Needlelace: Flanders

Cutwork, Brussels, Point de Gaze

In the latter half of the 16th century Flanders was famed for its white embroidery and cutwork (which was the precursor of needlelace). Cutwork continued to be made into the 17th century, but by the 1650s a distinctive Flemish needlelace had been developed, using the same designs as the Flemish bobbin lace.

Brussels needlelace, first quarter 18th century. Fragments of high quality made into a plastron the the 19th century — the fancy grounds are original but the bars joining the pieces are probably 19th century.

Brussels needlelace of the early 18th century was strongly influenced by the designs of Point de France. At the beginning of the century the lace was grounded with buttonholed bars, but mesh grounds started to appear during the 1730s and had largely replaced the bars by the mid-1740s.

Flanders needlelace edging, late 18th century. The fillings at the right and left with blocks of stitches are similar to the fancy grounds in the earlier needlelace while the central fillings are reminiscent to later Point de Gaze.

Brussels needlelace was made with the fine thread developed for the bobbin lace industry, so was a relatively light-weight lace in comparison with French needlelace. It was usually flat, but extensive use was made of decorative fillings.

The late 18th century filling on the right does not look as neat as the earlier one on the left as the return thread has not been whipped into the grouped stitches.

The mesh ground was made like Alençon ground but the stitches were pulled tighter to give a square rather than a hexagonal mesh. Fashion changes of the 1750s led to the mesh ground becoming more important, and it became increasingly common for the needle-made motifs to be grounded with the delicate bobbin-made drochel ground. At first this was worked around the motifs but later, as the motifs became smaller, it was quicker to make the ground separately in large pieces and then apply the motifs. When machine-made net became available in the 19th century it gradually replaced drochel net as a ground for Brussels needlelace, until by the 1850s hardly any drochel net was being used.

Flounce of needlelace applied to machine-made net, 1870s

In the mid-19th century a new style of needlelace, which became known as Point de Gaze, was developed and quickly became very popular. Distinctive features were the ground, which differed from the earlier Alençon-style ground in having stitches worked in both directions, and the raised outlines to the motifs, which were only loosely buttonholed.

Corner of a Point de Gaze handkerchief, late 19th / early 20th century
Point de Gaze ground and the loosely buttonholed raised outline of a motif

The designs usually included flowers, often beautifully shaded with a combination of dense and open buttonhole stitches, and decorative fillings made up of innumerable variations on buttonholed rings and spots. A further development during the 1870s was the addition of extra petals made separately and sewn in place to give a three-dimensional effect.

Decorative fillings in Point de Gaze lace

Point de Gaze lace was used for items of dress which ranged from handkerchiefs and fans to large flounces and veils. A huge quantity was produced and although the quality was variable, that of the best was superb.

Floral sprays with 3-dimensional roses from a large Point de Gaze collar, late 19th century

On my own website I show a Point de Gaze edging from my collection, and I also have an article about a study of some pieces of Point de Gaze.

Brussels needlelace, first quarter 18th century. Fragments of high quality made into a plastron the the 19th century — the fancy grounds are original but the bars joining the pieces are probably 19th century.
Flanders needlelace edging, late 18th century. The fillings at the right and left with blocks of stitches are similar to the fancy grounds in the earlier needlelace while the central fillings are reminiscent of later Point de Gaze.
Flounce of needlelace applied to machine-made net, 1870s
Corner of a Point de Gaze handkerchief, late 19th / early 20th century
Floral sprays with 3-dimensional roses from a large Point de Gaze collar, late 19th century