A Mystery in Lace

Dear Sarah Fincham of Small Offerings sent me a beautiful drawing in a trade for linen pajamas. As a surprise, she included this piece of silk lace that she had found in a flea market. She said that perhaps it was meant to be a doily or jar cover, but I suspected she knew better, and had sent me this little beauty as a test of my textile detective skills. (She knows I love mysteries.)

After marveling at its fragility and identifying the dry, somewhat crunchy texture as a sign of real silk, I gave it a long look. Something was off. See the outer edge, alternating points and rounds? But check out the far right. There are two points together, with a rather crude seam in between. Aha! The piece of lace had been re-purposed from its original use. Due to the small circumference of the centre round my first guess that it was a cuff.
Very, very carefully I removed the silk thread that attached the lace to the centre bit of chiffon, and unpicked the seam. Freed from the chiffon, the lace relaxed, and I could see it was in fact a collar, maybe for a child or a lady with a very slender neck.
Since the lace had several dark spots on it, I thought I should give it a bath. A soak in a bit of cool water and a drop of  dish soap, then a rinse and another short soak in diluted lemon juice. Several rinses later, I rolled it in a towel to remove excess water, then carefully laid it flat to dry, coaxing the picot edge into position with my fingertips.
While it dried, I Googled, and quickly identified the lace as Maltese bobbin lace, probably from the 19th C. Here's another example:
It is interesting that traditional Maltese lace had almost died out until an Englishwoman, Lady Hamilton Chichester, was responsible for reviving the craft, and Maltese lacework became quite popular in England after being exhibited in the Great Exhibition of 1851. Which explains how it eventually turned up in an English flea market. Why someone decided to re-model it in the interim remains a secret - even if no longer a fashionable collar, as a doily it wouldn't lay flat, and as a jar cover it would be too precious for raspberry jam. I think I will frame it, and hang it alongside Sarah's drawing.

Oh, yes, that drawing! I bet you want to see it. Here it is, as yet unframed. Wonderful, huh? For more of Sarah's work, check out her Etsy shop.
And an update on our Vicky - she is still in hospital and hasn't yet been given an idea of when she may be released. The possibility of infection is still a big concern, but she has been making steady progress and has even been taking a few steps unassisted. The outpouring of love and support for her has made a huge difference, she says - so thank you!


  1. silk lace, i can just imagine the way it falls.

  2. Wow what beautiful treasures, both the fine drawing and the antique lace, love your detective work!

  3. What a fantastic sory of love and rescue! I am glad to hear that Vicky is improving, give her my wishes from Florence.

  4. Vicks accident sounds horrific - I have been out of blog land a bit for a while and clearly need to catch up.

    I am so glad I sent you the lace! My knowledge of antique textiles is zero though I'm glad to see my instinct that it wasn't an English design was correct. I didn't know Maltese lace had ever been fashionable in the UK but it makes sense, now, as of course the original interest would have been sparked when Malta became part of the Empire. It's beautiful, isn't it?! And so much more so restored to its original shape!

    I am so looking forward to my pyjamas!

  5. Hah! I knew it was a collar. Why would someone try to re-purpose it into something so hopelessly shapeless? Looks very nice freed from its captivity.

    Thanks for the Vicky update. Wishing her a speedy recovery!

  6. Anonymous11:53 AM

    the collar is lovely, you did a great job of restoring it. wouldn't it look beautiful on black velvet?

  7. Really lovely post here, Heather. thank you for teaching us.

  8. Hi Heather Just saw this posted from a gallery in St. John's, and thought you might be interested: http://www.thisiscolossal.com/2014/12/heirloom-seed-tablecloth/ By the way, we loved Call the Midwife too! Eileen K (on Gabe)


Post a Comment

Please forgive me for using word verification. The spam robots got to me.