Featured Alter Frontal?

Discussion in 'Textiles, Needle Arts, Clothing' started by elarnia, Jan 27, 2020.

  1. elarnia

    elarnia SIWL

    Can anyone tell me anything about the item in these photos? It was described as "A late 16th/early 17th century drawn thread panel measuring 12ft wide by 33.1/2 inches deep." I bought it because I really liked it, but would love to know more about it. The full description is below. Thanks. (The photos and the description are the sellers) s-l1600.jpg s-l16002.jpg s-l16003.jpg s-l16004.jpg s-l16005.jpg s-l16006.jpg

    "A late 16th/early 17th century drawn thread panel measuring 12ft wide by 33.1/2 inches deep. It is an amazing textile that would have taken many hundreds of hours to create. This item was listed at auction as a hand made lacis panel - however it is extremely heavy linen and is drawn thread work providing a grid and framework for further embellishment as in reticella. The design has four distinct sections - grape leaves with bunches of grapes - grape leaves with scroll work - the third section has 2 vases (the lower vase is flanked by 2 birds) containing blooms followed by the fourth section that is grape leaves with scroll work again. These four designs are repeated throughout, each four comprise one quarter of the total width of the textile. The sides have a 3 inch border of bobbin lace. The bottom of the item has a 7.1/2 inch bobbin lace panel, below a 3/4 inch linen strip, comprising 5 inch stylized floral lace with a further 2.1/2 inch border as in the side panels. This item may be an altar frontal. It has no symbols of a religious order however grapes and grape leaves often form part of Christian church symbolism. I don’t know the connection. Further the size is about right for the altar frontal possibility. It smells somewhat musty but it is excellent condition and must have been carefully stored for 3-4 hundred years. It has very little staining or soil - I see two areas with foxing and slight brownish staining otherwise it is in excellent condition. In establishing what lace comprises the sides and border I had initially thought it a bobbin lace - further inspection leads me to believe it might be a needle made knotted lace. I’m at a loss to be sure. I believe it to be made in the late 16th/early 17th century."
  2. blooey

    blooey Well-Known Member

    I have to say I am NO fabric expert person, but I once had the pleasure of spending an evening with a piece of renaissance lace, about 15" long. It was the most amazing piece of fabric I have ever seen. It did not look like this.
    elarnia, wiscbirddog and KikoBlueEyes like this.
  3. wiscbirddog

    wiscbirddog Well-Known Member

    I hope some textile experts stop by with opinions 'cause I'd sure like to know what they think.

    I see nothing to indicate a religious connection.

    What WILL you do with such a massive piece?
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  4. kyratango

    kyratango Bug jewellery addiction!

  5. Any Jewelry

    Any Jewelry Well-Known Member

    Wow indeed! That is an amazing piece, elarnia.
    Our new member @Northern Lights Lodge is very knowledgeable on lace, I am sure she will be able to tell you more.:)
  6. necollectors

    necollectors Well-Known Member

    Very attractive...Is it me or does the top part look like a 'newer' table cloth that has had the scalloped piece added to the bottom? Could have been made for and alter...but alters are taller I believe...perhaps for a table dais?
    Last edited: Jan 28, 2020
    elarnia likes this.
  7. elarnia

    elarnia SIWL

    Could be an age difference, but the base threads in the top part run vertical and in the part below the band they run diagonally - so they reflect light differently.
  8. wiscbirddog

    wiscbirddog Well-Known Member

    Just for clarity sake, the word is altar (not alter).
    kyratango and Any Jewelry like this.
  9. PortableTreasures

    PortableTreasures Active Member

    It looks to me to be filet crochet... given that there are no recognisable Christian motifs on your lovely textile, I'd question whether it was an altar cloth.
    Bakersgma likes this.
  10. gregsglass

    gregsglass Well-Known Member

    There was a wonderful lace frontal cloth in the church I worked on. It was 16 ft long and 28" deep. It was made by a convent of nuns in France. It was started in 1865 and finally delivered in 1884. It was only used one week a year at Easter time. It was all flowers and vines except it had five crosses. I forgot to say it was 30" high. It needed washing after the fire but NO ONE wanted to touch it. I finally used an Ozone machine on it for 24 hours and then hung it in the shade outdoors for several days. It was a slightly ivory colored not pure white. No one ever remembers it being pure white at least back until the 1930s.
  11. Darkwing Manor

    Darkwing Manor Well-Known Member

    Although I can't seem to locate a single shred of evidence to illustrate, my "gut" tells me this motif looks Swedish/ Scandinavian, or perhaps eastern European. And yes, all the Christian altar cloth examples I have seen on-line are clearly non-secular. But that doesn't mean it isn't... perhaps another form of religion? :shy:
    elarnia likes this.
  12. Ownedbybear

