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The Lace Museum in Calais

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History of Lace and Fashion in Calais
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Sexy fashion at the Lace Museum, Calais

© F. Kleinefenn

The story of lace-making

Walking through the International Centre of Lace and Fashion is a wonderful experience. It's in a series of rooms on two floors. You start in a darkened space with displays and explanations in French and English of the history of hand-made lace, used from the 16th to the 19th centuries, and fashion. Technical developments went hand in hand with consumer demand and the change of styles. To the sides, beautifully lit cases show fashion, costumes and accessories from the past on full-size models.

The second part of the ground floor moves onto the mighty Industrial Revolution which began in England and changed the world forever. Nottingham in the English industrial heartland became a great center through its lace and the machines that made it. Sample books show the changes of fashion as the middle classes took over fashion from the aristocracy. Lace was used for dresses and accessories like sexy bonnets, umbrellas and fans. Lace greatly added to the seductiveness of women and their dress.

The British tried to protect their industries by forbidding the exports of their growing mechanical expertise, and the crime of smuggling the machinery carried the death penalty. But in 1816, an English mechanic called Robert Webster and two other Englishmen brought a Leavers English-manufactured machine into Calais and installed it in Saint-Pierre-les-Calais, at that time a small village. It brought a whole colony of English workers teaching their French counterparts how to work the new machinery, in particular making the huge and complex Jacquard designs which successfully imitated the delicate, beautiful hand-woven lace.

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