Thursday, 11 August 2022

Subversive doily project

Recently, I’ve been spending a lot of time writing papers and chapters for books so today it was a real treat to spend some time making bobbin lace in a shady spot in the garden. I’m still working on my subversive doily project which uses the form of the lace doily to comment on the domestic environment and women’s place in it. The doily I’m working on at the moment follows the same design as the previous one with text in the central circle embedded in a lattice of plaits and leaves, surrounded by a border of Eastern European style tape lace. I finished the central area a while ago, which involved a large number of lace bobbins, and have now moved on to the tape lace border where I’m only using six pairs of bobbins. Although I’m not using many bobbins, this style of lace does mean that I have to keep stopping to attach the work to the edge of the previous row by looping one of my working threads through a previously worked pin hole and the passing the other working thread through that loop, which does tend to slow the work down. However, this part of the work is much less complicated than the central area so it is quite relaxing to sit in the sun listening to a podcast and making the lace.

Thursday, 4 August 2022

Advertising lace curtains as imitations of ‘real lace’


At the turn of the nineteenth century even those selling lace curtain were advertising them as ‘imitations of real lace’ and ‘very artistic reproductions of real lace’. The image comes from a catalogue produced by the department store Whiteleys in about 1910 describing some Nottingham lace curtains. The curtains are sold in pairs and cost 9/11 for a pair measuring 4 yards by 72 inches, so quite a sizeable amount of lace. The claim to be an imitation of real lace is obviously a marketing ploy to suggest the curtains are similar to handmade lace, which was experiencing a revival at the time thanks to the philanthropic efforts of various groups particularly in England, France and Belgium. However the only link to ‘real lace’ seems to be in the design the outer border of which is based on renaissance needlelace motifs.

The second image from the same catalogue claims to be ‘reproduction cluny lace’. Cluny lace was a fairly solid bobbin lace with pattern areas linked by plaits and leaves rather like English Bedfordshire lace. This pattern does include some areas that look like leaves but the swags and ribbon shapes seem quite alien to cluny lace so this may just be early advertising blurb.

The final image is labelled a ‘facsimile of old darned knitting’. Why anyone would want old darned knitting at their windows is a mystery to me, but this copywriter obviously thought it would appeal to someone. The central area does look a bit like a blanket made from crochet squares so perhaps that is what inspired the design.

Although these curtains have been labelled by the person assembling the catalogue who probably knew little about lace (or knitting!), I find it dispiriting that machine lace curtains aren’t being advertised as a marvel of industrial ingenuity but rather as copies of ‘real lace’. They clearly aren’t genuine copies of handmade lace so why not appreciate the design and manufacturing effort that has gone into them.

Wednesday, 27 July 2022

Three dimensional lace sculptures

Since I made a small 3D sculpture entitled inside:outside for the Tansa exhibition earlier this year (see the March blog) I’ve been playing about with a few other shapes that can be manipulated into mini sculptures. I do like the way they can be moved about and altered although I think this piece would need some quite strong stiffening to keep its shape. Perhaps adding a thin wire round the edge would be a good idea.

As you can see from this image the piece is basically a strip of Torchon lace worked in thin separate sections all linked at some point but allowing quite a range of twisting and movement. I like the effect especially as it shows off the open nature of the lace and will keep playing about with the theme when I get a bit more time.

Wednesday, 20 July 2022

Revival of needlepoint laces


I’ve been reading about the revival of Venetian style needlepoint laces throughout Europe during the 1880s as part of my research into ‘imitation’ laces. These heavier more structured laces became fashionable as trimmings on clothing at this time. This led to lacemakers copying examples of seventeenth century laces but also in many cases remodelling actual pieces of old seventeenth century lace. Belgian lacemakers famed for the expertise of their needlelace copied many of these seventeenth century designs so skilfully that it is thought some Venetian merchants ordered the lace and sold it for high prices to visitors to Venice as genuine seventeenth century work. It is very difficult to distinguish it from the original lace although one tell-tale sign is the use of cotton thread instead of the original linen thread as cotton thread was not used for lace making until the 1830s. However, hand lacemakers soon had competition in the form of chemical lace made by embroidering patterns on to a sacrificial backing material which was then chemically removed and which superficially imitated the more solid Venetian styles very well. The lace in the image is a modern interpretation of needlepoint lace.

