Mary Corbet

writer and founder


I learned to embroider when I was a kid, when everyone was really into cross stitch (remember the '80s?). Eventually, I migrated to surface embroidery, teaching myself with whatever I could get my hands on...read more

Contact Mary

Connect with Mary



2024 (39) 2023 (125) 2022 (136) 2021 (130) 2020 (132) 2019 (147) 2018 (146) 2017 (169) 2016 (147) 2015 (246) 2014 (294) 2013 (294) 2012 (305) 2011 (306) 2010 (316) 2009 (367) 2008 (352) 2007 (225) 2006 (139)

Another Mystery: Hand Made Lace – What is It?


Amazon Books

The other day, I posted photos of a mystery stitch, and received some really good response from readers who offered a variety of ways to construct the unknown stitch. Today, I’ve got a couple pictures of a hand-made lace, and knowing that many of you are very knowledgeable about lace of various types, I thought I’d post the photos and see if you can come up with the type of lace, or perhaps determine the techniques involved in making pieces that look like this.

The photos come from a reader who recently visited an exhibit at the Utah Quilt Guild museum. They had a display on lace, with various types of lace exhibited and named. They called these two samples “Mystery Lace,” as they didn’t recognize the type, with a request for any information. The visitor took photos and sent them on to me, and I thought it would be fun to send them on to you! I’m no lace expert, that’s for sure!

Hand-Made Lace Mystery

If you click on the image above, you’ll see a larger photo, so hopefully the details will be a little clearer.

I’m pretty certain those center flowers on the above piece are appliquéd over the ground.

Hand-Made Lace Mystery

Again, click on the photo for a larger image.

Crochet? Knit? Hand-made net? Needle lace flowers? I don’t know! The only two points I’m sure of: it’s made by hand, and the center flowers in the first photo are appliquéd onto the ground, not stitched as part of the ground.

What about you? Any clues? Or do you happen to know of any lace that has a similar look?

Another question that happens to pop into my head is this one: why the strange shape? This isn’t a standard “doily” shape – it’s not round or oval, square or rectangular. It’s a rather odd shape, isn’t it? Any musings on why?

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the above! Feel free to comment below if you have any thoughts, insights, comments, suggestions…..

And now, I’m off to work – out to the workroom, where it is quiet and cool and I’m pondering Big Things and little things. Literally! I’ll show you the difference tomorrow! And later this week, I’ll give you a sneak peek (very sneak) at my upcoming online class project.

Enjoy your day!


Leave A Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


(68) Comments

  1. I know nothing about lace but I can imagine seeing this on a sweet little corner table in the foyer. I have a table similar to that being kind of a triangle shape instead of the usual oval, square or rectangle.

  2. I’ve no idea what kind od lace it is – perhaps Jeanine in Canada knows…
    The shape reminds me some crochet pieces i used to see at my grandparents home and at my parents home as well – they were used to protect the settees at the height of ones’ heads – can you understand? – i don’t know how to say it better.
    My sisters and I still have the settees of our parents made with velvet (very good velvet!!!) and they always had those kind of pieces not too large – but I’m not sure what you show are the same.

  3. I think that the photos are of two sides of a tea cosey in unmade form….flat bottom edge and a domed top to go over a quilted pad which in turn would cover a teapot and keep the pot warm. I have a large collection of antique and vintage linens/needlework and have several rather similar.

    I tried magnifiying the phot but you just lose resolution…but the flowers look like they might be needlelace and the background could be knitted lace…difficult to tell without more in depth photos. Good luck…I look forward to the answer.

  4. Looks like needle lace to me – very fine. Piecework had a lace edging article this issue and some of it looks similar.

    The word “Xmas” helps since we can tell how it was displayed. Can tell top from bottom.

    Elaine in New Mexico

  5. I agree that the background looks knitted, although I,too, wish I could enlarge it more. Is the word XMAS used much in the USA? It is very, very common in Britain. Could this be a British piece, the tea cosy idea would work well then!

  6. Dear Mary , I am sure it is a piece of very fine crochet work. It consist mainly of chain and double crochet stitches,( Eng. term treble ) Most likely done in no. 60 or even finer crotchet cotton and a .60 mm needle. The flowers are first started by forming a ring and then the petals are done separately.
    Regards Elza Cape Town.

