Wednesday 15 December 2021

Feminism, Amy Atkin and lace in Textile journal

 I’m delighted that my paper based on the life and work of Amy Atkin has now been published in Textile the Journal of Cloth and Culture. The title is ‘Neo-Victorianism, feminism and lace: Amy Atkin’s place at the dinner table.’ It was published online in the summer but is now in the printed journal which means I have some free copies to give away! As you will know by now if you follow this blog, Amy Atkin was the first female Nottingham machine lace designer but relinquished work on marriage as did so many other women of her time. The paper and my practice response focus on this aspect, looking at the domestic constraints women experienced at the beginning of the twentieth century and comparing Amy’s training and career with that of other female designers of the time, such as those at the Glasgow Art School. I used lace mats for my practice response entitled ‘The marriage bond’ which was inspired by the use of place settings in ‘The Dinner Party’ by the second wave feminist Judy Chicago. Each mat includes a lace design inspired by Amy’s work tacked in place to suggest how easily women’s careers can be torn away. They also include wording from the marriage ceremony ‘for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer’ highlighting the change in women’s circumstances on marriage. Neo-Victorianism reflects on the justification for using Amy’s life to comment on feminism from the viewpoint of the twenty-first century. If you’re interested there are 50 free copies available from the link below – first come first served!


Wednesday 8 December 2021

The pickadil

This strange object which looks like some type of ancient helmet is in fact an early seventeenth century pickadil which was used to support an open lace ruff or a standing band of linen and lace. It gave its name to the famous London street because a local tailor, named Roger Baker sold pickadils from his shop and house on what was originally Portugal Street but which subsequently became known as Piccadilly. 

Although the pickadil was used to support a lace ruff or band so only the lace could be seen from the front, it was designed to show at the back of the head. This example from the Victoria and Albert Museum reveals decorative stitching at the back and eyelet holes through which ribbons were slotted to attach it to a small stiffened collar on the gown. It is made up of several pasteboard sections joined together and covered in silk and is padded on the inside of the neck edge to make it more comfortable to wear. Making pickadils was skilled work and clearly very profitable in the case of Roger Baker.

Wednesday 1 December 2021

Stars in filet lace


I posted some images of filet lace earlier in the week and was asked how the star motifs were made. My answer was that I didn’t know but luckily I’ve found a woman who does – Therese de Dillmont, who has the answer to almost every needlework question in her amazing encyclopaedia. The star she shows us how to make in the book covers 16 squares of net. She tells us to fasten the thread to the centre of the panel then carry it in a diagonal line from left to right, under the far corner of the block and back to the opposite corner of the square, under the corner, and repeat (she repeats it three times).

Once you’ve done that you make the same stitches across the first diagonal to make an X. Then do the same with vertical and horizontal lines over the X to make a plus shape with the threads on top.

Once you’ve formed the basic star shape like this you weave the thread round in a circle over the straight threads and under the diagonals but not through the net and fasten off at the back. It sounds quite straightforward and does give a lovely effect. The example from the encyclopaedia has more rows of threads in it than the one in the top image but the latter was worked commercially so speed and sparing use of thread was probably more important than an ideal technique.

Wednesday 24 November 2021

Another Battle of Britain lace panel


I’ve just been given a Battle of Britain lace panel – not the original one made in the 1940s but one made to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the battle. They are both machine made lace, the original was made by Dobson and Browne on a Nottingham curtain machine and this one was made by the Cluny Lace Company on a raschel lace curtain machine. Having made my own lace panels based on the original design by Harry Cross I was interested to see which aspects this designer focussed on. He or she has included a dog fight in the sky which also takes up the centre of the original panel and from a design point of view I particularly like the spiral the stricken German aircraft is making as it falls through the sky. Interestingly though this designer has made Tower Bridge the focus of the London skyline whereas Harry Cross focussed on the iconic image of St Paul’s cathedral against the burning skyline. The eight scenes of bomb damage that Harry Cross depicts in his original lace panel were all from the north bank of the Thames, mainly from the city of London, while the image on the smaller panel shows smoke on both the north and south banks of the river; both in their own way highlighting the extent of the bomb damage. I’m delighted with my gift and it’s interesting to see another lace panel celebrating the Battle of Britain from a different point of view.

