Wednesday 20 December 2017

Progress on my Battle of Britain lace panel

I’ve made great progress this week on my lace panel – it’s interesting how some weeks you put in loads of work but have little to show for it whereas in others you seem to steam ahead! This week I’ve been applying the new digitally printed photographs onto the net base. I’ve never used digitally printed images before and I naively assumed that as the images I’d supplied were perfect rectangles the printed versions would be too. I hadn’t accounted for the fact that obviously the material must move slightly in the printing process so I’ve had to tweak some of them a bit. Luckily I had already decided to add a small strip of lace to the top and base of each image to neaten it, and to run a scalloped lace right along the edge of each net panel to mirror the scalloped edge of the original. These edges of lace have allowed me to straighten up the photographic prints by hiding some areas so they are now roughly rectangular again. However, despite the technical problems, machine stitching the lace to the images and net has been very quick and I’m pleased with the results, so I feel I can have a break over Christmas!

Thursday 14 December 2017

Woman’s Hour Craft Prize exhibition

I was interested to see the exhibition of work by the finalists of the Woman’s Hour Craft prize at the V&A Museum last week. The well-deserved winner was Phoebe Cummings with her beautiful unfired clay fountain which is designed to dissolve as the show progresses; the image shows a detail from it. However, looking at the exhibition got me thinking again about the difference between craft and art. I’ve been trying, unsuccessfully, to define both terms.

Various crafts are represented in the exhibition for sure, Laura Ellen Bacon’s woven structures and Celia Pym’s darning for example, but Laura admits to never having woven a basket and you wouldn’t ask Celia to invisible darn anything. As far as I’m concerned both are artists who use their craft skills to produce work that reflects movement and narrative, respectively. Of the ceramicists in the show, Alison Britton makes containers that are functional but speak of containment, Neil Brownsword highlights the loss of industrial ceramic skills by making and discarding clay flowers, and Phoebe Cummings deals with the ephemeral. Andrea Walsh initially studied fine art and developed the idea of a vessel into her glass boxes, which are sculptural and jewel like. Emma Woffenden also combines sculpture and glass to create strangely distorted figures while Laura Youngson Coll makes intricate biological sculptures (see the picture above). Of the jewellers in the exhibition, Lin Cheung acknowledges her ideas-based approach while Romilly Saumarez Smith gives antique finds a new life and narrative by turning them into jewellery. The other two exhibitors, Caren Hartley who makes bespoke bicycles, and Peter Marigold who initially studied sculpture but now makes what can loosely be described as furniture, seem to be more traditional craftspeople rather than fine artists.

It seems to me that most of these pieces combine craft and fine art. Does this signify the elision of the line between craftspeople and fine artists? Are most craftspeople now using their skills to produce work with conceptual ideas behind it? I doubt they are, as a visit to any gallery would show. Should we welcome this merging of art and craft? Do these definitions and categories matter anyway? Should we just enjoy the work whether it is art, craft or a combination? Food for thought!

Wednesday 6 December 2017

Working Carrickmacross lace

I’ve been doing some Carrickmacross lace on my Battle of Britain lace panel which has made me appreciate the skill of the person who made this lovely piece from the UCA Textile archive. Having worked some of this lace I realise that cutting round the fabric shapes once they’ve been sewn down, without cutting the net underneath, is one of the most difficult parts of the technique. However, you soon get used to the feel of the fabric being cut. I found that if I used my nail to stretch the fabric above the net it was easier to cut and ‘gave’ as I cut it away, which made it easier to distinguish fabric and net. I also realised that the placement of the grain of the fabric was important too as some of the shapes are very small and tend to come away from the sewn edge if they aren’t placed and cut on the grain. The fabric I’ve used also seems to be more open than in traditional examples, which gives it a very lace-like appearance, but makes it less stable when its cut. I’m very impressed that in this beautiful example from the archive the fabric is cut very closely to the sewn edge and has worn so well without unravelling.

Wednesday 29 November 2017

Lace in Weldons encyclopedia of needlework

I was delighted to buy a copy of Weldons encyclopedia of needlework in my local Oxfam bookshop, especially as the final section of the book is an illustrated supplement of lace. It gives a brief and not entirely accurate description of ‘needlepoint lace’ and ‘bobbin or pillow-made lace’ but mainly consists of photographs of lace from the Victoria and Albert Museum. The pictures are a bit grainy but do give an idea of the different types of lace and it’s encouraging to see so many illustrations, particularly in such an old book. The image shows a detail of Point d’Argentan lace with its distinctive hexagonal mesh. Although the book is mainly a how to do it manual, there are no instructions for making either needle or bobbin lace but there are sections on other types of lace such as netting, embroidering on net, drawn work, crochet and knitting which I shall enjoy discovering.

Wednesday 22 November 2017

Carrickmacross lace

The next stage of my Battle of Britain lace panel requires some Carrickmacross lace so I’ve been reminding myself how to do it. The last time I made any Carrickmacross lace was a while ago when I made this cape inspired by peacock feathers. Basically the technique is to lay a piece of fabric on to the net, then outline the shape you want with a thickish thread without cutting out the material. Then you couch the thread down using a fine thread and finally cut away the excess material to leave the shape you want outlined in a thicker thread. The secret is not to cut into the net as you remove the excess fabric round the edge of your design or to cut the outlining thread, so precision is required! As you can see, for the cape I used several layers of chiffon to make the peacock eyes so the technique was quite complicated. This time I’m just using one layer of fabric with an outlining couching thread so it should be simpler, however the net I’m sewing on to this time is firmer and has less give than the gold mesh I used for the cape. I’ll need to try a few different types of fabric on a sample before I work on to my panel to see which one works best with the net.

