Saturday 31 December 2016

Lace review of 2016

2016 has been a busy year with lace exhibitions and events. I’ve exhibited in a variety of venues, including the lace event at Peterborough, the West Ox Arts venue in Bampton, the Hybrid lace exhibition in Limerick and the Knitting and stitching show at Alexandra Palace and Harrogate. I made a new body of work based on veiling inspired by Victorian gothic novels for the Knitting and stitching show in the autumn, which took up most of the year. It comprised two veils with bobbin lace edges, five with silk paper edges and two incorporating pins and embroidery. I had to schedule the work so that I had some bobbin lace on the pillow all year, the pieces with pins were also long term projects so I made them concurrently with the bobbin lace. The silk paper veils were made in batches and then embellished. The other exhibitions involved work I’d made previously which was easier and good to see the pieces exhibited again in different venues. My research also continued with visits to Nottingham and the V&A to discover more about curtains and lace panels, and I also spoke about my use of tambour lace in contemporary work at the Hybrid lace conference in Limerick. Thinking of the future, I applied to the Textile Society for a professional development award which I was honoured to receive and which will help fund my new project for next year – more details about that in the next blog!

Thursday 15 December 2016

Biology based lace

I hadn’t realised how much lace I had made based on biological themes until I wrote an article about it last month. I then found that I couldn’t include all the pieces in my 1000 word limit so had to leave many of them out. In the article I concentrated on my cell like pieces which are made of free bobbin lace without a formal pattern and include beads and tallies to suggest the parts of the cell. Some of those I had to exclude are the series based on a theme of genetics, chromosomes and cell division. An example is the piece above which was inspired by dividing cells seen under the microscope. It was made by producing a spiral piece of lace and then attaching pairs to the first piece of lace to add another layer to it, to give a three dimensional effect, as if the two layers were separating. Lace lends itself so well to reproducing the appearance of biological structures, with its combinations of holes, threads and more solid areas, that it should be no surprise that I’ve used it to represent so many different types of biological tissues.

Friday 9 December 2016

Everyday lace

A friend has recently given me some of her lace and I’ve been looking through the pieces. There is nothing spectacular in the collection, no museum would be interested in any of it, but there is something special about lace that has been used and loved. Most of the pieces, such as the crochet edging below, would have been made at home by someone who enjoyed making a complicated pattern and was proud of her neat technique and it would have been appreciated by her friends and family.

The piece at the head of this post is made from a combination of tape lace and crochet so might have been made at home, perhaps following a pattern in a magazine, or might have been bought abroad.

The Nanduti style lace (above) was probably bought on holiday, but it is well used and has obviously been laundered. We admire so much of the finest laces in museums but tend to forget that there is great beauty in the everyday laces that used to be much more a part of our lives.

Wednesday 30 November 2016

Knitting and stitching show at Harrogate

I’m just back from Harrogate where Gail Baxter and I exhibited our latest lace projects in one of the gallery spaces at the Knitting and stitching show. Gail’s work concerns netting, recycling and sustainability and mine was a series of veils inspired by nineteenth century gothic novels and their authors. The link between the two was the use of netting – fishing net for Gail and the fine net of wedding veils for me. The space was a different shape from our gallery at Alexandra Palace, which had been the first venue for the exhibition. The square gallery at Harrogate allowed us to group the work more effectively and I was pleased that my veils could be seen as a complete body of work and the relationships between them could be appreciated. The gallery was also at the entrance to the show so we had a constant stream of visitors who were interested in finding out the background to the work and the inspiration for it. I was especially pleased that at the end of each day several people leaving the show came up to us and said that they thought our exhibition was the best in the show.

Friday 18 November 2016

Gallery labels for lace

It’s always difficult to know how much information to put on labels. Some galleries insist on dimensions and materials, which I’ve always thought rather odd if you have the work in front of you. For my latest exhibition of veils at the Knitting and stitching show I decided to give a flavour of the concept behind the work to pique the audience’s interest. For example, for ‘Pinned down’ (the veil fringed with pins see pic above), I gave the title and then added ‘A sparkling fringe of pins hides the sharper reality of conjugal bliss and domesticity’. That describes the work but doesn’t explain all the research into nineteenth century domesticity and gothic novels that lies behind it. The veil, and the idea of the pins forming a fringe, clearly resonated with many people and made them smile and those who were interested came over and we had a more detailed discussion about the ideas behind the work and the contrasts evident in using sharp pins within a soft veil. In many cases people were interested in one veil and reading the label made them realise how it related to the other veils and fitted into the body of work on display. The veils are attractive in their own right and I also wanted the labels to convey the idea that they are artworks not bridal wear. I thought that giving some idea of the concepts behind them would dispel that idea. For example, I would have thought that ‘Marriage lines’ with the text ‘Jane Austen’s equivocal view of marriage, pinned in place using her own system of rearranging ideas’ would have deterred most brides. Not all however – as some people did ask if I made bridal veils for sale!

