Until the 19th century, handmade lace could not be faked; this fact alone made lace the ultimate social signifier in fashionable dress. Between the 16th and 18th centuries, bobbin and needle lace were the two main techniques. Needle lace, as the name suggests, was a development of embroidery and whitework, which are both sewn; while the origins of bobbin lace can be found in passementerie and decorative trim. Made from linen, silk and metal threads, these two practices were in competition for their share of the European market.
This, combined with the developments in fashion, meant that the level of skill in the creation and production of this most delicate and beautiful textile surpassed any other luxury product of the time. Lace reflected wider influences and trends in decorative arts and, as a result, went from the confines of cutwork and grids, to the production of fine, free-flowing patterns with long curving lines.
16th century lace was used to embellish fine linen: but between 1600 and 1630 changes in design and fashion saw revolutionary developments in its construction and use. Emerging free flowing designs were much desired and lace became a consumable commodity in its own right. Worn exclusively by the elite, it was the ultimate expression of wealth, power and modernity. The depiction of lace in portraits of the 16th century consolidated its position as a status symbol and, along with the commissioning of tapestries and the purchasing of jewels, its consumption was a key indicator of standing in the European courts or church...
You can read this article in full in Selvedge issue 58.