Often known as “needlepoint lace,” needle lace is a term referring to the technique in which the lace is made of entirely needle work; it developed in the 15th century and then became very popular throughout the 16th century.

The Details

The Metropolitan Museum of Art has a fragment (Fig. 1) of a very early depiction of needle lace. This is one style of lace in the 15th century, as Melinda Watt explains:

“There are essentially two methods of making lace: both involve the manipulation of fine linen thread and they are commonly referred to by the names of the tools used. Needle lace requires the use of a single thread and a needle to make stitches one after another which gradually build up a fabric. Bobbin lace uses many threads attached to small bobbins, which are interwoven in various combinations to create a pattern.”

The Encyclopedia of Clothing and Fashion explains the original meaning of lace was quite different: “Before needle and bobbin lace developed in the sixteenth century, the term lace referred to the cords that laced separate.”

Watt explains further: “Fashions in lace change markedly during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, from simple geometric edgings of the early seventeenth century, to the Baroque three-dimensional needle lace of the second half of the seventeenth century, to the airy decorated net of the late eighteenth century.”

‘Needle-point lace’ is often interchanged with ‘needle lace.’ Mary Brooks Picken defines ‘needle-point lace’ in The Fashion Dictionary as:

“Lace that is made entirely with a sewing needle rather than bobbins. Worked with buttonhole- and blanket stitches on paper pattern.” (222)

Fragment

Fig. 1 - Maker unknown (British). Fragment, ca. 1450–1500. Wool, sprang; 42.5 x 35.6 cm (16 3/4 x 14 in). New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 28.197. Gift of George F. Lawrence 1928. Source: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Antependium

Fig. 2 - Maker unknown (Italian). Antependium, 15th century (antependium) and 16th century or 17th century (border). Silk and metal; 106 x 239.4 cm (41 3/4 x 94 1/4 in). New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1975.1.1904. Robert Lehman Collection 1975. Source: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Portrait of Claude of France (1547–1575) Duchess of Lorraine

Fig. 3 - Anonymous. Portrait of Claude of France (1547–1575) Duchess of Lorraine, circa 1565. Oil on panel; 32 × 25 cm (12.6 × 9.8 in). Versailles: Palace of Versailles, RF 1973 30. Source: Wikimedia

Smock

Fig. 4 - Maker unknown (British). Smock, 1603-1610. Linen. London: Museum of London, 28.83. Source: Museum of London

Detail of Smock

Fig. 5 - Maker unknown (British). Detail of Smock, 1603-1610. Linen. London: Museum of London, 28.83. Source: Museum of London

Of an anonymous portrait of Claude, Duchess of Lorraine (Fig. 3), Pat Earnshaw in Lace in Fashion writes:

“In the painting of Claude, Duchess of Lorraine, needle laces begin to appear, bridging the gap between incidental clothes-decoration and the headier world of fashion; and it was needle laces which first established themselves for Court wear rather than bobbin laces which for a while longer remained simple and ‘lower class’.” (12)

In a women’s smock made circa 1603-1610, you can see examples of both lace techniques (Figs. 4 & 5), as the Museum of London notes:

“Two narrow (15mm) bands of geometric needle lace worked in a plaited thread base are inset 30 and 100mm above the hem. Scallops of freely worked needle lace decorate the hem, the cuffs, the front neck opening and the collar.”

This portrait of Claude (Fig. 6) shows many styles and fashion trends that were prevalent in the 16th century, including the intricate lace ruff, likely of the needle lace technique.

Portrait of Claude of Valois (1547-1575) Duchess of Lorraine

Fig. 6 - Artist unknown. Portrait of Claude of Valois (1547-1575) Duchess of Lorraine, 16th century. Oil on panel. Florence: Uffizi Gallery. Source: Wikimedia

Its Afterlife

In Spring 2014, Oscar de la Renta’s ready-to-wear line (Fig. 7 & 8) showed strong inspiration from needle lace techniques.
Ready-to-wear

Fig. 7 - Oscar de la Renta. Ready-to-wear, Spring 2014. New York. Source: Vogue

Ready-to-wear

Fig. 8 - Oscar de la Renta. Ready-to-wear, Spring 2014. New York. Source: Vogue

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