I was amused by an entry in my 1882 Dictionary of needlework on imitation lace, as surely that is a description that could apply to most types of lace. However, it seems that the focus of the entry is those types of lace made from machine-made braids and handmade fillings that were popular with the domestic audience who would have been reading the Dictionary. The book gives five examples of different ways the technique can be used and the end results are very effective considering the simplicity of the materials. The imitation Venetian lace in the image above is a simplified version of Venetian gros point; an elaborate needlelace that was made in the seventeenth century. To make the lace you have to trace the design on to calico then tack down machine-made, half inch wide, cloth braid, doubling it where necessary and smoothing it round the curves – by no means an easy task! Then run a fine cord all the way round the edge of the design. When that is done, the open parts of the pattern can be filled in with needlelace stitches of your choice and the main elements of the pattern are then joined together by buttonhole bars. Finally, you have to work buttonhole stitch over the raised cord, all the way round the design in the same way as the original Venetian lace. You can further embellish this raised cordonnet by working a lace edging along its length if you like. The lace can then be removed from its calico backing.
Another example is an imitation Honiton lace. For this one, three types of braid are required; a straight one for the edge and two types of braid made up of continuous leaf shapes, one of half stitch leaves and the other of cloth stitch leaves. The lace is made on a calico foundation as above and you start by tacking down the foundation line of braid at the top. Then the half stitch leaf braid is tacked in place, up and down, just touching the upper braid, to make a zigzag edge. The cloth stitch leaf braid is then laid over the half stitch one, in the same way to make a zigzag, filling the gaps. However, for this one, every other cloth leaf is folded over to make it look like a leaf stalk. Another straight braid is laid under the pattern and the leaf pattern repeated using just half stitch leaves. Where the braids touch they have to be sewn together and bars added to join the sections together. The instructions blithely suggest sewing ‘an ornamental lace edging to the lower edge of the pattern’. This piece certainly seems easier to work than the imitation Venetian lace, but all the designs assume the reader has a detailed knowledge of needlelace stitches and the skill to carry them out with little instruction.