I’ve been busy this week working on my response to the Battle of Britain commemorative lace panel. I’ve decided to make three thin panels rather than one large one, as in the original, for two main reasons. It will make mine different from the original, after all I’m not trying to make a replica I’m producing a new response to it, and it will make it much easier to work. It also allows some flexibility in hanging as the panels can then be displayed next to each other or apart. I’m incorporating digitally printed images of the bomb scenes in the original, showing how they appear today, and all those pictures have now been taken and digitally amended except for one which I’ve planned to do next week. I’ve now finalised the design and bought all the materials and have started working on the net. The design is mainly needle run lace but will also include some Carrickmacross techniques as well as some silk paper and some counted thread work. I’m now drawing up a schedule for those inclusions as they can be made and worked on away from the frame I’m using for the main net.
Wednesday, 13 September 2017
Coming across this machine embroidered lace recently set me thinking how many types of ‘unconventional’ lace there are. Most people when they think of lace don’t really consider how it’s made, they just like its appearance. Giving talks about lace I find that most people have heard about bobbin lace but far fewer know about needle lace. Many have come across knitted or crocheted lace through domestic lace they’ve seen at home, such as doilies, tablecloths, bedspreads and shawls, made by their mother or grandmother. Also many people have heard of tatting but don’t actually know what it is, and often mistake bobbin lace for tatting. The lace that most people probably come across every day is machine lace in contemporary clothing, curtains, and napery. Again this can be made in a variety of ways, each giving a different style of lace, just think of the Raschels, Barmen, Leavers and curtain lace machines, as well as embroidery techniques like the Schiffli or Cornely machines, and woven laces like Madras. I think my initial reaction to the embroidered lace was that of a lacemaker trying to classify it – but I realise that the beauty of the lace is what really counts rather than the technique used!
Wednesday, 6 September 2017
Now I’ve had the chance to study the Battle of Britain commemorative lace panel, as well as the paintings the designer made from the original tracings, I’m impressed by the way the design was simplified for the lace panel. Harry Cross, the designer of the lace, would have produced his design and then handed it over to the draughtsmen who interpreted it into the instructions for the lace machine. Designers and draughtsmen always worked closely together as the success of a design depended on their mutual understanding of the effect the designer was trying to attain and what could be achieved using the lace machine. This mutual regard is expressed in the panel as Harry Cross includes his own name, as the designer, at the top of the panel, as well as the names of the two draughtsmen, J W Herod and W R Jackson. Mr Herod began the draughting of the panel but sadly died before it was completed so Mr Jackson took over the task. I was particularly interested in the way the New Zealand silver fern, pictured above was interpreted for the panel. The original design (based on the painting by Harry Cross) is quite intricate and subtly shaded and includes many overlapping leaves, which I thought would be difficult to transfer into lace, but even though the draughtsmen have simplified the shapes they have still managed to retain the outline and delicacy of the plant, which is a great testament to their skill.
Friday, 1 September 2017
Two more lovely illustrations from my Ladies magazine of 1831 showing a public promenade dress and an evening dress. Even though the walking dress includes a ruff it disappointingly has no lace – the ruff is made of cambric ‘lightly embroidered around the edge’. The evening dress includes plenty of blonde lace however, around the skirt and the neckline and at the end of each sleeve. The fashion correspondent also notes that she has seen some very pretty morning caps ‘made in imitation of the French blonde de fil’ with short lappets descending from the ears which may be tied or left loose ‘at the pleasure of the wearer’. She continues that the ‘crown is of the horseshoe shape’ and the caps are trimmed with small ribbon bows ‘mingled with the lace in front’ with a larger bow at the back. She doesn’t supply an illustration but I think it must have resembled the morning cap in my blog post of 21 June which also shows a mixture of lace and ribbons.
Wednesday, 23 August 2017
I’ve been studying the flowers and leaves Harry Cross used in his design for the Battle of Britain commemorative lace panel, to get some inspiration for my contemporary response to it. Apart from being amazed by the elegance with which he depicts them I’ve been making a list and found roses, thistles, shamrocks and daffodils representing the four countries of the UK. He also includes plants representing the air forces mentioned on the panel, so we have maple leaves for Canada, protea for South Africa, wattle for Australia, and fern leaves for New Zealand. The panel also includes acorns and what is generally described as wheat or corn along the outer edge, although it does look more like barley with its long ‘whiskers’ fanning out. The image shows some thistles, corn and shamrocks all beautifully drawn and shaded. I need to try drawing some myself now and deciding how to incorporate them into my design.
