I saw this interesting piece of filet lace at the Lace Guild exhibition ‘Hidden in stores’ last month, labelled in the catalogue as depicting ‘the sons of Joseph’. It was loaned from the Dr Spriggs collection and is thought to have originated in Italy in about 1600. That date or slightly later fits in with the costumes of the figures in fashionable Jacobean dress. However, I think the panel actually depicts the sons of Jacob, as Joseph only had two sons and this is clearly a large panel with many characters. Jacob famously had 12 sons including Joseph, Benjamin and Levi whose names can be seen in the image. Their story is told in the Old Testament book of Genesis. Federico Vinciolo’s pattern book for lace and embroidery, published in 1587, includes several figures but these are in classical rather than contemporary dress. However many examples of filet lace from that time (there are some in the V&A) depict figures in fashionable costumes so perhaps these panels were one-off designs specifically created for this piece of lace.
Wednesday, 10 July 2019
Wednesday, 3 July 2019
I’ve been busy this week writing about net curtains and lace panels – one article about my Battle of Britain lace panels and the other about my PhD work. The Battle of Britain article looks at how the original panels were designed and made and how I went about producing my contemporary response to them. The other article is looking at the net curtain as a metaphor for women who feel home is both a sanctuary and a prison. The work is based on female gothic novels and sensation fiction from the nineteenth century, so books such as Jane Eyre and The woman in white, but with parallels to today. In the research I used pins and needles on net curtains to produce tally marks counting out units of time, as this sewing equipment would be what the gothic heroine had to hand to record her plight. I also use the idea of the net curtain trapping whispers, secrets and the memories of the home. It’s been interesting going back to the PhD work and rewriting it for a different publication – still a way to go though, it’s not finished yet. I might start counting off the days with pins!
Wednesday, 26 June 2019
This thought-provoking exhibition at RWA Bristol looks at the depiction of fire over the last four centuries of British art. There are so many aspects of fire – it can be creative or destructive, put to industrial use or a homely presence that provides light and warmth. It has irreversible powers of transformation when used as a material. In short a fascinating subject for art.
The main gallery was dominated by Tim Shaw’s Man on fire, seen here with Sarah Pickering’s Match in the background. This huge figure of a man being consumed by fire, in a state between life and death, was originally conceived as a proposal for the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square and is a commentary on the invasion of Iraq. Pickering’s Match is an image of a replica of the first friction match made by John Walker in 1827. The exhibition combines history, industry and domesticity throughout. Many of the older paintings by such well known artists as Joseph Wright of Derby and Graham Sutherland celebrate the use of fire in industry, the former’s Blacksmith’s workshop brilliantly depicting the effect of heat on the smiths and the play of firelight on the spectators. Historical subject include J M W Turner’s Fire at the Tower of London and HMS Ark Royal in action by Eric Ravilious.
The modern pieces that appealed to me most were those that used fire as material. Cornelia Parker’s Red hot poker drawings (in the image at the top) combine order and chaos in the neat folding of the pristine white paper pierced by the heat of the fire. I also liked Sian Bowen’s Gaze no 14 which used the heat of laser cutting to produce images on paper. Susan Hiller’s Measure by measure II (image above), a series of test tubes each containing the ashes of one of her paintings, which she had burned to destruction, reflected on the destructive nature of fire and the fleeting essence of life.
I also enjoyed the immersive nature of Sophie Clements’ There, After, a video installation of an explosive burning experience in the studio, filmed in the round and experienced in the dark with the accompanying crackling audio sounds of the burning process. Aoife van Linden Tol also uses fire performances to create her works of art, represented in the exhibition by the remains of the process; a detail of Copper blast is shown above.
This is just a taste of the pieces in the exhibition which varied from meticulously painted depictions of fire in industry, war and home, to conceptual ideas about the fragility of life. It certainly captured the brilliance of fire’s creative potential as well as its destructive power
Wednesday, 19 June 2019
I’ve long been a fan of asymmetrical designs and used that style in my own designs, like the one in the image above. I like to use the same elements in a design but subtly alter them throughout just to maintain interest and also, to be honest, make working it more interesting too. One of the pieces of lace I admired at the ‘Hidden in stores’ exhibition at the Lace Guild last week was a Honiton fan leaf worked by Emma Radford in about 1878 (see below).