Wednesday 17 November 2021

Self-adapting lace curtains


I found these interesting lace curtains in a 1933 lace furnishing catalogue. They seem to be sectional store curtains, which are a clever idea as they are designed so that the householder can cut between the panels without any threads fraying to make them the width she requires. However, the catalogue also suggests that these ones can also be used as blinds or cut up individually and used as antimacassars or head rests over the back of a chair. You would have to choose the correct depth if you wanted head rests though as they come in sizes ranging from 21 to 73 inches! Each section is 9 inches wide and they all have a fluted heading and bullion fringing. They are made in cotton or artificial silk thread and the householder can choose between biscuit or ivory shades. Unfortunately no prices are provided for any of the curtains in the catalogue.

Wednesday 10 November 2021

True love inscribed in lace bobbins


Although these two lace bobbins are made by different makers they could have been designed as a complementary pair. The simpler one is inscribed with ‘Love me truly’ and the one with the spiral inscription gives the reassuring response ‘I love you my dear that is true’. I think that the plainer bobbin was probably made by Arthur Wright of Cranfield, who produced most of his bobbins during the 1870s. His bobbins tend to include quite simple messages inscribed in crude letters which are always coloured red. The bobbin with the spiral inscription is probably the work of Jesse Compton who was working much earlier in the nineteenth century, mainly in the 1830s and 1840s. His bobbins tend to be quite slender, probably because the bobbin lace being made at that time was very fine and required a large number of bobbins on the pillow. The letters on the bobbin are neat and alternately coloured red and blue which are both features of his work. Sadly then these two bobbins were not part of a dialogue between a lacemaker and her lover but they do show that lacemakers were looking for true love throughout the nineteenth century.

Wednesday 3 November 2021

Fancy bobbin nets in machine lace


I recently bought a leaflet about machine laces from the 1960s and was interested to find out more about bobbin net. Plain nets are produced in many different mesh styles and finishes and can be made in cotton, silk or nylon. This makes net a versatile fabric which can be fine and diaphanous for something like a bridal veil or firm and crisp for a stiff petticoat. I love the image that accompanies the article showing a nylon net bridal outfit by Duprez et Cie of London (see image above). I knew that bobbin nets were often embroidered and in fact the early machine laces were all made this way before the development of the jacquard patterning system, but I knew less about fancy nets. I have now discovered three different types of fancy bobbin nets. Point d’esprit is a spot net made by basically making regular filled single holes in the fabric. Flock printed bobbin net is made by printing a design onto plain net using a lacquer rather a textile dye then blowing a powdery substance, known as flock, which is made up of particles of acetate over the surface. When the lacquer has dried the excess flock is blown away leaving the pattern as a raised velvety pile on the surface of the net. The third type are known as jewel nets and are made in the same way as flock nets but metallic particles are blown on to the lacquer instead of flock. The article reports that silver and gold patterns are very effective on black net but sadly provides no images.

Wednesday 27 October 2021

Lace napery and tablecloths


As part of my research into machine made lace I’ve recently been reading about the history of the Simon May lace company, which was based in Nottingham but had many branches worldwide. I was surprised to discover that their napery department, a general term for table linen of all types, was only inaugurated in 1920. This surprised me as tablecloths were made using the Nottingham lace curtain machine and I assumed curtains and tablecloths would have been part of the same department. I also knew Simon May had been producing curtains since the middle of the nineteenth century. However, further reading about this napery department showed that it produced dinner and luncheon sets, tea cloths, runners, and dressing table sets with lace insertions, edgings or embroidery. So it seems that in this department they were making motifs and edgings rather than tablecloths. This section of the book is also illustrated with a photograph of a lace tablecloth so it wasn’t just me who was confused! Another interesting image accompanying the article shows rows of women working at what look like sewing machines presumably making up the table mats. Subsequent reading revealed that tablecloths and mats were indeed made in the curtain department but the ones requiring hand finishing were made in the napery section – puzzle solved!

Wednesday 20 October 2021

Lace for ‘Tansa: Japanese threads of influence’


I’m still working on my lace for the ‘Tansa: Japanese threads of influence’ exhibitions. My pieces are inspired by Japanese textiles and gardens and the sensibility of shin-gyo-so – broadly expressed as ‘the realistic, the impressionistic and the abstract’. The abstract piece is a small three-dimensional bobbin lace sculpture but the other two pieces are black net hand embellished with black thread. Both of these two pieces are hangings, one based on kimono cloth and the other on wrapping cloth. I’ve used this needle run technique before but previously I used white thread and net so I’ve had to make a few adjustments this time. For example, previously I’ve outlined the elements of my underlying pattern in thick black permanent pen but that is very confusing with black thread so this time I’ve outlined everything in red, which shows through the black net much more successfully. Also the black thread shows up more effectively on the black net than the white on white version so I’m adding some net overlays to soften the effect. Both interesting effects that I’ve only realised by actually working with the materials. All three pieces will be exhibited next year in the UK and Japan. The first venue for the lace sculpture is the Crafts Study Centre, Farnham from 4 January to 19 February and the lace hangings will be at South Hill Park, Bracknell from 23 February to 3 April.

