A needle lace made in a framework of squares.

• Modern reticella – no base fabric: designs built up with needle and thread.
• Old reticella - threads cut out or withdrawn from bands of woven fabric.
• Cut edges of woven fabric neatened by overcasting.
• Grids of needlewoven lines cross the patterns at right-angles
• Repeated geometric patterns, stylised flowers or motifs with angular outlines
• Created by buttonholed, needlewoven and overcast bars
• Petal-shaped wheatears and little triangular bits of needleweaving often used.

Reticella, Italian = little net or small grid. Originally, a form of cutwork involving large-scale removal of squares of woven linen or the withdrawal of threads, leaving very few threads, the resulting appearance being like a giant mesh or network.

The original 16th C meaning referred to a technique. Later meaning referred to a style or set of designs.
The original technique marked the transition between fabrics made lacy by cutting out and withdrawing threads, and later, by creating a lacy fabric stitch by stitch. Only insertion type laces were made at first as no detached needlepoint or bobbin lace edgings had developed to finish the edges.

Reticella is regarded as a forerunner of ‘punto-in-aria’.

With the fabric technique, (old reticella) cut and drawn threads divided the areas of the remaining fabric into squares and rectangles. Often so many threads were withdrawn, only a sparse framework was left which necessitated extra threads, especially diagonals, put in to support the needlework. Elaborate patterns were stitched and woven over and under this framework with a natural tendency to form repeated geometric designs. Later reticella, (modern reticella) unrestrained by a grid of fabric threads, needlepoint fillings took on a new dimension with circles, curved lines, elaborate stars, stylized flower & leaf shapes.

These cutwork and reticella embroideries decorated the wide cuffs, standing collars and associated cuffs, fashionable particularly in Spain and Northern Europe in late 16th and early 17th centuries. It was also used on household linen in conjunction with bands of drawn or pulled thread work and with filet lace.
In Catholic Europe considerable quantities were made for church use. From later 17th C, the technique appeared in English whitework samplers, indicating it was used on manchester. By 18th C, reticella was outmoded in northern Europe but continued in peasant communities, particularly in the Greek Islands. [Hence technique referred to as Greek Lace.]

In the late 19th C in the Lake District in Great Britain, a craft revival instigated by John Ruskin, one of the leading members of the Arts and Crafts Movement, cloth was again being woven by hand from hand spun linen thread and embroidered with reticella, cutwork, drawnwork and needleweaving. The product was renamed ‘Ruskin Work’. In late 19th C, Aemilia Ars of Bologna made well-executed copies of the 16th & 17th C work. Later, bobbin lace produced similar designs & this lace also was named ‘reticella’.
Hand made reticella was emulated by machines using the Chemical Lace method in 1881.

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Kurella, E.M Guide To Lace and Linens, Antique Trade, Norfolk, Virginia, 1998
Toomer, H LACE: A Guide To Identification Of Old Lace Types, Batsford, London, 1989.

© Valerie Cavill 2012