Wednesday, 28 July 2021

Imitating handmade bobbin lace

The allure of handmade lace has always held a premium. In the nineteenth century the aim of machine lace manufacturers was to produce lace that was indistinguishable from handmade lace. In the case of Chantilly lace this was very successful. The image above shows some handmade Chantilly lace but it can be difficult to distinguish it from machine made lace and identification depends on fine details such as the thread paths, the use of outlining gimp threads and their picot edgings. However I hadn’t realised until I read Heather Toomer’s book ‘Embroidered with white’ that this imitating of handmade lace also occurred in the eighteenth century. At that time it was whitework embroidery imitating Brussels bobbin lace and Valenciennes bobbin lace, both of which are quite dense types of white lace. All three of these techniques were handmade, time consuming and required great skill but the bobbin lace was more fashionable and expensive. Heather suggests that the bobbin lace would have been worn at court while the whitework would have been accessible to the growing European middle class population. Both the whitework and the machine-made Chantilly would have been desirable and expensive items but neither had the ultimate caché of being handmade bobbin lace. 

Wednesday, 21 July 2021

Stylised Japanese foliage for lace designs


I’ve been working on the design for my Japanese pieces and am trying to finalise the design for my medium sized hanging which is to be an impressionic interpretation of foliage. My inspiration is an overhanging bough of maple leaves I photographed while I was in Japan but I’m trying to see how other types of foliage are depicted in Japanese designs. The image above comes from a woodcut of a variety of leaves showing how a several leaves can be used together.

I also rather like the way these bamboo like leaves are silhouetted against the moon and I might incorporate something of that style in my larger hanging.

The way these willow leaves overlap is also very pleasing and I do have a willow tree in my larger design so I might try and emulate the way the leaves overlap each other. Even though I’m working from my own photographs of foliage I can’t just copy what I saw, to make an effective design does mean I have to translate the photograph into a textile design which needs to have clear outlines so seeing how others have done that is proving very useful.

Wednesday, 14 July 2021

Brussels application lace veil

This beautiful lace veil was shown at the Great Exhibition of 1851 by the Belgian company Delahaye. The description in the Art Journal Catalogue published at the time and from which this image comes states ‘‘The patient labour and perseverance necessary to complete these exquisite additions to the toilette of beauty can scarcely be understood by those who have not witnessed their slow growth in the manufactory, in which years are consumed in the production of a single veil’.

Brussels application lace was indeed beautiful and time consuming to produce as it included both fine bobbin lace and exquisite needle lace. Patricia Wardle in her book on Victorian lace describes the manufacturing process and the specialised workers it involved. The drocheleuse made fine strips of bobbin net for the background net, which were joined together by the jointeuse. Flower motifs were made by the pointeuse in fine needle lace and the relief or more three dimensional areas were worked by the brodeuse. The bobbin lace motifs were also made by two specialist workers; the platteuse made the solid parts of the design and the formeuse added the intricate filling stitches. All of these elements were assembled into the final piece in the workrooms of the lace manufacturer by highly skilled striqueuses. By 1851 when this beautiful shawl was exhibited the background net was much more likely to be machine made rather than the drochel of the early nineteenth century but the other parts of the work would still have been made separately and joined together with ‘patient labour’ as the catalogue suggests. 

Thursday, 8 July 2021

Spangle attachments on lace bobbins


Spangles are the rings of beads, looped on brass wire, that are attached to the tail of East Midlands lace bobbins to weight them on the lace pillow. They can be attached to the bobbin in different ways but the oldest method is thought to be a staple, made from a brass pin, driven into the tail of the bobbin to make a loop, which the wire of the spangle can be looped through. The easiest method for the bobbin maker is probably just to drill a hole in the tail of the bobbin through which the lacemaker can loop the spangle to the bobbin (see the image above).

