CUTWORK ALENCON: Collect Lace, Not Names

Lace pieces that absolutely refuse to be classified or labeled are for me the most interesting.

What kind of label, for example, would you put on this enchanting piece with cutwork motifs with unique needle lace embellishments and a ground that is pure Alencon? (This image, by the way, appeared in Laurie Waters' Lace News).

Cutwork Alencon COPY FLR erased

Cutwrk alenlw real644

As luck would have it, I also have in my collection a piece of real Alencon, with a remarkably similar style.  Comparing the two pieces gives good evidence that this piece was also made in the mid eighteenth century, when designs were stylized, took up not less than half of the lace with the other half being a plain background mesh.  (An excellent source of styles and designs in lace in different periods is Santina Levey's book, Lace, A History, available new from, or look for a cheaper used copy on Amazon.)

In photo at left, cutwork Alencon is to the left, “real” Alencon at the right.  Also “real” alencon a the top, cutwork Alencon below.


Perhaps at the time this cutwork Alencon was made it was a shortcut,  substituting cut clothwork motifs for the individual stitches of needle lace.  But today, it is a wonderful view back in time. Remarkable similarities in the shape of motifs, and types of filling stitches.

I purchased an entire lot of this curious cutwork from a catalog in the Phillips Auction house in 1991. The description -- no pictures -- in the catalog was interesting, and it was a bit expensive for a blind bid. When it arrived I was dismayed at the damage to the mesh in some of the pieces; I had neglected to ask about condition before bidding.  On the other hand, I have never seen anything like it since then, and I appreciate more and more the rarity and quality of the argentella and other fillings.

Cutwrk alen lappets over642Cutwrk alenlap end643

The entire lot was of similar technique, and consisted of a pair of lappets, 

(click on small images to enlarge view)

high contrast yds

a very long edging, 

Cut Alen Fragment681

and assorted small fragments. 

Cut Alen Frag 2 O684

There were enough pieces that it is hard to imagine that it was not commercial production of some sort, rather than a one-time exercise by one individual.

Designs of all the pieces were similar, but not exactly identical.  (See assorted motifs isolated in  18th Century Motifs for Needle Lace COPY THIS section} The variety of stylized floral motifs, each had some variation:  perhaps a small difference in little tendrils, or the great variety in filling stitches.  

cutwk w alencon edge xcu583

The technique, --  embroidered cutwork motifs with needle lace fillings and ground -- is absolutely unique.  Many of the filling stitches are traditional needle lace fillings.


The range of filling stitches, many a unique blend of needle lace over cutwork, is remarkable. 

Some fillings are very simple, and suggest they might be replacements.  

Views of the front and back are inconclusive, but considering the poor condition the ground, it would not be surprising if some of the fancy fllings also needed to be replaced.


Cutwrk alenl fills 1645

The workmanship is quirky but exquisite, again testifying to the great skill and training of the lacemakers.  Seems most likely that it was a commercial production with a well trained group of lacemakers that produced this lace.

The condition of the pieces ranged from fair to awful, with the condition issue always being the fragile alencon ground.  The rarity, however, escalates the value.  It is as rare as I can imagine.  

In three decades of searching, I’ve not seen other pieces quite like this.

Which puts it high on my list of attractive kinds of lace to collect.  I can live nicely without a classic label to put on it.  


July 25, 2013

ADDED August 1, 2013

Dear Elizabeth

I was fascinated to see your article on the Alenҫon Cutwork. I own one of the pair of these lappets which a colleague and I bought from you .... Neither of us could afford the pair, so we bought them together with the proviso that if either of us wanted to sell at any time to offer it to the other. I keep a note with mine who owns the second lappet. ….

...The work is exquisite and gives me great pleasure when ever I look at the lappet.

I have attached a scan of another length of lace I own, but I don’t remember when or where I got it. The method is the same with cut fabric (very fine) surrounded by needle lace. The design to my mind represents Mechlin and is later than the lappet and not as good quality – what do you think?


a lacemaker and collector


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