top of page


The work to produce machine-made lace fabric is a complicated process with more than 20 steps often spread over 4 to 8 weeks. Many factors play their part including time, creativity, intricate machinery and the expertise of many workers.


The process has evolved over hundreds of years as human ingenuity created and developed some of the most-complex mechanical machines known to reproduce the intricate patterns of hand-made lace. The lace is a product of the cooperation of both machine and worker and both are vital to the process from conception to delivery of the finished fabric.

In some large factories, most of the work stages were either in-house or controlled by the factory owner. However, in small factories the lace was made on the factory's machines but the finishing stages such as washing, dyeing , packing and distribution were handled by contractors.  Sometimes the lace factories were collectives where small makers leased space for their machines and workers from a building owner. In these factories the small makers were highly competitive and guarded their designs, machines and processes from competitors within the same building. The Boulart Factory which has since become the Calais Lace Museum, was such a collective factory.

What were they called?

Workers making lace in the 19th century were men, women and sometimes children with varying levels of expertise to suit the many jobs required to create the designs, operate the machines and equipment and sell and distribute the finished fabric.

In Calais many of the workers were British and most of them were English. They did the same work as when they were in England. However, now they were living and working in France and like their French co-workers, they were often known by French work names. Some were known as dévideuses or fileuses or mécaniciens

What were the workers called and what did they do, in French and English?

What work did they do?

By the mid 19th century, the Lacemakers of Calais, at least most of them, worked in lace factories where the main lacemaking machines were steam-powered Leavers looms. The life of a lacemaker was hard. In his book Calais et Saint-Pierre au XIX siéle, Albert Vion describes some of the hardship in an extract in Tulle Issue 38 pp31-32.


The steps described here relate to that time and those looms.

What processes were involved in making lace with a Leavers machine?


Image: Gillian Kelly Collection

Designing and Drafting

Designer and Draughtsman

The first phase of the lacemaking process begins with the creation of a design on paper by designers and its transfer to a large paper sheet by draughtsmen or sketchers. The draughtsman checks and modifies the design's suitability for conversion to lace.


This work is both creative and technical. 

The sketch version of the design transferred to a large sheet, checked and modified for the Jacquard system.

For an explanation of the Draughtsman's work and how important it became, see Tulle Issue 89 pp16.


Pattern Perforator

The sketch is converted by the pattern perforator to a form suitable for the Jacquard workers by pricking the sheet and adding numbers to indicate the location and colour of each thread.

The real technical work begins

The above sketch is the final version of a lace design with the detail and thread positions pencilled in ready for the real technical work to begin. 

Colours and numbers are used to indicate what thread goes where

Image: Stephen Black

Punching & Lacing

Card Piercer and Lacer

The pattern is transferred to Jacquard cards by the piercers who punch holes in the card according to the perforators instructions. The pattern perforator on the left is supervising the piercers' work.


The cards are then assembled and laced together to form a continuous curtain ready for the machine.

Piercers are working on the left.

Jacquard card

Jacquard cards laced together

Image: Gillian Kelly Collection

Image: Stephen Black

Jacquard Cards

Punched cards operate the Jacquard system which is the brain controlling the machine.


A Jacquard Card workshop with piercers working on their machines at the rear and the lacers on their tables in front.

Correcting -  Cards are checked and corrected ready to place in the jacquard.

Image: Gillian Kelly Collection


Bobbin Winding

Bobbin Winder

Leavers machines require 4500 to 5000 bobbins. A bobbin winder or wheeleuse winds about 100 metres of thread onto each bobbin. The winder sets about 20 bobbins on a drive shaft, guides  a thread from the  adjacent drum into each bobbin and hand winds the drive shaft.

Image: Gillian Kelly Collection


Bobbin Presser

To ensure uniformity of the bobbins, the bobbin presser stacks the filled bobbins in a press, compresses them and then heats them in a furnace. After cooling, the bobbins are sorted and taken to the bobbin fitter.

Image: Gillian Kelly Collection

Image: Gillian Kelly Collection

Boiler House Work

Stokers and Engineers

Someone had to do it! The power for the lacemaking machines came form the boilers that supplied steam to the factory floor.  The boiler house was built between the factory wings for efficient distribution of steam.

