Wednesday 6 December 2023

Fragments of angels wings in lace


Looking for something festive to write about I decided to show you images of some free bobbin lace I made a while ago based on angels’ wings. The original piece was an installation of ten of these fragments of lace, each mounted on a separate piece of iridescent sheer fabric. They were joined together by ties of the same fabric and hung so that there were four along the top row then three, two and one in the subsequent rows forming an upside-down right-angle triangle to approximate the shape of an angel’s wing.

I was pleased with the installation but then decided to use the separate elements to make panels that could be hung individually. I therefore removed them from their fabric backing and remounted them on crinkled blue tissue paper to suggest movement and added some torn scraps of silk paper to reference wings and framed them as individual pieces. They can now be used as Christmas decorations and I’m delighted to have made two different types of work from the same pieces of lace.

Wednesday 29 November 2023

Tanders and Catterns lacemakers' holidays


Tanders and Catterns were holidays celebrated by lacemakers in the East Midlands of England and both occurred at the end of November; Tanders on St Andrew’s day (30) and Catterns on St Catherine’s day (25). St Catherine was the patron saint of spinners and was adopted by the lacemakers as their patron saint too. Both days were celebrated with fun and games, dancing and special food and drink. Cattern and Tanders cakes were made of dough and caraway seeds, and the ‘wigs’ eaten by those in Wendover (Buckinghamshire) were gingerbread cakes with caraway, while in other areas apple pie and figs were the traditional fare. In Olney, frumenty (wheat boiled in milk) was eaten and metheglin (a mixture of honey, spices, malt, toast and yeast) was drunk. There was dancing accompanied by the music of a fiddle and games such as jumping the candlestick. The latter was no mean feat. The girls and boys danced round the tall lacemakers candlestick, in a ring holding hands and singing

Wallflowers, wallflowers growing up so high,

All young maidens surely have to die;

Excepting [the name of one of the children], she/he’s the best of all.

She/he can dance and she/he can skip,

And she/he can jump the candlestick.

Turn, turn, turn your face to the wall again.

The child mentioned had to turn to face out from the ring. Once they had all turned round they each tried to jump over the lit candlestick, which could be 65 cm high plus the height of the flame. Another game was apple bobbing using the crossed blades from the bobbin winder hung from the ceiling, with pieces of apple and candle attached to it. Each person in turn was then blindfolded and attempted to eat a piece of apple rather than amusing their friends by eating a piece of candle. In some areas the end of the holiday was marked by ringing of the church bells at midnight when all the games stopped and tea and cakes were eaten.

Wednesday 22 November 2023

Lace store curtains


This lovely store curtain was made on a Nottingham lace curtain machine, not necessarily in Nottingham, as much curtain lace was made in Scotland in the Irving Valley, but it was probably bought in Nottingham. The lace curtain machine works on a grid system so the patterns are based on a series of squares, this sounds quite limiting, but as you can see from the image it can be used to produce lovely scrolling designs.

Store curtains were made to be used flat or slightly gathered across the window so the pattern was designed to be seen in its entirety. This image shows the lower part of the curtain showing the wide band of scrolls and flowers in contrast to the centre of the curtain which is more open with cartouches and small floral motifs. This is a typical design with a wide lower border, a thinner top border, side borders similar to the lower one but narrower and a central more open area.

The heading of the curtain includes small openings through which a fine rod could be inserted to hang it. This image also shows the scalloping which runs right round the curtain and was made as part of the machine production.

This image from about 1895 in Die Praxis des Tapezierers und Decorateurs shows how store curtains would have been used under outer curtains. This elaborate assemblage from a decorators manual includes intricate swags and curtains of two-tone satin and damask, but most homes would probably have had straight curtains tied back at either side and perhaps a fixed pelmet above to hide the curtain poles. In both cases however the lace curtains would have been hung flat so that the lovely design could be appreciated.

Wednesday 15 November 2023

Cell lace from Plauen


I came across a short article about cell lace in a 1920 edition of The lace and embroidery review and was intrigued to find out what it was. It seems to have been an initiative by the Plauen lace manufacturers to produce a new type of lace suitable for the post-war period. The main idea seems to have been to create ‘as much lace with as little material as possible’. The article states that lace manufacturers can no longer make the type of lace they produced before the war because that lace requires more material than the industry can now afford. This aim to produce more cost-effective lace seems to be related to a scarcity of raw materials and a consequent rise in prices. The lace and embroidery review was a trade publication and this new type of lace design would have been of interest to manufacturers and lace retailers. The article notes that the designers aimed to create a machine-made lace that would be almost as good as handmade lace ‘regarding artistic value and technical production’ while keeping costs down, basically ‘a lace whose artistic merit would appeal to the select and whose price to the multitude’. The lace shown in the image was designed in the Richard Roeder studio and it is in keeping with the new styles of lace proving popular in Europe and America. However, I have never heard of cell lace so perhaps the term did not catch on or it was just a name used in the manufacturing trade and not by consumers.