Wednesday, 16 August 2017
Gail Baxter and I have just run another lace study day for the Crafts Study Centre at Farnham. We had a lovely group of people most of whom were crafts people but not lacemakers. We looked at lace from the Textile collection at the University for the Creative Arts, which includes samples of most types of lace, of varying qualities. We began the day by looking at the different types of bobbin laces, then studied some needlelace pieces, including some amazingly fine hollie point, and some very nice Point de Gaze. We then moved on to some mixed laces, like the one in the picture, which includes bobbin lace motifs joined with needlelace ground. After that we studied some of the Irish laces – Limerick, Carrickmacross and crochet as well as some filet lace. We ended the day by studying some very fine examples of knitted Shetland lace and looking at some examples of different types of machine made lace. By the end of the day we had managed to cover most types of lace and had given the participants a good overview of the many different ways of making lace.
Friday, 11 August 2017
I’ve just bought a small book about wedding fashions and was interested to see what it said about veils. It begins by discussing the weddings of Queen Victoria’s family and says that the veil Princess Alice wore in 1862 was designed by her father Prince Albert, although sadly he died before the wedding. The photograph in the book is not very clear but I did track the veil down in the Royal Collection and it appears more like a shawl in shape, with little gathering. She wore it thrown back from the face with orange blossom in her hair. When Princess Alexandra married Prince Edward a year later she and her bridesmaids all wore veils falling over the backs of their heads from wreaths of flowers. This fashion often made it difficult to distinguish the bride (see the image above), however by the end of the century it was generally only the bride who wore a veil and the bridesmaids wore hats. In 1871, Princess Louise wears a similar style of veil to her sister also hanging from the back of her head with flowers at the front. All the royal brides wore white although many ordinary women just wore their best dress whatever the colour with a bonnet or veil. I’m looking forward to finding out more.
Thursday, 3 August 2017
I’ve just visited Bentley Priory to see their Battle of Britain commemorative lace panel and discuss plans for exhibiting my contemporary response there. It’s so nice to see the panel so beautifully displayed and on permanent exhibition in the hall at the Museum – the image shows a detail from it. Bentley Priory was the headquarters of RAF Fighter Command during the Battle of Britain and it was from here all the operations were coordinated, in fact the museum includes a recreation of the Filter room where all the radar information was processed, which gives a good idea of how skilled the work was. It’s a very friendly museum with an important story to tell and I’m looking forward to working with them on my Battle of Britain project.
Tuesday, 1 August 2017
The round lace mats that we call doilies, are reputed to have been named after a London draper called Mr Doily, Doyley or D’Oyley who had a linen drapers shop in the Strand in London. There is a reference to him in the Spectator magazine of 1712 selling ‘stuff as might at once be cheap and genteel’. Another writer mentions that the draper’s shop existed until 1850. Originally, doily may have been a woollen material, the name being derived from dwaele, the Dutch word for towel. However in the eighteenth century, the usage changed to denote a small piece of fabric known as a ‘doily-napkin’, placed between the dessert plate and the finger bowl at the dining table. In 1854, Miss Leslie, an American writer, described doilies as ‘small napkins intended for wiping the fingers after fruit’. In the twentieth century doilies lost their association with towels and became decorative or used to protect furniture. Doily now seems to be collective term for all types of lace mat regardless of size or the technique used to fashion them and the general public are probably more familiar with paper doilies than textile ones.
Wednesday, 26 July 2017
I enjoyed the exhibition ‘Air: Visualising the invisible in British Art 1768-2017’ at the Royal West of England Academy in Bristol. As the title suggests there were contemporary works and well known historic paintings by artists such as JMW Turner, John Constable, Eric Ravilious, Sir John Everett Millais, Samuel Palmer, and Paul Nash. The exhibition was divided into areas such as air, wind, clouds, breath and flight. The cloud pieces were very evocative and I particularly liked Ian McKeever’s three works entitled ‘… and the sky dreamt it was the sea’ shown in the image above. The historic paintings of clouds by Turner and Constable were also a treat to see close up. The works linked to flight were relevant to my current Battle of Britain commission especially one by Eric Ravilious painted shortly before he was lost flying off Iceland in 1942. However, flight also encompassed hot air balloons, barrage balloons and the movement of birds. Breath was linked to several pieces of glasswork linking the idea of ephemerality, biology, glass blowing and mist. It was a fascinating subject and with the promise of visualising the invisible was one I couldn’t miss. It runs until 3 September and is worth a visit if you’re in Bristol.
Monday, 24 July 2017
Gail Baxter and I recently ran a lace study day for the Crafts Study Centre at Farnham. The lace was all taken from the textile collection at the University for the Creative Arts and we aimed the day at those who had no knowledge of lace. The textile archive includes several pieces of lovely lace and other smaller samples so it is quite a mixed collection. We decided to base the day on techniques mainly to show the range of ways in which lace can be made. We started with a talk about contemporary lace then moved on to the collection beginning with bobbin lace including pieced laces like Honiton, continuous laces such as Bedfordshire and Eastern European tape laces. We then moved on to needlelace, and mixed needle and bobbin lace, of which the College has some lovely pieces. After that we looked at the needlerun laces including tambour and Carrickmacross, which led onto Irish crochet. We then showed some lovely examples of Shetland knitted lace from the collection and finished the day with examples of machine made lace and some other laces which didn’t fit into any of the other groups. We had a lovely group of participants and I hope we left them with a good overview of the many ways in which lace can be made.
