Making Lace

I first saw this over the summer in Bruges.  If I had to name one place in Europe where I expected to be bored, but was in fact fascinated, it was the lace museum in Bruges.  They had a lot of examples of super-fine lace, as well as a history and examples of how it is made.  The best part was that upstairs, they had women actually doing hand lace projects that you could go watch.  I did not get a video of it but here are a few examples from the web that give the basic idea.  Here is hand-making of lace:

and here

and here is an insane machine for making it automatically

The super-fine hand-made lace in the museum in Bruges was unlike anything I have ever seen. An order of magnitude finer than even the best lace you have likely seen.


  1. Matthew Slyfield:

    Punch cards! Isn't it about time they computerize the controls and go with purely electronic patterns?

  2. rxc:

    You should go to Burano, an outlying island in the Venetian lagoon. They make lace there with needles. No bobbins. And, if you saw any lace in Brugges that was affordable, it was made in China.

  3. Notsothoreau:

    I used to belong to a local spinning group. One of the women that attended made bobbin lace. It was fascinating to watch.

  4. CT_Yankee:

    Been to the same museum, there was no one actually producing new lace at that time. Can't say lace is my thing, but I can appreciate the skill and patience to be good at it. Hand producing lace requires no major investment in equipment, and could be made almost anywhere, therefore becoming known as a major source for it means you are competing with skilled labor to produce a superior custom, personalized product. Once a machine gets involved, you get large volumes of the same exact thing from low skilled machine tenders. The skill is gone, the pride of workmanship is gone, it is like the transition from an artist creating a fine painting to selling 5,000 prints of that same fine painting. There was a 500 year old bar in Bruge, the Herberg Vissinghe where we sat a a longer table with others, which sort of encourages conversation with whoever is seated across from you. Like anyplace else in the city, it is within walking distance of anyplace you chose to stay, no worries about driving home. The whole city is so full of interesting bits of history it is hard to know where to begin, and doubtful that you will get to the end. There will still be more you have missed, and you will feel the need to return.

  5. marque2:

    It is traditional. Punch cards were invented for automatic looms some 300 years ago.

  6. Matthew Slyfield:

    So what? Making lace by hand is even more traditional.

  7. ErikTheRed:

    People these days have no idea how useful and practical lace can actually be when it's made properly. Most of the cheap stuff made in east Asia is uncomfortable to the touch and falls apart quickly (like many clothing items made in that region). Properly-made lace is soft to the touch and is exceptionally durable - more so than many cheaply-made fabrics. One of my first exposures to this was when I was at a trade show and made an off-hand remark about an Italian-made lace product that I thought was beautiful but impractical for the price because it would fall apart too quickly. The manufacturer's rep overheard this and was quite offended (those that have seen Italians get offended know what I mean), grabbed the item, and began trying to tear it with about as much strength as he could muster; he was visibly straining at it. The lace was absolutely no worse for wear from this abuse, and I've not said an unkind word about properly-made lace since.

  8. marque2:

    And there we go, we are talking about visiting a museum that shows you the traditional and ancient methods for these crafts. So it all fits. Maybe in 50 years, you will have your wish, and see a computer controlled Lace machines. Though, I suspect the computer controls are for the larger volume cloth patterns for mass market clothes, which might explain the cards, probably not enough margin, or demand to warrant computer controls.

  9. Matthew Slyfield:

    And apparently you didn't watch the video of the lace making machine closely enough. It's not of a museum exhibit, It's a clip from the TV show "How It's Made" which means that machine is in an operational lace factory, not a museum.

  10. marque2:

    Apparently you didn't read the second half of my post. It probably isn't cost effective to buy a newfangled device when the volume isn't that high, and the old one works just fine, and the labor is relatively cheap.

  11. Matthew Slyfield:

    Pattern cards will wear over time and have to be replaced periodically which would not be the case for electronic patterns for computer controlled machines.

    Older machines tend to be more expensive to maintain due to issues with parts availability.

    Newer machines would likely be faster, allowing for an increase in production and a significant reduction in per-unit operating costs.

    Higher volume on a lower per-unit price is usually more profitable than lower volume with a higher price.

    The economics aren't nearly as lopsided as you suggest.

    I think that after 200 years, "this is the way it's always been done" has more impact than the economics of switching to computer controls.

  12. FelineCannonball:

    Computer control exists. "How it's made" tends to get invited to older, less proprietary manufacturing setups. Not sure what the lifetime of these plants is, but I'm guessing the punch-card setup is 1980s tech.

    I have a punch card knitting machine from the 80s. Computerized ones were coming out in the late 1980s, but it turns out that there isn't a big jump here. The punch card machines are more robust (not having electronics to break, and not having ever changing interface cables and computer hardware to worry about) and you can do all the same patterns and design with just the one extra step of printing cards.

  13. Matthew Slyfield:

    "Not sure what the lifetime of these plants is, but I'm guessing the punch-card setup"

    According to the video, punch card controlled lace making machines are a 200 year old technology.

  14. FelineCannonball:

    Speaking of this punchcard equipment design. The first Jacquard loom dates back to 1801.