Thursday 20 December 2018

Early filet lace designs

I’m hoping to spend some time over the Christmas break reading more about the history of filet lace and some of the early designs. I’ll be starting with Pauline Knight’s two books which contain a lot of historical information. I’ve only dipped into them before, mainly to find out how to produce the net background required for filet lace and to learn how to work the stitches. I have to confess that despite learning how to make the net I used finer meshed machine-made net to work the stitches. One of the things I’m interested in is whether there are albums of design sources for these early pieces of filet and if so whether machine curtain lace designers would have had access to them when producing their designs. Curtain lace and filet lace are both based on square grids and it would make sense for the later designers to use or adapt the patterns of the early ones.  

Thursday 13 December 2018

Friendship lace bobbins

These three inscribed bone lace bobbins all celebrate friendship. ‘May our friendship never part’ and ‘When this you see remember me’ were both probably made by James Compton who lived in Deanshanger in Buckinghamshire from 1824 to 1889. The alternate red and blue letters were made by drilling holes in the bone which were then filled with powdered colour mixed with gum Arabic. The other bobbin inscribed ‘Don’t forget me’ was probably produced by William Brown who lived in Cranfield from 1793 to 1872. His letters are more elaborate than Compton’s and tend to have a slight serif. I love using these bobbins that celebrate friendships forged well over 100 years ago and which link us to the lacemakers of the nineteenth century.

Wednesday 5 December 2018

Lace inspired by geology

Geology seems an unusual subject for lace but some of the lace I exhibited at the Makit Fair last weekend was a series of work inspired by geological formations and flints. It includes a group of necklaces made up from layers of free lace worked one onto the next by sewing the edge into the layer above as I worked them. The colours of these pieces were based on the strata of different levels of soils and rock and a detail of one is shown above.
The colours of the flint laces were based on the myriad of colours seen on flints in museum studies. Some of these are necklaces, such as the section shown above which links lace and fabric in a large lace collar. For this one the fabric collar was made first and then the lace made as a continuous circle around the fabric sewing into the fabric as I went. Some of the other flint pieces are small handmade silk boxes with lace lids worked round a wire shape allowing the lace to be seen from both sides when the lids are raised.
Although the hard, solid edges of rocks and flints provide a complete contrast to the fluidity of lace they do make an interesting starting point for lace designs.

Wednesday 28 November 2018

Lace exhibition at Cranmore Park Makit Fair

I’m looking forward to exhibiting some of my lace at the Cranmore Park Makit Fair on Saturday. I’ve decided to show some of my veils inspired by the gothic and some work based on scientific themes. The black veil in the image was inspired by the story of Dracula and includes references to fangs and blood drops in the lace design and red glass beads. ‘Belladonna’ is another black bobbin lace veil, celebrating the deadly nightshade plant, and suggesting that the widow may have had a hand in her husband’s demise.
‘Pinned down’ in the photo above has a fringe of pins which sparkle from a distance, reflecting the allure of marriage to the gothic heroine, but the sharp pins reflect the hard reality of married life. Other white veils include one celebrating the brief married life of Charlotte Bronte and another reflecting Jane Austen’s equivocal views of marriage.
Much of the scientific lace represents biological images such as cells and other tissues, as well as some reflecting geological strata and flint structures. There will be both large and smaller works and most are bobbin lace. The veils are either black or white but the scientific lace includes subtle colours so there is quite a variety of styles and work. If you come to the Fair do come and say hello.    

Wednesday 21 November 2018

Designing all over lace patterns

Researching lace patterns in the archive this week has made me think about the way all-over lace designs are produced. The laces we were looking at were all designs from the early 1900s. Most lace designers at that time followed a national curriculum at art schools but there were also several books about design that they could consult. For example in Modern practical design, the author provides some diagrams showing how units of pattern can be repeated and positioned in ‘drops’. This can be based on square, diamond or zigzag shapes in a horizontal or vertical alignment. There are two ways of using repeat patterns as they can either be emphasised or disguised. In many geometric designs the repeats are emphasised and made a feature of the lace, whereas many floral and scrolled designs are repeated in a way that disguises the repeat and gives the appearance of a continuous all-over design. The designs we saw this week ranged from simple small square motifs to large floral repeats approximately 50 cm square with overlapping leaves and scrolls, but they all followed the same system of repeats and drops.

Friday 16 November 2018

Battle of Britain lace exhibition at Bentley Priory

It’s been a busy couple of weeks taking down my Battle of Britain lace exhibition at Gawthorpe Hall and rehanging it all at Bentley Priory in London. The venue at Bentley Priory is an oval white cube exhibition space with doors spaced round the sides, resulting in eight areas for display, with a column in the centre of the room, so quite different from the space at Gawthorpe.

We decided to hang the panels on the righthand section facing you as you enter the room and some of the original and contemporary photographs and information of the lefthand side to balance them. It’s interesting to see some of the photographs that inspired the original panel in conjunction with their contemporary counterparts, which are included in the new panels. Also because the new central panel did not show up very well against the white walls, I mounted it on grey fabric which shows up the design of sweeping aircraft. The column in the centre of the room is surrounded by artefacts linked to machine lace production. The parachute installation also radiates from that central column to cascade down the outer walls forming an immersive experience as you walk round the room.

The exhibition opens on Saturday and runs until 30 March 2019. For details of opening times see the Bentley Priory website. If you come and visit make sure you also see the original Battle of Britain lace panel, which is beautifully framed and hangs in the main hall.

