Wednesday 18 December 2019

Lace edged cards

I saw an exhibition of these lace-edged devotional cards in Bruges last year. This one was produced by Turgis of Paris, probably in the nineteenth century, and depicts Saint Vincent de Paul and the children of charity. The Turgis company printed many types of cards celebrating different saints and the holy family; they were printed in black and white with a surround of punched out lace. The company also produced cards to celebrate personal life events, such as first communion. Most have a prayer on the reverse and were designed to be kept in a prayer book or bible. I like the way several different lace designs are used in this example and especially the way the stars, moon and tree are depicted on the left hand side – they made the scene seem quite Christmassy!

Wednesday 11 December 2019

Antique Christmas lace bobbins

I’ve been trying to find some antique Christmas lace bobbins for the festive season but have had no success. Many current bobbin makers produce bobbins celebrating Christmas but I have found no old ones and neither T L Huetson nor the Springetts mention them in their histories of lace bobbins. Both sources describe some religious bobbins and Huetson does record a bobbin inscribed ‘Easter’ which he thinks was given as a gift. Many are inscribed with Mary and Joseph but these could also be commemorating friends and family of the lacemaker as they were popular Christian names. I do have one inscribed Jesus though (see the pic above). For most lacemakers religion would have been an important part of their lives, shaping the calendar of the year with celebrations such as Easter and Christmas, but also their own personal lives with christenings, marriages and burials. Many would have followed nonconformist Christian doctrines which emphasise a personal relationship with God, hence the bobbins in the image with the messages ‘Thou O God seest mee’ and ‘Jesus for me died’. Other popular inscriptions were ‘God is love’, ‘Love one another’ and ‘I love Jesus yes I do I do’. I was surprised not to find any mention of Christmas bobbins especially as the Victorians keenly celebrated Christmas and many nonconformists wrote the carols we now sing at Christmas. Perhaps the gift of a bobbin at Christmas was considered unsuitable because it was a working tool and Christmas was considered a day of rest, like a Sunday. Or perhaps there was no spare money to buy bobbins at Christmas time. The nineteenth-century bobbin makers certainly don’t seem to have them in their general stock so there was clearly no demand for them.

Wednesday 4 December 2019

Japanese lace fan

Just to show that my interest in Japan and things Japanese goes back a long way I thought I’d blog about this Japanese lace fan I made for City and Guilds many years ago. I remember researching Japanese patterns for kimono fabric and finding one depicting weeping willows, on which I based this design, and another of fan shapes which inspired the idea of producing a single fan as a hanging. The leaves and stems are all lace plaits and leaves, with four plait crossings where they intersect. I also added small gold beads at intervals to catch the light and add some highlights. The golden full moon was also inspired by another kimono fabric. The sumptuous black, red and gold colours epitomised Japanese style to me and were picked out from the clothing of some Japanese dolls in my collection. As part of the C&G exam I remember producing design boards to accompany the lace with all these samples on them, as well as showing the various stages of the design process, stitch samples and images of the lace being made. It was a lot of work but a good exercise in recording every step and formalising the process of designing. I learnt a lot from it - it’s a great shame that C&G in lacemaking no longer exists.

Wednesday 27 November 2019

Printing and dyeing in Japan

It’s always interesting seeing other people’s tools and working processes. We were lucky in Japan to see several master craftsmen at work and also to see their workshops and some of the behind-the-scenes work of other people in their ateliers. Most wouldn’t allow photography in the studio but we were able to see some of the tools in museums. The image above is of a stencil and cutters in the Hosoo Gallery Museum. These stencils are widely used in Japan and we were lucky enough to see them being used in the Edo Komon stencil printing process in Tokyo. As well as stencil printing we also saw resist fabric painting in Kanazawa, which was a similar process to silk painting with fine gradations of tone producing beautiful effects. 

As well as printing and painting we also saw a variety of types of dyeing. The image shows a woman demonstrating the technique of arashi shibori in the tie dye museum at Arimatsu. There are two ways of doing this technique. She is using a fine hook to catch the material which she then softened in water to form a long tower which she twisted thread around. Her companion was doing basically the same process but didn’t use a hook just laid the fabric over an upright pin to push the farbic into a tower so she could wrap thread round it. Once the fabric has been dyed the threads are removed and a pattern of dots is revealed where the threads held the material. We then took part in a shibori workshop, luckily using a much easier technique. We folded a length of material into a triangular shape and then depending on which part of the triangle we dipped in the dye baths formed various star like patterns on our cloth. I think we’d still be there twisting threads if we’d used the arashi technique!

