Needlework for Today

October 15, 2008 at 4:53 pm | Posted in Lace, Past – Present – Future | 3 Comments

When I finished reading “Lace in Fashion,” the last few paragraphs really got me thinking:

Lace existed long before it became fashion, but it was fashion which miraculously transformed its techniques into a perfection of thread-movements and designs of surpassing beauty and transcendent skill. That such laces could ever exist, and that some have survived, is our good fortune. Only bad social conditions, embodying a form of slave labour, ever made them possible on a large commercial scale. With improvements in conditions that conjugation passed, and antique laces are no longer replaceable.

While I have known this for some time now, it still makes me sad to see hand-made laces become a lost art, something we can admire in a few museums as a memory of times past. On the other hand, I admire the ingenuity of the engineers who developed the machines that made machine-made laces possible und thus lace affordable for almost everyone, not only a select few. I think we need to celebrate the achievements of engineering, since the present and future of lace definitely lies in that direction. We’d be crazy not to make use of those marvellous machines.

But there’s something mass production cannot achieve: whatever most of us buy in a shop, we can be sure that hundreds or thousands of identical pieces of clothing are sold. True individuality is not possible that way. And it is in this area I think that hand-crafted items of all kinds will have a future. Pat Earnshaw’s outlook on the future of lacemaking looks pretty bleak to me:

It is thus of immense importance not only that all actual surviving pieces of lace from the past should be cherished, but also that lace-makers, by actively perpetuating the ancient techniques, should preserve for posterity our knowledge of how they were made.

Of course it’s important to preserve the old pieces and the techniques used to make them, but the art of lacemaking will still be dead if we can’t develop ways to use hand-made laces that are suitable for today’s fashion. Huge pieces of hand-made lace are impossible today for the reasons already stated above. But what of smaller, even tiny ones? A small accessory or a piece of jewellery incorporating hand-made lace could be that touch that makes a store-bought outfit special. And the time investment needed to create a small piece wouldn’t be forbidding. One of the reasons why I like needlepoint lace so much is the complete freedom in choice of pattern together with a very small investment in materials to get started. But of course other types of lace could work, too. I’ve got lots of ideas for different objects and will keep you updated about any progress I make. Why not play along? If you don’t know how to start, my Needlepoint Lace Tutorial can help you with this. I’d be happy to see your results!

While the book that got me thinking about those topics again talks specifically about lace, similar arguments apply to other time-intensive needlecrafts as well. Have a look through the Encyclopedia of Needlework, and you’ll see quite a few things almost noone knows how to do anymore. Creating small pieces just to try out the techniques and make something unique would be a good way to go here as well.

I think just preserving the techniques for the sake of preserving them will not be enough to save them in the long run. Finding new uses for them in today’s fashion world might just do the trick, though. The recent knitting and crochet revival shows that people want to have that special, one-of-a-kind piece and are ready to invest the time necessary to create it. Easily accessible patterns for small pieces to try out new things might help that process along in other techniques, too.



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  1. Tatting! No, seriously, find a pair of biggish (plainish) beads you really like and tat a few lacy loops around ’em and finish ’em off with earring hooks. Also, that Encyclopedia you link has a coin purse pattern in the tatting section I like the looks of. It shouldn’t be too time consuming, and it’s not like you cant put a tatting shuttle in a pocket and work on it while you’re standing in line or on the bus or nodding and smiling at your relatives.

    (Translation: I agree with you wholeheartedly, but Needlepoint scares me!)

  2. Nothing to be scared of, really! But your tatted earrings sound like a great idea, I’d love to see your implementation!

  3. […] October 26, 2008 at 11:07 am | In Tatting | Tags: Jewellery In response to my Needleword for Today post, CateranLlama commented with an interesting idea: Tatting! No, seriously, find a pair of […]

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