Wednesday 15 November 2017

Needlerun lace

I’ve been doing quite a lot of needlerun lace recently for my Battle of Britain panel so was interested to find this example in the UCA Textile archive. It’s a collar worked by hand on a diamond-shaped machine-made net and while I’ve just been using outlining stitches this includes blocks of shaded areas as well. Embroidering on net was the first type of ‘mechanised’ lace and in the early nineteenth century numerous lace runners were employed in Nottingham to embroider the net produced on machines designed by John Heathcoat and John Leavers. Although lace machines were then developed that could produce patterned lace, the technique of needle run lace continued to flourish, particularly in Ireland. It had been introduced to the country by Charles Walker who took 24 skilled English women to Limerick in 1829 and set up production there using machine net imported from Nottingham. They trained local women to make needlerun and tambour lace and the technique soon spread to other towns although it is always referred to as Limerick lace. The reason I’ve been using the technique is that it is fairly quick and covers a large area quite easily – bobbin or needle lace would take considerably more time because you’re making the net as well as the patterns. Also, in my case, I wanted a technique that referenced the origins of the original Battle of Britain lace as a net curtain panel and working on machine net gives that link to machine-made net.

Wednesday 8 November 2017

Lace fashion reports 1930

I recently spent a day in the Lace Archive at Nottingham Trent University doing some research and came across a folio of lace fashions from the 1930s. It contains reports of the Paris fashion shows written for the lace manufacturers in Nottingham showing the latest trends. It is all quite detailed and as well as the report, which includes some sketches, the correspondent has sent samples of the lace and photographs of it with detailed measurements. There were also photos of ladies wearing lace fashions at the races. This type of information was obviously useful to the manufacturers in designing lace and finding out what the trends for the coming year would be. In fact the report is marked ‘Confidential’ so it was obviously highly sensitive information.

Wednesday 1 November 2017

Exhibition dates for my Battle of Britain lace project

I’m delighted to have finalised the dates for my Battle of Britain lace project. It will be exhibited in three venues but I think will look quite different in each. It will first be shown at Wollaton Hall in Nottingham as part of the ‘Lace unravelled’ symposium being organised there from 15 to 18 March. The space there is a large room at the top of the building with amazing views over the surrounding countryside. Unfortunately it isn’t possible to hang anything in the room though, so my three panels and a facsimile of the original Battle of Britain panel will be placed on long tables that can be walked round. That also means that the installation part of the project – stylised paper parachutes representing the airmen killed in the Battle of Britain - cannot be hung either so that aspect of the work will be absent from Wollaton.

The next venue is Gawthorpe Hall in Lancashire where it will be exhibited from 7 July to 4 November 2018. Gawthorpe is a beautiful old house well known for its textile collection. The Gawthorpe Hall collection also includes one of the original Battle of Britain commemorative lace panels and it will be on display at the same time as my new work. The parachute installation will also be displayed with the new panels. This aspect of the work is very important in this setting because there is a strong family connection to the Battle of Britain - Richard the 2nd Lord Shuttleworth served in Fighter Command and died in the Battle.

The third venue is Bentley Priory in London, which was the headquarters of Fighter Command during the Battle of Britain. The exhibition there will be open from 17 November 2018 to 30 March 2019. The exhibition room is circular and my panels will hang on the wall with the parachutes hanging from the ceiling in a huge circle radiating from the central pillar. The parachute shapes are being made at Bentley Priory as part of their family and school learning activities. Bentley Priory also received one of the original Battle of Britain lace panels and has it on permanent display so that can be seen as well. I’m really looking forward to seeing how the panels and the parachute installation come together to highlight aspects of the original panel at each venue.  

Wednesday 25 October 2017

Muslin dress from the Great Exhibition

This beautifully embroidered muslin dress was exhibited at the Great Exhibition in 1851 by Messrs Brown, Sharps & Co of Paisley. The accompanying text notes that ‘These manufacturers have long been famous: having obtained eminence not only for the excellence of their work but for the purity and beauty of their designs’. It continues by explaining that they use artists to produce the designs who are not ‘merely Provincial’ and apologises for the inadequacy of the engraving in not conveying the full beauty of the needlework. The actual embroidery in this sample is 4 feet wide and 3 feet high. It must have been a lovely piece. However, it does not receive much praise in a later essay in the same volume discussing ‘The exhibition as a lesson in taste’ by Ralph Nicolson Wornum (for which he won a prize of 100 guineas). He notes that although there is a ‘rich dress exhibited by Brown Sharps & Co’, in general, regarding the level of design in lace and embroidered muslin, the exhibition ‘contains very little that is good’. I think he was being a little harsh!

