According to this article, a photo of the seat cover appears in (untitled) [Hall, c. 1850].

Nutzbares, galantes und curioses Frauenzimmer-Lexicon, 1739
Tatting Patterns and Designs [Blomqvist and Persson ????] says:
According to Tina Frauberger, writing in 1919 in Handbuch der Schiffchenspitze (Handbook of Shuttle Lace), published directions appeared in the early eighteenth century in Nutzbares, galantes und curioses Frauenzimmer-Lexicon (which defies a polished translation but means a dictionary of useful, fancy, and interesting women's work), 3rd edition 1739. Tina Frauberger interprets the directions as referring to shuttle lace rather than knotting, and if she is correct, then this must be the earliest evidence of genuine tatting.
Correspondent Alexa Bender reports to me that in the 1715 edition of this book [Amaranthes 1715]:
There are no entries under the names that I know tatting by (viz: occhi, frivolitäten, schiffchenarbeit). BTW, I've looked up the same words in a dictionary of 1811 (Johann C. Adelung, Grammatisch kritisches Wörterbuch)—nothing. Anyway, the entry that I've found also appears in the 1st edition of 1715.
The entry, and her translation:
Knötgen machen oder knüpffen, ist eine dem Weibs-Volck gebräuchliche Kunst, aus langen gedoppelten weißen Zwirn-Fäden durch zusammen Schlingung vermöge eines darzu verfertigten Schiffleinsein Knötgen dicht an das andere zu schlingen und anzuhängen, woraus hernachmahls Frantzen oder auch Trotteln und Quasten an die Fenster-Vorhänge und andere Dinge verfertiget werden.

Making knots is an art that women do, of making one knot very close to the next in long, doubled white linen yarn by using a shuttle which is made for that purpose. Thus they make fringes and tassels which are used on window curtains and other things.

I see nothing in the text to imply that the work described is tatting rather than knotting. It looks to me as if yet again, knotting has been mistaken for tatting. At any rate, this citation is not evidence of tatting; it is at best ambiguous.

Keep Within the Compass [unsigned, undated], reproduced in Plain and Fancy [Swan 1995].
Plain and Fancy states that the woman is knotting.
The woman holds a shuttle which is rather large for a tatting shuttle but rather small and pointed for a knotting shuttle. One thread goes up from the workbag to her hands and another trails down from her hands in front of the first. This, and the position of the threads in her hands, makes no sense either for knotting or (according to some tatting correspondents) for tatting. I believe that the artist depicted the woman's work incorrectly, or used a model who did not know how to hold the work, which largely eliminates the value of this artwork as evidence. In any event, by her clothing the artwork dates beyond the end of the Revolutionary War, probably to the late '80s or early '90s.

Possible Primary Evidence

The following are items which are claimed as evidence of tatting by assorted secondary sources. If there is anyone out there who is interested in trying to document tatting to the Revolutionary era or before, they might try to track these items down and see if they are, in fact, primary evidence of tatting.

Portraiture
Tatting Patterns and Designs [Blomqvist and Persson ????] says "There are several portraits from the period showing ladies engaged in tatting." It lists these portraits:
  1. Queen Charlotte and her daughter, painted by the eighteenth century artist Benjamin West. The picture hangs in St James' Palace, London.
    An informant reports to me that Queen Charlotte is knotting in this portrait.
  2. Madame Adelaide, daughter of Louis XV, painted by Jean-Marc Nattier (1685-1766). It hangs in the Palace of Versailles.
    There is a portrait of Mme. Adelaide knotting, not tatting; see below under Knotting: Portraiture.
  3. The Duchess of Albemarle, painted by Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723-1792). National Gallery, London.
    I assume that this is a mistaken citation for Anne, 2nd Countess of Albemarle, a portrait in which Anne is knotting, not tatting; see below under Knotting: Portraiture: Nattier Princess Adélaïde.
The Illustrated Dictionary of Lace [Gwynne 1997] lists these on p. 168:
  1. Anne, Countess of Albemarle. By Sir Joshua Reynolds. 1760. National Gallery, London.
    There is a portrait of the Countess knotting, not tatting; see below under Knotting: Portraiture: Reynolds Anne, 2nd Countess of Albemarle.
  2. Anne Chambers, Countess Temple. By Allan Ramsay. 1760. Chevening House, Kent, England. (Not open to the public.)
  3. Conversation Piece. Possibly by David Allen. 1775. Temple Newsam House, Leeds, England.
    See below under Knotting: Portraiture: Wilson Conversation Piece, where this portrait of a woman knotting is attributed to Benjamin Wilson.
Are the women in these paintings really tatting? Or are they knotting?