Wednesday 20 November 2019

Textile study tour to Japan

I’ve just returned from a fascinating study tour exploring Japanese textiles as well as having a taste of ancient and modern Japanese culture. We travelled to Tokyo, Kyoto, Arimatsu, and Kanazawa as well as the world heritage site of Miyamachokita and visited the workshops of experts in stencil printing, various types of shibori dyeing, ikat weaving, indigo dyeing, and yuzen fabric painting. Many of these experts have been designated national living treasures and they were all the third or fourth generation of their family to continue their particular traditional technique. Their expertise and attention to detail was astounding. 

As well as visiting the ateliers of those master craftsmen, we also visited modern galleries and shops which exhibited and sold contemporary textiles. In Tokyo we visited Reiko Sudo’s stylish Nuno shop. Reiko showed us some beautiful textiles and many of us bought scarves and socks. In Kyoto we were met by Keiko Kawashima who had organised some fascinating opportunities for us including a visit to her own gallery GalleryGallery to see an exhibition of the work of Yasuko Fujino and hear an impromptu talk by Chiyoko Tanaka about her work. It was fascinating to hear how both of them approach their weaving practice. 

We also visited an exhibition of student textile work and a stunning display of different textiles in the Hosoo Gallery (image above). It was interesting to see how many of the traditional textile producers are developing new markets for their work as the use of textiles for kimonos is declining. The decline in the use of kimono was evident in the shops selling secondhand kimonos, jackets and obis, but all provided wonderful buying opportunities for those of us interested in textiles. One place where we did see families wearing kimonos was at a the Hiejinja shrine in Tokyo where there was a celebration of children aged 7, 5 and 3 years of age, all dressed traditionally and having their photos taken. That was just one of the lovely shrines and temples we visited during our trip. 

We also managed to fit in some interesting museum visits including those dedicated to indigo, shibori, weaving and gold leaf. Visiting the Miho Museum proved to be an experience as its position in the countryside among trees and streams and the fact it is situated on a split site, which involves entering it through a tunnel and walkway, made it seem like a pilgrimage. Once there the exhibits were beautifully displayed in the tranquil contemporary setting and there was an interesting exhibition of Bizen ceramics. In contrast, our final day was spent at the Teamlab digital exhibition in Tokyo (image above) which was an immersive light and sound experience – magical in its own way, which highlighted the combination of ancient and modern that is today’s Japan.

Wednesday 30 October 2019

Anne Bronte – Wedded bliss

I’ve finished my contribution ‘Wedded bliss’ for the Anne Bronte p200 exhibition celebrating the life and work of Anne Bronte on her 200th anniversary. All the contributors were given a page from her novel The tenant of Wildfell Hall and asked to make an artwork using the page and the same size as it. 200 pages from the novel have been allocated and the resulting artworks will be exhibited in Scarborough in January and February 2020. In my piece, the little veil with the fringe of pins references the sharp reality of marriage for Helen and many other 19th century women. From a distance the fringe sparkles with promise but closer inspection reveals its sharp edges. The harsh reality for Helen is that she has no influence over her dissolute husband and no legal right to remove her son from his malign influence. As a married woman she has no money or property of her own either, women had to wait until 1883 for the right to retain their own money on marriage. Anne Bronte was a supporter of women’s education and rights and this novel shows the harm that could result from the prevailing situation of inequality. In the novel, Helen bravely runs away from her husband with her son and, pretending to be a widow, maintains them both through her painting. She returns to her husband on her own terms solely to nurse him through his final illness. 

Wednesday 23 October 2019

The net curtain in the uncanny home

I’ve been busy writing recently and am pleased to say that Textile: the journal of cloth and culture has published another one of my papers. This one is entitled ‘The domestic veil: the net curtain in the uncanny home’ and is based on part of my PhD research. Basically it suggests that the net curtain embodies Freud’s description of the uncanny as the point of slippage between the homely and the unhomely because it lies on the borders of the home. The net curtain can be seen as a delicate furnishing as well as a barrier to the outside world and is thus used to reconsider women's equivocal experience of home as sanctuary and prison, based on tropes from Victorian gothic novels, but with contemporary parallels. Many Victorian gothic novels critiqued the idea of women being conflated with their homes and this research builds on that idea. The research is practice-based so the textile works are as important as the text and the paper includes some lovely images of them. Pins and needles pierce the curtain to mark the passing of time, referencing a cell-bound prisoner. Dust, memories and conversations are trapped within its sieve-like net. Experiences of claustrophobia, confinement and coercion are therefore revealed through the domestic veil of the net curtain. 
It was an interesting exercise trying to isolate a part of my research and rewrite it in a shorter form. However now I’ve done it I can see that there are other parts of the research that could be written up as papers so there could be more to work on. That won’t be for a while though as I’m currently writing a paper about some net curtains I’ve been researching in Nottingham. If you’re interested in reading ‘The domestic veil’ there are 50 free copies available via the following link

