Repairing Love In Bloom Lace


This lovely set of headdress streamers, barbe or stole emerged as a dirty wrinkled wad from a flea market jewelry box. 

(For more information about the lace, see the Love In Bloom Lace article in Collecting lace. Patterns for the heart motifs in the design are offered in COPY THIS Love in Bloom)

The first question -- to wash or not to wash -- answered itself.  The lace was too grimy to leave as is.

My philosophy for handling vintage lace falls somewhere in the real world between a museum curator who would conserve everything and a vintage lace dealer who washes and Oxi-cleans everything, 

A compromise usually results.  Conservation for truly museum quality pieces too fragile to withstand washing, and a careful wash for things that should still have a life to enjoy in the outside world. These lovely lappets definitely deserve a life.  They should serve as ambassadors at a reenactor’s ball or other special party to let the world know how lovely real lace from the nineteenth century can be.

First, a careful look at the entire piece to see if it is in good condition overall, or if it appears to be so frayed it would not survive a wash.  Apart from a few breaks in the mesh, this lace was strong and viable.  I opted to wash before mending.

(For washing more fragile items, see Stop, Look and Think Before You Wash It, Vol. I #3,  The Lace Collector Newsletter.

The hand wash for this piece consisted of gentle submersion in a warm bowl of tap water (my Chicago suburb city water is pretty good here, as compared to my rural Michigan well water, where I used demineralized water for most washing.)

Several days of soaking, changing water, and soaking some more got out most of the grime. A squirt of dish soap,  a bit of gentle swishing, and more soaking took care of most of the rest.  Finally lots and lots of rinsing.

Note;  always fill the bowl first, then add the lace.  The force of water from a tap can damage the lace. 

 I considered a bit of sodium perborate (OxiClean in the supermarket) but decided to live with the minor staining.  I would not chide those who opted for gentle sodium-perborating.  Lace going to a party must look the part.  And what is more destructive to lace: consigning it to oblivion, or washing and wearing?

To present well in the real world, a careful bit of ironing while the lace was still damp was needed.  I press lace face-down on a thick towel, to let the raised work emerge in high relief.  Sometimes a frayed bit of a fine old translucent handkerchief serves as a cover cloth for ironing.  This lets me see what I’m doing, and not catch the point of the iron in the lace.

Before small break135

Now on to the damage that needed to be mended.

Always go through the full assessment of damage, and really know what is wrong before starting on mending, even if the damage looks minor.

Determine what really is wrong.  Are parts missing, or are things simply broken apart?

Remember that lace is a design defined by lines and spaces.  The key to a successful mend is to maintain those lines and spaces.  Resist the urge to pull the edges of a small break together with a couple of tight stitches.  That will only appear as a unattractive pucker  to begin with and cause more damage in the long run.

The mend for this piece is to first stabilize the breaks, so the mesh does not unravel further.  Use as fine a thread as possible to secure the break yet remain nearly invisible.  Very fine lacemakers thread, many times finer than ordinary sewing thread, is available online from suppliers such as  or

Before small secure thrd137AFTER small break fillCOLOR CODE

This small break in the mesh along part of the clothwork is just such a temptation.  It does so look like it could be pulled together and stitched.  Don’t fall for that temptation!  Invest in some thread as fine or finer as that used to work the lace originally.  Just a couple of looping buttonhole stitches fills the hole.

BIG break before XCU color

Another hole is a bit different., but again a very typical break in the background mesh. What’s really wrong in this picture is a single broken thread. (see frayed end in green) which left the loop from the next row loose  (see green twisted loop.)

BIG break doneCOLOR CODE

My brain tells me what a nimble-fingered needle lacemaker or embroiderer could do:  catch that frayed loop with in  a lacemaker’s knot in a length of very fine thread, and use that thread to catch the loose loop and secure it, secure that  in the clothwork of the leaf, then come back and make the extra stitch in the next row of the lace.  


My arthritic fingers and tri-focal lens vision won’t let me do that.  But what I could do was use an extremely fine needle and thread to wrap, knot and secure the loose ends then make a couple of loops to mimic the mesh.  

This will keep the fray from getting worse, will not pucker or put strain on the existing mesh, and be relatively discreet in appearance.  

Again, the key is to remember what makes a good mend:  Fill the space while maintaining the lines of the lace.  Everything is part of the lines — including the mesh stitches.  

A careful wash, a few careful stitches, and the lace stole is ready to reenter high society.  

Using your lovely lace scarf:

A word or two about showing off a piece like this by wearing and using it. 

Carry it to the party, don’t wear it.  Put it in a plastic bag in your purse if you have to, but better still find or make a pretty fabric envelope to carry it and protect it while traveling. 

Store it carefully.  Perhaps in the same cotton or linen envelope it is carried to the party in?  Find a pretty Victorian handkerchief case or make an envelope of your own from old linen.  Do not store it in plastic, where moisture can be sealed in to cause damage.

If you wear it in the summer, remember body oil and sweat, aka “summer glow” should be washed away before storing it.  All that means is a careful submersion in a bowl of water, perhaps a few drops of detergent, careful rinse, dry flat on a towel. You would not put away your clothes without washing, treat your vintage lace as carefully.


Publishsd February 2014


For more on mending a wide array of laces, see

Anybody Can Mend Lace and Linens and 

A Vintage Handkerchief Makeover

Both are available at      219-659-1124    Elizabeth Kurella 2014