Artifact with knotting:
  • Woman's embroidered jumps, ca. 1700. Polychrome silk chain stitch on a faux quilted linen ground with knotted fringe edging. On the Web at Cora Ginsburg LLC. Labeled as jumps although it is possible it might be more properly considered a waistcoat. Unfortunately, the knotting is not clear in the small picture available on line.
  • Knotting—yes, but it's not lace

    Knotting is not a form of lace, but since it has so often been confused with tatting, since both involve using a shuttle and making knots, I will discuss it here.

    Primary evidence

    Art of the Embroiderer [Saint-Aubin/Scheuer 1770/1983]
    Plate 5, figures 10 and 15 of this book show knotted strings in illustration of the following text, which appears on p. 38:
    Noeuds. On en distingue de trois especes; 1, les noeuds de fil ou de soie, que les Dames font en s'amusant avec la navette; ces noeuds successivement arrangés très-près les uns des autres, forment une espece de cordonnet agréable, qu'on coud avec de la soie sur la surface de l'étoffe. On les dévide par pelottes, & on les emploie à la broche.
    The English translation given on p. 57 is:
    Noeuds (knots) There are three sorts of knots:

    1. knots of cotton [sic] or silk thread that Ladies make as a pastime on a shuttle. These knots, arranged very close to one another, make a pleasant kind of braid that one sews on a fabric with silk thread. One winds them into balls and uses them with a 'broche'.

    (The second kind is for starting to embroider with a thread and the third is what we now call "French knots". I believe "fil" should have been translated as "linen" or just "thread", rather than "cotton".)

    Unfortunately, Saint-Aubin does not see fit to tell us how the knots were made, but they appear to be simple overhand knots, both in the engraving and in the color plates of artifacts which make use of knotting. Color plates:

    P. 124-5: "Madonna Cape / Spain or France, mid 18th c / Polychrome silk thread, knotted and couched, and silk chenille floral embroidery on cream silk satin, yellow and gold metallic thread lace edging." The description of the artifact quotes Boswell on Johnson [Boswell ????] and continues "Refined eighteenth century ladies were often depicted in portraits as engaged in knotting." No evidence is given in support of this statement.

    The Royal Knotter
    This poem by Sir Charles Sedley, written in approximately 1700, mentions knotting.

    Some or all of the text is available in these locations:

    • The Web site Literature Online contains what appears to be the full text of the poem with the attribution "Sedley, Charles, Sir, 1639?-1701: [from The poetical and dramatic works (1928)]. VOL. II. POEMS AND TRANSLATIONS ASCRIBED TO SEDLEY ON DOUBTFUL AUTHORITY. From Buckingham's Miscellaneous Works, 1704. Sedley, Charles, Sir, 1639?-1701: CII THE ROYAL KNOTTER [from The poetical and dramatic works (1928)]"
    • A Web site called Needle Tatting contains what appears to be part of the poem. The language differs slightly from the Literature Online version (e.g., "ye" instead of "we"), and the content differs as well: Needle Tatting omits the fifth and sixth lines, "She Manufacturers does advance,/And makes Thread-fringes for ye.", and omits the entire third stanza, which mentions fringe again, in comparison with Literature Online.
      I find it a little odd that the Needle Tatting version omits these lines, almost as if it (or the source from which they got the poem) didn't think that fringe sounded enough like tatting and therefore omitted those lines purposefully. I suppose it is possible that the Literature Online site made up these words, but I find that considerably less likely since it is an extensive site with careful bibliographic information.
    • The Illustrated Dictionary of Lace [Gwynne 1997], p. 168, cites this poem with a slightly different date from Literature Online:
      Sir Charles Sedley (1609-1702) wrote of Queen Mary, consort of King William of Orange, in his poem entitled 'The Royal Knotter,' published in 1707:
      For here's a Queen now thanks to God!
      Who when she rides in coach abroad
      Is always knotting threads.