Wednesday 13 October 2021

The rebato – supporting the lace collar

Many lace ruffs were starched to stiffen them and keep them in shape but larger lace collars such as this one were attached to a supporting frame to show off the lace. There were various types of supporting frame but today we’re focusing on the rebato.

Rebatos are wire frames made up of twisted wires, which often appear quite lacelike in their own right. They would have been made by silkwomen and some are wrapped in plain or coloured silk or even metal threads which would glint through the lace collar at the front and appear quite distinctive from behind and probably looked stunning in candlelight. Many, like this one were covered in gauze or cotton with a simple lace edging attached round the edge but others were left plain.

The lace was sewn onto the frame using simple oversewing so it could easily be removed for laundering, although many incorporated a black silk edging round the neck edge so the dirt wasn’t too obvious! A basic frame could also be reused for a different lace collar and any lace scallops protruding from the edge of the support, like the ones here, would have to be stiffened with starch to make them stand up.

Wednesday 6 October 2021

Caroline Bartlett exhibition at the Crafts Study Centre


I had a very enjoyable day earlier this week at the Crafts Study Centre (CSC) in Farnham seeing Caroline Bartlett’s exhibition ‘A restless dynamic’ - the image is a detail of ‘Every ending has a new beginning’. The exhibition includes new work that she has made in response to the archive of Lucie Rie held at the CSC and her collaboration with Issey Miyake.

Looking at continuity and change as it affected both her own work during the pandemic and that of Lucie Rie, Caroline has produced pleated circular shapes that reflect on Rie’s use of the potter’s wheel and her colour palette, as well as referencing the pleated fabrics of Miyake. The shape of the pieces materially indicating the continuity of the circle while the subtle colour changes within the pleated fabric speak of change.

The exhibition also includes work Caroline has previously made in response to other venues and archives including ‘Stilled’ made in response to Salts Mill (image above) and ‘Listening in’ responding to time spent in the Whitworth textile archive. There are some interesting themes here and the work is beautiful, I have just given you a taster, so do go and see it if you can. It runs at the CSC until 11 December, but note that it isn’t open on Mondays.

Wednesday 29 September 2021

Trade beads in lace bobbin spangles


Many of the beads on these lace bobbin spangles were originally made for trading in Africa and North America. Trade beads were made in varying sizes and colours and the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford has several trade cards of beads in graded sizes and colour ranges labelled according to the market they were made for. The card labelled ‘Trade beads for South Africa’ has round, plain beads coloured blue, brown and yellow like those in the spangles in the photo. The beads on the Central African trade card are much more decorative with patterns and come in a variety of bright colours and lozenge shapes as well as spheres. The beads were sold by weight and are also known as pound beads. They were imported from Amsterdam and Venice and although their main destination was the shipping companies of Liverpool and Bristol some must also have been sold in the home market as they are quite common on lace bobbins. The traditional beads on lace bobbins are the square cut type made in the lace making areas (like the clear ones on the second bobbin on the right) and I’ve not been able to find out where the lacemakers obtained these trade beads. Perhaps the bobbin makers acquired them and sold them or the lacemakers bought them from travelling salesmen.

Wednesday 22 September 2021

Texture in bobbin lace

 Texture is the prompt for the Instagram textile challenge today so I thought I’d write about texture in bobbin lace to go with my image. The easiest way to introduce texture into bobbin lace is to use textured threads such as chenille or something with a slub in it. Just as accent threads though, using all textured threads would probably result in a rather dense unlace-like textile. Adding beads or snippets of trapped thread also adds texture. However, more traditional ways of introducing texture into lace include using a thicker gimp thread to outline areas of work or produce patterns within the work.

