Wednesday, 20 January 2021

Black lace sold by Samuel Peach in 1904


I always enjoy looking through old lace catalogues and one of my favourites is that from the Samuel Peach company of 1904. Peach and Sons were Nottingham lace manufacturers and sold a wide range of lace goods by mail order including curtains, tablecloths, clothing as well as lace fabrics and trims. They catered for a large market in the UK and also had many colonial customers in South Africa, India, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the West Indies and China. They assure their customers that the goods are well packed in oilcloth to sustain the rigours of the journey. One of the things I find most interesting is their special parcels for particular households and occasions. For example there are parcels for those getting married or travelling to the colonies, which contain all that is needed to furnish a home with curtains and linens, depending on the climate and the grandeur of the home. I’ve been looking at their black lace parcels this week and the one for ten shillings has caught my eye. It contains 6 yards of wide Chantilly lace, 6 yards of narrow Chantilly lace, 6 yards of black Spanish lace, described as very elegant and of serviceable quality, 6 yards of narrow black edging lace, two lengths of fine net and a black lace collarette in fancy silk and braid work. The catalogue suggests that this parcel of lace is suitable for mantles, costumes etc by which it means the capes and blouses which were fashionable at the time. It was clearly a bargain but ten shillings (50 p) in 1904 was worth a lot more than it is today!

Wednesday, 13 January 2021

Black lace veils

I made this series of black lace veils as part of a study into nineteenth century gothic literature. They are all made from a double layer of fine black net gathered from a bunch of artificial black flowers at the crown, which hides a hair comb that can be used to secure them to the head. The lace in the image above was inspired by Bram Stoker’s Dracula and incorporates fangs and drops of blood, which are a lovely glowing ruby red in candlelight.

‘Belladonna’ is another veil in the series, this time inspired by the idea of a mourning veil which could have been worn by a gothic heroine such as Lady Audley in Mary Elizabeth Braddon’s Lady Audley’s secret. The design of the lace trim is based on the leaves and berries of the poisonous deadly nightshade plant (Atropa belladonna) with a hint of gold suggesting that the widow’s state may not be wholly unexpected or unwanted.

‘Creeping dread’ doesn’t include any lace but instead has a trim of black silk paper and iridescent black beads like tiny insects that appear to be creeping up the veil and smothering it. The ‘Gothic veil’ includes some black lace but again it has been smothered by black silk paper that threatens to engulf it and the entire veil. These black veils, and a series of white ones also inspired by gothic literature, have been exhibited in several places including the Knitting and Stitching Show and the Living lace exhibition in Bruges.

Wednesday, 6 January 2021

Looking forward: lace plans for 2021

The beginning of the year is traditionally a time for plans and resolutions. I’ve started the year by taking part in Jane Fullman’s Instagram lace challenge, which runs throughout January, and is a great way of looking at your own work through a different lens and discovering interesting work by other people. So a good start to the year. I’m finalising the paper I’ve written about my dinner mats project inspired by the life and work of Amy Atkin, the first female Nottingham machine lace designer, and have various other writing projects on the go as well. As far as practice is concerned I’m working towards a group exhibition resulting from a study trip to Japan, which will be shown in the Craft Study Centre at Farnham and Gallery Gallery in Kyoto in 2022 and hopefully some other venues too. I’m also continuing with my series of doilies inspired by feminism and the unhomely and once I have a collection ready will be looking for an exhibition space for those and for the dinner mats project. However, exhibiting is not easy at the moment so I may have to be a little bit inventive in finding venues or even attempt an online exhibition.

Wednesday, 16 December 2020

‘Kiss me quick’ lace bobbins

These two lace bobbins both fall into the category that T L Huetson labelled ‘saucy’ inscriptions in his authoritative book on lace and bobbins. One is inscribed Kiss me quick and the other Kiss me quick [my] own true love. There are lots of variations of these sentiments such as Kiss me quick my lovely darling and Kiss me quick and dont be shy. Huetson also records a pair of bobbins inscribed Kiss me in the dark and Love doo it again. He suggests that the owner of the last two may well have blushed over her lace as she read them! The bobbin on the left was probably made by the bobbin maker the Springetts describe as the ‘Blunt end’ man who worked in the middle of the nineteenth century near Bedford. That on the right is most likely the work of Jesse Compton who lived at Deanshanger and was making bobbins in the first half of the nineteenth century. Jesse Compton has an interesting history. He was the son of a Wiltshire farmer and in his early twenties travelled to Lincolnshire, but was arrested for vagrancy and after a public whipping and time in prison he was sent back to Wiltshire. However, he seems to have stopped off in Buckinghamshire where he married and settled down as a labourer, becoming a turner and bobbin maker in later life. He and his wife had six children the oldest of whom also became a bobbin maker.