  7. Dear Mary Another point the type of crotchet used for the flowers is very similar to Irish crocthet. Elza Cape Town xx

  8. To the person who wondered if we use the word Xmas much in the USA – we do.

    The X stands for the Greek letter Chi. When I was in Catholic school in the 1950’s we were forbidden to use that spelling because, “it took the Christ out of Christmas.” In fact some child was punished for writing it that way. Of course that is not true at all because Chi is a well used symbol for Christ. Chi + mas = Christmas and is quite reverent.

    I guess I am just getting old and remembering!

    Elaine in New Mexico

  9. It seems to me that the flowers are needlelace.
    The rest of the piece maybe a type of embroidered net, although it exists the possibility of crochet.
    The flowers is an appliquée.
    A closest view of the picture would give definitely an accurate reply to the mistery.
    Carolina de la Guardia. Barcelona (Spain)

  10. I agree that they are antimacassars, and possibly shaped to echo the top edge of a chair. Remembering the very fine steel crochet hooks that my mother had, (I’m 62) I also think that it is crochet. She used a very fine thread to crochet lace on linen handkerchiefs. I wonder if the center rings of the flowers are thread, bone, or plastic. I remember seeing the term “Xmas” as a child, but it was considered inappropriate in my Pennsylvania Catholic neighborhood.

  11. I’m pretty certain this is either Armenian needle lace or Turkish Igne Oya. Both are a type of knotted lace done with needle & thread.

  12. It looks like it has been knitted, but it is hard to tell without actually seeing it. I have a couple of examples of knitted lace from the PA Amish community and my mother knits lace patterned baby afghans for family baptisms and the twist of the yarn looks as if it could be knitted. I can tell it is not tatted nor does it look crocheted, but the rest is still a mystery. The shape reminds me of a house and these shapes could be used as door signs or wall hangings to welcome people into a home. Do you know how old these pieces are or how they happened to end up in Utah in a museum? This would also give us a clue.

  13. I believe this is the work of someone in the beginning stages of learning several techniques wrapped into one piece. The odd shapes make me think that they were geared to being a split doily/center piece/table runner. The stitches in there is a variation to the button hole stitch. The flowers in the center are indeed applied to the ground. The ground looks to have been a very open button hole stitch or two button hole stitches with the same spacing (the enlargement wasn’t too helpful to tell for sure). The edge flowers and the center flowers were made separate in a needle made lace fashion. The two holes on the petals appear to be a part of the star pattern to create eyelets.

    That is what I think 🙂 I can be very off on this, but looking at my needle lace references…. this looks like something I would make while learning and being useful finished piece.

  14. I appears to me to be based on Irish Crochet. I have seen all the elements before, but maybe not put together in exactly this way or for this item (tea cozy???). I love a good mystery!! And the comments always reveal so much MORE information! thanks everyone.

  15. I’m not sure what it is. Maybe silk knitting? I was online in the Antique Pattern Library site and saw things that looked kind of like this. It’ll be intersting to read the posts and see if we can find out.

  16. I believe it’s an antimacassar, placed on the top of a chair or sofa to keep from getting greasy hair pomade off the surface.

    I’m not a knitter, but my first thought is that it must be knitted. Maybe in a “cable” stitch to create the vertical lines??

  17. After reading the other posts, the decoration at the back of a chair makes lots of sense. I still think that it is knitted thread lace and not crocheted. These patterns are very rare if it is knitted. I have only found a few as I have traveled around the country, and many people have told me you can’t knit thread like you can crochet it, even though I have examples of knitted thread doilies. Thanks for sharing this piece.

  18. I was also thinking that it may be from across the pond. Because Americans tend to say “Merry Xmas”, instead of “Happy Xmas”.

  19. I’m voting for needlelace, especially for the flowers. Isn’t there a technique very similar to that used in making fishing nets but on a hugely smaller scale to make netting for needlework? The center reminds me of that type of netting.