Raised tallies and leaves worked over flatter areas of ground are also a traditional method for including texture. Tallies are small dense rectangular woven areas worked generally with two pairs of bobbins, while leaves are made in the same way but shaped with pointed ends to resemble leaves. Both can be used in open work or made over flatter parts of the work. As you can see in this piece I’ve worked a branch of leaves over a half stitch background. This was done as the work progressed not added later and the bobbins were incorporated back into the work.

Rolled tallies were also used in East Midlands lace in which a rectangular tally is made and then rolled back on itself to incorporate the bobbins back into the work leaving a raised rolled line of weaving on top of the lace. This image shows a couple of rolled tallies made in the cloth stitch ground and a line of paired leaves in the background all adding some texture to the lace.

Wednesday 15 September 2021



I have a sketchbook for each project I do because they are a useful place to keep all my ideas, samples, images of the exhibition space and any reviews after the event. The idea is that they are a repository for all the information to do with that project and are also a record that I can learn from for the future. Many entries are text rather than images and I also include invoices, receipts and copies of important emails. These are so useful, for example, when I start a later project and can’t remember where I bought a particular thread or fabric and how much it cost.

I also keep general sketchbooks where I keep samples and things I’ve tried out as well as images of interesting things I’ve seen or read about. My sketchbooks are not particularly beautiful or full of lovely drawings but they are indispensable documents for future projects.  

Wednesday 8 September 2021

Colour in bobbin lace


Colour is the textile prompt for today so I thought I’d take a look at colour in bobbin lace. The piece in the image is a detail of the lid of a small container I made from grey silk and felt with embroidered edges. When I start to make a lace design in colour I generally start with a idea of the general colour I want and then choose a selection of threads in that colour palette with a few contrasting threads, making sure that I have a variety of thicknesses of thread as well. I then just start working adding in new threads as I need them and removing others when I no longer want that colour any more. I find in that way that I can lighten or darken the work as necessary and also include some texture when I need it. I generally include a fine worker thread in a neutral colour as well to tie areas of colour together and include little spots of contrasting colours to highlight certain areas. I usually find at the end of the work that I haven’t used all of the threads I chose at the beginning but gathering a colour palette together does help to crystallize my ideas about the overall look of the final piece.

Wednesday 1 September 2021

Website updates


I’m taking part in the Seam Collective 2021 Instagram textile challenge for September and for the first prompt we have to introduce ourselves so, as I’ve just updated my website, I thought it would be a good time to let you all know about it. Apart from adding some new papers I’ve written to the CV section and updating the section on exhibitions, to add some I’ve been in and those planned for next year, my main changes to the website were in the gallery pages and in the Subversive stitching gallery in particular. This reflects the fact that most of my practice recently has been in the area of feminism, considering women’s place in the home and textile responses to that in the form of subversive stitching. The two main projects I’ve been working on over the last year have been my research into Amy Atkin the first female Nottingham machine lace designer and the requirement for her to give up paid work on marriage and a continuation of my ongoing series of lace doilies with a voice. If you’re interested you can explore the website for yourselves at If you’re thinking about setting up your own website I can also recommend Bright Sea Media who designed mine for me – they are very helpful and easy to work with.

Wednesday 18 August 2021

Marcel Tuquet Nottingham lace curtain designer

 I’ve long admired the lace curtain designs of Marcel Tuquet and am lucky enough to have a folder of some of his Plauen designs published in 1900. I had always assumed that he was based in Germany or somewhere else in Europe but I have discovered a reference to him in Nottingham. The reference comes from the London Gazette in 1890 and is a notice that the partnership between Marcel Tuquet and Marcel Boudard, described as lace curtain designers, is being dissolved by mutual consent. It states that Marcel Tuquet will carry on their designing business in Nottingham and his partner will continue their lace manufacturing business. I’m now interested to know whether Marcel Tuquet moved to the continent by the time the design book was published or whether he remained in Nottingham and sent his designs from there to Plauen. If anyone can enlighten me please get in touch.


Wednesday 11 August 2021

Square cut beads on lace bobbin spangles


Many nineteenth century lace bobbins have spangles of square cut beads. They are made of glass, are a square shape, and have an indented or pitted surface. Most of those in the image are clear or transparent red, the most common colours, but two are opaque blue. The bobbin maker Robert Haskins in an interview with The Bedfordshire Times and Independent in 1912 described how they were made. They were not cut at all but melted off a stick of glass one at a time. They were twirled on a copper wire to make the central hole and pressed with files to make the square shape and the surface markings. Haskins was taught to make them as a bobbin maker but beads like the two blue ones were also used for trading in Africa so might have been more commonly available. The Pitt Rivers Museum has sample cards of beads labelled ‘Trade beads for South Africa’ sold by a company in London. Whether the beads used in the bobbin spangles were obtained from the same source or whether they were made by the bobbin makers is not known, perhaps it was a mixture of both.

