One of the first pieces of old lace I was given was from a great aunt. It was a Maltese collar.
As it is a robust Lace and generally made to be worn it is one of the antique laces that you can frequently find for sale. (Fig 1)
The thread normally used was a cream silk although black was also used and as a reasonably thick thread worked up fairly quickly. It is said you can identify Maltese Lace by the Maltese crosses included in the lace although this is often true, you can occasionally find a piece without a cross such as in this ‘elderly’ handkerchief edging. (Fig 2)
Maltese lace is traditionally made on long thin pillows and so the lace is made in strips. If you look carefully you can see where it is joined. (Figs 3a&b) The edge stitch is not one that UK lace makers would normally use, but it does make the joining of the strips of lace easier.
(Fig 4) I have not found any Maltese lace with a 9 pin edge which is found in Bedfordshire Lace. The leaves are usually fat and plump compared to those in older Bedfordshire lace which can have square ends (fig 5.) Compare the leaves on fig 5(– Bedfordshire) with Fig 6 (– Maltese). The Bedfordshire leaves look a little like tallies, whereas the leaves/petals in Maltese Lace rounder and often in a sequence of 4 (a cross formation) or in larger blocks.
You can find Maltese lace made in cotton – according to Pat Earnshaw in her book ‘Identifying Lace’ this could be Beds Maltese made by the Bedfordshire Lacemakers copying the Maltese patterns. I have a collar like this which is made in one piece which could also be another indication that it was made in the U.K. (Fig 7)
When I am looking at a piece of lace that I think might be Maltese I look for the following.
1) The type of thread, is it a cream silk of cotton
2) Is the lace worked in strips and joined.
3) The leaves being fat and plump (wheatears)
4) The edge being different to Bedfordshire Lace.
5) The Maltese Cross, which is in most of the Maltese lace.
Although these are all indications of lace made in Malta there are no hard and fast rules to say that they must be included in a piece of lace to have come from the island of Malta.
Lady Hamilton Chichester is reputed to have brought lacemaking to the island in the 1830s, many of the techniques used are Genoese.
One word of warning, some years ago I visited Malta and bought a bookmark and a hankie, both made using silk lace without thinking when the hankie needed a wash I put it into the washing machine! (Fig 8) Don’t follow my example! I have learnt a lot since then on handling lace – old and new.