CharacteristicsGround - a hexagonal mesh - reseau ordinaire (tulle) - two threads twisted together on each side. Thread - Very fine linen Raised outlines - buttonhole stitches (cordonnet) worked over a horsehair Picots projecting like thorns from buttonholed cordonnet Beautiful fillings - buttonholed rings, stars and bars with open stitches on sides. A needlepoint lace made in small parts and joined by a seam using a stitch termed 'assemblage'.
The villages of Alencon and Argentan lie 20 miles apart. In late 18th C, in the French court, Argentan and Alencon hand made needlepoint laces were used as winter laces, whilst the bobbin laces of Mechlin, Lille, Caen and Spain were the summer laces.
Alencon replaced Argentan needlelace as the court favorite in the last quarter of 18th C. The Russians loved Alencon lace.
With the French Revolution (1789) it almost died out but was revived by Napoleon I, who on his marriage to Maria Louise of Austria in 1810, ordered bed curtains, tester, coverlet and pillow cases, all decorated with bees on a needle ground. Demand dwindled after his defeat in 1815.
Later Empress Eugenie, wife of Napoleon III (1852-1870) re-introduced it to fashion.
By 1880, there were 36 different filling stitches in common use, many which took the form of tiny circles. Picots were called ‘noses’ (nez). Thus O a nez would be a circle with picots: O a nez en queue = circle with picots in a line, or queue: O en chainettes = circles with chains: couronnes d’O boucle = crowns of buttonholed circles: etoile a double nez = star with a double row of picots
In France, each lace-maker specialized in her own task. A pattern piece was passed from hand to hand, the first worker couching the outlining thread, another working the clothwork and others completing the ground and filling stitches. As many as 20 people might be employed from the start to the finish of a small pieces.
In the 19th C, Alencon was made in Burano, Brussels and Bayeux as well as Alencon. Copies of Alencon were made on the Leavers lace machine in 1838, part machine-made and part hand-made. The lace was still being made in early 20th C but declined after WWI.
Earnshaw, P Needlelace, Merehurst, London, 1991
Earnshaw, P The Identification of Lace, Shire publications, 1994
Gwynne, J.L, The Illustrated Dictionary of Lace, Batsford, London, 1997
Reigate, Emily, An Illustrated Guide to LACE, Antique Collectors Club, 1986
Toomer, H LACE: a guide to identification of old lace types and techniques.
© Valerie Cavill, August 2010