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Home > Newsletters > January 2005

January 2005

Common Question:

How do you tell the difference between machine and hand lace?

A magnifying glass can help with this process, although sometimes a very well made machine lace can appear to be made by hand. If you are serious about identifying lace, purchase a good magnifying glass with a magnification of 10x-20x.

The best way to approach the question is to look at each of the parts of the lace: Clothwork. Outline, Mesh, Bridges, and Ornament.

, the dense areas in the lace: Can you see an even and consistent lengthwise grain? If you do, it is most likely machine made.  The first picture on your left is a close up of the clothwork on a handmade piece of Valenciennes lace.  Notice you can follow the thread path and there is no grain.  The second picture on your right, is a close up of machine made Flanders Lace, it's clothwork has a grain line. 

Outline, the gimp, or support of the design: In machine lace, the outline mimics the design or just lays on top, where as in hand lace, it is what holds the design…if you see clothwork past the edge of the outline, then the lace is machine made.
Mesh, or the ground: Hand made meshes were usually worked in the finest threads and it is in this area where a magnifying glass is most useful. Are the threads braided? Then they are handmade. Are they knotted to the clothwork? Then they are handmade. Other clues to handmade meshes are knots, buttonhole stitches (found in needle lace meshes), and picots. Machine made meshes were first produced in the late 1790s and were very popular by the early 1800s. This was called twist net.

Bridges, or bars are the way the lace motifs connect: One clue is if the thread in the bridges are twisted, it might be machine made, but there are several types of handmade lace that use a twisted bridge as well. In hand made laces the bridges will be a continuation of the clothwork. In machine made laces, they will appear to continue across the entire piece, giving a grain like appearance.

Ornament, or fancy stitching such as picots, embroidery, etc: If there is embroidery, check the back side of the piece…do you see a second thread? That is a bobbin thread from a machine, it is usually thinner than the embroidered thread, but can also be the same thickness. Buttonhole stitches found in rings indicate hand made. Are the stitches fuzzy? This is a characteristic of Chemical or Schiffli Lace, both machine processes.

There are many more hints and tricks to help identify lace. I highly recommend Elizabeth Kurella's book "Guide to Lace and Linens". Her book gives an organized and methodical approach to the mysteries of lace.

Material Pleasures carries all kinds of vintage lace

Feature Article:: "Quilts and the Underground Railroad"

My daughters take a gymnastics class at a local school in the afternoon. As I was waiting outside for the class to end, I explored the halls. It's an elementary school, a newer building, with lots of art and bulletin boards…one caught my eye…it looked like a quilt! How wonderful! Quilts in the classroom! I have brought quilts into my older daughter's classroom (In Preschool we made 3 quilts for the teachers, each child decorated and embellished a fabric square and some moms put them together and quilted them; and in her Kindergarten Class, the children made painted hand print fish…I put that one together myself, but had the children help me quilt it in the classroom). So it was very exciting to see others encouraging children in the art of quilting. But when I realized what the theme of the quilt was, I was very dismayed. The 'quilt' itself was wonderful. The children put so much creativity and effort into the work. But the theme…the theme really irked me: "Secret Signals in Quilts in the Underground Railroad".

This is a topic that is hotly debated by quilt aficionados and historians. Were quilts used to communicate between Slaves to aid them to freedom?

Has African Symbolism been used in quilts? Yes. No one is arguing that point. But to this day, there is not one quilt that exists that can be proven to have been used to signal slaves in the Underground Railroad.

Today, there are so many books, fabric lines, and quilt patterns, exploiting the myth. The book that started the debate, and highly criticized, was written by Jacqueline Tobin and Raymond G. Dobard, PhD, "Hidden in Plain View".

The book is pure speculation, and based on a story told to Ms. Tobin by Ozella McDaniel Williams, who sold quilts in a market…quilts with the very patterns she claimed were used by her ancestors to escape slavery.

Many of her claims just do not measure up historically. For example, the Dresden Plate Pattern, is a 20th Century Pattern and would not have been used so early. And do you think a slave in the dark could distinguish a red center from a black center of a Log Cabin Square 100 feet away in the dark…would they risk a closer look?

The book the 5th Grade Class Bulletin Board was based on was "Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt". A wonderful work of children's fiction, and should be taught as such.

So now, that winter recess is over, and school has resumed, I have taken up a crusade…teaching truth in our classrooms:

Betsy Ross DID NOT make the First American Flag.
George Washington DID NOT cut down a Cherry Tree.
And Quilts WERE NOT used in Underground Railroad Communications.

If you would like more detailed information about the subject, please visit:

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