Wednesday, 23 September 2020

Earth fan bobbin lace

I have finally finished the piece of bobbin lace based on earth for the fan series I’m working on inspired by the four elements. I’m pleased with the colour combination and putting it together with the lace for the other two I’ve recently finished (air and fire) they work well together. I made the water fan a while ago for an exhibition in Valtopina, Italy and I want to make the other three in the same way so they form a group. For that fan I embedded the lace in silk paper and used a simple wire frame to make the fan shape so I’ll do the same with these. I’ve been looking through my silk fibres to see what colours I have and I think I’ve got the right colours for earth and air but I may have to dye some for the fire fan. I also need to make the wire shapes to attach them to. Perhaps my excitement on finishing the lace was misplaced I still seem to have quite a lot to do for this project!

Friday, 18 September 2020

New lace projects

The beginning of the autumn and the return to school is always an exciting time as it heralds the beginning of a new academic year and new projects. I have to admit I’m still finishing one of my lockdown projects – the series of bobbin lace fans inspired by the four elements but I’m half way through the lace for the last one based on earth so I feel I’m getting on well with it. I also have a couple of new lace projects underway, one inspired by the research trip to Japan I went on last year with other members of the UCA textile department, and another which is an extension of my lace doily work on subversive domestic lace. The Japanese work is interesting because we are all making work expressing our impressions of Japan and it will be shown in two parts, one is made up of miniature work and the other comprises larger pieces. Most excitingly, for the miniature exhibition we will be joined by many of the Japanese artists and masters we visited in Japan who are also generously contributing miniature works so it will be an Anglo-Japanese exhibition. The exhibitions are entitled Tansa – the Japanese word for exploration – and the miniatures exhibition will be shown at the Craft Study Centre in Farnham and Gallery Gallery in Kyoto (dates are given on my website www.carolquarini.com). I’m also busy writing two papers about different machine lace designers so I have plenty of new projects to start the autumn!

Wednesday, 9 September 2020

Antique bobbin lace pricking

This antique bobbin lace pattern, or pricking, probably dates from the nineteenth century. It is a simple narrow insertion with a footside on each edge and a simple pattern of flowers and leaves running down the centre and would have been made using a Bedfordshire style of lace with plaits linking the different elements of the pattern, rather than the net ground used in Buckinghamshire lace. We now tend to use cardboard for our prickings but this one is made of parchment which suggests it is quite old. It is very sturdy and was made to be used many times, over and over again. The pattern is pricked before the lace is begun using a pointed pricker tool, often using a previous pricking as the template by pricking through it onto the new parchment.

The cloth attached to the ends would have made it easier to handle the pattern without making it greasy from too much handling and was the point at which the pattern was attach to the lace pillow. Thomas Wright in The romance of the lace pillow says that most parchments were about 14 inches long (this one is about 10 inches) and each was called a ‘down’. Thus the lacemaker would say she had made a down when she finished the length of the pattern. He also says that the linen ends were called ‘eaches’ which means an extension. Variations on the spelling are eche, eke and etch and the term is linked to the phrase ‘to eke something out’ meaning to extend it to make it last longer.

Wednesday, 2 September 2020

Striver pins in bobbin lace

Pins play an important role in bobbin lace, they are the temporary structure around which the lace is produced but some special pins have other functions. The two pins in the image are called strivers. They are made from two brass pins and could only be made because the heads of these nineteenth century pins could easily be removed. One pin was threaded with beads and also had its head replace with a bead. It was then attached to the head of another pin. These strivers were used in the Midlands lace counties of England to see how quickly a strip of lace could be produced. T L Huetson in his book ‘Lace and bobbins’ says the striver was inserted ‘in the hole in the parchment pattern’ and the lacemaker then checked how long it took until she had ‘worked out all the other pins and come to the striver again’. This sounds a bit hit and miss to me though because first of all it depends how many pins you have and also when I work a lace pattern I don’t take the pins out in a set order but just remove them randomly from the back when I need one! Using the striver in the footside would be a more accurate point to measure from as it couldn’t be removed until a certain number of pattern repeats had been made and the lace was secure. Actually using the striver in the lace, rather than just pinning it next to the pattern, would have meant it couldn’t be moved easily so it would be difficult to cheat! Using strivers would certainly have been a useful way to incentivise children learning to make lace and encourage them to compete with their peers to be the quickest in the class. I also think that English lacemakers liked to brighten up their lace pillows, for example with colourful spangles and interesting bobbins, and this was another way of doing that.

