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A Love of Lace

by Melissa Breau  


a love of lace

“simply beautiful”

those two words are how every woman wants to feel on her wedding day—and over the centuries; lace has played a part in helping many brides achieve that feeling 

Lace has been part of the bridal scene ever since it was first introduced as an article of personal adornment. Its delicate patterns and rich textures exude a soft femininity and elegance that has appealed to brides for centuries. One of the very first needlepoint laces conceived, Italian reticella, included a specific design created for special use in bridal lace. It wove significant symbols and devices including the bride’s family crests, or those of her husband, into the fabric. After the wedding, the pieces were carefully stowed for future use, either by the bride’s children or as part of her burial robes. 

Lace was first made by nuns and monks; its making was considered a secret of the church until its usage spread to court in the mid-1400s, where it was used to ornament royal robes. The history of lace made it a natural choice for special occasions such as weddings.  

Its use as a sacred secret, then as a fabric used only by nobility, gave it a long-standing association with elegance and class status, says Sally Lorensen Conant, Ph.D., president of Orange Restoration Labs. Conant works restoring vintage laces, especially veils, and has worked on pieces dating as far back as the nineteenth century. “It’s a short step from clerical splendor to courtly magnificence and then to the finery of  affluent merchants,” she adds.  

Still, it probably would never have caught on at all if it weren’t so stunningly beautiful when added to a wedding dress. “Lace is softly appealing and can add decorative appeal to all or part of a gown,” says Conant.  

It was extremely time consuming to produce, so its limited availability made it valuable and contributed further to its use as a fabric used almost exclusively for special occasions. Designs were made by weaving together various fine pieces of thread into a pattern (bobbin made lace) or by creating a pattern with a needle upon a base of threads resembling a net (needle point). Its unique patterns meant that each piece was made by hand until the industrial revolution, rather than by loom as many other fabrics were.  

Yet, “machine made lace appeared surprisingly early in the industrial revolution,” says Lindie Ward, curator of the Love Lace exhibit at the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney, Australia. “Handmade lace had become so valuable in the 17th century that there was a strong impetus to design machines to make similar fabrics.”  

dressed to impress 

Sandrine Bernard, executive vice president of lace manufacturer Solstiss USA, says that Kate Middleton’s wedding gown returned lace to the top of the current bridal trends. Solstiss has been producing lace fabrics since 1974 and it produced some of the lace used for Middleton’s dress.  

“It showed the femininity that can be added to a wedding dress [by using] lace,” says Bernard. She says lace gives a dress that sense of being something different— something exceptional— which is exactly what a bride wants from her wedding gown. 

“The recent vogue for lace dresses I think derives in part from the desire for a new look,” Conant agrees. “There is very little new in the style and shape of gowns: strapless A-line or strapless ball gowns are still the norm and look pretty much the same whether decorated with pearls or crystals. However, making gowns from lace rather than from taffeta or satin gives gowns a softer, more feminine look, and there are multiple types of laces available each with a different look. Contrast the 3-dimension laces of Lela Rose with the more traditional Alencons typical of Monique Lhuillier.”  

Further evidence of the bridal world’s renewed fascination with lace was clearly on display at New York Fashion Week 2011. Numerous bridal designers prominently featured lace on their gowns. “For Spring 2012 a lot of the gowns I’m seeing have lace on them. They tend to be more simple silhouette, sheath, mermaid types but they have a ton of lace; it seems this trend is really going strong, at least through next year,” says Ivy Long, owner of Edera Jewelry.  

Long hand crochets lace jewelry, and she says that the trend for lace bridal attire has been evident in her own business. As lace has gained traction within the bridal market overall, it has also become more popular as an accent item. For brides that want to use lace more subtly or who want just a touch of its delicate beauty, jewelry or a lace veil may suffice. According to Bernard, use of lace veils is also on the rise—she says they were not popular until recently, but are now becoming quite common.  

lasting appeal  

Today, the majority of lace is machine made, and the types of lace and the number of designs available are vast. French lace manufacturer Solstiss has a permanently available variety of 6000 original designs, and creates new collections every season.  

When it comes to choosing among the various patterns and designs that lace comes in, the decision is really as unique as the bride herself. “Many people feel that the finer the lace, the more aesthetically pleasing it is,” says Ward. Otherwise, the experts agree that it’s purely a choice of personal taste.  

But this hasn’t always been true. “In the past there have been styles that became very fashionable and denoted status,” says Ward. For example, Conant says Chantilly became popular in the late 1940s, though the 1950s. “Perhaps because Chantilly is fragile, without a strong cording worked into the ground, satin and taffeta fabrics decorated with Alencon (a type of Chantilly lace) became popular in the 1960s [… and] In the 1960s thick floral or geometric motifs in Venice lace embellished translucent weaves such as organza.” She says these patterns are still available—and a popular choice—today.  

One advantage to choosing lace is how well it holds up over time. While it’s appearance is delicate, the fabric itself tends to do quite well when taken care of. “All gowns should be cleaned after the wedding to remove corrosive stains such as perspiration and latent stains that darken and disfigure the gown over time,” says Conant. She adds that, while it may be more visible, hemline soil is actually less damaging to the dress’ fibers than perspiration and sugary stains. 

Once the dress has been cleaned, it should be folded and stowed away carefully until it can be passed along to a daughter, granddaughter or other female relative for reuse. “Lace gowns should never be hung for long periods of time, because the weight of the gown will stretch and distort the lace,” says Conant. 

Lace veils should undergo similar treatment. Lace jewelry, however, can become a way for a bride to keep the spirit of her wedding alive as she moves forward in her new life—earrings and even hair clips or pins can add a feminine touch to almost any outfit. 


