I'm new to the technical side of the lace world, but a long-time collector from charity and thrift shops. I'm having fun trying to ID and date some of my old finds. I'm wondering if some of you with more experience would help confirm or correct about a lace handkerchief.

I think that it's bobbin lace, and maybe Bedfordshire style (or Cluny? Still trying to understand the distinctions). How do you know if it's machine made?

Are there any good resources for figuring out places of origin and date for English laces? (I'm an American living in the UK. I've been staying up way too late reading http://lynxlace.com/bobbinlace2structuralclasses.html and other websites. I think I need to start a project of my own to fully learn all of the terms, etc. :) 

Thanks and kind regards,


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I suspect that dating it hard, but I'll leave that to the real experts! My contribution is this:

That is from my own lace collection, also mostly got from charity shops etc, but based round some lace inherited from relatives. That piece was from my grandmother (1871-1961), so Victorian, but she may have got it from her aunt, even older. The style looks very similar, but as for age, I wonder about the colour. Mine is pale brown, and yours seems very white.
I would consider it Beds, with a nine pin style headside, but again, I'll leave that to the experts.

I've posted a photo below so you don't have to follow the link.

If you want other examples to look at, my whole collection is here: http://gwydir.demon.co.uk/jo/lace/collection/index.htm

This piece is definitely hand made Bedfordshire lace. You are right to question whether it is Cluny or Beds, since both are braid based/plait based laces. The easiest way to distinguish them is by style - the design itself. Beds usually had a flowing or organic sort of design, even when it wasn't representational. (Some examples did depict real plants and animals.) Cluny is much more likely to be purely geometric. Both might have trails, as your piece does. One significant difference is in how the trail was worked. And your refer to my website, lynxlace, which pleases me greatly. The particular page you mentionned is exactly the place to discover the technical differences between various styles of bobbin lace.

In Cluny the braid entering a trail tends to pass through the trail and exit on the opposite side of the trail, usually with the weaver, to make a new braid on that other side.

In Bedfordshire what usually happens is that the 2 braid pairs enter the trail at the pin and stay there until a braid needs to exit the trail on that side.

What this means is that in Beds the trail can change in width, and will certainly change in density, and it will not have a constant number of pairs. In Cluny the trail usually maintains a constant number of pairs.

Another thing to understand is that tallies (those rectangular spots) can interchange with braids, structurally, since both elements use 2 pairs of threads. Here is the specific section. (All the photos are thumbnails. Click to get the full size image)


And here are 2 of my pinterest boards, one for Cluny, one for Bedfordshire. If you look at all those images, you will begin to get an idea of the stylistic differences.



As for date: Bedfordshire was supposedly invented as a consequence of an international exhibition in the mid 19th century, which included some laces from the Cluny museum. (There is a problem about the existence of this museum. I used to take the story at face value, but I now have some doubts.) What is clear is that Beds dates from the last half of the 19th century. It did not exist before that. Some may have been made up to the first world war. That is about as close as anybody can get, realistically, to a date. And, of course, modern lacemakers continue to make it, usually copying old designs. This work can't be distinguished from any made prior to 1900. Modern lacemakers usually make neater work, and their pieces won't show the distortions that come from being washed inexpertly. But modern people are also making new designs in the Bedfordshire style and manner. Usually there are subtle stylistic difference that help you spot them. Your piece is prior to 1900, I am pretty sure.

As to distinguishing it from machine made, that is a whole nuther problem. First it is a question of what machine is used, because each machine type has different capabilities, and can only make certain thread paths. Only the very simplest laces can be copied exactly by machines.

The most likely method that would be used to copy a Bedfordshire design would be chemical lace, where cotton embroidery (duplicating the design, not the structure) is done on a background cloth that can be dissolved away. Chemical lace can look very realistic from a distance. You usually need to get withing 3 feet of the piece before you get suspicious, and magnification will make it certain. Chemical lace has a fuzzy appearance. And if you look at the thread paths you won't see individual threads, or typical paths.

And here are some learning pattern samples that I did, which illustrate these elements.



This photo, from my Compare page, shows machine made left, and hand made bobbin lace right.


