When I was in Stockholm in February 2020, I went to my favorite lace store, Old Touch, to look for vintage lace. There behind the counter, I discovered hanging the most beautiful ultra-thin lace. It stood out, because it was more delicate than anything I have seen before. The owner told me it was Vadstena lace from the late 1800s or early 1900s.
The lace is made by hand with an ultra fine linen yard in a technique called ‘knyppling,’ similar to bobbin lace. I was thrilled to have found this treasure and brought it back with me to New York.
I then emailed a photo of the lace to Ewa Abered at the Vadstena Spetsmuseum (Vadstena Lace Museum), who confirmed it was Vadstena lace from the late 1800s or early 1900s.
Ewa gifted me an amazing book about Vadstena lace and about the entrepreneurial female lace dealers in Vadstena, who in the mid 1800s to early 1900s commissioned the local lacemakers and sold the Vadstena lace throughout Sweden. Freely translated the title is 'Women Entrepreneurs and 'Knyppling'. The photo to the right is from a lace dealer's sample card that was shown to buyers.
Vadstena in Sweden is a center for the lace technique ‘finknyppling,’ which is the technique of making bobbin lace with the finest thread. Swedish historians agree that ‘knyppling’ most likely was initiated by women who had returned to Vadstena after having accompanied their soldier husbands to fight in wars in Europe. It is believed that the lace technique originally came from Flanders, Belgium.
In Vadstena, from the 1700s until the beginning of the 1900s, many women and some men earned extra money by making Vadstena lace in their homes. In 1870, Vadstena had 2,400 inhabitants. In Vadstena and the surrounding parishes, there were at that time 800 people making lace for a living.
In the late 1800s, factories began manufacturing machine-made and cheaper lace. Craft advocates feared that the knyppling technique would be forgotten. In 1903, a group of advocates with Ingeborg Petrelli as leader founded Vadstena Knyppelschools to preserve the tradition of ‘finknyppling.’
Today, the association ‘Föreningen för Svenska Spetsar’ is active to preserve the tradition of making Vadstena lace. The association publishes patterns and arranges ‘knyppel’ courses in the summer. ‘Knyppling’ continues as a popular hobby. ‘Vadstena Lace Museum’ opened in 2005 and is worth a visit!
Below is a Swedish stamp from 1976 featuring Vadstena knyppling with the Vadstena Abbey seen through a window. To the right a Vadstena lace from the church in Vinnerstad.
Even if knyppling was not started at Vadstena Abbey, today the nuns or ‘the Birgitta sisters’ make fine knypplad lace . Their lace is sold in Vadstena. Below is the front of a book about Vadstena lace and to the right the Vadstena Abbey, located at the Northern part of lake Vättern. The designer, Monika Knutsson, was born at the Southern tip of this lake.