Wednesday 18 October 2017

Needle lace

I’m now well into my project producing a response to the Battle of Britain commemorative lace panel – I’ve finished all the designing and have been to all the sites in the original panel to take new images. I started work on some of the ancillary pieces doing some canvas work for the ‘drafts’ and working on shapes for some of the pieces I’m going to apply, but hadn’t started the needle lace on the main panel until a couple of weeks ago. I think I was unsure whether my technique would work and worried about ruining the net background, so I was nervous to start it. Well I needn’t have worried! The net is quite firm and shows no signs of fraying at the edges, also because it is so firm I haven’t had to work on a frame. This has made working much easier because I have just laid the net over the pattern and can see the whole design rather than just a section of it. It also means I have to move round the table to work it which is better than just sitting in one place. I’m also pleased with the ‘drawing with thread’ approach I’m using, which allows me to transfer my design directly to the net using needle and thread. At the moment I’m outlining the entire design and I’ll add shading in a lighter weight thread afterwards. It’s always a relief when something you’ve been working on for ages suddenly seems to come together!  

Wednesday 11 October 2017

Machine lace equipment

In my response to the Battle of Britain commemorative lace panel I’ve decided to include simple images of some lace machine equipment to represent those who made the lace and the machines they used. I’ll be including images of the bobbins and carriages shown in the picture as well as representations of jacquard cards and drafts. The bobbins and their holders will probably be made of fabric and applied in a Carrickmacross technique but the cards and drafts will be separate applied pieces. I’ve made a start on the ‘drafts’ using stitching on canvas to give me the appearance of a design using rectangle shapes but I’m still deciding how to represent the rows of holes on the jacquard cards.

Wednesday 4 October 2017

Battle of Britain central lace panel

A busy week doing more on my response to the Battle of Britain commemorative lace panel. I was going to work the central needlerun lace panel on an embroidery frame, but I’ve started by running in some of the main outlines on the flat, on a large table, and that seems to be working well, so I may not use the frame after all. At the moment I have the pattern and the net clipped together at the top but not the bottom so I can roll up the net to see the pattern more clearly if I need to. The ribbon is just to stop the clip snagging the net. I drew the design using pencil and was going to redraw it on to fresh tracing paper with a waterproof pen, but I’ve found that just adding another layer of tracing paper over the top still allows me to see the design, so that has saved me a job. I was also unsure whether the net I’m using would fray at the edges as I worked but it seems to be keeping its shape and keeping it flat rather than winding it on to a frame will probably help that too. So far so good!

Thursday 28 September 2017

Inscribed lace bobbins

In my collection of lace bobbins I have a group of four named Jane Holmes, Ellen Holmes, Thomas Holmes and Eli Holmes. I assume they were all from the same family and I bought them as a group many years ago. Reading Christine and David Springett’s book leads me to think that they were made by Bobbin Brown of Cranfield in the mid nineteenth century. They distinguish his work by the neat lettering in red, the dome like shape of the bobbin’s head, and the red and black stripes and spots on the length of the bobbin. The sharp eyed among you will have noticed that there are five bobbins in the picture! That is because years later I found another bobbin with the name Eli Holmes on it. I don’t know if this is the same person as in my original group but I like to think it is. Also I’m not sure who made this one –the head looks like one of Bobbin Brown bobbins, but the shape of the bobbin and the tail look different and the lettering particularly the H and M look different as they have serifs unlike the lettering on the other four. Anyway I was delighted to find this additional bobbin and I do use them all so they are still in use after all this time.

Thursday 21 September 2017

Battle of Britain response lace design

I’ve been busy this week working on my response to the Battle of Britain commemorative lace panel. I’ve decided to make three thin panels rather than one large one, as in the original, for two main reasons. It will make mine different from the original, after all I’m not trying to make a replica I’m producing a new response to it, and it will make it much easier to work. It also allows some flexibility in hanging as the panels can then be displayed next to each other or apart. I’m incorporating digitally printed images of the bomb scenes in the original, showing how they appear today, and all those pictures have now been taken and digitally amended except for one which I’ve planned to do next week. I’ve now finalised the design and bought all the materials and have started working on the net. The design is mainly needle run lace but will also include some Carrickmacross techniques as well as some silk paper and some counted thread work. I’m now drawing up a schedule for those inclusions as they can be made and worked on away from the frame I’m using for the main net. 

Wednesday 13 September 2017

‘Unconventional’ lace

Coming across this machine embroidered lace recently set me thinking how many types of ‘unconventional’ lace there are. Most people when they think of lace don’t really consider how it’s made, they just like its appearance. Giving talks about lace I find that most people have heard about bobbin lace but far fewer know about needle lace. Many have come across knitted or crocheted lace through domestic lace they’ve seen at home, such as doilies, tablecloths, bedspreads and shawls, made by their mother or grandmother. Also many people have heard of tatting but don’t actually know what it is, and often mistake bobbin lace for tatting. The lace that most people probably come across every day is machine lace in contemporary clothing, curtains, and napery. Again this can be made in a variety of ways, each giving a different style of lace, just think of the Raschels, Barmen, Leavers and curtain lace machines, as well as embroidery techniques like the Schiffli or Cornely machines, and woven laces like Madras. I think my initial reaction to the embroidered lace was that of a lacemaker trying to classify it – but I realise that the beauty of the lace is what really counts rather than the technique used!  

