Old Lace–No Arsenic

The exhibit, Threads of Power at the Bard Graduate Center on NYC’s upper West Side, closes January 1, 2023 so if you have any interest in lace, get there ASAP. Even if you don’t know a bobbin from a pall, you’ll likely find it interesting. The show occupies four floors of the building and includes over 150 examples of lace from Switzerland’s Textilmuseum St. Gallen, a town in the country’s northeast.

Lacemaking developed in Europe during the sixteenth century. First made by aristocratic women for themselves, making lace then became a cottage industry produced by poorly paid women, many of whom damaged their eyesight in service to their trade.

The show includes lace for ladies and gentlemen like this collar which required hours of starching and pressing; paintings, clothing (secular and for the church) and videos of techniques, one of which  made my eyes twitch. Handmade lace is either needle or bobbin lace – needle is made with a single thread while bobbin is produced by manipulating multiple threads wound on bobbins. (None of it is easy to do especially for those of us whose sewing is confined to reattaching a button.)

By the 19th century, St. Gallen was leading the way in machine-made lace, aka “chemical lace,” or guipure.  Machines embroidered lace motifs onto a woven ground which was then dissolved using an acidic treatment. The exhibit offers many haute couture examples of contemporary clothing made of guipure including the Isabel Toledo-designed coat and dress worn by Michelle Obama at the 2009 presidential inauguration. There are also photos of well-dressed, well-heeled modern women in outfits featuring lace.

Even better is a large portrait of by a portrait of Marie Rinteau, great-grandmother of writer George Sand, seated at her dressing table, painted by François Hubert Drouais in 1761. The painting is gorgeous as is her display of magnificent lace.

Marie Rinteau, called Mademoiselle de Verrières. Portrait is in Metropolitan Museum of Art

Several years ago I visited Burrano, an island near Venice known for lace making.   Besides a museum devoted to lace, there were a great many shops selling lace, some with resident lacemakers who were happy to show off their skills while encouraging shopping. (Full disclosure: I caved and bought a small piece with the rationale that it would highly packable.)

Easier to make than actual lace, here are Lace Cookies:

6 tbsp unsalted butter

2/3 cup packed brown sugar

2 tbsp milk

1 tsp vanilla extract

1/3 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 cup almond flour

1/4 tsp salt

Preheat oven to 350°F and line a cookie sheet with parchment paper or silicone baking mats.

In a medium-sized saucepan, combine butter, brown sugar and milk. Cook over low heat, stirring regularly, until butter and sugar have melted.

Once butter and sugar are melted, turn heat up to medium and cook mixture just until it begins to boil.

Remove from heat and add vanilla extract, both flours and salt, stirring until completely combined.

Allow to cool for about 5 minutes, then drop by half a tablespoon onto prepared cookie sheet. Space cookies about 2-3 inches apart as cookies spread while baking.

Bake for 7-10 minutes, or until the cookies are golden in color. Keep an eye on them towards the end of baking because they can burn quickly.

Cool cookies 3-4 minutes or until firm enough to move, then transfer to a cooling rack to finish cooling.

Stored in an airtight container they will keep for about a week if you don’t eat them all. Santa might love a few.


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