Wednesday 7 November 2018

Moving my Battle of Britain lace panels

It’s been a busy week taking down my Battle of Britain lace exhibition at Gawthorpe Hall and getting everything ready for its next outing at Bentley Priory next week. It was sad to take the exhibition down as Gawthorpe has been such a lovely venue but exciting to think how it can all be displayed at a new site. Dismantling everything was very easy and it all came down quite quickly. The panels were simple to take down and roll up but the parachute installation was more of a challenge as the parachutes were hung in rows with others hanging over the line in pairs and they had become quite tangled. I decided not to try and untangle it all in situ but to tip each row into separate bin bags and deal with it all in my studio this week, which means I’ve spent all week disentangling parachutes. The experience is rather like untangling the bobbins on a lace pillow that has been tipped upside down! Each row of parachutes is taking about 3 hours to separate and repack so it was a good decision to do the work at home. I’m also finding I have a few repairs to torn or broken parachute shapes, but it will all be ready for rehanging at Bentley Priory next week.

Thursday 1 November 2018

Fabric Africa: Stories told through textiles

I enjoyed this small exhibition of African fabrics and clothing at Bristol Museum and Art Gallery. It is a brief overview of the subject which focuses on particular topics such as communicative cloth, commemorative cloth and the origins of patterns. It notes that much of what is known as ‘Africa cloth’ was instead made in Europe imitating a style from Indonesia and then sold in West Africa. This style originated in the early 1800s when the Dutch tried to copy Japanese batik designs to sell in Indonesia. However, the mechanised process they used led to crackling in the final product, which was not popular in Indonesia, but it proved popular with men from Ghana who worked in the colony, so the Dutch began selling it in Africa.

The section on communicative cloth focuses on the rectangular cotton cloth known as the kanga, which is worn as a body or head wrapper. These bold designs are surrounded by a border and include slogans that can be ‘messages to a lover or moral warnings to society’. In contrast to these more personal messages, commemorative cloths are worn by members of political parties to show their support during elections. The two shown in the image above represent the Malawi Congress party from the 1970s, and the renaming of Swaziland to the kingdom of eSwatini on 19 April 2018. As you can see from the images the exhibition includes far more and is worth further investigation. It runs until 19 May 2019 so there’s plenty of time to catch it.

Wednesday 24 October 2018

Ebb’n’flow lace exhibition

I enjoyed Jane Atkinson’s exhibition Ebb’n’flow at Walford Mill this week. It’s a contemporary bobbin lace response to the effects of climate change on an area of the country that Jane studies daily. There are several large hangings in subtle colours inspired by plants such as teasel, fennel, thistle, willow (detail above) and silver birch, these are beautifully hung to allow movement, while other pieces such as timber and mudlark are displayed draped as scarves showing the versatility of lace as fabric and canvas. One of my favourite pieces was ‘Oystercatchers on the trawl’, a panel of black lace that beautifully depicts the birds’ flight. In the accompanying book Jane describes how this work was designed on a log grid and required the addition of extra pairs of bobbins to produce the dense figures against the light open grid background. 
The book also includes some lovely close up images of ‘Oxygen’ a beautiful depiction of transitory bubble formations in Stanpit Marsh, rendered in four oblong panels that hang alongside one another to make the complete image (there's one panel in image above). As well as the main exhibition of Jane’s work there are showcases with pieces by other well known lacemakers, including jewellery by Denise Watts, Lauran Sundin and Hanne Behrens, sculptural pieces by Ann Alison, Sylvia Piddington and Anne Dyer, wearable lace by Sue McLaggan, figurative work by Pierre Fouche and dolls by Denise Watts reflecting women’s lives. The exhibition runs in two venues in Wimborne until 28 October and is definitely worth a visit.

Friday 19 October 2018

Decorative Art lace curtain

This lovely curtain design is similar to one I saw in the Nottingham archive earlier in the week. It mixes elements of Art Nouveau and traditional designs and is advertised in the Peach company catalogue for 1904. It is described as a ‘design in the new style of decorative art’. Although it includes Art Nouveau style panels and images such as the large stylised roses, twisting stems and drooping flowers it still conforms to the traditional curtain panel design of two outer borders with a scalloped edge, a lighter central panel and a more dense bottom border. It is 60 inches wide and can be bought in two lengths, either 3 and a half or 4 yards long, at 12 shillings per pair or 13/6 per pair depending on the size. Samuel Peach was a well known lace manufacturer in Nottingham, established in 1857, and clearly produced quite a range of curtain designs as well as other lace.

Thursday 11 October 2018

Rose ground lace

Rose ground is one of my favourite lace filling stitches - I love the structural lattice form of it. There are several ways of working the stitches and Pam Nottingham includes six varieties in a rose ground sampler in her book The technique of Torchon lace. The one in the picture is one of my favourites, which is cloth stitch and twist on the outer pairs and half stitch pin half stitch in the inner pins. I also like the variation with half stitch on the outer pairs and half stitch pin half stitch on the inner pairs. They both have a similar block like appearance but the first one gives a more defined square look to the pattern. I think it works well as a ground and also as a block (as in the image above) or as a diagonal run of just one square linked to the next by a corner. The other variations in Nottingham’s book use different combinations of stitches and twists for the central pins, such as cloth stitch and twist, or an extra half stitch but I’m sticking to this one for the pattern I’m working here.