Thursday, 20 July 2017
I’ve been looking at laser cutting this week and have discovered that like most techniques there is much more to it than meets the eye. For a start the machines aren’t just used for cutting but can also be used to engrave and score materials so are much more versatile than I thought. The book I’ve bought to help me learn about it is ‘Laser cutting for fashion and textiles’ by Laura Berens Baker, which provides 14 very clear tutorials explaining how to set up the Illustrator and CAD files needed to instruct the machine. I was interested to see that you use different coloured lines for different kinds of cut, in a similar way to the drafts for machine lace, which use different colours to indicate different thread movements and thus the type of stitch made. Although I love the effects produced by laser cutting I’m not sure I would enjoy all the computer work involved, my textile work is generally an antidote to sitting at the computer writing so I’m not sure adding more desk work is the way forward for me, but I’ll give it a go.
Wednesday, 12 July 2017
I’ve been working on my Battle of Britain lace panel commission this week. I’ve worked out the dimensions of the three separate panels and how large each of my digitally printed images needs to be on each one. The images on the two outer panels will be separated by strips of needle run lace reflecting the missing people behind the construction of the original lace panel. The central panel will be different from the other two and will incorporate images, silk paper and needle run lace depicting images from the airforces involved in the Battle of Britain. I bought two different types of net last week and have been trying out some stitching on both of them to decide which one to use. I still need to try out some silk paper samples on them both and leave them to hang and see how they perform, but so far I’m finding the one with the slightly larger mesh easier to work with.
Wednesday, 5 July 2017
It’s interesting how one thing leads onto or informs another. I’ve now decided to incorporate some silk paper and stitching into my contemporary response to the Battle of Britain lace panel – not something that was in my original plan for the project! I first used silk paper many years ago as a way of showing my small experimental free bobbin lace cells as it allowed them to be seen from both sides. I then started using it to make panels incorporating lace, which allowed me to make larger pieces for exhibitions. Also in some of those larger hangings I included other threads and beads into the silk paper. More recently, for my ‘Dust and dirt’ hanging I made large areas of silk paper and then stitched over the top to give the impression the silk paper was blending into the background fabric (see the image above). A technique I also used in the Miss Havisham veil to link silk paper and net. For my Battle of Britain panel I’ve decided to use silk paper to reflect the idea of the flames licking round St Paul’s Cathedral and to form the feathered wings of a soaring eagle. So from using silk paper just as a support for my lace it’s now playing an important part in the design itself. I need to do some sampling to see how it will work though so watch this space!
Wednesday, 28 June 2017
Another lovely lace design from the Art Journal Illustrated catalogue of the Great Exhibition of 1851. This white lace scarf imitating Brussels point was exhibited by Mr Urling of London, an ‘extensive manufacturer of lace’. Although the term manufacturer implies to us that Mr Urling produced the lace, this term was used in the lace trade to indicate someone who acted as the middleman for all the processes required between the lace machine operator and the person who bought the finished textile – I learnt this from Sheila Mason’s book on Nottingham lace. The catalogue describes the scarf by saying: ‘the date 1851 is encircled by the rose, thistle and shamrock. The straight lines of the border are embroidered in gold, and worked upon a clear fine net, for which Mr Urling long ago obtained a patent. The design for this scarf was, we believe, made expressly for the manufacturer by Miss Gann, a clever pupil of the Government School of Design.’ It is nice to see the designer acknowledged, and interesting to discover that the design was made for Mr Urling, which suggests that he was involved in the lace process from the beginning.
Wednesday, 21 June 2017
These very fancy bonnets decorated with lace are illustrated in my copy of The ladies pocket magazine of 1831. The one on the left is described as the front view of a half dress cap, composed of blonde lace embellished with twisted rouleaux of gauze ribbon. The view on the right shows the back view of a morning cap. This is described as being composed of English lace with a twisted band of gauze ribbon encircling the caul. Unfortunately the lace is not drawn very accurately and the design seems similar for both bonnets. It looks quite wide though and the caul of the morning cap seems to be made up of two gathered pieces of lace with the scalloped edges running down the centre of the head. The fashion correspondent for the magazine also informs us that ‘Headdresses of blond lace, forming a front in the cap style, but without any caul, and trimmed with light sprigs of flowers, are more in request for dinners of ceremony’. It’s nice to see lace being used for day and evening millinery.
