Wednesday, 5 May 2021

John Bunyan lace bobbins


John Bunyan was a seventeenth century religious writer and Puritan preacher who was born near Bedford and spent most of his life there. He was popular among lacemakers particularly those who lived in and around Bedford. For many lacemakers the only books they would have possessed were the Bible, the prayer book and a copy of Bunyan’s famous allegory ‘The Pilgrim’s Progress’ which was often given to children as a prize at Sunday School. However, it is thought that the lace bobbins inscribed with his name were made in 1874 when a commemorative bronze statue was erected to him in Bedford facing the High Street.

The bobbin maker in this case seems to be the person the Springetts call ‘the blunt end man’. They have not been able to identify him but he seems to have close ties to Bedford as his bobbins often commemorate events in the town such as the erection of this statue as well as hangings at Bedford gaol. He also made bobbins inscribed ‘From Lesters’ (see my post of 22 July 2018) for the Lester family who were lace buyers in Bedford to give to lacemakers for good work. As the name the Springetts have given him suggests his bobbins were not particularly elegant. In general they are quite basic with a brief inscription in simple lettering which often twists slightly around the bobbin suggesting they were worked on the bench and not while they were still in the lathe. However, many of these bobbins are now highly prized because of the events they commemorate.

Wednesday, 28 April 2021

Fine tape lace with needlelace fillings

In my latest lace mat I’ve been using a form of tape lace that is common in Eastern Europe and involves working bobbin lace in lines that curve and join each other as the work progresses to form the pattern. However there is another type of tape lace, shown in the image above, in which a ready made tape is used to form an outline and the open areas are then filled with needle lace fillings. This type of lace was simple to make and was common in the 16th and 17th centuries in Italy and France. It then fell out of favour but saw a resurgence following the development of machine made lace tape in the 19th century. It is made in many places but became associated with Branscombe in Devon in the mid-19 century where the outlines were made using fine tapes from France into which delicate needle lace filling stitches were added.

The examples here are basic samples I made a while ago but they show how the lace is made. The outlining tape is tacked on to a backing for working using a continuous tape that is folded at joining points and sewn down onto itself rather than cutting it off and having to neaten the edge. When working a curve a basting line is run round the edge of the tape so it can be pulled up neatly to make it smooth. The filling stitches are then made in needle lace using a combination of fine buttonhole stitches worked in various patterns and joined into the work on each side. In this piece I also worked a purl edge around the outside of the design. Once the lace is complete the tacking stitches are taken out and the lace lifted from the backing.

Although the leaf design shows a variety of fairly dense stitches, the simple trefoil here shows how easily the spaces can be filled with just a few twisted threads and spider fillings making the work quick to produce if it is being made for sale. Many commercial handmade lace mats are now made in this way and with their combination of open work tapes and simple filling stitches they can be very attractive.

Wednesday, 21 April 2021

‘Me too’ bobbin lace mat

I have finally finished my ‘Me too’ bobbin lace mat but now have to tidy up all the ends either by sewing them in or cutting them off depending on where they left the work. I was hoping with this continuous type of lace that there wouldn’t be quite so many ends to tidy up but of course you can only wind a certain amount of thread round a bobbin and when that runs out you have to tie in a new thread. Also the text in the centre of the mat was quite fiddly involving lots of beginnings and ends which also leads to a lot of threads to deal with at the end. It will be good to get the work off the pillow and see what it looks like from the front as I've been working it from the back. I’m now planning the next mat in this series of subversive lace mats commenting on the constraints of domesticity. I have certainly enjoyed working this type of tape lace and feel I have got to know the technique much better, which means I have a better idea of how to design for it. I will definitely use it again for the circumference of the mat and as much of the centre as possible. I now have to decide on my text for the next one and then start designing around it.

