Lace has been popular for hundreds of years, and lace dresses and blouses can be found everywhere thanks to current fashion trends. While once thought of as quaint and vintage, lace can be modern and is used for everything from the trim to entire outfits or home accessories.
The first mention of lace fabrics came during the sixteenth century in Europe. There were originally two different ways to make lace-by needle using a single needle and thread or by bobbin using many threads to plait the design. Originally made from linen threads, lace making has evolved to using everything from cotton or synthetic human-made fibers to metallic threads.
For centuries, the leading centers of lace making were Italy, Flanders, and France. Most finished products involved three artisans—the artist who drew the designs, the pattern maker, and the lacemaker who did the actual work.
All lace was handmade until 1809 when John Heathcoat invented a machine that could weave the open weave netting that is the background of most lace. By the late 1800s, machine-made lace was available to the masses and prices dropped dramatically. Handmade laces are still available and treasured for their uniqueness and fine work.
Care and Washing
The term lace refers to any netlike ornamental fabric made by hand or machine from cotton, linen, or synthetic fibers. Due to the open weave, lace fabric is delicate and should be treated with care. The key to determining how fragile the fabric may be is to know what fibers were used during manufacturing.
Most items made from lace should be hand washed using cool water and a mild detergent. Avoid vigorous scrubbing, which will distort the fibers. Rinse well and do not wring to remove water, gently squeeze instead. Hand washing is the most gentle method for cleaning; however, if you choose to use a washing machine place the lace item in a mesh lingerie bag and use the gentle cycle.
Whether hand or machine washing, if the item is a garment, button all buttons and close zippers completely to avoid snags that can tear the lace netting. Air drying lace is recommended to avoid snagging in the dryer. Hang lightweight items on padded hangers and dry heavy items flat to avoid stretching and even tears from the weight of the wet fabric. Delicate pieces may need to be reshaped during drying. If you do tumble dry, choose low heat and dry only with other clothes that have no buttons or zippers.
For stain removal, follow the recommended tips for specific stains using a gentle touch when handling the stained area.
If ironing is needed, place a thick white towel over the ironing board and use a press cloth between the iron and the lace. This will help prevent crushing the details of the lace and prevent snags by the iron tip that can rip or tear.
Since lace was so expensive or time-consuming to make for so many years, lace pieces were treasured and passed down from generation to generation. If you are lucky enough to have some vintage pieces, you may find that they have yellowed and become stained through the years.
The safest way to whiten and brighten lace is to use oxygen-based bleach. In a sink or bathtub-something large enough to completely submerge the lace-mix a solution of warm water and the oxygen-based bleach (OxiClean, Clorox 2, Country Save Bleach, or Purex 2 Color Safe Bleach are some brand names). Follow the package directions as to how much product to use per gallon of water. Add your lace pieces and allow to soak for at least two hours, overnight is best. Oxygen bleach is slow-working but very gentle and to safe to use on all types of fibers.
Drain the soaking water and refill the sink with clean, cool water. Carefully lift the lace in and out of the water to rinse. Repeat if necessary. Do not wring or pull on the lace. Stretch the piece back into its original shape and allow to dry. This method is safe for all lace fabrics except for silk and wool.
If you have an heirloom lace tablecloth that is fragile but needs cleaning, you can make it more stable by basting or loosely sewing the cloth with white cotton thread to an old white cotton sheet. Wash the stabilized cloth by hand, rinse well, and air dry. Remove the sheet by pulling the basting thread and use or store your clean, lace cloth.