In the one below - machine left, hand made right- Cluny. But it isn't chemical lace. The machine used can actually weave fairly complex thread paths. The tallies aren't right. The picot edge isn't right. But I don't know what machine.


Here are some chemical lace left, with the hand made type they are imitating, right.



Also I suggest that you look through all the links in the RESOURCES section of the IDENT-HIST group. There is a lot there, but I've selected the ones that are mostly reliable. You could be up nights for MONTHS. As you can tell, I love the subject. The history of lace is fascinating and complicated. To get an understanding of the dates for various English laces, you will need to understand the overall history of bobbin lace and its use in fashion (as an element of conspicuous consumption). But that will take time to develop.

Jo Edkins also has some good close up photos of various elements of the hand made lace, and the machine imitations.

Also here:    http://laceioli.ning.com/photo/albums/identification-photos 

and here:    http://laceioli.ning.com/photo/albums/machine-lace 

Here is a link for my comparison between bobbin lace and machine made lace, with the close ups that Lorelei mentioned:


Click on what you're interested in. It doesn't claim to cover everything - these are just bits from my own collection. But it can 'tune' your eye as to what to look for,

Do you make lace yourself? It's a very good way to learn the differences, because a lacemaker looks at something and says "That doesn't look right!"

Jo - That page you just referenced is very good. Both the lace bits and the list of modern manufacturers, with their machine type. Bit by bit we are getting closer to having a really full array of images and information about this subject matter. From almost nothing to considerable helpful images.

Lorelei -- wasn't there also some connection postulated between Beds and Maltese lace? That Beds was in response...

Lorelei Halley Administrator said:

As for date: Bedfordshire was supposedly invented as a consequence of an international exhibition in the mid 19th century, which included some laces from the Cluny museum.

Yes, I do recall the connection between Maltese and Beds. Maltese was supposedly inspired by the Cluny laces. But this is all rather vague and I am not at all certain about these connections.

What I do know is this: in the 16th & 17th centuries Genoa was producing braid/plait based laces. I have seen many of them at the Art Institute of Chicago. The connection between the style and structure of those and modern Cluny is quite clear, at least to me.  The existence of this supposed Cluny museum is a question. It may have existed but exists no longer. Maltese is not actually a purely braid/plait based lace. It is a straight lace, but only some connections between motifs are braids. There are also a lot of single pairs moving threads from one motif to another. As far as I can tell both Beds and Cluny are far more solidly braid/plait based laces.  So exactly how Maltese transformed into Beds is not clear to me.

This is why bobbin lace history is so fascinating and frustrating. Somebody sees a lace produced in some far off geographical area and figures out a way to incorporate the ideas into her own designs. People copy her. A few generations down the line, and we have a completely new kind with new rules and a characteristic design. We never know the names of the people who started these diversions.

In the modern world we have the example of Withof, which is an exception to this. We know exactly who created it, and where, and when. 

I've seen it mentioned somewhere - Palliser? - that Maltese lace was exhibited at the Great Exhibition of 1851, at the Crystal Palace, London, and was greatly admired. This led to something called "English Maltese". The Great Exhibition showed exhibits from around the British Empire, and Malta was part of this. It explains why it was shown (you can imagine Malta scurrying around trying to find something typically Maltese to exhibit!)
When I was writing the Wikipedia article on Maltese lace, I found a Maltese website on Maltese crafts which said "Lace made in Malta was originally needle lace, from the 16th to the 19th century, when the economic depression in the islands nearly led to the extinction of lacemaking there. But in the mid 1800s, Lady Hamilton Chichester sent lacemakers from Genoa to Malta. They used the old needle lace patterns and turned them into bobbin lace, which was quicker. It was not long after its introduction that the Maltese lace developed its own style from Genoese lace." That suggests that what was shown in 1851 were brand new designs, not ancient ones!

That statement is what I have heard. They were new designs.    " But in the mid 1800s, Lady Hamilton Chichester sent lacemakers from Genoa to Malta. .....   Maltese lace developed its own style from Genoese lace".      So, if we believe this, then both Maltese, Beds, and Cluny are ultimately developments which start with Genoese, a braid/plait based straight lace from the 1500s and 1600s.

Bobbin lace history is so marvelously tangled and complex.


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