Tuesday, 13 June 2017
Preparing a talk about my lace I’ve been looking back at some of the work I made when I started designing and making bobbin lace in a free style. The photo shows a detail from a necklace inspired by looking at flints in a museum. I drew and painted some of the flints to explore their shapes and the myriad colours they contain and decided to make some necklaces based on those images. For this one I first made a rough necklace shape using triangles of fabric in the colours of the flints, trying to bring out the different golds, browns and blues of the originals. I glued the shapes together and then worked bobbin lace over the top of them, using the edge of the fabric as my footside, and sewing in by piercing the fabric with a crochet hook, pulling through one thread of the worker pair and looping the other through it. I tried to keep the lace open so glimpses of the fabric could be seen behind it and worked round the necklace making triangular shapes with the lace. It’s interesting to see how something as sharp and angular as flint can be used to inspire bobbin lace.
Thursday, 8 June 2017
I was delighted recently to buy a copy of The Art Journal Illustrated Catalogue of the Great Exhibition showing beautiful engravings of many of the items exhibited including some of the lace. The image here shows the border of a Brussels lace veil exhibited by M Delehaye and notes that the company also exhibited gracefully designed lace handkerchiefs, although sadly none are depicted in the catalogue. The caption to the lace says ‘Brussels lace, that magnet of attraction to ladies, is contributed in great abundance and beauty, by many famed manufacturers of the Belgian capital’ so a visitor to the exhibition would clearly have seen many more beautiful examples of lace. What has struck me is how clearly the engravings depict the details of each item in the catalogue, whether they are textiles, metals, ceramics, glass, furniture or machinery. It must have been a mammoth task to draw and engrave so many items in such detail, yet as far as I can see there is no acknowledgement of any of the people involved in the production of the catalogue, in the same way as the craftsmen who produced all the beautiful exhibits remain nameless.
Thursday, 1 June 2017
I spent a very useful day in London visiting all the places depicted on the Battle of Britain lace panel and taking contemporary photographs of the sites. It’s interesting to see how some places have been restored completely and look no different such as Buckingham Palace and the Guildhall, while others like the City Temple have been changed quite radically, and some such as the buildings in Queen Victoria Street have been swept away and replaced by a modern building. London has changed a lot since 1940 and several of the original views are now obscured by modern buildings and trees, however the aim was to photograph them as they are today which is what we achieved. The last venue on our itinerary was Buckingham Palace so I also visited The Queen’s Gallery, and saw the exhibition of Canaletto’s paintings of Venice and some of Rome. Both cities have changed little over the years so it proved to be an interesting contrast with London.
Wednesday, 24 May 2017
I was delighted to buy a lovely little book recently called ‘The Ladies Pocket Magazine’ printed in 1831. It includes all sorts of snippets of information, poems, stories and tips on etiquette, but what attracted me to it in the first place were the hand painted engravings of fashions. The two illustrated here are a dinner dress and a walking dress. The accompanying text describes the dinner dress as ‘a dress of gold coloured gaze popeline over white satin, the corsage cut rather high, and made with a little fullness is finished by a falling tucker of blond lace’. The skirt is also decorated with ‘very narrow blond lace’. The walking dress is described as a ‘gros de Naples dress’ and the colour as ‘a new shade of Chinese green’. The lace in this one isn’t specified it just says ‘lace collarette and gauze scarf’. The author then describes the latest new fashions (presumably from London). This is followed by a section on Parisian fashions in which two specific outfits are described (a dinner dress and an opera dress) although sadly there are no illustrations of these two especially as the dinner ensemble includes a blond lace cap. Although the information is scanty, my little book is providing a fascinating insight into the fashions and concerns of 1831.
Monday, 22 May 2017
The Belladonna lace is underway! See the blog of 10 May for the creation of the design and the thinking behind it. I decided to go with a simple pattern of a leaf and two berries either side, which is quick to work and doesn’t require any adding or removing of pairs as I work. I will have to make quite a length of it to go round the edge of a veil so I do want something quick and relatively easy to work. I’m making it in black because it’s supposed to be a mourning veil. However, because black thread always seems to fill the space more fully than white I’m trying to keep the design fairly open. I’m working the small berries in whole stitch and the leaf shape in half stitch. I decided to add a pair of gold threads on both the upper and lower edge to give it a touch of glamour and to suggest that the mourning may not be entirely sincere! I now need to determine how long the piece needs to be and to time myself working a repeat so I can see how long it will take me to complete the whole thing.