  20. From these photographs -which are not as clear as they could be especially when magnified- I think the flowers are probably needle lace, while the body is bobbin lace including a cat stitch edge all the way round. The shape could denote a tea cosy, but I have also seen this shape on the shoulders of 1920-1935 dresses and blouses. However, I have not seen those with non-mirrored patterns.

  21. PS. Why has one piece flowers all the way around while the other -with Happy Christmas on it- has only got flowers top and bottom?

  22. The flowers and leaves are neither crochet nor are they knit. They’re needle lace. The mat part could be bobbin lace. If it’s a tea cozy….it’s a very lacy and not very “cozy” one…. more for looks than to keep tea warm. But the shape is appropriate for a tea pot.

  23. I knit, crochet, do bobbin and needle lace. It sure looks like crochet to me, but without a closer look, I can’t be 100% sure. The strange shape reminds me of an antimacassars. I have a book from my grandmother that has many antimacassars this shape, but the letters would be “upside down” as the point usually points downward. I like the tea cosy idea.

  24. About the lace:
    Unless I miss my guess this is a fine example of handmade net and needle lace. Much like the lace used in Catherine Middleton’s wedding dress. It is known as Carrickmacross lace The flowers would have been made on a fine “discard” net or fine muslin outlined first and then filled in using lifted detached button hole stitch. The motifs are then cut away from the background and sewn to the fabric or net of the garment.
    I recommend the Elizabethan Embroidery by Dorothy Clarke ISBN 0-473-03634-7 (there are at least three other volumes in the series with excellent photos and instructions). For lace references: Needle-made Laces and Net Embroideries :Doris Campbell Preston ISBN 0 486 24708 2. Hope this helps!

  25. I think the background is English cotton netting. The small edging looks like crochet and the flowers and center motif are needle lace. The floral motif in the center seems to be applique.
    My first thought was that the background could have been lace tape joined together but when I saw the Christmas one I realized it was netting. Diane

  26. Me again………about the edge and the shape. I agree that it is likely an anti-macassar. It looks to me like the edge is also worked with a needle rather than crocheted.

    I don’t know why the last reference for the lace book came out with a happy face! The author is Doris Campbell Preston, but I am sure she is or was a very happy lady at any rate.

    I’m also guessing that anyone with British based heritage or education would have used the form “Merry Christmas”. As well I would think that a needleworker would be inclined to use the full expression rather than colloquial – but hey! that’s Canadian me!

  27. This looks to me very like Irish Crochet Lace

    I have a book by Eithne D’Arcy which shows

    little motifs,worked and then applied to a

    background,or attached to an edge.

    This looks very much like Irish Crochet Lace

  28. I am a member of the Ottawa Lace Guild abd have taught needlepoint lace or needle-lace often. The appliqued flowers and the flowers on the circumference are needle-lace, but I cannot be certain of the ground technique as the details are not clear enough.

  29. G’day Mary, I know nuzzing except that the mind boggles!
    Very interested in the items and every comment though.
    Cheers, Kath

  30. Maybe “happy x-mas” is the only Christmas greeting the needleworker could fit into the space with the font she chose to use?


    Every time I see such beautiful thing that we can make with our own hands I feel like a child in amazed and tickled wonderment. Seriously.

    I love the pretty hand made things that you show us.

    I wan’t to have a needleworkers technique library. I wish I was rich and could buy all of the books right now, and I wish I could read and retain all the information with super speed.

    I wish I had more hands that could stitch at lightening speed to create my own museum that I could display all throughout my home so I could take it all in.

    Boy I do sound like a little kid, a nearly 36 year old little kid!


    It is kindof fun to feel that way sometimes.

  31. It’s not tatted. Tatting is too tight and firm. This is softer looking.
    Tatting is a really sharp well defined project.
    Just a thought

  32. I feel I’m stating the obvious – the piece look like needle lace/netting, and the traditions that come to mind are Armenian, Turkish oya as mentioned in a previous post, or a Swedish version but I can’t remember the Swedish name for it. I’m sure these possibilities were already investigated by the guild. What stood out to me was the phrase Happy Xmas – not a standard sentiment – but perhaps it refers to the John Lennon song, “Happy Xmas (War is Over)” that was in protest of the Vietnam War.

