Lace was developed prior to the 16th cent. from the drawn work, cutwork, and lacis (darning on squares of net) of the embroiderers' craft. With drawn work, more and more threads were removed until the ground vanished altogether. A design was executed and its principal line supported the complete pattern. The first of such laces, reticella, originated in Venice and was based on geometric forms. Later, as laceworkers sought relief from the restrictions of symmetrical design, the illogical but beautiful designs of punto in aria (literally, a stitch in the air) were first created. The richest, most sumptuous of these needlepoint laces was the Venetian raised point of the 17th cent.
The vogue for lace began c.1540, and pattern books began to appear. Early reticella designs usually included pointed or scalloped edges. By the time of Charles I lace was used extravagantly for both costume and interior decorating; by 1643 lace making had become an established industry. In France patterns became increasingly more detailed and delicate; the light, flowery point de France was used for every conceivable decorative purpose. Later the laces of Alençon, Argentan, and Valencienne exemplified French style and design. The making of bobbin, pillow, or bone lace, which is mentioned as early as 1495, passed from Italy to Flanders, reaching its height of production there in the 18th cent.
Machine-made lace first appeared c.1760, and by 1813 a bobbinet machine was perfected. After 1832 cotton thread somewhat replaced linen. In the 20th cent. many lace patterns have been revived and modified, and called Cluny lace. The chief modern centers of lace making are France, Belgium, England, Ireland, and Italy.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.