Wednesday, 9 December 2020

Chantilly lace

I bought this lovely sample of Chantilly lace in Bruges last year. Chantilly is one of my favourite laces because of its delicate shading and the way it looks when it’s worn against the skin, for example as a veil. Santina Levey notes that the Chantilly lacemakers originally made blonde lace, usually in white or cream thread, but because of changes in fashion they began making black lace in the 1840s using grenadine, a non-shiny silk thread. Chantilly lace uses a light twisted Lille ground for the net, while the motifs in the design are worked in half stitch and outlined in a heavier gimp thread.

Any bobbin lace is time consuming to make, and Chantilly is no exception. For larger pieces such as veils and shawls, which were fashionable in the mid to late nineteenth century, several lacemakers worked strips of the lace that were later joined together using invisible stitching called point de raccroc. Unfortunately this line of sewing is also a weak point that sometimes comes undone showing where the strips of lace were joined (see above). Although my sample is coming apart, I found it interesting to see the way in which the strips had been divided so that the join interfered as little as possible with the main parts of the design.

Wednesday, 2 December 2020

The Space Between lace catalogue

What a treat – my copy of the catalogue of ‘The Space Between’ handmade lace exhibition, curated by Fiona Harrington for Headford Lace Project, arrived today and I’ve been enjoying browsing through it. I was going to blog about my favourite pieces but I realise that it’s impossible to choose between them so I’ll give you an overview of the exhibition instead. As Elena Kanagy-Loux reminds us in the introduction, lace is a textile defined by its appearance and numerous techniques are used to make it, many of which are found within this exhibition.

As expected, many of the pieces showcasing techniques celebrate Irish laces. Sr Madeleine Cleverly’s chalice cover edged in Headford lace links the past and the present, while Rosie Finnegan Bell’s Carrickmacross lace tree (see above) celebrates the legacy of lacemaking in South Armagh. The heritage of Carrickmacross lace is also the subject of Karen McArdle delicate photobook. The Irish Crochet lace hat exhibited by the Irish Crochet Lace Revival Group beautifully incorporates three types of Irish crochet to display the intricacy of the technique. The fine working of another traditional Irish lace, Borris tape lace, is displayed in Helena McAteer’s round floral d’oyley. Ann Keller describes her bobbin lace fans as Irish Celtic style bobbin lace, which rather than spotlighting one specific type of Irish lace are designed to include Celtic traditions and art within their folds. Of the other lace techniques, Jackie Magnin uses Torchon lace with variations of her own, Olga Ieromina plays with the size and placing of traditional lace, and Tali Berger makes large scale bobbin lace structures using rattan. 

Many of the pieces were made as a response to lockdown during the Covid-19 pandemic. One of these is ‘Le Messenger’ by Elisa Gonzalez made using free bobbin lace techniques inspired by the colours and the view of a garden. Daniela Banatova’s intriguing abstract bobbin lace forms (see above) are inspired by the trees and rock formations she finds on her travels. Also in the exhibition is one of Mary Elizabeth Barron’s Torchon lace river series based on the Logan River, made from threads she has created from clear plastic packaging to highlight the impact of plastic waste on the environment. Moving from the earth to the sky, Ashla Ward’s complex black crochet pieces were inspired by exploring the darkness in the spaces between the stars in the night sky. Kim Lieberman also incorporates images of the sky in her bobbin lace piece, which comes from a series of works inspired by territories. Her images are taken from banknotes around the world and the chaotic (or wild) ground which holds the currency in a flux explores the interdependence of us all. 

Nature on a smaller scale is depicted in Andrea Brewster’s tatted coral forms and Eleanor Parkes’ needle lace insects. Eithne Guilfoyle’s image of red deer shows the versatility of Limerick lace, while Theresa Kelly’s vessels (see above) inspired by tree bark show the contemporary possibilities for Carrickmacross lace. M Merce Rovira and Atena Pou were also inspired by nature, their free bobbin lace sculpture captures the feeling of a soft breeze under an oak tree. Rather than depicting nature, Saidhbhin Gibson interacts with it by, for example, temporarily covering scars on trees and cacti with delicate needle point lace.


