Repair of twentieth-century leavers lace and its incorporation in American fashion: 1940–1969

Annie-Beth Ellington, University of Rhode Island


One lone mill in Rhode Island stands as a reminder of a once prosperous machine-made lace industry in the United States. The leavers lace industry saw a rapid growth and an even quicker decline in the twentieth century. If this mill closes, the knowhow in the United States to produce excellent imitations of hand-made lace disappears. This study gives a brief history of the leavers lace industry along with a detailed account of how this lace was used in women's fashions from 1940 to 1969, the period of greatest domestic production. An additional manuscript addresses repairing damage in leavers laces, a topic virtually ignored in the literature. The first manuscript entitled "History of Leavers Lace and Its Incorporation in American Fashion: 1940–1969" explores the development of the most complicated machinery in the textile industry, its introduction into the United States, and domestic lace production, particularly in Rhode Island. City directories yielded the names and locations of Rhode Island lace manufacturers. In addition, advertisements from the Providence Journal, dress patterns, and actual garments reflect how American designers and seamstresses incorporated lace yardage and trimmings in garments. Before World War II, lace was a popular fabric choice in women's fashion. During the war, the use of lace dwindled, but did not entirely disappear because production of rayon lace was not regulated. The post-war era into the 1950s saw a growth in the popularity of lace not only as decorative trims, but also as lace yardage for women's evening and social attire. With the heightened demand, mills expanded, and investors built new mills with more leavers machines than ever before in America. Major fashion changes and a growing youth market in the 1960s caused a sharp decrease in demand for lace yardage, and many mills closed. Lace lost its prestige and became a fabric reserved almost exclusively for women and wedding attire. The second manuscript "Repair of Twentieth-Century Leavers Lace" details a procedure for repairing this machine-made lace. A microscopic examination of twentieth-century leavers laces in garments and yardage from the University of Rhode Island Historic Textile and Costume Collection plus garments found in local vintage clothing stores revealed how yarns in the manufactured laces interact and facilitated reproducing their movements. Drawings and photocopies of both large- and small-scale laces aided in developing repair techniques that incorporate an adhesive to stabilize broken yarns and stitches to replace missing connections. This process is very time intensive, and practice is essential, although the time required for an effective repair shortens with experience. Finding suitable yarns for repairs is a major hurdle, but with patience, time, and a steady hand, the mesh and patterns in damaged machine-made lace can be stabilized and repaired.

Subject Area

Design|Textile Research

Recommended Citation

Annie-Beth Ellington, "Repair of twentieth-century leavers lace and its incorporation in American fashion: 1940–1969" (2011). Dissertations and Master's Theses (Campus Access). Paper AAI1500319.