Thank goodness fashion is simpler for us than it was 300 years ago.
During the 18th century, both men and women enjoyed big hair and clothing festooned with mountains of lacy fluff on collars and cuffs, provided they were of the upper crust.
Little did the highly adorned ones know that the more practical and toga-clad Greeks and Romans were way ahead of their festooned cousins. When their hems began to fray, rather than toss costly garments in the wastebasket or the Aegean, they twisted the loose threads together in patterns. And so they invented "lace."
To our good fortune, Europeans couldn't leave well enough alone, and by the late 15th and early 16th centuries, lace was in full production and made painstakingly by hand.
During Victorian times, clothing was slightly less fussy, unless you peeked underneath. But decorative excess instead had exploded all over the house, necessitating layers of fancy doilies and table coverings to underscore the bric-a-brac. Women took great pains to create beautiful works of art with needle and thread and passed on the feminine art of needlework to their daughters.
Because of this decorating fervor, many types of laces and embroidery work from the 1800s once were available. The best-made fancies from that era and earlier often are in museums and behind glass on the walls of modern homes. Folks have come to appreciate the talent and love involved, as well as the simpler times they represent.
Victorian laces still are available from antiques dealers. Victoriana.com has specific information on different types of lace. The Ruby Lane Shop online is a cooperative of dealers offering high-quality, antique lace. Smaller pieces have price tags between $100 and $200. I spotted a gorgeous, Victorian, embroidered-lace bedspread with a net skirt and few problems that sold for $439.
It's interesting to note that even though needlework was women's work, machine-made lace during the 1920s and '30s, which found its way onto everything from bedsheets to bloomers, was designed by men. Samuel Page was a prolific designer for The American Fabrics Co. in the early 1920s. Henry Schwarber, Alexander Hirth, Thomas Monk and Ernest Freudenberg are just a few of the men who obviously had an eye for beauty.
Later needlework sells for reasonable prices, with 3 yards of vintage bobbin lace going for $10 or $12. Twelve vintage, (20th-century) linen, dinner napkins with cutwork and lace brought $105. Vintage, lace collars and cuffs, purchased for about $20, add a flavor of romantic appeal to new tops, dresses and even socks.
We still can enjoy handiwork made during the first quarter of the 20th century and handed down from our grandmothers and great-aunts. These more recent examples are what we find at most estate sales and antiques stores. A gracious thank-you to Lynn Leissler for displaying her many beautiful laces and cloths from her rich family history.
Let the family doilies and table coverings out of the dark and find new ways to honor the delicate beauty of fabric arts and those who cared enough to make them for their homes and families.
Freelance writer Peggy Dover lives in Eagle Point. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.