Thursday 10 November 2016

Hybrid lace exhibition in Limerick

The Hybrid lace exhibition in Limerick displayed a pleasing combination of traditional antique and contemporary lace, as well as drawings of lace, experimental work and a video showing the process of making machine lace. Some of the most beautiful designs (see above) came from the archive and were the work of Cecilia Keyes from Kinsale, who studied lace design at the South Kensington School of Art and won many prizes for her lovely work.

The image above shows how the traditional and modern were brought together in one part of the gallery. On the far wall is my triptych ‘Dust, decay and disintegration’ a combination of linen bobbin lace and silk paper, which is complemented by Gail Baxter’s stunning black and red, bobbin lace hangings entitled ‘Tracing the thread III’ on the left. In the centre is ‘THX.OBJ’ a robe of plastic lace by Nora O’Murchu and Hua Shu, and in the background Ruth Duignan’s two ‘Simple stitch’ blouses, one in red the other white, fabricated from tulle embroidered with a simple running stitch in a variety of threads inspired by native hedgerows, rushes and reeds. Traditional work was shown in the glass cases and modern lace drawings were displayed along the wall.

Much of the contemporary work used unusual materials to construct lace. For example, Dawn Cole’s print entitled ‘Wound in back and bullet came out in front’ (above) uses text from the diary of the World War I nurse Clarice Spratling to create images that resemble fine lace. Jane Murtagh’s etched and patinated copper entitled ‘The Lace maker’s garden’ is based on thoughts of a winter garden and the work Florence Vere O’Brien undertook to revitalise the Limerick lace industry at the end of the nineteenth century.

Neither Roisin de Buitlear nor Michael Canning are lacemakers but both have referenced lace in their work. Roisin with her beautiful lace etched on hand-blown glass and Michael with his diptychs inspired by Limerick lace, memory and loss, rendered in oil, wax, ash, and soot on linen. In contrast, Fiona Harrington and I are lacemakers and use traditional techniques in a modern way. Fiona with her pictorial pieces, such as ‘The chicken’ and ‘The lighthouse’ that combine Kenmare needle lace and Carrickmacross lace. And me with my three hangings entitled ‘Memories are made of this’ (above) which uses bobbin lace, made from string, and silk paper to depict the disintegration of memory with Alzheimer’s disease. It was good to see that the students from the Limerick School of Art are also being encouraged to use lace techniques in novel ways and interesting to see some of their experimental pieces and designs as part of the exhibition.

Tuesday 1 November 2016

A taste of the Hybrid lace conference in Limerick


This conference in Limerick was linked to two exhibitions of lace and interventions throughout the city by the artist NeSpoon whose work is shown below. We were welcomed by Jacqui Hayes from the Limerick Archives and then addressed by the Mayor of Limerick. The conference was opened by Dr Matthew Potter, Historian from the Limerick Archives and organiser of the event, who talked about the history of Limerick lace. Giordana Giache, Lecturer at the Limerick School of Art and Design and curator of the exhibitions, then spoke about the liminal space that exists between the traditional and contemporary and the creativity that can be found there.

Several papers considered this theme of the traditional and the contemporary. Veronica Stuart, the Chair of the Traditional Lace Makers of Ireland, shared some of her expertise in Irish laces and showed some lovely examples of antique and modern work. The researcher Dr Gail Baxter spoke about plain net, its history and decoration, and showed us beautiful examples of traditional and contemporary work. I described my historical research into Victorian domesticity and the gothic novels that critiqued it, which led to the ‘Whispering’ series of lace curtains (detail below) in which I use tambour lace to tell a tale and reflect on social issues.

History lecturer Dr Maura Cronin, explained how much lacemaking in Ireland had been linked to the relief of poverty through Boards set up to encourage Irish manufacture. She also gave my favourite quote of the day which was taken from a Cork newspaper in 1854 and referred to lacemaking as ‘a substitute for sluttish indolence’. Elite patronage of lacemaking was also discussed by Veronica Rowe, whose grandmother Florence Vere O’Brien had been instrumental in setting up the Limerick Lace School in the 19th century. Alex Ward, Curator at the National Museum of Ireland, spoke about the fashion for Irish laces during the 19th and early 20th century, and showed some lovely images and fashion plates. The paper by Dr Amanda Briggs-Goode, Head of Fashion at Nottingham Trent University, showed how lace design had been taught in Nottingham from examples in the NTU Lace Archive. While Shazia Boucher, Deputy Director of the Calais Lace Museum, spoke about the approach the Museum takes to the display of lace by highlighting both the industrial heritage and the fashion heritage.

Toni O’Malley spoke about the difference between an artist and a craftsperson and considered the difference in value ascribed to their work. The glass artist Roisin de Buitlear showed us images of her beautiful work (detail above), much of it embellished with fine engraved lace patterns. Roisin also started an animated discussion about the role of lace in the modern world and suggested that cities like Limerick should celebrate and own their lace heritage by weaving lace into everyday lives, for example by marking bicycle routes with lace patterns and decorating bins with lace motifs. A topic that left everyone with plenty of food for thought.

