Numerical Laces

Numerical Laces

The origin of Numerical laces comes from the evolution of oriental laces. Curved lines constitute all types of drawings and fill all the empty spaces. These laces usually use 12 bobbins and a cylindrical pillow. In the most ancient designs -without fillings- the braids touch one to another Once these laces evolved, braids space out and fillings appear. A group, which includes Slovenian, Russian, Catalonian, and Talaverana (the two last ones in Spain) can be considered the most ancient pure numerical laces. They have no fillings since braids touch one to another producing a moving sense and changing directions as many times as needed to fill the spaces.

Each country they have its own characteristics and its own names too. The most known today is Russian Lace, since it was in Russia where these laces reached perfection, but we can talk also of Dalmata’s lace in Yugoslavia or Cinta Catalana in Spain. Dalmatia was the country that introduce bobbin lace to Eastern European countries and Russia. Bobbin lace is still made in the Yugoslavian town of Idria, where presumably the first tape lace was made.

Russian laces existed as early as the Fifteenth Century. These very simple narrow trimmings were made in gold and silver threads. Later developed into rich laces decorating Monasteries and was used by rich merchants. Bobbin lacemaking spread quickly and the laces became an integral part of Russian Folk Art in the Seventeenth Century.

In Spain, Talaverana lace is made of white thread and also uses silver, gold, and colored threads.

“Puntas Capitanas” developed as far as we know about the 17th. cent. in the South West of Spain.  A predecessor to "Encaje Numerico Sevillano" and "Hinojosa lace", but not so rich in stitches. Clothstitch is the main used. The design of patterns is similar.

Numerical lace in Catalonia is called “Cinta Catalana”. It is a very light lace since plaits fill the space between braids, sometimes continuous, sometimes discontinuous. The thread used is very fine cotton and the lace stands out with a high contrast of light and shades. Curves are drawn in parallel and with respect to a vertical axe between them. Braid has everyone its own foot.

Nowadays a numerical lace has been recovered in Spain: “Witchstitch Lace”  also called:

 Hinojosa lace.

Spanish Numerical Laces

We have no authentic record concerning the existence of “Witch Stitch Lace” until the second half of the Nineteenth Century. It can be said indeed that this lace is related to ancient numerical laces coming from the East and South of Europe: Slovenian, Creta, Genoa, and Old Milanese .

About 1920 a lacemaker called Mrs. Candida Garcia taught to noble ladies of Sevilla this type of lace, which they worked join with embroideries as a pastime, and their handiwork came into use for priestly robes, household linen, or religious purposes. It exists evidence that lacemakers worked Duchesse and Brugge laces too, though the most common and popular was Encaje de Hinojosa, also called Witchstitch, its nickname.

Seventeen and eighteen centuries...  

Puntas Capitanas, Hinojosa Lace

Commercial activities with the American community: 17th and 18th c.

The Spanish braid lace called “Puntas Capitanas” is an antique numerical lace technique that Spanish ladies made in the South West of Spain and then was sent to the Spanish community in America.

The earliest written references to the Spanish “Puntas Capitanas” appear in inventory texts from 1697, -Morelia Cathedral in Valladolid in the State of Michoacán in Mexico- (“The Cathedral of Morelia” ISBN 968-7230-70-3 Authors: Oscar Martínez Herón Pérez,  Elena I. Estrada);   

Chile- 1754- “Crónicas de La Serena”,  Pág. 233: ..“Manteles de cambrai con Puntas Capitanas  donadas a la Iglesia por Mrs. Maria Herrera”....

Ecuador -1777/1820- “Historia de la gobernación de Cuenca”. Pág. 162 “más de doce enaguas, las doce de cambray batista, con tres corridos de espiguitas y sus pliegues anchos con puntas capitanas, guarnecidos con encajes en la cintura...”

Unfortunately, we do not have any images of “Puntas Capitanas” from that time. Nowadays, “Puntas Capitanas” are still worked with a scalloped headside, and straight laces are applied to traditional peasant traditional dresses in villages such as Puebla de Guzmán, in Huelva (South West of Spain). 

In the visit I made to Saint Charles Borromeus Church in Antwerp, Mrs. Nora Andries showed me some examples of the laces that were exported in 17th. c., to the American colonies.