Wednesday 4 August 2021

16 century open lace ruffs


By the end of the sixteenth century lower necklines became fashionable and the appearance of ruffs also began to change. Many were now worn open with the edges attached to the neckline on either side and pinned to the corners of the bodice. Ruffs were still wide and could be made entirely of lace or made of fine embroidered fabric edged with lace. Both the ruffs illustrated here are made of lace and edged with handmade needlelace.

Both images depict Queen Elizabeth I, the top one is by an unknown artist and was painted in 1590, the second is known as the rainbow portrait by Isaac Oliver and was painted in 1611. The ruffs would have been supported by an underproper (more on those another day) and the diaphanous veil behind would also have been supported with wire. In both portraits the Queen’s bodice is also embellished with fine needlelace so the whole effect would have been quite magnificent.

Wednesday 28 July 2021

Imitating handmade bobbin lace

The allure of handmade lace has always held a premium. In the nineteenth century the aim of machine lace manufacturers was to produce lace that was indistinguishable from handmade lace. In the case of Chantilly lace this was very successful. The image above shows some handmade Chantilly lace but it can be difficult to distinguish it from machine made lace and identification depends on fine details such as the thread paths, the use of outlining gimp threads and their picot edgings. However I hadn’t realised until I read Heather Toomer’s book ‘Embroidered with white’ that this imitating of handmade lace also occurred in the eighteenth century. At that time it was whitework embroidery imitating Brussels bobbin lace and Valenciennes bobbin lace, both of which are quite dense types of white lace. All three of these techniques were handmade, time consuming and required great skill but the bobbin lace was more fashionable and expensive. Heather suggests that the bobbin lace would have been worn at court while the whitework would have been accessible to the growing European middle class population. Both the whitework and the machine-made Chantilly would have been desirable and expensive items but neither had the ultimate caché of being handmade bobbin lace. 

Wednesday 21 July 2021

Stylised Japanese foliage for lace designs


I’ve been working on the design for my Japanese pieces and am trying to finalise the design for my medium sized hanging which is to be an impressionic interpretation of foliage. My inspiration is an overhanging bough of maple leaves I photographed while I was in Japan but I’m trying to see how other types of foliage are depicted in Japanese designs. The image above comes from a woodcut of a variety of leaves showing how a several leaves can be used together.

I also rather like the way these bamboo like leaves are silhouetted against the moon and I might incorporate something of that style in my larger hanging.

The way these willow leaves overlap is also very pleasing and I do have a willow tree in my larger design so I might try and emulate the way the leaves overlap each other. Even though I’m working from my own photographs of foliage I can’t just copy what I saw, to make an effective design does mean I have to translate the photograph into a textile design which needs to have clear outlines so seeing how others have done that is proving very useful.

Wednesday 14 July 2021

Brussels application lace veil

This beautiful lace veil was shown at the Great Exhibition of 1851 by the Belgian company Delahaye. The description in the Art Journal Catalogue published at the time and from which this image comes states ‘‘The patient labour and perseverance necessary to complete these exquisite additions to the toilette of beauty can scarcely be understood by those who have not witnessed their slow growth in the manufactory, in which years are consumed in the production of a single veil’.

Brussels application lace was indeed beautiful and time consuming to produce as it included both fine bobbin lace and exquisite needle lace. Patricia Wardle in her book on Victorian lace describes the manufacturing process and the specialised workers it involved. The drocheleuse made fine strips of bobbin net for the background net, which were joined together by the jointeuse. Flower motifs were made by the pointeuse in fine needle lace and the relief or more three dimensional areas were worked by the brodeuse. The bobbin lace motifs were also made by two specialist workers; the platteuse made the solid parts of the design and the formeuse added the intricate filling stitches. All of these elements were assembled into the final piece in the workrooms of the lace manufacturer by highly skilled striqueuses. By 1851 when this beautiful shawl was exhibited the background net was much more likely to be machine made rather than the drochel of the early nineteenth century but the other parts of the work would still have been made separately and joined together with ‘patient labour’ as the catalogue suggests. 