Wednesday 26 October 2016

Hybrid lace conference

I’m looking forward to travelling to Limerick this week for the Hybrid lace conference and associated exhibition. The series of events are designed to celebrate Irish laces and in particular Limerick lace. Looking at the conference programme suggests that the history of Limerick lace will be investigated and celebrated but new developments and ways of using lace will also be considered, so it looks like a very interesting programme. I’ll be talking about my ‘Whispering’ series of net curtains, in which I use tambour lace (one aspect of Limerick lace) to tell a tale and consider the position of women, filtered through the lens of Victorian gothic literature. Two of my lace hanging series will also be shown in the exhibition. One is linked to my research on net curtains and the dysfunctional domestic, and the other on memories and how they deteriorate with age. The work of many other excellent lace artists is also being shown and I’m looking forward to seeing their work and the exhibition as a whole. It should be an interesting few days.

Thursday 20 October 2016

More thoughts on Lace at the edge


The next time Gail and I will exhibit the work from ‘Lace at the edge’ is at Harrogate, still as part of the Knitting and Stitching Show. Our stand at Alexandra Palace was rectangular but the one at Harrogate is much more square so we are having to rethink our display. When we started planning the exhibition, the aim was to intermingle our work, but when we actually came to set up that just didn’t seem to work effectively, so we ended up with my work at one end and Gail’s at the other. I think now we’ve seen the work on display we have a much better idea of which pieces work well together which we’re bearing in mind as we redesign the stand for its new shape. Other factors we will have to consider are the placing of the stand. At Alexandra Palace we were quite well inside the gallery block, but at Harrogate we are right near the opening so we’ll have to consider air draughts blowing the work and of course the temperature if it’s cold. We had a few draughts in London when the ceiling vents were opened and they wafted my black veils about in a suitably languid and sinister manner, so let’s hope we achieve that effect!

Thursday 13 October 2016

Reflections on Lace at the edge


The book we had out for the audience to write in at ‘Lace at the edge’, our exhibition at the Knitting and Stitching Show last week, is full of interesting comments. Many say they thought the work was stunning, fascinating, inspiring or beautiful, which is always encouraging to hear. Others are more informative and comment on the ideas behind the work, the textures and techniques. But I think my favourite is ‘Wonderful exhibition – I’m glad that I took the time to read the labels, it made all the difference’, mainly because that was how I approached the exhibition. I wanted to make work that would look beautiful from a distance, so would be interesting to those passing by, but would have a deeper message for those who took the time to engage with it and find the stories hidden within the folds of the veils. Another aim was to show people that lace can be used as textile art and carry a deeper message - it isn’t just a decorative technique. I know I achieved that with many people who spoke to me about the work and I lost count of those who stopped to say how nice it was to see lace being displayed at the Knitting and Stitching Show.

Wednesday 5 October 2016

Lace at the edge

Our exhibition at the Knitting and Stitching Show at Alexandra Palace is now up and running. Its title is ‘Lace at the edge’ and it features work by me and Gail Baxter. Although we are both lacemakers our work is quite different but it is linked by a common theme of netting. In Gail’s case fishing nets and traditional netting techniques and in mine the fine nets used in veiling. It is great to see all the pieces displayed as a body of work, hanging them in the studio just doesn’t give you the same effect. I was especially pleased to see that my three black veils worked well together pinned to the wall like bats in flight. Also the group of white veils linked to literary themes show up well on the circular plinths they are displayed on. It’s always good to see the work in situ, as however many plans you make it’s not until everything is hung that you can see the overall effect. The exhibition is on until Sunday 9 October and the gallery number is TG21 so do come and visit us. However if you can’t make it we are exhibiting the work again in Harrogate at the end of November.

Thursday 29 September 2016

Final exhibition preparations

I’m in the middle of the final preparations for the Knitting and Stitching Show next week. Gail Baxter and I have an exhibition entitled ‘Lace at the edge’ in gallery TG21 at Alexandra Palace next week and it will then move on to Harrogate in November. The work will be packed up after the London show, stored, and then transported to Harrogate for us, which is very convenient, but does mean we have to pack our work securely but in a way that won’t crease it while it’s in storage for 6 weeks. I’m buying masses of tissue paper and bubble wrap and hoping that will do the trick. I’m sure it’s stored very carefully, but you also have to take into account that the boxes might be kept upside down or on their side, and pack accordingly! Luckily the hanging system for my veils isn’t very complicated; all that’s required are pins and a hammer, so I don’t need many tools, although I am taking things like scissors, sellotape, and white blu tack just in case I need them. We have ordered labels, an information board and a board with our names on in advance so they should be waiting for us and I have my nice new business cards! Do come and see us and say hello if you’re going to the Show it’s on from Wednesday 5 October to Sunday 9 October.