Wednesday, 19 August 2020

Make up your mind lace bobbins!

These two lace bobbins were owned by lacemakers who wanted to know where they stood. The one on the right says ‘My dear love me or leave me alone’ an admonishment to a young man to make a commitment to the lacemaker or to stop flirting with her. ‘My love, love me’ is a little sadder and perhaps suggests unrequited love or it may just be a hint to a shy young man. This supposes that the lacemaker purchased the bobbins herself. If in fact the bobbins were bought by young men and given to the lacemaker they tell a different story. Perhaps the lacemaker is the flirt and she is the one who is proving elusive to the young man’s charms. The bobbin with the long inscription also has an unusual addition to the spangle in the form of a sea shell which could have been a present from a sailor in the family. The bobbin on the right was probably made by James Compton as it has his style of head, tail and lettering. The one on the left seems to be the work of Arthur Wright who is known for his bobbins with pointed tails and a cruder style of lettering than the Comptons. Both bobbins were probably made in the middle of the nineteenth century.

Wednesday, 12 August 2020

The Tebbs sisters and the art of bobbin lace

Louisa Tebbs was a lace teacher in the early twentieth century, first at the Northern Polytechic in London and later at her own School of Bobbin Lace and Embroidery in Baker Street, where she was assisted by her sister Rosa. They produced two hugely successful books, in 1907 and 1911, about lace design and lacemaking and taught numerous pupils. I’ve recently been having another look at the books after reading a very interesting article by Gwynedd Roberts about the sisters in the latest issue of Lace, the Lace Guild magazine. The Lace Guild is planning an exhibition of 20th century lace in which some of the Tebbs’ original patterns and lace samples will be exhibited, which will be worth a visit.

Louisa taught what she describes as sectional bobbin laces, such as Italian point de Flandre, Bruge guipure, Duchesse , Honiton and Bruxelles. In other words those laces that are worked in sections and only require ’18 bobbins (often less) for the most elaborate patterns’. Her instructions are clear and practical. She notes that she ‘encourages the pupils to rely whenever possible on their own intuition and intelligence’. She also encourages them to design their own patterns as she feels that will engage their interest and also suggests that pin holes are not pricked in advance but made by the worker as she progresses to suit her individual work.

The new student begins with the ‘Italian’ lace edge of shamrock shapes shown above but soon progresses to the Honiton flounce shown here. The books also include instructions for various filling stitches and patterns for lace that can be applied to net, like the Honiton flounce, as well as Honiton raised work. The books are clear and very encouraging but I think the pupils had a better grasp of needlework than we have today, for example there are no instructions for attaching the lace to fine net it is just assumed the reader will know how to do this. If you can find them the books are an interesting read, as is Gwynedd’s article, and the exhibition at the Lace Guild should be interesting too.

Wednesday, 5 August 2020

Tape lace designs

I’m still considering using tape lace for a series of lace doilies incorporating text, which I want to make to highlight issues relating to women. I’ve made some preliminary sketches but am still not sure whether to run the lettering from the same tape as the border into the centre of the mat or whether to make a circular mat first and then add the lettering with other filling stitches to the centre afterwards by sewing in. I’ve done some rough sketches trying out both alternatives and I think I prefer the text that runs on from the border into the centre, mainly because the lettering is slightly less defined and therefore more hidden within the doily. I want the result to be quite subtle and the lettering not to be too obvious. The aim is that people look at the mat and think ‘Oh another lace doily’ and then realise what it says and that it is a doily with attitude! I need to mull it over for a while until I’ve made a final decision and then draw up a working pattern.


