Thursday, 8 December 2022

Tawdry: St Audrey’s lace

To describe something as tawdry means it is worthless, vulgar, cheap or gaudy and it is a corruption of the term St Audrey’s lace. St Audrey was named Etheldrida when she was born in the seventh century. She was the daughter of the king of East Anglia and married the king of Northumbria so had a wealthy life, however, she renounced both her royal life and her husband and became a nun and ultimately a saint. She died in the year 679 with a throat tumour, which she considered God’s punishment for her love of necklaces when she was young. Her name was simplified to Audrey and she became the patron saint of Ely where an annual fair was held in her memory on the 17 October. Trinkets including cheap jewellery and a style of necklace known as St Audrey’s lace, which seems to have been a silk ribbon or string rather than a specific type of lace, were sold to the pilgrims. The term St Audrey’s lace became corrupted to tawdry lace and by the seventeenth century tawdry was used to describe anything cheap and vulgar.

Wednesday, 30 November 2022

Damascene lace

Damascene lace is an adaptation of Honiton pillow lace invented in the late nineteenth century as a hobby lace. It incorporates Honiton lace sprigs and braid lace joined by corded bars and does not include any filling stitches. It can be quite simple to make if the Honiton motifs and the braid are ready bought or more complicated if the lacemaker works her own motifs and braid in pillow lace. To make the lace, the pattern is drawn on calico and the sprigs are tacked in place. Once they are positioned the braid is also tacked down following the pattern. Where the braid touches another part of braid the two are overcast together. The braid and motifs are then joined with bars made by running several threads from one to the other and making a series of close buttonhole stitches along their length. A little ready-made picot edging has also been added to the edge of this lace to finish it off neatly. Once all the elements are joined together the tacking threads are removed and the lace can be lifted off its calico backing in one piece. If the worker bought the components this would be a simple way to make dress decorations, such as this sleeve edge, as it required competent sewing skills but no lacemaking expertise.   

Wednesday, 2 November 2022

Lace bobbins with pewter inlays

These lace bobbins are all inlaid with pewter in different patterns – the bobbins with rings or stripes are called tigers, the V shaped ones are butterflies and ones with spots of pewter (not shown here) are known as leopards. The one on the far left has a thicker layer of pewter, which may originally have included lettering, and the second from the left also includes the inscription Joseph with the six letters separated half way through the name with the butterfly. The Springetts, who are modern bobbin makers, discovered that these bobbins were made by cutting grooves in the bobbin, placing it in a fired clay mould and then pouring the molten pewter into the grooves. They also found that the bobbin makers sawed an angled cut at the bottom of the groove to stop the pewter from coming loose. Pewter is an alloy of tin and lead, although sometimes antimony was added as well to make it look more shiney. In some of these types of bobbins the metal inlay is so shiney, through constant use, that it is often mistaken for silver but molten silver would set a wooden bobbin on fire and would damage a bone one so silver could never have been used and it would also have been too expensive for the lacemakers to afford. Unfortunately many inlaid bobbins have lost their pewter over the years, including part of the one on the far right, so it is common to find a bobbin with grooves but no pewter. In some cases the cause is corrosion of the pewter due to the interaction of perspiration from the hands on the tin in the alloy. This is especially the case for bobbins by Jesse Compton who ironically used good quality pewter with a high level of tin. The corrosion makes the pewter expand and feel rough to the hands and also to snag on the lace pillow so some of the lacemakers may have removed it on purpose to make the bobbins easier to use.  

Wednesday, 26 October 2022

Some clever machine lace production techniques


If you follow this blog you will remember that I recently received some samples of machine made lace from the 1970s designed for the lingerie industry. They also illustrate some interesting production methods used by the machine lace producers. For example, the image above gives an idea of how scalloped edged lace trims would have been made in one piece of lace with open net areas linking the two pieces, which would have been cut away once the lace came off the loom to separate the two scalloped edges, thus allowing the lacemakers to produce many strips of lace all together and save production time. The image below shows some strips of lace made in a similar way, linked together by joining threads which would have been pulled out once the lace was finished leaving the ribbons of lace.

The pretty black lace below was made on the Levers lace machine. It has a fine background pattern and an outlining thicker gimp thread highlighting some of the motifs.

The heavier black thread would have been used to outline one motif and then been allowed to run loosely down the side of the lace pattern until it was required for the next motif, which meant that the loops of loose thread had to be cut and trimmed once the lace left the machine. Both sides of this lace also show remnants of the threads that joined it to the other strips it was made with.