Thursday 22 September 2016

Business cards

I’ve just had another batch of business cards printed so I have enough for the Knitting and Stitching Show galleries at Alexandra Palace and Harrogate this autumn. It’s always difficult to decide on one design that represents the entirety of your work. I want to convey the idea that my work is based on lace but might include other fabrics and embroidery and is conceptual in nature, so I don’t want anything too specific. I think going for a close up image works well as it isn’t really linked to any particular body of work. My previous card had a frill and some tambour lace from my lace curtain work, so it incorporated the curtain, lace and text in a fairly unspecific way. This time I’ve gone for another nonspecific image. This one is taken from one of the veils in my latest body of work, showing fine netting, pins and the edge of the veil. I hope it conveys the idea of lace and beauty, but that the juxtaposition of net and pins adds a layer of uncertainty and subversiveness - beauty with a hint of menace!

Wednesday 14 September 2016

Flower doily

I was honoured to be invited by Maria Bissacco to take part in the recent exhibition at The Lace School in Valtopina entitled ‘Interpretare il segno’. Maria sent each of the participants a series of drawings of stylised flowers and asked them to interpret the drawings as they liked. As I have previously designed and made some unusual lace doilies I decided that I would make another non-functional lace mat. I selected one of the flower shapes and expanded it to a diameter of about 25 cm, then widened the petals so that they touched one another and formed a unified mat-like shape. I wanted to acknowledge the floral origin of the doily without it looking exactly like a flower so I added chains of lace and fringes at certain points around the edge of the design, which also held it together more effectively. I worked the piece as a continuous tape lace, following the curves of the petals, and joining the sections as I worked around the design. Once I’d finished the main outline I added fillings to the shapes by working a continuous two-paired plait across each petal. I had to work out the path of my threads before I started and make sewings and crossings as I needed them, but mostly I managed to fill the entire space with just two pairs. As I made some of the crossings I also inserted some small strips of iridescent fabric to add a third dimension and give the suggestion of butterflies resting on the flower. They also subverted the idea of a traditional lace mat by making it completely non-functional.

Friday 9 September 2016

Commemorative lace and silk panels

I was interested to see this ‘Stevengraph’ at Macclesfield Silk Museum as it reminded me of the commemorative lace panels I’ve been looking at recently. Both the lace panels and these silk panels were used to commemorate and advertise events. According to the information at Macclesfield, Thomas Stevens of Coventry began making woven bookmarks in the 1860s. They proved so popular that in 1879 he started producing silk pictures as well. The one in the image shows the venue of an exhibition held in Chicago in 1893 and appears to have been woven during the exhibition presumably as a souvenir for the audience to purchase. During a recent visit to the Newstead Abbey lace collection I saw a larger panel celebrating the 1862 International Exhibition held in London. That one, about 60 x 40 cm in size, could have been available to purchase or, more likely, was used as advertising on a lace manufacturer’s stand to show the skill and versatility of the lace machines. The patterns on both the silk and lace panels would have been produced using Jacquard cards.

Friday 2 September 2016

Vampire veil

The lace I have just finished is inspired by another nineteenth century gothic novel – this time Bram Stoker’s Dracula. I designed the lace to incorporate ‘fangs’ and the suggestion of insect mouth parts between them to emphasise the idea of biting. The red glass beads hanging from the fangs represent drops of blood. It was quite difficult to find the right shape and colour of bead but I think these lovely ruby red Czech beads have the right mix of beauty and menace. I decided to make the veil black to reference Victorian mourning veils and the glass beads also suggest the Whitby jet beads that were often used in mourning jewellery. Whitby is also the place where Dracula disembarks in England and is the scene of some of the important episodes in the story so a reference to Whitby seemed appropriate. This veil, with the others in the series, will be exhibited at the gallery at the Knitting and Stitching Show at Alexandra Palace that I’m sharing with Gail Baxter from 5 to 9 October.

Tuesday 23 August 2016

Fragmented memories

Another lace veil inspired by a nineteenth century author; this time Charlotte Bronte. Again I've used embellished machine lace for this one. Charlotte married her father’s curate late in life, but before that had an intense crush on Constantin Heger, a schoolmaster in Brussels, where she went to study for a while. She wrote to him obsessively when she returned to England, much to his embarrassment, and the displeasure of his wife, and he eventually asked her to stop writing to him. Interestingly, although he tore up Charlotte’s letters, his wife retrieved them, sewed the pieces together and kept them. This veil references that episode and those letters by incorporating torn sections of a letter on to the lace of the wedding veil and joining them in a line of stitching that suggests the life line or story line of the writer. You can see why I’ve called this one ‘Fragmented memories’.