Wednesday 6 September 2017

Draughting the Battle of Britain lace panel

Now I’ve had the chance to study the Battle of Britain commemorative lace panel, as well as the paintings the designer made from the original tracings, I’m impressed by the way the design was simplified for the lace panel. Harry Cross, the designer of the lace, would have produced his design and then handed it over to the draughtsmen who interpreted it into the instructions for the lace machine. Designers and draughtsmen always worked closely together as the success of a design depended on their mutual understanding of the effect the designer was trying to attain and what could be achieved using the lace machine. This mutual regard is expressed in the panel as Harry Cross includes his own name, as the designer, at the top of the panel, as well as the names of the two draughtsmen, J W Herod and W R Jackson. Mr Herod began the draughting of the panel but sadly died before it was completed so Mr Jackson took over the task. I was particularly interested in the way the New Zealand silver fern, pictured above was interpreted for the panel. The original design (based on the painting by Harry Cross) is quite intricate and subtly shaded and includes many overlapping leaves, which I thought would be difficult to transfer into lace, but even though the draughtsmen have simplified the shapes they have still managed to retain the outline and delicacy of the plant, which is a great testament to their skill.

Friday 1 September 2017

1831 lace fashions

Two more lovely illustrations from my Ladies magazine of 1831 showing a public promenade dress and an evening dress. Even though the walking dress includes a ruff it disappointingly has no lace – the ruff is made of cambric ‘lightly embroidered around the edge’. The evening dress includes plenty of blonde lace however, around the skirt and the neckline and at the end of each sleeve. The fashion correspondent also notes that she has seen some very pretty morning caps ‘made in imitation of the French blonde de fil’ with short lappets descending from the ears which may be tied or left loose ‘at the pleasure of the wearer’. She continues that the ‘crown is of the horseshoe shape’ and the caps are trimmed with small ribbon bows ‘mingled with the lace in front’ with a larger bow at the back. She doesn’t supply an illustration but I think it must have resembled the morning cap in my blog post of 21 June which also shows a mixture of lace and ribbons.

Wednesday 23 August 2017

Battle of Britain lace flora

I’ve been studying the flowers and leaves Harry Cross used in his design for the Battle of Britain commemorative lace panel, to get some inspiration for my contemporary response to it. Apart from being amazed by the elegance with which he depicts them I’ve been making a list and found roses, thistles, shamrocks and daffodils representing the four countries of the UK. He also includes plants representing the air forces mentioned on the panel, so we have maple leaves for Canada, protea for South Africa, wattle for Australia, and fern leaves for New Zealand. The panel also includes acorns and what is generally described as wheat or corn along the outer edge, although it does look more like barley with its long ‘whiskers’ fanning out. The image shows some thistles, corn and shamrocks all beautifully drawn and shaded. I need to try drawing some myself now and deciding how to incorporate them into my design.

Wednesday 16 August 2017

Second lace study day

Gail Baxter and I have just run another lace study day for the Crafts Study Centre at Farnham. We had a lovely group of people most of whom were crafts people but not lacemakers. We looked at lace from the Textile collection at the University for the Creative Arts, which includes samples of most types of lace, of varying qualities. We began the day by looking at the different types of bobbin laces, then studied some needlelace pieces, including some amazingly fine hollie point, and some very nice Point de Gaze. We then moved on to some mixed laces, like the one in the picture, which includes bobbin lace motifs joined with needlelace ground. After that we studied some of the Irish laces – Limerick, Carrickmacross and crochet as well as some filet lace. We ended the day by studying some very fine examples of knitted Shetland lace and looking at some examples of different types of machine made lace. By the end of the day we had managed to cover most types of lace and had given the participants a good overview of the many different ways of making lace.

Friday 11 August 2017

Lace wedding veils

I’ve just bought a small book about wedding fashions and was interested to see what it said about veils. It begins by discussing the weddings of Queen Victoria’s family and says that the veil Princess Alice wore in 1862 was designed by her father Prince Albert, although sadly he died before the wedding. The photograph in the book is not very clear but I did track the veil down in the Royal Collection and it appears more like a shawl in shape, with little gathering. She wore it thrown back from the face with orange blossom in her hair. When Princess Alexandra married Prince Edward a year later she and her bridesmaids all wore veils falling over the backs of their heads from wreaths of flowers. This fashion often made it difficult to distinguish the bride (see the image above), however by the end of the century it was generally only the bride who wore a veil and the bridesmaids wore hats. In 1871, Princess Louise wears a similar style of veil to her sister also hanging from the back of her head with flowers at the front. All the royal brides wore white although many ordinary women just wore their best dress whatever the colour with a bonnet or veil. I’m looking forward to finding out more.

Thursday 3 August 2017

Battle of Britain lace panel at Bentley Priory

I’ve just visited Bentley Priory to see their Battle of Britain commemorative lace panel and discuss plans for exhibiting my contemporary response there. It’s so nice to see the panel so beautifully displayed and on permanent exhibition in the hall at the Museum – the image shows a detail from it. Bentley Priory was the headquarters of RAF Fighter Command during the Battle of Britain and it was from here all the operations were coordinated, in fact the museum includes a recreation of the Filter room where all the radar information was processed, which gives a good idea of how skilled the work was. It’s a very friendly museum with an important story to tell and I’m looking forward to working with them on my Battle of Britain project.

Tuesday 1 August 2017

Lace doilies

The round lace mats that we call doilies, are reputed to have been named after a London draper called Mr Doily, Doyley or D’Oyley who had a linen drapers shop in the Strand in London. There is a reference to him in the Spectator magazine of 1712 selling ‘stuff as might at once be cheap and genteel’. Another writer mentions that the draper’s shop existed until 1850. Originally, doily may have been a woollen material, the name being derived from dwaele, the Dutch word for towel. However in the eighteenth century, the usage changed to denote a small piece of fabric known as a ‘doily-napkin’, placed between the dessert plate and the finger bowl at the dining table. In 1854, Miss Leslie, an American writer, described doilies as ‘small napkins intended for wiping the fingers after fruit’. In the twentieth century doilies lost their association with towels and became decorative or used to protect furniture. Doily now seems to be collective term for all types of lace mat regardless of size or the technique used to fashion them and the general public are probably more familiar with paper doilies than textile ones.