Wednesday 3 October 2018

Joan of Arc lace panel

I took this photo of the Joan of Arc lace panel at Calais Lace Museum. It depicts scenes from the life of Joan of Arc including her triumphant inspiration on the battle field and her death at the stake. It is a panel of curtain lace and was made by the Nottingham lace company of Dobson and Browne for their stand at the 1881 Paris exhibition. This panel was also the inspiration for the Battle of Britain lace panel made by Dobson and Browne 60 years later. The story is that in 1942 the Managing Director of the company was talking to colleagues at the company bemoaning the fact that so few old pieces of lace had been preserved. One of them then went and found the Joan of Arc panel in a cupboard and showed it to him. He was so impressed by it that he suggested the company should produce a lace panel commemorating the Battle of Britain. Both panels are a similar size and follow a similar style, having individual scenes down each border and a central area with larger images, all finished with a scalloped edging. The Joan of Arc panel was bought by the Calais Museum in 2009 and added to their collection.

Wednesday 26 September 2018

Lace pillows

This roller pillow is one of my favourites for demonstrating with as it shows off the lace and bobbins nicely and, because of the roller, doesn’t require any tricky moving up when you have people watching you! If I’m working on something smaller or thinner I use my travel pillow, basically because it’s portable so I can take it with me and work on my lap. It’s a block pillow so it’s also easy to move up the lace as you work, although because of it’s size the amount you can do before having to move up is limited. For bigger pieces I have a lovely block pillow, which has three large blocks running all the way down the centre. I find that one is quite versatile but it does have to be supported on a table. If I’m making something very large I use a huge piece of polystyrene covered in plastic and a cloth – I find bits come off it if it isn’t covered. I also use polystyrene if the lace I’m making is going to be stiffened and in that case I cover the pillow in plastic as well as the pattern if I’m using one. I have tried other pillows in the past, such as bolster and domed types, but my lace seems to be better suited to something flat that can be moved up easily.

Thursday 20 September 2018

Corner design for lace or embroidery

I found this lovely little corner design for sale in Bruges and bought it along with some other design pieces. I don’t know if it was designed for lace or embroidery but the principles of design are the same. I think the flower motif has been cleverly drawn in an up-sweeping line so that it can be used in a run along the edge of the work and also fills the space in the corner to move seamlessly on to the next run of flowers. In effect there is no need to alter the design for the corner. However, what I find surprising is that it hasn’t been very accurately drawn. The squares lines dividing the motif cut off the leaves at different points, and the dots around the outer border are not evenly spaced. Also the central block of the design seems to include a section of acanthus leaves that don’t bear much relation to the roses round the border and appear to have been cut from another design. Nor do the design lines align with those round the border. I think this little design must have been taken from the designer’s sketchbook and it was probably a preliminary drawing to try out a few ideas before the production of a commercial design.

Wednesday 12 September 2018

Lace decorated devotional pictures

I was interested to see a fascinating exhibition of these lace-decorated devotional images in the Kantcentrum in Bruges. They show images of saints or the holy family and are decorated with lace borders, they often have a prayer written on the back and many were associated with specific points in the Christian calendar. The cards in the exhibition were mainly produced by publishers in Paris after 1830 and were distributed at catechism classes and after church services. Many were personalised and given as a record of first communion or as memorial cards at funerals. Most of them have a punched frame of lace, rather like a paper doily or the laser cut lace of today. However on a previous visit to Bruges I saw some that had surrounds that looked like lace prickings and many that included pricked designs, like lace grounds, within the main design. I didn’t see any of these in the current exhibition, but the information board said that Antwerp was the centre for the production of these cards from the sixteenth to the eighteenth century, so perhaps they were earlier designs. I need to do some more research!

Thursday 6 September 2018

Filet lace stitches

I bought an interesting little piece of filet lace in Bruges recently which includes quite a variety of stitches. The central motif shows darning or linen stitch overlaid with leaves, which are worked in a similar way to bobbin lace ones by running a long thread the length of the leaf shape, catching it in the linen stitch and then back to the centre again and then weaving over and under, across the two threads, to form the leaf shape. There is an explanation of how to do it in Therese de Dillmot’s little encyclopaedia of needlework. There is also some simple outlining, to form a gimp around the central petal shapes, although it doesn’t follow the outline of the linen stitch very accurately! The central motif is ringed by loop stitch in a finer thread which is worked in one direction by looping the thread over the square meshes leaving a loop between stitches which is then worked through on the return journey in the opposite direction. You can also see some star shapes in the photo which are made by loping the thread round the square mesh in a lazy daisy fashion. I was also intrigued to see that the ends of the threads are knotted off quite crudely in places – I suspect the worker was being paid piece rates and was hoping no one would be laundering the finished mat so it wouldn’t unravel.

Friday 31 August 2018

Developing my website

I’m pleased with my new website which I think is more professional looking than my old one and shows off my lace more effectively. That is hardly surprising as I produced the previous website myself and the new one has been produced for me by Bright Sea Media. One of the reasons I paid for a professional design was that I needed a new website and I was already having trouble finding the time to update my old one so I knew I’d never find the time to develop a new site. Mind you, even getting someone else to do a website for you still requires quite a lot of work – you have to decide how many pages you need and provide the text and photos for them, all labelled and with captions. However having a deadline to get the information to the designer meant I got it done rather than postponing it, which is what would have happened if I’d been doing it myself. There were also other bonuses to using a design company that I hadn’t really considered. For example they made helpful suggestions about the layout, which made the site much more user friendly, and have included a contact page which allows me to assemble a mailing list. They also help with promoting the site on social media which is a good way of getting it to new audiences. I’m very pleased with the result – see what you think.