Thursday, 30 July 2020

Lockdown lace


Today’s prompt for the mid year lace challenge is ‘lockdown lace’ which made me consider the lace I have made since lockdown for the Covid 19 virus began in March. I started off by finishing the pieces I was working on before the virus struck. This was quite a large body of work inspired by Amy Atkin and other early twentieth century women who were obliged to leave work on marriage. It is made up of four table mats with needlerun lace inserts tacked in place in a reference to Judy Chicago’s Dinner party. That project was underway before the virus struck but lockdown did give me the time to complete it during that glorious weather we had in spring. After that my thoughts turned to designing future projects. One is a group endeavour inspired by a research trip to Japan last year. My pieces will include a three dimensional bobbin sculpture and two needlerun lace panels. The other is another lace doily including wording for which I’ve been researching tape lace. However I think my real lockdown lace is the bobbin lace I’ve been making for the fan series I started years ago. I made the first fan inspired by the element water for an exhibition at Valtopina and had always intended to make fans based on the other three elements. Well, lockdown has given me the time to make the lace for fire and air and I now have the bobbins wound for earth. I would never have got round to making them if it hadn’t been for the lockdown!

Wednesday, 22 July 2020

Battle of Britain machine lace grounds


The Battle of Britain commemorative machine lace panel made in the mid 1940s will be back on display at the Nottingham Castle Museum next year in the new lace exhibition. However if you can’t wait that long, one of the panels is on permanent display at Bentley Priory Museum in Stanmore, London. The reason I’m blogging about it today is because I’m taking part in Jane Fulman’s lace challenge on Instagram and today’s prompt is ‘grounded’. A panel about an airborne battle may seem a strange choice for grounded but in fact I’m referring to the numerous ground stitches within the panel which give it such a sense of shading and three dimensionality. For example the wheat ears include five different stitches and even the shamrock leaves include two woven areas, one slightly thicker than the other. The image above the edging shows the ruin of St Clement Danes, which was devastated by incendiary bombs in 1941. It has since been rebuilt and dedicated to the RAF. The level of shading on this, and the other images depicting the bombing of London, is amazing and allows the details of the scenes to be shown. The Battle of Britain panel celebrates the bravery of those who took part in the battle but also celebrates the skill of the machine lacemakers who made the panel.

Wednesday, 15 July 2020

Fans for the four elements


I made the first fan in this series for an exhibition at Valtopina Lace and Embroidery Museum several years ago. The theme was a fan based on one of the four elements: earth, air, fire and water. I chose water for my theme and incorporated a bobbin lace design of water droplets into silk paper to make a small pale blue fan – you can see how I did it in a blog I wrote in September 2014.
I was pleased with the water fan and decided that I’d like to make a series of three more fans for the other elements. I made the ‘fire’ lace a while ago in red and orange threads but then got diverted into other projects and put the other pieces to one side. Looking through some images of my lace the other day I came across one of the water fan and as I have nothing on my pillow at the moment I decided to make the lace for the air and earth versions. I’ve now chosen a palette of grey, silver and neutral threads for air, and brown, copper and green ones for earth and have finally started on the lace.

Wednesday, 8 July 2020

Tape lace dress ornament


I designed and made this tape lace dress ornament a while ago and as I’ve been studying some Russian lace recently I was reminded of it. Much Russian lace is based on tapes or ribbons of lace arranged very cleverly to form intricate patterns. One of its advantages is that you only use a few pairs of bobbins at any one time so it is fairly quick but the disadvantage is that you have to keep joining parts of the lace to each other, something that isn’t necessary in continuous laces.
My design is a contemporary lace collar in broadly a triangular shape with a curved neck side and a point at the base. It is made up of one continuous braid that curves throughout the entire design, sometimes getting wider or narrower, and every so often branching out into leaves or plaits. I’ve been thinking about making lace mats using a similar technique so thought I’d revisit my previous attempts and get some expert advice. I’ve been looking at Bridget Cook’s book on Russian lace making for some tips on joining techniques and using fillings and I’ve found some useful videos online so I’ve got plenty of resources to get started with.