Wednesday 16 October 2019

Diana and Neptune filet lace panel

A few months ago I bought a filet lace panel of Diana and Neptune on ebay. It’s about 40 cm wide and about 150 cm long and nicely worked in ecru. I was very excited on my recent research trip to Nottingham to find a very similar piece in volume VI of a pattern book by Christian Stoll of Plauen which probably entered the lace archive at Nottingham as a source of inspiration for the students in the art school.
There are a few differences between my piece and the image in the book but they are obviously the same basic design. For example mine is labelled Diane rather than Diana, which is the more usual form given on the pattern. Mine is also missing a fish and a spear that appear in the book version, which you can see below.
The edges of both are different too. The design in the book is edged with a lozenge shaped pattern and the whole piece is inserted into fabric to make a curtain. Mine has a scalloped edge along the sides and bottom and has an integrated floral pattern along the top suggesting that it was a valance or designed to be sewn to the bottom of a curtain, there is no indication to suggest it has been sewn to anything though. I’ve been looking for links between these pattern books and lace curtain designs but to find a link to a piece I own was very exciting.

Thursday 10 October 2019

Researching lace in Nottingham

I’ve been enjoying a few days in Nottingham doing some lace research - well what better place to carry out lace research! I’ve been in the NTU Lace Archive looking at some designs and sketchbooks from a curtain lace designer I’m interested in, with a view to writing about his designing style and methods. As well as that I also saw some modern machine lace from a Chinese company presented in swish presentation packs with lovely fashion drawings suggesting some contemporary uses for the different types of lace. I was also lucky enough to hear Professor Amanda Briggs-Goode’s inaugural lecture on Wednesday evening in which she gave examples of four contemporary artists whose work has been inspired by lace archives. Having covered lace curtains, fashion, and fine art and time periods ranging from the 16th to the 21st century during my short time in Nottingham, I think it’s safe to say that lace archives are still relevant and inspirational.

Wednesday 2 October 2019

Anne Bronte p.200 art exhibition

I’m delighted to be part of the Anne Bronte p.200 project. The aim of the project is to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Anne’s birth and each artist has received a page from a vintage version of her most famous novel ‘The tenant of Wildfell Hall’. The artists can respond in any way they want but have to use the page and celebrate Anne’s life and/or her work in an artwork no bigger than the size of the original page. I’m a great fan of Anne and her work and she featured in my PhD research as she was a confirmed opponent of the separate spheres ethos that relegated women to the home and idealised marriage despite the abuse that could lead to. I also admire her personally as she was the only Bronte who actually left home and supported herself throughout her short life. The works will be exhibited in Scarborough in January and February next year and there will be an illustrated book to accompany the exhibition. As you can see I’m just playing with ideas at the moment but the final piece will definitely include lace and pins.

Wednesday 25 September 2019

Buying lace remnants

One of the things I love doing in fabric shops is rummaging through the remnant basket for odd lengths of lace. I like the serendipity of seeing what’s in there. It’s always a treat to find some interesting little snippets of lace and because they are generally the ends of the runs they are usually a bargain. It’s nice to be able to buy them for their own sake not because you have a particular use for them but just because they are attractive. I use many of them in lace projects but I have to admit many others are just added to my collection and brought out now and again to admire. I’m planning to use the lengths in the image in my new project about Amy Atkin – the first female machine lace designer.

Wednesday 18 September 2019

Paper published on the Battle of Britain lace panel

I’m delighted that my paper about the Battle of Britain lace panel and my associated commission has now been published in Textile journal. The paper focuses on the collaborative nature of the original panel and my response to it, and also considers the myths that have grown up around the panel. I’ve brought together information about the panel from the known sources and by comparing them have tried to establish facts about its design and production. I also discuss the rationale for my commission and both my textile response and the paper parachute installation. If you’re interested in reading it for yourself the publisher has made 50 copies available for free at the following link

Tuesday 10 September 2019

Blogging about lace

I’m taking part in the Seam Collective September Instagram challenge again this year (see blog of 28 August) and today’s theme is blogs so I thought I’d write about why I blog and what I blog about. I started the blog when I did my MA as we were encouraged to keep a record of our practice and the MA journey. I started writing about and photographing my work and also wrote about the exhibitions I visited and the conferences I attended – in fact anything and everything that fed into my practice. I found it soon became a useful record of all the things I’d seen and done. When I finished the MA I decided to continue with it because I enjoyed writing and the challenge of finding new aspects of lace to write about. I also wanted to promote lace and lacemaking and encourage more people to take an interest in them. I aim to write at least one post a week and it does make me get on with my work so I have something new to write about. It also focuses me when I go to exhibitions or meetings as I’m always looking for a way to summarise and give a taste of what I’ve seen. I also try and keep the blogs short so they are just quick snippets that can be read easily with a cup of coffee. Finding that I actually had some readers was a pleasant discovery and their feedback is very interesting and encouraging.