Thursday 23 August 2018

Lace in Flanders: History and contemporary art

This sumptuous book by Martine Bruggeman has been produced as part of the World Lace Congress that included the Living lace exhibition and other events in Bruges as well as exhibitions and activities in other Belgian lace cities during August. The book is excellent, it includes over 300 pages and is bursting with informative articles and beautiful photographs. There is a large section on historical lace and the development of lace, including a chapter on more recent developments which are often not covered in other books. The theme of the Congress is that lace is a living craft and art form and that while the historical side is interesting it should inform the future not anchor it to the past. In this spirit of building on what has gone before, Martine includes sections on the different types of Flanders lace, including information about inspirational teachers who are currently teaching them. There are also sections on contemporary lace groups and individual artists, and I am honoured to be included among them. The book concludes with summaries of the talks we heard at the congress in Bruges. The book is profusely illustrated with hundreds of beautiful pictures of antique and contemporary lace and the articles are interesting and informative. It is a valuable addition to the bookshelf, giving an overview of where lace is today. It is a lovely book.   

Saturday 18 August 2018

Living lace exhibition in Bruges

The Living lace exhibition and the World Lace Congress in Bruges have been well worth visiting. The exhibition has some interesting contemporary work which is beautifully displayed. There is also a separate exhibition of some lovely lace jewellery by Lauran Sundin, Peter Quijo and others, as well as amazing historical pieces of lace including intricate Brussels lace and some lovely Chantilly. There are also stands for the different types of laces being made today with examples of antique and modern work as the ethos of the exhibition is that lace is a living vibrant fabric. As well as the lace there are also a number of suppliers and I’ve already succumbed to some books and pieces of old lace! However the exhibition is not the only event, we’ve also been fortunate to hear some interesting lectures on contemporary lace, as well as Belgian laces including war lace and lace from the museums in Brussels and Antwerp. Sprang was the topic of another lecture and I was amazed to discover how versatile it is and how widespread throughout the world. There are also some smaller exhibitions around the city linked to the event including one describing the social history of lace in Bruges through old photographs and another of students work. We’ve also taken the opportunity to visit the Kantcentrum and the lace fences so have seen all types of lace varying from the minute and precious to the monumental – it has been a fascinating few days.   

Saturday 11 August 2018

Exhibiting lace in Bruges

I’m looking forward to exhibiting at the World Lace Congress in Bruges next week and I’ve been busy deciding what to show on my stand. I think it will be mainly my veils based on nineteenth century novels, as that is my most recent body of work. It will also be the first time I’ve exhibited my ‘Belladonna’ veil which I finished in the summer. As well as those, I’ve been considering taking some earlier pieces such as my three hangings about memory loss, as they show different techniques and their length would also balance out some of the longer veils. I’m going to plan a mock up in the studio to see what would fit in the space and which pieces go together nicely. Another concern is getting the pieces to Bruges – I’m travelling from the UK by train so everything has to be quite portable and pack down well. Luckily most of my work is light and rolls up or folds easily. I’m looking forward to seeing the other exhibitions once mine is hung. There seem to be exhibitions throughout Bruges and some interesting lectures on the Saturday which I’m looking forward to hearing.

Friday 3 August 2018

Italian filet lace curtains

I bought a pair of lovely handmade filet lace curtains in an Italian market recently. The stallholder claimed they were made in Burano 20 years ago. They are certainly beautiful and entirely handmade - even the filet net the pattern is worked on to is handmade. Having made filet lace as part of the City and Guilds qualification I know it is not as easy to make as it seems! The net is worked with a type of buttonhole stitch over a stick of the right width to ensure the squares are all the same size. As I remember the hardest part is starting the net, once the work is established you get into a rhythm and producing the subsequent rows of squares is straightforward, although time consuming. Working the pattern is much more complicated. It looks as if you just darn the squares you want filled, but in fact the thread is woven through the squares in such a way that each square has two horizontal and two vertical threads – no more no less. That means that the sequence the thread is going to take has to be worked out before you start – it’s rather like those children’s puzzles in which you have to find the path from A to B without crossing any square twice. I’m delighted with my new curtains and certainly appreciate the work that’s gone in to them.   

Sunday 29 July 2018

Lace ruffs

I’ve been interested in lace ruffs for many years and have a collection of photographs of them, many from portraits like this lovely miniature in the V&A collection. It was painted by Nicholas Hilliard and depicts his first wife Alice Brandon when she was 22. It also includes the year in which it was made, 1578, which is useful for dating the lace. She wears a very full lace ruff with a wide edging of bobbin lace, generally referred to as ‘bone lace’ at the time. Gilian Dye has done a lot of research into these early laces and her series of books explain how the lace was constructed. The main stitches were plaits, cloth stitch and a lock stitch, which is less familiar today. The lace would have been attached to fine linen gathered onto a band which required starching and goffering to form the loops of the ruff. Janet Arnold’s book ‘Patterns of fashion 4’ explains the process with beautiful drawings and illustrations and even gives instructions for making a ruff.

Sunday 22 July 2018

‘From Lesters’ lace bobbin

This interesting lace bobbin is inscribed ‘From Lesters’ and is thought to have been given to lacemakers by the lace buyer Thomas Lester for good work. The Lester family were lace buyers in Bedford and had a shop there where they collected work from the local lacemakers. They used the bobbins for advertising and also as a reward for good work. It is claimed that Lester would give one of these bobbins to a girl if her work was particularly good and clean. However, T L Huetson in his book ‘Lace and bobbins’ relates a story that if the lace was dirty or badly made Lester would invite the girl to choose a bobbin from a drawer and then shut the drawer quickly pinching her fingers. Huetson does say this story is unlikely though because the lacemakers he spoke to whose older relatives knew Lester thought it was out of character. The bobbin is made by the person the Springetts name the ‘blunt end’ man in their book ‘Success to the lace pillow’ who was working between 1868 and 1874.

