From the sixteenth through to the nineteenth centuries, lace was fundamental to the changing fashions of the day. It was the highlight and sometimes the most expensive component of the garments worn by rich and powerful men and women; from European royalty and aristocracy to leaders of the Catholic Church, and, later, those in search of the fabled status that lace imparted.
Lace is a textile that the historian Pat Earnshaw succinctly described as ‘holes surrounded with thread’. This definition covers a multitude of handwork techniques including embroidery, macramé, knitting, knotting, crochet as well as machine lace. The type of lace which captured the imagination and enthralled so many for so long generally falls into two categories: that made with a needle or with bobbins. Needle lace is usually made using variations of the buttonhole stitch. Bobbin lace takes its name from the spools of carved wood or ivory that the lace maker plaits, twists or weaves threads around a network of pins resting on the support of a pillow or frame. Often considered as the only ‘true’ lace techniques, needle and bobbin lace, and combinations of both, formed the basis of an extraordinary inventiveness and a valuable trade for over three hundred years.
Lace in Fashion addresses some of the most important phases in the history of lace as a fashionable commodity. The exhibition features works dating from the sixteenth century and spanning several hundred years and draws on the National Gallery of Victoria’s collection with several works from private lenders. Many of the lace pieces selected for display have come from the former collection of Mrs John Hungerford Pollen, an English historian who built an important lace collection that the NGV acquired through the Felton Bequest in 1964. The display comprises over fifty works, including examples using needle, bobbin and other lace techniques; two important portraits in oil that represent lace at its most opulent; and fashionable dress incorporating lace as decoration, fabric and motif.