Wednesday 22 May 2013

The Calais Museum of Lace and Fashion

Late 16th century lace
I spent last weekend in France and made a visit to the excellent Calais museum on the history of lace, the Cite Internationale de la Dentelle et de la Mode de Calais. Calais is to French lace what Nottingham is to English lace, the place that saw the mechanisation of lace-making; in fact many of the machines in the Calais museum were made in Nottingham.

1630s lace
The museum is extremely well laid out and easy to follow, even if you don’t speak French very well, just remember dentelle a fuseaux is bobbin lace, and dentelle a l’aiguille is needle lace, most labels are in both languages. The museum starts with two short videos, side by side, of the two techniques. The creation of a small leaf motif in needle lace is shown from start to finish, as is the creation of a narrow piece of bobbin lace.
Mid 17th century
There is some beautiful reticella work, and examples of 16th and 17th century bobbin and needle made laces. One thing I particularly liked was the way in which they placed an image of someone wearing lace with original  lace of a similar design, as in the examples I show here.
The museum concentrates on the history of lace in France, so there is much Alencon, Argentan, Chantilly, etc., but there are also Flemish and Italian laces in the collection.
Late 17th century
18th century
Later on, when you get into the 18th century, the museum has original garments to add to the display of lace, and by the time you reach the mechanisation of lace in the 19th century they are putting together lace, clothing and illustrations from paintings, fashion magazines and photographs. The Calais lace industry supposedly started after the Napoleonic Wars, when in 1816 a Nottingham lace maker, Robert Webster, supposedly smuggled a lace machine into France.

The twentieth century gallery contains a collection of both underwear, and garments that include lace in their design. The couturiers represented include Paquin, Paco Rabane, Yves St. Laurent, and many others.

Display of bits of the lace making machines
The way in which the machinery that produced the machine made lace is also well displayed, as can be seen in the photo. Upstairs there is a whole floor of machines five of which are in working order, and they use them to demonstrate two or three times a day. The museum is in an old lace warehouse, though you would never know it to look at the outside, which is thoroughly modern.

Finally a very Joseph Wright of Derby style photo of left to right, Ann, Garth, myself and Graham, examining a case of 17th century lace.

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