Seeing some lovely Bedfordshire lace last week in Nottingham made me reread Anne Buck’s book about Thomas Lester and his lace. She tells the story of his life and mentions some of the influences on his work, including the Great Exhibition of 1851 where he saw Maltese lace and fine Honiton lace. Until then he had predominantly made Bucks point designs but after the Exhibition his style gradually changed both to satisfy the public demand for new laces and to make designs that were quicker to produce and ‘suitable for ordinary work’. He was a great advocate of design training for the lace industry and complained that there were not enough good designers and that too many patterns were recopied. Anne Buck quotes him as saying ‘scarcely any of the manufacturers can design their own, though we do’. She also points out that the patterns we know as Thomas Lester’s may have been designed by other members of his family, as his two sons both joined the family business, and his wife and daughters were lacemakers. The naturalistic designs of flowers and animals in some of the exhibition pieces certainly suggest an artistic approach. Whoever designed them, many of the finer pieces are amazing and they justifiably won prizes at many International exhibitions throughout the 19th century.
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