  33. Found the name for what I thought was Swedish needle lace – it’s actually Danish and called Hedebo. It often involves cutwork, too, so I now doubt that’s what this is. I think Tess made an excellent guess at its purpose – a tea cozy.

  34. Several people have mentioned crochet or knitted lace but it is neither. When you enlarge it, you can see it does not have the markings of either technique though it may seem so at first glance. It’s some kind of needle lace but there are 12 different categories of needle lace so I can’t tell you which one. The photo does not really enlarge enough to get the details needed for identification of the type of needle lace. The flowers have the outline which is common in most needlelaces and the base pieces appears to be strips with solid areas and some woven – but the woven could easily be needleweaving that holds the solid strips together. Or it could be a heavy net with the solid areas embroidered over it. The words Happy Xmas are stitched over it so I would lean towards it being some kind of net ground.

    It does remind me of the shape of a tea cozy but would not be practical for that unless it were meant to be appliqued to cloth. It may have fit on a corner shelf or a table top, made to accommodate the shape.

    Interesting piece and fun to speculate about.

  35. Mary–Thanks for posting pictures of such charming lace! I see that several lacemakers have posted answers to your question. And another in the UK sent me a private email suggesting needlelace, Aemelia Ars or similar. I have no clue myself, but may I suggest that the next time the museum moves this item in the exhibit that they take some extra time & put it on their scanner, then re-post the pics with you. Most scanned images have more detail & that could help solve this lovely mystery.

  36. Re: #37 From Mary
    Hello and how would I get in touch with your Guild? In a perfect world, I would like to get in touch with and Ontario/Toronto Guild.

    Can you help?

    I still say the whole thing is needle lace with hand made netting.
    It sure is fun to see all the wonderful suggestions and to learn of new previously unheard of skills!
    Cheers to all!

  37. Re: #37 From Mary
    Hello and how would I get in touch with your Guild? In a perfect world, I would like to get in touch with an Ontario/Toronto Guild.

    Can you help?

    I still say the whole thing is needle lace with hand made netting.
    It sure is fun to see all the wonderful suggestions and to learn of new previously unheard of skills!
    Cheers to all!

  38. Well I’ll be a dull needle!~ I looked at both photos at least three separate times and only just now did I see that it does indeed say “Happy Xmas”. Hours and several posts later. Maybe my trip to the gym revv’ed up a couple more synapses!

    Thus, perpend………….. I agree that the worker probably ran out of space or………designed it that way to make it fit the field?!
    Good evening all!

  39. Looks like Armenian needlelace, but a modern take off. It is not in the traditional shape of a circle or oval.
    Sheryl De Jong

  40. Mary
    I think this lace is a “chemical lace”, made by embroidering by machine in cotton thread on a synthetic fabric. The embroidered fabric is dissolved in some kind of acid and only the cotton embroiderying is left. This kind typically has a fuzzy looking character to it. I can’t be certain because the photo isn’t in sufficient detail or clarity.

  41. I choose not to comment on the construction of this item, but I would agree with the tea-cosy shape, as I have seen many patterns this shape for for padded tea cosy’s – the cosy goes over the whole pot, and is removed for pouring.

  42. My vote is — that I wish we had better pictures (I’m not criticizing the photographer in any way in the sense that they’re lovely images of lovely lace, which is what most photographers would want to provide first and foremost!) but they’re clearly not intended to depict the various features that make different kinds of lace distinct.

    My first guess on the lace ground is that it’s knit lace, using needles that are as fine as sewing needles. I have a set that were marketed for a machine embroidery technique, but I bought them for lace knitting and I’ve used thread a bit finer than sewing thread for simple yarn over/decrease patterns that look very similar.

    My guess is that the ornaments are a form of needle lace, but whether or not they include tape lace (it looks like some form of tape was used in a few places) is hard to tell from the pictures.

    If I could get near enough such a gorgeous set, I would love to include a coin next to various features for scale and to show both its facility for both drape and cross- and length-wise stretch (knit lace stretches much more than any other type, for example).

