Alencon Needle Lace Grounds

A classic background mesh sometimes defines a piece of lace.  Sometimes is the key word.  Mesh is only one element of the combination,  or COMBO of Clothwork, Outline, Mesh, Bridges and Ornament that ultimately defines any piece of lace.

Nevertheless, learning to recognize the classic grounds traditionally used in Alencon lace -- and then recognizing other kinds of lace where the Alencon ground often appears -- is a key to learning to identify and evaluate vintage lace. 

It also is a good way to recognize the grounds and their uses as a lead-in to designing and making lace.  A ground is a ground is a ground.  It can be used anywhere and any way.


PDG Big color code4 edited-1

The basic Alencon ground is formed 

first like a point de gaze mesh, (left)

with twisting loops of thread row after row

In Alencon, after each row is stitched,  the baseline is wrapped with another thread (right, below).  It generally results in a slightly hexagonal mesh.

(click on images for larger view.)

Alen Big fuzzycolor code edited-1

In real life, there will be lots of variations.  The individual meshes may be slightly different sizes or shapes, or the wrapping may be uneven or sloppy.  It can be very difficult to follow the thread manipulations when it is this uneven.

alen esprit uneven

  In this case, the lacemaker did not wrap each side of the stem, and instead just jumped to the next mesh in many cases. 

alen esprit uneven color code edited-1


Changing the tension of the "stitches" or thread manipulations can change the appearance as well.  A mesh using the same thread manipulations is used in Burano Italian needle lace, but a difference in the tension makes each mesh look more square, and the mesh more ladder-like.

Tortilees  XXXXcu710Argentan cap xxcu143

 There are other variations of the mesh:

Brides Tortiilees (left) has the wrapping surround each mesh, not just the bottom.

The Argentan mesh (below) has each individual mesh covered with buttonhole stitches.  (click on image for larger view)

Again, like the Alencon mesh, these can appear slightly or very different depending on the quality of the workmanship.  In any case, very high magnification is needed to actually see the thread manipulations.

Repairs, of course, add to the difficulty in seeing the mesh structure.

ARGENTAN xxcu502


Identifying a specific lace depends on the other features of the lace:  Clothwork, Outline, Bridges (rarely used in Alencon lace) and Ornament.

In Alencon, the clothwork is dense, formed with the usual buttonhole stitches but with an additional thread passed along the bottom edge of each row.  

The outline is very distinctive, with densely packed buttonhole stitches completely covering the underlying threads, and often ornamented with picots. 

Bridges are only rarely used, typically to accent little areas of the design, or as a background ornamental filling.  

The ornament in the best Alencon consists of a dizzying number of picots along nearly every edge, and a number of very ornate filling stitches.  Bridges or bars are only occasionally used as accents.  The ornament is distinctive.  


Circa 1800 Alencon599

In the late eighteenth century, it was typical to have two sizes of the Alencon mesh in the same piece,  A larger mesh as background for the main part of the lace, usually the top two-thirds, and a much smaller, finer version of the same mesh in the bottom edge. This smaller, finer mesh was called a petit reseau.

BURANO BERTHExxcudark colorcode

In Burano, the cloth work is formed essentially the same way as in Alencon, with buttonhole stitches with an additional thread along the bottom of each row to add density.  

As with the mesh, however, each stitch and each row  in the clothwork is a bit more rectangular, giving a slightly different texture.  

The outline is especially distinctive:  It is a heavy thread attached to the lace with widely spaced overcast or whip stitches.  

Other ornamental stitches may be similar to other needle laces.


$T2eC16dHJGoFFvsRhmeOBR7ubj)SDg~~60 57

The Alencon ground was widely used in the 19th century in a variety of laces. 

Alencon ground was used with Flemish style bobbin lace motifs in a lace marketed in Belgium in the late 19th and early 20th centuries as Vieux Flandre.


tape flemish detail464

At about the same time, especialy around 1900, an assortment of tape laces imitating the Vieux Flandre lace were introduced.

This example has two sizes of the Alencon mesh, a bit reminiscent of the petit reseau in eighteenth century Alencon.


In these later laces, the mesh, and scale of the lace, is typically much larger.

Look closely -- very closely -- for the thread manipulations that identify an Alencon mesh, then look at all the other features, clothwork, outline, mesh, bridges, and ornament, to finally identify the type of lace.

For a more comprehensive discussion of the COMBO method of analyzing lace, see "Be Your Own Sherlock" in this website.


August 1, 2013      219-659-1124    Elizabeth Kurella 2014