Wednesday 3 July 2024

The artfulness of filet lace curtains

I’m always impressed by the beautiful designs that can be worked in filet lace. Working on a square grid would seem to be very limiting but in skilled hands quite naturalistic images can be formed, as you can see with the cherubs and flowers in this image.

To work filet lace the lacemaker first has to make the net background. This is generally done by starting at a corner of the work, which is secured to a fixed point. The net is then made by looping thread round a spacer (rather like a lolly stick) to ensure the squares of the net are the same size and securing them to the stitch above with a knot. The lacemaker continues making a line of net stitches, gradually increasing stitches on each side of the work, until the required size is reached. It sounds complicated and is difficult to start with, until you get into a rhythm and learn how to manipulate the various loops of the thread as well as the netting needle and the spacer. In her book The technique of filet lace, Pauline Knight includes some images of how to make the net, which are helpful if you are learning netting. However, today you can cheat and use readymade machine net for filet work if you find that easier.

Once the net is made, or bought, the design has to be darned into it. Again this is not as simple as just filling the area with solid stitching. The threads are worked over and under each other in a regular pattern, so that, for linen stitch, two horizontal and two vertical threads pass through each open square. Therefore the lacemaker has to work out the thread paths before starting work. Margaret Swain in her book The needlework of Mary Queen of Scots notes that Mary and her companions were keen needlewomen and particularly enjoyed puzzling out how to work filet lace designs ‘in an age that enjoyed mazes, anagrams and emblems’. So not only are these lace curtains beautiful they are also works of art and artfulness. 

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