Wednesday, 20 October 2021

Lace for ‘Tansa: Japanese threads of influence’


I’m still working on my lace for the ‘Tansa: Japanese threads of influence’ exhibitions. My pieces are inspired by Japanese textiles and gardens and the sensibility of shin-gyo-so – broadly expressed as ‘the realistic, the impressionistic and the abstract’. The abstract piece is a small three-dimensional bobbin lace sculpture but the other two pieces are black net hand embellished with black thread. Both of these two pieces are hangings, one based on kimono cloth and the other on wrapping cloth. I’ve used this needle weaving technique before but previously I used white thread and net so I’ve had to make a few adjustments this time. For example, previously I’ve outlined the elements of my underlying pattern in thick black permanent pen but that is very confusing with black thread so this time I’ve outlined everything in red, which shows through the black net much more successfully. Also the black thread shows up more effectively on the black net than the white on white version so I’m adding some net overlays to soften the effect. Both interesting effects that I’ve only realised by actually working with the materials. All three pieces will be exhibited next year in the UK and Japan. The first venue for the lace sculpture is the Crafts Study Centre, Farnham from 4 January to 19 February and the lace hangings will be at South Hill Park, Bracknell from 23 February to 3 April.

Wednesday, 13 October 2021

The rebato – supporting the lace collar

Many lace ruffs were starched to stiffen them and keep them in shape but larger lace collars such as this one were attached to a supporting frame to show off the lace. There were various types of supporting frame but today we’re focusing on the rebato.

Rebatos are wire frames made up of twisted wires, which often appear quite lacelike in their own right. They would have been made by silkwomen and some are wrapped in plain or coloured silk or even metal threads which would glint through the lace collar at the front and appear quite distinctive from behind and probably looked stunning in candlelight. Many, like this one were covered in gauze or cotton with a simple lace edging attached round the edge but others were left plain.

The lace was sewn onto the frame using simple oversewing so it could easily be removed for laundering, although many incorporated a black silk edging round the neck edge so the dirt wasn’t too obvious! A basic frame could also be reused for a different lace collar and any lace scallops protruding from the edge of the support, like the ones here, would have to be stiffened with starch to make them stand up.

Wednesday, 6 October 2021

Caroline Bartlett exhibition at the Crafts Study Centre


I had a very enjoyable day earlier this week at the Crafts Study Centre (CSC) in Farnham seeing Caroline Bartlett’s exhibition ‘A restless dynamic’ - the image is a detail of ‘Every ending has a new beginning’. The exhibition includes new work that she has made in response to the archive of Lucie Rie held at the CSC and her collaboration with Issey Miyake.

Looking at continuity and change as it affected both her own work during the pandemic and that of Lucie Rie, Caroline has produced pleated circular shapes that reflect on Rie’s use of the potter’s wheel and her colour palette, as well as referencing the pleated fabrics of Miyake. The shape of the pieces materially indicating the continuity of the circle while the subtle colour changes within the pleated fabric speak of change.

The exhibition also includes work Caroline has previously made in response to other venues and archives including ‘Stilled’ made in response to Salts Mill (image above) and ‘Listening in’ responding to time spent in the Whitworth textile archive. There are some interesting themes here and the work is beautiful, I have just given you a taster, so do go and see it if you can. It runs at the CSC until 11 December, but note that it isn’t open on Mondays.

Wednesday, 29 September 2021

Trade beads in lace bobbin spangles


Many of the beads on these lace bobbin spangles were originally made for trading in Africa and North America. Trade beads were made in varying sizes and colours and the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford has several trade cards of beads in graded sizes and colour ranges labelled according to the market they were made for. The card labelled ‘Trade beads for South Africa’ has round, plain beads coloured blue, brown and yellow like those in the spangles in the photo. The beads on the Central African trade card are much more decorative with patterns and come in a variety of bright colours and lozenge shapes as well as spheres. The beads were sold by weight and are also known as pound beads. They were imported from Amsterdam and Venice and although their main destination was the shipping companies of Liverpool and Bristol some must also have been sold in the home market as they are quite common on lace bobbins. The traditional beads on lace bobbins are the square cut type made in the lace making areas (like the clear ones on the second bobbin on the right) and I’ve not been able to find out where the lacemakers obtained these trade beads. Perhaps the bobbin makers acquired them and sold them or the lacemakers bought them from travelling salesmen.

Wednesday, 22 September 2021

Texture in bobbin lace

 Texture is the prompt for the Instagram textile challenge today so I thought I’d write about texture in bobbin lace to go with my image. The easiest way to introduce texture into bobbin lace is to use textured threads such as chenille or something with a slub in it. Just as accent threads though, using all textured threads would probably result in a rather dense unlace-like textile. Adding beads or snippets of trapped thread also adds texture. However, more traditional ways of introducing texture into lace include using a thicker gimp thread to outline areas of work or produce patterns within the work.

Raised tallies and leaves worked over flatter areas of ground are also a traditional method for including texture. Tallies are small dense rectangular woven areas worked generally with two pairs of bobbins, while leaves are made in the same way but shaped with pointed ends to resemble leaves. Both can be used in open work or made over flatter parts of the work. As you can see in this piece I’ve worked a branch of leaves over a half stitch background. This was done as the work progressed not added later and the bobbins were incorporated back into the work.

Rolled tallies were also used in East Midlands lace in which a rectangular tally is made and then rolled back on itself to incorporate the bobbins back into the work leaving a raised rolled line of weaving on top of the lace. This image shows a couple of rolled tallies made in the cloth stitch ground and a line of paired leaves in the background all adding some texture to the lace.

Wednesday, 15 September 2021



I have a sketchbook for each project I do because they are a useful place to keep all my ideas, samples, images of the exhibition space and any reviews after the event. The idea is that they are a repository for all the information to do with that project and are also a record that I can learn from for the future. Many entries are text rather than images and I also include invoices, receipts and copies of important emails. These are so useful, for example, when I start a later project and can’t remember where I bought a particular thread or fabric and how much it cost.

I also keep general sketchbooks where I keep samples and things I’ve tried out as well as images of interesting things I’ve seen or read about. My sketchbooks are not particularly beautiful or full of lovely drawings but they are indispensable documents for future projects.  

Wednesday, 8 September 2021

Colour in bobbin lace


Colour is the textile prompt for today so I thought I’d take a look at colour in bobbin lace. The piece in the image is a detail of the lid of a small container I made from grey silk and felt with embroidered edges. When I start to make a lace design in colour I generally start with a idea of the general colour I want and then choose a selection of threads in that colour palette with a few contrasting threads, making sure that I have a variety of thicknesses of thread as well. I then just start working adding in new threads as I need them and removing others when I no longer want that colour any more. I find in that way that I can lighten or darken the work as necessary and also include some texture when I need it. I generally include a fine worker thread in a neutral colour as well to tie areas of colour together and include little spots of contrasting colours to highlight certain areas. I usually find at the end of the work that I haven’t used all of the threads I chose at the beginning but gathering a colour palette together does help to crystallize my ideas about the overall look of the final piece.