Moving from embellishments for nature to those for the body. Roisin de Buitlear’s lace engraved glass visor reminds us of veiling. It speaks of fragility and vulnerability and as such it is a tribute to front line workers in the Covid-19 pandemic. Malgorzata Szpila showed two lovely bobbin lace necklaces, one of falling golden leaves (see above), and the other of frozen silver leaves. Angharad Rixon used silver wire worked in free bobbin lace over a stone found on the beach to reflect the passing of time (see below) and Jane Fullman also worked bobbin lace in wire to produce beautiful patterned pendants and flowers. Suzanne Plamping’s delicate circular hanging inspired by reflection also uses metallic threads. In contrast to these smaller pieces, Kara Quinteros used large scale experimental bobbin lace to produce a bodice and skirt using ethically sourced yarns. 

Family ties are celebrated by Rachel McGrath who uses Irish crochet lace and hair to capture an essence of her past. Two artists exhibited self portraits: Eleanor Parkes’ is representational and made from bobbin and needle lace, while Vesna Sprogar’s is pixelated and composed of bobbin lace and tatting. Ester Kiely also uses technology in her bobbin lace installation ‘Port San Aer’ (see below), which translates music into lace, and you can also listen to the tune by using the QR code in the catalogue. 

Mary St. George, who introduced lacemaking to Headford in 1765, is celebrated by Norma Owens in a series of small round sculptures that incorporate symbolic motifs to represent her life and reflect on the male commentators who tried to belittle her work. Other artists dealing with women’s issues include Amy Keefer whose capsaicin crochet collar considers the lack of means of defence for women throughout history, while Camilla Hanney’s ceramic lace gloves suggest excessive femininity and explore the contradictions involved in traditional handmade lace production. Marian Nunez exhibits two metaphorical works that consider the emptiness of life and the ephemerality of beauty, based on Japanese iconography. Ger Henry Hassett’s moving work ‘A black mark’ remembers the souls of the 796 skeletons of babies who died and were buried at the Tuam Mother & Baby Home and the mothers who were scarred by their experiences there (see below). 

As well as these beautiful and thought-provoking pieces, which were exhibited in an art trail in windows throughout Headford, there were two commissioned works of art. Unfortunately these are not illustrated in the catalogue so I haven’t seen them, but the artists are Selma Makela who painted a triptych remembering those who traditionally made lace in Headford and Tarmo Thorstrom who alters the scale of Torchon bobbin lace by making it in linen and jute rope.

 Despite not being able to travel to Headford I have thoroughly enjoyed visiting virtually through the catalogue. As Elena says in her introduction, lace is not a dying art rather we seem to be ‘on the precipice of an exciting revival’. It is encouraging to see contemporary lacemakers exploring new paths as well as celebrating the revival of traditional lace. If you would like to discover more about the Headford lace project or order a catalogue for yourself you’ll find all the information on the website 

Wednesday, 25 November 2020

Thomas Lester and Bedfordshire lace

Thomas Lester was a nineteenth century Bedfordshire lace manufacturer who was responsible for some of the most beautiful English lace designs. The image above is taken from a cap piece he designed which is now in the Cecil Higgins Art Gallery, Bedford. He exhibited lace at the Great Exhibition of 1851 in London where he won a prize medal for his ‘improved arrangement of Bedfordshire pillow lace’. This was probably not an original design but an adaptation which showed that he understood the process of lacemaking and had an eye for designing. It is thought that he may have been able to make bobbin lace and his wife was definitely a lacemaker. In the 1850s there was a move away from the traditional point ground lace in Bedfordshire to the plaited laces which subsequently made Lester famous.

This image shows pages from Lester’s exercise book of designs in the Cecil Higgins collection. He was designing point ground lace in the early 1850s but after visiting the Great Exhibition, and in particular seeing that Honiton lace was not only a more free style of design but also was held in higher regard and fetched a higher price, he began designing Bedfordshire lace in a freer style using plaits to join the elements rather than grounds, which he used as filling stitches instead.

The designs often feature realistic plant forms and animals and the source of these may have been books of natural history, illustrated periodicals or Owen Jones’ The Grammar of Ornament which was used as a teaching aid at art schools. Such realistic natural designs were popular at the time and feature for example in Honiton and Brussels lace as well as other textiles. In the 1862 International Exhibition Thomas Lester was awarded a medal for his new type of lace, which he called ‘Bedfordshire white fancy lace’. He died in 1867 but the Lester family continued their lace manufacturing business in Bedford until 1905 and won medals in several exhibitions including the one in Chicago in 1893. However, the success of machine lace reduced their business considerably, particularly following the 1860s when the Levers lace machine became capable of producing imitation Bedfordshire (Maltese) lace, and they diversified into art needlework and Berlin work as well as continuing to sell ‘real lace’.