Over the last five centuries, lace has become a symbolic ornament for celebrations such as christenings and weddings. It has also developed associations with style, wealth and sensuality. Despite its long history, lace remains popular in today’s fashion and textile industries. As an intricate fabric consisting of holes surrounded by thread, lace has always been regarded for its elegance and unique aesthetic appeal.
In the context of the 21st century, however, technology has enabled lace to become so much more than something pretty to be worn. According to Samrah Siddiqui, senior textile designer at I-Lace, “The first laces in the past were made by hand, but we now use computerized machines that reduce the time and energy needed to make lace.” As such, the range of applications for lace is widening, from contemporary wearable pieces to homeware and even to inspiring the design of space-related structures.
Lace has traditionally been associated with the elite; Wikimedia Commons
Lace has a rich tradition. In the 1600s, it played a part in distinguishing Europe’s elite from the rest of society via their wardrobe. It is no surprise that lace is commonly used today for depicting opulence in films. According to Margo Graham, design director at MYB Textiles, “Our clients are mostly interested in our traditional designs, which are prominently featured in period dramas and movies.”
The power of lace to attract people springs from the beauty of the product itself and the intricate techniques that go into creating it. According to Louise West, lacemaker, designer, and heritage craft lace tutor, “Lace has an alluring appeal and is very much about contrasts and opposites, from the reveal/conceal aspects in clothing.” Graham of MYB Textiles, adds, “Lace is popular because, although it’s see-through, it provides privacy at the same time.”
For Graham, leveraging the heritage of lace is also a key selling point in business. “Lace making is a skilled process and takes years of training in the different aspects of its development. Our clients highly appreciate the heritage and skill involved in this process,” she says.
Technology in Lace Making
According to West, there are two different sides to lace making machines: the creative side and the industrial side. “I am involved with the creative side where I use digital technology for designing and producing the patterns,” she shares. However, technology does enable these two sides to work together. With advanced digital technology, designers can create intricate patterns more consistently and manufacturers can also produce designs more efficiently.
In lace making, needle lace (directly using a needle with a single thread) and bobbin lace (braiding and twisting thread with the help of bobbins) are two of the most widely used techniques. As such, the technologies for lace making coincide with the technique being applied. Lace8 is an example of a digital software that helps users create a neat, professional looking bobbin lace design.
Computer-aided design software can help create intricate lace designs; Pixabay
Computer-aided design (CAD) software also plays a role in lace making. CAD is used to scan pencil sketches, fill in texture, and cross-reference designs with a digital library of real-life lace textures. The result is a high-quality, realistic simulation of the proposed lace design.
The incorporation of electronic components has also helped bring weaving machines like looms to the 21st century, keeping the lace making tradition alive. According to Graham, “Although traditional looms using punched pattern cards are still being used as they were over 100 years ago, our highest quality Nottingham lace loom has an electronic jacquard fitted and is networked to the design computer. We also have an electronic punched card system to cut the pattern cards.”
So, while lace making remains one of the most intricate processes in fabric production, technology has certainly offered ease and convenience in the design and manufacturing aspects. As such, lace designers now have opportunities to explore their skills by creating various patterns and trying novel materials.
Present and Near Future Applications of Lace
Today, lace is still prevalently used to create visually stunning clothing items such as lingerie, bridal gowns, and shawls. The use of lace to create a new imagery can be seen in the fashion industry. It has also been involved in the development of sportswear to add style and breathability to sports bras, leggings, and sneakers.
Lace is often used to create visually stunning bridal gowns; Pixabay
Still, according to Siddiqui, “Lace is a popular fabric because it is not only used for clothing but for other things such as the interior of curtains, cushions, and tablecloths.” Graham also shares that her company has a modern collection of lace for home interiors popularly used in contemporary surroundings. “We have recently stiffened a number of lace fabrics that are now available to be used for roller blinds,” she adds.
MYB Textiles is in the process of bringing unique lace concepts to fruition. “We have been working closely with textile university lecturers on light-emitting lace as well as lace set in concrete that could give a beautiful texture to tiles and paving,” says Graham.
Indeed, the techniques for lace making are known to be some of the most influential textile innovations of the modern age. Currently, researchers are exploring the configurations of a structure called a bigon ring, which was discovered by an artist who was attempting to recreate the patterns of lace using plastic material. Researchers have developed stable models of these bigon rings, which could have applications in the making of structures that are designed to be flat when packed on Earth and expand when unpacked in space.
Lace Will Live On
Given all its novel applications, we can expect the tradition of lace to have an exciting future. Technology has resulted in new avenues for appreciating lace, which are departures from the traditional view of it being an ornamental piece of garment. According to West, “Bobbin lace-making is currently seen as being viable by the Heritage Craft Association’s Red List of Endangered Craft, as there are enough teachers to sustain it for the next generation.” As such, if the applications of lace expand widely enough, it could remain relevant for many generations to come.
About the Author
Nicola Davies is a consultant and writes science-based articles in a number of industries. She has written numerous feature articles for AATCC.