I studied it for a while and I think one of the things that made it so attractive was that it wasn’t symmetrical. Although the edging was the same repeated motif all round, and several elements of the main design, such as the leaves and flowers, were the same they were arranged differently on both sides of the fan. Honiton and other pieced laces are obviously at an advantage here as you can move the motifs around to make a pleasing design once they have been made. So many fan designs are mirror images on both sides and although they may be beautifully worked it doesn’t always make for a good design. I think that so often we expect lace mats and fans to be symmetrical that when they aren’t it subconsciously makes us look again and appreciate the lace even more.
Wednesday, 12 June 2019
I went to see the ‘Hidden in stores’ exhibition at the Lace Guild this week. What a treat to see some beautiful lace loaned from the V&A collection and the Dr Spriggs Loan collection. There were some lovely pieces on display and I was struck by the number of them that included figures. The Brussels bobbin lace cravat end illustrated above, from the Spriggs collection, includes several figures playing musical instruments and may date from the 18 or 19 century. Variations of this design exist in other museums and the fact that it is composed of several separate motifs may have meant it was easy to reproduce.
The most obvious figurative piece that dominated the room was the filet lace panel from the Spriggs collection depicting the sons of Joseph with their accoutrements. This was one of the older examples (c 1600) of lace on show and had clearly been worked in separate panels which were then joined together. Another old piece, from the late 16 century, was a scalloped bobbin lace edging showing alternating images of a sheep and a man, probably used as domestic lace bordering a cloth. The catalogue notes that this lace includes woven almond shaped leaves instead of plaits and that this can be used to identify the lace as originating from Genoa or Milan.
Another very interesting piece was a pair of lappets from the V&A, thought to include portraits of John Churchill the first Duke of Marlborough and his wife Sarah. These are made in Honiton lace and date from 1710-1720. It was unusual to include recognisable people in lace and these may have been made to indicate the wearer’s (or her husband’s!) political allegiance.
One of my favourite pieces was a bobbin lace flounce, from the V&A, made using a braid lace with linen and silver thread. It was made in northern Italy in the late 17 century. The design, made up of braids and net, is quite solid but what is so attractive is all the little animals, people and angels concealed within it. The silver thread has tarnished now but when it was made it would have sparkled beautifully in candlelight. The final figurative piece in the exhibition was a coloured needlelace purse depicting Chinese figures. It dated from 1700 but looked quite modern in its use of colour and design.
I have only talked about the figurative pieces here, but there is much more to see, including fine Honiton and needle laces. The exhibition ends on 21 June so do try and visit before it closes.
Wednesday, 5 June 2019
Buttonhole stitches are so versatile - they are the basis of needle lace and are also used in white work, embroidery and general sewing. It never fails to amaze me how a skein of thread can be turned into the most delicate needle lace using the humble buttonhole stitch. Therese de Dillmont in her Encyclopedia of needlework explains how to execute the stitch in her section on plain sewing and describes many variations on the basic stitch in her chapter on needle-made laces. She shows how to make joining bars with picots and longer branched bars with double buttonhole stitches to form a more rigid structure. She also describes how to make various ground stitches using more open loosely formed buttonhole stitches, which she calls Brussels stitch. In total, she describes 40 needle lace stitches all based on the same buttonhole stitch model. The image shows a detail of some needle lace showing an open Brussels stitch, another worked over a guiding thread, and open stitches over a gimp composed of several threads forming joining bars. All made using the simple buttonhole stitch!
Wednesday, 29 May 2019
I love the ambiguous nature of pins – they are small, shiney and useful but have a sharp edge to them. Their attractive appearance masks a tendency to inflict hurt and pain randomly. Katherine Walker expressed it well in 1864 in her short story ‘The total depravity of inanimate things’, in which she humorously suggests that pins and needles, among other household objects, have a life of their own. She says ‘the similar tendency of pins and needles is universally understood and execrated, - their base secretiveness when searched for, and their incensing intrusion when one is off guard’. In ‘Pinned down’ the wedding veil I made fringed with pins, a detail of which is shown in the image above, they form a beautiful glistening fringe but on closer inspection reveal their true nature to comment on the sharp reality of matrimony. Interestingly Yvonne Verdier, in a study of folk tales in rural France, links pins to maidenhood, so they seem to be an appropriate edging for a white wedding veil.
