Lace Makers

Lace Makers

India has always been a place of tremendous creative expression, whether that be articulated through color, cuisine, music, poetry, or fine arts – even through the delicate and intricate patterns of henna (mehndi) application. English lace making was
indian-lacemakers a new art, introduced by missionary Martha Mault in 1821. Her goal in teaching that art was to provide a stream of income to young, lower-caste women who had no other means by which to lift themselves and their families out of poverty.  According to Indian author Joy Gnanadason in her book, A Forgotten History, Mault also taught this craft to the slave girls to give them a means to buy back their freedom. She lived James 2:16, “If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?”


Martha Mault was from Honiton, an area in East Devon.  The Allhallows Museum of Lace in Devon recounts that lace making, which had probably spread from Italy throughout Europe, has been recorded in the area from the 17th century, perhaps earlier. Wives of men who were paid low wages, men who fished or labored for a living, often made the lace as a way to supplement their family’s income.  The museum explains that it can take up to five hours to make one square centimeter of lace, perhaps thousands of hours was required for a lace handkerchief or collar.

queen-victoria-weddingQueen Victoria
Honiton lace became very popular indeed when Queen Victoria selected it to adorn her wedding gown; although she was not the first royal to be married in white, she was the most popular, and was married in the age of photography. The tradition of white wedding gowns, adorned with lace, persists to this day.

Victorian missionary to India Samuel Mateer recorded that, “Lace-making, introduced by Mrs. Mault in her boarding school at Nagercoil… has succeeded to perfection.martha-mault Admirable specimens of fine pillow lace, in cotton and gold and silver thread, manufactured at the Mission school, were shown at Madras, and in the great London and Paris Exhibitions, in all of which they gained prize medals… A suggestion has recently been made that it might be more profitable, instead of merely copying and repeating, as has hitherto been done, the old standard English patterns and styles, to get up real Indian designs in accordance with the purest national taste and styles of art, so as to establish the Nagercoil lace as a purely indigenous production.”

Profitable, as he used it in the era, did not simply mean that it would make more money.  It meant beneficial. It was a nod to her progressive nature that Mault encouraged the girls to adapt English methods to their native designs and tastes; they were not to be transformed into English lace-makers but taught to make lace in a manner which could express their own heritage and culture.  The Maults and other missionaries networked through the British communities to ensure there was a healthy market for the lace goods.

Gnanadason concludes, “There are thousands of women in their homes doing lace and embroidery as a cottage industry in all the villages of Kanyakumari District and other areas of the old L.M.S. in Nagercoil, Neyyoor, Marthandam, Parasalai, Trivandrum, Attingul, and Quilon. There are established Mission Centers which give out the work, receive them, and pay the women. The proceeds of these have gone into the building of Churches, Schools, Hospitals and Colleges besides supported work among women. The work offers a means to thousands of women who cannot be otherwise employed to subsidize their family income.”

{Mehndi photo credit: Public Domain, Photo by Ravi Sharma on Unsplash}

{Lace photo credit: Sabine Baring-Gould – File:A book of the west; being an introduction to Devon and Cornwall.djvu, Public Domain,}

{Queen Victoria photo credit: Franz Xaver Winterhalter [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons}

41 Comments On This Topic
  1. Ann Badder
    on May 9th at 3:13 pm

    Very interesting.

  2. Janet K
    on May 9th at 3:35 pm

    Hardly anyone gets married without some lace. Such a pretty piece of art to wear with a fascinating history!

  3. Melinda Joy
    on May 9th at 3:44 pm

    my dress was covered in lace…loved it!!!

  4. Anne
    on May 9th at 3:52 pm

    I enjoyed this fascinating article about lace makers. I love this type of history and India makes it even more interesting as well as the photos.

  5. Carol Luciano
    on May 9th at 3:52 pm

    Thank you for the post. It’s such a delicate and precise art. I would have loved to learn this ability So talented were these women, can’t imagine the patience it would take. Thank you for sharing he info.

  6. Teresa Henderson
    on May 9th at 4:00 pm

    Neat story. Sounds like the Maults were good people.

  7. Kim
    on May 9th at 4:14 pm

    Very interesting! I can’t imagine the time and patience needed. My carpal tunnel hurts just thinking about it!

  8. Jennifer K
    on May 9th at 4:25 pm

    Lacemaking…..I don’t think that I would ever have the patience.

  9. Charisse Lewis
    on May 9th at 4:26 pm

    Of all the embellishments I love lace the most ….. very interesting article thank you sharing it with us

  10. Stephanie H.
    on May 9th at 4:44 pm

    Lace is beautiful and I also had it on my wedding dress as well. I can’t imagine the skills and self-restraint someone would have to have to make lace by hand.

  11. Bonnie
    on May 9th at 4:51 pm

    Very interesting article and photos.

  12. Linda McFarland
    on May 9th at 4:54 pm

    There is something special about lace! I hope to watch the Royal wedding. Anxious to see the dress.

  13. Leona Olson
    on May 9th at 4:54 pm

    This is so interesting. I will now have to read more about lace making.

