I make things by hand, professionally. And one of my great pleasure in life is learning about the things that other people make or made.
Last night, Sheri and I worked until after midnight, painting the stage floor, and then we were back at work, bright and early, to continue with painting tasks. Once the carpenters had finished their on-stage notes, they were going to build a few new pieces of scenery, but there was going to be a bit of a lag-time until we could paint these things. We had some time on our hands, we were really tired, and we needed a treat.
So Sheri and I took a long lunch and used the time to visit the Lacis Museum of Lace and Textiles in Berkeley, where they were having shows of knitted lace and also something called Needle Lace. In this technique, artisans take single strands of linen fibers (significantly thinner than a human hair) and essentially "embroider the air." Every part of the lace is created by the lace makers. The tulle netting that holds everything together would have been laboriously sewn together, by candle or lamp light.
It is hard to grasp the scale of these pictures. But let me try to offer some orientation. The top photo is of a corner of a Nineteenth Century hand made lace handkerchief. Clearly, this was never meant for and of the prosaic tasks that a humbler handkerchief might be expected to perform.
Do you notice how there is a subtle shading along the top arch shape, just below the circular forms? We learned that this was achieved by varying the diameter of the linen fibers. Can you imagine? Who has eyes sharp enough to discern the variation in a single strand of linen? You can see a detail of this shading in the second photo. It is worth scrolling back up, to compare these two images.
The third photo shows a close-up of the mesh structure of this type of lace. This reminds me of hand made fishermen's nets, only in a microscopic scale.
We had walked through the museum with one of the curators (what a pleasure) when the gentleman who owns Lacis came in and gave us a personalized interpretation of the collection. We spoke about the social and political aspects of the production of this form of lace. He showed us one example in the show in which any square inch of lace would have been made up of ten thousand individual stitches, all done by hand. That particular piece was known to have take forty years to complete.
From the vantage point of our society which puts so much value on "fast and cheap", it is hard to fathom a world in which such an object could be created.
This piece was made for the court of Louis XIV, by court lace makers brought to France from Italy. Click on any of the photographs for more detail.
This is a piece of Venetian lace that would have been made about the time Elizabeth I was on the throne in England, and members of the aristocracy were wearing those huge lace ruffs.