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Selvedge Issue 82: Lace

Issue 82: Lace

'I am embarrassed to admit that I used to be sceptical about lace — being put off by its associations with cheap lingerie. However, the more I discover about its past, present and future, the more intrigued I become. What textile carries so many contrasting messages? It is at the same time; demure, erotic, delicate, brutal, cheap, sophisticated, fragile and strong. It is made either with needle and thread, as in Alençon, in Normandy, France; with miniature bobbins on a cushion on one’s lap as is used in the case of Honiton lace from Devon; or, as with Leaver lace, making use of a cast iron loom weighing more than ten tons.

In the 19th century, lace instigated the famous Luddite riots, a series of attacks on factory looms in the UK, and was a catalyst for the smuggling of looms from Nottingham to St Pierre and Calais. Lace is, simultaneously, the darling of the haute couture fashion industry and a source of ridicule when used to shield prying eyes in suburban dwellings. In this issue, we unpick this most complex of materials, visualising the working of Leaver looms, tracing its history from Nottingham to Honiton and Calais, and examining its political status in the form of the veil.

This emotive material is a favourite amongst contemporary artists who manipulate its scale and substance to comment on gender and a myriad other messages lace conveys. Architects, on the other hand, enjoy its structural qualities of strength and delicacy. Finally enjoy the elegant beauty of lace observed in the photographs of Christine Mathieu on display at Calais’ Cite Dentelle Mode museum, and as we look forward to the spectacle of a Royal Wedding we wonder if Meghan Markle will choose a dress of Cluny lace – or maybe she will choose something by the American designer Vera Wang? '

Polly Leonard, Founder, Selvedge Magazine