Wednesday 4 September 2019

Repaired bone lace bobbins

These three bone lace bobbins are interesting because although they were broken the owners were so attached to them that they repaired them in order to continue using them. The one on the left is inscribed with the message ‘Sweet love be mine and make me thine’ and although the neck was obviously broken at some time the lacemaker, or more probably her husband or the local bobbin dealer, has attached the shaft with the message to the neck of a wooden bobbin and sealed it in place with pewter bands so that it could continue to be used. The same has been done to the central bobbin which bears the name ‘Charls’ [Charles], although the new wooden neck has been attached in a more elegant manner with a pewter stud. The one on the right is inscribed ‘Jane Wesaley 1869’ and this one has not been repaired with a new neck, instead the neck has been whittled into a point to make a stiletto for broderie anglaise work. In this case the new point would be used to make holes or openings in fine cloth which are embroidered around with buttonhole stitches to make a decorative pattern. It’s nice to think that although these bobbins broke because they were so well used the lacemakers who owned them still wanted them to be part of their daily lives and gave them a new lease of life by repairing them.

Wednesday 28 August 2019

Seam Collective September Instagram textile challenge

I’m looking forward to taking part in the Seam Collective September Instagram challenge again this year. Seam Collective are a group of textile artists who originally got together after doing MA textile degrees at Bath Spa University. They have put together a list of 30 textile-related prompts – one for every day in September. The idea is that you respond to the prompt on your Instagram feed using the hashtag #SeptTextileLove so that everyone who is interested can find the posts. You don’t have to respond to every prompt but I like the challenge of trying to interpret each one even if I don’t have an immediate response to it. I managed to find 30 response to the challenge last year and really enjoyed seeing the images from the other participants and finding new artists to follow as well. If you’re interested in trying it for yourself you can find out more @seam_collective or on their blog

Wednesday 21 August 2019

Knitted lace medallions

I’ve been reading Mary Thomas’s Book of knitting patterns and came across a chapter on medallions. She says that medallion knitting was popular in the 18 and 19 centuries as people used round medallions as bonnet caps and those in other shapes for making up into bedspreads, blankets and cushions. Round medallions are also the basis for lace doilies as well. The image shows a detail of an early 18 century sampler of bonnet backs. She explains how to build up the shapes using four or more needles and shows how this can be done in a geometric or straight fashion or with a swirl or bias to form hexagonal shapes. When drawing up a chart for a medallion she notes that you have to put in the building units first and then add the ornamental units that make the pattern. That’s one of the things I like about Mary Thomas – she doesn’t just provide a pattern she explains how you can build your own.

Wednesday 14 August 2019

Brussels lace shawl

This beautiful Brussels lace mantle is illustrated in an interesting book I bought during my last visit to the Lace Guild. It’s a catalogue entitled Lace in fashion 1815 -1914 and was published to coincide with an exhibition of lace at Utrecht Museum in 1985. It includes some beautiful illustrations as well as two interesting essays about changing fashions for lace by Mary de Jong and Patricia Wardle (who also wrote the catalogue) and obviously brought together a range of lovely pieces from some of the major museums and collectors in the Netherlands. I thought the Brussels lace shawl, or more correctly mantle, in the illustration was an interesting example from the third quarter of the 19 century, as it is made of bobbin lace applied to machine net and embellished with needle made fillings, showing how all three types of lace could be combined. The design is also quite light and open and reminiscent of the Chantilly shawls that were also popular at this time. I wish I could have seen the original exhibition as it includes some lovely lace

Wednesday 7 August 2019

Plauen lace curtain design

I found this lovely design for a lace curtain in a folder of Plauen lace designs, it isn’t dated but they are probably from the early twentieth century. I blogged about Plauen lace a couple of weeks ago when I was researching lace collars. It is generally considered one of the chemical laces in which the design is embroidered on to a backing material using a Schiffli machine and once it’s completed the backing is burnt away chemically leaving the embroidery. This one seems to be quite an open design though so must have been embroidered on to net or a fine backing. I can’t find any Plauen lace curtains in any of my old lace sales catalogues but combination guipure curtains are being sold in 1904 for 17 shillings for a pair measuring 4 yards in length and 72 inches wide.

