Friday 12 April 2024

A series of draughts for the Nottingham lace curtain machine


This set of four lace machine draughts are all variations on a theme of roses. They all have the same heading and a similar pattern along the base, while the main parts of the design are all variations on a series of roses, four-petalled flowers and leaves. I have previously seen a variety of designs produced this way and thought they were variations produced by the designer for the manufacturer to choose which one they preferred. I didn’t realise that manufacturers produced a variety of fairly similar designs for sale and therefore the designers were probably producing a suite of designs that complemented each other to make a range for that season.

These draughts were painted by hand by a draughtsman based on the designers original drawing. They are basically instructions converting the design into a pattern that can be made on the Nottingham lace curtain machine. Each draught contains the information for one pattern repeat and the places where the repeat begins and ends are marked. The red and green rectangles indicate different operations for the lace machine – generally red indicates back spool ties and green means Swiss ties. The draughts also provide other information such as the fineness or point size of the lace, its width and depth and whether the edging is overlocked or a picot edging. Following this stage, the draughts would have been sent to the card puncher who would have converted the information into a set of punched Jacquard cards which would have been ‘read’ by the machine to make the lace. A stamp on the draughts says ‘Lace textile designers draughtsmen 40 Upper Parliament Street, Nottingham’ which suggests that the people making these draughts were a specialist company of designer draughtsmen and not part of a larger manufacturing company, as was often the case. They probably produced a range of designs for several lace manufacturers.

Wednesday 3 April 2024

Lacemaking at the Great Exhibition 1851

Bucks point lace made from this draught won a gold medal at the Great Exhibition in 1851. According to Thomas Wright, Miss Elizabeth Clayson from Olney demonstrated lacemaking at the exhibition and was working on this pattern when Queen Victoria visited the show. The Queen asked the usual question ‘Are the different coloured bobbins a guide to which thread you turn over?’ and was told this was not the case. Whether she highlighted its similarity to tatting is not recorded! (These are the two observations everyone makes at lace demonstrations!)

The pattern was designed by John Millward from Olney, a well-known Buckinghamshire lace-making town, for the lace manufacturers Messrs. Copestake and Co. The Jury report of the exhibition suggests that the medal was awarded to the company, not the designer or lacemaker, and was for their complete range including Bucks point, Honiton and tambour lace as well as embroidered muslin. Particular mention is made of ‘very wide Buckinghamshire lace of fine quality’ which presumably refers to this pattern. The lace was made in three widths and we are not told which one Miss Clayson was working on when she met the Queen, I do hope it was a smaller, more manageable, version and not the very wide one.

Wednesday 27 March 2024

Spring bobbin lace panels

It’s spring in the UK and the lovely colours in the garden have inspired me to produce a group of small lace panels. I’ve made some frames out of stiffened fabric, the sort used for interfacing when you’re making garments. I’ve already coloured them and am now filling the central openings with random bobbin lace in colours to complement the frames. As you can see I’ve finished one and am just about to begin on the second. I’m not quite sure how to mount them. I want to maintain the see-through quality of the lace but they are so small they would be overlooked hanging on a wall. Therefore I’m going to mount them on a white backing, so they are slightly raised from it and don’t lie flat. My dilemma is whether to mount them inside a box-type frame with glass in front of them or to have them on a block-type frame that stands out from the wall. They would be safer behind the glass but would probably make more interesting shadows if they stood out from the frame. I think I will have to experiment once they are all made and see what works best.

Wednesday 20 March 2024

Honiton lace and Flemish refugees


There is a tradition, repeated in Mrs Bury Palliser’s authoritative History of lace, that Honiton lace was introduced to Devon by Flemish refugees escaping persecution from the Duke of Alva in 1570. However, there is no primary evidence for such an influx of lacemakers and Palliser based her assertions on the appearance of Flemish sounding surnames in parish registers. H J Yallop in his doctoral thesis on the History of the Honiton lace industry questions whether these surnames actually had Flemish origins. He also notes that they were first introduced into England centuries before the invention of lacemaking and most are first found in Honiton registers in the seventeenth century. Yallop found no evidence for an influx of Flemish refugees in the late sixteenth century.

