Thursday 11 July 2024

Fashionable veiling for hats in the early 20th century


Veiling for hats was fashionable in the early 20th century according to the February 1918 issue of The lace and embroidery review, an American magazine for lace buyers. Reporting on the items that were selling well in department stores, the magazine notes that veiling material was selling better than ready made veils, suggesting that women were buying netting by the yard and making up their own veils. The advertisements in the magazine suggest that there were two main styles of veiling, either a fairly long veil with a border design or shorter veils with embellishment across the face. The model in the main image above wears a hat with a deep, loose veil of hexagonal mesh with chenille dots in various sizes. The model in the image below shows the alternative style with a short hexagonal veil closely fitted around her face, embellished with a floral, scrolling design.

The article records that filet or square mesh was becoming popular but hexagon, diamond and fancy weaves were still selling well. It suggests that filet is better as a ground for angular designs, such as butterflies and leaves, while floral patterns are more effective on hexagonal meshes. It notes that all-over scrolls and chenille dots are fashionable, which is borne out by the illustrations. However, although velvet circles along the border of a veil are also popular, they do not wear well, because instead of being worked in chain stitch into the net they are cut out and stuck on to the veil and can come loose and fall off. I assumed all these veils and nets would be black but the article reports that purple, taupe and reddish brown shades were also selling well.

Wednesday 3 July 2024

The artfulness of filet lace curtains

I’m always impressed by the beautiful designs that can be worked in filet lace. Working on a square grid would seem to be very limiting but in skilled hands quite naturalistic images can be formed, as you can see with the cherubs and flowers in this image.

To work filet lace the lacemaker first has to make the net background. This is generally done by starting at a corner of the work, which is secured to a fixed point. The net is then made by looping thread round a spacer (rather like a lolly stick) to ensure the squares of the net are the same size and securing them to the stitch above with a knot. The lacemaker continues making a line of net stitches, gradually increasing stitches on each side of the work, until the required size is reached. It sounds complicated and is difficult to start with, until you get into a rhythm and learn how to manipulate the various loops of the thread as well as the netting needle and the spacer. In her book The technique of filet lace, Pauline Knight includes some images of how to make the net, which are helpful if you are learning netting. However, today you can cheat and use readymade machine net for filet work if you find that easier.

Once the net is made, or bought, the design has to be darned into it. Again this is not as simple as just filling the area with solid stitching. The threads are worked over and under each other in a regular pattern, so that, for linen stitch, two horizontal and two vertical threads pass through each open square. Therefore the lacemaker has to work out the thread paths before starting work. Margaret Swain in her book The needlework of Mary Queen of Scots notes that Mary and her companions were keen needlewomen and particularly enjoyed puzzling out how to work filet lace designs ‘in an age that enjoyed mazes, anagrams and emblems’. So not only are these lace curtains beautiful they are also works of art and artfulness. 

Thursday 27 June 2024

Nottingham lace bedspreads

 The main product of the Nottingham lace curtain machine is obviously curtains but the same machines can also be used to produce other large lace furnishings such as tablecloths and bedspreads. The bedspread in the image above was advertised in the 1933 edition of the Lace Furnishings catalogue and the dimensions are given as 70 by 90 inches which suggests that it was designed to be laid on the top of the bed and not hang down the sides. Unfortunately no price is given.

This bedspread was advertised in a Samuel Peach catalogue of 1904 as being 82 inches wide and 108 inches long and the price is given as 7 shillings and 6 pence (7/6). The Peach catalogue also has some smaller bedspreads, approximately 80 by 90 inches and these are all lined with satinette. This extends their size and presumably makes them more hard wearing. These lined bedspreads cost from 8/6 up to 14/9 and if the customer wants a 10 inch frilled edge added, they have to pay 7/6 extra. The catalogue notes that when lined these bedspreads give an exceedingly pretty effect to any room.

Wednesday 19 June 2024

Honiton lace bobbins


The characteristics of Honiton lace – its fine thread and the need for sewings – determine the type of lace bobbins required for the work. Honiton lace is a pieced lace, which means that the lacemaker makes individual motifs that are later combined with others to form the finished design and are generally applied to net. The work is fine so the bobbins do not need to be very heavy to maintain tension in the threads. Also, because Honiton lace is not a continuous straight lace but is made up of separate areas of work, the lacemaker is continually joining parts of the lace to other parts. For example, in the lace in the image, the zigzag lines are added once the two semicircles have been made, so the threads have to be joined to each side of the work in turn. They are joined with a ‘sewing’, which involves looping one thread from the worker pair through a loop in the edge of the main piece of lace and then passing the other bobbin and thread through the loop, then pulling them up tight to form a join. Therefore the bobbins have to be thin and pointed to make sewings easier. Because the thread is fine they don’t require a spangle of beads at the end to provide added weight like East Midlands English bobbins and the beads would also be a hindrance when making sewings. The simplicity of Honiton bobbins also extends to their head, which does not have to be the bulbous shape of the East Midlands bobbins because the Honiton thread is finer. In general, Honiton bobbins are not decorated in the same way as spangled bobbins either with names, dates and mottoes although some of them are decorated with nautical images, but we’ll look at those in another blog.

