Lace, intricately patterned and difficult to manufacture, indicated wealth and power, which the nobility sought to preserve for its own. From the 7th century BC to the 17th century, sumptuary laws in Europe, China, Japan, the Arabic countries, and Colonial America enforced social and political hierarchies, regulating who could wear luxury items such as lace and when they could wear them.
The Lace Guild reports literary evidence of lace sometime around the mid 15th century, although “[o]pen woven fabrics and fine nets are known to have existed for centuries.” The Nüw Modelbuch, printed in Zurich in 1561, shows patterns of simple plaited laces that were commonly used to adorn the costumes of the affluent and aristocratic. The book states--and the Guild concurs--that lace was introduce to Switzerland from Italy around 1536.
The 16th century witnessed the rapid expansion of lacemaking, particularly the “development of lace as an openwork fabric, created with a needle and single thread (needle lace) or with multiple threads (bobbin lace).” Lace further evolved from fabric-based openwork to cutwork, which started as “decorative stitching within small space cut out of linen.” The transfer from fabric-based cutwork to parchment-based needlelace allowed manufacturing to break away from geometric patterns and established punto in aria (stitches in the air) to grace the clothing of both genders.