Doilies and Lace and Tea – Not Just for Grandma Anymore

Get ready for Spring and Tea Time with LOTS of Lace!!

Decorating trends come and go, and the trend back toward those lacey doilies, tablecloths, curtains, and more that your grandmother had covering just about every surface of her house seem to be coming back in style. You see them at tea time and around the house – even in the chicest homes where mixing found “treasures” (items others call junk) with spanking new “treasures” is the stylish thing to do these days. Lacey tea time dresses as well as gloves, hats, and even women’s stockings are seen more and more at posh and even more casual tea times. Nice!

A sampling of lace at tea time:

Lacemaking, also known as tatting, dates back, according to some sources to the 16th century in Europe, with the main centers being Italy, France, and Flanders. Others say it was no further back than 1800 and developed from sailors and fishermen making decorative netting and ropework for their sweethearts on shore. (Personally, I think the former is the correct story of the origin.) Laces were often named after the region or town where they were made. Lace was so popular that it was used heavily in the dress of both men and women (gloves, collars, cuffs, lappets, edgings, parasols, and even entire dresses) and in home fashions, from simple doilies, to tablecloths to curtains and furniture coverings.

Two basic types of lace were developed: needle lace and bobbin lace. Either way was painstaking and time-consuming, so even a small item such as a collar or pair of sleeve cuffs was expensive. As machine made lace became more common (around 1809 when John Heathcoat invent a machine), its affordability made it dominant in the market and hand tatting declined. Other factors contributed to this decline, including the French Revolution where the lace-wearing rulers and their court attendants were beheaded, lace and all. Handmade lace maintained it market niche, developing patterns that were fancier and more unique than machine made. Popular magazines targeted to women at that time also touted tatting as a very accomplished thing for a young lady of breeding to do, along with crocheting. In Ireland, lace making and crocheting revived their economy after the potato famine.

Lace threads were originally made of linen, then silk, metallic gold threads, and finally cotton in the 19th century. The best laces involved an artist to create the design, a pattern maker who transferred that design to parchment, and the lace maker.

Needle Lace:

  • made with a single needle and thread
  • materials needed: pattern, card stock large enough to lay pattern on, clear tape, pin or needle to poke holes in card stock, needle for making the lace, couching thread, sewing thread, scissors
  • step-by-step instructions here

Bobbin Lace:

  • entails the plaiting of many threads
  • fastest handmade lace method
  • stitch techniques can be used is different ways in different patterns
  • materials needed: special pillow, pins, 2 sets of bobbins (2 per set), lace thread
  • step-by-step instructions here

In the 1950s and 1960s, lace started disappearing from homes here in the U.S. and was virtually gone by the psychedelic 1970s. Lace was equated with grandma and anything old-fashioned or part of “the establishment” (as the hippies called it). Fashion, though, has a tendency to go in circles, with today’s hot trend being replaced by fashions from a decade or more past.

As for the tea, you will want those which are suitably delicate on your tongue like that lace is delicate to your eye and touch. That means things like a delicate green tea or some of the lighter Darjeeling teas (many of the gardens there are producing white and green style teas these days). A word of caution: CTC Assam is definitely not suitable, as yours truly recently discovered.

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© 2016-2020 World Is a Tea Party photos and text

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