Battenburg lace, perhaps the most readily accessible type of lace today, has had many names including Renaissance lace and mezzo punto. Easily recognisable, Battenburg is sturdy and manufactured on a large scale. It is frequently seen in tablecloths and bridal gowns. Average craft enthusiasts can easily find kits that include pieces of Battenburg lace, supplies and instructions for creating pillow tops and Christmas ornaments.
Lace was originally created by costume makers as an embellishment to replace to embroidery. When all garments were sewn by hand, flexibility was highly desirable. Unlike embroidery, a panel of lace could be removed from one garment and sewn into another of a different style or size.
Different laces are identified by the method used to create them. Battenburg is a tape lace. Loops of even-width, woven tape are formed, and then decorative filling stitches called bars or brides are used to join the tape edges, filling the gaps. This process is used to create corners, borders and centrepieces.
Though some types of tape laces may be traced to the 16th century, Battenburg lace was first created when Queen Victoria of England named her son-in-law as the first Duke of Battenburg in the late 1800s. Every English Duke had his own lace pattern. Thus, a new style of tape lace called Battenburg was invented and became quite popular. During the 1930s and 1940s, making Battenburg lace was a fashionable American hobby made easier by readily available machine-woven tapes.
Older Battenburg laces can be identified by the way the tape had to be gathered around curves. Newer laces use tapes that have a gathering thread which produces tidier curves and corners. Also, machine-made laces often pucker when washed and have a coarser look than the older laces.
Tape lace has always been less labour intensive than some of the more intricate lace styles. Machine-made tape became available in the late 1800s and it could be used to fill space in needlework quickly and easily while still keeping a lace-like style. By the 20th century, techniques were simplified even further with filling stitched reduced to a bare minimum.