Wednesday, 7 June 2023

‘Economic’ lace curtains

I love the idea of these ‘economic’ lace curtains, which are advertised in a 1933 Lace Furnishings catalogue. They come in one piece with the valance heading, side curtains and tie backs all attached to each other and ready to hang. The catalogue emphasises that each ‘pair’ is woven in one piece, however it recommends that for cleaning the scallops should be tacked together every 6 inches so they can be dressed in the same way as ordinary curtains. They are 40 inches wide (approximately 1 metre) and 2.5 yards long (about 2.25 metres) so are made for a specific window size, although they could probably be slightly gathered to for a smaller window. Unfortunately the catalogue doesn’t have any prices and I assumed they were labelled ‘economic’ because they didn’t cost much to buy, but the write up says they are ‘most economical in use’ which I assume means that they required less maintenance than the usual window dressings made up of separate curtains, valance and tie backs. They are very pretty though and I would love to have them wafting in the breeze at my window.

Wednesday, 31 May 2023

Gimp outlining threads in lace


In lacemaking, gimp threads are used to outline areas of the design, to define and highlight them. The gimp is usually a slightly thicker thread than that used in the main body of the lace or it can be made up from a bunch of threads used together to make a thicker outline as you can see in the detail below.

In bobbin lacemaking the gimp is incorporated into the lace as the work progresses and you can see below how the threads are kept in place by twisting the bobbin threads either side of it.

Once the gimp thread has been worked around a circular shape for example it is overlapped for a small section, secured by twisted threads moving into the body of the lace and then cut off close to the work. In early machine-made lace the gimp was often added after the remainder of the lace had been made. This work was done by women couching the thicker thread on the surface of the lace around the main elements of the design. In later machine-made lace the gimp was incorporated into the work but for areas of lace where the gimp was not required the gimp thread was ‘floated’ behind the work without being incorporated into the lace and these floating threads were later trimmed by hand.

It seems a lot of work to add these additional threads but you only have to look at the reverse of a piece of lace (lower image) to see how the flat work is lifted by the addition of a slightly raised outlining thread on the surface in the image above.

Thursday, 25 May 2023

Lace bobbins decorated with wire and beads

Wire decorated lace bobbins are very attractive but the wire is liable to break and because of that few have survived, but this post shows three from my collection. The one on the left has had channels cut round it along its length and the central ones have been wound with brass wire. The silver coloured dots are made of pewter and in this case a hole would have been drilled through the bobbin from one side to the other and a small amount of hot pewter would have been inserted into the hole. This bobbin also has an interesting spangle that includes a button, which could have been a love token from an admirer. The central bobbin also has a section of inlaid brass wire wound round it but this time the wire in the diagonal cuts has been strung with tiny turquoise beads. The bobbin on the right is also decorated with wire and beads but this wire is not inlaid and the beads have been added at intervals to make the diagonal patterns. Although the wire is not inserted in a groove, the beads lie in channels that keep them in the diagonal orientation. Very few bobbins were decorated with beads in this way and many of those that were have not survived with their wire or beads intact. You often find bobbins with small drilled holes at the top and bottom of the shank showing where the wire was originally attached. I do think the diagonal bead pattern is very pretty but I don’t use this bobbin because of the risk of breaking the wire.

Monday, 8 May 2023

Lacemakers pins, fish bones and thorns


In his history of bobbin lace Thomas Wright records that early pins were being made in England in 1347, but pins made from brass wire were first made in about 1530. The 1543 Act for the ‘true making of pynnes’ limited the price of 1000 pins at no more than 6 shillings and 8 pence. Most pins used in England were imported from France until John Tilsby began making them in Gloucestershire in 1626 and the Pinmakers’ Corporation of London was established in 1636. The early brass pins made in England were made in two parts with a shank and twisted wire head that were joined by compression, however, the heads were not very secure and often came off. Pins with solid heads were not made until about 1835. Wright notes that many lacemakers added wax heads to some beads; red for a headside pin and green or gold for a footside pin. Other pins were decorated with the seeds of goose grass and were known as burrheads or ‘hariffe pins’. He also records (and includes photographs of) two pins with bone heads, shaped like small drums, inscribed with the names Ruth and Thomas in dots of colour in the same way as bone bobbins. T L Huetson, who also wrote about the history of lacemaking, claims that early lacemakers used fish bones and thorns in place of pins. As a lacemaker I find it highly unlikely that either would have been much use but he says he has some thorn pins that were given to him by an old lady who had been given them by a lacemaker many years before.

Wednesday, 3 May 2023

Spiral decorated beads on lace bobbins


The spangles that are used to weight East Midlands lace bobbins are functional but also decorative and incorporate a variety of glass beads, several of which we’ve discussed before in this blog. The bottom bead in each of the spangles in the image above all have swirling patterns on them. Five are made using a marbling technique in which lines of contrasting glass are added once the body of the bead has been formed, then while the glass is still molten a thin wire is passed through the lines to distort them and form the swirling pattern. However, the bottom bead on the second bobbin from the top looks as if the dark decoration has been painted onto the surface with a brush. Many beads with swirling patterns, such as the bottom bead on the second bobbin on the right, were called ‘evil eye beads’ as the snake-like shape of the spiral was thought to avert the evil eye. The head of the snake began at the top of the bead near the hole and spiralled round to taper into a tail into the hole at the bottom of the bead. Many people mistakenly think that the beads on a lace bobbin are used to identify it and define its function but that is not the case; all of the bobbins are interchangeable. It seems that East Midlands lacemakers just liked decorative beads on their spangles in the same way as they enjoyed decorative lace bobbins on their pillows.

Wednesday, 26 April 2023

Crochet filet lace

Filet lace was originally made in the sixteenth century mainly for ecclesiastical use by making a base net, using a netting technique, and then skilfully embroidering it with a form of darning to incorporate the design. It underwent a revival in the early twentieth century and at that stage was being made in a variety of ways. It could be made in the traditional way or more rapidly by working the darning onto machine-made net, or even more rapidly by making the entire piece by machine. However it also became a popular hobby and many ladies magazines included instructions for making the net and working the darning stitches.

As this style of lace became popular, many of these magazines also included instructions for making ‘filet lace’ using crochet techniques and this is the way the tablecloth edging in the main image was made.

Crochet is made with a hook and thread and the stitches are a combination of chain stitches that can be combined to form columns, which can be spaced to form a solid fabric or, as in this case, are separated to form a lace. As with so many types of lace, one technique is being used to imitate another that is fashionable at the time.

Wednesday, 19 April 2023

Renaissance lace designs


This lovely lace design comes from the collection of patterns compiled  by Federico Vinciolo, a leading Venetian lace designer, in the sixteenth century. The first edition of the book was published in Paris and dedicated to Catherine de Medici who was Queen of France at that time. These designs were very popular and the book was reprinted at least 17 times between 1587 and 1658. There may also have been earlier editions, but 1587 was the date of the version first printed in Paris. This pattern is designed to be worked in cutwork and would form the edge of a cuff, collar, ruff or handkerchief. It is thought that ladies would tear out sheets of patterns to use themselves and would also send them to their needlewomen for working. The entire design would have been worked by removing threads from a base material and then securing the remaining threads using tiny buttonhole stitches. The needlewoman would also use free needlelace to work the picot edgings and some of the filling stitches. The number of times the book was reprinted indicates how useful it was to the sixteenth century needlewoman and how popular the designs were.