The Story of Leavers Lace

NOTE: Leavers lace has been introduced to a wider audience since it featured in one of the tasks on The Apprentice recently. Since then a huge number of people googled Leavers lace to find out what it is and many have found our post on it.

So apart from the fact that French Leavers lace from Calais and Caudry is the most beautiful lace in the world, we put together 8 more facts about Leavers lace:

A Leavers lace machine.

 

1. Leavers lace is a machine made lace named after the machine on which it is made.

2. The mechanical lace machine was originally invented in 1808 by an Englishman named John Heathcote and soon after developed and perfected by John Leavers.

3. To protect industrial secrets the British government banned export of such new machines but in 1816 3 skilled workmen from Nottingham, thought there might be a better future in France and smuggled some machinery to Calais to set up new machine lace workshop.

4. By the 1820’s the new Calais lace workshops were flourishing with 19th century women’s fashions boosting the demand for lace.

5. Originally the machines made tulle or net based lace but the later addition of the jacquard system of perforated cards allowed designs to become integral to the net ground.

6. Leavers looms are large machines weighing between ten and fifteen tons, twelve meters in length and produce the finest most delicate yet complex lace.

7. Today the French Leavers lace trades continue to be centred on Calais and Caudry while the world-famous Nottingham industry has virtually disappeared. A century or so ago around a third of Nottingham’s entire population worked in the lace trade.

8. The Leavers machine works in a way in which threads are twisted together to make lace in the same way as the hand lace makers. The original inventor John Heathcote is said to have spent a great deal of time observing the movement of a lace-maker’s fingers as she worked her tulle network. They have been described as the most complicated textile machines in the world.

Anyone wanting to find out more should take a trip to the centre for lace and fashion in Calais

Leavers lace in the Sally Lacock wedding collection

Of all the fabrics that I use, I love lace the most. I have been enamoured by it from a young age when, I was given a collection of hand made bobbin lace that my great Aunty Mary had made. I am equally fascinated by the history of the French lace that I use in my wedding dress collection, also used by many leading couture houses including Chanel, Dior, and Yves st Laurent.

Jasmine Kimono Style Wedding Dress by Sally Lacock
Our delicate Jasmine kimono style wedding dress uses Leavers lace has a distinct 1970s bohemian feel, with a wrapped front bodice, low V back and lace kimono sleeves.

 

It is an exquisite quality from the north of France called Leavers lace, named after the machine on which it is made.

Leaver’s machines were invented at the beginning of the nineteenth century by a mechanic from Nottingham who came up with the idea after observing the movement of a lace-maker’s fingers as she worked her tulle network.

Sylvie 1950s Tulle Wedding Dress by Sally Lacock
Sylvie, our pretty ballerina style tulle wedding dress is a relaxed, chic, modern interpretation of a 1950s wedding dress featuring Leavers lace.

 

The machine was soon smuggled to France where, with the later addition of a jacquard system, they were able to produce mechanically the exquisite hand-made laces produced in places like Chantilly, Valenciennes, Alencon and Cluny.

Generations of craftsmen have worked the leavers looms weaving delicate lace and gossamer tulle out of several thousand miles of thread using 5000 shuttles and 12 tones of cast iron.

We aim to help keep this tradition alive by continuing to use this lace in our collections.