    Ownedbybear Well-Known Member

    Looks more late 19th or early 20th to me. Have you done a thread test? Not seeing churchy stuff either.
    elarnia likes this.
  13. wiscbirddog

    wiscbirddog Well-Known Member

    Seems to me that the seller's description offers no evidence, and is simply conjecture, that it dates to the 16th or 17th century.
    elarnia likes this.
  14. Northern Lights Lodge

    Northern Lights Lodge Active Member

    Wow! An incredible piece to be sure! I'm going to have to get back to you on some details after I do a bit of research myself... but "generally" speaking:

    It does indeed look handmade.
    It "does" look quite old....the sheer size does indicate that it took hundreds of hours to complete.
    Generally speaking - the more a lace looks like "fabric" with less holes and more woven areas - the older it may be.
    It is not crochet.

    Can you clarify:
    Are any of the edges - fabric or lace "cut"... indicating that it was larger?

    Is the linen that the lace attached to - a "finished" size? (like appropriate for a table or altar cloth; and the lace drops straight off the edges without gathers or folds?)

    I'll go check some of my resources and get back with you!

    Fun find! Leslie
  15. Northern Lights Lodge

    Northern Lights Lodge Active Member

    Based on what I can see in the photos; and without touching or physically seeing it; here are my thoughts:

    Although the top part (with the grapes and leaves) does have the "look" of a crocheted filet lace or a darned netted lace; it is not... the big clue here is the way that the small background "squares" are made. In crocheted filet - they would be looped stitches (see Darkwing Manor's star lace photo); in darned netted lace - there would be a single knot at each corner of the square grid. See photo "oth277a" and "antique italian hand knotted net". The 2nd photo's design is truly similiar to the query piece. But; it isn't made the same way.

    In the query example, from what I can see: the small background squares appear to be made by drawing warp or weft threads together by wrapping a bundle of threads with a new thread. This is truly an older technique and closer related to "reticella" or "lacis". See photo "22095-007". Although, the technique shown in the photo is similiar to the query piece; it is still a little different.... as it has "double" bars that make squares rather than a single bar; but I think that is insignificant and more of a design feature rather than a difference in technique.

    Reticella definition is - an early needlepoint lace derived from cutwork and drawn work and made by buttonholing geometric patterns on or over a fabric. Generally made from the 15th century to the early 17th century.

    Lacis definition is - a square mesh lace with darned patterns.

    As an observation: the wide upper panel was probably made in two horizontal sections which is why there is a slight color variation.

    Moving on to the lower lace with the scalloped edge: It does have elements of being made with bobbins - ie: diamond and twisted bars. A geometric style bobbin lace is usually worked on a very specific "prepricked" grid - giving a very uniform appearance to the entire length. See "Torchon Lace" photo.

    In the case of the query piece: The design elements - the rather smashed looking hearts (which appear to have a slightly heavier outline) and the crown shape feature in the lower scallops remind me of design elements found in Scandinavian bobbin laces.

    I found this example of a Scandinavian bobbin lace peasant cap - in which the cloth work is very smashed and squished as is the query example and the openwork "grid" is very similiar. The example says that it dates from the 1600-1900's... quite a wide range there! There are some forms of Scandinavian lace that rather than being made on a pre-pricked grid; are made on a lace "roller" pillow that has a striped fabric as a background. They can judge the stitches by the stripes. So it is possible that it is one of these forms.

    In closing: I do believe that the top part is a needle worked form - using lacis or reticella techniques. The bottom edge I believe is a form of bobbin lace. To give it a more specific name; is difficult...given that it lacks elements that would classify it as one form or another. I have no reason not to agree with the seller's age classification. I do believe it is quite old.

    Attached Files:

  16. elarnia

    elarnia SIWL

    Usually yes, but not at midnight after a 15 hour work day! :bag::playful:
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  17. Any Jewelry

    Any Jewelry Well-Known Member

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  18. Any Jewelry

    Any Jewelry Well-Known Member

    My altar ego agrees.:playful:
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  19. Northern Lights Lodge

    Northern Lights Lodge Active Member

    My pleasure! It was fun to research!
  20. Northern Lights Lodge

    Northern Lights Lodge Active Member

    Oh, and a P.S. - If indeed, the query piece "fits" an exact style structure; as in a altar (and the lace hangs as a flat "skirt" rather than a gathered skirt or falling as a tablecloth) ... the few examples I found: all point to it being an alter skirt and with an early 1600's-ish date. Although the method of construction and design may vary...the fact that, likely a piece like this would be VERY labor intensive and therefore; a faster form of construction may have superseded itself in later alter pieces.
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