Wednesday, 1 July 2020

Lace curtain design


I love this design for a lace curtain by Marcel Tuquet that I found in a loose-leaf portfolio of designs published by Christian Stoll of Plauen because it has an unfinished look and shows how the design is built up in sections. The curtains are undated but I think this one probably comes from about 1900. The designs also have doodles round the margins, which suggests that they were used as inspiration by lace designers in Nottingham, which is where I found these. This design follows the layout for designing lace curtains set out by Arthur Silver in his instructions for fabric design students in 1893 and consists of a central design, borders and insertions. The central panel in this case is based on a free design that is not symmetrical on either side of the central fold. The bottom border is slightly wider than the side borders but contains the same elements just in different proportions. The delicate three-point flame shapes and lines are also mirrored in the central design linking the two aspects together. There is also a wide insertion between the side border and the central design made up of delicate flowers and leaf shapes that reflect those in the central panel. These separate elements are all beautifully drawn and cleverly linked together forming a very pleasing lace curtain design.

Wednesday, 24 June 2020

Curtain lace advertising panel


This little piece of curtain lace is only 15 cm wide and 20 cm in length and is an advertisement for Stiebel lace curtains. The lettering at the top shows that it was made for Skegness carnival and the fisherman going for a bracing walk was first used on a poster for the Great Northern Railway in 1908. I do not have a date for the lace panel, but it is made from synthetic fibres which did not come into use until the 1920s. The fisherman image was also reused by the London and North Eastern Railway in 1925 to promote travel to Skegness, so the lace may date from that period, when the image became more widely known. I think the lace was an advertising handout, much in the same way as one would hand out a flyer or leaflet. I’ve seen similar pieces of machine-made lace advertising Peach lace curtains, but they weren’t linked to any other event in the same way as this one, and I assumed they were intended to be placed in a display at a wholesale lace fair or in a shop window. The question is why would anyone be advertising lace curtains specifically in Skegness? Perhaps this carnival was a popular event that attracted a large audience of people who were likely to buy lace curtains. Skegness carnival still takes place annually and local businesses are encouraged to hire stalls and support the event so perhaps this is what the local haberdashery store was doing. Stiebel itself is a lace manufacturer based in Nottingham so is unlikely to have directly supported a carnival in the Lincolnshire town of Skegness, unless there was a large market for lace curtains in the area or the company had a special link to the town. If you know anything about any link or indeed anything more about curtain lace advertising do let me know as I’d be interested to find out more.

Wednesday, 17 June 2020

Lace bobbins celebrating love and romance


These two bobbins were clearly owned by young women who knew their own minds. One reads ‘Joseph is not for me know it’. Poor Joseph is being told quite publicly that his attentions are not wanted or reciprocated. In contrast, the other bobbin states that the owner has found her true love and is not interested in any other young men; it states ‘My hart is fixt I cannot rainge I like my chise to well to chang’ (My heart is fixed I cannot range, I like my choice too well to change).
This large bobbin (on the left) was probably made by Jesse Compton who lived from 1793 to 1857. He was a prolific lace bobbin maker and his speciality was inscribed bobbins and those decorated with pewter inlay. In general his inscriptions are made up of dots arranged in a spiral up the length of the bobbin but some of his larger bobbins have the inscription written horizontally, like this one. His spelling was not always accurate and on this bobbin the final word ‘chang’ is squeezed onto the line with no room for the final ‘e’. The bobbin could also have been made by his son James, who was also a lace bobbin maker, but I think it is Jesse’s work because his bobbins tend to have a bulbous head, like this one, and James’ lettering is neater than his father’s.
I think the second bobbin, on the right, was made by the maker the Springetts call ‘The blunt end man’ who was working in the mid nineteenth century. The name comes from the simple ends he gave his bobbins. His lace bobbins usually have bands of red or black round the top and tail and the same colours are used for the lettering. The messages are written horizontally along the bobbin and his lettering is quite distinctive. It would be nice to think that both bobbins were owned by the same lacemaker and formed a narrative but that is pure speculation!

