Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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The language of lace and embroidery from the court of Louis XIV through to contemporary haute couture

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posted on 2021-12-08, 12:55 authored by Lloyd, Catherine

The history of thread work is a story of practicality and functionality, but it is also a tale of power, fashion, virtuosity, decorum, art and culture. Thread work has played a role as a visual language in France for many centuries, continually evolving in its techniques and range of expressive and stylistic possibilities and thus in its significance as a communicative medium. In more recent times, thread work has come to be considered as a form of social and cultural discourse in its own right that is consequently referred to as ‘visual rhetoric’. Following this unique form of visual discourse through the history of fashion allows consideration of the development of identity and gender roles in French society as well as the interrelated narratives of the creative processes involved in the production of lace and embroidery. These reflections lead in turn to consideration of the ways processes of production and consumption were disrupted and transformed by major events, by sumptuary laws and political edicts. The language of thread work has been encoded and decoded by all socio-economic classes, and is underwritten by tensions between power and dependency, rich and poor, light and dark, public show and private domesticity. It has the capacity to express identities and to enhance communities. In more recent times the reconsideration of the value of thread work in the design concepts of haute couture has seen a revitalisation of the appreciation of this medium in an industry associated with luxury, exclusivity and creativity. The language of thread-work remains ambivalent and complex in France today, signifying an innocuous ‘feminine’ pastime on the one hand, and a valued professional skill and cultural heritage on the other.


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Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Author Retains Copyright

Degree Discipline


Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Master of Arts

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code

970120 Expanding Knowledge in Languages, Communication and Culture

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Research Masters Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Languages and Cultures


Chiaroni, Keren