Wednesday, 15 March 2023

How was old handmade lace kept so clean?


I was asked recently how lace was kept so clean and pristine in the past, I didn’t have an answer but thought it was an interesting question so I’ve done a little bit of research. Until the early nineteenth century most lace was handmade using linen thread which comes from the long outside fibres of the flax plant. When separated from the plant, linen threads are smooth, but they can become damaged during spinning, lacemaking or storage, leading to breakage in these weak areas. Linen threads absorb water during washing, which can cause ruptures at the damaged areas so old lace would have had to be handled carefully. Soaking lace can release soluble dirt caught between lace fibres but often some type of soap is also required. The best type of soap is saponin which can be obtained from the soapwort plant (Saponaria) by steeping its roots in water to make a soapy liquid. Its advantages are that it only forms a slight lather (which has to be rinsed away after washing), it cleans well without having to agitate the lace, and it doesn’t form a scum with hard water. Once the lace had been washed and rinsed it would have been laid on a flat surface, without wringing it out or squeezing it, and gently teased back into shape before being left to dry. I must emphasise that this is how lace would have been washed in the past. If you are considering cleaning old lace today please bear in mind the wise words of lace expert, Pat Earnshaw, who notes that ‘cleaning old lace is likely to change it, probably in an irreversible way’ – you have been warned!

Wednesday, 8 March 2023

Cheeky lace bobbins


‘I love the boys’ boldly states the lace bobbin in the centre of this group. The owner clearly knew her own mind as did the owner of ‘I wants a husband’ on the left, while ‘Kiss me quick’ on the right could have been what the lacemaker wanted or a request from a cheeky young man. While many lace bobbins are inscribed with romantic sentiments about true love and friendship some, such as these, are more forward and direct. However many of the lacemakers who owned these bobbins obviously experienced disapproval from others in their village, encouraging them to acquire bobbins such as ‘If I love the boys that is nothing to nobody’ and ‘If I love a lad in Ravenstone that is nothing to nobody’. Unfortunately for the lacemaker her love of the boys and ‘the lad in Ravenstone’ in particular, rather than being ‘nothing to nobody’ was probably of great interest to everyone and the topic of local gossip for months! I like to think that her bobbin allowed her to express her own views and encouraged her while she worked at her lace pillow.

Thursday, 2 March 2023

Magga Dan Antarctic expedition lace panel


This lace panel celebrates the Commonwealth Trans Antarctic expedition in 1957-1958, which was led by Sir Vivian Fuchs and Sir Edmund Hillary. The Magga Dan was the ship that transported the expedition, it was built in Denmark (hence the Dan part of its name which means Danish) and has a special type of hull designed to withstand crushing in the ice of the Antarctic. During this expedition Fuchs became the first person to cross the Antarctic, covering 2200 miles in 99 days. The lace panel was made by the Nottingham lace manufacturer Steibel and Co in 1957 and depicts scenes from the expedition including the ship, icebergs, the aurora borealis, penguins, the explorers and some huskies. It was made on the curtain lace machine using cotton thread and has been coloured after weaving using stencils and coloured dyes.

Thursday, 23 February 2023

Lace making in the workhouse


Any kind of work in the workhouse sounds grim but I hope the lacemakers at least enjoyed somewhere to sit and a bit of peace although the lighting was probably bad and ruined their eyesight. Thomas Wright in his survey of the Buckinghamshire lacemakers includes some information about the Olney workhouse. Work was not optional and all inmates had to do something for their keep. Often men were employed breaking stones or doing other hard physical work and the records show that although spinning was the original employment for women the policy changed after 1720 and from then onwards they had to make bobbin lace instead. All the strips of lace were sealed at the end while they were on the pillow to stop anyone cutting any off and they were sold for the benefit of the parish. The workhouse regulations noted that anyone stealing or cutting off the lace seal would be severely punished. The Olney workhouse accounts showed that selling bobbin lace produced an income of about £30 per annum but that had to be offset by the costs of thread and equipment. Lacemaking was not well paid at the best of times and having to make it in the workhouse must have been quite disheartening.  

Wednesday, 15 February 2023

Lace designs by Marcel Tuquet


Marcel Tuquet was a prolific lace designer working at the end of the nineteenth century. His designs are generally floral and incorporate a more decorative band at the side which also runs along the bottom of the lace.

A notice I’ve seen from The London Gazette of 1890 records that he and Marcel Boudard were partners in a lace curtain design business in Nottingham. They not only designed lace but are also recorded as the owners of a patent for a double action jacquard (the mechanism by which pattern was applied to the lace machines). They were not the inventors of the jacquard system but had obviously patented a modification to the system that was already in general use. The purpose of the notice in the London Gazette was to dissolve their partnership. This seems to have been an amicable split, with Tuquet taking on the lace design part of the business and Boudard the manufacturing side.

The designs in the images here were all made later in Marcel Tuquet’s career when he supplied lace curtain designs to the Christian Stoll company of Plauen, which produced design inspiration folders for the European lace industry. Whether he had relocated to Plauen by then (approximately 1900) or remained in Nottingham but sent his designs abroad I have yet to find out.

Thursday, 9 February 2023

Limerick run lace fillings


One of the beautiful features of Limerick run lace is the lovely filling stitches that are used to add shading and depth to the main designs. This delicate little curtain includes several flower and leaf motifs interspersed with individual flower heads. This type of lace is made by embroidering machine made net, held taught within a frame, using a needle and thread. The main design is outlined in three strands of thread and the filling stitches are then worked inside those areas.

These three leaves are filled with tent stitch; a series of diagonal stitches worked across the underlying lace net. The leaf on the right has been worked at a different angle to the other two, giving a different appearance to the leaf.

Cobweb stitch has been used to fill these three leaves. This is made by zigzagging the thread to form a shape like the crenellations on a castle wall. If the rows of stitches are worked as a mirror image of each other, as they have been here, the finished work gives the appearance of a series of tiny holes.

The final three leaves have been filled with a variation on tent stitch in which the main stitch is elongated and an extra small stitch made between each of the main stitches. The three filling stitches described here just reveal a sample of the many filling stitches that can be used and give an idea of the range of effects that can be produced in this lovely lace.

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.