• Modern reticella - no base fabric: designs built up with needle and thread
  • Old reticella - threads cut out or withdrawn from bands of woven fabric
  • Cut edges of woven fabric neatened by overcasting
  • Grids of needlewoven lines cross the patterns at right-angles
  • Repeated geometric patterns, stylised flowers or motifs with angular outlines
  • Created by buttonholed, needlewoven and overcast bars
  • Petal-shaped wheatears and little triangular bits of needleweaving often used.



Reticella is an Italian word, meaning ‘little net or small grid’. It originated from a form of cutwork involving large-scale removal of squares of woven linen or the withdrawal of threads, leaving very few remaining, the resulting appearance being like a giant mesh or network.

The original 16th C meaning referred to a technique. Later, the meaning referred to a style or set of designs. The original technique marked the transition between fabrics made lacy by cutting out and withdrawing threads, and later, by creating a lacy fabric, stitch by stitch. Only insertion type laces were made at first as no detached needlepoint or bobbin lace edgings had been developed to finish the edges.

With the fabric technique (old reticella), cut and drawn threads divided the areas of the remaining fabric into squares and rectangles. Often so many threads were withdrawn that only a sparse framework was left which necessitated extra threads, especially diagonals, to be put in to support the needlework. Elaborate patterns were stitched and woven over and under this framework with a natural tendency to form repeated geometric designs

Later reticella (modern reticella) was unrestrained by a grid of fabric and threads. Needlepoint fillings took on a new dimension with circles, curved lines, elaborate stars, stylized flower and leaf shapes.

Reticella embroideries decorated the wide cuffs, standing collars and associated cuffs fashionable particularly in Spain and Northern Europe in the late 16th and early 17th centuries. It was also used on household linen in conjunction with bands of drawn or pulled thread work and with filet lace.

In Catholic Europe considerable quantities were made for church use. From the late 17th C, the technique appeared in English whitework samplers, indicating it was used on manchester items. By the 18th C, reticella was outmoded in northern Europe but continued in peasant communities, particularly in the Greek Islands, hence the technique is referred to as Greek Lace.

In the late 19th C in the Lake District in Great Britain, a craft revival was instigated by John Ruskin, one of the leading members of the Arts and Crafts Movement. Cloth was again being woven by hand from hand spun linen thread and embroidered with reticella, cutwork, drawnwork and needleweaving. The product was renamed ‘Ruskin Work’. In the late 19th C, Aemilia Ars of Bologna made well-executed copies of the 16th and 17th C work. Later, similar designs were produced in bobbin lace and this was also named ‘reticella’.

Handmade reticella was emulated by machines using the Chemical Lace method in 1881.


Earnshaw, P. A Dictionary of Lace, Shire publications, 1982
Earnshaw, P. The Identification of Lace, Shire publications, 1994
Earnshaw, P. Bobbin and Needle Laces Identification and Care, Batsford, London, 1983
Gwynne, J. The Illustrated Dictionary of Lace, Batsford, 1997
Kurella, E.M. Guide To Lace and Linens, Antique Trade, Norfolk, Virginia, 1998
Toomer, H LACE: A Guide To Identification of Old Lace Types, Batsford, London, 1989

© Valerie Cavill 2012