Wednesday, 13 July 2022

Lace shawls, collars, pelerines, scarves, berthas and fichus


These shoulder coverings were all popular at different times during the 19 century and in many cases it is difficult to classify them. Scarves and stoles look very similar as do pelerines, fichus, berthas and collars depending on their width and when they were made. The examples here all come from the lovely ‘Lace in fashion’ exhibition which is currently on display at Wardown House Museum in Luton. Not only do they show the range of different fashions they also show how lace changed during the century from the entirely handworked, such as the fichu made in Bedfordshire Maltese lace, to a beautiful black machine lace collar.

There is a lovely wide Duchess collar of mixed Brussels bobbin and needle lace showing how the two types of handmade lace were traditionally combined and the image shows a detail of a beautiful dress including both types of Brussels lace applied to a machine lace background showing how handmade and machine lace were often combined. There is also a fichu combining pillow lace with machine lace as well as scarves with Honiton bobbin lace applied to machine made net. Several of the other collars have a machine net basis including a Limerick lace collar and another tamboured shawl. Other Irish laces popular in the second half of the 19 century are also represented with a Carrickmacross applique lace bertha, and an Irish crochet collar. I was also interested to see some examples of ‘imitation’ lace following on from my recent blog posts. The exhibition includes two Chantilly lace shawls one handmade and the other machine made; difficult to tell apart without close inspection as would have been the case when they were worn. There is also a chemical lace pelerine worked in the style of Irish crochet and a late 19 century collar worked in the style of 17 century lace, so lots of copying and convergence going on. If you want to see more you will have to visit the exhibition which includes much more lace than the few pieces I’ve described here and is well worth a visit. It is open until 11 September.

Wednesday, 6 July 2022

Bone lace bobbins recording deaths

Two of these bobbins commemorate sad occasions, the one on the right is inscribed ‘Eliza Ward is no moor’ and the middle one says ‘Eliza Hall my dear sister died Feb 5 1866’. Many of these types of bobbins recording deaths also state the age of the deceased but perhaps that was more common if they were exceptionally old or young. T L Huetson, who carried out extensive research into lace bobbins, records that in some cases a piece of bone from the meat served at the funeral meal was used to make memorial bobbins. I don’t think this is the case here as both bobbins are of good quality and don’t give the appearance of coming from an ordinary joint of meat. The bobbin maker David Springett in ‘Success to the lace pillow’ says he was initially sceptical of this tradition as contemporary meat joints do not have thick enough bones for bobbin making but he notes that animals in the 19th century were fatter, larger boned and slaughtered later in life so could have had bones of the required thickness. Also many village families kept a pig which was fed on scraps and could have provided bones for the occasional bobbin. However, most 19th century bone bobbins are made from horse or oxen bone, both of which were widely available at the time. The third bobbin in the image may also be linked to the central one. It is inscribed ‘David Hall my dear son 1866’. I bought these two bobbins together, but I don’t know if David and Eliza Hall were nephew and aunt. However, it is a coincidence that the bobbins were made in the same year by the same maker and I found them both for sale in the same place. There is no indication why the lacemaker chose to commemorate her son in 1866 – I hope it was to record his birth or some other happy occasion. 

Wednesday, 29 June 2022

Copying lace styles


Having seen ‘imitation lace’ being described in my late 19 century needlework dictionary as a type of tape lace (see last week’s post) I was interested to see how Pat Earnshaw defined it. She wisely does not use the term imitation lace but does discuss copying and convergence in her book on the identification and care of bobbin and needle laces. She suggests seven possible permutations of copying, starting with ‘same time; different area; different technique’ in which she includes all the machine lace copies of different handmade lace techniques, such as machine-made Chantilly lace. Chantilly lace is the fine black lace seen in the image above and the handmade and machine-made versions are often difficult to tell apart. Initially I thought the example above was machine made because of the way the outlining has been done but on closer examination I found the lace had been made in fine strips, later joined together, which is a feature of handmade Chantilly lace.

Under ‘same time; different area; same technique’ Pat mentions the convergence between Bedfordshire lace and Maltese lace, as well as that between Honiton and Brussels laces (image above). In ‘different time; different area; same technique’ she includes the raised needlelaces of the 17 century, which were copied in the 19 century for sale and exhibition as well as for the domestic lacemaker as we saw in my previous post about imitation lace. There were also laces in the category ‘different time; different area; different technique’ such as the 16 century reticella designs that were copied in the 19 century using the Schiffli machine. I think Pat Earnshaw has confirmed my original scepticism about the label ‘imitation lace’. Most laces seem to be influenced by ideas and techniques from other places, and as Pat suggests sometimes this is copying and sometimes convergence. However it was always with the aim of selling more lace to the consumer, by keeping up with fashions and making the lace more cost effectively.