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lACE: AN iMPriNt oF tHE PAst Mary iorio ’17


ace—a sheer, patterned textile often used for decoration—has a history that goes back as far as the late fifteenth century.1 Made of thread that is twisted and stitched into a complicated pattern, lace is used for items as varied as veils, clothing ornament, or tablecloths.2 Although lace is still made by hand today using the needle or bobbin method, the introduction of machine-manufactured lace in the nineteenth century transformed the textile’s production.3 the two cyanotype lace samples included in this exhibition probably came from France and were made around 1905; they depict two distinct patterns, one more abstract and the other likely from the Point ground family (figs. 26, 27). these once functional physical remnants of lace are tangible examples of decorating styles from over one hundred years ago and now might be considered art themselves. As photograms, the two prints are one-to-one representations of the lace. to create these cyanotypes, the maker laid the piece of lace on a prepared piece of paper and then placed it into direct sunlight for at least a half an hour. once fully exposed, the paper was removed from the sunlight, the lace pieces were taken off, and the paper was rinsed.4 this process created an imprint of the lace samples directly on the paper. the larger of the two cyanotypes has a lighter blue section that encompasses the major leafand-vine design and a darker blue area below it that records the netting or mesh (fig. 26). the lace represented in the lighter area seems to have been translucent since the paper clearly recorded some light. the area recording the mesh is much darker; it must have been fairly sheer and made up of many small pentagon holes that allowed more light to reach the paper. it is evident that this cyanotype captures only a corner of the piece of lace because the design continues off the left side of the paper. this photogram has a two-dimensional leaf-and-flower arabesque pattern; the vines and leaves weave in and around one another, creating a seemingly endless flowing pattern that is stopped only by the edge of the lighter blue section.

the second lace sample cyanotype has a very different design (fig. 27). it features an interconnected floral pattern that is much less abstract than the design of the first. it also has a greater difference in hues of blue. the areas where the design is almost white indicate a thicker, more densely woven piece. the scalloped design along the bottom of the paper indicates the border of the piece of lace, but the pattern continues beyond the left and right edges of the paper. this second sample may be part of the Point ground family of lace, which is characterized by a light and open design with floral patterns.5 Based on the patterns in both cyanotypes, these samples were probably machine made.6 lace historians have several theories about the function of these cyanotypes. Blueprints of lace have been used as patterns for pricking cards; these are essentially lace templates that have many small holes through which one uses a needle to sew along the pattern.7 this is an unlikely explanation of the use of these cyanotypes because neither has any holes. A more plausible theory is that they were used by a lace manufacturer to record different available patterns and were perhaps pages of a pattern book.8 However, because of the absence of the complete lace pattern, it seems unlikely that they would have been helpful for recording purposes. Close inspection of these cyanotypes reveals many imperfections that reveal their purpose as functional objects created for reference rather than for decoration. For example, in the top right corner of figure 26, the mesh was folded over, creating a rumpled pattern. in addition, the edges of both samples are quite ragged, as though cut without care. the treated paper and lace samples do not even seem to be aligned, which further suggests that they were made in haste. Finally, glitches in the physical paper abound. A few marks and discolorations near the shorter sides of both samples may be residue from an adhesive that was imperfectly applied when the lace was attached to the paper. Both cyanotypes are also heavily

Fig. 26: French, lace sample, about 1905, cyanotype, Worcester Art Museum, sarah C. garver Fund, 2015.45 52

Cyanotypes: Photography’s Blue Period  

Cyanotypes: Photography’s Blue Period Edited by Nancy Kathryn Burns, Assistant Curator of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs Kristina Wilson...