Tuesday 30 July 2019

War lace bobbins

These bobbins celebrate battles from the Crimean War (1853-1856). It was one of the first conflicts from which British newspaper correspondents sent back reports and photographs so the population at home were aware of the conflict and many lacemakers would have had relatives in the army and therefore had a personal interest in the outcome. The war began following arguments about access to Christian sites in Palestine and Russian attempts to obtain land in the area. In September 1854 the British, French and Turkish forces landed at Eupatoria and began marching to Sebastopol, the capital of Crimea and the base for the Tsar’s Black Sea fleet which threatened the Mediterranean. On the way they fought the Russians at several battles including Alma and Inkerman, which are also commemorated on the bobbins. The siege of Sebastopol lasted from October 1854 to September 1855. The conflict ended with the Treaty of Paris in which Russian power was curbed and the Turkish state was reinforced. The battles and the conflict clearly attracted public interest. These bobbins were probably made by James Compton and the Springetts in their book ‘Success to the lace pillow’ suggest that they were made as stock rather than as special orders so there was obviously a market for them.

Wednesday 17 July 2019

Lace collars from 1904

I found these lace collars being advertised in a catalogue by the Samuel Peach & Sons lace company dated 1904. It includes collars, stoles and scarves made from a variety of machine-made laces ranging in price from 1/ to 10/3. 

This circular collar in Plauen lace is almost 8 inches wide and cost 2/-. Plauen lace was popular at the time as it was quite intricate, yet reasonably priced. The design is embroidered using a Schiffli machine either on to a net background or on to a backing material which can then be burnt away chemically to leave the stitched pattern. The lace collar with long stole ends in the main image is guipure chemical lace also produced in this way. Pat Earnshaw in her book on machine laces includes four patent summaries from the late nineteenth century explaining different techniques for producing chemical lace. She also notes that ‘the manufacture of guipure lace was associated particularly with St Gall (Switzerland) and of net laces with Plauen (Saxony).
This scarf is labelled as being of real Maltese lace. It is 45 inches long, 6 inches wide and costs 10/3. From the illustration it is hard to tell whether it is handmade bobbin lace or a machine copy. It is much more likely to be machine made as at this time the Leavers lace machine was capable of producing a good imitation of Maltese bobbin lace. In contrast, the pattern seems irregular in places suggesting that it is handmade, although this may just be errors in the reproduction of the image, and it is more expensive than the other collars. The Peach company clearly imported lace from companies in Plauen and St Gall but whether they would have imported handmade lace from Malta I do not know. It just seems a different business approach. It’s a shame we can’t see the actual lace and know for sure.

Wednesday 10 July 2019

Filet lace panels depicting Jacobean figures

I saw this interesting piece of filet lace at the Lace Guild exhibition ‘Hidden in stores’ last month, labelled in the catalogue as depicting ‘the sons of Joseph’. It was loaned from the Dr Spriggs collection and is thought to have originated in Italy in about 1600. That date or slightly later fits in with the costumes of the figures in fashionable Jacobean dress. However, I think the panel actually depicts the sons of Jacob, as Joseph only had two sons and this is clearly a large panel with many characters. Jacob famously had 12 sons including Joseph, Benjamin and Levi whose names can be seen in the image. Their story is told in the Old Testament book of Genesis. Federico Vinciolo’s pattern book for lace and embroidery, published in 1587, includes several figures but these are in classical rather than contemporary dress. However many examples of filet lace from that time (there are some in the V&A) depict figures in fashionable costumes so perhaps these panels were one-off designs specifically created for this piece of lace.

Wednesday 3 July 2019

Marking time with lace and pins

I’ve been busy this week writing about net curtains and lace panels – one article about my Battle of Britain lace panels and the other about my PhD work. The Battle of Britain article looks at how the original panels were designed and made and how I went about producing my contemporary response to them. The other article is looking at the net curtain as a metaphor for women who feel home is both a sanctuary and a prison. The work is based on female gothic novels and sensation fiction from the nineteenth century, so books such as Jane Eyre and The woman in white, but with parallels to today. In the research I used pins and needles on net curtains to produce tally marks counting out units of time, as this sewing equipment would be what the gothic heroine had to hand to record her plight. I also use the idea of the net curtain trapping whispers, secrets and the memories of the home. It’s been interesting going back to the PhD work and rewriting it for a different publication – still a way to go though, it’s not finished yet. I might start counting off the days with pins!

