Collecting Lace



Serendipity -- being in the right place at the right time and knowing it  -- had a lot to do with my starting to collect antique lace.  I was waiting with a handful of little doiies to check out at a lace shop in Belgium.  The elderly gentleman in front of me asked to see antique lace. ANTIQUE LACE. It would have never occurred to me to ask.  The reaction of the shopkeeper was even more revealing.  She suggested dealing with the American tourist first.  


Clang.  Bell ringing and light bulb sparking.  Declining to be rushed out before before what I suspected was the good stuff emerging from the cupboard, I hovered in the corner as the gentleman perused lovely ethereal shawls and scarfs before selecting a gift of eighteenth century lace for his wife.  

Wow.  There was more to lace than bins and baskets of tourist doilies.  Finer pieces, more complex and interesting designs.  


I never before understood the mystique of lace-and-royalty stories.  Now it was beginning to make sense.  The myths and legends had nothing to do with the doilies, bun warmers, centerpieces and placemats in tourist shops.  Antique lace was a very different substance.  The difference between a Rembrandt and a roadside painted picture of Elvis.

Only a few little bits of semi-old lace were available to me in Belgium.  Dealers seemed to think they had no anitque lace an American tourist could afford, or should be allowed to make off with.  But I had gotten a glimpse of a special world, and realized later when shopping in London’s flea markets that here was a source of what was, in Belgium, forbidden and prohibitively expensive.

Another breakthrough occurred at London’s Bermondsey Market.  Few dealers were still open.  Most had packed up and left late on the rainy morning when I jumped out of the cab.  The driver had to be urged to take me there in the first place -- “Too late, luv.  Everybody will be gone by this time.”

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One bedraggled stall offered old lace.  “I keep telling my kids not to throw away mum’s old rags when I’m gone.  These are hundreds of years old, and still alive,” she explained as she draped yards of supple Milanese lace over my outstretched hands.  

Intuition told me it was special.  Years later, after studying lacemaking and lace history, I still marvel every time I handle it.  It is still one of my favorite things.  (It will soon be featured in that section of this website.) Fate kept putting marvelous things in my path, drawing me into the world of antique lace. 

Another antique lace dealer in London's Camden Passage Antique Mall provided another clue.  Belgian dealers were her best customers, spiriting as much good old lace back to the Continent as they could lay their hands on.  When I could not get there myself, I sent my vacationing sister to her shop with instructions to buy whatever Linda said was good value.  I still treasure the pieces I got from her those decades ago.

In these online pages I'd like to share what I have learned of how to study antique lace, WHY to study antique lace, and the question that initially vexed me -- what do you DO with it?  

The answer, of course, changes depending on the lace in question.  Two answers come immediately to mind for the wonderful Milanese piece from the Bermondsey Market.  One answer comes from Archibald Macleish in his famous quote, "A poem must not mean but be." It is enough to occasionally unroll the piece and enjoy it.  Another is use antique lace as a source of inspiration.  That is what the COPY THIS section is for.

This website/blog will always be a work in progress.  Every day brings new stories to tell about old lace.      219-659-1124    Elizabeth Kurella 2014