Wednesday, 10 June 2020

Lace curtains by Simon May and Co of Nottingham


I’ve been reading the book produced by the Simon May lace company of Nottingham to celebrate their centenary in 1949, which is full of interesting information including a couple of pages about their lace curtain department. Apparently the lace curtain and curtain nets section was one of their original departments and they claim that ‘the present range of products and markets is probably as wide as it has ever been’. They certainly cover a wide range of curtain types including panels, allover designs, brise-bise, vitrages (a light curtain fabric), valance nets as well as tablecloths and bedspreads. They note that during ‘the recent war’ all curtain machines were turned over to producing sandfly nets for the troops. The two-page spread is illustrated with some prize winning curtains including one that won a special award at the Vienna exhibition of 1873 (a detail is shown in the image) and another depicting the story of Don Quixote, which won an award at the 1876 Philadelphia exhibition. I was lucky enough to see both of these prize-winning curtains in 2015 when they were loaned to the Nottingham exhibition ‘Lace in the City of Lace’ by Malcolm Baker.

Thursday, 4 June 2020

A tale of two tops


I’ve been taking a break from lace making this week to do some sewing. I’ve had some lovely material in the cupboard for ages waiting for me to make something with it and being at home in lockdown has given me the time to do just that. I’ve made myself a top, based on one I bought years ago which was really comfortable and one of my favourites. I have been to great efforts to maintain the original top but it literally wore away in a couple of places because I used it so often!
Its made of linen, and was quite expensive, so I was upset when, soon after I bought it, it developed small brown marks. I couldn’t wash them out and I think they were something to do with the material rather than dirt. To hide them I embroidered the front of the top (see the image above) and that worked well, in fact some people even complimented me on the patterns. However, when the top developed worn patches I realised couldn’t wear it anymore.
I then decided to make a new top using the old one as the pattern and this is the result. I’m pleased with it, it’s easy to wear, and, yes, the front is supposed to be shorter than the back – the frill graduates down the sides!

Wednesday, 27 May 2020

3D bobbin lace sculptures


I’ve been experimenting with three-dimensional bobbin lace sculptures. This has involved cutting out lots of paper shapes and then manipulating them to form three-dimensional shapes. My aim is to make flat pieces of lace and then twist them to form mini sculptures. I’ve found they work best if the shapes have a mixture of wide and narrow areas and that half stitch works well in following the contours of the shapes, as you can see from the one in the image. I’ve also tried to keep one colour around the edge to give definition to the main shape, but I feel the mixture of colours in the central area works well and gives it some shading. The piece in the image was made with fairly thick thread which stands up well but I’m not sure whether the final pieces will need stiffening. I don’t want them collapsing half way through an exhibition!

Wednesday, 20 May 2020

‘Marriage lines’ lace table mats


More progress has been made on my lace mats based on research into early twentieth century women who had to leave work on marriage. In the end I decided to embroider the text using couching so the four mats each have a phrase from the marriage ceremony: ‘for better; for worse; for richer; for poorer’ embroidered across them. I bottled out of using a marker pen for the writing because although it seemed to disappear quite effectively when I ironed it on my sample I was worried, probably unjustly, that it might not work properly on the final mat so I wrote the text on paper in indelible ink and used that as a pattern under the fabric. I also had to make some decisions about attaching the lace to the mat.
The lace represents the creative work of Amy Atkin and women like her and I wanted to show how easy it was to strip that work and life away. My initial thought was to use pins. I like the sharp piercing nature of pins and their hint of veiled aggression, which seemed to match with the subject, but I decided that it would be difficult to send the pieces to exhibitions like that as they might come loose or even injure someone! I therefore decided to tack the lace in place instead. I wanted the tacking to be obvious though, so I decided to use a red thread, which is often used to symbolise women. I think the red thread works well and I can always add a line of pins as well if I’m exhibiting the work myself.

