TENERIFFE LACE

Characteristics

  • Medallions - usually circles, but also other shapes
  • Radiating, spoke-like threads
  • Woven with needle weaving patterns
  • Medallions are joined to form mats, skirts, cloths

History

Teneriffe lace is a technique which evolved from cut and drawn thread work of the Middle Ages. Bands of drawn threads join or cross one another to create an empty square. This square was often filled by laying a web of threads across and embroidering over them to form a spider’s web. Over the years these spider’s web fillings became more and more elaborate, the bands became wider and the corners larger. Eventually the background fabric of the cutwork was dispensed with. An outline of running stitches was worked on linen fabric stretched on a wooden frame. A web of stitches was created then woven. When complete, the medallion was set free.

This form of embroidery was very popular during the 16th century in Europe, especially in Spain, where it was known as ‘Sol Lace’ (sun lace) or ‘rueda’ (wheel) designs.

Teneriffe lace is named after one of the islands of Spain’s Canary Islands, off the NW coast of Africa. Instead of being fabric based, it is worked on a pillow, over a perforated card. A circle of pins is placed on the outline of the shape. (Later metal, wood and plastic templates were introduced.) Threads are worked across from side to side over the centre of the circle and around the pins as in the spokes of a wheel or across the spokes of a template. The spokes are then held in place with simple knot stitches and needlewoven patterns. The lace is easily taken off the pillow by removing the pins.

The technique, worked by both men and women, was taken to South America, some say by the Conquistadors, others suggest Spanish ladies who accompanied their men on later expeditions or maybe the missionaries. The Jesuits demanded a high standard of ornamentation on the Church linens, and one way of obtaining this was to teach the local population the necessary skills required. Thus by one or more of these routes the technique of making Sol lace arrived in South America.

It was in South America that the style of Sol lace developed further, becoming more delicate, the designs relying more on the interplay of light and shade of loose threads and close weaving than on the intricacy of the stitches. The laces of Bolivia, Brazil and Peru retained the name of Sol lace, but in Paraguay it became known as ‘nanduti’ from a Guaranian word meaning ‘web’.

With changes in fashion and the invention of machines in the 1800s, the handmade lace industry in Europe steadily declined. To compete with the lower prices of the machine-made lace, lace-makers, responded by using simpler, bolder designs worked in relatively coarse thread and colour was introduced.

In the 20th C, a new branch developed. Designs relied more on the grouping of the threads and less on the embroidery, resulting in medallions or ‘flowers’. This became commercialised and ‘wheels’ or templates of metal, wood and plastic were manufactured to lay the web. The resulting ‘flowers’ were used independently or joined by crochet to make garments, pram covers, skirts and other articles.

References

Bishop, Christne, Embroidery and Cross Stitch magazine, article 'Teneriffe Lace'
Stillwell, Alexander,Technique of Teneriffe Lace, Batsford, Australia, 1980.
Teneriffe Lace, Lacis Publications, California 1994

© Valerie Cavill 2009

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