Thursday 18 August 2016

Paper trail veil

The inspiration for this lace veil came from another nineteenth century novel - Tess of the D’Urbevilles by Thomas Hardy. In this pieces I’m referencing the episode in the story where Tess writes a note to Angel Clare before she marries him telling him about her past, in case he wants to change his mind. It is only after they are married that she realises he did not find the note, and once she tells him about her past he rejects her. In the veil, the disintegrating paper represents the hidden note as well as the hidden secrets and shows how vulnerable and fragile marriage can be. Although the veil is beautiful, it hides within it the essence of decay and vulnerability, and of course veils themselves serve to mask and hide the emotions. I’ve called it ‘Paper trail’ as the confusion over that little slip of paper leads to the path that the rest of the story follows, ultimately ending with Tess’s trial.

Wednesday 27 July 2016


Another exhibition finished yesterday (at West Ox Arts in Bampton) and I went to collect my pieces – fewer than I went with this time as I had sold my ‘Tracks panels’, so I only had to collect the three net curtains I’d also exhibited. I had marked them not for sale as I would like to exhibit them in a few more places before I sell them and they are part of a group of nine, which I display in different combinations depending on the venue and the message I want to convey. My next exhibition is a gallery at the Knitting and Stitching show which I’m sharing with Gail Baxter. Our work complements each other’s well as she is working with nets and I am using nets in the form of personal veiling, so we are approaching the same subject in very different ways. I’ve been working on my veils for a while – making lace and silk paper for them and have just got to the stage where I’m assembling some of them so it’s exciting seeing them come together as a body of work.

Friday 22 July 2016

Newstead Abbey

I made a very interesting research visit last week to Newstead Abbey, which has a good collection of lace curtains and curtain panels. It was so interesting to tie up some of my research into the lace exhibited at the international exhibitions with actual pieces of lace. The panel in the image really interested me because it depicted the building in which the London International Exhibition of 1862 was held. I don’t know why it was made or what it was used for – presumably advertising for the company that made it to show their expertise and as a novelty to attract the attention of the audience. As well as this panel, I saw many lace curtain samples, several other commemoration panels, beautiful classical lace curtain designs by Ashworth and Co and even some menus in lace! I have loads of photos of the pieces and now have plenty of material to work on over the summer.

Thursday 14 July 2016

Silk paper experiments

This post should really be labelled silk paper disasters! I’ve been trying to apply silk paper directly to net to make a veil with lace appearing to disintegrate into the net fabric. The final result isn’t bad visually, but I’m trying out a new silk medium and I don’t think I diluted it enough, as the final piece is still quite tacky to the touch, it also has a very glossy look to it when I was hoping for a more matt look. I’ve also realised that the excess medium from the silk paper has seeped into the surrounding net, again giving a gloss to it which is not the effect I’m after. I think that, for the effect I want, I’ll have to make strips of silk paper and apply them to the net afterwards, in the same way I attached silk paper to voile for my ‘Dust’ curtains. It’s a shame, as I thought this would be a quicker process and would integrate the lace, paper and net more effectively, but it seems to cause different problems. Oh well, they say you learn from your mistakes and I’ve certainly learnt from these ones!

Thursday 7 July 2016

Framing Space II

This exhibition at West Ox Arts, Bampton, includes the work of four lacemakers: me, Gail Baxter, Sue McLaggan and Beth Walsh. It opened last Saturday and runs until 24 July 2016. I’m showing three of my curtains from the Whispering series and three collaged panels of lace and printed papers based on a theme of tracks, maps and paths. All three tracks panels were sold at the private view to an American visitor. Gail’s black lace rolls were beautifully displayed along two walls emphasising their sculptural quality. They were inspired by research into machine lace designers and the draftsmen who interpret their drawings and reveal some of the hidden codes and processes used in historic machine-made laces. Sue’s work is also sculptural and was cleverly hung to display interesting shadows behind the work. Her inspiration came from a study of ancient Greek winds myths. Beth’s work combines personal visual memories of time and place with pieces reflecting her interest in the sensual experiences of times past. So although we are all lacemakers the exhibition contains an interesting mix of work. If you’re thinking of visiting it’s easy to park outside the gallery, the church is worth a visit and much of the Downton Abbey series was filmed in the area - so make a day of it.

Friday 1 July 2016

Attaching lace to fabric

I know people have written books about the proper ways of attaching lace to fabric but I have to confess I usually just use a sewing machine or, as in this case, simple back stitch. The difference is that the pieces I’m making aren’t going to be laundered or undergo much practical use so I can get away with simple methods of attachment that aren’t particularly robust. Also, of course, sewing skills vary, as well as the time available for a project. I thought back stitch would be fine in this situation, as the veil isn’t going to be worn and I can sew along the footside, catching the net underneath, without the stitches being too noticeable on the front. I’m also sewing with the thread I used to make the lace so hopefully the stitching won’t show up too much.

