The Lace Mentor
There are some within the textile history community who have such a passion for their subject, that they share and impart their knowledge with complete generosity. Such it is with Poppies Cottage lace mentor. A private person, she has 30 years experience [more like 50, she says!] of examining lace and understands not only the geography, designs and methods, but also the use of lace in context; in clothing, in the home, in religion.
With such a mentor, I only send her selected pieces for advice or she might tire of Poppies Cottage! I will always say when she has advised me, and will continue to make my own mistakes when she has not been consulted!
I am thrilled that she has agreed for me to publish the following synopsis on a particular topic. Maybe they will be more to come!
On the 1815 wedding gown of Mary Juliana:
This important wedding gown came with a note written on it that say’s ‘the skirt was trimmed with Brussels Point’. I had never heard of Brussels Point as a lace terminology, so consulted the Lace Mentor:
"As regards the ‘Brussels Point’ that trimmed the dress. This is just an (early) 19th century generic name in England for Brussels lace. If we were to be VERY exact, Brussels POINT’ would indicate that it was a needlepoint lace – but that certainly does not always follow!
As we are in 1815, there is a strong probability that the lace would have been an appliqué lace with a background of the incredibly fine handmade bobbin ‘fond Drochel’, which has to be seen to be believed. The flower sprigs and borders would normally be of bobbin lace, but much rarer examples also exist with needlepoint motifs applied to the bobbin ground.
"As the fashion since the late 18th century had been for lighter and lighter laces for making up into ruffles, it meant less and less pattern and more and more ground – and for large pieces the only reasonable way of doing that was to make the ground first, in narrow strips about 1″ wide, which were then joined on the lace pillow. In narrower laces the ground was worked round the flowers. This ground was of course horribly expensive, which is why there was a ready market for the machine-made ‘point nets’ and ‘patent nets’.
"In Belgian books on the history of lace, ‘Point de Bruxelles’ means needle-made lace, whereas ‘Dentelle de Bruxelles’ is bobbin lace. And then there are of course the Americans to whom ‘needlepoint’ means cross-stitch embroidery."
"The earliest lace veils – i.e. early 19th century – are square and only waist or hip length. If they have a drawstring at the top, they are evidently bonnet veils, and if they have ornamentation all the way round with a broader border at the bottom, they are more probably wedding veils – or just part of the fashion of the times for antique-inspired white or pale gowns of muslin, net and lace, lavishly adorned with scarves, stoles and veils.
"The veils would be of bobbin or needle application on handmade net (vrai Drochel), on machine-made net, completely made of strips of lace such as Lille or Mechlin cunningly joined on the lace pillow – or of machine-made net with a hexagonal mesh with borders of flower heads and powderings of sprigs needle-darned (or tamboured). The beauty of the last mentioned was that a good needlewoman could make them herself and thus avoid the expense of buying costly lace veils.
"In the 1830s the square veils are about hip length and fastened among the tall loops of hair. In a French fashion plate a long stole is used as a veil, fastened in the same way. This meant the bride got more use out of it as it could afterwards be used as a proper stole over a dress.
"The idea of having the veil over the bride’s face (the expression ‘buying a pig in a poke’ springs to mind) was certainly in use in England in the 1850s, but not in many other countries and not used by British royalty (except by those marrying into royalty). This meant that the veils – though still square – had to be considerably larger as the idea was to have the bride’s head under the centre of the veil (which now reached to about knee or calf length), with one corner in front and one in back. When the front corner was turned back, you’d have two layers of the borders and richly ornamented corners. This too explains why the fields of these veils are very sparsely ornamented. These rather enormous things were made of application on machine-made net with many veils of applied Honiton sprigs and borders still surviving.
"In the latter part of the 19th century come the enormous egg-shaped veils, very wide and so long that they form a train. They taper towards the top and were never meant to go over the bride’s face but were attached to her headdress. You see them proudly presented in French and Belgian lace-making firms’ catalogues. The whole surface is designed as an artistic whole with the train part receiving the most elaborate ornamentation. They can be of anything from applications of flowers made of machine-made tape, or tambour work on machine-made net, through bobbin and needle application on machine net, and to the staggeringly expensive ones made completely of Point de Gaze and Alencon needlepoint for royalty and the high nobility and including coats-of-arms worked in lace!
"At the very end of the 19th and until the 1920s, you can find some very narrow veils, from an attenuated egg-shape to an extremely long veil-cum-train looking for all the world like a stole with one end attached to the headdress, except for the design which emphasizes the trailing end.
"And then there are of course the late 19th – early 20th century enormous veils purely of unornamented ethereal silk net, which could be had in widths of more than four yards and of course in whatever length you wanted – but to a lace collector these vast expanses of plain net are not of any interest.
"A triangular lace shawl can of course make a very effective veil, but it never was meant as such. Crinoline shawls were remarkably large and might be mounted on a coloured silk lining."