Page last updated at 00:31 GMT, Monday, 1 August 2011 01:31 UK

French lace-makers proud to be part of Kate's dress

The dress on display

By Christine Finn
Cuadry, France

The designer of Kate Middleton's wedding dress, Sarah Burton, was keen to emphasise the "Britishness" of her creation - but a group of lace-makers in France are also very proud of their contribution.

The net curtains are twitching in the French town of Caudry.

The modest town south of Lille has been known for centuries in certain circles for its exquisite lace-making.

Now it is known as "that" exquisite lace-making.

Kate Middleton's gown had "Caudry" stamped all over it - at least, if you have the eyes of an expert lace-maker.

"I knew as soon as I saw it," Christophe Machu told me at his family company, Solstiss.

Today the world's leading designers still come for intricate embellishments - Lanvin, Balmain, Gucci

The bodice also had the distinctive pattern of Sophie Hallett, the town's other international lace-maker.

The lace was worked into the gown by skilled hands at London's Royal College of Needlework, but the French link needs a bit of detective work.

Some 2,000 lace motifs from both of Caudry's lace-makers were used to make the dress even more uncopyable.

Couture lace-making, I learned, is a hush-hush world of closely guarded patterns and generations of worker loyalty.

Utmost discretion

Grace Kelly's wedding dress featured lace from Caudry, and it is rumoured Kate was keen for her designer Sarah Burton to take that as inspiration.

The wedding of Grace Kelly and Prince of Rainier
Hollywood actress Grace Kelly married Prince Rainier of Monaco in 1956

Today the world's leading designers still come for intricate embellishments - Lanvin, Balmain, Gucci - all worked on in utmost discretion. While I was waiting for Christophe, someone shut the sample cupboard doors.

To my surprise, given the secrecy, I was ushered past reception, along with my entourage of two officers from the tourist board and two staff members from Caudry's lace museum.

Then through a portal and into an industrial scene from the early 19th Century.

Ker-lash, ker-lash, bash, bash - a vast room resounding with original Leavers lace-making machines.

This technology was brought over from Nottingham in England. A mechanic, John Heathcoat, invented a machine to do the labour-intensive work of female lace-makers.

Meanwhile in France, Joseph Marie Jacquard was inspired by a street organ to design the weaving "metier" - a machine based on punch-cards and a forerunner of computer code.

Fairytale images

Two hundred years on, this noisy part of the process is still a male domain.

Workers manning the machines fixed gimlet eyes on bobbins as thin as knife blades, between which wound even thinner thread.

Delicate trails of pale skeins coursed in and out, as if someone had harnessed the webs of a colony of spiders.

Two women working in the factory
Employees at the Solstiss factory work on a piece of lace

Christophe described the machinery he worked on as he was growing up.

He gestured to the white lace inching out of the metiers, his hands black with the graphite which keeps everything running smoothly.

A door away, we left the clacking, thumping, production room for a different world.

Another fairytale image - women this time, sitting in the quiet, surrounded by mounds of patterned and coloured lace, scrutinising stretches of it for tiny imperfections and then invisibly mending them.

Such was the concentration that I held my breath lest I disturb a worker whose electric scissors "zizzed" deftly on a panel of perfect lace as she cut a scalloped edge.

Posters on the walls confirmed the wedding scoop to staff.

Map of France showing Caudry and Lille

I later spoke to a beaming Renee Pierrard, who has spent 45 years at Solstiss.

He told me, "When I saw the lace on the television and in the magazines, I said, 'It's Caudry!' I'm very proud for our town because people everywhere will know of our skills."

The locals hardly need reminding and, after my intensive lace immersion, I was practically dreaming it.

I began seeing "lace" all around town, in the swags of telegraph pole wires, in the festoons of street lights, and in the cut-ironwork framing the windows where, I bet, those curtains are still twitching.

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