Wednesday, 22 May 2019
Why do we make? was one of the interesting questions explored at the ‘Craft(ing) the body’ conference held at UCA Farnham today. Although it wasn't the theme of the day it was a thread running through all the presentations. Professor Catherine Harper felt that there was a need to craft and that the interaction between the body and the thing being made was visceral. She commented that we don’t need craft but we desire it. Her keynote paper on ‘Chasing the impossible: crafting the intimate body’ compared the different approaches of female representation expressed in Judy Chicago’s Dinner party and Helen Chadwick’s Eat me, arguing that Chicago stylised and unified women as biologically feminine while Chadwick’s response was more personal and placed femininity between the biological and the social allowing multiple definitions. Interestingly the artists Gayle Matthias and Karina Thompson, who work in glass and textiles respectively, both said that it is only as mature artists that they have had the confidence to produce, exhibit and verbalise personal autobiographical work. The potter Gareth Mason noted that we make sense through craft, while artist Fiona Curran argued that craft is a form of discovery and curiosity. Daniel Fountain spoke of his practice, crafting a queer society in the form of nests from salvaged materials. The ceramicist David Jones speaking about his own practice noted that giving matter form is significant. He quoted Richard Sennett’s words that ‘making is thinking’ and Hannah Arendt’s idea that craft requires a narrative rather than mindless making. Jones argued that craft is not art or a subsidiary of art but lies parallel to it. During the question time many in the audience said they felt compelled to make, others said that they made because they had ideas to express and disseminate. Many agreed with Jones that what we can make goes beyond what we can see and thus produces nuanced layers of meaning.
Wednesday, 15 May 2019
I’ve been busy studying the lace designs of Amy Atkin who claimed to be the first female designer of Nottingham machine lace. The reasons are twofold, first I want to do some academic research into her life and her designs, and second because I’m planning a practice-based response to her designs as well. The format for my own lace designs will be long thin rectangles so I’ve been trying to work elements of Amy’s designs into that shape and you can see my initial thoughts in the sketches above. Studying Amy’s designs, which are mainly deep valances or curtains rather than strips of lace, suggests that she designed a main focal element for the base of the lace and worked upwards. She favours designs that incorporate flowers and foliage, whether this was her preference or the favoured style of the time I don’t know. Some of the designs also have an Art deco feel to them which would have been a new influence at the time she was designing in the early twentieth century. I’m enjoying trying to get the feel of her style and find her flowing style of design is easy to work with and lends itself to handmade as well as machine made lace.
Wednesday, 8 May 2019
I saw this lovely needle lace sampler in the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford over the weekend; it is part of the Feller collection. The subject is the Biblical story of Susanna and the Elders, in which two lecherous Elders watch Susanna bathing and then accuse her of promiscuity. She is condemned to death until the prophet Daniel proves her innocence and the guilt of the two men. What intrigued me about the sampler was not the theme but the variety and technical skill of the different panels of needle lace. The top band drew my attention because from a distance I thought it was filet lace but it is actually a type of pulled work based on the grid of the fabric. The second band is much freer needle lace with some applied pieces and beads, although still maintaining the background grid of the underlying fabric. I love the subtle shading in the leaves, and what looks like two squirrels in the tree. The attitudes of the people in the story are beautifully depicted too – Susanna is quite rightly indignant at having her bathing interrupted. Originally the water would have sparkled and the beads in the pool would have glittered making the scene appear quite three dimensional.
The third layer also keeps the grid but includes needle lace mermaids and boats and a central pattern that has an Art deco look to it and includes some tiny coral beads. The next layer is white cut and drawn work on a very fine scale and the final band is counted thread embroidery in a border pattern of lozenges and acorns. The whole piece is beautifully designed and made; it dates from the late 1600s.
Thursday, 2 May 2019
I decided to depict the sleep cycle in bobbin lace and silk paper as they seemed appropriate media to use. I thought the silk paper would represent the unconscious dreamlike state of sleeping while the random lines of the bobbin lace show the way the mind flits from idea to idea during the dream stage of sleep. I based the work on a typical graph of the human sleep cycle, which I copied in a coarse thread. I made rectangular areas of random bobbin lace to represent each of the dream phases and combined them with the thread graph. The silk paper was worked round all of them to represent the unconscious state from which they emerge and to act as a practical binder to keep them all in place. The final piece is an ethereal dreamlike hanging that wafts gently in the breeze.