Thursday 8 July 2021

Spangle attachments on lace bobbins


Spangles are the rings of beads, looped on brass wire, that are attached to the tail of East Midlands lace bobbins to weight them on the lace pillow. They can be attached to the bobbin in different ways but the oldest method is thought to be a staple, made from a brass pin, driven into the tail of the bobbin to make a loop, which the wire of the spangle can be looped through. The easiest method for the bobbin maker is probably just to drill a hole in the tail of the bobbin through which the lacemaker can loop the spangle to the bobbin (see the image above).

However, many of these types of bobbins have a small loop of wire passing through the bobbin to make a loop through which the spangle can be looped (see here). A few bone bobbins have hinged spangles where a slit has been made in the base of the tail and a piece of shaped bone inserted with a hinge often made from a brass pin passing through the bobbin and the shaped ‘spangle’. Looking through my own bobbins the majority have a simple hole through the tail with the spangle threaded straight through it like the bobbins at the top of the blog.

Wednesday 30 June 2021

Reflections on Japan: shin gyo so


I’m making some lace for a series of exhibitions to be shown next year. My work for this exhibition is informed by the Japanese sensibility of ‘shin gyo so’ which can broadly be expressed as ‘the realistic, the impressionistic and the abstract’. I’ve taken as my starting point the gardens at Toji Temple in Kyoto and my piece will result in two hangings and a miniature three-dimensional lace sculpture. The hangings will represent aspects of the garden and the sculpture is modelled on the corner of the temple roof. I’ve made a bobbin lace pattern for the sculpture and am now working on the hangings, which will both be needlerun lace on net. The sizes of the hangings are based on kimono cloth and wrapping cloths so they are both quite narrow. The longer hanging is a depiction of the gardens, to represent shin, and the smaller one depicts a branch of maple leaves for gyo. I’ve drawn out my design and have recently been scaling it up to the right size. I’ve also cut out my net for the hangings – easier said than done as the line of the scissor blade interferes with your sight line of the net holes! As you can see, I’ve also been trying out some threads for the needlerun lace. Laying the nets on top of each other has also produced some interesting interference patterns, which you can see in the image, but I’m not sure whether adding applique to the mix will confuse things or help with shading – it’s a work in progress!

Wednesday 23 June 2021

Lace ruffs in the late 16th century


By the 1580s lace ruffs began to get wider as well as deeper. They also began to become slightly flatter and probably more comfortable to wear, although they were obviously worn for display not comfort. Paintings of the time also show some being left open at the front rather than forming a complete circle around the neck. These wider ruffs often required some support under them to keep them in place as even strong starching was not enough to keep them displayed properly. The supports could be underproppers, supportases or rebatos (but that will be the subject of a future blog as there is so much to say about them!) or even a small plain ruff under the larger one. Ruffs made mainly of lace also became popular towards the end of the 16th century. Until then lace had tended to be used as an edging attached to a fine linen ruff (see my previous blogs about ruffs on 19 May and 31 March). The image shows part of a miniature of Queen Elizabeth I by Nicholas Hilliard in the V&A collection. The ruff is made of lace and seems to include spangles or jewels around the edge that are also attached to her hair and ear, it must have looked spectacular in candlelight.

Wednesday 16 June 2021

Hanging lace bobbins celebrating executions


These bobbins are known as hanging bobbins but they don’t just hang on the pillow like other bobbins they actually celebrate hangings of those convicted of murder. Seven executions are commemorated in six hanging bobbins, most were public hangings at Bedford Goal although one took place at Newgate Prison. Those in the image record the hangings of William Worsley in 1868 and William Bull in 1871. William Worsley’s was the last public execution carried out in Bedford. He and Levi Welch were tried for the murder of William Bradbury in Luton, but Welch turned king’s evidence and said Worsley had inflicted the fatal blow. Worsley was hung and Welch was given 14 years penal servitude for stealing from Bradbury. However he appealed on the basis that anyone giving information leading to the conviction of the murderer was entitled to a free pardon and he was released 3 months later. William Bull’s execution took place in private at Bedford but still attracted a large crowd to the town. Bull, a 21 year old labourer, had murdered Sarah Marshall, a poor, simple old woman, in a motiveless drunken rage in her home, and his execution was popular with the local people. The other four hanging bobbins record the executions of Matthias and William Lilley in 1829 for the attempted murder of a gamekeeper; Sarah Dazeley in 1843 for poisoning her husband; Joseph Castle in 1860 for murdering his wife; and Franz Muller in 1864 for the first murder on a railway train.