It is interesting to point out that during the 17th c. there was an important commercial route between Antwerp and Spain to export Flemish laces to America, where these laces were highly appreciated.  The leaving ports were those of Cádiz and Huelva. It is also known that during this period the laces sent to Spain from Antwerp were called “Puntas españolas”. Why? Because, they were designed according to the Spanish fashion; that is: the headside of the laces was shaped with great scallops (called “puntas” in Spain), while in Flanders and other parts of Europe straight laces prevailed. This shape matches with the traditional lace “Puntas Capitanas” too. 

And… what is the relation of these laces with Hinojosa lace?

It is not unreasonable to think that the influence of Old Flemish laces coming from Antwerp had something to do with the development of the “Puntas Capitanas” and later with the Sevillian “Encaje Numérico Sevillano” and Hinojosa lace, these last ones enriched with decorative stitches acquired from Milanese laces..

Do not forget that the southwest of Spain was the area where all the routes coincided in their way to America, both Mediterranean and European countries.

We know that there were skilled lacemakers that worked numerical laces in Spain in the 16th c., as it is written in “The Quixote”. 

It is just my thought as a lace designer, that the Spanish ladies in that area of the southwest of Spain, wanted to imitate these fashionable laces which were so successful in America. So, working the braids with a point grid ground, intending to imitate a twisted ground, and applying linen stitch to highlight other parts of the braid, such as motifs, a new lace appeared, acquiring its own personality and giving names to the new stitches and motifs used. 

If we compare the drawings/patterns of Old Flemish laces with “Encaje Numérico Sevillano” and “Puntas Capitanas”, we can see a certain similarity between them, although its interpretation, the way of working the pattern and the final result are certainly different. While Flemish lace was worked across the pattern, with an important number of bobbins, “Puntas Capitanas” was a tape lace worked only with a few pairs of bobbins, the same as “Encaje Numérico Sevillano” and Hinojosa lace.

Work lace of  "Puntas Capitanas" over an ancient pricking

Numérico Sevillano  lace : 20th. cent.

Old Flemish lace

Photo 1 :  Cándida Garcia's design .

Photo 2 :  Work made by Carolina de la Guardia interpreting an old  pricking of Mrs. Garcia

Hinojosa Lace: Oral tradition

Hinojosa lace was recovered in the early 20th c. 

Although we cannot completely believe in oral tradition, I think it is always based on some real fact, which has lost its meaning over the years. The nickname “Punto Brujo”, in English “Witch Stitch”, is said to have been the name given by the Sevillian lacemakers, because they said this technique came from Bruges.

What we really know is that around 1920 a lace maker called Mrs. Cándida Garcia taught noble ladies of Seville this type of lace. They worked lace and other embroideries as a pastime, and their handiwork came into use for priestly robes, household linen, or religious purposes. There is evidence that lacemakers worked Duchesse and Bruges laces too at that time, though the most common and popular was Sevillian  “Encaje Numérico Sevillano,”; this was how Hinojosa lace was called in Sevilla about the 1920s.

 The knowledge of Mrs. García spread on to Extremadura, where these laces were taught to girls at school and the craft passed from mothers to daughters until the 60s, especially in Hinojosa del Valle. There, a lace workshop was set up and the young girls learned and worked. Soon their laces were sent to be sold in Barcelona and Madrid. Their earnings (some coins) were saved every week for their future household linen and their trousseau. This is why this lace changed its name to Hinojosa lace and this is how it has been popularly known since then.

Since the 1960s, lacemaking declined and its practice stopped. However, it was not completely lost and I consider myself a lucky person, as in 2002, I was taught by Mrs. Josefa Jiménez, (82 years old then). She was an intelligent lady, with a great experience in Hinojosa lace, which she had been making since she was a child. I had the opportunity to see her first lace and her first design too, which she had made when she was 11 years old and kept all her life. I am completely in love with this lace and I am on the way to follow the thread and continue spreading its knowledge.

We can say that Hinojosa lace has been known since the last century, but keeps the most ancient technique. I understand that the technique and appearance are what give their own personality to a type of lace and distinguish it from other laces. With evolution, the tools and the threads used for their execution, or their drawings can be changed, bringing them closer to our time (as it has always been) but not their technique. Because in this case, it will be "any other lace which would be called in another way", but not the one that is trying to be represented.

Hinojosa's pillow

Traditional Hinojosa lace

Traditional Hinojosa lace

Modern Hinojosa motif

Modern Hinojosa square mat

Modern Hinojosa tray mat