A lace lover's diary

Valenciennes Lace History

valenciennes in the 17th century
Valenciennes is a town in northern France on the Escaut river. The textile industry developped from the middle ages as the flax that gew in the country was one of the best in the world. It has been proved that lace was manufactured in Valenciennes in the early 17th century. One of the first founder of the lace making was Francoise Badar (1624-1677) who was taught the art of lace in Anvers.
VALENCIENNES, part of the ancient province of Hainault, together with Lille and Arras, is French by conquest and treaty The lace fabric was introduced there from Le Quesnoy, one of the towns mentioned in the ordinance of 5th August 1665, which founded on a large scale the manufacture of point de France. Some years before, in 1646, a certain Mlle Francoise Badar had brought from Antwerp some young girls, whom she intended to teach lace-making, and for this purpose she took a house in the Rue de Tournay (now Rue de Lille). She afterwards undertook the direction of several manufactures, among them that of Le Quesnoy, which she left in a prosperous condition on her death in 1677, the date that the town of Valenciennes was taken by Louis XIV.
The lace of Le Quesnoy is never mentioned after Louis XIV., and after that reign Valenciennes comes into notice, but there is no record of the transfer of the fabric. The fond de neige is supposed to be a tradition derived from the workwomen of Le Quesnoy. Valenciennes, from its position as a commercial centre, was well fitted to carry the industry. It reached its climax from 1725 to 1780, when there were from 3,000 to 4,000 lace-makers in the city alone, and the art was largely practised in the country round, to judge by the quantity of fausse Valenciennes
Valenciennes Lace 18th century

Valenciennes was used in "negliges", the trimmings of sheets, pillowcases, nightgowns, nightcaps, for ruffles, for barbes, fichus, and "tours de gorge." Madame du Barry had lappets and pillowcases trimmed with Valenciennes. It was not used as a Church lace, being fine and ineffective.


From 1780 downwards there was less demand for a lace of the quality of Valenciennes, and with the Revolution this, with more than thirty French fabrics, disappeared. In 1800 there were only a few hundred lace-workers within the walls; and in 1851, in spite of the efforts of Napoleon III. to revive the industry, there were only two lace-workers remaining, both upwards of eighty years of age

valenciennes lace insertion

Narrow straight-edged borders of pillow lace were probably made in Valenciennes and in French Flanders in the early seventeenth century consisting of running closely crowded and indefinite designs, with a ground of a series of irregular or rounded holes between short brides; but extant pieces of Valenciennes belong mainly to the reigns of Louis XV. and XVI. In the Louis XV. period and the late eighteenth century, the Flemish character of Valenciennes re-asserts itself in its choice of motifs such as tulips, carnations, and anemones, naturalistically treated and occasionally heavy in outline ; the characteristic clear reseau ground in the subsequent reign occupies much of the place originally destined for the design, but towards 1780 little lace was made, and the disappearance of ruffles from the masculine costume added greatly to the depression. Among Empire pieces is a curious specimen once in the possession of M. Dupont Auberville, representing Napoleon I. as an equestrian Cassar facing the Empress Josephine; while the Imperial arms, flanked at the base by cannons and flags, appear between the two.
In Valenciennes, unlike Brussels and Milanese pillow lace, the ground is worked at the same time as the pattern, that is to say, threads are brought out from the pattern to form the reseau and carried back into the pattern, so that the threads do not follow the lines of the ornament, as they do in all pillow laces where the ornament or toile is made separately. The Valenciennes method thus requires an enormous number of pins, because each thread must be kept in place until the whole width of the pattern is worked. Like Mechlin, the ground went through various modifications including the fond de neige already noticed as accompanying early scroll patterns before the reseau was finally fixed. Several of these ornamental grounds are used in various portions of the design where two or three varieties can be counted, which are much thicker and closer in effect than the characteristic Valenciennes reseau. In this ground each side of its mesh, which is more diamond than hexagon in shape, is formed of four threads plaited together. The clearly marked hexagonal mesh of the Mechlin reseau is also formed of four threads, but only two of its sides are plaited, the other four being twisted.

Fancy grounds were produced side by side with the above-described mesh until late in the eighteenth century. When their grounds were thus mixed and varied, such laces, although their patterns are almost identically the same as those of Valenciennes with the pure reseau, are termed " fausses Valenciennes." This has been taken to mean that these laces were made in the neighbourhood of the town of Valenciennes, in Hainault, and elsewhere, not in Valenciennes itself, where the simple distinctive reseau alone was used.

A legend has arisen about vraie ' Valenciennes." In support of the theory that the " true" lace was only made in the town itself, M. Dieudonne wrote : "This beautiful manufacture is so inherent in the place that it is an established fact that if a piece of lace were begun at Valenciennes and finished outside the walls, the part which had not been made at Valenciennes would be visibly less beautiful and less perfect than the other, though continued by the same lace-maker with the same thread on the same pillow." M. Dieudonne attributed it to the influence of the atmosphere.

valenciennes Lappet
" All by the same hand " we find entered in the bills of the lace-sellers of the time. The superiority of the city-made lace no doubt depended largely on the fact that it was made in underground cellars, in which the dampness of the air affected the "tension "of the very fine thread in use. In a drier atmosphere outside the walls, a different result would be obtained, even by the same workwoman, with the same cushion and thread, though it is doubtful whether the experiment has ever been actually tried.! The necessity for a humid atmosphere was recognised early in the eighteenth century
A fabric collector diary