He also argues that the obvious place for Flemish refugees to land in England would have been London, Essex and East Kent, and there is evidence of refugees settling in these areas. To travel along the English south coast as far as Devon, passing several ports on the way, to land on an open beach in Devon seems complete folly. Interestingly, Yallop notes that the first mention of refugee lacemakers arriving in Honiton to start the lace industry in the sixteenth century dates from a book on Devonshire history published in 1822, based on some confused information received from a local Honiton lace manufacturer. In fact, by the sixteenth century the Devon cloth industry was well established and the area was home to many weavers, fullers, tuckers and dyers as well as pointmakers. The latter made points, which were narrow braids or laces used for tying parts of garments together, using a technique similar to bobbin lace making. It therefore seems much more likely that the Honiton lace industry was a natural development from the local weaving industry.

Wednesday 13 March 2024

Bobbin lace lappets

This beautiful bobbin lace lappet was made in Belgium in the eighteenth century. I found the image in an interesting old book entitled Old handmade lace by Mrs F Nevill Jackson, which was published in 1900. Lappets were long strips of lace or embroidery that were attached to women’s caps, hats or bonnets and then allowed to fall onto the shoulders, although there was a period when it was fashionable to pin the lappets to the top of the cap and another when they were tied under the chin. They were fashionable during the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries but despite that I could find few images of women wearing them.

The cap and lappets on the model above were displayed in the V&A Museum in London. They show round ended lappets attached to the sides of a fine fabric cap falling down the back. Alternatively side lappets could fall either side of the face or lappets could be attached to the back of the headwear and hang down the back of the gown. They varied in width, length and type of lace but always came in pairs. Both the lappets in the images have round ends but square ended lappets were also made. There are also examples of caps and lappets made entirely of lace (see an image in my blog post of 5 October 2022). Many lappets survive in museums and lace collections, probably because they were made to be closely examined and admired and are therefore exquisitely worked and so the owners found them too beautiful to dispose of. Also, once they were no longer fashionable, they were easy to detach from the headwear and small enough to keep in a drawer.

Wednesday 6 March 2024

Celebrating mothers on lace bobbins


As it’s Mothers’ day in the UK on Sunday I thought I’d write about lace bobbins celebrating mothers this week. The bobbin with the blue spangle is inscribed Dear mother and the other one says Sarah Ions my D mother. It looks as if the bobbin maker was running out of space so he just squeezed D on at the end of the line to represent dear. Or perhaps Sarah’s daughter forgot to ask him to include dear and wanted him to fit it in later. Both bobbins were made by the person called the Blunt end man by the Springetts in their research on bobbin makers and their techniques. He seems to have links to Bedford and was definitely making bobbins between 1860 and 1874, so these two bobbins are about 150 years old. The Blunt end man used simple lettering in straight lines, rather than the spiral inscriptions other bobbin makers favoured. He produced a large quantity of bobbins including many personal ones like Sarah’s but also had a good stock of simple inscriptions such as Dear mother, as well as those for other relations such as father, sister, brother, aunt and uncle. What a lovely gift it would have been to receive one of these lovely bobbins on Mothers’ day.

Wednesday 28 February 2024


Prickings are the patterns of dotted holes that lacemakers follow to make bobbin lace. Technically the pricking shown in the image is only half complete as I am pricking the holes for the pins as I work the lace. Traditionally, the pattern would have been pricked in its entirety before the actual lacemaking began. Most prickings were made from an existing pricking or a copy of the pricking. Copies were made by placing a piece of thin paper over the reverse side of the pricking then rubbing over it with something like heel ball to leave an impression of the dotted pattern on the paper; in the same way as brass rubbings are produced. The reverse of the pricking was used because pushing pins through card or vellum leaves the top feeling smooth but causes a rough surface on the underside where the pins have displaced the card.

Copies were made by placing the original pricking (or the rubbing) over a new piece of card on a cork base, then pushing a pin through the existing holes of the pattern or the marks on the copy to produce a new pricking underneath the original. This was done using a pin permanently fixed into a holder, like a bobbin shaft, or using a pin vice (shown here) which holds the pin firmly in place. Using a pin on its own would be extremely fiddly and probably hurt your fingers as pricking lace patterns requires firm, precise, pressure. This image also shows how a pricking for a length of lace can be cut so the two pieces interlock and a continuous length of lace can therefore be made by alternating them.

Sadly the phrase “By the pricking of my thumbs, Something wicked this way comes” has nothing to do with lace prickings. It is said by one of the witches in Macbeth and is used to describe an ominous premonition, so it’s a creepy feeling rather than an overuse of lacemaking equipment!