Nottingham Lace

Discover the story of Nottingham Lace.

Nottingham changed the way the world makes lace. The first ever machine to make lace was invented here in the 1760s and today, lace is made by machines all over the world, thanks to the innovation, creativity and skills of Nottingham people. By the late 19th century, Nottingham was the international centre of machine-made lace, the quality of which rivalled high cost, luxury lace made by hand.

Using star items from our world-class collection, this gallery tells the story of how lace has transformed the shape of our city and contributed to changing fashions for over 200 years.

Object focus

Early machine made lace

Dating from 1769, this cotton lace border is one of the earliest examples of machine made lace ever produced. It was made by Robert Frost of Arnold, who along with Thomas Hammond modified the framework knitting machine to produce the first ‘Nottingham lace’. At this stage, the machines produced knitted net, which was decorated with embroidery by hand.

Photograph – lace mending and joining

This photograph taken around 1900 shows rows of women each with a wicker basket of lace edging which they inspect and mend with needle and thread as required.

By the mid-19th century, lace had fully evolved from a domestic industry to full-scale factory production. Lace came in to the Lace Market from the outlying factories to be checked and finished by scores of women and girls working in the buildings’ ‘top shops’ or top floors. The downstairs rooms were showrooms, where lace was displayed and sold wholesale to buyers from around the world. Nottingham Lace was now an international enterprise…

Witchcraft lace dress

This long ivory dress is made of machine embroidered Schiffli lace and was created for display at The Festival of Britain held in 1951.

The Festival aimed to capture a spirit of recovery and optimism after the Second World War, whilst promoting British science, technology, industrial design, architecture & the arts. Our dress was part of the Festival Pattern Group exhibition of textiles and domestic objects featuring patterns based on x-ray images of the crystal structures of natural materials. The pattern within the lace of our dress is based on the crystal structure of the mineral beryl.

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