Wednesday, 14 April 2021

Pat Earnshaw’s lace research


I’ve been doing quite a lot of writing about lace over the lockdown and am constantly grateful for the amazing research carried out by Pat Earnshaw in her beautifully illustrated books on lace. Although there are numerous books on handmade laces and their identification there are few books for the general reader on machine made lace and it is here that Pat’s books are invaluable. Her book ‘Lace machines and machine laces’ gives very clear descriptions of the workings of the main types of lace machines, their history and development. While her book on ‘How to recognise machine laces’ is excellent for revealing how to distinguish handmade and machine made laces – often through very subtle signs such as the construction of the picots edging a piece of lace. Her books on the identification of handmade laces and her book on lace fashions are also highly readable and packed with useful research but it is the ones on machine lace that I’ve been using most recently. I see from the flyleaf of one of my books that she graduated from Reading University and as well as qualifying as a teacher she was also a lace consultant to three prestigious London auction houses. A very talented woman who I for one am very grateful to.

Wednesday, 7 April 2021

Brussels lace


This lovely little piece of lace is made up of both bobbin and needle lace so I’ve described it as Brussels for want of a better description. The flower motifs inside each scallop are made of a pieced lace, like Honiton, where each spray or series of leaves is made separately on a lace pillow and then combined when the finished article is made up. Alternating scallop edges are also made using this pieced lace technique. However every alternate scallop and the inner edge of each one is made of needle lace and the bobbin lace motifs are joined together, and to the scallop, with a needle lace net ground. Needle lace has also been used to decorate the centre of some of the bobbin lace flowers and to make circular couronnes within the net ground. 

The work is so fine - just look at the tiny picot edgings - it would have been extremely time consuming and different lacemakers would have been responsible for separate parts of the work. The needle lace and bobbin lace motifs would have been assembled and then joined together on a needle lace pillow when the net ground stitches and the filling stitches would have been used to link them all together in the final design.

Wednesday, 31 March 2021

Early 16 century lace ruffs


The fashion for ruffs began in the early 16 century, around 1530, and started as a simple ruffle attached to the neckband of a linen smock. By the 1550s layers of ruffling were attached one above the other to give a fuller look, particularly at the sides and back. It was in the 1560s that ruffs took on their figure of eight appearance and during that decade layers of ruffles gave way to a single ruffle with more height and depth. This style continued to be popular in the 1570s when the individual figure of eight ruffles could be 4 inches high. Until that time, the ruffles had mainly been edged with embroidery or cording but in the 1570s lace edgings became more fashionable. The image above shows Elizabeth of Austria, who was Queen of France, wearing an early figure of eight ruff with a delicate lace edging.

Wednesday, 24 March 2021

Queen Adelaide 1837 lace bobbin

This lace bobbin celebrates Queen Adelaide who was the wife of William IV. She was crowned with her husband in 1831 and I’ve written a previous blog about that event (post of 10 May 2018). This bobbin also includes a silver coin as part of the spangle dated 1837, the year in which William died and the crown passed to his niece Queen Victoria. Sadly all Adelaide’s children had died young or been stillborn. She was on friendly terms with the new queen and died at Bentley Priory, London, in 1849. Adelaide was popular in lacemaking areas because she tried to help the English lace industries after lacemakers in Devon requested her patronage. Mary Jones notes that part of Adelaide’s help to the Devon lacemakers included commissioning a dress with Honiton lace floral sprigs around the skirt. The design was made up to include flowers, the initials of which, made up her name and included Amaranth, Daphne, Eglantine, Lilac, Auricula, Ivy, Dahlia and Eglantine. Interestingly her name is wrongly spelled Adalaide on the lace bobbin.

I have had difficulty in identifying the maker of this bobbin but think it was probably made by Jesse Compton mainly because of its shape, with a thin neck, bulbous head and the way the spangle is attached. He was also active in the late 1830s. It is interesting to speculate why a lacemaker bought this bobbin in 1837. It is inscribed ‘Queen Adalaide’ so was made while she was still queen (William died in December 1837) and may have been in response to a severe illness she had that year or it may have been considered a collector’s item, especially with the addition of the coin, as the crown passed from one ruler to another.