This lovely lace on the edge of a ruff is depicted on the Rainbow portrait of Queen Elizabeth, which was painted in about 1600, probably by Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger although there is a possibility that the painter may have been Isaac Oliver; it can be seen at Hatfield House.
Early needle lace
developed from cutwork, in which fabric was cut away from a background, leaving
a pattern of threads that were then oversewn. Eventually the background fabric
was dispensed with and the pattern was laid out in threads which were then
joined by stitching. The lace on the edge of her ruff shows a combination of
these two types of needle lace, with cutwork on the lower part of the lace and
a free edging around the outer part of the lace where the stitches were worked
on free loops of thread. Early bobbin lace developed from the plaiting of cords,
using thread wound on bobbins, to become a more open design and the figure of
eight edging round the bodice may be a plaited cord. Patterns for both types of
lace were available in pattern books that circulated widely in western Europe.
This pattern comes
from Frederic Vinciolo’s pattern book for needle made laces, first published in
France in 1587 and dedicated to his patroness, the Dowager Queen of France, Catherine
de Medici, who had brought her knowledge of lace from her native Italy. It is
similar to the edging on the Queen Elizabeth’s ruff with two layers of lace patterning
and a more freely worked picot edging. This type of work was also known as ‘punto
in aria’ (stitches in air) and as the book does not include instructions we
must admire the lacemaker who could conjure such wonderful lace seemingly out
of the air.