A bride’s guide to vintage lace

There are so many reasons to fall in love with vintage lace – and to declare your love whilst wearing it.

Initially worked by hand, making lace required incredible attention to detail. Though it was made according to a pattern that might be replicated, each piece of lace was essentially unique. The process demanded perfection, was painstakingly slow and incredibly delicate.

As far as textiles go, lace was once the ultimate luxury. With its rich history of handcrafting, its detail, variety and delicacy, even modern vintage lace remains among the most romantic and nostalgic textiles. No fabric is better suited for a wedding dress. Here we give an overview of the kinds of lace most often used to make wedding dresses.

Mechanical lace making

During the Renaissance lace was regarded an element of prestige, signifying both the fashionability and wealth of its wearer.

A mechanical Leavers lace machine.
A mechanical Leavers lace machine.

 

Making only a small strip of lace could take months. Because it was such a labour intensive process, lace was initially used only in parts of garments or accessories, for example collars, cuffs and shawls.

However, since the invention of the Leavers mechanical lace machine in the early 1800s, which for the first time was able to reproduce lace handwork, lace has been used more abundantly.

Lace and wedding dresses

Though machine made lace was already available in the mid-19th century, Queen Victoria famously commissioned her dress to me made from handmade lace. Over 100 lacemakers toiled for half a year to make her white lace dress. Though she would not have been the first to wear some lace to a wedding, Queen Victoria helped to establish lace as a wedding dress staple.

A number of royal weddings since have continued the tradition of getting married in lace. Lace also featured frequently in Edwardian and later flapper-era gowns.

Modern vintage lace

Very little authentic vintage lace survives. But the patterns and craftsmanship have thankfully been preserved. As a result, there are nearly endless varieties of lace still being made. The Lace Guild has an extensive list of these and is an interesting read.

But not all lace is made equal. Though now mostly machine made, as with all fabrics, some lace is still far superior to others.

The world’s finest lace is made just across the channel in Northern France, a region with a rich legacy of lace making. This is where great couture houses including Chanel, Chloe and Dior source their lace from and where the lace used on Catherine Middleton’s Alexander Mcqueen wedding gown was made. These exact same mills make the lace for our Sally Lacock dresses . This French leavers lace is perfect for creating the soft unstructured look of a boho inspired lace wedding dress.

These are among the most popular lace types used in wedding dress making:

Chantilly lace

Chantilly lace is said to have been a favourite of Marie Antoinette and is the lightest and most delicate lace of all. It is made up of an abundance of fine threads on a very fine net ground with subtle yet intricate detail.

Our 1930s inspired Elsa dress is made using French Chantilly Lace.

 

This lace perfectly suits the lightness and freedom of the 1920s style sometimes with beaded embellishments to add weight, or the elegance and grace of the sleek 1930s look.

Corded lace

These elegant classic wedding dress laces, sometimes also known as Alencon lace, are formed by outlining areas in the lace using a heavier thread or cord, giving a three dimensional look. These are often used in the structured ballgown style dresses of the 40s and 50s.

Cluny lace

Usually made of cotton threads with an even thickness this lace is very reminiscent of the 1970s. It is made with geometric shapes and closely woven motifs. It suits a boho type dress with a country-chic style.

Guipure lace

Guipure lace has a continuous motif which creates a denser pattern than with other laces. It is normally quite firm to touch and commonly contains a floral or geometric design. The motifs are held together with links rather than net, leaving gaps between. Perfect for 1960s shift style dresses.

Flounce lace

Flounce lace has a deep border at one edge of the lace with the pattern graduating as it moves up the net.

Our Violet, Edwardian dress uses Flounce lace at the border of the sleeves and hem.

 

This is beautiful on a column style where the border can be placed at the hem giving a natural weight and definition. Flounce lace can look wonderful on an Edwardian style dress like our own Violet or Emmeline lace dresses.

Allover lace

As the name suggests, this kind of lace is patterned all over often with no obvious top and bottom. It is mostly cut and used as a fabric rather than a trimming. We use allover lace in our Elise dress and for sections of our Carly dress.

Embroidered lace

Not strictly lace, embroidered lace is net or tulle with embroidery applied on top. This style suits an Edwardian dress particularly well. This technique is also often used on veils, like the vintage heirloom piece we used on our real bride Antonia’s bespoke veil.

We made a custom veil for our real bride Antonia, using vintage lace passed down to her.

 

We achieve an authentic vintage look by mixing different laces together, choosing antique hues, careful application, cutting and hand stitching to form delicate embellishments or edgings and sometimes mixing antique lace and trimmings in with the new lace.

Each lace dress is made individually and to perfection. We spend a lot of time on every garment and many of the details are finished by hand to ensure that the dresses are infused with the same care and love that has gone into choosing them.