Wednesday 11 July 2018

Collaborative projects

Having just installed my parachute installation as part of my response to the Battle of Britain lace panel I attended the Craft and text conference on Monday. It was a very interesting day with some great presentations but the one that interested me most was by Lynn Setterington on her project ‘Sew near – Sew far’ which she carried out in collaboration with Bronte Parsonage Museum in Haworth. She engaged with various local groups, inviting participants to embroider their own names on fabric, which was then joined into long lengths, and used to write the pseudonyms of the three Bronte sisters, Charlotte, Emily and Anne, outdoors on the Yorkshire moors. These huge signatures, imprinted on the landscape, released the Bronte sisters from the museum and reunited them with the moors that inspired them. My parachutes were also made in collaboration with a museum in my case, Bentley Priory Museum, the headquarters of fighter command during World War II. Listening to Lynn’s talk, I was struck by how members of the public become involved in these projects and how it brings people together, often from different walks of life. It’s also interesting for the artist to engage with the public in such a close way and an honour that people will give up their time to help produce a collaborative work. It is also a technical challenge to develop a task that is adaptable for different levels of abilities, so that everyone can take part whatever skills they have. Collaborative projects benefit the artist and the participants and working together in that way seems to lead to a greater understanding of art and art projects in the public consciousness.  

Wednesday 4 July 2018

Installing 'Battle of Britain: then and now' lace

The early part of this week was taken up with installing my contemporary Battle of Britain lace panels and the associated parachute installation at Gawthorpe Hall in Lancashire. The hall is a beautiful old building and my work is being shown in a lovely room with mullioned windows adjacent to a room where the original Battle of Britain panel owned by the Gawthorpe Textile Collection (GTC) is being exhibited. On a previous visit I had discussed with Jenny Waterson, the Learning Curator at GTC, how the work would be displayed, so we knew where everything would go before we started the hang. Gail Baxter had kindly come with me to help as well so the three of us started by hanging my three new lace panels. We discussed whether to leave them hanging straight down the wall or set them off the wall, and decided that the shadows looked better with the panels slightly forward from the wall. The next thing to do was to fill the long case in the room with some background information about the panels and some lace equipment. Once all of that was done we started hanging the parachute installation. Although I had planned it in my mind I hadn’t had the space in my studio to actually hang the parachutes so I was a bit apprehensive about whether it would fit in the space and look effective. I needn’t have worried though as the hanging system worked well and although it was time consuming the installation looked good when it was finished – taking it down will be another matter however! Many, many thanks to Gail and Jenny for all their help in making it happen.  

Thursday 28 June 2018

Swiss and combination lace machine stitching

I’ve been studying some of my images of the original Battle of Britain lace panel trying to determine the different stitches used in it. The books on the panel say the lace is Swiss and combination and I’ve been trying to find out what that means. Apparently, the Swiss guide bar is linked to the bottom board threads, which are usually the second finest in the machine. Lace samples I’ve seen labelled as Swiss include the V shaped stitching seen in the photograph and it can vary in length and width depending on how many threads it crosses or moves down per stitch. It can also be fine and close together or thicker and more spaced out depending on the thread used to produce it. The book I have about ‘Lace furnishing manufacture’ by Keith Harding gives detailed instructions for the gears and Jacquard cards required for all types of stitch combinations. Discussing Swiss and combination he says that the warp bar makes a single nip combination on one motion and the Swiss bar makes its effect on the other motion, so they are working together to produce the final lace. I can’t help feeling it would be much easier to understand if I could see the machine in operation rather than trying to work it out from diagrams!

Thursday 21 June 2018

Craft Study Tour to Gawthorpe Hall

I was delighted to travel to Gawthorpe Hall yesterday to take part in the Crafting Futures UK Textile/Craft Study Tour. There were seven people on the tour, all craft curators or practitioners from Malaysia, Myanmar, Thailand and the Philippines and it was interesting finding out about their practices and the collections held in the museums they had come from. They had already had a busy week visiting textile collections and museums in Nottingham and Manchester as well as places in between. At Gawthorpe they were given a guided tour of the collection on display, to show how the permanent collection is curated and displayed, and then a talk about Ruth Singer’s contemporary exhibition showing how she was inspired by the pincushions in the collection to make a body of work. We also saw the original Battle of Britain commemorative lace panel displayed in the Hall and then I gave an illustrated talk about my contemporary response to it, to explain the impetus for the commission and how I went about producing the new work. We then had a quick look round the Hall and visited the gift shop before travelling down to London by train. I was pleased to be part of such an interested and interesting group and hope I have the opportunity to meet up with them again in the future. The Tour was organised by Craftspace on behalf of the British Council.  

Thursday 14 June 2018

Tambour lace

I spent a couple of days at Newstead Abbey this week doing some research in the Nottingham textile archive. I was there to study some lace curtain designs and associated material but incidentally saw some lovely tambour lace equipment which started a discussion about how they were used. Tambour lace is basically a line of chain stitching on a net background, and I used that technique for the curtains in my ‘Whispering’ series. In contrast to my basic hook shown in the image above, the archive holds a very fine tambour hook, the stem of which is made of bone or ivory, which was light to hold and would have been a pleasure to work with. The top of it also unscrewed to reveal a small hollow in which spare metal hooks would have been stored. When I made my tambour lace I pinned my pattern below the net, but this meant I had to keep moving it out of the way to make the chain stitches, which is time consuming. In the archive I saw a large printing block which would have been used to print a design onto net. This would have made the work of tambouring much quicker and easier; both considerations when the work is being made commercially. However, whether you have a pinned or printed pattern, it is essential to keep the net taught in a frame and hold the hook vertically as you work, so it doesn’t get caught on the net. The way I’ve attached my net also allows the work to be moved up easily when you move to a new section.