Wednesday, 24 April 2019
I was lucky recently to buy a lovely book of filet lace designs. It’s called ‘Le filet ancient au point de reprise’ and it was published in Paris; unfortunately it isn’t dated but filet lace became popular in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. It is obviously one of a series and no instructions are given so the purchaser was expected to know how to work the designs. The information about how to make the net and work the reprise stitch used for all the designs could have been obtained from books on domestic crafts, many of which were available at the time. However, there are recommendations for the type of thread required to make the net and carry out the embroidery, depending on the number of squares required per centimetre. I’ve come across several of these design folios and they show how popular filet lace was. The designs can also be used for cross stitch and indeed any craft work based on a system of linked squares. The image shows how complicated some of these designs were and also how well the designers have achieved flowing lines even when working on a rigid grid format.
Wednesday, 17 April 2019
I’ve had a good week researching lace curtain designs both in the Lace Archive at Nottingham Trent University and in a private collection of designs. Unfortunately most of them are not attributed to the designer or dated and for many of them it’s even difficult to know who sold them. The image is of a design by Marcel Tuquet and it comes from a folio of his designs published by Christian Stoll of Plauen. The folio isn’t dated but they are all large bold designs which were fashionable at the end of the nineteenth century. Compilations of images like these were sold to lace and textile manufacturers as examples of good design and this folio is known to come from the studio of a lace producer. The idea was that they were used as inspiration and these pages are all marked with pencil and ink suggesting they were well used and studied.
Wednesday, 10 April 2019
I’ve been writing an article about lace curtains this week. It’s mainly about a collection of curtains I’ve been studying in an archive, which were all produced at about the same time but for different markets. It’s been interesting finding out about the different lace curtain fashions and the associated window styles that influenced them. It seems that curtain styles do not change very quickly and many designs continued to be manufactured for several years. It’s also been interesting to see how some curtains have been altered, often to shorten them for use at smaller windows probably in the children’s or servants’ rooms when they were no longer fashionable for the main rooms of the house. I’ve also been looking at the factors influencing curtain styles including magazine articles, books dealing with decorating and managing a home, and even the international exhibitions that began with the Great Exhibition of 1851.
Wednesday, 3 April 2019
I had an enjoyable day earlier this week looking at some lace sample books with two friends at an auction viewing. Lace sample books seem to fall into three groups, but they all seem to be large, thick and heavy! They are all produced by lace-making companies either to record their own products or to inspire their designers. The first type include samples of the lace made by a producer and often show a variety of laces based on a similar design. Some of these are for the producer’s own use but others seem to be designed for salesmen to take to buyers to show the different laces for sale and these may include prices and names. The third type of sample book includes snippets of lace of all different types, both handmade and machine made, glued onto the pages and these are generally inspiration books for the lace designers. The image shows some samples of designs that were put together as inspiration and includes lace and embroidery designs.
Wednesday, 27 March 2019
My Battle of Britain lace panels and the parachute installation will be taken down at Bentley Priory next week, which means this is the last week they are all on exhibition. It will be sad not to have them on show anywhere but they have been seen at three venues in separate areas of the country: Nottingham; Gawthorpe Hall; and London; so they have been widely seen. It was certainly an interesting project which introduced me to many interesting people and widened my knowledge of the Battle of Britain and the RAF and I hope I managed to convey some of that in my work. My current project on Amy Atkin, the first female machine lace designer, is certainly different but I’m sure will also lead to new knowledge and I hope some insights into the role of women in design in the early twentieth century.
Wednesday, 20 March 2019
I’ve been enjoying reading the historical section in The technique of filet lace by Pauline Knight. She notes that in the late nineteenth century few English magazines published articles and patterns for filet lace but many French albums of designs were produced, several of them reproducing designs from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. These designs cover a variety of styles and also include pictorial designs from the fables of La Fontaine and Perrault. These designs were popular for filet lace and also for crochet so had a wide audience. Interestingly Pauline suggests that the interest in filet lace at this time may have been sparked by the availability of machine lace bedspreads and curtains with elaborate designs. This reinforces my own idea that the lace curtain designers were using the filet lace designs as inspiration for their own work as both are based on a square mesh.
