Wednesday, 25 November 2020

Thomas Lester and Bedfordshire lace

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

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

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

Wednesday, 18 November 2020

‘Frayed nerves’ needle lace

Walking the dog today and looking at the bare branches of the trees reminded me of this piece of lace I made a while ago. Based on nerves rather than branches it still reminds me of this bare, raw season of the year and the feeling of wind and rain tearing everything off the trees, leaving things exposed and vulnerable. It also seemed quite apposite to a time of lockdown and isolation. It’s made of needle lace cordonets and I kept the frayed ends to embed into silk paper and also to reference the title of the piece. As you can tell I’m not an autumn person but I am trying to tune in to the beauty of the season by reading the anthology on Autumn compiled by Melissa Harrison and it is changing my view. I’d always thought of autumn as just a wet cold time we had to get through in the run up to Christmas and then look forward to the spring but Melissa has shown me that it can also be a time of renewal and beauty.

Thursday, 12 November 2020

‘For better; for worse’ Amy Atkin lace mats

I’ve had a busy week writing about my response to the life and work of the first Nottingham machine lace designer, Amy Atkin, who although very successful had to give up work on marriage. The idea for using lace mats came from the work of the second wave feminist Judy Chicago who used place settings for famous women in her monumental installation ‘The Dinner Party’. She used complete place settings for her guests but I’ve just made place mats for Amy Atkin. Each one includes a strip of lace inspired by her lace designs, but only tacked in place, to show how easily women’s careers can be taken away from them and that domestic duties still have a huge influence on women’s lives. Each one also has part of the wording from the marriage service embroidered on it ‘for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer’ to reference the fact that she had to give up work when she married. Studying Amy Atkin’s life and lace designs, feminism, and the work of Judy Chicago has been interesting and making a practice based response seemed the appropriate approach to the research so writing about it is a great way to pull all those strands together.

Wednesday, 4 November 2020

Lace making in Bobowa, southern Poland

 

I’m delighted to let you know that I’ve just had a review published in the journal of Craft Research volume 11 (2) about a book on Polish lace makers. The book is by Anna Sznajder and is called ‘Polish lace makers: gender, heritage and identity’. The link to the current issue and my review is CRRE 11.2 but I’m afraid there are no free offprints with this journal. The book was based on research the author did for her PhD in the lacemaking community in Bobowa, southern Poland, and although it is obviously an academic and thoroughly researched book it is also very readable. It describes how lacemaking was brought to the area in the late eighteenth century and became a cottage industry in the nineteenth century. Throughout the twentieth century various organisations encouraged lace teaching and design but by the end of the century lace making was more of a hobby than a business. However, since 1995 lace making in Bobowa has been revitalised following the introduction of the International Bobbin Lace Festival and the setting up of the Gallery of Bobbin Lace in the town. The author makes lace and clearly has an interest in the lives of these Polish lacemakers. She is interested in the politics, both national and local, that have affected lace making and her interviews with lacemakers allow insight into the changing details of the local lace making industry and women’s role within it. She concludes the book with suggestions on how activities linked to the lace heritage could encourage more tourism to the area. It’s an interesting book, and well worth reading especially if you have been or are planning a visit, to the Bobowa lace festival..

Wednesday, 28 October 2020

Spangles on antique lace bobbins

Spangles are the circles of beads attached to the end of English East Midlands style lace bobbins. Their function is to add weight to the bobbin, to provide tension for the thread, and to prevent the bobbin rolling on the pillow. The most common type of bead in nineteenth century spangles is the square cut glass bead. In an interview with The Bedfordshire Times in 1912, Robert Haskins the bobbin maker explains that they were made by melting a piece from a stick of glass on a copper wire, which made the central hole, and then pressing the sides with a file which caused the markings on the bead and its square shape. Eye beads were also popular and some can be seen in the image above. These were round beads with spots of colour added to their surface to give the appearance of eyes. The most well-known were Kitty Fisher beads celebrating the famous actress, with blue and red dots representing her mouth and eyes. Beads were not the only objects on spangles however, many of them incorporated seashells, coins, buttons and beads that would have had a personal meaning to the lacemaker.

