Binche dorset cuff over124

Imagine this pretty little piece of lace stained -- OK, it is still stained -- but imagine it really badly stained and wadded and wrinkled in the bottom of a box of other lace and fabric scraps.  That’s why I made the mistake of washing it before I took a really close look at it and realized just what stories there were in the threads.  

The first picture in this story should have been the wrinkled wad of steeped-in-Guinness-ale brown that might have been thrown away.  What saved it was my noticing the stylized design, the pigeon-eye background filling, and recognizing that it was made of two types of Binche bobbin lace.  

Binche pigeon grounds

The two types of pigeon-eye ground, haloed and plain, are an indication that the lace might be very early Binche -- late 1600s or 1700s early.  

DORSET picot edge scu131

The top strip of the piece has a five-hole mesh background -- also typical of early Binche, but perhaps a few decades later.

Another clue that slowed down the process of quickly putting the lace up for sale as a nice fragment was the curious little buttons, along with little buttonhole-stitched loops on the opposite side.  A pieced-together cuff!  And I love makeovers, those wonderful stories of a second -- or third life for valued old lace being recycled.

Binche dorset folded126

Antique lace items that either are fragments or items altered from their original state often are dismissed by serious lace collectors who want nice items in original condition. This little piece, however,  is an example of something that has wonderful stories to tell anyone willing to take a little time and take a really close look.

What could easily be dismissed as just an interesting scrap of lace that might make a good study piece assembled from two different types of Binche bobbin lace actually is a single cuff that probably was worn by a lady walking around Europe at roughly the same time as Jane Austen, a time in the early 1800s before the industrial revolution really took hold and the United States was still governed by one of the founding fathers. How can we be so sure?  There are so many clues in the threads! 

The shape of the piece, along with the little buttons and button loops on the ends identifies it as a cuff. 


It was actually Kate Henry, Revolutionary War reenactor exraordinaire, that casually mentioned a key clue that dates it.  Those little buttons, she said, are Dorset buttons.

Invented in Shaftsbury, Dorset, England some time between 1680 and 1700, the little buttons consist of thread wrapped around a ring.

The grandson of the founder shortly later invented an alloy that would not rust, and because these buttons have not rusted, it is likely that these were made some time after 1700.

Binche dorset cuff over124

The style of the cuff also helps date the cuffs.  Costumes in the mid to late 1700s called for frothy ruffles or engegeants,  not for cuffs like these.  Neither did the nineteenth century, Civil war era, Victorian era.  

But the Jane Austen - Regency era classic straight-sleeved jackets over simple high-waisted gowns did.  That era lasted from about 1800 to about 1820.

How the lace pieces were joined provides other clues that confirm such a date.  

DORSET joins XCU129

The pieces of lace were not sewn together with a needle and thread.  They were joined with bobbins and crochet-hook joins -- a means of connecting lace sections by drawing up a loop of thread from one bobbin, passing the other through the loop, and pulling both snug.  This combining of lace pieces by "sewing" with bobbins had to have been done when bobbin lacemaking was as comfortable a technique about a village as sewing.  Early 1800s fits that bill.

Altogether, the clues conjure up enough to make this humble little Binche makeover a treasure to clutch while watching reruns of Pride and Prejudice.  And hopefully help develop a true respect for the remarkable longevity of lace and the magic of lace makeovers.


Published June 12, 2013


For more makeover stories see:

The Many Lives of Old Lace      219-659-1124    Elizabeth Kurella 2014