Wednesday 6 June 2018

Belladonna black lace veil

Now I’ve finished my belladonna lace I’m busy making it up into a veil. I had some netting left over from my previous series of black veils and luckily there’s enough for another one so I’ve just cut it out. I’ve also bought some artificial flowers and a small comb to attach it to. I couldn’t decide whether to attach the lace to the edge of the net so it would hang down or to lay it over the bottom of the veil so it has a backing of net. I think I’m going to attach it like a braid along the net just in case it is ever worn – you never know, I might visit Whitby - as I’m worried it’s such an open design it might catch on fingernails or earings. The idea behind the veil is that it is a mourning veil but the lace trim, edged with gold, represents the poison deadly nightshade (Atropa belladonna) and suggests that the widow may not be too surprised or upset by her condition! It is part of my series of veils linked to the gothic and will be displayed as part of my exhibition in Bruges in August.

Wednesday 30 May 2018

Battle of Britain lace parachute installation

I’m busy assembling the parachutes to accompany my Battle of Britain lace panel exhibitions. All the parachute shapes have been made by visitors and volunteers at Bentley Priory Museum in Stanmore London, the headquarters of Fighter Command during the Battle of Britain. They have made 1497 in all, one for each allied airman killed or mortally wounded during the battle. The idea is that we will commemorate them all by suspending the parachute shapes in an installation. I’m busily attaching them to fishing wire by the centre of the circle so they hang down forming a line of spiral shapes. I’m adding 50 to each line but also attaching some parachutes in pairs with a thread joining them so they can be hung over the line and lie below the level of those on the line. These paired shapes can also move more freely so can turn in the breeze giving a better impression of a parachute descending. I’m hoping that the two types of hanging system will allow the parachutes to be seen and also allow some movement. They also have to be transported to two different venues to be exhibited and then repacked so the system also has to be fairly simple to hang and pack. Apart from the practicalities, my overwhelming feeling has been the realisation that each one represents a lost life – it’s a sobering thought as there are so many of them. 

Wednesday 23 May 2018

Commonwealth flowers in lace

I was intrigued to see that Megan Markle’s lovely wedding veil was edged with the floral emblems of the 53 Commonwealth countries. For my recent Battle of Britain panel I also use the floral emblems of some Commonwealth countries to represent the allied airforces involved in the battle (some are shown in the image above). My task was easier than that of the royal embroiderers as I only had a few to find, however, I do understand the process they must have gone through as trying to embroider plants you’ve never seen is not easy. I had to look on the internet for images of wattle (for Australia) and silver fern (for New Zealand), which is probably what the royal embroiderers had to do, and I guess that Harry Cross, the designer of the original Battle of Britain panel in the 1940s would have had to use an encylopaedia. Our styles of lace are also different, Harry Cross’s design was produced on a lace machine, while mine is handmade needlerun lace on net. I haven’t seen good close ups of the royal lace yet, but some of it seems to be applied to the net rather than worked into it – it may be a mixture of the two. Some of the images I’ve seen suggest that the flowers were embroidered on organza which was then cut out and appliqued on to the veil. It is certainly stunning and I hope to see some more images soon.

Thursday 17 May 2018

Lace designs in Nottingham

I’ve had a very exciting few days in Nottingham looking at the lace and designs in several archives. The lace in the image is a lovely piece of mixed Brussels lace I saw in the lace archive at Nottingham Trent University. The main focus of my visit though was to look at curtain lace designs. I saw so many interesting things but the highlights were a collection in the textile archive at Newstead Abbey from the Town family, which included three generations of curtain lace designers and some lovely designs for curtains and napery from the John Ivor Belton collection in the industrial archive at Nottingham Castle. Those two collections were quite a contrast because the Town one included lots of inspiration drawing and training pieces with some small and medium size designs whereas the Belton collection included some very large designs that covered the entire table. Both included letters and newspaper cuttings and images the designers had kept for inspiration. It’s so good to find that this material is being kept and archived. I’ll definitely be returning to do more research.    

Thursday 10 May 2018

Fashions at the 1831 royal coronation

My 1831 edition of The Ladies Pocket Magazine contains a section about the coronation of King William IV and Queen Adelaide  - shown in the image in her coronation robes. It explains the details of the service, the order of precedence and the regalia but unfortunately does not go into great detail about the clothes and lace worn by the royal couple. However, a chapter entitled ‘Reminiscences of the coronation’, which is set out as a letter from Lady Julia F to her friend the Hon Maria is much more entertaining. She tells us her chaperone was her cross aunt, Lady Jane, and how they disagreed about most of the fashions, which her aunt found quite revealing, either because they were low cut or for their use of flimsy fabric. Julia describes the fashions in general as comprising a lot of tulle, crape, and gauze, mainly in white and light colours. There seems to be a fair amount of lace on show, mainly blond, which her aunt seemed to disapprove of, preferring point lace. Julia describes her own dress as ‘white gauze de Paris, which offers a perfect imitation of blonde lace over a white gros de Naples slip’. She continues ‘A low corsage, trimmed with a double fall of blond lace, set on very full, comparatively narrow at the back and front, but forming very deep epaulettes’. It seems blond lace was more fashionable than the point lace preferred by Lady Jane. Julia is quite forthright about some of the fashions she sees, describing some of the noble ladies as beautifully dressed but others as vulgar with mismatched clothes. Unfortunately she does not describe the queen’s attire only saying ‘Everyone agreed that the queen never looked so well’. The service was clearly quite lengthy and Julia reports that many of the ladies produced biscuits or sandwiches from their reticules and one even produced a small silver goblet and bottle of Madeira wine. Inevitably Lady Jane considered eating in church vulgar and would not partake, as for sharing wine from the silver cup ‘ she shrank from it as if it had been a poisoned chalice’.