Wednesday, 21 October 2020

#MeToo doily bobbin lace

 

As you can see my new bobbin lace doily is underway. The idea of using a tape lace construction was that I would need fewer bobbins and I wanted to see if it was a quicker way of working. Well that hasn’t been the case so far, mainly because I’ve started at the most difficult place where I’m incorporating the text #MeToo into the design. However working the grid filling has been interesting as I’ve only needed two pairs of bobbins for the entire thing, as they just work up and down there are no four plait crossings as there would be in Bedfordshire lace, which is the style I’m most used to. Instead of crossings, one of the pairs is hitched under the previously worked plait and the other pair linked through it to make a join. The books about tape lace suggest only one thread need be hitched under but I found that didn’t make a neat join and using a pair works better for me. It’s also a learning curve trying to work out the right length for each plait in the filling when you complete the ‘crossing’ on the following row, I think I’m getting the hang of the tension but I find four plait crossings easier. I guess it’s just what you’re used to! I wanted the text on the mat to stand out so I gave up attempts to include the text in cursive script and I’m using Bedfordshire style techniques to work it, hence the increased number of bobbins. Once the text is finished I should be down to a handful of bobbins for the outer mat though. It’s certainly an interesting way of working and great to be learning some new techniques.

Wednesday, 14 October 2020

Troubled love lives in lace bobbins

I’ve been winding bobbins for my latest bobbin lace project – the mat I’ve been designing in tape lace, which I’ll blog about once the lace is underway – and I came across these three bobbins about troubled love lives. They are inscribed with Love don’t forsake me; Let no false lover gaine my hart 1842; and Its hard to love and canot be love again. One poor lacemaker is trying to hang on to her boyfriend, while the other two have clearly had romance problems in the past. The one who doesn’t want a ‘false lover’ suggests she’s had one in the past who cheated on her. While the last one implies she’s found a boy she likes but he’s not interested or that she too is having problems getting back into a relationship. At least it shows that these problems did not start with social media – they’ve been going on for centuries! In fact T L Huetson in his book on Lace and bobbins records one with the inscription ‘Place no confidence in young men’ – a warning that any young girl would be wise to bear in mind! I think the first bobbin on the left was made by Bobbin Brown of Cranfield, the middle one was probably made by Jesse Compton and the one on the right is probably by David Haskins who came from a family of bobbin makers.

Wednesday, 7 October 2020

Lace pattern designing

I’ve decided to continue my series of subversive lace mats with a message. The first one was made in Bedfordshire style lace and had ‘get off me’ worked into the lace. It’s been exhibited in many places and always draws interest so I thought I’d make a series of them which could be shown together. However, this time, as I’ve become interested in Russian tape lace, I’ve decided to use that style for the new mat. I’ve never made that type of lace before so it’s a bit of a leap in the dark and my piece will definitely be in the ‘style’ of Russian lace rather than being a model example!

I’ve found Bridget Cook’s book ‘Russian lace making’ to be very useful and, as you can see from the picture above, I’ve started designing my pattern. The great thing about this type of lace is that if you design the pattern well you can make the entire mat in one go with only a few pairs of bobbins, there is very little tying in and out. I have incorporated what I would call a ninepin edge in part of the design just so I can make it in the Russian style with only two pairs of bobbins! You start working from one edge of the main pattern and work a plait for the lower half of the edging, joining it to the footside as you go, then when you reach the end you turn back and work the top half of the edging, joining into the bottom half as you work until you return to the place you started from – isn’t that clever! That’s the theory anyway, I’ll let you know how it turns out! My main problem at the moment is how to include the text into the central area of the mat and what filling stitch to use. I’m not sure if I can make the text in a continuous line, I may have to work that part as a separate motif and tie into it. It’s definitely a work in progress and I’m learning new things all the time!

Wednesday, 30 September 2020

Pillow lace by Mincoff and Marriage

Having recently revisited and blogged (12 August 2020) about the lace books written by the Tebbs sisters I have been browsing other early twentieth century bobbin lace instruction books on my bookshelf. Elizabeth Mincoff and Margaret Marriage published their book in 1907 as a result of learning how to make Torchon lace on a holiday in Freiburg but finding on their return to England that there were few patterns or instruction available. The book is quite comprehensive with chapters on equipment, history and design as well as clear instructions on how to make a series of lace designs. They explain that, unlike some other authors, they have not used codes or symbols in their instructions but instead rely on clear diagrams and short explanations. They begin with some ‘Russian’ or tape lace patterns with simple instructions and pleasing results, which only require a few pairs of bobbins on the pillow so are ideal starting pieces (the image shows the first three pieces taught in the book). They then progress to Torchon patterns requiring more bobbins and then move on to Maltese and plaited laces. The book is written as a course and it is suggested that the reader works through the chapters sequentially. The Tebbs sisters also start the beginner off on tape lace which I did think was a good choice as it is fairly easy to achieve good results with it, which is encouraging for the student, and also easy to understand the design method for those who want to produce their own patterns.

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.