Wednesday 9 June 2021

Repeat pattern design in lace


Researching some lace designs from the archive I’ve been interested to see how the pattern is developed and how the various elements fit with one another. Most designers use a grid to help in positioning the units within the pattern. The pattern in the image above requires several gridlines for the main design and the border that runs around it. Interestingly although the border has been designed to accommodate a corner the central design hasn’t and just seems to end at the edge. In the border, the main motif in the corner block is exactly the same as those in the rest of the border but the edgings have been reworked to form a corner. It seems quite a simple and elegant way to make a border design. According to the late 19th century designer Lewis F Day the simpler the border the better because it should frame the main design without dominating it, just as this one does. In contrast, the main floral design has been cleverly laid out to allow linear repeats with no need for drops but it does not seem to lie well against the border. Perhaps this piece is still a work in progress and the designer made adjustments to it for the final version. I doubt it though as it looks quite resolved in other ways. Perhaps the border and main design are not meant to work together but are two separate designs, one for an all over pattern and the other for a border. We will probably never know but speculating is part of the fun!


Thursday 3 June 2021

Lace smuggling


Smuggling French and Belgian lace into England was a profitable venture in the 18th century. The favourite method was in a coffin either replacing the body with lace or tucking lace around the body. When Bishop Atterbury died in France in February 1732 his body was returned to England for burial in Westminster Abbey, where the High Sheriff of Westminster found £6000 worth of French lace concealed in the coffin. Customs Officers soon became wise to the practice and all coffins coming from mainland Europe were opened as a matter of course resulting in a sharp decrease in the number of British ‘deaths’ on the Continent. The relatives of the Duke of Devonshire who died in France in October 1764 were not amused when his coffin was opened and the body poked with a stick to ensure it wasn’t a bundle of lace. Coffins were not the only hiding places however, on one occasion a loaf of bread was found to contain £200 of lace, and books, bottles and babies wrapped in lace were also used for smuggling. The loss of customs duties was only one reason for the smuggling, another was the desire of English lacemakers to exclude continental lace from their home market. In 1764 George III ordered that no foreign lace was to be worn at his sister’s marriage that year and in the following year English lacemakers petitioned parliament to demand the prohibition of foreign goods. However, French and Belgian lace was so desirable that these measures had little effect on the smuggling trade.

Wednesday 26 May 2021

Lace antimacassars


The images of these lace antimacassars come from a furnishing catalogue dated 1933-34. Antimacassars were small mats laid over the back of easy chairs in the 19 century to protect the fabric of the chair from macassar oil which was used by men as a hair dressing. However they seem to have been originally used in the 18 century to protect furniture from wig powder. They were clearly still being sold in the 1930s to prevent stains from hair products and grease rather than wig powder or macassar oil. The earliest mats were made to match the furnishing fabric but by the 19 century the fashion was to have decorative mats that contrasted with the fabric of the chair and this is the style of these 1930s designs.

I would have thought that white lace antimacassars would have become dirty fairly quickly but perhaps that was part of their purpose, to show how clean the house was kept as they would have required frequent laundering. The antimacassars in my catalogue were sold by the dozen. Unfortunately there are no prices but the buyer received an assortment of three designs, presumably four of each pattern to allow for the regular washing required. This suggests they were aimed at a home with four easy chairs whose owner was not particularly concerned about the design, as only one representative design is given for each set – perhaps their function was more important than their appearance. They were quite large with the rose design at the top being 24 by 36 inches and the floral one with the leaves measuring 18 by 27 inches. I hope that they were easy to wash and iron for the sake of the poor laundress.

Wednesday 19 May 2021

Starching and shaping detachable ruffs


The origin of the ruff as it developed from a frill at the edge of neckwear to a deep starched figure of eight ruff-band are described in my blog post of 31 March. Those ruffs were all attached to a smock or partlet but from the 1570s onwards there was a trend for ruffs to become detachable. This made them easier to launder and starch and starching houses grew up where ruffs could be sent to be washed, starched and set. Setting, to give the ruff its figure of eight appearance, was carried out using long cylindrical ‘putting sticks’ or a ‘setting stick’ which was a forked device like a goffering iron.

