Fifty years ago, when a knowledge of many useful and ingenious arts formed a part of the education given to young women destined for genteel life, one who should have supposed that any reader could be ignorant of the manner in which lace is made, would only have been laughed at; but as most of our young ladies at present employ the greater part of their time in reading romances or the trifles of the day, it is probable that many who have even had an opportunity of frequenting the company of the fair sex, may never have seen the method of working lace. For this reason, I hope I shall be permitted to say a few words in explanation of an art towards the history of which I mean to offer such information as I have been able to collect.

Proper lace or point was not wove. It had neither warp nor woof, but was rather knit after the manner of nets (filets ) or of stockings. In the latter, however, one thread only is employed, from which the whole piece or article of dress is made; whereas lace is formed of as many threads as the pattern and breadth require, and in such a manner that it exhibits figures of all kinds. To weave, or, as it is called, knit lace, the pattern, stuck upon a slip of parchment, is fastened to the cushion of the knitting-box; the thread is wound upon the requisite number of spindles, which are called bobbins; and these are thrown over and under each other in various ways, so that the threads twine round pins stuck in the holes of the pattern, and by these means produce that multiplicity of eyes or openings which give to the lace the desired figures. For this operation much art is not necessary; and the invention of it is not so ingenious as that of weaving stockings. Knitting, however, is very tedious; and when the thread is fine and the pattern complex, it requires more patience than the modern refinement of manners has left to young ladies for works of this kind. Such labour, therefore, is consigned to the hands of indigent girls, who by their skill and dexterity raise the price of materials, originally of little value, higher when manufactured than has ever yet been possible by any art whatever. The price, however, becomes enormous when knit lace has been worked with the needle or embroidered: in French it is then called points.

The antiquity of this art I do not pretend to determine with much certainty; and I shall not be surprised if others by their observations trace it higher than I can. I remember no passage in the Greek or Latin authors that seems to allude to it; for those who ascribe works of this kind to the Romans found their opinion on the expression opus Phrygianum : but the art of the Phrygians 1437 , as far as I have hitherto been able to learn, consisted only in needle-work: and those ingenious borders sewed upon clothes and tapestry, mention of which occurs in the ancients, cannot be called lace, as they have been by Braun 1438  and other writers. I am however firmly of opinion that lace worked by the needle is much older than that made by knitting. Lace of the former kind may be found among old church furniture, and in such abundance that it could have been the work only of nuns or ladies of fortune, who had little else to employ their time, and who imagined it would form an agreeable present to their Maker; for had it been manufactured as an article of commerce, we must certainly have found more information respecting it.

We read in different authors that the art of making lace was brought from Italy, particularly from Genoa and Venice, to Germany and France; but this seems to allude only to the oldest kind, or that worked with the needle, and which was by far the dearest. At any rate, I have nowhere found an expression that can be applied to lace wove or knit. In the account given of the establishment of the lace manufacture under Colbert in 1666, no mention is made but of points 1439 .

I will venture to assert that the knitting of lace is a German invention, first known about the middle of the sixteenth century; and I shall consider as true, until it be fully contradicted, the account given us that this art was found out, before the year 1561, at St. Annaberg, by Barbara wife of Christopher Uttmann. This woman died in 1575, in the sixty-first year of her age, after she had seen sixty-four children and grandchildren; and that she was the inventress of this art is unanimously affirmed by all the annalists of that part of Saxony 1440. About that period the mines were less productive, and the making of veils, an employment followed by the families of the miners, had declined, as there was little demand for them. This new invention, therefore, was so much used that it was known in a short time among all the wives and daughters of the miners; and the lace which they manufactured, on account of the low price of labour, soon became fashionable, in opposition to the Italian lace worked with the needle, and even supplanted it in commerce.

A doubt, however, has often occurred to me, which may probably occur also to some of my readers, that this Barbara Uttmann may be entitled only to the merit of having made known and introduced this employment; and that, as has often happened to those who first brought a new art to their own country, she may have been considered as the inventress, though she only learned it in a foreign land, where it had been long practised. But I conjecture that this could not have been the case, as I find no mention of the art of knitting lace, nor any of the terms that belong to it, before the middle of the sixteenth century.

