Calais-Caudry lace, between tradition and French know-how

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The editorial staff of the Journal des Femmes visited the Lace Museum and the manufacturing workshops to discover this noble material, adored by designers. Reportage.

The biggest wedding dress designers, haute couture or luxury ready-to-wear appeal to French know-how to achieve the lace from their collections. It is also at Caudry that was made the lace of the wedding dress of Amal Alamuddin, wife of Georges Clooney, or the one worn by Kate Middleton during her wedding to Prince William in 2011. And if Alexander McQueen turned to the workshops located in Caudry for the creation of this princely model, it is not for nothing! The Lace Museum and the André Laude workshops opened their doors to us to better understand the secrets of this refined and precious material, renowned throughout the world.

The history of Calais lace

It was in the early 1840s that lace made its appearance in Caudry. Today, the city has six lace companies (André Laude, Sophie Hallette, Jean Bracq, Beauvillain Davoine, Les Dentelles Merry and Solstiss), specialized in the sector of haute couture and luxury ready-to-wear, while Calais lace is more geared towards lingerie or corsetry. But since 2016, Calais lace and Caudry lace are one, with a new label “Calais-Caudry lace“, which certifies the quality of the material, woven in France on Leavers trades. These enormous machines, made in England at Nottingham, perfectly reproduce the movement of a lace-maker working with a spindle. “They allow lace to be woven, unlike other foreign laces which are knitted“, explains André Laude. And this is precisely what makes the particularity of Calais-Caudry lace, much sought after for its quality. The proof is that 80% of Caudry’s production is exported internationally. Moreover, “the technology of these Leavers looms is such that no engineer has been able to improve it“, says the specialist.

Leavers trades, a traditional French know-how © Cécile Debise

What are the stages of making lace?

Designer, card maker, pointer, cardboard piercer, warp, winder, preparer, tullist, extractor, mender, colorist, stripper, scaler, rebrodeuse … We do not imagine that there are so many trades and little hands working, one thing leading to another, lace making. This noble material is above all a heritage handed down from generation to generation, whose precise techniques and gestures are preciously preserved within these family businesses. Thus, to make a lace, it takes an average of 3 to 6 months of manufacture. Here are the main steps:

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Creation

Everything starts from a sketch drawn on a layer. The mapper enlarges this drawing to allow technical realization of the lace pattern. It shows on a card the movements of wires which will be coded and numbered. Using a stylus, the pointer transcribes on a computer the coordinates of each wire and each movement which will allow the “cardboard piercer” to translate this ciphered language on perforated plates. They will then be placed on the Jacquard mechanism from the Leavers loom.

Preparing the threads

The Leavers trade includes more than 10,000 threads of different materials, distributed on rollers located at the rear of the machine. Between 3000 and 4500 spools contain threads placed one by one in carriages, which slide in the Leavers loom, according to the numbers assigned to them to make the lace pattern. Each thread has its own role: the warp threads located on the large rollers are used to make the bottom of the lace. Those located on the smallest rolls, called “gimp threads”, allow for the pattern and the degraded effects of the lace.

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Finishes

Once the lace has been created, a check makes it possible to identify the defects and to mend any holes that have occurred during manufacture. The lace is then sent for dyeing to match the demands of the designers. Since Calais-Caudry lace is woven, it allows designers to cut out the different lace patterns to integrate them into their collections, without the lace being damaged.

Cutting a lace pattern © Cécile Debise
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