Wednesday 22 June 2016

Lace collage

These little collages are going to be part of an exhibition in a couple of weeks. There are three of them and they were fun to make. I started by collecting some scraps of paper with different texture – wood chip, tissue, card, then glued them together, added some printing and machine stitched over them to make the background. The lace was made in situ over the brown paper squares. I attached the threads behind on the back of the paper using sellotape, made the lace on the paper, and then secured the ends on the back, again using sellotape. You can see the pin holes in this close up image, but the piece is about 18 x 10 cm, so when it’s hanging on the wall you don’t notice them. The lace is different in each piece, but the colour schemes are the same so they form a pleasing group. They will be part of an exhibition at West Ox Arts Gallery, Bampton in July.

Thursday 16 June 2016

Lace design

Now my ‘No No’ lace is finished I’ve started designing the next piece in the veiling series. This one is to be a black veil and I want the lace along the edge to reference vampires. The essence of a vampire is its fangs with blood dripping from them so I began by making a footside and then arches coming off that to represent the fangs – the blood will be added later in the form of red glass beads! I then needed something to suggest the rest of the mouth so I decided to add a smaller arch within the larger one, but crossing it, to link the lines together and add some interest. Once I had the basic idea drawn out I then copied it on to tracing paper, so I could try out filling ideas and work out the links between each part of the design, without having to keep rubbing out parts or redrawing the outline for each trial. I decided to have an area of rose ground within the main arch shape, as I thought that reflected gothic architecture quite well. What I was unsure about was whether to make the lace in a Torchon fashion, on a grid with blocks of cloth stitch either side of the rose ground, or in a Bedfordshire style, with plaits feeding into it. You will not be surprised to learn I went with the Beds option, because I like that style of lace, and also because I thought the plaits resembled gothic tracery. However, designing with tracing paper made deciding easier, as it meant I could keep superimposing the two ideas until I was happy with the result. Once I’d chosen the design I liked, it also allowed me to trace a series of them, one after the other, to form a length for a pricking.

Thursday 9 June 2016

Lace samples

I was delighted with these little bits of lace I bought in a mixed lot a few weeks ago. They are a mixture of bobbin and needlelace and beautifully worked.
Although they look similar at first glance there are differences between them, particularly in the swag beneath the flower design and the number of couronnes around the flowers. I didn’t have a magnifier on me when I bought them so wasn’t sure whether the net ground was handmade or not, but looking at it under magnification when I got home proved that it was handmade. I’m delighted with my bargain but a little sad that such exquisite work was being sold for next to nothing.

Thursday 2 June 2016

Some curtain terminology

My research last week sent me back to the textile dictionary to check on the meaning of various curtain terms. Like many textile words they are often used with slightly different meanings by different groups but I’ve found Clive Edwards’ ‘Encyclopedia of furnishing textiles, floorcoverings and home furnishing practices 1200-1950’ to be both comprehensive and informative. It seems that casement curtains refers to the lightweight casement cloth used to make them rather than the shape of the window. Brise brise is lace curtaining used for hanging across the lower part of a window using a rod or wire. While store curtains are lace curtains that are hung flat against the whole window and usually have an outer narrow border enclosing a single large design – the ones in the image are taken from a 1926 catalogue. Waterfalls seem to be corner edges of lace to fit the window frame, which are decorative rather than functional; but I have yet to find that term in the dictionaries so there’s still plenty of work to do!

Thursday 26 May 2016

MYB Textiles

I’ve just come back from a research visit to MYB Textiles in Scotland – the last net curtain manufacturer remaining in the UK. It was very exciting to be shown round the factory and to see and hear the lace machines in action. I also enjoyed researching in the archive, examining their store of net curtains and designs. They also have numerous pattern drafts and working diagrams for the machines as well as some old catalogues of past designs which were fascinating to look at. However, as well as their archive, MYB is a very innovative company with a wide selection of modern designs for curtains, bedspreads, napery and even wallpaper. They also collaborate with a range of designers and artists to create new designs and fabrics. It was a fascinating visit and has left me with a wealth of images and ideas to work on and lots of memories of the lovely people who helped me during my visit.

Thursday 19 May 2016

Thread collections

I never thought I’d say this but I think I have enough threads to last me a lifetime! At one time I would buy selections of lovely threads wherever I went, which is probably why I have such a large collection. However my recent work has mainly been in white, as I’ve purposely been using the idea of pristine Victorian textiles and how they can be subverted to reflect the uncanny in the home. My latest body of work on veiling has also continued the white theme, although I am planning some black veils, but although that’s a change from white it’s still not very colourful! I am working on one project for which I’m blending coloured threads and for that I’ve returned to the terracotta palette of colours I’ve used in the past; but that is a one off for a specific exhibition. I’m certainly not parting with any of my threads yet, as you never know when you’ll need just the right colour of something, but I won’t be buying any new ones for a while, even though they are so beguiling.

