Metallniplispitsid Eesti rahvarõivastel / Metal Bobbin Lace on Estonian Folk Clothing


  • Angelika Nöps



The metal laces made using the bobbin lace techniques on Estonian national costumes have received unreasonably modest attention. Unlike other types of lace that have been studied in the 20th and 21st centuries, there is no information regarding the use of metal laces in Estonia.
In order to better understand the background of national costumes decorated with metal laces, one needs to be familiar with the political, economic and educational life of the time. The research questions set in this article concern the spread of metal lace used on Estonian national costumes, the technology used and the contemporary materials for making metal bobbin lace. I discuss the spread of laces and the purpose of use thereof; also, I provide an overview of the technological aspects that the makers of national costumes can rely on to create authentic national costumes.
The items decorated with metal bobbin lace preserved in the Estonian National Museum date back to a period from 1714 (Kadrina pot-shaped cap ERM 16362) to around 1900. Hence our ancestors held the beauty of metal lace in high esteem and used it to decorate their clothing for almost 200 years. During this period, present-day Estonia was divided in two – Estonia and Livonia – and the country had been under Russian rule since 1710. Metal bobbin lace is widespread primarily in northern and western Estonia and on the islands. The use of bobbin lace decreased after 1860 when crochet lace pushed it into the background, as the former required more time and more resources.
This article examines the period from the early 18th century to the late 19th century. Based on the collections of the Estonian National Museum, I created a database of 223 items decorated with metal bobbin lace. Metal bobbin lace was used to decorate midriff blouses, head covers and aprons – in short, the technique was used to decorate items which play a central role in clothing. Items of clothing decorated with metal bobbin lace were considered fancy. The use of linen lace in Estonia has been documented, but there is no data on the making of metal lace locally. In the course of my research, I was not able to find any reference to metal bobbin lace being made locally. The few explanations that can be found in the object legends in the museum refer to metal lace as a purchased good. The need of the peasantry for beautiful items should be highly appreciated and the desire to decorate one’s clothes with remarkable details even more so – using expensive purchased goods like gold or silver lace.
Trade connections between Tallinn and Russia were tight; therefore, we can claim for certain that goods produced in Russia, including metal lace, could have found their way into sales outlets in Tallinn. We find a series of references to gold and silver laces in the trilogy of source publications of the property lists of German merchants in Tallinn in the 18th century. Unfortunately, most of the laces do not include references to their origins, and the information given is limited to the amount and material. Thanks to trade connections with foreign countries, even the peasantry had the possibility to purchase lace. In addition to town stores, they were also able to buy lace at fairs or from peddlers.
As metal laces with slight variations in patterns were produced from the 17th-19th centuries in several European lace centres, it is difficult to name the specific place from which the laces found in Estonia might originate. It is probable that the metal laces found here were imported from Europe.
Many of the laces are similar. Wide laces consist of a wavy band whose waves are separated with a fan motif. Many of the laces have small teeth joined by a net. The edges of the lace can be wavy or straight, but with one exception they are all attached to textile, and not used as lace between the textile or on the end of the textile.
In the article, I give an overview of different materials that have been used to make historic metal lace and which are accessible to contemporary masters. The availability of suitable material enabled me to make new metal lace based on the examples. However, I do not dare to claim that the material used was authentic. In the future, the chemical composition and the origins of metal laces used on national costumes deserve further research.


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