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One of the oldest forms of lace making is filet lace, also called net lace, darned net lace or lacis. The origins of this form of lacemaking go back to the use of nets to catch fish and hunt small game by primitive man.  Somewhere along the line someone thought of making the same netting of finer thread, and filet lace was born. Archeological accounts indicate that the State robes of Egyptian kings in 2130 BC were described as ornamented by a net of colored silks, so this is an ancient craft.  During the Middle Ages lacis came into general use and filet lace became popular, especially among the nobility of France and Italy.

In its purest form the netting is hand-made as well as the lace, but netting may be purchased if preferred.  At the end of this article I will list some resources for tools, supplies and instructions. 

If you make the net yourself, it may be a tiresome and tedious process, working the netting back and forth without any pattern.  The net is then stretched on a frame and the pattern is embroidered on the net ground.

The net ground may be made of fairly fine threads describing small holes, a lot like tulle.  The pattern is needle-woven in and among the ground threads in plain weave (over one, under one), using a thread that matches the ground in size, fiber, and colour.  It gives the (false) impression that the pattern was worked at the same time the netting was made.  It's simple and very nice.

For making net ground, you need a netting shuttle (different than a tatting shuttle) and a sort of spacer bar to get all the bits even.  The lace suppliers sell them.

Dover puts out a book with ancient Italian lacis designs which are stitched on lace ground.  Mary Queen of Scots did Lacis and there is a little pattern of hers for a lacis square in Margaret Swain's book.  (See resources below).

For some history, see

Lace, a brief History (excerpted, in large part, from George Leland Hunter's Decorative Textiles, pub. 1918 by Lippincott, Philadelphia.)

There exist hair and breast nets that have been safely preserved in the graves of ancient Egypt since over a thousand years before the time of Rameses the Great, who was Pharaoh in the thirteenth century B.C. There are also many plain and fancy nets of the Greek-Roman-Egyptian type known as Coptic, dating from the third to the seventh centuries A.D., as well as ancient nets made in America, some of them on the loom, with interrupted or irregular weft, which have been preserved in Peruvian graves since the time of Columbus and before. However, true lace, meaning an openwork fabric made by tatting, crochet, needlework or bobbin, twisting, knotting or braiding individual threads, to be distinguished from cutwork made by cutting or decorating a fabric after weaving, is universally acknowledged to be a European invention.

Lace effects range from plain net with regular meshes, thus:

to animal and human or conventional figures, in close texture and contrasting sometimes with net ground, sometimes with open ground that is intersected only by the slender "brides" that hold the motifs together, see below:

The creation and development of lace is principally due to Italy, just as entirely as was the development of picture tapestries due to the French Netherlands, of Gothic architecture and stained glass windows to France, and of silk to China. The development began in the fifteenth century, as illustrated in the paintings of the period and occasionally referred to in wills and inventories, and reached its height in the sixteenth century. Venice, perhaps inspired by primitive laces and trimmings of the Roman Empire of the East, and of Sicily, led in the development of lace made with the needle, but was soon outstripped by Genoa in the production of lace made with bobbins. Another Italian city famous for bobbin lace in the sixteenth century was Milan.

Etymology:  The history of the English word lace follows closely the development of the fabric in Italy. Before the sixteenth century, lace meant fringes and trimmings, and cord and tape lacings. The ancient usage is still continued in the "laces" of corsets, waists and shoes.

The word is derived from the Latin laqueus, meaning loop or noose, which is also the meaning of the derivatives, the French lacs, the Italian laccio, the Spanish lazo (also meaning "bow"), and the English lassoo. Equivalent to lace of the kind that forms the subject of this article are the French dentelle, guipure, point; the German Spitzen and Kanten; the Spanish encaje; the Italian trina, merletto, punto, pizzo; and the Latin opus reticulatum et denticulatum. The French lacis means net, and the French lacet cord or braid. . .

Filet Italien starts with a coarse hand-knotted square-mesh net foundation, on which the closed parts of the pattern are darned in. Buratto is a woven substitute for the knotted net--a square-mesh net made in gauze weave with warps that twist in pairs around the wefts. Drawnwork net is made by drawing the alternate threads of scrim or etamine, and binding the intersections with the needle.

One of the best resources I've found included a lesson on making filet lace.  The website is gone now, but Tomi McNaughton, the author, gave permission to reproduce the text here:

Lacis is essentially embroidered net on a square mesh. It is one of the very oldest forms of lace-like fabrics, most often used today for quite large-scale decoration, such as window curtains and bedspreads.

The patterns can be geometric, floral, heraldic, allegorical...almost any subject that can be charted on a grid of squares. The tools to make the filet net are simple: a gauge to control the size of the mesh and keep it consistent, and a netting needle to hold the thread. A gauge may be made of a drinking straw, or a knitting needle; the needle (also known as a shuttle) can be anything that will hold a rather long length of thread.

The size of the desired net will generally dictate the size of the gauge and needle. Linen threads are recommended; use a 40/2 or 60/3 for the finer nets and 20-30/3 for the larger meshes.

The size of the desired net will generally dictate the size of the gauge and needle. Linen threads are recommended; use a 40/2 or 60/3 for the finer nets and 20-30/3 for the larger meshes.

