Lacis

Lady Cecilia Bartoletti





fig 1

Figure 1  undarned buratto

Lacis is a lacemaking form where the foundation – and in some cases, the entire decoration – is netting. There were three forms of lacis extant in period: mondano, buratto, and mezza mandolina.

Buratto consists of a woven mesh, upon which the darning patterns have been worked. An experienced weaver can produce this mesh, which involves two weft threads twisting around each other as they pass along the warp. Buratto appeared later in period as a separate lace form, and was not as widely used as the other incarnations.

Mondano is the same as buratto. But, instead of a woven ground, mondano has a knotted ground. This is the one that mostly closely resembles fishing net. Again, it is darned with decorative patterns. This appears to be the most common form of lacis until the end of period.

Mezza mandolina is the netting process of mondano, only with increases, decreases, joins, different sized meshes, and spirals to make the pattern. Sometimes it is darned, but usually it isn’t .

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Figure 2  darned mondano; note the knots at each crossing of the foundation mesh.

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Figure 3  mezza mandolina, darned


HISTORY OF LACIS

How long has lacis been around? Well, fishnet itself has been around since ancient times. Examples of what we would name mezza mandolina have been found entombed with Egyptian mummies[1].

In period, examples of plain and darned mondano – used in hairnets – has been found, dating to the first decades of the 14th century.[2] That predates reticella – the second oldest lacemaking form – by more than a century. The Ancrin Riwle (a novice nun’s “handbook”, published 1301), names it specifically, admonishing the novices not to spend all their time netting, when they could be attending to charitable works.[3]

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Figure 4  painting of an unknown woman, Montemezano, 1550's

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Figure 5  16th century tablecloth, with cutwork, and lacis darned with figures and portraits

Throughout period, lacis kept turning up; mondano was widely used to decorate altar linens and ecclesiastical garments, furniture cushions, and table linens. Later in period, all three incarnations turned up on clothing. Queen Elizabeth possessed dozens of pieces of “networke” (as all three forms were commonly called), which decorated or completely covered partlets, foreparts, doublets, overskirts, loose gowns, veils, and cloaks.[4]

The art appears to have lost much of its popularity in the seventeenth century, perhaps to the less costly bobbin lace. But it enjoyed a renewed vigor during the Victorian Age, and has not entirely died out since then. Certainly the patterns have survived, many of them being carried over into embroidery patterns and filet crochet (which is a 19th century cousin of the art).

TOOLS

Lacis requires only the simplest of tools: a gauge, a shuttle, and an anchor.

The anchor is just what its name describes: a firm anchor for your work, strong enough to survive being tugged on repeatedly. Netting poles have been depicted in period paintings: an upright stick 3-4 feet tall, notched at the head, and with a small base at the bottom to offer stability . The thread is caught on the notch, and acts as an anchor for the work.

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Figure 6  period painting depicting girl using a netting pole

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Figure 8  Top: a standard, purchased shuttle; bottom: a homemade shuttle of shishkebob skewers taped together

The shuttle is essentially the same sort of shuttle that you would find on a loom, only much smaller. Its purpose is the same as well: to carry a volume of thread through the netting process.

The mesh gauge is what the thread goes around, to make the mesh shape. It is the most crucial and important piece of equipment; the gauge is what will determine the size of the mesh. The larger your mesh gauge, the larger your mesh. It’s a stick! Any stick. If it’s smooth, straight, and long enough to hold comfortably in the hand, it’s a potential mesh gauge. Generally, I prefer brass rod stock or wooden dowels, as both are smooth, straight, and can be purchased in clearly defined sizes.

fig 7

Figure 7  a variety of mesh gauges, from top to bottom: a lollipop stick, a pencil, a purchased plastic gauge, a wooden dowel, a knitting needle, a homemade metal rod, and a tatting needle


THE PROCESS

Step One: Take the gauge in your left hand, as shown in the picture. It should be held gently, as though it were a fork or a pencil in your hand. Take up the shuttle in your right hand, and guide the trailing thread -- which is tied to your anchor loop -- over the top of the mesh gauge, pulling until the anchor loop knot is resting against the gauge. You can put your left thumb on that knot for stability, if it is comfortable.