Wednesday, 13 March 2019
I’m delighted that my review of last year’s lace exhibition ‘Lace Unarchived’ held in the Bonington Gallery, Nottingham, in February and March 2018, has now been published in Textile journal. The publishers, Taylor and Francis, have sent me a link which allows the first 50 people who use it to download a copy of the review, so if you would like a copy please access it through the following link - you have to copy and paste it
Thursday, 7 February 2019
I’ve been trying to identify the castle in the Battle of Britain commemorative lace panel and this week asked for help on social media. I’ve had several suggestions – Windsor, Ruthin, Penrhyn and Leeds castles. Leeds castle have responded saying it isn’t them but the others are still on the table. As the panel was designed by Harry Cross in Nottingham I originally started looking at castles in Nottingham and I was convinced the castle was Elvaston Castle from images on the internet. However when I actually visited Elvaston and walked round it I realised that it didn’t really fit the image on the panel so it wasn’t the one I was looking for. It may be that the castle is not based on a real castle or that Harry Cross mixed aspects from different castles, however the other images on the panel are all taken from life so it seems likely that the castle is too. One of the problems is that many castles look quite similar but once you start looking closely this one is quite distinctive. If you think you recognise the castle do let me know and I’ll investigate further.
Wednesday, 30 January 2019
I’ve been looking at lace curtain designing again this week, in particular floral designs and how they were used in border patterns. The curtains in the image are from the Peach and Sons catalogue from 1904 and many of them have floral borders. Some are very stylised while others are quite naturalistic and flowing. Books of the time that taught design to students were insistent on drawing from nature as well as from memory and then developing those images into designs. In fact Owen Jones who wrote the Grammar of Ornament (the mainstay of teaching and good taste at the time) considered nature the best designer of all.
Friday, 25 January 2019
I’m very excited about my new lace project researching the life and work of Amy Atkin, who claimed to be the first woman to design Nottingham machine lace in the early 1900s. I first came across Amy in 2008 at an exhibition of her work in the Nottingham Castle Museum, in conjunction with a lovely exhibition entitled Prickings by Catherine Bertola. I have been interested in her ever since and have now seen her designs at Newstead Abbey where they are held as part of the Collection of Nottingham City Museums. Amy trained at the Nottingham Art School in the early 1900s and was a designer for about 10 years before her marriage brought her career to an end – as was the case for most women at the time. My project will involve academic research into Amy’s career and lace design in the early twentieth century. I’ll also include a practice response to the research as well – probably involving needle run lace on machine net. I’m interested to know more about Amy and lace design in the early 1900s so if any readers have any more information I would be delighted to hear from you – please just add a comment here. The image is one of Amy’s designs and belongs to the Collection of Nottingham City Museums.
Wednesday, 23 January 2019
I made a series of little needle lace bags a while ago and have recently been photographing them. They were easy shapes to work on and carry around to take up when I had an odd moment to spare for lacemaking. The backs are simple corded buttonhole stitch, worked fairly loosely to give an open appearance. The fronts are all different but are much thicker and textural with thicker cordonets.
I also had fun making up different types of ‘handles’ for them. Some have chunky cordonets worked into loops at the top of the bag, some are plaited, and others have bound threads held in place by decorative knots. They’re all made in shades of yellow, are the same size and have a long tassel at the base so although they are all different they form a group for exhibiting.
Wednesday, 16 January 2019
I’ve been looking at the similarities between old filet lace patterns and the designs used in nineteenth century machine lace curtains. Both are based on a square grid and it seems reasonable to think the curtain designers may have based some of their designs on old patterns. This week I’ve been looking at the little book of Renaissance patterns for lace and embroidery by Federico Vinciolo. It was originally published in 1587 and contains designs for reticella needlelace as well as grid designs suitable for filet lace or cross stitch. Vinciolo was a Venetian designer who went to France, probably at the request of Catherine de Medici, where he had the monopoly on manufacturing lace ruffs. His designs cover an array of styles including geometric, floral and the more pictorial designs shown here of a stag and squirrel, and the goddess of flowers representing spring.
Wednesday, 9 January 2019
Lacer threads are used in machine lace production to allow bands of narrow edgings to be made as one continuous piece which can then be separated later in production. This allows the edgings to be handled as one piece for procedures such as scouring and dyeing, rather than having to cope with a tangle of thin ribbons of lace. Pat Earnshaw discusses lacer threads in her book about machine lace and notes that the most important thing about a lacer thread is that it can be easily removed.
She says this can be done in three ways. First is to use a rover or straight knitted pillar which unravels when one end is pulled. Second is to use a rover that is made of a different yarn from the rest of the lace so it can be chemically removed by immersing in a solvent. Third is an inlay or draw thread which can be pulled out easily and these are the ones used in the examples here. This removal of the thread was called drawing and was traditionally carried out by young women, either working in the factory or at home as piece work.