Wednesday 26 July 2017

Visualising the invisible

I enjoyed the exhibition ‘Air: Visualising the invisible in British Art 1768-2017’ at the Royal West of England Academy in Bristol. As the title suggests there were contemporary works and well known historic paintings by artists such as JMW Turner, John Constable, Eric Ravilious, Sir John Everett Millais, Samuel Palmer, and Paul Nash. The exhibition was divided into areas such as air, wind, clouds, breath and flight. The cloud pieces were very evocative and I particularly liked Ian McKeever’s three works entitled ‘… and the sky dreamt it was the sea’ shown in the image above. The historic paintings of clouds by Turner and Constable were also a treat to see close up. The works linked to flight were relevant to my current Battle of Britain commission especially one by Eric Ravilious painted shortly before he was lost flying off Iceland in 1942. However, flight also encompassed hot air balloons, barrage balloons and the movement of birds. Breath was linked to several pieces of glasswork linking the idea of ephemerality, biology, glass blowing and mist. It was a fascinating subject and with the promise of visualising the invisible was one I couldn’t miss. It runs until 3 September and is worth a visit if you’re in Bristol.

Monday 24 July 2017

Lace study day

Gail Baxter and I recently ran a lace study day for the Crafts Study Centre at Farnham. The lace was all taken from the textile collection at the University for the Creative Arts and we aimed the day at those who had no knowledge of lace. The textile archive includes several pieces of lovely lace and other smaller samples so it is quite a mixed collection. We decided to base the day on techniques mainly to show the range of ways in which lace can be made. We started with a talk about contemporary lace then moved on to the collection beginning with bobbin lace including pieced laces like Honiton, continuous laces such as Bedfordshire and Eastern European tape laces. We then moved on to needlelace, and mixed needle and bobbin lace, of which the College has some lovely pieces. After that we looked at the needlerun laces including tambour and Carrickmacross, which led onto Irish crochet. We then showed some lovely examples of Shetland knitted lace from the collection and finished the day with examples of machine made lace and some other laces which didn’t fit into any of the other groups. We had a lovely group of participants and I hope we left them with a good overview of the many ways in which lace can be made.

Thursday 20 July 2017

Laser cut lace

I’ve been looking at laser cutting this week and have discovered that like most techniques there is much more to it than meets the eye. For a start the machines aren’t just used for cutting but can also be used to engrave and score materials so are much more versatile than I thought. The book I’ve bought to help me learn about it is ‘Laser cutting for fashion and textiles’ by Laura Berens Baker, which provides 14 very clear tutorials explaining how to set up the Illustrator and CAD files needed to instruct the machine. I was interested to see that you use different coloured lines for different kinds of cut, in a similar way to the drafts for machine lace, which use different colours to indicate different thread movements and thus the type of stitch made. Although I love the effects produced by laser cutting I’m not sure I would enjoy all the computer work involved, my textile work is generally an antidote to sitting at the computer writing so I’m not sure adding more desk work is the way forward for me, but I’ll give it a go.

Wednesday 12 July 2017

Sampling needlerun lace on net

I’ve been working on my Battle of Britain lace panel commission this week. I’ve worked out the dimensions of the three separate panels and how large each of my digitally printed images needs to be on each one. The images on the two outer panels will be separated by strips of needle run lace reflecting the missing people behind the construction of the original lace panel. The central panel will be different from the other two and will incorporate images, silk paper and needle run lace depicting images from the airforces involved in the Battle of Britain. I bought two different types of net last week and have been trying out some stitching on both of them to decide which one to use. I still need to try out some silk paper samples on them both and leave them to hang and see how they perform, but so far I’m finding the one with the slightly larger mesh easier to work with.

Wednesday 5 July 2017

Silk paper and stitching

It’s interesting how one thing leads onto or informs another. I’ve now decided to incorporate some silk paper and stitching into my contemporary response to the Battle of Britain lace panel – not something that was in my original plan for the project! I first used silk paper many years ago as a way of showing my small experimental free bobbin lace cells as it allowed them to be seen from both sides. I then started using it to make panels incorporating lace, which allowed me to make larger pieces for exhibitions. Also in some of those larger hangings I included other threads and beads into the silk paper. More recently, for my ‘Dust and dirt’ hanging I made large areas of silk paper and then stitched over the top to give the impression the silk paper was blending into the background fabric (see the image above). A technique I also used in the Miss Havisham veil to link silk paper and net. For my Battle of Britain panel I’ve decided to use silk paper to reflect the idea of the flames licking round St Paul’s Cathedral and to form the feathered wings of a soaring eagle. So from using silk paper just as a support for my lace it’s now playing an important part in the design itself. I need to do some sampling to see how it will work though so watch this space!