Wednesday 26 June 2019

Fire: flashes to ashes in British Art

This thought-provoking exhibition at RWA Bristol looks at the depiction of fire over the last four centuries of British art. There are so many aspects of fire – it can be creative or destructive, put to industrial use or a homely presence that provides light and warmth. It has irreversible powers of transformation when used as a material. In short a fascinating subject for art.

The main gallery was dominated by Tim Shaw’s Man on fire, seen here with Sarah Pickering’s Match in the background. This huge figure of a man being consumed by fire, in a state between life and death, was originally conceived as a proposal for the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square and is a commentary on the invasion of Iraq. Pickering’s Match is an image of a replica of the first friction match made by John Walker in 1827. The exhibition combines history, industry and domesticity throughout. Many of the older paintings by such well known artists as Joseph Wright of Derby and Graham Sutherland celebrate the use of fire in industry, the former’s Blacksmith’s workshop brilliantly depicting the effect of heat on the smiths and the play of firelight on the spectators. Historical subject include J M W Turner’s Fire at the Tower of London and HMS Ark Royal in action by Eric Ravilious. 

The modern pieces that appealed to me most were those that used fire as material. Cornelia Parker’s Red hot poker drawings (in the image at the top) combine order and chaos in the neat folding of the pristine white paper pierced by the heat of the fire. I also liked Sian Bowen’s Gaze no 14 which used the heat of laser cutting to produce images on paper. Susan Hiller’s Measure by measure II (image above), a series of test tubes each containing the ashes of one of her paintings, which she had burned to destruction, reflected on the destructive nature of fire and the fleeting essence of life.
I also enjoyed the immersive nature of Sophie Clements’ There, After, a video installation of an explosive burning experience in the studio, filmed in the round and experienced in the dark with the accompanying crackling audio sounds of the burning process. Aoife van Linden Tol also uses fire performances to create her works of art, represented in the exhibition by the remains of the process; a detail of Copper blast is shown above.

This is just a taste of the pieces in the exhibition which varied from meticulously painted depictions of fire in industry, war and home, to conceptual ideas about the fragility of life. It certainly captured the brilliance of fire’s creative potential as well as its destructive power

Wednesday 19 June 2019

Lace designing: the beauty of asymmetry

I’ve long been a fan of asymmetrical designs and used that style in my own designs, like the one in the image above. I like to use the same elements in a design but subtly alter them throughout just to maintain interest and also, to be honest, make working it more interesting too. One of the pieces of lace I admired at the ‘Hidden in stores’ exhibition at the Lace Guild last week was a Honiton fan leaf worked by Emma Radford in about 1878 (see below).
I studied it for a while and I think one of the things that made it so attractive was that it wasn’t symmetrical. Although the edging was the same repeated motif all round, and several elements of the main design, such as the leaves and flowers, were the same they were arranged differently on both sides of the fan. Honiton and other pieced laces are obviously at an advantage here as you can move the motifs around to make a pleasing design once they have been made. So many fan designs are mirror images on both sides and although they may be beautifully worked it doesn’t always make for a good design. I think that so often we expect lace mats and fans to be symmetrical that when they aren’t it subconsciously makes us look again and appreciate the lace even more.

Wednesday 12 June 2019

Figures in lace at the Lace Guild

I went to see the ‘Hidden in stores’ exhibition at the Lace Guild this week. What a treat to see some beautiful lace loaned from the V&A collection and the Dr Spriggs Loan collection. There were some lovely pieces on display and I was struck by the number of them that included figures. The Brussels bobbin lace cravat end illustrated above, from the Spriggs collection, includes several figures playing musical instruments and may date from the 18 or 19 century. Variations of this design exist in other museums and the fact that it is composed of several separate motifs may have meant it was easy to reproduce.
The most obvious figurative piece that dominated the room was the filet lace panel from the Spriggs collection depicting the sons of Joseph with their accoutrements. This was one of the older examples (c 1600) of lace on show and had clearly been worked in separate panels which were then joined together. Another old piece, from the late 16 century, was a scalloped bobbin lace edging showing alternating images of a sheep and a man, probably used as domestic lace bordering a cloth. The catalogue notes that this lace includes woven almond shaped leaves instead of plaits and that this can be used to identify the lace as originating from Genoa or Milan. 

Another very interesting piece was a pair of lappets from the V&A, thought to include portraits of John Churchill the first Duke of Marlborough and his wife Sarah. These are made in Honiton lace and date from 1710-1720. It was unusual to include recognisable people in lace and these may have been made to indicate the wearer’s (or her husband’s!) political allegiance. 

