GROUND: Fairly large mesh (net) reseau (background). Each side of the mesh worked over with 8-10 buttonhole stitches called brides bouclees (buttonholed bars). BRIDES: brides with little picots THREAD: Hand-spun linen. From 1817, machine-spun cotton STITCHES: Buttonhole DESIGN: Scrolls, interspersed with flowers of formal or semi-classical nature USES: Ruffles, lappets, flounces, cravats, aprons, collars, cuffs, ecclesiastical garments.


From 1625 to 1675, Venetian hand needlepoint lace led the world and was highly fashionable in the French court, causing an outflow flow of money to Italy. Jean Baptiste Colbert (1619-1683), Controleur General of France to King Louis XIV, concerned by the government’s balance of payments, forbad the importation of Italian lace into France. This resulted in smuggling and did not solve the drain of French currency to Italy. As a consequence, in 1665, Colbert brought over Venetian lace teachers to the lace centres in Normandy. The first laces were indistinguishable from the Venetian points, but gradually they developed their own characteristics – a lighter & more delicate lace with clearly defined pattern.

Argentan needlelace lace was established between 1710 and 1730, in Argentan, a village in northern France. About 1720-30 the hexagonal Argentan ground was adopted in which 9 or 10 buttonhole stitches, hardly visible by the naked eye, were sewn on each of the six sides. By the 19th C, the brides were whipped over instead of the buttonhole stitches (Brides Tortillees). The cordonnet was buttonholed over and decorated with minute picots. Pieces were sewn together to form larger sections with invisible stitching. Oddly enough, the heavy ground of buttonhole stitches did not wear well and much Argentan was regrounded in 18th & 19th C.

Argentan became a court favourite in the 1770s, particularly of men, and used in formal wear. Known in French Court as a ‘winter lace’. The manufacture of this lace was exceedingly slow – pieces could take a year to make – and thus were costly to produce.

At the end of the 18th C, lace went out of fashion and soft muslin came in. In the early 19th C the firm Lefebure, in Bayeaux, produced some fine exhibition pieces but ceased with WWI. In the later part of 19th C, Argentan needlelaces were made in Burano, Italy.


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