Wednesday, 1 February 2023

Paper trail lace veil


Tess of the Durbervilles by Thomas Hardy was the inspiration for this veil. It references the note that Tess wrote to Angel Clare on the eve of their marriage telling him about her past, in case that knowledge would cause him to change his mind. Unfortunately he did not find the note and it is only after their marriage that Tess realises this and confesses her chequered past to him, whereupon he rejects her. The disintegrating paper in the veil represents the hidden note as well as the hidden secrets and shows how vulnerable and fragile marriage can be. Although the veil is delicate and beautiful it hides within its folds decay and vulnerability and hints at the future, as the threads of the story unwind, leading eventually to Tess’s trial and unhappy end.

Wednesday, 25 January 2023

Amy Atkin lace table mats research

Amy Atkin was the first female Nottingham machine lace designer, however, like many other women of her time, she relinquished paid work on marriage which always seemed to me a great waste of talent. Reflecting on her life and work I decided to carry out some practice-based research focusing on the domestic constraints she and other contemporary female designers faced at the beginning of the twentieth century. I studied the archive of her beautiful designs in the Collection of the Nottingham City Museums and decided to base my response on table mats incorporating lace in a reference to Judy Chicago’s use of place settings in her famous feminist work ‘The dinner party’.

The lace panels are my designs inspired by Amy’s archive and are worked in needle run lace on machine net; hers would have been produced on levers lace machines. The lace is merely tacked in place indicating that it could be removed at any time, much like the careers of these talented women, and each mat is embroidered with wording from the marriage ceremony ‘for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer’ highlighting the changes in women’s circumstances on marriage. If you are interested in reading more about the project I’ve written a paper about it in Textile the Journal of Cloth and Culture which is available through the following link

Tuesday, 17 January 2023

Love lace bobbins


These lace bobbins all celebrate love. One just has the word love inscribed on it another has My and then a heart symbol, and the third also has a heart symbol preceded by Toms (Toms love). They are all quite plain in their style of decoration and each has a spangle made up of traditional square cut glass beads and they are obviously made by the same hand. I’ve had trouble deciding who made them though because they could be the work of Jesse or James Compton or David Haskins all of whom occasionally used this style of bold lettering although it wasn’t their typical style. I eventually decided against David Haskins as the necks of the bobbins are longer than his usual work and the attachments for the spangles are not as defined as his typical bobbins. Also he tends to bracket his lettering with a single circle of colour at top and bottom unlike the two circles in all of these bobbins. Once I’d eliminated him I had to decide between the two Comptons who tend to use the same style of lettering and colours. Jesse was working in the early part of the nineteenth century and his bobbins are generally much slimmer and smaller than these ones, mainly because most lacemakers were making fine Bucks point lace at that time. His son James tends to make larger bobbins (like those here) to accommodate the thicker thread and larger pillows used for Bedfordshire lace, which was being made towards the end of the century. What clinched my decision to attribute them to James was a photograph in the Springett’s book ‘Success to the lace pillow’ which shows one of James’ bobbins with a heart symbol that is very similar to those on these bobbins.

Wednesday, 11 January 2023

Floral images in the Battle of Britain lace panel


The original Battle of Britain commemorative lace panel was made by the Nottingham lace company Dobson and Browne just after the second world war. The designer Harry Cross incorporated several floral images into the work including those representing the four countries of the United Kingdom and the floral emblems of the Commonwealth countries whose airmen took part in the battle. In 2016 I was commissioned to produce a contemporary response to the Battle of Britain panel and as part of that work I produced a needlerun lace panel incorporating the same floral images as used by Harry Cross. The images here are both of my response to the original panel.

Unlike Harry Cross, I confined my botanical images to the central panel of the triptych and interlinked them to wind up the right side of the net background in contrast to the aircraft sweeping down from the left. You can see most of them in the image above including the rose of England, the thistle of Scotland, the daffodil for Wales and the shamrock for Northern Ireland. There is also protea for South Africa, wattle for Australia, a fern leaf for New Zealand, and a maple leaf for Canada. Harry Cross also included a tudor rose and oak leaves, which I did not incorporate in my panel, as well as acorns and wheatears, respectively signifying regrowth and the time of year at which the battle took place, which I also included in my lace.

Thursday, 5 January 2023

Machine made Chantilly lace?


This beautiful piece of Chantilly lace was probably made on a lace machine. It is often hard to distinguish handmade and machine made Chantilly but there are certain aspects that suggest it was machine made. First of all the feel of the lace when you pick it up, handmade lace usually feels softer than the machine type, which can feel quite hard. The two edges of the lace are also indicators of how it was made. In this case the picot edging on the scalloped side does seem to be made of threads that come out from the main lace work, rather than a separate addition, which suggests the piece is handmade but the straight footside on the other edge is a strip of machine-made lace indicating that the whole piece is machine made. The way the threads move from the ground net stitches into the cloth stitches of the pattern suggest it is handmade. However, the way the circles in the lace have been outlined in a continuous gimp thread running from one to another indicates that it is machine made. In handmade lace these circles would have been worked separately and the ends of the gimp secured in the lace rather than being trimmed off afterwards, which appears to be the case here. As you can see it can be difficult to make a decision but, on balance, this piece seems to be machine made. However when it was worn it would have been almost impossible to distinguish how it was made without examining it carefully. The skill of the machine lacemakers in making lace that is difficult to distinguish from handmade lace was the main reason for the demise of the handmade bobbin lace trade in the late nineteenth century.

Thursday, 22 December 2022

Machine lace imitating handmade designs


These lace trims were made in the 1960s on the Levers lace machine but they all have their origins in nineteenth century handmade lace. That is probably not surprising as a large part of the training for machine lace designers included copying old lace patterns and designing lace that appeared handmade. The fine little trim at the top resembles Buckinghamshire baby lace, a simple pattern that was one of the first a bobbin lacemaker would learn. The dainty black lace resembles Chantilly lace, a fine French handmade lace with an open net background and a design outlined with a thicker gimp thread. The two lower laces also resemble old Buckinghamshire bobbin lace designs, the upper one is similar to the sheep’s head pattern, another fairly simple handmade lace that a beginner would learn, and the lower one resembles floral lace, which was a much more complicated type of bobbin lace. Examples of these types of old bobbin lace patterns were kept by machine lace manufacturers in design portfolios specifically to inspire their designers and it’s interesting to see that these old designs were still inspiring lace in the second half of the twentieth century.       

Friday, 16 December 2022

Draught for a machine lace curtain

This pattern holds the information needed to produce a lace curtain on the Nottingham lace curtain machine. This image shows the bottom half of the design and the one below shows the heading. The designer would have produced the original design and then passed that to the draughtsman who would have converted it into this series of tiny colour-coded squares. This draught would then have been passed to the card puncher who would have followed these instructions to punch out the jacquard cards that operated the threads on the machine. The squares are painted red, green or blue or left blank according to the thread movements. There was no standard system for the colours but in general red indicated back spool ties, green represented Swiss ties and blue represented combination ties.

The draught also includes information on the fineness of the lace, in this case 10 point which is a medium gauge, and the quality (54) which is a measure of how many complete motions of the machine were required to make 3 inches of lace. I love the way this pattern incorporates stylised swags and draping at the bottom which would have required some skill on the part of the draughtsman to convert from design into instructions for the machine. I also like the spotted net between the main design at the bottom and the flowers at the heading which could have been expanded by repeating that section to make curtains of varying lengths. All in all a versatile and very pretty lace curtain.