As promised, here’s another vintage trim find from our recent trip to Nancy’s: some French lace in an unusual color called “rose beige”. Isn’t the level of detail incredible? The difference between French cotton lace and modern poly lace is almost past description (almost like they’re two different species), and if you’ve never seen how beautiful the real stuff can be….well, I really hope you can someday.
The lady working in the ribbon room and I got to talking about French lace, since we both love it so much! She told me it’s been made the same way since the late 18th century, on giant looms smuggled across the channel from England. Most of them stopped in Calais, in factories disguised as housefronts. Stealing that kind of technology was a capital offence back then! Ah, the things we do for beauty…
Each loom is run by a single person, who is solely responsible for its upkeep and well-being (read: you don’t touch somebody else’s loom!) And they get ‘handed down’ over generations. Lacemaking is also the only industry in France that still operates under the Napoleonic code!
The looms, she told me, are lubricated with graphite (essentially pencil lead) instead of oil. So when the lace comes off the loom, it’s black, not white! (I was surprised, too.) The workers put it in a shaker for about 48 hours, and that is apparently enough to get most of the graphite off the lace. (The floors are a different story. They’re coated with over 200 years of graphite, and slippery as all get out!)
The workers then tenderly wash, dry, press, and inspect the lace. The ribbon lady told me she’s only found graphite flecks twice in all her many years of dealing with French laces! It’s exquisite. It’s also very heavily subsidized by the French government, which is why you can usually find it for between $5 and $15 per yard. That seems like an absolute steal when you consider the incredible amount of work that goes into each length!