Making Lacis Filet Net This technique is the same one used for making fish nets, basketball nets, and net bags; the only difference is the use of heavier cords.

To construct a square net:

 Step 1 - Preparation:

Cut a length of thread 6 to 8 inches long and tie in a loop. Anchor the loop to anything that will stand a slight tug: a sofa cushion (use a corsage pin), a table leg, a chair rung. If you decide to use the table leg or a chair rung, be aware that TWO inital loops are necessary; one you can cut to free the net when it's not quite done, and the one that holds the first stitch. Otherwise, if you have cats, you may find that they think net-in-progress is a wonderful toy. Wind the needle (also known as a shuttle) with about 3 yards of thread, passing it through the prongs on either end, and tie this thread to the anchored loop; use the knot you know best.

Step 2 - Beginning the first knot:

Hold the gauge in the left hand. Bring the shuttle thread over the gauge, under the third finger, up behind the gauge, and across the thread. Pinch the crossing with the left thumb. Bring the thread to the left, and make a loop that lays over the anchor loop and passes behind the gauge (see below).

Step 3 - Making the knot:

Pass the shuttle thread around the little finger. The little finger loop passes behind, around, and in front of the finger. Note that for the purpose of clarity, the loop around the little finger is not shown. The needle then travels under the thread on the third finger behind the gauge over the thread held by the thumb under the anchor loop and over the last thread. Pass the shuttle all the way through; the sketch illustrates this.

Step 4 - Tensioning the knot

This step is perhaps the hardest. The tension can be tricky, but practice will very quickly show how hard and fast to tighten the thread.

Release the thread held by the thumb, and slowly begin to tighten the thread. Slip the third finger out of its loop, and continue to pull. By this time, the thread around the little finger should be getting tighter; keep the thread around the finger until it is pulled against the gauge. Slip the little finger out of its loop, and tighten the thread against the gauge. Pull the knot tight. Step 5 - Turning the piece for the next row:

Net is always made from left to right, so the work must be turned over. Remove the gauge from previous loop, and proceed as above, making two loop stitches in the previous loop (keep both loops on the gauge). Turn. Keep increasing in this way until the net is as wide as desired. To decrease, treat the last two loops in a row as one.

Embroidering the Net:  Now that the foundation is ready, the actual production of lacis can begin. Any pattern that is charted on a grid can be used, such as cross-stitch or filet crochet patterns (filet crochet is, after all, an imitation of lacis).

The main stitch used to embroider the net is point de reprise, or darning stitch.

Tip1: Leave a fair length of thread at the beginning, enough to thread a needle with. The end can be woven back into the fabric. A small tapestry needle works best; try a size 26 or 28.

Tip 2: Tack net to paper cut from a brown paper sack or use an embroidery frame, rather than a hoop. This will help prevent wear on net threads. The black dot in the illustration represents the knot used to tie the darning thread.

Text, designs and images Copyright 1998 Tomi McNaughton. All rights reserved.

Probably the most complete coverage of this craft can be found in The Complete DMC Encyclopedia of Needlework, by Therese deDillmont.  This book covers a large variety of needlecrafts, including a 45-page well-illustrated chapter on net lace.  Since the book was originally published in the 19th century.  I don't know if the book is still available, but probably your best bet would be to check DMC's website.  If it's not available, your public library may  have it.  It's well worth buying.

Keep in mind that this is not the same as filet crochet, which is presumably an imitation of the original filet lace.  With filet crochet one works the pattern as one is making the grid, and of course, the technique is different since it is crochet.

As a side-note, something very similar to filet lace can be made with a knitting machine.  "Filet-Knit" is a transferred lace technique best executed on an electronic machine with lace carriage. It looks like Filet Crochet because the holes are filled in to make a picture or letter. See the picture of Mary at the right from the Christmas Wall Hangings book. It's fast and easy. You can complete an item in just a couple of hours.

Here are some useful resources:

web sites:  (there's an _ underline between the descn and the f) (intended for filet crochet but could probably be used for filet lace on a net ground)


"Art of Netting", by Jules and Kaethe Kliot, Lacis Publications
"Down East Netting", Barbara M. Morton, Down East Books, 1988, 0-89272-2
"Filet Lace Patterns", by Pauline Knight, Batsford
"Introducing Filet Lace" and "More Filet Lace" by Kathleen Waller, self-published.
"Knotting and Netting - The Art of Filet Work" by Lisa Melen, Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1972, 0-442-29958-3
"Needle-Made Laces and Net Embroideries" by Doris Campbell Preston, Dover, 1984, 0-486-24708-2
"Popular Netcraft", by H.T. Ludgate, 1948, Netcraft Co., Inc., Toledo, OH
"Technique of Filet Lace", by Pauline Knight, Batsford
"The Nelson Book of Netting", self-published by Vera C. Nelson, 1949. "Treasury of Designs for Lace Net Embroidery" by Weiss (ed.), Dover, 1985, 0-486-24840-2

If you want to try filet lace, you can start from scratch and make the net ground first, then add the pattern, or you can purchase the net ground.  Visit Lacis or Nordic Needle as well as other lace sites for supplies.  A kit is also available.

Happy Netting!

Uploaded: 2/21/2004