One of my favourite pieces was a bobbin lace flounce, from the V&A, made using a braid lace with linen and silver thread. It was made in northern Italy in the late 17 century. The design, made up of braids and net, is quite solid but what is so attractive is all the little animals, people and angels concealed within it. The silver thread has tarnished now but when it was made it would have sparkled beautifully in candlelight. The final figurative piece in the exhibition was a coloured needlelace purse depicting Chinese figures. It dated from 1700 but looked quite modern in its use of colour and design.

I have only talked about the figurative pieces here, but there is much more to see, including fine Honiton and needle laces. The exhibition ends on 21 June so do try and visit before it closes.

Wednesday 5 June 2019

Buttonhole stitches in needle lace

Buttonhole stitches are so versatile - they are the basis of needle lace and are also used in white work, embroidery and general sewing. It never fails to amaze me how a skein of thread can be turned into the most delicate needle lace using the humble buttonhole stitch. Therese de Dillmont in her Encyclopedia of needlework explains how to execute the stitch in her section on plain sewing and describes many variations on the basic stitch in her chapter on needle-made laces. She shows how to make joining bars with picots and longer branched bars with double buttonhole stitches to form a more rigid structure. She also describes how to make various ground stitches using more open loosely formed buttonhole stitches, which she calls Brussels stitch. In total, she describes 40 needle lace stitches all based on the same buttonhole stitch model. The image shows a detail of some needle lace showing an open Brussels stitch, another worked over a guiding thread, and open stitches over a gimp composed of several threads forming joining bars. All made using the simple buttonhole stitch!

Wednesday 29 May 2019

Veiled threats: the ambiguity of pins

I love the ambiguous nature of pins – they are small, shiney and useful but have a sharp edge to them. Their attractive appearance masks a tendency to inflict hurt and pain randomly. Katherine Walker expressed it well in 1864 in her short story ‘The total depravity of inanimate things’, in which she humorously suggests that pins and needles, among other household objects, have a life of their own. She says ‘the similar tendency of pins and needles is universally understood and execrated, - their base secretiveness when searched for, and their incensing intrusion when one is off guard’. In ‘Pinned down’ the wedding veil I made fringed with pins, a detail of which is shown in the image above, they form a beautiful glistening fringe but on closer inspection reveal their true nature to comment on the sharp reality of matrimony. Interestingly Yvonne Verdier, in a study of folk tales in rural France, links pins to maidenhood, so they seem to be an appropriate edging for a white wedding veil.  

Wednesday 22 May 2019

Why do we make?

Why do we make? was one of the interesting questions explored at the ‘Craft(ing) the body’ conference held at UCA Farnham today. Although it wasn't the theme of the day it was a thread running through all the presentations. Professor Catherine Harper felt that there was a need to craft and that the interaction between the body and the thing being made was visceral. She commented that we don’t need craft but we desire it. Her keynote paper on ‘Chasing the impossible: crafting the intimate body’ compared the different approaches of female representation expressed in Judy Chicago’s Dinner party and Helen Chadwick’s Eat me, arguing that Chicago stylised and unified women as biologically feminine while Chadwick’s response was more personal and placed femininity between the biological and the social allowing multiple definitions. Interestingly the artists Gayle Matthias and Karina Thompson, who work in glass and textiles respectively, both said that it is only as mature artists that they have had the confidence to produce, exhibit and verbalise personal autobiographical work. The potter Gareth Mason noted that we make sense through craft, while artist Fiona Curran argued that craft is a form of discovery and curiosity. Daniel Fountain spoke of his practice, crafting a queer society in the form of nests from salvaged materials. The ceramicist David Jones speaking about his own practice noted that giving matter form is significant. He quoted Richard Sennett’s words that ‘making is thinking’ and Hannah Arendt’s idea that craft requires a narrative rather than mindless making. Jones argued that craft is not art or a subsidiary of art but lies parallel to it. During the question time many in the audience said they felt compelled to make, others said that they made because they had ideas to express and disseminate. Many agreed with Jones that what we can make goes beyond what we can see and thus produces nuanced layers of meaning.

Wednesday 15 May 2019

Amy Atkin machine lace designs

I’ve been busy studying the lace designs of Amy Atkin who claimed to be the first female designer of Nottingham machine lace. The reasons are twofold, first I want to do some academic research into her life and her designs, and second because I’m planning a practice-based response to her designs as well. The format for my own lace designs will be long thin rectangles so I’ve been trying to work elements of Amy’s designs into that shape and you can see my initial thoughts in the sketches above. Studying Amy’s designs, which are mainly deep valances or curtains rather than strips of lace, suggests that she designed a main focal element for the base of the lace and worked upwards. She favours designs that incorporate flowers and foliage, whether this was her preference or the favoured style of the time I don’t know. Some of the designs also have an Art deco feel to them which would have been a new influence at the time she was designing in the early twentieth century. I’m enjoying trying to get the feel of her style and find her flowing style of design is easy to work with and lends itself to handmade as well as machine made lace.