Wednesday, 13 May 2020

Amy Atkin lace table mat project


I’ve been making decisions about my lace table mats inspired by the life of Amy Atkin. If you follow this blog you’ll know I had some decisions to make about the appearance of the mats. Well, I’ve decided to insert the lace into the fabric of the mats rather than attach it at the side. I’m using ready made mats and I think if I cut them in half I can use half a mat, then my lace, then a section slightly less than a quarter of the mat. I came to that decision by folding the mats in different arrangements and adding the lace then photographing the result and comparing all the variations. The mats will also have the words of the marriage service ‘for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer’ embroidered on them in a reference to Amy, and other women of her generation, having to give up work when they married. I’ve been experimenting with fonts for the text. I want something cursive and old fashioned so I’ve been seeing what’s on the computer and trying a bit of writing. I’ve also been experimenting with some embroidery stitches for the text. I’m favouring couching at the moment having tried stem stitch, running stitch and chain stitch. Progress is being made – watch this space!


Wednesday, 6 May 2020

Amy Atkin lace project


I’m getting on well with my Amy Atkin project – you’ll remember that she was the first female machine lace designer in Nottingham. The final piece will be four table mats with lace insertions in a reference to the theme of The dinner party by Judy Chicago which celebrates the lives of influential women. I’ve now made the lace for all four place mats using a needle run technique, which is basically embroidery on machine net, similar to Limerick lace. Although I don’t think Amy designed for needle run lace (her designs are all for machine lace), the early Nottingham laces were based on fine embroidery on machine net so I feel it is a suitable technique for the project. It also means that although I’ve been inspired by her designs my four designs have been specifically made for a different technique. One of the interesting things about Amy’s career, and that of other women of her time, was that she had to give up work when she married so my work will reflect that. The lace will only be temporarily attached to the fabric of the mat so that it can be removed at a moments notice, rather like her career, and the mats will each be embroidered with the words of the marriage ceremony ‘for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer’. My current preoccupation is deciding how big the mats should be, whether the lace should be inserted or attached to the side, what font to use for the text, and which stitch to embroider it in. A work in progress!

Wednesday, 29 April 2020

Block printing in India


Block printing was another one of the interesting crafts we saw being made in India. Block printed fabrics were on sale in many outlets in varying colours and degrees of complexity. Some places also had the blocks for sale and they made a lovely display. We saw several demonstrations of printing and in the Amber Fort we also watched a craftsman making blocks using a thread operated drill.
The same exhibition also included a printer making a small printed square. We saw him using three blocks with different colours, first a blue to outline the border and the central motifs, then a turquoise to fill in some of the areas and finally a block with a red dye to add flower shapes.
Later on in our tour we visited a workshop near Bhuj where we printed our own fabric. It was interesting to choose complementary blocks to print on to the cotton and try to envisage what they would look like in the final version.
We first used a brown resist paste with one large block for our main design motif, then used a smaller block to print highlights in black dye that roughly fitted into the main design. There is a definite knack to block printing! It’s important to make sure you have a thin, yet even, spread of resist or dye on the block and then you have to apply it to the fabric with a sharp tap.
Once the printing was dry the fabric was dyed in indigo and the resist removed. I have to say that the final result ended up looking far better than I hoped and I’ve now hemmed my piece of fabric and will use it as a scarf.