    The Knotting Song, also by Charles Sedley.

    Boswell's "Life of Johnson"
    One section mentions knotting:
    ... JOHNSON. 'Sir, I might as well have played on the violoncello as another; but I should have done nothing else. No, Sir; a man would never undertake great things, could he be amused with small. I once tried knotting. Dempster's sister undertook to teach me; but I could not learn it.' BOSWELL. 'So, Sir; it will be related in pompous narrative, "Once for his amusement he tried knotting; nor did this Hercules disdain the distaff."' JOHNSON. 'Knitting of stockings is a good amusement. ...
    Portraiture
    It has been reported to me that the following paintings contain women knotting.
    1. Capt. John Hervey & Family by Zoffany.
    2. The Rooks-Leeds Family by Arthur Davis
    3. painting by F. Wheatley dated c. 1777, reproduced in A Visual History of Costume - The Eighteenth Century [Ribeiro ????].

    Keep Within the Compass [unsigned, undated], reproduced in Plain and Fancy [Swan 1977].
    See under Tatting: Non-evidence.

    Just for fun

    You can see someone's collection of shuttles which they identify as knotting shuttles at Knotting Shuttles of American Collectors. These are beautiful artifacts but no dates are given.

    Knitting—no (except as non-lace)

    Knitting was, of course, used extensively for whole articles of clothing, mostly stockings. Curiously, knitting does not seem to have been used to make lace (although see a man's undress cap artifact cited below). While knitting makes a fairly coarse lace which could not hope to compare with fine needle or bobbin lace, it compares favorably to the coarsest peasant bobbin laces.

    If anyone has evidence of knitted lace in the 18th century through the end of the Revolutionary War, beyond the below, please contact me.

    Net lace, or Lacis—???

    Lacis is formed by making a knotted thread net with square meshes and filling in some meshes to form a pattern.

    I have not yet found primary evidence dating it to America in the Revolutionary era, though it seems likely it was available then, at least in Europe; I have done almost no research in this area.

    Figure 3 on p. 19 of History of Lace [Palliser/Dover 1911/1984] is a pattern for a lacis design and is labeled "Lacis.—(Vinciolo. Edition 1588.) Ce Pelican contient en longueur 70 mailles et en hauteur 65." (This pelican contains 70 meshes in length and 65 in height.) Footnote 14 on p. 20 reads "Lacis, espè d'ouvrage de fil ou de soie fait en forme de filet ou de réseuil dont les brins étaient entrelacez les uns dans les autres.—Dict. d'Ant. Furetière, 1864." (Lacis, type of work of linen or silk made in the form of filet or ground in which the bits [of thread] are interlaced with each other.)

    Availability of Lace in the Thirteen Colonies

    Imported lace was available. More research in this area would be helpful to determine types of lace imported, quantities, price, and area to which it was imported.

    September 5, 1765 The Pennsylvania Gazette ITEM #36594
    ... MARY SYMONDS, Milliner, Having divided the stock in trade, in the millinery business with her sister Ann Pearson, has to sell in the corner shop in said house, for ready money only, a great variety of millinery and other goods, amongst which are, A Large assortment of Bath, Brussels, Mecklin, minionet, trawley and Hanover laces, joining lace, cockscomb, purl and footings, blond and silver blond laces. ... A large assortment of Irish linen, ... Dresden aprons, handkerchiefs and ruffles, Dresdens wristbands ...

    Lacemaking in the Thirteen Colonies

    There seems to have been nearly—but not quite—no lacemaking in the thirteen Colonies/United States before the end of the Revolution. Even later, there was almost no commercial hand-made lace making. I know of no decorative arts of American Indians which result in lace.

