A friend asked for help identifying the techniques in a textile.  Here are her words and pictures.

I have a lace dress yoke, possibly for a child. I am trying to determine the type of lace and when it might have been made.
Here's what I have identified thus far:
  • The size is 9.5" wide by 12" long.There are hook and eyes. which may go all the way back to the 14th C...but the eye is straight rather than curve  So, they were most likely made before the 20th C. 
  • The background looks like netting or tul, thus suggesting machine made fabric produced between the 18th to 20th C. 

  • The lace designs are pink, sage green and what looks like a camel brown, possibly suggesting an aniline dye used on the latter. The pink and sage pallet seems late 18th C. up to  1930.

  • The petal designs look to my uninformed eye like embroidery...is that call filet?
  •  The pink ribbon looks like satin and has a lovely sheen. The construction is well done.

  • Now it won't surprise you to learn that I am drawn to the tassels...three fringe strands to each of the front tassels and only two strands on the two back tassels. Here are the other germaine variables about the tassels:
    • The beads are silver and iridescent black. The silver beads may be steele-cut metal. The black beads could be carnival glass. 
    • The incredible knotting consists of silk threads and gold metallic ones (the latter may be hard to see on your monitor). I think the coned button center that anchors the tassel may give me a time period.  Sadly, I haven't been able to find that in my searches yet. The same is  true of the ends with the creamy looking pearls or teardrop shapes. Are you familiar with this tassel design? When I looked up the teardrops on either the Boston Museum or the Met websites the technique appears to be from the 17th. That dark olive thread should also tell me something but hasn't so far. 
    So ,I would appreciate it if you could please point out the above statements about which you know or think I might be mistaken. Please share your impressions. Something about this piece tells me the tassels were married to the lace at a later time period. I love them on their own but they just seem heavy and incongruous with the delicacy of the lace. 
    This yoke came to me in a box of 19th C Chinese textiles. 
Secondly, I also saw a poorly done version of just the knots made with what looks like coarser synthetic thread on a contemporary fabric mobile. So, I am leaning toward thinking the tassels, at least,  are Chinese. However, the Chinese do not have a tradition of lace as the West knows it. So, there is a missing link.
The bodice may have been a gift from someone in the West to someone in China. The latter may then have spruced it up with the tassels. Too bad the textile doesn’t speak English. :-)
I would appreciate any info you can gather.  Thanks for any light you are able to shine on this mystery. 
All the best,

Views: 44

Replies to This Discussion

First, I don't know much about tassels, basically nothing. I know that complex knots in silk cord was a traditional Chinese decoration for clothing. But I have no reason to think this piece has anything Chinese in it. The glass beads and the thick leaves don't have any Chinese characteristics that I can see. But I am not knowledgeable about Chinese decorative arts. Right around 1900, give or take a decade, several books on how-to for needlework techniques were published, apparently aimed at amateurs doing the work as recreation. I have seen some of these booklets, and some contain a chapter on how to make the complex knots used in Chinese decoration. So stimulation by those booklets may be the impetus behind the large knotted tassels.

2nd, the rest of the lace. That net is hexagonal and certainly machine made. Lace called "filet" has a square mesh, not hexagonal. The colored threads are embroidered onto the machine net. Some of the small leaves appear to be embroidered with chain stitch. The thick flower petals appear to be some kind of satin stitch worked over thick padding. Embroidered net lace first became possible in the 19th century, probably after about 1820 or 1830 (when large pieces of machine net became reliably available from suppliers). So the piece is definitely 19th or 20th century. But I haven't seen anything else even remotely similar to this. Every other piece of embroidered net that I have seen was white on white, or ecru, not polychrome. However some experimentation with colored lace did happen late in the Victorian era. Your 2nd photo has some areas with horizontal strips of beige colored buttonhole stitch. That would have been the method of finishing the edge of a piece of embroidered net. 

I think a date around 1900, + or - 10 years, is most likely. I base that on the (sorry to say) grotesque character of the design and work. Taste from that era was wildly different from what we would do today. And nearer to the center of the 19th century the old love of lace, and the skill that still had hands moving, had not yet let design deteriorate to this point.


Thank you for your thoughtful and detailed analysis. I genuinely appreciate your time as well as your informed eye.

I agree the piece lacks the type of refinement one expects from mid-19th century lacemakers.  You have me wondering if this was amateurism or experimentation. Most likely the former.

Thank you for enlightening me about the experimentation that occurred in Western lacemaking around the turn of the 20th century. 

Thank you, too, for reminding me about the  booklets spawned from the drawings in  Codey’s Magazine to Peterson’s  Needlecraft....and all the publications that followed until their zenith in the 1930’s.  I should revisit them and try to pinpoint a time period.

For centuries the Chinese appliquéd  finely executed silk embroidery onto gauze.  The latter was sometimes painstakingly knotted to stabilize the backing. The gauze  was often generously spaced with larger open spaces than the machine made netting that eventually emerged in the West.  With this mystery piece the embroidering was done directly on the netting. If this piece is Chinese it would be a massive departure from their customary work.

Good food for thought. 

Marilyn Langhurst

You can find many of those c. 1900 instruction booklets on the ariz.edu site, and on the antique patterns library site.



Perhaps we need to think of it as a piece of embroidery on machine made net rather than a piece of lace.  It does look different from anything I have seen before too.


Yes, it is a form of embroidered net. But it was invented to make use of the newly available machine net. And I think it was intended as an imitation lace, or cheaper substitute for fine needle or bobbin lace. In my own head I classify it as a type of lace, but yes, it is properly described as embroidered net or tulle.

That’s a very good point, given that the piece came to me in a box filled with Chinese Imperial embroidering and kesi weaving.
Thank you. More food for thought.


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