Wednesday, 22 April 2020

Handmade buttons Indian style


We saw some interesting variations on handmade buttons during our travels in India. The blue ones in the picture above were made from small circles of fabric. The material is then gathered round its edge, the centre is filled with scraps of fabric and then pulled up to form a ball. These ones are decorative and quite soft, but with a firmer centre they could be used as functional buttons.
The other type of handmade buttons we saw were fashioned from simple wrapping. During a workshop at one of the women’s cooperatives we visited we were shown this technique for button making. Our teacher there produced a beautifully neat button by rolling a small amount of thread into a ball and then wrapping the remaining thread round and round the outside in a circular motion. She finished it off by passing the thread through the centre of the ball with a needle. The buttons in the image here were made using the same technique but less skilfully as they look a bit lumpy!

Wednesday, 15 April 2020

Parents celebrated on lace bobbins

Many lace bobbins celebrate relationships and these include parents. In some cases the bobbins were gifts from parents such as the bobbin on the left made by Jesse Compton which is inscribed ‘A present from my father 1836’. The date on this one is hard to read I wasn’t sure whether it was 1886 or 1836 but as Jesse Compton died in 1857 I’m assuming it’s the earlier date. Others, like the two following bobbins, are simpler and just say ‘Dear father’ or ‘Dear mother’. The next bobbin, which I think was made by Bobbin Brown of Cranfield, is inscribed ‘My dear father’. These would have been stock bobbins held by the bobbin makers but, the last bobbin, ‘Sarah Ions my d[ear] mother’ is a more personal message and would have been made specially for the lacemaker who ordered it. I love these old bobbins and the messages they convey. Do they commemorate special events such as birthdays or were they bought as thank you gifts? I wish I knew more about their history.

Wednesday, 8 April 2020

Indian shisha mirror work


Shisha (glass) mirror work is unique to India. According to Anne Morrell’s book on Indian embroidery it is thought to have developed in Baluchistan or Gujarat and may originally have incorporated naturally occurring mica rather than mirrors. Blown glass is used now which is broken into pieces and then cut into shapes, most often circles. However in one of the examples I bought the ‘mirrors’ seem very flexible and more like cardboard than glass (see below).
Anne describes the traditional technique for holding the mirrors in place with two vertical and two horizontal threads forming a cross across the face of the mirror. This cross forms the base for the top stitching which comprises buttonhole, herringbone, or chain stitch forming a circle round the edge of the mirror. It’s important to get the tension of the holding stitches just right as if they are too loose the mirror falls out and if they are too tight it’s difficult to work the circle of edge stitches.
That’s the traditional technique, however at one of the women’s cooperatives we went to we were shown a different method. The embroiderer made a ring of thread round her finger, worked buttonhole stitch all the way round it to make a ring and then slip stitched it over a mirror on the base fabric which was held in place with stitches through holes in the mirror (see above). Embroiderers, particularly those working for a living, will always use faster ways to produce the desired result if they can, because time is money. Whatever the method and the materials used it is a beautiful technique that is unique to India.

Wednesday, 1 April 2020

Indian chain stitch embroidery


Chain stitch can be made using a needle, a hook or mechanically using the Cornely machine. Anne Morrell in her book on Indian embroidery suggests that chain stitch was probably introduced to west Gujarat from Baluchistan although there is also a theory that it was imported from China. Although chain stitch is seldom used in contemporary Chinese embroidery it has been found in textiles in ancient tombs. If you are embroidering chain stitch by hand it is quicker to do it using a hook rather than a needle and it results in a more regular line on the reverse of the work. The hook is similar to the ari (the shoemaker’s awl) used to embroider leather for footwear (see my blog of 25 March), although, because it is held differently, the handles of the two types of hook are different.
Embroidery with a hook is generally easier if the fabric is fixed taught in a frame. For needle work the fabric may be held in the hand or in a frame. Anne Morrell notes that when embroidering chain stitch using a needle, the worker generally stitches away from herself and this makes it easier to produce small even stitches. The two pieces shown here are variations on the same pattern produced as a sheet of square pieces approximately 10 cm in size, which are cut up to allow the purchaser to buy as many as they want.