    Primary evidence

    The Israel Angell Diary, 1 October 1777-28 February 1778, Joseph Lee Boyle, ed. Rhode Island History, Vol. 58 No. 4, November 2000
    To: 18cWoman@yahoogroups.com
    From: dhagist@edgenet.net
    Date: Tue, 19 Jun 2001 16:38:47 -0000
    Subject: [18cWoman] Description of a woman making lace
    
    The following interesting entry appears in the diary of an officer of 
    a Rhode Island regiment in the Continental Army:
    
    January 1st 1778.  "...I Sett off for Quaker Town [New Jersey].  won 
    Curiousity I Saw Hear I Cannot omit Mentioning, I Saw a young Lady, 
    Dafter [sic - daughter] of Mrs Stout where I tarried a making lace for 
    Caps.  She work'd the lace with Small Sticks Called Bobins, on a 
    pillow with a Stripp of paper Round the Same prickt out in form of the 
    Lace"
    ["The Israel Angell Diary, 1 October 1777-28 February 1778", Joseph 
    Lee Boyle, ed. Rhode Island History, Vol. 58 No. 4, November 2000]
    
    
    To: 18cWoman@yahoogroups.com From: dhagist@edgenet.net Date: Tue, 19 Jun 2001 18:25:34 -0000 Subject: [18cWoman] Re: Description of a woman making lace From the way that Angell writes the entries, I am quite sure that he was in Quaker Town, NJ, when he "tarried" with Mrs. Stout and her daughter. He had been in Hopewell, NJ, the day before, and after Quaker Town continued on to "Pitts Town"; but I am confident that by "hear" in the passage below, he means Quaker Town.

    Lace making in Ipswich.
    [Raffel 2003] describes the lace making industry of Ipswich, Massachusetts. While nearly all information pertains to the post-Revolutionary period, some merchants' records strongly suggest that some lace was being made earlier. A merchant's account book of 1767 shows lace bought, and soon after lace sold at a slightly higher price. The woman he bought the lace from would have had no reason to be selling lace unless she made it herself; she was not of a class to be wearing it herself.

    Some sort of lace making lessons offered in Philadelphia. It is not clear to me whether "to weave lace" indicates woven lace (e.g., leno) or is simply their way of saying "to make lace". Furthermore, while lessons are offered, the ad provides no evidence that lace-making students were taken in.
    The Pennsylvania Gazette, January 3, 1771:

    LUCY BROWN and ANN BALL, Sisters, NATIVES of England, lately arrived from Paris, having acquired, by 14 years study, the French language in the politest taste, humbly presume to open a FRENCH SCHOOL [...] They also instruct their pupils to weave lace, embroider, and all kinds of needle work, in the most elegant manner. The Hours for French lessons, from eight in the morning to twelve; the remainder of the day will be intirely devoted to the above accomplishments.

    Lace making lessons offered by a Pittsburg school, as reported to be quoted in Keeping House; Women's lives in Western Penna by Virginia K. Bartlett, U Pgh Press 1994, p. 124.
    The Pittsburgh Gazette, Nov. 11, 1786:

    A Boarding Day School for Young Ladies will be opened on Wednesday the 15th instant by Mrs. PRIDE [...]. Where they will be taught the following branches of needle work, viz.

    Plain workFringing
    Coloured dittoDresden
    FloweringTambouring and Embroidery
    Lace, both by the
    Bobin and the Needle    
    Also reading, English and knitting required.

    Non-evidence of Lacemaking

    The following unsubstantiated secondary claims do not constitute evidence of lacemaking.

    If you have primary documentation which backs up any of the claims made below, or any primary documentation, or even secondary documentation which gives information other than what can be found below, please contact me.

    History of Lace [Palliser/Dover 1911/1984]
    P. 372, footnote 8:
    The Puritans again, on their part, transferred the faric to the other side of the Atlantic, where, says a writer of the eighteenth century, "very much fine lace was made in Long Island by the Protestant settlers."

    Ipswich Mills and Factories [Waters 1904], p. 29:

    The decade 1820 to 1830 was a period of extraordinary interest in industrial affairs. For many years the making of pillow lace had engaged the leisure of girls and women. It was a local industry, as it would seem, and its origin is unknown. Referring to Ipswich in 1692, a writer says, "Silk and thread lace of an elegant and lasting texture are manufactured in large quantities by women and children and sold for use and exportation."* The industry had attained such large proportions in 1790 that more than 40,000 yards of lace were produced each year, according to Mr. Felt, the annalist of our Town.

    *Mr. M.V.B. Perley in his History of Ipswich, in History of Essex County Mass., Boston, 1878.