Wednesday 8 November 2023

Development of English bobbin laces


I’ve been carrying out more research into Miss Channer, who made and studied lace at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries, and she has some interesting ideas about the developments of the English handmade lace industry. She notes that in continental Europe most of the finest lace was made in convents, which provided a ready access to money and ability, in the form of cultured patrons and a resource of talented, hard-working, young women who could be taught how to make and design lace. In effect the convent took on the roles of ‘manufacturer, merchant, capitalist and instructor’. In contrast, with few convents, the English handmade lace industry had little capital or organisation. Teaching was undertaken by village lace schools which was variable and depended on the ability of the lace teacher, and design remained in the hands of a few families. Lace was generally made by villagers in their spare time to supplement their family income and bought by travelling lace buyers or local retailers. Miss Channer praises English lace designs and the dexterity of the lacemakers but laments the lack of organisation and that there were few places to learn design and little time for the lacemakers to concentrate on their work amid the other calls on their time.

She notes that most English bobbin laces were originally attempts to copy foreign styles that were adapted by the local lacemakers to produce lace styles that became typically English. She gives as examples Honiton pieced lace which was introduced to Devon from Flanders in 1662, French point ground lace introduced to Buckinghamshire, and Maltese guipure lace taken up in Bedfordshire in the second half of the 19th century. All these laces were developed and altered by the local lacemakers to produce the three distinct types of English laces known as Honiton, Bucks point and Bedfordshire. The image at the top shows a typical Bucks point lace with integral ground and outlining gimp thread, and the lower image is an example of Bedfordshire guipure lace.

Wednesday 1 November 2023

Decorative tape lace doilies


Seeing some coloured tape lace on an 1890s opera cape yesterday made me consider what a quick way it is to make a bold decorative statement. Of course it can also be used for small dainty lace, using handmade or machine-made tapes with needlelace or bobbin lace fillings, and much continental eastern European lace is also based on the tape lace format. However, my focus today is on contemporary, coloured, handmade, bobbin lace doilies that are purely decorative and non-functional. In both the pieces shown here I worked within an oval mat shape, first designing a continuous swirling tape pattern that worked its way in and out of the centre of the mat ensuring that the tapes touched the sides of the next tape at some point and all lay next to each other at the centre. For the doily in the main image I then made a surrounding outer oval shape using scraps of various gold fabrics stuck on to a base. Once the oval was dry I pinned it over the pattern and worked the tape lace, attaching it to the adjoining areas of lace and the edge wherever they touched. 

To do that I used a crochet hook to pull one thread from the worker pair through the lace or fabric and linked the thread from the other worker thread through the loop. Once the basic swirled outline had been finished I used simple bobbin lace to add filling stitches in the open areas and added scraps of fabric to mirror the fabrics round the edge.

The second tape lace doily was worked without an outer surround and therefore the edge is less rigid than that of the first one. I could stiffen it with starch but have decided to leave it as a more fluid design. It also has scraps of iridescent fabric incorporated into the lace work to add a shimmer of colour and to make it non-functional, as I like to think of these doilies subverting the role of passive, put-upon lace mats.

Tuesday 24 October 2023

Miss Channer’s research into pricking lace grounds


Miss Catherine Channer was a lacemaker, teacher and researcher who was actively involved in the revival of the English East Midlands lace industry in the nineteenth century. As well as teaching lace, as part of the revival, she collected lace patterns and recorded information from older lacemakers with a view to preserving the history of the lace trade. Reading about her work recently I came across her ideas about the origins of some East Midlands laces. She considered that most of the designs had been brought to the area by lacemakers from Flanders and had since merely been altered and adapted by the local designers. She reports that when she asked some old designers in Buckinghamshire and Northamptonshire how they pricked the grounds (the patterns for the background net) of their patterns, they replied that they used the ‘cards’. She asked what these cards were and was shown some white cards pricked with holes in the correct placement for working point ground (the simplest net background also known as Lille ground); with different cards for different sized meshes. She asked where the cards had come from and was told “We’ve always had them”. She suggests that the cards had been brought from Flanders by the original lacemakers. Miss Channer was impressed by the accuracy of the cards and after analysing them discovered how to prick the ground on graph paper for the benefit of designers who did not have access to the cards. She explains how to do this in her 1928 book ‘Practical lacemaking’ and explains how to use the pricking for point and honeycomb grounds (both shown in the lace in the image above) as well as kat stitch. I think this shows not only that Miss Channer was a remarkable woman but also the importance of a researcher knowing the craft she is studying and therefore realising the importance of her discoveries.