fig 9b

Figure 9b  Step One

fig 9a

Figure 9a  Step One

Step Two: Your left hand is going to be the heddle of a loom. To do that, open your finger slightly, taking care not to drop the mesh gauge. Follow figure 10 to make your shed: guide the thread down to the ring finger, then back up behind and up to the index finger, where the thread goes over and falls behind to your pinkie. Loop the thread once around your pinkie.

fig 10

Figure 10  Step Two

Step Three: Guide the shuttle behind the mesh gauge (be careful of your trailing tail; it has to go behind as well), but over all of your shed. Put the shuttle through the anchor loop, and pull it through. Then put it through the loop on your index finger, and pull it through. Bring the shuttle back toward you, until the trailing thread is lying on top of the mesh gauge again.

fig 11b

Figure 11b  Step Three

fig 11a

Figure 11a  Step Three

Step Four: Throughout this step, you should be pulling steadily and gently on the shuttle thread. There's no need to jerk on the thread, or to pull it so tight that your fingers are strangled; you're only taking up the slack.

Carefully pull your middle and ring fingers out of the shed, and gently take up the slack. the thread should now close around the mesh gauge, in a loop. When the slack is drawn up, drop the loop on your index finger. Again, take up the slack.

Now drop the pinkie loop. Very gently draw up the slack until the knot closes. Give it a GENTLE tug, to set the knot firmly.

fig 11c

Figure 11c  Step Four

Square vs. Diagonal Mesh

All mesh is worked on the diagonal, including square mesh. To make diagonal mesh, you merely cast on the number of stitches it takes to create the piece you want, then work them until it’s the correct length.

There is one little trick to diagonal mesh that is not obvious while you're working it. That is, it is only half as long as it is wide. That means, to make a square that is six inches by six inches, you may cast on 30 stitches (depending on your mesh gauge). But you will have to work 60 rows in order to get a mesh that is the same length on all sides.

To make a square piece, it’s a little more complicated. You start at a corner, work outward to the widest point, and then shrink back down to the opposite corner.

Cast on two stitches into your anchor loop. Turn and work the second row, increasing once on the last stitch. Turn and do the next row, and increase again. Continue like that, working one increase at the end of each row, until your side is the size/mesh-count that you want. On that last row (the one that completes your mesh count), do NOT increase on the last stitch. Just stop at the end, turn, and start the next row.

On that next row, instead of increasing on the last stitch, you decrease instead. Now you go as before, decreasing at the end of each row, until you're back down to only two completes stitches on the mesh gauge.

Turn and decrease again, combining these last two stitches. BUT! Before you begin closing the knot, and without dropping your shed, pull the mesh gauge OUT of the stitch, and lay it aside (this may need a third hand, until you're used to it). Then close your knot the same as before, but with no loop forming. Cut the trailing thread free.

Instead of cutting the anchor loop and pulling it out, you're going to cut it, and tie a firm knot against your cast on stitches. Then trim the trailing threads, and you're done.

To do a rectangular mesh -- like an edging -- the technique is the same. The only difference is that your increases and decreases don't coincide. You'll be decreasing along one edge (for as long as it takes to get your desired length), while still increasing along the other edge. When you get to the end, change your increases to decreases (leaving the original decreases as decreases), until that last corner closes, then finish as before.

Increases/Decreases

There are times, obviously, when you want to change the number of stitches on the row. Decreasing is simple: instead of catching only one mesh when you’re making a knot, you catch two meshes instead.

There are two ways to do increases. The most simple is merely to reverse the decrease: make two stitches in the same mesh. The increased mesh tends to collapse onto itself, and become a little line.

There is a second method that also works. In that, you carry the extra stitch up into the previous row, as shown in the picture.

Both methods work, and both are useful. The second method is great for increases in the body of plain mesh, where you don’t want any changes to be obvious. But the first method is perfect for certain kinds of mezza (tumbling blocks, for instance), and at the ends of rows of square mesh, where you may want those stitches to collapse.

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Figure 12  increasing, using second method.

