History of Lace

Courtesy of The Idaho State Historical Society.


Lace has been used to decorate and adorn for thousands of years.  It has been found in ancient Egyptian tombs and still decorates clothing and objects in the world today.  It was used by clergy of the early Catholic Church as part of vestments in religious ceremonies, but did not come into widespread use until the 16th century when the popularity of lace increased rapidly as did the cottage industry of making lace.  Once the industry expanded, lace no longer was considered a luxury item.  Lace suddenly became more affordable and easier to make.  Women all over Europe, and eventually the world, were suddenly able to use lace in every day life.  In the 19th century, lace making spread to the Native American tribes in North America through missionaries.  St. John Francis Regis became the Patron Saint of Lace-Making, by helping girls establish lacemaking and embroidery trades to keep country girls away from the cities.  On any given day you may observe lace on an individual’s clothing or possessions. Although women in Idaho do not have a vastly documented history of lace, women across Europe and North America used lace to accent, adorn, and enhance their status and personality and undoubtedly, Idaho women were no exception.


Developing Lace

One of the many ways to make lace. Photo by Kotomicreations on Flickr

Lacework is thought to have been derived from fishermen’s nets.  A prehistoric piece of netting can be seen in the National Museum in Copenhagen.  Lacework was derived from a technique of knotting which had a function, and later it developed its ornamental purposes.  The word lace is derived from the Latin word lacques, meaning loop or snare. The term lace extends to any openwork fabric that is created by looping, twisting, or knotting threads either by hand or machine.

Before it was possible to machine produce lace,  it was all made by hand.  Women would create lace to decorate a variety of clothing including wedding dresses.  Lace has been used on handkerchiefs, collars, sleeves, undergarments, and around the house.

In the early days of lace; silk, flax, metal threads or even human hair were widely used.  Lace can be made of any thread which is thin enough, strong enough and doesn’t stretch.  Colors were usually white or cream and sometimes black.  But by dying the thread used to create lace, you can create colored pieces. Trimmings of silk or gold thread presented problems since they were hard to clean.  The white linen thread became popular in the 16th century.  Much of the linen thread comes from Great Britain and Northern Ireland, because the moist climate produces the best flax resulting in the best linen.  Bleaching gives linen a soft shade rather than a stark white.  Linen prices grew and were eventually replaced with cheap cotton threads.

There are many different techniques to create  lacework, each resulting in a unique object.  The different techniques are:

Bobbin Lace
Needle Made Lace
Tulle Lace
Tape Lace
Knotted Lace
Crocheted Lace
Knitted Lace

Each technique requires a series of different knots and loops. There are:

Raised knots                Interlaced loops
Flat knots                     Symmetrical double knots
Cross knots                  Divergent knot
Weavers’ knots           Reef Knot
Chinese knots             Lattice net, or half stitch
Double knots               Linen stitch
Woven platis               Symmetrical double knots

If you wish to see lace making performed please follow the video link to Flickr. Video courtesy of Bill McNeal (whiteknuckled).


Colored Lace


Photo courtesy of The Idaho State Historical Society


This piece of lace was made in 1901 by Mrs. Janet (Binkerhoff) Leavitt. In 1847 she moved to Salt Lake City and then to Lewiston, Idaho.










Lace Cuff

Lace cuffs were common on the end of sleeves.  Items such as these were created specifically for this purpose. In the past it was also common for these cuffs to have a pattern that was developed in a specific region such as an English or German pattern.

Image courtesy of The Idaho Historical Society

Image courtesy of The Idaho Historical Society







This handkerchief, with a lace edge, was made by Mrs. Louis Dibble (Roxana Niles Will Dibble) in about 1863 for her wedding.  She married Lois Dibble on a boat as they sailed around Cape horn on June 8, 1863.


Image courtesy of The Idaho Historical Society

Image courtesy of The Idaho Historical Society

A Lace Scrap

This scrap of lace was made in 1901 by Mrs. Janet (Binkerhoff) Leavitt.  She moved to Salt Lake City in 1847 and later moved to Lewiston, Idaho.


Image courtesy of The Idaho Historical Society

Image courtesy of The Idaho Historical Society


Delicate Lace Handkerchief

Image courtesy of The Idaho Historical Society

Image courtesy of The Idaho Historical Society

This lace handkerchief with a very delicate lace edge and intricate designs was handmade, possibly by the donor Ethel G. Johnson. Possibly created in 1900.  It is similar to many that were used in weddings.

The border of this piece would have been made by a needle and thread taking hundreds of stitches to form this delicate design.  We can see in this piece that it has a very complex design and represents many organic and floral shapes.

Lace Strip

Image courtesy of The Idaho Historical Society

This is a hand crocheted lace edge created by Mabel Flors Lewis Jackson.  She came to Idaho in around 1908 and lived in Rupert and Jerome before moving to Nampa in 1920.


Lace Modernized

Lace has taken on many different functions as time has gone by.  In our contemporary art world, some artists have taken on the technique of lace making and turned it upside down.   A group of dutch designers have taken the lace technique and employed it into their chain fences.   Along the fence the designers have almost fooled the viewers eye by making the fence appear as though it is made of fabric.  Click here to view the lace fences.

Some artists have also shifted the lace world into a sculptural realm. Taking on non representational characteristics, the art has completely diverged from its original mediums intent.   An exhibition in Bruges, Belgium titled Kantlijnen or “The Face of Lace,” was comprised of many different artists and their lace talent.  Artists have taken the visual ideals of lace and placed them into a realm of ambiguity.  From shovels appearing to be made of lace, abstract clothing to lace shadows created by various objects. Click here to view “The Face of Lace” show.

Click here to watch a video of the making of “The Face of Lace.”


The provided images of lace show pieces that were created by women in Idaho.  While history of lace in Idaho is scarce, the samples show that it was indeed a part of Idaho’s culture.  By continuing to study women and their crafts, a stronger history can begin to emerge.


Lace photos courtesy of the Idaho Historical Society.



Edkins, Jo. “Strange Materials.” Jo Edkins’ Lace School. http://gwydir.demon.co.uk/jo/lace/strange.htm.

Flickr. “Bruges – Bobbin lace-making.” http://www.flickr.com/photos/kotomi-jewelry/3554691053/.

Gannon, Caitlin. Fiber Organics . http://www.fiberorganics.com/Home.html.

Made How. “Lace Curtain.” http://www.madehow.com/Volume-4/Lace-Curtain.html.

Moore, N H. The Lace Book. New York: Tudor Pub. Co, 1937. Print

Pfannschmidt, Ernst E. Twentieth-century Lace. New York: Scribner, 1975. Print

Wikipedia. “Doily.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Doily.

Wikipedia. “Lace.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lace.