Wednesday 28 June 2017

Victorian lace from the Great exhibition

Another lovely lace design from the Art Journal Illustrated catalogue of the Great Exhibition of 1851. This white lace scarf imitating Brussels point was exhibited by Mr Urling of London, an ‘extensive manufacturer of lace’. Although the term manufacturer implies to us that Mr Urling produced the lace, this term was used in the lace trade to indicate someone who acted as the middleman for all the processes required between the lace machine operator and the person who bought the finished textile – I learnt this from Sheila Mason’s book on Nottingham lace. The catalogue describes the scarf by saying: ‘the date 1851 is encircled by the rose, thistle and shamrock. The straight lines of the border are embroidered in gold, and worked upon a clear fine net, for which Mr Urling long ago obtained a patent. The design for this scarf was, we believe, made expressly for the manufacturer by Miss Gann, a clever pupil of the Government School of Design.’ It is nice to see the designer acknowledged, and interesting to discover that the design was made for Mr Urling, which suggests that he was involved in the lace process from the beginning.

Wednesday 21 June 2017

Fashionable lace bonnets from 1831

These very fancy bonnets decorated with lace are illustrated in my copy of The ladies pocket magazine of 1831. The one on the left is described as the front view of a half dress cap, composed of blonde lace embellished with twisted rouleaux of gauze ribbon. The view on the right shows the back view of a morning cap. This is described as being composed of English lace with a twisted band of gauze ribbon encircling the caul. Unfortunately the lace is not drawn very accurately and the design seems similar for both bonnets. It looks quite wide though and the caul of the morning cap seems to be made up of two gathered pieces of lace with the scalloped edges running down the centre of the head. The fashion correspondent for the magazine also informs us that ‘Headdresses of blond lace, forming a front in the cap style, but without any caul, and trimmed with light sprigs of flowers, are more in request for dinners of ceremony’. It’s nice to see lace being used for day and evening millinery.

Tuesday 13 June 2017

Free bobbin lace

Preparing a talk about my lace I’ve been looking back at some of the work I made when I started designing and making bobbin lace in a free style. The photo shows a detail from a necklace inspired by looking at flints in a museum. I drew and painted some of the flints to explore their shapes and the myriad colours they contain and decided to make some necklaces based on those images. For this one I first made a rough necklace shape using triangles of fabric in the colours of the flints, trying to bring out the different golds, browns and blues of the originals. I glued the shapes together and then worked bobbin lace over the top of them, using the edge of the fabric as my footside, and sewing in by piercing the fabric with a crochet hook, pulling through one thread of the worker pair and looping the other through it. I tried to keep the lace open so glimpses of the fabric could be seen behind it and worked round the necklace making triangular shapes with the lace. It’s interesting to see how something as sharp and angular as flint can be used to inspire bobbin lace.

Thursday 8 June 2017

Lace at the Great Exhibition 1851

I was delighted recently to buy a copy of The Art Journal Illustrated Catalogue of the Great Exhibition showing beautiful engravings of many of the items exhibited including some of the lace. The image here shows the border of a Brussels lace veil exhibited by M Delehaye and notes that the company also exhibited gracefully designed lace handkerchiefs, although sadly none are depicted in the catalogue. The caption to the lace says ‘Brussels lace, that magnet of attraction to ladies, is contributed in great abundance and beauty, by many famed manufacturers of the Belgian capital’ so a visitor to the exhibition would clearly have seen many more beautiful examples of lace. What has struck me is how clearly the engravings depict the details of each item in the catalogue, whether they are textiles, metals, ceramics, glass, furniture or machinery. It must have been a mammoth task to draw and engrave so many items in such detail, yet as far as I can see there is no acknowledgement of any of the people involved in the production of the catalogue, in the same way as the craftsmen who produced all the beautiful exhibits remain nameless.

Thursday 1 June 2017

Photographs for Battle of Britain lace commission

I spent a very useful day in London visiting all the places depicted on the Battle of Britain lace panel and taking contemporary photographs of the sites. It’s interesting to see how some places have been restored completely and look no different such as Buckingham Palace and the Guildhall, while others like the City Temple have been changed quite radically, and some such as the buildings in Queen Victoria Street have been swept away and replaced by a modern building. London has changed a lot since 1940 and several of the original views are now obscured by modern buildings and trees, however the aim was to photograph them as they are today which is what we achieved. The last venue on our itinerary was Buckingham Palace so I also visited The Queen’s Gallery, and saw the exhibition of Canaletto’s paintings of Venice and some of Rome. Both cities have changed little over the years so it proved to be an interesting contrast with London.

Wednesday 24 May 2017

Lace in fashion in 1831

I was delighted to buy a lovely little book recently called ‘The Ladies Pocket Magazine’ printed in 1831. It includes all sorts of snippets of information, poems, stories and tips on etiquette, but what attracted me to it in the first place were the hand painted engravings of fashions. The two illustrated here are a dinner dress and a walking dress. The accompanying text describes the dinner dress as ‘a dress of gold coloured gaze popeline over white satin, the corsage cut rather high, and made with a little fullness is finished by a falling tucker of blond lace’. The skirt is also decorated with ‘very narrow blond lace’. The walking dress is described as a ‘gros de Naples dress’ and the colour as ‘a new shade of Chinese green’. The lace in this one isn’t specified it just says ‘lace collarette and gauze scarf’. The author then describes the latest new fashions (presumably from London). This is followed by a section on Parisian fashions in which two specific outfits are described (a dinner dress and an opera dress) although sadly there are no illustrations of these two especially as the dinner ensemble includes a blond lace cap. Although the information is scanty, my little book is providing a fascinating insight into the fashions and concerns of 1831.

