Abstract: Art and Artifice: The Introduction and Adoption of Machine-Made Lace, 1760–1880

Cai Guise-Richardson


Development of machine-made lace between 1760 and 1880 opened the lace market to the middle class. As imitation lace approached and surpassed the quality of hand-made, it transformed the social meaning of lace. To the extent it was indistinguishable from the "real" thing, machine-made lace became socially acceptable. Middle class women largely accepted machine-made lace as artificial. But for these women, machine-made lace allowed them to appear of higher social status. Between 1830 and 1880 lace was transformed from body jewelry to simple textile as high-quality machine-made forgeries made it impossible to judge a woman's affluence by the quantity and quality of lace on her person. Adaptations to knitting frames and development of twist-net lace machines, around 1800, brought lace to a wider market. By 1840, machine-made lace only differed from "real" in subtle ways. Machine-made laces made a substance associated with the very wealthy available to the middle class. By the 1880s machine-made lace had largely displaced hand-made lace. Increasingly small proportions of lace were hand-made. Regional styles and designs ossified, partially to allow identification of "real" lace. Through successful imitation, mechanization of lace production altered the social meaning of both the "real" and "artificial" product.