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, 23 June 2021
Wednesday, 16 June 2021
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
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
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
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
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
Wednesday, 5 May 2021
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
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.
Wednesday, 21 April 2021
I have finally finished my ‘Me too’ bobbin lace mat but now have to tidy up all the ends either by sewing them in or cutting them off depending on where they left the work. I was hoping with this continuous type of lace that there wouldn’t be quite so many ends to tidy up but of course you can only wind a certain amount of thread round a bobbin and when that runs out you have to tie in a new thread. Also the text in the centre of the mat was quite fiddly involving lots of beginnings and ends which also leads to a lot of threads to deal with at the end. It will be good to get the work off the pillow and see what it looks like from the front as I've been working it from the back. I’m now planning the next mat in this series of subversive lace mats commenting on the constraints of domesticity. I have certainly enjoyed working this type of tape lace and feel I have got to know the technique much better, which means I have a better idea of how to design for it. I will definitely use it again for the circumference of the mat and as much of the centre as possible. I now have to decide on my text for the next one and then start designing around it.
Wednesday, 14 April 2021
I’ve been doing quite a lot of writing about lace over the lockdown and am constantly grateful for the amazing research carried out by Pat Earnshaw in her beautifully illustrated books on lace. Although there are numerous books on handmade laces and their identification there are few books for the general reader on machine made lace and it is here that Pat’s books are invaluable. Her book ‘Lace machines and machine laces’ gives very clear descriptions of the workings of the main types of lace machines, their history and development. While her book on ‘How to recognise machine laces’ is excellent for revealing how to distinguish handmade and machine made laces – often through very subtle signs such as the construction of the picots edging a piece of lace. Her books on the identification of handmade laces and her book on lace fashions are also highly readable and packed with useful research but it is the ones on machine lace that I’ve been using most recently. I see from the flyleaf of one of my books that she graduated from Reading University and as well as qualifying as a teacher she was also a lace consultant to three prestigious London auction houses. A very talented woman who I for one am very grateful to.
Wednesday, 7 April 2021
This lovely little piece of lace is made up of both bobbin and needle lace so I’ve described it as Brussels for want of a better description. The flower motifs inside each scallop are made of a pieced lace, like Honiton, where each spray or series of leaves is made separately on a lace pillow and then combined when the finished article is made up. Alternating scallop edges are also made using this pieced lace technique. However every alternate scallop and the inner edge of each one is made of needle lace and the bobbin lace motifs are joined together, and to the scallop, with a needle lace net ground. Needle lace has also been used to decorate the centre of some of the bobbin lace flowers and to make circular couronnes within the net ground.
The work is so fine - just look at the tiny picot edgings - it would have been extremely time consuming and different lacemakers would have been responsible for separate parts of the work. The needle lace and bobbin lace motifs would have been assembled and then joined together on a needle lace pillow when the net ground stitches and the filling stitches would have been used to link them all together in the final design.
Wednesday, 31 March 2021
The fashion for ruffs began in the early 16 century, around 1530, and started as a simple ruffle attached to the neckband of a linen smock. By the 1550s layers of ruffling were attached one above the other to give a fuller look, particularly at the sides and back. It was in the 1560s that ruffs took on their figure of eight appearance and during that decade layers of ruffles gave way to a single ruffle with more height and depth. This style continued to be popular in the 1570s when the individual figure of eight ruffles could be 4 inches high. Until that time, the ruffles had mainly been edged with embroidery or cording but in the 1570s lace edgings became more fashionable. The image above shows Elizabeth of Austria, who was Queen of France, wearing an early figure of eight ruff with a delicate lace edging.