Thursday 3 May 2018

Needle lace sample

This beautiful little piece of needle lace epitomises what I love about lace – with just a needle and thread, and obviously a lot of skill, you can make the most exquisite lace. The whole thing is handmade using mainly buttonhole stitches looped through the row above. There is very little shading or use of filling stitches but the fineness of the design and the outlining with the thicker cordonette gives it some depth. In fact I think the worker has used a cordonette composed of a bundle of the threads she used to make the main lace rather than using a thicker thread. The stitches in the more open ground work are a little haphazard but I quite like that evidence that the work is handmade. There is also a bit of variation in the motifs at the dip of each arch with some having more ground stitches than others. It’s a lovely piece of lace and I bought it for next to nothing in a bundle with some other lace samples!

Wednesday 25 April 2018

Painted lace curtains

I was recently given an interesting lace curtain (thank you Gail!) - the image shows a detail of the main motif. It has been coloured not by using differently dyed threads within the lace, but by printing colour on to it after it was made. This was probably a quicker way to add colour than rethreading the lace machine with different coloured threads, which would also have had to be wound on to bobbins and disguised within the body of the lace net in areas where they weren't needed. A similar technique of printing on to lace is used in the famous Magga Dan lace panel made by Stiebels of Nottingham, which celebrates the ship’s history of Antarctic exploration and includes ice floes, explorers and penguins in its design. The lace curtain in the picture also shows an interesting use of floss thread to form the crests of the waves and the main design of the setting sun. The lines of floss representing the rays of the sun would also have caught the light when hung at a window and, especially with the yellow colouring on them, would have given a warm depth to the design.

Wednesday 18 April 2018

Mother and babe lace bobbins

I’ve got four mother and babe style bobbins on my lace pillow at the moment. Christine and David Springett in their book ‘Success to the lace pillow’ define mother and babe bobbins as ‘miniature bobbin or bobbins enclosed in a pierced shank’. Three of the bobbins in the image would definitely fit that classification. They would probably describe the wooden bobbin as a lantern as it encloses small beads in a pierced shank. However it is also a whittled bobbin, which they describe separately, and the bobbin and beads were probably carved from a single piece of wood. T L Huetson in his book ‘Lace and bobbins’ describes all bobbins with pierced shanks as church window bobbins whether they contain a smaller baby bobbin, beads or nothing at all. The Springetts use the term church window only for bobbins with empty pierced shanks. I think the Springetts have done an enormous amount of research into bobbins and their makers and I find their use of the different terms helpful in describing bobbins more precisely so I think I’ll stick with their terminology.

Wednesday 11 April 2018

Instructions for tambour lace

I’ve been looking at some of the net-based embroidered and needle-run laces as I found the technique quite successful in my Battle of Britain lace panels. This week I’ve been reading Irish lace making by Eileen C O’Connor (the image comes from the booklet), as these types of lace are particularly associated with Ireland and, in fact, are now most commonly known as Limerick and Carrickmacross lace. I was very surprised to read her instructions for tambour lace which say that the working net should be tacked onto the design marked on linen paper. If you have ever done any tambour lace you will realise that the tambour hook passes through the net and picks up the thread that makes the chain stitch from below the net, therefore you can’t do it with something tacked on to the net! Further reading discloses that the designs ‘are intended to be worked with a needle and thread’. That makes sense as far as the working is concerned – you are making chain stitches with a needle and thread through the net, above the pattern, which is removed when the lace is finished. However, can it be described as tambour lace? I had always thought the definition of tambour lace was that it was made with a tambour hook. Perhaps that’s wrong, and it just describes lace patterns on net utilising chain stitch, after all if the result is the same does the technique matter?

Wednesday 4 April 2018

Mind maps and lace nerves

Now I’ve finished my Battle of Britain lace commission I’ve been thinking about a new project and I’ve been considering extending my work on the link between biology, science and lace. The image is of Mind maps a piece I made several years ago looking at nerves and body tissues, using a combination of bobbin lace and silk paper. I’m interested in making something on a larger scale using the needle run lace technique I used for the central panel of the Battle of Britain commission. I’ve been looking at some histology book to get inspiration from the images of tissues they contain but I don’t want the work to be purely representational. I’m interested in looking at sight and the cells of the eye which would also tie in with my recent net curtain and veiling projects on concealing and revealing and things that can be seen and not seen. I haven’t quite worked it out yet but that’s the way my mind is working at the moment!

Wednesday 28 March 2018

Special Nottingham lace curtain parcels

After all the excitement of conferences and exhibitions I’m back doing some curtain research this week. In particular I’ve been looking at a catalogue from the Peach company of Nottingham for 1904. Peach sold lace, curtains, linens and hosiery but I’ve been studying their special lace curtain parcels. These were assembled and sold for specific types of houses. The cheapest at 12/6 is the Triumph parcel which ‘is recommended where large size curtains are not required’ and boasts of their hard-wearing qualities. However, although aimed at the less well-off home, it contains one pair of curtains for a dining room, a sitting room, and a bedroom as well as one lace guipure sideboard cover and two fancy lace mats. There are also country house parcels, a frilled curtain parcel, a wedding present parcel and at £5 10/- a mansion parcel! The latter includes two pairs of curtains for the drawing room and two for the dining room. One pair for the breakfast room and four pairs for bedrooms. Also for the bedroom are a lace bedspread, a table centre, and six dressing table mats, while for the living rooms there are two antimacassars, a table cover and a sideboard cover. These are all described as ‘exquisite designs and the curtains are the best machinery can produce’ – however they may not be so hard-wearing!