Image: Gillian Kelly Collection

The Boiler House and its chimney in the yard of the Gaillard Factory in Calais.

Bobbin Fitting

Image: Stephen Black

Bobbin Fitter

Each bobbin is fitted into a metal carriage where it is held in place by a spring and the thread is led out through the hole at the top. The bobbin fitter then checks weight, alignment and thread tension and fits the bobbin assemblies into the loom.

Bobbin fitted

to a carriage

Image: Stephen Black

Bobbin carriages after alignment of the spring and ready for fitting of the bobbin.

Why were bobbins and carriages so important and how did they work? See Tulle No 41 pp25-28.

Warping & Beaming

Image: Gillian Kelly Collection

Warper and 

Beam Operator

The thread is rolled from the large reels onto the warp drum. The wappeur fits the drum to the base of the loom, feeds each of the thousands of threads through the machine and attaches them to a roller at the top. Threads are fitted according to its function in the design.

Other threads are fitted and threaded into the machine by the beam operator.


Setting Up

Threading the machine, fitting the bobbins, placement of the Jacquard cards, adjustment

Machine Operation

Twist hand

The twist hand or tulliste is the primary worker on a Leavers loom. He supervises the other workers, checks the mechanical systems, alignment and tension of the thousands of threads and the Jacquard cards, makes the final adjustments, starts the machine and oversees its operation.


Under the supervision of the twist hand, other workers assist during the production run. These include the mechanic who maintains the mechanical parts and the bobbin fitter who removes empty bobbin assemblies and fits filled assemblies.

Image: Gillian Kelly Collection

Image: Gillian Kelly Collection

Lace machines

with Jacquard apparatus

Caudry Lace 

A twist hand at his loom with an array of Jacquard card machines on its right.

Image: Gillian Kelly Collection

A "modern" loom powered by electricity rather than steam.

Image: Gillian Kelly Collection


When the lace fabric comes off the top of the Leavers loom it is not the finished product. It is lace in the "brown". Usually there are imperfections such as holes and missing and pulled threads to be mended, the fabric is dirty with graphite, it may need dyeing or extra embroidery added.

Finally it will need cutting, folding and packing while lace trim is carded and the finished fabric is sold and distributed.



The fabric is first inspected for faults in the fabric. 

The lace from the loom is sometimes stored before the inspector slides it across large tables to examine it.

Image: Gillian Kelly Collection



Faults in the inspected "brown" fabric are repaired by the menders or raccommodeuses with the same thread used in the production on the machine.

Mending is by hand and machine.

Image: Gillian Kelly Collection

Washing & Dyeing

Washer and Dyer

The fabric is washed to remove the graphite transferred during its production on the loom, whitened and, if required by an order, colour dyed.

Washing and Bleaching

Lace from the machine was bleached by scouring and boiling in wooden tubs where it was pounded by wooden mallets before washing.

Image: Gillian Kelly Collection


If required the lace is dyed in wooden tubs before final rinse. The only colour used  was black. 


The lace became limp during the washing and dyeing processes. Sizing with starch to improve the appearance, touch and feel of the fabric followed by hot air drying over long frames completes this step.

Image: Gillian Kelly Collection


Loose threads are clipped with hand help scissor-like clippers

Image: Stephen Black

Image: Gillian Kelly Collection

Scalloping & Embroidering


If the design calls for additional embroidery, the fabric is run on a an embroidery machine or broder.

Cutters separate the bands and panels woven together and scallopers trim the edges of binding threads.


More detailed embroidery to enhance a pattern or apply cornelli cording or sequines is worked by a brodeuse using a small foot-operated embroidery machine.

Image: Gillian Kelly Collection




Samples are cut and fitted to card to create sample books.


The collection of books showcase the  manufacturer's products.

Image: Gillian Kelly Collection



The finished lace is cut, measured, folded and wrapped for wholesale according to the client's requirements.

Image: Gillian Kelly Collection

Sales room

The customer selects the desired lace at the manufacturer's lace sales room.

Image: Gillian Kelly Collection

Image: Gillian Kelly Collection


Lace fabric is packed into boxes for dispatch to the customer.

bottom of page