Monday 22 May 2017

Belladonna lace

The Belladonna lace is underway! See the blog of 10 May for the creation of the design and the thinking behind it. I decided to go with a simple pattern of a leaf and two berries either side, which is quick to work and doesn’t require any adding or removing of pairs as I work. I will have to make quite a length of it to go round the edge of a veil so I do want something quick and relatively easy to work. I’m making it in black because it’s supposed to be a mourning veil. However, because black thread always seems to fill the space more fully than white I’m trying to keep the design fairly open. I’m working the small berries in whole stitch and the leaf shape in half stitch. I decided to add a pair of gold threads on both the upper and lower edge to give it a touch of glamour and to suggest that the mourning may not be entirely sincere! I now need to determine how long the piece needs to be and to time myself working a repeat so I can see how long it will take me to complete the whole thing.

Wednesday 17 May 2017

Lace at Gawthorpe Hall

I visited the lovely Gawthorpe Hall in Burnley this week. Not only is it a beautiful house it also contains the extensive lace and textile collection established by Rachel Kay-Shuttleworth. I was there specifically to see the Battle of Britain commemorative lace panel, which is of special importance to the Collection, first because it adds to the lace collection and also because Richard the 2nd Lord Shuttleworth was in Fighter Command and died in the Battle of Britain. It was fascinating to see the panel laid out and to be able to examine it carefully – the shading and depth of the images achieved by the machine curtain lace is astounding. As you may know I’ve been commissioned by Nottingham Trent University in collaboration with the Textile Society to produce a contemporary response to the panel and my work together with the original panel will be exhibited at Gawthorpe Hall from July to November 2018. Therefore yesterday was also a chance to see the room in which the work will be shown, to take some measurements and generally do a bit of planning. I’ve come back with lots of diagrams, ideas and photos and now need to sort them all out!

Thursday 11 May 2017

Michael Brennand-Wood

It was interesting to hear Michael Brennand-Wood in conversation with Liz Cooper at the Crafts Study Centre talking about his work in the current exhibition entitled ‘Artists meet their makers’. The exhibition, curated by Liz, celebrates recent collaborations between Master Weavers from the West Dean Tapestry Studios and well known artists. Michael talked about his collaboration with Master Weaver Phil Sanderson to produce ‘Transformer’ a tapestry formed from a fusion of images taken from international lace and textile traditions to assemble the shape of a transformer. Rather than Michael giving Phil a completed artwork to reproduce, the two men worked together to produce the final piece.
Michael sent Phil images, from which he produced samples, and together by remixing the images the final work was produced. Asked about the collaborative process Michael said he knew Phil well and trusted his judgement and praised his skill at mixing subtle colours to interpret the design. Liz commented on the care taken to dye the range of colours required. Michael’s only criticism was that he would have liked the piece to have been larger. Phil agreed and said he too would have preferred a larger piece. Phil also noted that the aim of tapestry weaving is not to copy the artist’s design blindly but to retain the essence of the artist’s work within a tapestry framework - something beautifully achieved in this case. If you want to see the piece for yourself the exhibition is at the Crafts Study Centre, Farnham until 1 July.

Wednesday 10 May 2017

Design ideas for another gothic lace veil

Having talked about my early bobbin lace designs last time I thought I’d show you my latest lace design ideas this time. Some of you may know that I produced a body of work for the Knitting and stitching show last year on the theme of veils – all of them linked to nineteenth century gothic heroines or writers in some way. Although that exhibition is over I still have ideas for more veils so have started putting some thoughts on paper. The one I’m working on at the moment will be another black veil and will suggest a widow’s mourning veil. However, the bobbin lace trim around the edge of the veil will incorporate the leaves and berries of the poisonous deadly nightshade (Atropa belladonna) suggesting that the widow’s state might not be entirely unexpected! I’m thinking of including a slight touch of gold in the lace too, just to suggest that the widow may be aiming for glamour rather than mourning and perhaps has come into money! The veil will be titled ‘Belladonna’.

Wednesday 3 May 2017

Designing bobbin lace

Preparing a talk on designing bobbin lace made me go back and look at some of my earliest attempts at designing. These pears were one of my first designs and are basically outlines with fillings in the central areas. My inspiration came from two places, first of all, the garden, as we have several pear trees, but also Ann Collier’s book ‘Creative design in bobbin lace’. Her book gave me the confidence to have a go at designing and showed the way by describing how braid lace can be used to form the outline of a design. She also has a chapter on filling stitches that can be included within in the braid outline to give the design more interest and make the lace more stable. For this design, I first drew the outline of the pear as a continuous braid, allowing a split in the central area for the pip. Then selected some plait and picot fillings that suggested the texture of pears for the interior. Once I’d finished my bobbin lace pears I then needle laced some leaves incorporating wire into the edges to give them a slightly more three-dimensional appearance. It is a simple design, but for me it represents a huge step as it started me on a journey of lace design that I’m still enjoying.