This engraving of the processes involved in caring for detached ruffs shows the details of the process but also satirises the fashion as all the participants are monkeys, apeing this bizarre new fashion. The image reveals that the ruff was washed then covered in starch and dried. After that it was lightly dampened before ironing and setting. The monkey in the picture is setting the ruff over a form which can be rotated as she works. Her assistant is heating the putting sticks for her before she uses them to make the sets. This was skilled work as the laundress had to make sure the sets were all of an equal size. Starching was also a skilled job especially when coloured starches were used as they were prone to streak. The starch was generally made from grains such as wheat or bran or even from roots and could be coloured white, or pale shades of yellow, red, blue or purple. Yellow in particular was popular and was made using saffron. However all these fine preparations were of little use if the wearer went out in the rain resulting in the beautifully starched and shaped linen collapsing in a limp mess.

Wednesday 12 May 2021

Lace designing

Now I’ve finished my MeToo mat I’m designing another one in the series. I’m still not quite sure what wording to use on this one as it has to be something fairly short to fit in the inner circle of the mat but pithy enough to convey a message. However, I’ve decided to design the outer circle of the mat first and hope that while doing that I will make a decision about the alternatives I’m mulling over for the text. I find that a large part of the design process is fairly meditative once the initial decisions have been made, especially with a repeat pattern, so I’m hoping the right wording will become obvious as I progress. I’ve decided to design the new mat in the same tape lace style I used for the last mat as I enjoyed working it and would like to do more using that technique. The design I’m working on is a repeat motif around the edge of the mat. I need six repeats to complete the circle and rather than being traditional like the last one this one includes a heart design with an asymmetrical trail beside it. Again I think I will incorporate a ninepin edge in the design but it won’t encircle the entire mat. I’m only at the sketching phase at the moment so no decisions are final but I do feel it’s coming together.

Wednesday 5 May 2021

John Bunyan lace bobbins


John Bunyan was a seventeenth century religious writer and Puritan preacher who was born near Bedford and spent most of his life there. He was popular among lacemakers particularly those who lived in and around Bedford. For many lacemakers the only books they would have possessed were the Bible, the prayer book and a copy of Bunyan’s famous allegory ‘The Pilgrim’s Progress’ which was often given to children as a prize at Sunday School. However, it is thought that the lace bobbins inscribed with his name were made in 1874 when a commemorative bronze statue was erected to him in Bedford facing the High Street.

The bobbin maker in this case seems to be the person the Springetts call ‘the blunt end man’. They have not been able to identify him but he seems to have close ties to Bedford as his bobbins often commemorate events in the town such as the erection of this statue as well as hangings at Bedford gaol. He also made bobbins inscribed ‘From Lesters’ (see my post of 22 July 2018) for the Lester family who were lace buyers in Bedford to give to lacemakers for good work. As the name the Springetts have given him suggests his bobbins were not particularly elegant. In general they are quite basic with a brief inscription in simple lettering which often twists slightly around the bobbin suggesting they were worked on the bench and not while they were still in the lathe. However, many of these bobbins are now highly prized because of the events they commemorate.

Wednesday 28 April 2021

Fine tape lace with needlelace fillings

In my latest lace mat I’ve been using a form of tape lace that is common in Eastern Europe and involves working bobbin lace in lines that curve and join each other as the work progresses to form the pattern. However there is another type of tape lace, shown in the image above, in which a ready made tape is used to form an outline and the open areas are then filled with needle lace fillings. This type of lace was simple to make and was common in the 16th and 17th centuries in Italy and France. It then fell out of favour but saw a resurgence following the development of machine made lace tape in the 19th century. It is made in many places but became associated with Branscombe in Devon in the mid-19 century where the outlines were made using fine tapes from France into which delicate needle lace filling stitches were added.

The examples here are basic samples I made a while ago but they show how the lace is made. The outlining tape is tacked on to a backing for working using a continuous tape that is folded at joining points and sewn down onto itself rather than cutting it off and having to neaten the edge. When working a curve a basting line is run round the edge of the tape so it can be pulled up neatly to make it smooth. The filling stitches are then made in needle lace using a combination of fine buttonhole stitches worked in various patterns and joined into the work on each side. In this piece I also worked a purl edge around the outside of the design. Once the lace is complete the tacking stitches are taken out and the lace lifted from the backing.

Although the leaf design shows a variety of fairly dense stitches, the simple trefoil here shows how easily the spaces can be filled with just a few twisted threads and spider fillings making the work quick to produce if it is being made for sale. Many commercial handmade lace mats are now made in this way and with their combination of open work tapes and simple filling stitches they can be very attractive.