Wednesday, 25 March 2020

Mojari - embroidered Rajasthani footwear


In Jodhpur we saw these beautifully embroidered traditional slippers being made. These are for a wedding; those with the open back for the bride and the ones with the closed back for the groom. These ones are expensive and are also embroidered on the soles as well as the uppers (see below). Although there is a distinction between male and female footwear the shoes can be worn on either foot, they aren’t shaped for right or left.
The embroidery is worked in chain stitch with a hooked awl called an ari. The work is similar to tambour work but the stitches are worked through fairly stiff leather which means the ari have a working life of about 12 days and then they have to be sharpened or replaced. The hooks are made of metal and the ones we saw had been constructed from the spokes of an umbrella. An awl is also used to attach the embroidered upper to the leather sole of the shoe.

Wednesday, 18 March 2020

Tie dyeing in India


Among the many crafts we saw being made in India tie dyeing was one of my favourite. One of the things I like about it is that you never quite know what the end results will be and the moment when the threads used for the ties are pulled apart and the pattern is revealed is quite magical. At the workshop we went to, the owner showed us how the pattern of dots is transferred on to the fabric and then told us how each dot is pulled up into a spike and thread wound round it to form the resist for the dyeing process.
He showed us how he wound the thread round the spikes of fabric to create the ties, but he was working over a piece of fabric with spikes already tied on it. When I asked him how he made the original spikes he said he just pinches the fabric by hand to make them. I have seen similar techniques in Japan (see my Nov 2019 post) and there they either use a small hook to pull up the fabric or place the fabric over a nail to push up a spike of fabric. The Japanese technique seems more effective and quicker to me but we didn’t actually see the original spikes being made in India so it’s hard to tell.
Once all the ties have been made the fabric is dyed, further ties can then be made, as we were shown, and the piece dyed again to give a subtle colour to the fabric. There were some beautiful pieces in the workshop and the owners obviously experiment to produce interesting colourways and patterns, keeping the tradition alive and up to date.


Thursday, 12 March 2020

Women’s textile cooperatives in India


One of the things I enjoyed most about my recent textile tour to India with the retreatrecreate group was the interaction with local women. We visited formal textile cooperatives as well as women working in their villages and were welcomed so generously everywhere by the women and their curious smiling children. They all gave us small cups of masala chai while we admired their work as they showed us the techniques they use and answered our questions about their work and lives. All the members of our group were craftspeople so we appreciated the work being done and were genuinely interested in the details of the techniques.
At the Sadhna group in Udaipur we learnt how the group trains and encourages women in local crafts such as embroidery, applique and block printing. Over 600 women work on a piece work system and are given the materials they require as well as access to sewing machines. We joined some of them in a workshop where they showed us how to embellish fabric with shisha mirrors, how to work fine applique and how to make small round fabric buttons. I was delighted my teacher praised me for my neat stitching in the applique work as I felt I’d passed the test!
At the Sambhali Trust in Jodhpur we joined the women in their workshop to see their embroidery for cushion covers and fabrics for soft toy making. They were a lively group and were very interested to see photos of our children and grandchildren and to find out about our lives. The Trust is a non-profit charitable organisation which provides free education to women and girls and trains them to earn their own living through stitching. After our time in the workshop we joined some of them for a cookery demonstration and a delicious lunch.
At other times we visited women in their villages sitting in the shade working on their embroidery together in sociable groups. These settings suggest a simple life with no cares but the reality is that these women are supplementing the family income as well as carrying out all the responsibilities women have throughout the world – their life is not easy. They all had stocks of beautifully made crafts for us to buy at what we hoped were reasonable prices and most of us bought pieces at every place we visited. At least the money goes straight to those doing the work and it places a value on women’s work and gives them some status as breadwinners in their villages.
It also allows them to work in their homes while keeping an eye on their children, rather than having to travel to find work or to labour in the fields. Hopefully, the fact that we had travelled specially to see them also raises their status within their community. Despite the differences in our economic circumstances I felt that at the end of the day we empathised with each other as women and stitchers – I hope they felt the same.