Thursday 12 May 2016

Lace at the Great Exhibition

I spent a very interesting day yesterday at the National Art Library looking through the illustrated catalogues for some of the 19th century International exhibitions. My main interest was lace curtains but I also found lace designed by Mrs Treadwin and an article about the history of lace and embroidery by Mrs Bury Palliser. Mrs Treadwin came in for great praise in the 1851 report, which noted that ‘In lace the finest specimens of design are English, Mrs Treadwin’s flounce being, perhaps unrivalled in this respect’. Unfortunately the exhibitions later in the century tend to extol the virtues of French and Brussels lace over the British. Although none of the exhibits at these international exhibitions were for sale, I discovered that many British manufacturers would have liked to advertise their prices alongside their lace to show that although many of the continental laces were superior to the British ones they were also much more expensive. I now have lots of notes to sift through. I was also allowed to take some photos but only on condition I didn’t publish them so the image above is of a 19th century lace curtain from a catalogue I own – it wasn’t shown at any of the major exhibitions.

Friday 6 May 2016

Exhibition preparation

I’m busy with last minute preparations for my exhibition at the LQ&N Makit Fair at Peterborough on Sunday. I decided what lace to take and show last week when the size of the exhibition space was finalised, so that is already packed and ready to go. Luckily most of my lace is flat or rolls up neatly so it doesn’t take up much space when it’s packed up. My exhibition area is four tables forming a rectangular space 12 feet by 5 feet in the centre of the atrium. My main problem was that the cloth I have to cover the tables is big enough to cover them and allow an overhang down the front and back but not long enough to cover the ends as well, so I’ve bought some black sheets to put underneath the main cloth, to fill the gaps. I hope it all fits together seamlessly on the day! I’ve also got some pins to keep the lace in place, as well as various types of sticky tape to secure the table covers if necessary. I’m also going to take a small stool or stepladder so I can reach the centre of the display when I’m putting it up. All I need to do now is to print out a panel with my name on so visitors know who I am!

Friday 29 April 2016

Lace curtain design

I’ve been reading about early twentieth century curtain design and realise that there is a lot more to it than just designing a pretty pattern! The design has to be economical which means it has to be suitable for the machine that will be used to produce it and the pattern repeat must not be too long because that would cause wastage when matching patterns to make a pair of curtains. The ‘scaffolding’ of the pattern also has to be considered carefully – you have to have a framework to work on but in most cases it should not be obvious to the viewer, so consider whether the design is making lines or shapes that aren’t intended. Many curtain patterns make use of the turnover, which is when one side is folded over to form a mirror image of the other, but this can look clumsy unless done skilfully. In many cases adding single centre panel eases the design as shown in the image above. I now need to look at some curtains from the time to see how these rules were put into practice.

Friday 22 April 2016

Exhibition preparation

I’ve just bought a long length of cloth to cover the tables at the venue for my next exhibition – the LQ&N fair at Peterborough on 8 May - where I’ll be showing a selection of my lace. It’s always difficult deciding what colour to choose as a background for a mixed exhibition of that type. Dark blue seems to be the choice of many people who exhibit traditional white lace, but that doesn’t always work with coloured lace. Grey is a colour that goes well with much of my lace but it doesn’t have much impact from a distance. I’ve also found that ivory works well but needs to be kept clean – finding a dirt mark when you arrive at an exhibition venue with no way of washing it out is not helpful. The type of material is also important as cotton creases easily, which can spoil the display. In the end I’ve gone for a black crepe jersey type of material which I hope won’t crease and will provide a reasonable background colour for most of the lace. That quantity of material is quite heavy though, which is fine for Peterborough as I’m driving to the venue, but it would eat into my weight allowance if I was flying abroad to exhibit.


Thursday 14 April 2016

Advertising lace curtains

This image comes from a catalogue of lace curtains and Irish linen produced by William Whiteley’s London department store in 1907. Of course each curtain has to be described and the copywriter has come up with some exuberant descriptions for some of them. This one is just described as ‘Medallion border with trailing centre’ but others include ‘Very artistic reproduction of real lace’ and ‘A very dainty bijou curtain’. Clearly by the time he got to ‘Copy of real lace’ and ‘Imitation of real lace’ he was struggling to find something different to say! As well as the descriptions, an artist was also employed to draw the curtains, which must have been a skilled job as the images are very detailed and compare well with the sections of the catalogue that contains photographs.

Thursday 7 April 2016


I’m a great fan of picots I like to use a few on an edging to give it a little bit of added interest. However when I make them by twisting two threads I always struggle to twist them together properly. Pam Nottingham says this happens ‘when the threads are tightened separately before the final twists are added’. Because of this, in my recent work, I’ve started using what I was taught to call false picots, but which Bridget Cook calls a knotted picot and Pam Nottingham terms ‘a picot using thick thread’. This involves looping one thread of a pair through the other to form a small loop, so knotted picot is a good description of it. Although it probably works best with thick thread it does stay firm and crisp in thin cotton and doesn’t cause the fanned out look of a double-thread picot that has become untwisted. You do need to twist the pairs after making the picot and continuing with the rest of the design though, to prevent leaving a hole beneath the picot. The lace in the image is an experimental piece I made a while ago, incorporating traditional twisted two thread picots and plaited loops making picot-like shapes.

