In Search of French Lace

Acquisition of an elegant new bra set piques my interest in lace. I hold the material up to the light and admire the design. Flowers, yes, but also leaves. The images are perfect, slightly raised, frosted with an iridescent gleam. They change in size from tiny to bold, contrasting with the chaste netting that sets them off. There is a rhythm to the design, it undulates. I feel as if I’m having a conversation with someone out there.

Or many someones. A cavalcade of artisans is required to create the storied lace of northwest France, the only area where French lace is still produced. So precious are the lace factories in Caudry and Calais that Chanel recently invested in one of them in order to assure continued access to its production and expertise.   

Not unlike the creation of fine jewelry, the manufacture of French lace begins with paper, pencil, and an idea. Incredible archives of lace, dating from the 17th Century, provide a jump off point for something new. A sketch becomes a computerized chart that can be loomed, always flowing in one direction. The mechanized loom requires weeks to be set with thousands of threads. Then skilled technicians fabricate the lace following a series of  intricate steps. (To delve deeper into this process, see the excellent website of  the French company Sophie Hallette).

Looking at the fabric again, I see French flair, determination, and love. War and economic upheaval have challenged this industry. Fashions have changed. But French lace continues to amaze. Wear it with pride and abandon.

-Kate L

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