Wednesday 26 April 2017

Inspiration for an installation

I’ve been looking through old copies of Craft magazine and came across some inspiration for an installation I’m designing. I’ve been commissioned to produce a contemporary response to the Battle of Britain lace commemorative panel and as part of my response I would like to design an installation commemorating the airmen who lost their lives during the series of battles that constitute the Battle of Britain. I would like to produce a work that fills the room so Chiharu Shiota’s piece ‘In Between’ which fills the room with threads she uses to ‘draw in the air’ seemed very apposite as a way of linking lives with the air and the land. Angela Woodhouse’s ‘The waiting game’ also struck a chord, not because of her subject matter, but because I have been considering the use of parachutes and this suggested the idea of using a vast parachute to fill the room. Najla ElZein’s installation ‘The wind portal’ also suggested the propellers of vast numbers of aircraft. None of these ideas were what the original artists had in mind and I will not be copying any of them, but they have been very useful in crystallising ideas that have been running through my head and will help me define my own installation

Tuesday 18 April 2017

Embroidered sleeve ruffles

I’ve been reading a beautiful book by Heather Toomer called ‘Embroidered with white’ which describes the eighteenth century fashion for Dresden lace and whitework in general. It is lavishly illustrated with photographs of lace and also includes drawings and patterns by Elspeth Reed, in the same style as those used in Janet Arnold’s books. Heather explains that sleeve ruffles in this period were made separately from the chemise and gathered onto a tape. They would have been sewn onto the band at the end of the chemise sleeve for wear, but would have been removed for laundering as they required special care. Rather than being circular many of them had a wider section that fell below the elbow such as the one in the image. They were often made in sets with perhaps a matching apron and cap. Although the ruffle in the picture only has one layer they were often made with several layers and some were embellished with the addition of a lace edging. They are beautiful items and with the current fashion for ruffled sleeves perhaps they’ll make a come back?

Tuesday 11 April 2017

Lace in Rome

I haven’t found much lace in Rome but did come across several ecclesiastical shops selling vestments for priests, which had some lace in their windows. The selection here all came from one shop and included a variety of types. The main image shows needle lace and cutwork.

While the second image includes some handmade bobbin lace as well as chemical lace and the tape lace that is common in Brugges but made in the Far East. I assume they’re used to edge vestments and other church linen such as altar cloths.

Wednesday 29 March 2017

Brise-bise lace curtains

I keep coming across the term brise-bise in my curtain research so decided to find out more. Brise-bise or Brisby net curtains are short curtains that hang across the lower part of the window. The name comes from the French for ‘wind breaker’. They tend to have a channel along the selvedge for a rod or wire to be passed through, which is attached to either side of the window and often a scalloped lower edge. They were popular in the early twentieth century, hung across the lower part of a sash window. CafĂ© curtains are similar, short curtains, which became popular in the 1950s. They could be hung singly but were sometimes hung in tiers with one curtain across the upper part of the window and another over the lower part. Like brise-bise curtains they were often made with a channel for a hanging rod or sometimes had tab tops or loops through which the rod was inserted.

Wednesday 22 March 2017

Nottingham curtain lace

I’ve just spent a couple of days in Nottingham researching curtain lace, in particular the lace company J B Walker. The company was founded in the 1840s by Benjamin Walker who was one of the pioneers of lace curtain making. Like many lace companies it has had a complicated history since then, with different parts of the family specialising in different aspects of the business as well as various sales, mergers and acquisitions. The company history is fascinating but I was also interested to see some of the products of the ‘drapery and napery’ side of the company, basically curtains, tablecloths and bedspreads. The image above is a tablecloth made from a cotton and terylene mix, which gives a slightly more solid feel compared with a tablecloth made of cotton, but is softer than one made of terylene thread alone. It was also interesting to see drafts of lace patterns squared off and painted for the lace curtain machines as well as some day books used by John Walker describing meetings, thread prices and visits to factories, giving a good picture of the day to day running of the company.

Friday 17 March 2017

More lace in the Fashion Museum, Bath

I saw the exhibition A history of fashion in 100 objects at the Fashion Museum in Bath and was most interested to see what lace it included. The first showcase includes some beautiful embroidered and lace embellished gloves so I was not disappointed. There were small lace edgings in some of the dress on show but it wasn’t until the section on Regency fashion that lace became prominent. A frock from 1817 of madras lace (shown in the image on the left) was very delicate. According to the caption, the development of machine made net in 1809 meant that all over lace dresses were very popular at this time. A stunning example of a dress incorporating lace was an 1860s dress of pale green silk with applied black machine lace combined with a Bucks point handmade bobbin lace collar.

A red and white 1870 dress with bustle and low dĂ©colletage also included some pretty blonde style lace around the neckline. There was not much lace on show in the later, more modern, sections of the exhibition – probably because the interesting lace dresses were on show in the concurrent Lace in fashion exhibition. I did think the 2011 House of McQueen silk tulle embroidered gown by Sarah Burton was quite lace-like though.

Tuesday 14 March 2017

Fashion doll

I was intrigued to see this fashion doll and her wardrobe at the Fashion Museum in Bath because it reminded me of the teenage doll I had as a child. This one is called Miss Virginia Lachasse and she was modelled on Virginia Woodford, the house model for Lachasse of Mayfair. She was made in 1954 to raise money for the Greater London Fund for the Blind. Her clothes were made to scale in the Lachasse workrooms, her stockings were made by Aristoc and her cosmetics by Yardley. She even has tiny gloves and a handbag.

Friday 10 March 2017

Parchment lace

I saw this lovely dress at the Fashion Museum in Bath. It is a court dress from the 1600s and is the oldest dress in their collection. The fabric shimmers because although the warp is silk, the weft is silver metal thread which catches the light. It is decorated with parchment lace (see the close up on the left of the image). It gets its name because the larger elements of the pattern are formed from flat strips of parchment wrapped in silk thread. They are incorporated into the silk bobbin lace as it is worked. (The image combines two photographs from the book Treasures published by the Museum)