Textile Society of America


Date of this Version



Levey, Santina, and Milton Sonday. “Contact, Crossover, Continuity: The Emergence and Development of the Two Basic Lace Techniques.” Contact, Crossover, Continuity: Proceedings of the Fourth Biennial Symposium of the Textile Society of America, September 22–24, 1994 (Los Angeles, CA: Textile Society of America, Inc., 1995), pp.139–145.


Copyright © 1994 Santina Levey and Milton Sonday


According to the present understanding of the term, lace is a soft pliable fabric, most often white, with a pattern composed of solid and open areas, made either with a needle and thread in a looped structure or with a variable number of threads wound on bobbins and interlaced in a form of braiding. Laces matching that description survive from the mid 17th century onward, with some needle and bobbin-made examples that at first glance appear indistinguishable. Yet each of these totally unrelated techniques has its own history. The purpose of our project is to trace how it happened that two such different techniques came to be used to make products that superficially seem identical.

What were the external circumstances that, during the 16th and early 17th centuries, stimulated this development, and why were only two of a wide variety of techniques—sprang, needle-looping, macrame, etc.—able to make the technical and stylistic transition into a new form of fabric? We want to examine how these two particular and quite different techniques came into contact, how the exchange or crossover of stylistic ideas influenced them technically, and how they reached a point from which they were to progress together in continual response to the same outside demands.

Given the amount of information we are uncovering, this paper can only be a summary of work in progress but, to give some idea of the sort of detail that is emerging, we shall concentrate on bobbin lace—the older of our two techniques—and on the information contained in the mid 16th century pattern books devoted to it. Even here, we can only occasionally indicate how the contents of pattern books and the development of bobbin techniques reflect preoccupations of the day, how they relate to other techniques and forms of decorative art and, in particular, how they relate to cutwork, the forerunner of needle lace.