Wednesday 12 June 2024

Raised work in Bedfordshire bobbin lace


There are several methods of producing raised work in lace, but here I’m just looking at those used in Bedfordshire bobbin lace. This type of lace is made face upwards (unlike Honiton lace which is made face downwards) so any raised areas have to be worked above the main pattern rather than worked underneath and then covered by the main design. The first step in making the solid, thin, raised leaves that lie above the open, wider, half-stitch leaf in the image above is to lift two pairs from the main half-stitch area and set them aside. The half-stitch leaf is then continued until the length required for the stalk for the raised motif has been reached. The stalk is then worked by plaiting above the main lace and the bobbins used to make it then rejoin the main work. In the next row, four pairs of bobbins are put aside to work the pair of leaves. The half-stitch base is continued and the leaves are made and then the bobbins rejoin the main work, and so on, until the motif is complete. The stalks and leaves will be loose above the main work, but attached at both ends so they are secured.

Another method of producing raised areas is by working raised tallies, which are the 'blobs' seen on the leaf in the image above. Tallies are woven areas that are usually square in shape (tallies pointed at both ends are known as leaves). To make a raised tally, the two pairs needed for the work are lifted from the main design and are then woven to make a long tally. This strip is then looped over a horizontal pin to keep it raised and the bobbins returned to work the underlying cloth stitch. A pin is often used in the middle of the work to keep the tally tightly looped until enough rows have been worked beneath it to keep it in place.

A different way of introducing raised work into Bedfordshire bobbin lace is to make a completely separate area of lace and attach it to the main work later. In this image you can see that the four petals on the top right hand flower are raised like a flap over the flower beneath. They were worked separately using the pricking for the larger piece of lace and then sewn in place once the main piece of lace had been completed.

The raised areas can be any part of the pattern, worked separately, and later sewn in place. While those raised areas made as the work progresses can be leaves, tallies or simple plaiting worked over cloth or half stitch. Why do lacemakers raise areas of the work anyway? Probably because it gives the lace a slightly three dimensional appearance and depth that is not seen with flat pieces, and just adds a bit of interesting detail.

Wednesday 5 June 2024

Crochet lace


There are many types of crochet lace, including Irish crochet lace and hairpin crochet, but today I’m looking at the type of crochet lace patterns that were popular homemade crafts in the 19th and 20th centuries. The instructions for many of these designs were easily available in women’s magazines, needlework books and craft leaflets, many of them produced by the thread manufacturers. The equipment was a simple hook and thread and the work was portable and easy to pick up and put down if the housewife had a few moments of leisure between household tasks. The majority of these crochet items were made at home for use in the home.

Mats and doilies, like the one in the main image, were popular, but crochet was also used to make lace trimmings for clothing and household linen, such as this example from Therese de Dilmont’s encyclopaedia of needlework, which mimics needlemade reticella lace.

Another reason why crochet was such a versatile craft for the homemaker is that items could be made from a collection of smaller squares or medallions, which were easier to work than one large piece of lace, and could be assembled to form the finished larger item once enough squares had been made. An example is this chair back, which is also illustrated with instructions in de Dilmont’s encyclopaedia.

It is no longer fashionable to incorporate so much lace in interior design, but many families have heirloom pieces of crochet lace made by their forebears and although we do not use them in our daily lives we should acknowledge their beauty and not dismiss the level of skill involved in their construction.

Wednesday 22 May 2024

Plauen lace collars


These lovely lace collars are advertised in a 1904 catalogue from the Peach lace company and are both labelled as Plauen lace, a town in Saxony known for its embroidered lace. The lace was embroidered in a type of lock stitch, using a Schiffli embroidery machine, onto a net background or other backing material which was then removed leaving only the stitched lace behind. Between 1881 and 1905 various patents were taken out describing types of backing fabrics and methods for removing them. In Britain the general term for lace produced in this way was chemical lace and most was imported from Switzerland and Saxony.

The lace was popular at the end of the nineteenth and into the twentieth century. It produced a good imitation of handmade lace and was reasonably priced for middle-class customers. The collar at the top was 8.5 inches deep and cost 3/9 while the lower collar was 7.75 inches deep and cost 2/9. It was also hard wearing and easy to launder so would have been easy to keep clean, and was therefore a practical as well as a beautiful lace.