Thursday 31 March 2016

Henna lace

I love these henna designs because they are so lace like in their patterning. These images come from a book on Traditional henna designs by The Peppin Press, which unfortunately doesn’t have an author so I can’t acknowledge them. The book is full of beautiful designs for hands and feet and also separate smaller design elements that can be combined to make more complex patterns. Apparently the traditional way of applying henna is by taking some of the paste between the thumb and index finger and moving them over each other to form a thread of henna which is applied to the skin. A more common technique is using a stick dipped in henna or ‘piping’ the paste through a small cone like icing a cake. Once the design has been applied it has to be left for about 5 hours to dry. Then, when the black paste has turned to a dark red colour the skin is rubbed with mustard oil and the paste is scraped off leaving the red pattern on the skin. Some of these designs are amazingly intricate, I’m impressed by the skill of the painters.

Thursday 24 March 2016

Early twentieth century veils


Veils were obviously very fashionable in New York in the spring of 1918, as these slightly sinister images reveal. Doing some research into the uses of lace in the early part of the twentieth century I found some bound issues of ‘The lace and embroidery review’, an American trade magazine of the time. I was hoping to find something about lace curtains but was greatly entertained by a series of articles on veiling and how to wear it. One such piece begins ‘Surely it must be an utterly impossible complexion that cannot be beautified by some of the innumerable veiling patterns now displayed everywhere’. On the evidence of the Van Raalte advert I’m not quite sure about that, but the veiling in these images certainly gives the wearer a distinctive appearance!

Thursday 17 March 2016

Curtains in the Modernist home


I was delighted to find these images of net curtains in 1930s Modernist homes in Steven Parissien’s book on Interiors. Who would have thought that the uncluttered, fairly stark, Modernist home would have included net curtains. Not only do these homes include net curtains, but they are the only curtains in these interiors. I’m sure the householders would not have described them as net curtains, they are probably muslin or fine cotton, but they perform the same action as net curtains – filtering the sunlight and keeping out the gaze of passers by - and they certainly fit into my definition of net curtains

Thursday 10 March 2016


Updating my website this week has made me consider the reasons for having it. I suppose the main one is advertising what I do, so curators, for example, can look me up and see if my work would fit into any exhibitions they might be thinking about. It’s also a place where people who know my work already can see where I’m going to be exhibiting so they can come and see it and catch up. Then it also serves as a record of what I’ve done and when – in fact I often go back to the website when I’m filling in applications to check when I made a particular piece. It’s also a handy place where people can find out about my research, practice and CV all in one place, so I can hand out business cards with the website address on them and know that those who are interested can access the information they need and also contact me if they want to. By linking it to this blog I can also keep my audience up to date with what I’m researching on and making, in an informal way, which I find easier than updating the website. The conclusion is that it is a very useful thing to have and I should update it more often, so the next task is to take more photos to update the gallery section!

Thursday 3 March 2016

Damage and repair symposium

I really enjoyed this symposium at UCA Farnham yesterday – it included some interesting presentations and an engaged and knowledgeable audience. It was linked to the exhibition ‘What do I need to do to make it OK?’, curated by Liz Cooper at the Crafts Study Centre, and she opened the day by talking about the exhibition. There were two keynote speakers, the first, Bouke de Vries spoke about his background in ceramic conservation and his current practice, in which he uses these skills to give damaged objects a new narrative. Freddie Robins was the second keynote speaker and she described her current practice making full-sized machine-knitted human skins and how she has cannibalised them in her recent work. She also described the therapeutic aspects of hand knitting. The idea of craft as therapy was also taken up by Charlotte Bilby in her presentation on prisoner quilts and the Fine Cell Work initiative.

Claire Wellesley-Smith also discussed how she used crafts and dyeing to bring together a group of Bradford residents to consider the textile heritage of their town. Colette Dobson and Celia Pym described their work with groups in the medical community; Colette considering the emotional and sexual damage caused by cancer, and Celia linking mending and anatomy in the Dissection Room at King’s College, London. 

Mending, and in particular darning, was also the focus of Stella Adams-Schofield’s historical research, which culminated in an evocative compilation of images and recorded oral history. Mending as metaphor for healing was the thread linking the papers by Victoria Mitchell and Marlene Little. Victoria discussed holding, healing and the agency of the photograph, with reference to a photograph of Judith Scott cradling a large shape she had wound in thread. Marlene spoke about her own work depicting the unravelling of memory and the beautiful ‘Dementia darnings’ produced by Jenni Dutton in memory of her mother’s decline into dementia. In contrast to all this textile work, Marie Lefebvre considered the repair of small electrical products and designing for sustainable behaviour. The day ended with a viewing of the exhibition, from which the images are taken – the thrush’s nest entitled ‘Comfort and joy’ by Saidhbhin Gibson, and ’60 beats a minute’ by Karina Thompson. It was a great day – thanks to all involved.