Wednesday 8 May 2019

Needle lace sampler of Susanna and the Elders

I saw this lovely needle lace sampler in the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford over the weekend; it is part of the Feller collection. The subject is the Biblical story of Susanna and the Elders, in which two lecherous Elders watch Susanna bathing and then accuse her of promiscuity. She is condemned to death until the prophet Daniel proves her innocence and the guilt of the two men. What intrigued me about the sampler was not the theme but the variety and technical skill of the different panels of needle lace. The top band drew my attention because from a distance I thought it was filet lace but it is actually a type of pulled work based on the grid of the fabric. The second band is much freer needle lace with some applied pieces and beads, although still maintaining the background grid of the underlying fabric. I love the subtle shading in the leaves, and what looks like two squirrels in the tree. The attitudes of the people in the story are beautifully depicted too – Susanna is quite rightly indignant at having her bathing interrupted. Originally the water would have sparkled and the beads in the pool would have glittered making the scene appear quite three dimensional. 
The third layer also keeps the grid but includes needle lace mermaids and boats and a central pattern that has an Art deco look to it and includes some tiny coral beads. The next layer is white cut and drawn work on a very fine scale and the final band is counted thread embroidery in a border pattern of lozenges and acorns. The whole piece is beautifully designed and made; it dates from the late 1600s.

Thursday 2 May 2019

Lace sleep cycle

I decided to depict the sleep cycle in bobbin lace and silk paper as they seemed appropriate media to use. I thought the silk paper would represent the unconscious dreamlike state of sleeping while the random lines of the bobbin lace show the way the mind flits from idea to idea during the dream stage of sleep. I based the work on a typical graph of the human sleep cycle, which I copied in a coarse thread. I made rectangular areas of random bobbin lace to represent each of the dream phases and combined them with the thread graph. The silk paper was worked round all of them to represent the unconscious state from which they emerge and to act as a practical binder to keep them all in place. The final piece is an ethereal dreamlike hanging that wafts gently in the breeze.

Wednesday 24 April 2019

Filet lace design book

I was lucky recently to buy a lovely book of filet lace designs. It’s called ‘Le filet ancient au point de reprise’ and it was published in Paris; unfortunately it isn’t dated but filet lace became popular in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. It is obviously one of a series and no instructions are given so the purchaser was expected to know how to work the designs. The information about how to make the net and work the reprise stitch used for all the designs could have been obtained from books on domestic crafts, many of which were available at the time. However, there are recommendations for the type of thread required to make the net and carry out the embroidery, depending on the number of squares required per centimetre. I’ve come across several of these design folios and they show how popular filet lace was. The designs can also be used for cross stitch and indeed any craft work based on a system of linked squares. The image shows how complicated some of these designs were and also how well the designers have achieved flowing lines even when working on a rigid grid format.

Wednesday 17 April 2019

Lace curtain designs

I’ve had a good week researching lace curtain designs both in the Lace Archive at Nottingham Trent University and in a private collection of designs. Unfortunately most of them are not attributed to the designer or dated and for many of them it’s even difficult to know who sold them. The image is of a design by Marcel Tuquet and it comes from a folio of his designs published by Christian Stoll of Plauen. The folio isn’t dated but they are all large bold designs which were fashionable at the end of the nineteenth century. Compilations of images like these were sold to lace and textile manufacturers as examples of good design and this folio is known to come from the studio of a lace producer. The idea was that they were used as inspiration and these pages are all marked with pencil and ink suggesting they were well used and studied.

Wednesday 10 April 2019

A Nottingham lace curtain collection

I’ve been writing an article about lace curtains this week. It’s mainly about a collection of curtains I’ve been studying in an archive, which were all produced at about the same time but for different markets. It’s been interesting finding out about the different lace curtain fashions and the associated window styles that influenced them. It seems that curtain styles do not change very quickly and many designs continued to be manufactured for several years. It’s also been interesting to see how some curtains have been altered, often to shorten them for use at smaller windows probably in the children’s or servants’ rooms when they were no longer fashionable for the main rooms of the house. I’ve also been looking at the factors influencing curtain styles including magazine articles, books dealing with decorating and managing a home, and even the international exhibitions that began with the Great Exhibition of 1851.