    Suggested Avenues of Research

    In addition to the below, one might try to verify any of the claims described under Non-evidence of Lacemaking, above.

    Lacemaking in New France

    [&&& Reference those nuns and that woman who reportedly brought her lacemaker with her.]

    Part the Second
    What We Can Use

    In which we Despair at the Impossibility of purchasing accurate Lace. Using Antiques a crime against History. To Make One's Own (Masochists Only). The debased Condition of American lace Manufactories. A small Hope from Abroad. Compromises, compromises.

  • On Acceptability
  • General Cautions
  • Types of Lace
  • Sources for Lace

    On Acceptability

    With fashion the way it is, there is simply no market in modern times to produce even moderately fine laces at prices affordable to reenactors. Anyone who wants to use lace in reenacting must either restrict themselves to coarser laces suitable for a middle to lower class impression—and either beggar themselves buying it or spend days or months of time producing it—or compromise by buying machine lace which merely approximates 18th century lace. What constitutes a sufficient approximation depends partly on one's personal style of reenacting. Nevertheless there are minimum standards of authenticity which we can all strive for. Some may have the desire and resources to do better. Some may not.

    The remainder of this section describes the minimum level of authenticity for lace for reenactors, according to me.

    General Cautions

    Types of Lace

    Bobbin lace, hand-made
    Hand-made bobbin lace appropriate for reenacting is generally unavailable for sale. If you find any, it will probably be prohibitively expensive. It may be possible to find some hand-made lace imported from countries with low wages; this will generally be of a quality equivalent to modern machine-made bobbin laces.
    If you can make your own bobbin lace, or find someone to make it for you, more power to you. I warn you that it is simply no longer possible to make the finest laces; the fine linen threads are no longer produced, nor are the hair-fine pins needed, and the techniques have been lost. The very fine laces can be made, at least in cotton, but you could easily spend the rest of your life making lace for a single gown. With some months or years of effort, it is possible to make laces of fair to medium quality, suitable for trimming clothing of moderate quality. Peasant lace may be made in weeks to months, or if you want small amounts of fancy trim (a tucker, say, or trim for a silk-covered hat), you might be able to work up some silk blonde lace in weeks or months, since is a relatively simple and often coarse 18c lace.
    Twentieth and nineteenth century antiques will rarely if ever be of an appropriate style. Nineteenth and eighteenth century pieces are precious antiques! Please don't use them! Preserve them carefully instead, for posterity.

    Needle lace (all needle lace is hand made)
    The same cautions apply as for hand-made bobbin lace, only more so, as needle lace is far more time-consuming to produce.

    White work or "Dresden" (hand-made)
    The same cautions apply as for hand-made bobbin and needle lace, only somewhat less so. White work is on average simpler and quicker to produce than needle and bobbin lace, although the best Dresden laces approach the level of the not-quite-best needle and bobbin lace. You might be able to produce some simpler white work in days, weeks, or months.

    Bobbin lace, machine made
    The coarser stuff is too coarse for us but finer laces are usable as peasant lace. The finest machine-made bobbin laces, which are not generally available in the United States but which can be obtained by mail order, are fine enough to use for an upper middle class impression, or even a not-too-fine lady or gentleman.

    Machine-made laces in imitation of period bobbin and needle laces
    Due to the near impossibility of obtaining real bobbin and needle lces, machine-made laces are acceptable if in imitation of appropriate 18th century bobbin and needle lace, and if reasonably well done.

    Machine-made laces in imitation of white work or "Dresden"
    Unacceptable. I've never seen any that looks at all 18c. Eyelet is right out.

    Lacis (net lace)
    Unacceptable for clothing as it was not used in the 18th century for this purpose. And besides, all the lacis you find these days is much, much coarser than 18th century lacis.

    Crochet, tatting, knit lace, battenberg, eyelet, and all others
    Unacceptable.

    Sources (and Non-Sources) for Lace

    [&&& Find and list more sources. Scan and include samples of laces in a variety of types and qualities. Label as to acceptability.]