[The application of machinery to the manufacture of lace dates from the early part of the present century. The original fabric, called pillow or bone-lace, which formerly gave employment to so many thousands 1441  of the poorer classes, is now, especially in this country, almost entirely abandoned, in consequence of the invention of the bobbin-net machinery.

The bobbin-net trade is a branch of the cotton manufacture, the net being almost invariably formed of that material. It originated in successive improvements and alterations on the stocking-frame, by which it was adapted to the weaving of lace; though it is deserving of notice that it could have had no existence but for Samuel Crompton's invention, the mule, which spins yarn suitable for that delicate fabric. The application of the stocking-frame to lace-making was first attempted by a frame-work knitter of Nottingham, named Hammond, about 1768; but it was not rendered completely successful till after improvements by John Heathcoat, also of Nottingham, for which a patent was secured in 1809. His improvements were of so important a character as to entitle him to be justly considered the inventor of the lace-frame, and the father of the bobbin-net manufacture. Means were besides discovered for making the net into various widths, instead of only one broad piece as at first, and likewise to work various ornaments into it by the aid of machinery, which, in point of complex ingenuity, far surpasses that used in any other branch of human industry 1442. One of Fisher's spotting-frames, according to Dr. Ure, is as much beyond the most curious chronometer in multiplicity of mechanical device, as that is beyond a common roasting-jack. The combined effects of these improvements is, that fabrics, for which £5 were paid during the existence of Mr. Heathcoat's patent, may now be purchased for 2 s. 6 d. The different systems of bobbin-net machines are described in Ure's Dictionary, or his Cotton Manufacture of Great Britain. It has been found that no machines, except those upon the circular-bolt principle invented by Mr. Morley of Derby, have been found capable of working successfully by mechanical power.]


1437  This is proved by the vestes Phrygioniæ of Pliny mentioned before in the article on wire-drawing . Those who made such works were called phrygiones. In the Menæchmi of Plautus, act ii. scene 3, a young woman, desirous of sending her mantle to be embroidered, says, “Pallam illam ad phrygionem ut deferas, ut reconcinnetur, atque ut opera addantur, quæ volo.” Compare Aulul. act iii. scene 5; Non. Marcellus, i. 10; and Isidor. 19, 22. The Greeks seem to have used the words κεντεῖν and καταστίζειν as we use the word embroider.

1438  De Vestitu Sacerdot. Hebræorum, i. p. 212.

1439  Count de Marsan, the youngest son of count d'Harcourt, brought from Brussels to Paris his former nurse, named Du Mont, with her four daughters, and procured for her an exclusive right to establish and carry on the lace manufactory in that capital. In a little time Du Mont and her daughters collected more than two hundred women, many of whom were of good families, who produced such excellent work that it was in little or nothing inferior to that imported from other countries.—Vie de Jean-Bapt. Colbert, Cologne, 1696, 12mo, p. 154.

1440  The oldest information on this subject is to be found in Annabergæ Urbis Historia, auctore Paulo Jenisio. Dresdæ, 1605, 4to, ii. p. 33.—C. Melzer, Berglauftige Beschreibung der Stadt Schneeberg. 1684, p. 471.—Historia Schneebergensis. Schneeberg 1716, 4to, p. 882.—Tob. Schmidt, Zwickauische Chronik. Zwickau, 1656, 4to. ii. p. 384.—Lehmanns Historischer Schauplatz des Obererzgebirges. Leipzig, 1699, 4to, p. 771.

1441  It is difficult to form an estimate of the number of persons employed in pillow-lace making during its prosperity; but in a petition from the makers in Buckingham and the neighbourhood presented to her Majesty queen Adelaide in 1830, it was stated that 120,000 persons were dependent on the trade.

1442  Waterston's Encyclopædia of Commerce.