However, many of these types of bobbins have a small loop of wire passing through the bobbin to make a loop through which the spangle can be looped (see here). A few bone bobbins have hinged spangles where a slit has been made in the base of the tail and a piece of shaped bone inserted with a hinge often made from a brass pin passing through the bobbin and the shaped ‘spangle’. Looking through my own bobbins the majority have a simple hole through the tail with the spangle threaded straight through it like the bobbins at the top of the blog.

Wednesday, 30 June 2021

Reflections on Japan: shin gyo so


I’m making some lace for a series of exhibitions to be shown next year. My work for this exhibition is informed by the Japanese sensibility of ‘shin gyo so’ which can broadly be expressed as ‘the realistic, the impressionistic and the abstract’. I’ve taken as my starting point the gardens at Toji Temple in Kyoto and my piece will result in two hangings and a miniature three-dimensional lace sculpture. The hangings will represent aspects of the garden and the sculpture is modelled on the corner of the temple roof. I’ve made a bobbin lace pattern for the sculpture and am now working on the hangings, which will both be needlerun lace on net. The sizes of the hangings are based on kimono cloth and wrapping cloths so they are both quite narrow. The longer hanging is a depiction of the gardens, to represent shin, and the smaller one depicts a branch of maple leaves for gyo. I’ve drawn out my design and have recently been scaling it up to the right size. I’ve also cut out my net for the hangings – easier said than done as the line of the scissor blade interferes with your sight line of the net holes! As you can see, I’ve also been trying out some threads for the needlerun lace. Laying the nets on top of each other has also produced some interesting interference patterns, which you can see in the image, but I’m not sure whether adding applique to the mix will confuse things or help with shading – it’s a work in progress!

Wednesday, 23 June 2021

Lace ruffs in the late 16th century


By the 1580s lace ruffs began to get wider as well as deeper. They also began to become slightly flatter and probably more comfortable to wear, although they were obviously worn for display not comfort. Paintings of the time also show some being left open at the front rather than forming a complete circle around the neck. These wider ruffs often required some support under them to keep them in place as even strong starching was not enough to keep them displayed properly. The supports could be underproppers, supportases or rebatos (but that will be the subject of a future blog as there is so much to say about them!) or even a small plain ruff under the larger one. Ruffs made mainly of lace also became popular towards the end of the 16th century. Until then lace had tended to be used as an edging attached to a fine linen ruff (see my previous blogs about ruffs on 19 May and 31 March). The image shows part of a miniature of Queen Elizabeth I by Nicholas Hilliard in the V&A collection. The ruff is made of lace and seems to include spangles or jewels around the edge that are also attached to her hair and ear, it must have looked spectacular in candlelight.

Wednesday, 16 June 2021

Hanging lace bobbins celebrating executions


These bobbins are known as hanging bobbins but they don’t just hang on the pillow like other bobbins they actually celebrate hangings of those convicted of murder. Seven executions are commemorated in six hanging bobbins, most were public hangings at Bedford Goal although one took place at Newgate Prison. Those in the image record the hangings of William Worsley in 1868 and William Bull in 1871. William Worsley’s was the last public execution carried out in Bedford. He and Levi Welch were tried for the murder of William Bradbury in Luton, but Welch turned king’s evidence and said Worsley had inflicted the fatal blow. Worsley was hung and Welch was given 14 years penal servitude for stealing from Bradbury. However he appealed on the basis that anyone giving information leading to the conviction of the murderer was entitled to a free pardon and he was released 3 months later. William Bull’s execution took place in private at Bedford but still attracted a large crowd to the town. Bull, a 21 year old labourer, had murdered Sarah Marshall, a poor, simple old woman, in a motiveless drunken rage in her home, and his execution was popular with the local people. The other four hanging bobbins record the executions of Matthias and William Lilley in 1829 for the attempted murder of a gamekeeper; Sarah Dazeley in 1843 for poisoning her husband; Joseph Castle in 1860 for murdering his wife; and Franz Muller in 1864 for the first murder on a railway train.