Wednesday, 17 May 2017
I visited the lovely Gawthorpe Hall in Burnley this week. Not only is it a beautiful house it also contains the extensive lace and textile collection established by Rachel Kay-Shuttleworth. I was there specifically to see the Battle of Britain commemorative lace panel, which is of special importance to the Collection, first because it adds to the lace collection and also because Richard the 2nd Lord Shuttleworth was in Fighter Command and died in the Battle of Britain. It was fascinating to see the panel laid out and to be able to examine it carefully – the shading and depth of the images achieved by the machine curtain lace is astounding. As you may know I’ve been commissioned by Nottingham Trent University in collaboration with the Textile Society to produce a contemporary response to the panel and my work together with the original panel will be exhibited at Gawthorpe Hall from July to November 2018. Therefore yesterday was also a chance to see the room in which the work will be shown, to take some measurements and generally do a bit of planning. I’ve come back with lots of diagrams, ideas and photos and now need to sort them all out!
Thursday, 11 May 2017
It was interesting to hear Michael Brennand-Wood in conversation with Liz Cooper at the Crafts Study Centre talking about his work in the current exhibition entitled ‘Artists meet their makers’. The exhibition, curated by Liz, celebrates recent collaborations between Master Weavers from the West Dean Tapestry Studios and well known artists. Michael talked about his collaboration with Master Weaver Phil Sanderson to produce ‘Transformer’ a tapestry formed from a fusion of images taken from international lace and textile traditions to assemble the shape of a transformer. Rather than Michael giving Phil a completed artwork to reproduce, the two men worked together to produce the final piece.
Michael sent Phil images, from which he produced samples, and together by remixing the images the final work was produced. Asked about the collaborative process Michael said he knew Phil well and trusted his judgement and praised his skill at mixing subtle colours to interpret the design. Liz commented on the care taken to dye the range of colours required. Michael’s only criticism was that he would have liked the piece to have been larger. Phil agreed and said he too would have preferred a larger piece. Phil also noted that the aim of tapestry weaving is not to copy the artist’s design blindly but to retain the essence of the artist’s work within a tapestry framework - something beautifully achieved in this case. If you want to see the piece for yourself the exhibition is at the Crafts Study Centre, Farnham until 1 July.
Wednesday, 10 May 2017
Having talked about my early bobbin lace designs last time I thought I’d show you my latest lace design ideas this time. Some of you may know that I produced a body of work for the Knitting and stitching show last year on the theme of veils – all of them linked to nineteenth century gothic heroines or writers in some way. Although that exhibition is over I still have ideas for more veils so have started putting some thoughts on paper. The one I’m working on at the moment will be another black veil and will suggest a widow’s mourning veil. However, the bobbin lace trim around the edge of the veil will incorporate the leaves and berries of the poisonous deadly nightshade (Atropa belladonna) suggesting that the widow’s state might not be entirely unexpected! I’m thinking of including a slight touch of gold in the lace too, just to suggest that the widow may be aiming for glamour rather than mourning and perhaps has come into money! The veil will be titled ‘Belladonna’.
Wednesday, 3 May 2017
Preparing a talk on designing bobbin lace made me go back and look at some of my earliest attempts at designing. These pears were one of my first designs and are basically outlines with fillings in the central areas. My inspiration came from two places, first of all, the garden, as we have several pear trees, but also Ann Collier’s book ‘Creative design in bobbin lace’. Her book gave me the confidence to have a go at designing and showed the way by describing how braid lace can be used to form the outline of a design. She also has a chapter on filling stitches that can be included within in the braid outline to give the design more interest and make the lace more stable. For this design, I first drew the outline of the pear as a continuous braid, allowing a split in the central area for the pip. Then selected some plait and picot fillings that suggested the texture of pears for the interior. Once I’d finished my bobbin lace pears I then needle laced some leaves incorporating wire into the edges to give them a slightly more three-dimensional appearance. It is a simple design, but for me it represents a huge step as it started me on a journey of lace design that I’m still enjoying.
Wednesday, 26 April 2017
I’ve been looking through old copies of Craft magazine and came across some inspiration for an installation I’m designing. I’ve been commissioned to produce a contemporary response to the Battle of Britain lace commemorative panel and as part of my response I would like to design an installation commemorating the airmen who lost their lives during the series of battles that constitute the Battle of Britain. I would like to produce a work that fills the room so Chiharu Shiota’s piece ‘In Between’ which fills the room with threads she uses to ‘draw in the air’ seemed very apposite as a way of linking lives with the air and the land. Angela Woodhouse’s ‘The waiting game’ also struck a chord, not because of her subject matter, but because I have been considering the use of parachutes and this suggested the idea of using a vast parachute to fill the room. Najla ElZein’s installation ‘The wind portal’ also suggested the propellers of vast numbers of aircraft. None of these ideas were what the original artists had in mind and I will not be copying any of them, but they have been very useful in crystallising ideas that have been running through my head and will help me define my own installation
Tuesday, 18 April 2017
I’ve been reading a beautiful book by Heather Toomer called ‘Embroidered with white’ which describes the eighteenth century fashion for Dresden lace and whitework in general. It is lavishly illustrated with photographs of lace and also includes drawings and patterns by Elspeth Reed, in the same style as those used in Janet Arnold’s books. Heather explains that sleeve ruffles in this period were made separately from the chemise and gathered onto a tape. They would have been sewn onto the band at the end of the chemise sleeve for wear, but would have been removed for laundering as they required special care. Rather than being circular many of them had a wider section that fell below the elbow such as the one in the image. They were often made in sets with perhaps a matching apron and cap. Although the ruffle in the picture only has one layer they were often made with several layers and some were embellished with the addition of a lace edging. They are beautiful items and with the current fashion for ruffled sleeves perhaps they’ll make a come back?