  14. Joye I
    on May 9th at 5:37 pm

    Enjoyed reading the article. I believe Queen Victoria was the first bride to use bridesmaids at a wedding.
    I have tried lace making and even have the pillow for it (Bobbin Lace) but takes so long to see your accomplishments. I admire those ladies in India.

  15. Cherie Gravette
    on May 9th at 5:38 pm

    Truly a fascinating article! I think lace is one of the most elegant things and that it adds glamour and beauty to everything.

  16. Candice Foster
    on May 9th at 5:43 pm

    Wow! I never knew all this information about making lace! I figured it was intense to make and time consuming but I never thought much of patterns to follow when making it. I’m glad the missionaries promoted the making of indigenous patterns and designs using English methods to make the best native lace possible. Very cool! I always cringe when I think of people of the new culture coming in and wiping out the old culture’s heritage and I’m so pleased to hear they promoted keeping the native designs and patterns and showing them how to make it all into a high quality product. 🙂 Makes my heart happy.

  17. Julie
    on May 9th at 6:27 pm

    Definitely loving the idea of the lace on my wedding dress, but that’s in the future…sometime.

  18. Maria Babich
    on May 9th at 6:32 pm

    I’m awed by the time it took to make a tiny bit of the lace. You would need great eyesight to do it.

  19. Dianna A
    on May 9th at 6:56 pm

    This is really cool. I love this kind of stuff.

  20. Janet Estridge
    on May 9th at 7:05 pm

    Lace making is a true art.
    I’m afraid that I don’t have the talent or the patience for this.

  21. Julianna
    on May 9th at 8:07 pm

    This is quite intriguing. I think I appreciate lace more now. It’s truly a work of art.

  22. Diane Estrella
    on May 9th at 8:09 pm

    I love the pictures you included along with the article. Very beautiful examples.

  23. MJSH
    on May 9th at 8:20 pm

    So interesting! I read A Refuge Assured awhile ago and plan on reading The Lacemaker soon. I’ve learned a lot!

  24. kim Bakos
    on May 9th at 9:11 pm

    Very interesting. I would never have associated India with lace.

  25. Rebecca Booth
    on May 9th at 9:39 pm

    Great information .on making lace in India!

  26. Winnie Thomas
    on May 9th at 10:35 pm

    Thanks for this post. It’s so interesting. I don’t think I’d want to be a lacemaker.

  27. Vicki Wurgler
    on May 10th at 12:09 am

    wow- five hours to make one square centimeter of lace. a very interesting article

  28. Bree NarnianWarHorse
    on May 10th at 1:16 am

    Fascinating! I didn’t know half of this history, except for Queen Victoria’s part in it! Thanks for sharing!

  29. Barb
    on May 10th at 1:52 am

    I just watched an episode of The Good Karma Hospital that featured a wedding. The bride’s hands had henna designs. So beautiful!

  30. Paula Shreckhise
    on May 10th at 2:20 am

    I made my wedding dress of bonded lace in 1969. I also put artificial flowers on my veil.

  31. Erika
    on May 10th at 2:31 am

    very interesting !

  32. Penny
    on May 10th at 2:38 am

    That is amazing! I had no idea that the missionary Martha Mault brought lace making to India. Very informative 😊

  33. Tracey
    on May 10th at 11:45 am

    It’s amazing what a writer finds while researching for a book. History like this just makes me want to read more, fiction and non-fiction too!

  34. Raechel L.
    on May 10th at 12:14 pm

    What interesting information! I knew about Queen Victoria being one of the first to wear a white wedding dress, but I didn’t know about the lace.
    Thanks for sharing!

  35. Rebecca Tellez
    on May 10th at 12:46 pm

    Fascinating article. Thank you so much for sharing it.

  36. Christine Marshall
    on May 10th at 2:32 pm

    Awesome information! Thanks for sharing 🙂

  37. Suzanne Hall
    on May 10th at 3:05 pm

    I loved reading about the history of making lace. I love the history about everything.

    I love your books. They are so interesting. In fact, I’m reading one of your books, A Lady in Disguise
    on my cruise vacation.

  38. Alison Boss
    on May 11th at 12:45 am

    It was very interesting learning about the history lace. I thought it was wonderful how missionary Martha Mault made it her goal to teach the art of lace making in India as a goal to provide a stream of income to young, lower-caste women who had no other means by which to lift themselves and their families out of poverty. Also, I was shocked to learn that it took 5 hours to make one square centimeter of lace! Unbelievable !!

  39. Karis
    on May 12th at 5:13 am

    Wow I never thought about lace that much but I was very interested to read about it! And I love the detailing in that one picture of lace, it is gorgeous!

  40. Lisa
    on May 12th at 1:42 pm

    Lace making is a true art! So much work required. But the results are truly beautiful. I don’t think I could ever do such intricate work.

  41. sandra
    on May 16th at 6:01 pm

    Thank you, everyone, for your comments! Rebecca and Charisse were our winners. Stay tuned for next month’s grab-bag giveaway!!