    Martha Pullen
    Sells high-end "heirloom sewing" supplies, including lace trims. They sell a line of French machine-made cotton bobbin lace. It's machine made, but well made under the circumstances. It's coarser than most 18c lace artifacts and lace in art, but many of the patterns are in 18c styles, and being cotton, at least it looks like linen. These laces come in many patterns, only some of which are 18th century styles. Look for patterns with stylized designs from nature, laid out in S-curves. Avoid symmetric, geometrical and/or photo-realistic designs, including tea roses, garlands, swags, and ribbons (see the section on Aesthetics for more information). Martha Pullen has too many lace designs for me to review them all, but here is a survey which should provide some guidelines:
    Reasonable laces:
    So-so:
    L-124/225
    Not S-curvey, but such a simple, narrow lace that it doesn't matter.
    L-2/15036 White
    The ribbon motifs aren't 18c, especially the larger ones near the headside, but with a bit of a gather on the lace, they won't show.
    L-2/9700
    Although simple leaves like these, without flowers, aren't very likely, the overall shape of the lace (S-curves) is reasonable.
    AVOID:
    L-176-232
    Not S-curvey along the length.
    L-2/897-Ivory
    Insertion. Would be okay as an insertion in baby clothes or on a stomacher, except that it's ivory rather than white. (Ivory is fine for blonde, but this lace is not in the style of blonde.)
    L-124/14433
    Screams "modern".
    L-124/311
    Screams "modern", although with a 17c/19c flair.
    L-15/1443
    Ribbons are 19c (there are rare 18c ribbons, but they're more stylized), and the pattern is too regular and not S-curvey enough.
    Farmhouse Fabrics
    Similar laces to those at Martha Pullen. Some are suitable, many are not.
    Retta-Carol Creations
    Similar laces to those at Martha Pullen. Some are suitable, many are not.
    "Fine French Laces"
    Similar laces to those at Martha Pullen. Some are suitable, many are not; most suitable ones listed here come from Martha Pullen.
    Wooded Hamlet
    Two French laces.
    • Floral Pattern: Another French machine-made cotton bobbin lace much like the Martha Pullen ones. This particular pattern is fairly angular, so I don't think it's as suitable as the Martha Pullen ones. It's too wide to use on a shift, too narrow for engageantes. Might be suitable for edging a wealthy merchant's wife's kerchief or engageantes, or a lady's maid's pinner cap.
    • Cross Pattern: I haven't seen any lace like this on 18c clothing. Maybe it would be acceptable as church lace, but I don't know. I wouldn't use this.
    Cotton Bobbin & Tatting Lace: Unacceptable.
    Grannd Garb: The Historic Costume Supply Company
    • Assorted Cluny laces all unacceptable. See above under Wooded Hamlet's Cluny laces.
    • A lace called "Venice Crown". Unacceptable. A not-very-fine machine-made imitation of 17c Italian lace.

    References

    Amaranthes (Gottlieb Sigmund Corvinus). Nutzbares, galantes und curioses Frauenzimmer-Lexicon. Leipzig: Gleditsch & Sohn, 1715 (1st edition).

    Bailey, Colin B. (editor), Conisbee, Philip (editor), Gaehtgens, Thomas W. (editor), The Age of Watteau, Chardin, and Fragonard: Masterpieces of French Genre Painting. Yale University Press. Published in association with The National Gallery of Canada, Ottowa, and the The National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. 2003. ISBN: 0300099460.

    Baumgarten, Linda, Eighteenth-Century Clothing at Williamsburg. Williamsburg, Virginia: The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, 1986, ISBN 0-87935-109-8.

    Benporath, Norma, Every Woman's Complete Guide to Tatting. A Web site entitled Tatting contains quotations from this source.

    Benporath, Norma, History of Tatting / Tatting through the Century. Quotations supposedly from this source were provided by correspondents. I can't find a book by this title but I do find citations of Every Woman's Complete Guide to Tatting [Benporath ????] by this author; History of Tatting / Tatting through the Century may be a chapter or chapters in this book.)

    Blomqvist, Gun and Elwy Persson, Tatting Patterns and Designs. Quotations from this source were provided by correspondents. A Web site entitled Tatting contains quotations from this source.

    Boswell, Life of Johnson. Available on the Web at the Gutenburg Project. [&&& Look up citation info.]

    Chadwyck-Healey Ltd., Literature Online, http://lion.chadwyck.com.