Tuesday, 11 April 2017
I haven’t found much lace in Rome but did come across several ecclesiastical shops selling vestments for priests, which had some lace in their windows. The selection here all came from one shop and included a variety of types. The main image shows needle lace and cutwork.
While the second image includes some handmade bobbin lace as well as chemical lace and the tape lace that is common in Brugges but made in the Far East. I assume they’re used to edge vestments and other church linen such as altar cloths.
Wednesday, 29 March 2017
I keep coming across the term brise-bise in my curtain research so decided to find out more. Brise-bise or Brisby net curtains are short curtains that hang across the lower part of the window. The name comes from the French for ‘wind breaker’. They tend to have a channel along the selvedge for a rod or wire to be passed through, which is attached to either side of the window and often a scalloped lower edge. They were popular in the early twentieth century, hung across the lower part of a sash window. Café curtains are similar, short curtains, which became popular in the 1950s. They could be hung singly but were sometimes hung in tiers with one curtain across the upper part of the window and another over the lower part. Like brise-bise curtains they were often made with a channel for a hanging rod or sometimes had tab tops or loops through which the rod was inserted.
Wednesday, 22 March 2017
I’ve just spent a couple of days in Nottingham researching curtain lace, in particular the lace company J B Walker. The company was founded in the 1840s by Benjamin Walker who was one of the pioneers of lace curtain making. Like many lace companies it has had a complicated history since then, with different parts of the family specialising in different aspects of the business as well as various sales, mergers and acquisitions. The company history is fascinating but I was also interested to see some of the products of the ‘drapery and napery’ side of the company, basically curtains, tablecloths and bedspreads. The image above is a tablecloth made from a cotton and terylene mix, which gives a slightly more solid feel compared with a tablecloth made of cotton, but is softer than one made of terylene thread alone. It was also interesting to see drafts of lace patterns squared off and painted for the lace curtain machines as well as some day books used by John Walker describing meetings, thread prices and visits to factories, giving a good picture of the day to day running of the company.
Friday, 17 March 2017
I saw the exhibition A history of fashion in 100 objects at the Fashion Museum in Bath and was most interested to see what lace it included. The first showcase includes some beautiful embroidered and lace embellished gloves so I was not disappointed. There were small lace edgings in some of the dress on show but it wasn’t until the section on Regency fashion that lace became prominent. A frock from 1817 of madras lace (shown in the image on the left) was very delicate. According to the caption, the development of machine made net in 1809 meant that all over lace dresses were very popular at this time. A stunning example of a dress incorporating lace was an 1860s dress of pale green silk with applied black machine lace combined with a Bucks point handmade bobbin lace collar.
A red and white 1870 dress with bustle and low décolletage also included some pretty blonde style lace around the neckline. There was not much lace on show in the later, more modern, sections of the exhibition – probably because the interesting lace dresses were on show in the concurrent Lace in fashion exhibition. I did think the 2011 House of McQueen silk tulle embroidered gown by Sarah Burton was quite lace-like though.
Tuesday, 14 March 2017
I was intrigued to see this fashion doll and her wardrobe at the Fashion Museum in Bath because it reminded me of the teenage doll I had as a child. This one is called Miss Virginia Lachasse and she was modelled on Virginia Woodford, the house model for Lachasse of Mayfair. She was made in 1954 to raise money for the Greater London Fund for the Blind. Her clothes were made to scale in the Lachasse workrooms, her stockings were made by Aristoc and her cosmetics by Yardley. She even has tiny gloves and a handbag.
