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Lacemaking in Early Modern Europe

Date: 23 March 2019
Location: Textile Arts Center, New York
Organised by: Sophie Pitman
Expert maker: Elena Kanagy-Loux

Did lace pattern books spread fashion trends amongst early modern people? What skills did lacemakers develop in order to create new dress and accessory trends?

Lace accessories and trims for clothes were one of the great fashion innovations in the early modern period. Associated with the elites, much scholarship on lace has focused on its depiction in portraits and on surviving examples on fine clothing. But lace making was a growing industry for many artisans across Europe, who also consumed lace in significant quantities. Little is known about their skills and labour, and the popular consumption of lace, although pattern books survive that suggest designs were spread through printed texts as well as through hands-on practice and observation.

This one-day workshop was organised by Sophie Pitman and led by Elena Kanagy-Loux, a lacemaker who has learned about craft techniques through observation and training with craftspeople across Europe and North America.


  • To understand the tools and materials used in lacemaking
  • To examine early lace pattern books such as the Venetian Le Pompe (1559) through the eyes of makers – what can we learn, and what prior and tacit knowledge is required from the lacemaker? What can we understand about printed images of lace, in the absence of written instructions?
  • To ask why lace became one of the most popular new fashions of the early modern period
  • To think about how lace patterns could be made efficiently and economically for the popular market


  • A better appreciation of the complexities of early modern lacemaking and the skills emerging amongst lacemaking communities in the sixteenth- and seventeenth centuries
  • Learning to appreciate the nuances and ambiguities, as well as the tacit knowledge contained in lace pattern books
  • Seeing the possibilities and techniques of bobbin and needle lace
  • Close-looking at surviving examples of lace and depictions of lace in paintings and engravings with a more trained eye
  • Focusing our attention on lace in surviving objects, images, and texts