    Dow, George Francis. Every Day Life in the Massachusetts Bay Colony

    Freeman, Charles, Pillow Lace in the East Midlands, The Corporation of Luton Museum and Art Gallery, 1958.

    Gwynne, Judyth L., The Illustrated Dictionary of Lace, Lacis Publications, Berkeley, California, 1997, ISBN: 0916896862.

    Hall, Lady. (untitled) Photograph album, 2 vols. Privately published. c. 1850.

    Hart, Avril, and Susan North, Fashion In Detail From the 17th and 18th Centuries, Rizzoli, New York, 1998, ISBN: 0-8478-2151-X. Illustrated with examples from the collection at the Victoria and Albert Museum.

    Jones, Rebecca, Tatting, Origins and History. Quotations from this source were provided by correspondents. A Web site entitled Tatting contains quotations from this source.

    Keep Within the Compass. Reproduced in Plain and Fancy [Swan 1977] which describes the artwork thus: unsigned sepia engraving United States or England; 1785-1800.

    Konior, Introduction to Tatting in Lace. Quotations from this source were provided by correspondents. A Web site entitled Tatting contains quotations from this source.

    Levey, Santina M., Lace, A History. Victoria and Albert Museum Great Britain, Leeds. 1983. ISBN 0-901286-15-x.

    Martin, Richard, Our New Clothes: Acquisitions of the 1990s, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1999, ISBN 0-87099-900-1.

    Montupet, Jeanine, Lace: the Elegant Web.

    Palliser, Bury, Mrs., History of Lace, Dover Publications Inc., New York, 1984, ISBN 0-486-24742-2. This is a reprint of the 4th edition, Scribner, New York, 1911.

    Paludan, Lis. Crochet History & Technique, Interweave Press, 1995. Danish title HÆKLING - Historie Og Teknik, Borgen Publishers, 1986, ISBN 8741876385.

    Raffel, Marta Cotterell. The Laces of Ipswich: The Art and Economics of an Early American Industry, 1750-1840. University Press of New England, 2003, ISBN 1584651636.

    Ribeiro, Ailleen, A Visual History of Costume - The Eighteenth Century.

    Scheuer, Nikki, translator and annotator, Maeder, Edward, editor, Art of the Embroiderer, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1983, ISBN 0-87587-110-0. Reproduction of L'art du brodeur [Saint-Aubin 1770]. The title page reads "Art of the Embroiderer / by Charles Germain de Saint-Aubin / Designer to the King / 1770 / Translated and Annotated by Nikki Scheuer / Los Angeles County Museum of Art". This reproduction contains both the original French text and an English translation. Illustrated with examples from the collection at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

    Saint-Aubin, Charles Germain de, L'art du brodeur, 1770. The title page reads "L'art du brodeur / Par M. de Saint-Aubin/Dessinateur du Roi / M DCC LXX".

    Spruill, Julia Cherry, Women's Life and Work in the Southern Colonies.

    Starobinski, Jean, and Philippe Duboy (Contributor), Revolution in Fashion : European Clothing, 1715-1815, Kyoto Costume Institute, Abbeville Press, Inc., 1990, ISBN 1558590722.

    Swan, Susan Burrows, Plain and Fancy: American Women and Their Needlework, 1650-1850, Curious Works Press, Austin, Texas, 1995, ISBN: 0-9633331-3-5; first edition by Rutledge Books, 1977. Illustrated with examples from the needlework collection at Winterthur Museum and elsewhere.

    Tatting, http://www.hottub.org/~audrey/kersti/tatting/. Excerpts from Every Woman's Complete Guide to Tatting [Benporath ????], Tatting Patterns and Designs [Blomqvist and Persson ????], Tatting, Origins and History [Jones ????], and Introduction to Tatting in Lace [Konior ????] can be found on this site.

    Waters, T. Frank, Ipswich Mills and Factories, in Publications of the Ipswich Historical Society XIII, proceedings at the annual meeting, December 7, 1903, The Salem Press Col, Salem, Mass., 1904. (Also in this volume, Fine Thread, Lace and Hosiery by Jesse Fewkes, about the machine-made bobbin lace and machine-made hosiery industries in Ipswich during the decade 1822 - 1832. No information is given regarding any possible earlier lacemaking of any sort.)


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