Friday, 10 March 2017
I saw this lovely dress at the Fashion Museum in Bath. It is a court dress from the 1600s and is the oldest dress in their collection. The fabric shimmers because although the warp is silk, the weft is silver metal thread which catches the light. It is decorated with parchment lace (see the close up on the left of the image). It gets its name because the larger elements of the pattern are formed from flat strips of parchment wrapped in silk thread. They are incorporated into the silk bobbin lace as it is worked. (The image combines two photographs from the book Treasures published by the Museum)
Tuesday, 7 March 2017
I enjoyed the Lace in fashion exhibition which ranged from the exquisitely handmade lace of the 1600s to the laser printed lace of today and covered quite a lot in between. I thought the lace in the handmade section was breathtaking. It included a Brussels Duchesse wedding veil from the 1860s that included bobbin and needle lace applied to a machine made net and a point de gaze needle lace shawl from the same period. The cape in the same case is also from the 1860s and is decorated with black Le Puy bobbin lace which was fashionable at the time. The cabinet also included a 1980 black dress made by Madame Osborn, the court dressmaker, which included quite large inserts of Venetian gros point from the 1600s, showing that lace was often reused. This was emphasised when I discovered a flounced dress by Catherine Buckley made in the 1970s from painted Nottingham curtain machine lace – I have seen examples of this painted curtain lace in Nottingham so recognised the material at once!
Going round the exhibition it struck me how soon machine lace took over from handmade laces. The evening dress in the image above dates from 1829 and is made of machine-woven gauze resembling blonde lace. A tatted wedding dress from the 1930s was an exception, but it had been made by Anne Goodwin for her grand daughter and was not available commercially. It was also interesting to see how quickly the handmade laces were copied by machine. There were examples of chemical lace mimicking Irish crochet and tape laces resembling bobbin lace. As well as a fabric giving the appearance of Carickmacross lace and a cream silk evening dress by Amalia Machado from 1959 for which pieces of machine lace were sewn on to the completed garment to resemble Chantilly lace.
I like the way the exhibition ranged from demure wedding veils to sexy red and black dresses from recent catwalks. One of my favourites was a 1991 see-through, black, imitation Chantilly lace dress by Karl Lagerfeld which Linda Evangelista wore for a photoshoot for Vogue. I thought it was aposite to end the exhibition with examples of laser cut and laser printed lace as the story of lace has always been about adapting new technology to bring lace up to date. My only complaint was that there was no publication to accompany the exhibition.
Thursday, 2 March 2017
Having seen so many lovely machine lace curtain designs recently, based on a grid format, I’ve been having a look at filet lace. I made some for the City and Guilds qualification, which involved making the filet net lace background as well – the type of thing that is easy once you’ve started and got the pattern going but you feel all fingers and thumbs when you’re trying to get it started. The ‘darning’ as well is not as simple as it seems and requires careful planning beforehand so you manage to cover all the squares evenly and the threads end up in the right place. It’s not really the way I like to make lace, I like the aspect of serendipity, rather than having to organise where each thread is going before I start. There is some beautiful filet lace around though. I remember seeing some lovely examples in the museums in Brugges. It is also the inspiration for much curtain lace so I need to carry on my exploration.
Thursday, 23 February 2017
I had an interesting day yesterday talking to the granddaughter of Harry Cross, the designer of the Battle of Britain commemorative lace panel. Among the things we discussed was his approach to design and I was surprised to learn that he didn’t use sketchbooks. We are so used to using them today to draw from life, play with ideas, draw diagrams and collect information that not to have one seems amazing. Perhaps the companies he worked for had inspiration books for all the designers to use. I have seen some of these in archives, which may incorporate snippets of lace, fashion designs, pictures of flowers and architecture. Some are for general reference and others have obviously been assembled by individual designers for their own use. I wonder where he tried out his designs though, perhaps on pieces of paper that he then threw away once he’d produced the final design. Or perhaps the lace designers had to keep all the artwork with the design so it couldn’t be taken out of house and copied. However, it may be that the use of personal sketchbooks for designing is a modern idea which began with the development of City and Guild embroidery and textile classes as a way of learning and evaluating. Interesting thoughts that I will follow up!
Tuesday, 14 February 2017
I spent a very useful day in London seeking out some of the buildings on the Battle of Britain commemorative lace panel that suffered bomb damage. Part of my contemporary response to the panel is to take photographs from the exact spots where the originals were taken, to show how they’ve been renewed, and then print them on to fabric for use in a larger installation. I’ve mapped them all out so I know where they are and I’ve booked a professional photographer to help me take the photos later in the year. This week’s trip was to see whether street views of some of the places are still accessible. I’ve discovered that the original image of St Paul’s Cathedral was probably taken from what is now the centre of a busy road and the one of the Old Bailey was probably taken from a window or roof on the opposite side of the road – neither problem is insuperable but just as well to know in advance! I also visited Susie MacMurray’s exhibition at the Mall Gallery – I’ve long admired her work - the theme was war and conflict, which tied in so well with the rest of the day’s research.