Wednesday 21 March 2018

Lace Unveiled at Newstead Abbey, Nottingham

This exhibition of contemporary art presented throughout the Abbey was part of the Lace Unravelled programme. It included two new works by Shane Waltener. A canopy of threads woven between a row of yew trees alongside the medieval fishpond, which framed the view along the walk and invited contemplation (see pic below); and a tangled web of threads across the centre of a four poster bed in the house, reminiscent of fairy tales and mysteries.
Another interesting work was ‘Boom’ by Joy Buttress and Manolis Papastavrou which visually expressed the rise and fall of the lace factories in Nottingham, based on information from Sheila Mason’s book. It includes a drawing of part of a lace parasol cover and a film of it being made (see pic at top). Lucy Brown’s ‘The secrets we keep from ourselves’, an installation of deconstructed second hand clothes and lace, filled Lord Byron’s dressing room and explored her interest in the revealing and concealing qualities of lace. In another bedroom, Joana Vasconcelos used crochet lace to challenge ideas about femininity, tradition and modernity, by using this ‘feminine’ product to mummify two ferocious ceramic wolves. It was interesting to see lace inspiring such different projects and also to see the works exhibited in the house rather than in a white cube space.

Friday 16 March 2018

Lace Unravelled at Newstead Abbey

The theme of the second day of the Lace Unravelled symposium was ‘creative lace’. Wollfgang Buttress opened the day with a fascinating talk about expressing the ephemeral through light and architecture, in particular the ideas behind his Hive structure which is now at Kew Gardens. Sara Robertson and Sarah Taylor then told us about their collaboration with MYB Textiles and Mike Stoane Lighting to produce light emitting lace, some of which is on display in Lace Unarchived at Bonington Gallery. Sylvie Marot then discussed her forthcoming exhibition at the Calais Lace Museum entitled ‘Haute dentelle’ combining couture fashion and lace. During the lunch break we had the opportunity to see the artworks displayed throughout the house as part of the Public programme (more of that in another blog). After lunch, Cecilia Heffer described her research exploring ephemeral material processes in a contemporary lace practice. She considers the making of textile as a contemporary response to the transient nature of place. Shane Waltener, who had constructed two installations at Newstead – one in the Abbey grounds and the other in a bedroom - talked about his site specific work. The day was summarised by Janis Jefferies who reflected on the themes of the symposium and facilitated a final discussion. It was a fascinating day celebrating the ephemerality of lace and the continuing relevance of lace in practice today.

Thursday 15 March 2018

Lace unravelled at Wollaton Hall

Lace unravelled is a series of events in Nottingham celebrating the history and contemporary uses of lace. I’ve previously blogged about the Lace unarchived exhibition at Bonington Gallery which runs until the end of the month (see blog of 1 March). The day at Wollaton Hall was the first day of the symposium and is also the venue for my contemporary response to the Battle of Britain commemorative lace panel. The day started with a keynote talk by Sheila Mason about the history of the machine lace industry, followed by Ann Inscker and Judith Edgar discussing the mentoring sessions they have been running during which they have discovered some interesting lace history hidden within the Nottingham lace collection. Dr Amanda Briggs-Goode then spoke about the importance of the Lace Archive at Nottingham Trent University and it’s use within the School of Art and Design.

All the delegates were then taken to the Prospect Room to see my new lace panels and a facsimile of the original Battle of Britain lace panel. I talked about the genesis and production of the original panel and then discussed how I had designed and produced my own panels. After that we had a tour of the Nottingham Industrial Museum and were shown a working Leavers lace machine.

After lunch, Anne-Claire Laronde and Sophie Henwood talked about the lace held in the Calais Lace Museum and the uses of lace in contemporary fashion. They were followed by Professor David Hopkin discussing the use of lace tells (songs which the lacemakers sang as they worked) and the often dark stories they revealed. Lindsey Bristow, finished the day with a talk about the manufacture of plain net or bobbinet and its varied uses today such as conductive lace and in parachutes. I’m looking forward to another interesting day of talks tomorrow.

Wednesday 7 March 2018

Battle of Britain lace panels completed

I’ve finished my new Battle of Britain lace panels and they’ve been sent off for their first exhibition at Wollaton Hall in Nottingham. The image shows a detail of the central panel. They’ll be exhibited there as part of the Lace Unravelled event taking place throughout Nottingham over several days at the end of next week. I’ve been working on them for so long it seems strange to have finished them and no longer having them in the studio. Packing them up and sending them off seemed a bit like sending a child off to school for its first day – you hope all will go well but you are no longer in control and they have to make their own way! They will be exhibited at Wollaton from 10 to 18 March and I’ll be giving a talk about the whole project as part of the Lace Unravelled symposium on 15 March at Wollaton. After that they will be back home again until their next outing at Gawthorpe Hall in Lancashire between 7 July and 4 November, and then to Bentley Priory, London, from 17 November to 30 March 2019. I’m looking forward to seeing them displayed in the lovely Prospect Room at Wollaton Hall as they are quite large and it will be good to see the three of them all together with some space around them rather than squashed up in the studio.