The earliest examples of lace, are pieces of knotted hair nets found in ancient Egyptian tombs dating back to 2500 BC. However, it was not until the 16th century that its use became widespread. During the 16th century lace was treasured like jewellery and, in fact, cost almost as much. Only the clergy and the very wealthy wore it, and it was regarded as a prestigious status symbol. The discovery of the stiffening properties of starch, allowed the fashion for huge ruffs to develop during the reign of Elizabeth I.
At that time, all lace was made by hand. A working day for a lace-maker would have been from 6 am until 7 or 8 pm. After dark, lace-makers would sit around a small table upon which one candle would be burning. Between each lace-maker and the candle, a glass flask of water would magnify the light from the candle and focus it onto the lace pillow to illuminate a tiny part of the work.
Lace-making began to decline during the 19th century, when machines took over and lace could be produced at a much lower cost. Nottingham became world famous for its machine-made lace, which could reproduce almost any type of traditional lace pattern.
Coming back to the present day, black lace is currently enjoying a great revival, with flounces of chantilly lace seen in flirty evening wear collections from many designers. Moschino is showing black lace and satin corsets, with many designers producing silk and lace wrap tops. A particular favourite for this season is a black lace motor bike jacket from Roland Mouret.
At the other extreme, Nottingham lace is the favourite wedding lace. In its different forms, it can be used for veils, dresses, bodices and corsets. Ivory embroidered tulle is the most popular type of bridal Nottingham lace. It is a silky soft lace of delicate motifs embroidered on a net background.