These two pieces of lace have picot edgings on both sides, but the white piece still retains a thin thread along its righthand side which was used to help form the picots and as a joining thread between this strip of lace and the one next to it. Many of the joining threads between the strips of lace were designed to be pulled out quite easily but some types had to be removed by heat treatment using a tool like a soldering iron and others had to be cut with trimmers. Much of this work was carried out by women working at home on a piece-work system.

Wednesday, 19 October 2022

Tatted lace


I need a small portable lace project to take on a trip I’m making and I thought tatting would be the ideal thing as it’s easy to pick up and put down and the equipment is quite small to carry about. I haven’t done any tatting for a while so I’ve been back to the instruction books to remind me how to make the double stitch that is a feature of the work. The image above is the edge of a little doily I bought years ago at The Lace Guild which shows the distinctive rings and loops that are used to make the patterns that are joined together as the work progresses by looping through the picots made at intervals between the double stitches.

I found tatting difficult to learn from a book as the secret to the technique is the transfer of loops from one thread to the other – you’ll know what I mean if you’ve tried it! The written instructions for this always tell you to make the first half of the double stitch by looping the thread round your fingers then passing the shuttle thread through the loop and then pulling the thread taut with a sharp jerk – in my experience this always ends with a knot on the thread not a loop. The secret is not a sharp jerk but a slight and careful pull to transfer the loop. It is much easier to learn with two colours of thread so you can see the transfer and also if a friend shows you how to do it. I was lucky enough to have such a friend who showed me how to tat on a long flight to the USA, which also means I always associate tatting with travel so to take some on a trip seems very appropriate!

Wednesday, 12 October 2022

Lingerie lace

Recently, a friend sent me some samples of machine made lace that her mother bought in Nottingham market in the 1970s and they are a lovely snapshot of the lace available at the time. I’m just showing a few here but I think they are all made for the lingerie industry. This was a time when women and girls wore petticoats, slips and vests as well as bras and knickers so there was plenty of scope for lace embellishment. The scalloped lace on the left would have been used on a bra as it can easily be cut to fit on a variety of cup sizes. The fine black lace would have made a lovely trim for a petticoat or slip. The straight white lace is an insertion, a type of lace which could have been used to join two pieces of fabric forming a beautiful transparent band of lace between them. The apricot coloured lace on the right is designed to include a ribbon slotted along its length so could be used as a strap for a petticoat or vest or could also be used as a trim without the ribbon.

These dainty white edgings are all laces that could be used to trim any type of lingerie. The two at the top both mimic traditional Buckinghamshire handmade bobbin lace styles and could be used to edge women’s or girls’ underwear. The lower three samples are all elasticated but are a little too narrow to be straps so were probably used as trims on vests and knickers attached to fabrics that needed to be flexible. All these laces were made on the Raschels lace machine apart from the black lace which was made on the Levers machine. This difference in production methods is also an interesting thread that I’ll blog about another time. Who would have thought that a bundle of lace off cuts from the market would prove to be so interesting.

Wednesday, 5 October 2022

Lace lappets


Lappets are long strips of lace or fine embroidery that were attached to women’s headwear and generally fell down onto the shoulders. As a writer in 1849 noted ‘lappets give grace, lightness and elegance to the whole costume’. A pair of lappets was usually attached to the back or sides of a cap but they could also be fixed to a bonnet or hat. They were fashionable for a long time during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and during that time their size, shape and positioning changed as fashions altered. For example a one time it was fashionable to pin the lappets on top of the cap and at others tie them under the chin. I have found it impossible to find an image of someone wearing lappets, which seems odd as they were such an ubiquitous style for so long, but Heather Toomer in her book on white embroidery suggests that this is because they were generally used for formal wear and most portraits depict informal settings. Pairs of lappets are found in many museum collections generally as separate strips of lace because they are so beautiful and when the fashion for them eventually ended it was possible to remove them from the cap and store them easily, therefore many have survived. Some have also been repurposed as scarves and dress decoration. Several were displayed in the Great Exhibition of 1851 including some in black Chantilly lace and others in blonde lace made of white silk thread as well as lappets of silk and gold from Caen. In the Paris Exhibition of 1867 lappets of Brussels needlepoint lace were exhibited. That they were made in many different styles of lace, were fashionable for so long and have been kept and donated to museums means they are a great source of information for lace researchers.