Stretching and Darning

Once a mesh has been made, it may be decorated. But first it must be stretched, to give square lacis its square shape, and to give a firm working foundation for both square and diagonal mesh.

I have seen no period books that describe how the stretching process was managed. If forced to hazard a guess, I would imagine that they pinned it down to a firm pillow, or stretched it in a frame; both these techniques were known in the 19th century, certainly, and have survived into the present day.

For my own work, while I’ve used a polystyrene “pillow” for small or irregularly shaped pieces of lace, I prefer using canvas stretching frames, the kind used by painters and artists. They are cheap, reusable, come in many sizes, and can be mixed and matched to form a number of different squares and rectangles. Stretching a piece in the frame is simplicity itself: merely use an overhand “stitch” between the frame and the edge of the lace, until the lace is drawn into its proper shape, and tight in the frame. The mesh is surprisingly resilient; it can survive being drawn drumhead-tight, without any apparent ill effects.

Stretching lace on a pillow is the same basic process. Only instead of thread holding the mesh stretched tight, pins are spaced along the mesh’s edge. The primary difficulty in using the pillow is not in the stretching process itself; but the pillow’s presence makes accessing the mesh from behind difficult. This makes some of the darning stitches difficult to do.

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Figure 13  diagram of stretching process.

Darning

Once the mesh has been stretched it the frame or on the pillow, then it must be darned. This is done simply enough, with needle and thread. Several stitches can be firmly documented in period: cloth stitch, interlock stitch, and leaf stitch are prevalent, with cloth stitch being the most common.

Cloth stitch (sometimes called Linen stitch) is basically weaving of the darning thread through the mesh. In this one, the darning thread (usually only two or three passes) is carried through the involved meshes. Then a turn is made at one corner, and the Darning stitch is done at right angles, with the thread interweaving between not only the mesh edges, but the stitches you've already carried through that mesh. The effect is that of woven cloth.[5] While it sounds like the antithesis of lace, it creates a very striking and beautiful effect.

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Figure 15  period example of cloth stitch.

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Figure 14  cloth stitch

Interlock stitch, while less common than the Cloth stitch, is also period. It is a stretched out buttonhole stitch, that turns back on itself at the end of each row. Anchor the thread on the side of a mesh that is to be filled with interlock stitch. Then, carry the thread up to the first cross thread. Carry the thread to the next square, and across, until you have entered a loose buttonhole-stitch-type loop in each square. Then, you carry another loose buttonhole stitch to the lefthand upright of the mesh.

Finally, you begin to work back toward where you started, again, doing a loose buttonhole stitch in the bottom of the mesh. But, where it crosses into the next square, you pass behind the mesh thread, looping with the first threads. Continue like that until you have gotten back to where you started. If you’ve done it correctly, then it will look like a little star or flower is centered, more or less, in each affected mesh.[6]

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Figure 17  diagram of interlock stitch

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Figure 16  a period pattern, illustrating the use of Interlock Stitch



Leaf Stitch is one of the rarer stitches to be seen in period. It is accomplished by looping thread between two points on the mesh, and then weaving the rest of the thread around that loop, until a leaf shape is formed.

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Figure 18  diagram of Leaf stitch, drawn from a 1912 German netting pattern book.

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Figure 19  16th century selfportrait of Lavinia Fontana; note the partlet with a leafstitch darning design



[1]“Perth Parliament House Excavation” archaeological report, 1977, N. Q. Bodgan, Dr. H. Bennett and Dr. P. Z. Dransart, with Dr. M. L. Ryder

[2]BOGDAN, Nicholas Q. "The Textiles." In The Perth High Street Archaeological Excavation: 1975-77, Scottish Development Department.

[3]Ancrin Riwle (Nun’s Rules), 13th century, “ne makie none purses... ne laz bu leave and schepied and dwouwed and amended cherche closes, and pour monne clodes”

[4]New Year’s Gifts to the Queen, http://geocities.com/karen_larsdatter/gifts/1599-1600.htm

[5]Ricci, Elisa, Old Italian Lace, Volume 1

[6]Singulairs et Nouveaux Portraicts by Federico Vinciolo, 1587.



Last updated: 7/9/2006