Sixteenth Century Sardinian Lacis

Handmade Lacis from Sardinia – 16th century. Author’s image, V&A collection, T.64-1930.

The production of lace across Europe in the sixteenth century was a vital part of early modern fashion history. The elite desired lace as it was the ultimate status symbol. The complexity of lace making can be seen in its expansive production and design historiography.[1] There are three techniques used when making lace – lacis, bobbin and needlepoint.[2]What is interesting about lace production from this period is that it would have been made by hand and most often in rural communities as well as urban centres.[3] A piece of locally manufactured and design lace was just as sophisticated and complex as those made in cities.

This image is an example of a piece of handmade lacis from Sardinia, dating to the mid to late 1500s.[4] Sardinia was vastly rural during this time, so it is very likely that this piece of lacis would have been produced in a local community. This lacis goes to show that even lace produced outside of the early modern city could be refined in technique and aesthetic style.[5] The technique of lacis uses a base net that the pattern of the lace would sit on. This is a completely different style to that of bobbin or needlepoint lace, which has obviously gaps within the pattern.

Therefore, this lacis seems far from our modern interpretation of lace. Instead, we resemble this piece of Sardinian lace with white embroidery due to its dense appearance. This lacis does not match the refined and delicate associations we have of lace today.

It’s sophisticated floral pattern shows how on trend this piece of lace would have been at the time of its production. These botanical motifs circulated in European fashions during sixteenth century society. Not only were floral motifs desired in clothing, but also round the home.[6] The density of this piece of lacis implies that it would have been used for a soft furnishing, most likely a tablecloth or bedding border. Whatever it may be however, it would have been highly desired as lace was exceptionally popular. It is early techniques of lace making, such as lacis that consequently created our obsession with this fashion trimming. A century after this lacis was manufactured saw the seventeenth century triumph of bobbin and needlepoint lace.[7] It is in this golden age of lace that it becomes its recognisable modern form.

The history of lace is complex, just like its construction. As well as European urban centres, it should be remembered that lace was also designed and produced in rural locations. It was the popularity and the desire of lace that resulted in lace being manufactured across the whole of early modern society.

[1] S. Levey, Lace: A History, 55-60.

[2] M. O’Malley and E. Welch, ‘Introduction’, in (Eds) M. O’Malley and E. Welch, The Material Renaissance, (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2007), pp. 11-20.

[3] C. Browne, Lace from Victoria and Albert Museum, (London: V&A Publications, 2004), p. 34.

[4] Acquisition folder of T.64-1930, V&A Art and Design Archive, London.

[5] S. Levey, Lace: A History, (London: V&A Publications, 1983), pp. 4-12.

[6] A. Cole, Ancient Needlepoint and Pillow Lace, (London: Arundel Society, 1874), pp. 2-6.

[7] C. Browne, Personal Correspondence, 11 December 2017.


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