fontage and blue lappets

The lace that forms the banner headline on this website is taken from a small detail, not more than a few inches long, that appears in a pair of headdress streamers or lappets I bought many years ago in London.  They still rank high among the most amazing pieces of lace I have ever seen, and I marvel that they live in my house.  

Lappets were a significant part of a lady's headdress from the late 1600s to the late 1700s, and still were worn occasionally in some fashion into the nineteenth century.  Santina Levey in her book, "Lace, A History" bases a significant discussion of fashion and dating of lace on lappets. As a key aspect of the headdress of every lady of significance in a royal court, they were an up-to-the minute reflection of fashion, and thus a good way to date lace designs.  Length likewise was a measurement of the prominence of the lady.  The longer the lappets, the higher the rank.

 Length of the lappets also depended on how the head was dressed, including the height of the wig, the placement of a cap, and where the streamers were attached.  They might be folded on the top of the head, or stream down the back from the head anywhere from shoulder to waist. In the image at the right, the lappets are shown in blue.  Tall headdress structure was known as a fontange.

The Hothouse Lappets measure twenty-one inches long, and taper from five inches at the top to four inches at the bottom.  Not anywhere near the longest, which might be up to about five feet long, but still respectable.


Just as major art objects -- paintings, violins, sculptures  -- have names, I always thought major pieces of antique lace should also. These early 18th century  lappets remind me of the Rilke quote that appears at the beginning of Virginia Churchill Bath’s book Lace.  

“ saw deep into gardens more and more artful, until everything was dense and warm against the eyes as in a hothouse; gorgeous plants we did not know opened gigantic leaves; tendrels groped for one another as though they were dizzy...”  I named them “The Hothouse Lappets.”

The design and workmanship are glorious in this lace, but the lappets also are significant because they are nearly perfectly intact.  That makes them highly desirable to collectors, but perhaps a little sad for story tellers and romantics.

HOt House overview bigger

The dense, complex design, in the spirit of the bizarre silks of the eighteenth century, dates them almost certainly to the first decades of the 1700s.  Benjamin Franklin was a teenager.  In America, the colonies were just forming. In Europe, Louis XIV probably would have recently died. Phillip of Orleans would be ruling France as Regent until Louis XV came of age.  Vivaldi was composing concerti in Italy and Stradivarius was making the violins to play them on.

How did this pair of magnificent lappets survive so perfectly new, as if they just came off the lacemaker’s pillow? They should have been worn to tatters at candle lit parties at Versailles, passed along to the lady’s maid when they went out of fashion, and remodeled a dozen times.  Have they spent those three hundred years in storage?  They happened to surface at an antique textile dealer’s stall in London’s Camden Passage at a time when antique lace was hardly known and not a major collectable.  That’s how they happened into my possession.  I could afford lappets meant for eighteenth century European royalty because few were interested in antique lace except as someting that could be attached to a blouse or remodeled for a bride.  And the shape of these qualified them for neither.

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Breathtaking is an understatement for the elegance, complexity of the design, and actual bobbin lacemaking.  There are designs within design.  We can see a similarity and relationship to today’s simple Brussels and related Duchesse bobbin lace.  The flowers, however, all have more complex and subtle shapes.  No two petals seem to be the same.  Even in flowers smaller than the width of a dime the petals will be embellished with remarkable raised edges and decorated in the clothwork with tiny patterns of star-like buds.

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Notice that the opposite edges of the lappets are harmonious, but different.

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The background consists not only of fine snowflake and other fanciful grounds, but large flowers have a background of small flowers, leaves, and other motifs that are of an entirely different scale, but gracefully fill the space behind the large flowers.

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I have purposely not isolated any specific bits for the COPY THIS section.  Instead, I hope lacemakers will contemplate the pictures and find their own inspiration.

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Wander through the hothouse, and marvel at the gorgeous plants, leave and tendrels all warm against our eyes.  Perhaps take inspiration for them, and begin embellishing your own bobbin lace flowers with a tiny bud in each petal.


May, 2013      219-659-1124    Elizabeth Kurella 2014