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a love of lace

“simply beautiful”

those two words are how every woman wants to feel on her wedding day—and over the centuries; lace has played a part in helping many brides achieve that feeling 

Lace has been part of the bridal scene ever since it was first introduced as an article of personal adornment. Its delicate patterns and rich textures exude a soft femininity and elegance that has appealed to brides for centuries. One of the very first needlepoint laces conceived, Italian reticella, included a specific design created for special use in bridal lace. It wove significant symbols and devices including the bride’s family crests, or those of her husband, into the fabric. After the wedding, the pieces were carefully stowed for future use, either by the bride’s children or as part of her burial robes. 

Lace was first made by nuns and monks; its making was considered a secret of the church until its usage spread to court in the mid-1400s, where it was used to ornament royal robes. The history of lace made it a natural choice for special occasions such as weddings.  

Its use as a sacred secret, then as a fabric used only by nobility, gave it a long-standing association with elegance and class status, says Sally Lorensen Conant, Ph.D., president of Orange Restoration Labs. Conant works restoring vintage laces, especially veils, and has worked on pieces dating as far back as the nineteenth century. “It’s a short step from clerical splendor to courtly magnificence and then to the finery of affluent merchants,” she adds.  

Still, it probably would never have caught on at all if it weren’t so stunningly beautiful when added to a wedding dress. “Lace is softly appealing and can add decorative appeal to all or part of a gown,” says Conant.  

It was extremely time consuming to produce, so its limited availability made it valuable and contributed further to its use as a fabric used almost exclusively for special occasions. Designs were made by weaving together various fine pieces of thread into a pattern (bobbin made lace) or by creating a pattern with a needle upon a base of threads resembling a net (needle point). Its unique patterns meant that each piece was made by hand until the industrial revolution, rather than by loom as many other fabrics were.  

Yet, “machine made lace appeared surprisingly early in the industrial revolution,” says Lindie Ward, curator of the Love Lace exhibit at the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney, Australia. “Handmade lace had become so valuable in the 17th century that there was a strong impetus to design machines to make similar fabrics.”  

dressed to impress 

Sandrine Bernard, executive vice president of lace manufacturer Solstiss USA, says that Kate Middleton’s wedding gown returned lace to the top of the current bridal trends. Solstiss has been producing lace fabrics since 1974 and it produced some of the lace used for Middleton’s dress.  

“It showed the femininity that can be added to a wedding dress [by using] lace,” says Bernard. She says lace gives a dress that sense of being something different— something exceptional— which is exactly what a bride wants from her wedding gown. 

“The recent vogue for lace dresses I think derives in part from the desire for a new look,” Conant agrees. “There is very little new in the style and shape of gowns: strapless A-line or strapless ball gowns are still the norm and look pretty much the same whether decorated with pearls or crystals. However, making gowns from lace rather than from taffeta or satin gives gowns a softer, more feminine look, and there are multiple types of laces available each with a different look. Contrast the 3-dimension laces of Lela Rose with the more traditional Alencons typical of Monique Lhuillier.”  

Further evidence of the bridal world’s renewed fascination with lace was clearly on display at New York Fashion Week 2011. Numerous bridal designers prominently featured lace on their gowns. “For Spring 2012 a lot of the gowns I’m seeing have lace on them. They tend to be more simple silhouette, sheath, mermaid types but they have a ton of lace; it seems this trend is really going strong, at least through next year,” says Ivy Long, owner of Edera Jewelry.  

Long hand crochets lace jewelry, and she says that the trend for lace bridal attire has been evident in her own business. As lace has gained traction within the bridal market overall, it has also become more popular as an accent item. For brides that want to use lace more subtly or who want just a touch of its delicate beauty, jewelry or a lace veil may suffice. According to Bernard, use of lace veils is also on the rise—she says they were not popular until recently, but are now becoming quite common.  

lasting appeal  

Today, the majority of lace is machine made, and the types of lace and the number of designs available are vast. French lace manufacturer Solstiss has a permanently available variety of 6000 original designs, and creates new collections every season.  

When it comes to choosing among the various patterns and designs that lace comes in, the decision is really as unique as the bride herself. “Many people feel that the finer the lace, the more aesthetically pleasing it is,” says Ward. Otherwise, the experts agree that it’s purely a choice of personal taste.  

But this hasn’t always been true. “In the past there have been styles that became very fashionable and denoted status,” says Ward. For example, Conant says Chantilly became popular in the late 1940s, though the 1950s. “Perhaps because Chantilly is fragile, without a strong cording worked into the ground, satin and taffeta fabrics decorated with Alencon (a type of Chantilly lace) became popular in the 1960s [… and] In the 1960s thick floral or geometric motifs in Venice lace embellished translucent weaves such as organza.” She says these patterns are still available—and a popular choice—today.  

One advantage to choosing lace is how well it holds up over time. While it’s appearance is delicate, the fabric itself tends to do quite well when taken care of. “All gowns should be cleaned after the wedding to remove corrosive stains such as perspiration and latent stains that darken and disfigure the gown over time,” says Conant. She adds that, while it may be more visible, hemline soil is actually less damaging to the dress’ fibers than perspiration and sugary stains. 

Once the dress has been cleaned, it should be folded and stowed away carefully until it can be passed along to a daughter, granddaughter or other female relative for reuse. “Lace gowns should never be hung for long periods of time, because the weight of the gown will stretch and distort the lace,” says Conant. 

Lace veils should undergo similar treatment. Lace jewelry, however, can become a way for a bride to keep the spirit of her wedding alive as she moves forward in her new life—earrings and even hair clips or pins can add a feminine touch to almost any outfit.