    I am in complete agreement (without knowledge of scale) that it looks like it was intended to be a tea cosy, and from the sentiment, my guess is that it was intended to be appliqued to some luxurious, heavier cloth (think of some of the gorgeous tea cosies in Inspirations, for example) and given as a Christmas gift. I’m also guessing that it was likely to have been American as the term “Happy Christmas” was fashionable among Temperance ladies who objected to the alcohol-induced enjoyment of the holiday that the term “Merry Christmas” was thought to embody!

    And, just to prove that I have a strange sense of humor, according to my older ancestors, the word doily was originally just a more genteel way of referring to an anti-macassar. It seems that the term began by being spelled “d’oily” and the apostrophe was later dropped. About the same time, the delicate fripperies began to migrate to the arm rests of chairs and settees (for the same reasons of ease of laundry) and they finally made it to all sorts of places where they just “looked pretty.”

  43. I am sure that the ground fabric is netting, possibly cotton. From the distortion around the vertical lines I think that the lines have been made using some sort of simple pulled stitch. I think the lettering is a form of satin stitch.

    the edging looks like another pulled stitch but the little loops resemble crochet.

    On first look I thought that the flowers were needlelace but the edges look a bit soft. Perhaps a very fine crochet as well?

    All in all there is a combination of techniques in these pieces.

  44. I think the background is crochet -chain,shell and crossed treble stitches.Am not sure about the flowers ,must be either needle lace or knitting.

  45. my mother in law used to make a crochet lace with hair pins in the shape of a “U” taking the thread around the legs of the “U”and using a tatting needle she would go on tatting stripes of lace then she would join all these strips with tatting and it would look a lot like this lace of course the flowers around would be a needle woven lace to me.

  46. well, I also am a bobbin lacemaker, have just started needlelace too, crochet and tat. I can say it isnt tatting, but like others, I cant see the fine detail. I’m on a couple of lace chat groups, I could ask them, but obviously I dont have permission to give them the photos.

    hope someone knows
    Julie in Australia

  47. At first glance it looks like chemical lace to me. Someone may have added the flower sprig to a commercially available product.

  48. Mary,
    I am not sure of the process for production but they look like the shaped d’oilies that my grandmother used to protect the arms of her upholstered chairs and couches. The straight bit would be at the back and the curved bit would be at the front of the arm of the furniture.

  49. in my comment…i have wrongly mentioned Tatting…i meant to say joining the strips with crochet instead i have written tatting and have confused my comment. its definitely not tatting. sorry for confusing.

  50. Hello everybody and thank you for all the wonderful help. I apologize about the picture quality, the camera was almost dead and the rest of my family was anxious to leave. Neither I nor the museum knows how old it is, sorry. I can help out with the questions regarding size, though. Both the pieces are the same size, about 1 foot from the bottom to the tip of the point and maybe 14 of 15 inches across. Hope this helps!

  51. It is crochet no doubt. Crocheted with thin thread. I used to do like this for my daughter for blouse sleeves. I can copy the pattern in small scale and can email photo next month

    1. Thanks, everyone, for your thought-provoking responses to this! It’s interesting, to hear everyone’s take on the technique.

      I can’t add anything, really, to what’s already been said. Without seeing a piece up close and being able to handle it and inspect it, it’s difficult to know exactly what was done to create it. But there’s a heap of good insight here, and I really enjoyed reading all of your responses!

      Bhagyasri – I would love to see photos! If you ever get a chance, do send some! That would be enlightening!

      I’m inclined towards the antimassacar idea for the use of the pieces… my mother suggested the same thing. And you know what they say – mom is always right! She comes from the age of antimassacars, and tends to think this was a common shape for them.

  52. Is there a video to show needle lace making flowers? I bought the book, but can not make the knots on the thread in left hand.

  53. Dear Mary, the lace in the article above is what I call Bibila Lace because I am Greek. If I were Turkish it would be Oya. If I were Armenian it would be Armenian knotted lace. If I were Palestinian it would be Palestinian lace. Finally, I have seen a more resent name for this lace Mediterranean Knotted Lace. It’s oldest name is Phoenician Lace. It is the oldest form of lace dating back to the Phoenicians and it is made by the simplest supplies of thread (I have seen it done even with sewing thread)and your basic sewing needle. I know what I’m talking about because I do this lace. Many of the suggestions are just that. If you need more information I can provide more.
    Best regards,

More Comments