Punto in aria
Reticella was a lace in which threads were drawn out of the fabric and some embroidery stitches used to embellish and hold the remaining stitches in place (as a decorated framework. Reticella and punto in aria became common in the latter half of the 16th century. Both types of lace were referred to as 'cutwork' in England.
After a while, the laces became more and more "lacy" with more and more gaps - so many threads were pulled out that the fabric became flimsy. Eventually the lacemakers realised that, rather than starting with whole-cloth and removing threads, they could start with nothing, and simply build the framework themselves out of needle-made stitches.
The lace-makers felt they were building their stitches "in the air", thus the name of this technique.
This was the birth of true needle lace. Freed from having to use the structure of the warp/weft of the fabric, Punto in Aria developed flowing, curving structures, triangles and starburst patterns that are often seen in the pictures of lace collars and ruffs from this time-period. The triangles and starburst patterns were also used in reticella patterns. Both reticella and punto in aria patterns were used in ruffs. However the curved lace edgings on ruffs would be either bobbin lace or punto in aria.
Punto in aria was worked by sewing threads to a piece of parchment with the lace pattern drawn on it and then embroidering over the lace. One of the first pattern books containing true reticella patterns was Singuliers et Nouveaux Pourtraicts, published in 1587 by Federico Vinciolo in France. This book also contains patterns labeled as 'punto in aria'.
Many books with embroidery and lace patterns were published in the 16th century. Lace patterns from one book would appear in anther, even if the other book was published years later in a different country by a different auther. An example of this is the pelican in her piety pattern from Singuliers. This pattern is also included in Corona delle Nobili et Virtuose Donne published in Italy by Cesare Vecellio and also in A Schole-House for the Needle published in England in 1632.
The pattern books cannot be used to date the earliest time a lace pattern appeared. According to Santina Levey in Lace, A History, the pattern books contained 'tried and true' patterns because they were designed for the amateur, not the professional lace maker.
Cutwork was usually made with white linen thread although there are a few examples of the lace worked using colored silk. Most of the lace displayed in museums are the finest examples of their collections. Some museums have cutwork made with coarser thread that they do not have on display.
Here is a website with more information on Punto in Aria: http://www.arrienne-lace.com/Lace_home.htm
Here is a link to an online facsimile of Singuliers et Nouveaux Portraicts: http://www.pbm.com/~lindahl/vinciolo/
Here is a picture of someone in the SCA wearing a cutwork partlet. The partlet was made with 16th century lace pattern. The ruff was made using a 16th century bobbin lace pattern from Le Pompe worked in needle lace. The partlet and the ruff were worked in 80/2 linen thread. Both the ruff and partlet are punto in aria.