Thursday, 9 February 2017
I’ve been enjoying looking through the latest net curtain catalogue I bought on ebay. It’s surprising that any of them have survived, as most people, including me, throw catalogues away as soon as they are out of date, but I’m so pleased to come across them as they usually give accurate images of the lace as well as measurements and sometimes prices as well. The first thing that struck me with these curtains from 1933 is that the curtains are not as wide as those from the 1900s which of course reduces the space for the designer. Although the curtains from both periods tend to have a border and a central panel, the later ones are much more compact and the designs seem more solid as a result. I was also interested in the ‘Economic’ curtains shown in the image which include the valance and lace curtains all in one piece. They are quite long (2.5 yards) but only 40 inches wide so seem to have been designed for an urban home, perhaps a Victorian terrace. Unfortunately there are no prices (I suspect the prices were on a loose sheet which has since been lost) so I don’t know how much they cost. The manufacturers were obviously careful not to commit themselves as there is a stern note saying ‘All prices are subject to Market Fluctuations’.
Thursday, 2 February 2017
This week I’ve been trying to study the various stitches used by the Nottingham lace curtain machine and understand how they are made. I now have a better idea but still have much more to learn. There seem to be two main types of ground stitch: filet and Swiss net. The filet grounds produce a square net like handmade filet net and they can be single-tied or double-tied at each side, depending on whether the bobbin thread linking the warp and bottom board thread together passes round them once or twice. In Swiss ground the net is not an exact square but forms a V shape, which you can see in the image above. There are then many variations depending on whether every bottom board thread is linked to the adjacent warp, linked to the warp beyond that one, or just twisted round the warp to form a pillar. It is complicated but I am beginning to understand it!
Thursday, 26 January 2017
I spent a very interesting day at the Victoria and Albert Museum yesterday searching through old issues of the Furniture Gazette to find out about the state of lace manufacturing in the UK in the 1870s. These journals are a fascinating resource aimed at those in the trade, rather than consumers, and they give a frank view of the business world. However they also include news items, obituaries, trade relations, articles about current styles, as well as thoughts about design and manufacturing. For example a few of the things I read about were disputes in the lace trade, a patent for a device that traps muslin fabric between two glass window panes, a description of how the jacquard patterning system works, and a review of the lace at the 1874 international exhibition by Mrs Bury Palliser. I was also pleased to find some designs for window drapery including fine lace curtains and some tips on curtain design by those well know gurus of the day the Misses Rhoda and Agnes Garrett.
Friday, 20 January 2017
I’ve spent the last few days in Nottingham first attending a symposium about lace and lace related topics and then doing some more research towards my response to the Battle of Britain lace panel. At the symposium I gave a paper about the approach I’m taking to the commission and how other artists have produced textile responses to war archives and themes of conflict. There were many other interesting papers, in particular, David Hopkin talking about research into lace ‘tells’, Gail Baxter discussing her research into lace business records, Matthew Potter talking about the Limerick lace industry and Amanda Briggs Goode discussing early artschool training for lace designers. The research towards the Battle of Britain panel involved sourcing some of the original photographs from which the original panel was designed. So all in all an excellent few days, meeting new lace contacts and catching up with old ones and doing some research.
Thursday, 12 January 2017
Walking the dog in the winter I always enjoy looking at the trees and the lace-like images made by the leafless branches. They remind me of Japanese paintings and it was the combination of Japanese art and the silhouettes of winter trees that inspired me to make this hanging of a fan. I used a Bedfordshire style of lace, which, with its plaits and leaves provides a good representation of winter twigs. I felt the combination of black threads and red background gave an oriental air to the piece and I also added some gold beads to give some highlights and a golden full moon to add to the Japanese effect.
Friday, 6 January 2017
My exciting new project for the coming year involves the Battle of Britain lace panel – the image just shows a detail. I’ve been commissioned to produce a contemporary textile response to the panel and its associated archive and I’m very grateful to the Textile Society for giving me a professional development award to help me fund the project and Nottingham Trent University for giving me a residency. The Battle of Britain panel was manufactured by Dobsons and Browne of Nottingham in 1942-6. It is 5 yards long and 65 inches wide and celebrates the bravery of the aircrew who fought the Battle of Britain in 1940, as well as the resilience of the people of London who were besieged nightly by the German Luftwaffe. It depicts the insignia of the Allied Air Forces that played a role in the battle, as well as scenes of the bombing of London. It was produced as a limited edition, and panels were presented to the air forces involved and to dignitaries of the day, including Winston Churchill. Today the panels are displayed in Air Force Museums, cathedrals, textile museums and other places worldwide. Once the panels had been produced, the original designs and associated jacquard cards were destroyed to ensure that it remained a limited edition. However, later in life, the designer, Harry Cross, painted the scenes in the panel, and these and other archival material have recently been loaned to the Lace Archive, at Nottingham Trent University. It is this archive that has been the impetus for the new project. My first research visit is planned for mid January so watch this space to see how the project progresses.