Wednesday, 24 March 2021
This lace bobbin celebrates Queen Adelaide who was the wife of William IV. She was crowned with her husband in 1831 and I’ve written a previous blog about that event (post of 10 May 2018). This bobbin also includes a silver coin as part of the spangle dated 1837, the year in which William died and the crown passed to his niece Queen Victoria. Sadly all Adelaide’s children had died young or been stillborn. She was on friendly terms with the new queen and died at Bentley Priory, London, in 1849. Adelaide was popular in lacemaking areas because she tried to help the English lace industries after lacemakers in Devon requested her patronage. Mary Jones notes that part of Adelaide’s help to the Devon lacemakers included commissioning a dress with Honiton lace floral sprigs around the skirt. The design was made up to include flowers, the initials of which, made up her name and included Amaranth, Daphne, Eglantine, Lilac, Auricula, Ivy, Dahlia and Eglantine. Interestingly her name is wrongly spelled Adalaide on the lace bobbin.
I have had difficulty in identifying the maker of this bobbin but think it was probably made by Jesse Compton mainly because of its shape, with a thin neck, bulbous head and the way the spangle is attached. He was also active in the late 1830s. It is interesting to speculate why a lacemaker bought this bobbin in 1837. It is inscribed ‘Queen Adalaide’ so was made while she was still queen (William died in December 1837) and may have been in response to a severe illness she had that year or it may have been considered a collector’s item, especially with the addition of the coin, as the crown passed from one ruler to another.
Wednesday, 17 March 2021
century lace and came upon information about lace made from human hair. The example in the image is needlelace from the V&A Museum and is dated 1600. Janet Arnold notes that a silkwoman called Dorothy Speckard supplied Queen Elizabeth I with ‘heare braid’ and ‘two hundred devices made of heare in maner of leaves’. The slightly later fashion for strings of plaited hair looped round the neck or wrist seem to be keepsakes or love tokens but the earlier laces don’t seem to fulfil that function. Mary Jones refers to ‘point tresse,’ a type of lace made from human hair. She says this type of lace was understandably quite rare and commanded high prices. She records that Mary Queen of Scots received some point tresse from the Countess of Lenox, the mother of her former husband Lord Darnley, and that in the eyes of the family this gift exonerated Mary from the implication of having any part in Darnley’s murder. Jones also records that Louis XIV wore a cravat of silvery white hair at his coronation in 1614. Jones notes that point tresse was still being made in the 18 and 19 centuries by ‘Dalecarlian peasant girls’. Unfortunately this type of lace doesn’t last well so there are few examples but I assume it was all needlelace as finding enough human hair to wind round the lace bobbins required for even a simple pattern would have been no easy task.
Wednesday, 10 March 2021
I've been studying some of the filet lace designs given in Federico Vinciolo’s 1587 book of lace and embroidery patterns and comparing them with more modern pieces. The book was very popular and was reprinted at least 17 times between its inception and 1658. No instructions are given with the patterns, it was obviously assumed that needlewomen of the time would know how to work them. In the filet or lacis section of the book the patterns are reproduced on a square ground and in some cases the number of meshes it covers are enumerated although this could be deduced from counting them on the grid.
Some are square geometric designs, others are sections or corners of a design. Some are specifically labelled as handkerchief edgings, but they are 35 meshes wide so would have been quite wide. Some of the patterns are figurative with gods and goddesses representing the seasons as well as hunters with dogs. There are also individual animals such as a stag, peacock, lion and pelican as well as mythical beasts such as unicorns and griffins.
Although most of the patterns are just made up of white blocks on a black grid I was interested to see a few that included some filling and outlining stitches which I’ve come across in contemporary pieces.
Wednesday, 3 March 2021
I noticed that each motif was slightly different to the others, in particular the fillings of the main flowers and leaves and in some cases the fillings had been worked at different angles.
Also the threads of the embroidery went through the net in different ways and looped round the net in a way that would have been impossible for a machine. I’m now wondering who the original lace was made by and what it was used for before it became a pair of small lace curtains.
Wednesday, 24 February 2021
Wednesday, 17 February 2021
Wednesday, 10 February 2021
Wednesday, 3 February 2021
Wednesday, 27 January 2021
Wednesday, 20 January 2021
I always enjoy looking through old lace catalogues and one of my favourites is that from the Samuel Peach company of 1904. Peach and Sons were Nottingham lace manufacturers and sold a wide range of lace goods by mail order including curtains, tablecloths, clothing as well as lace fabrics and trims. They catered for a large market in the UK and also had many colonial customers in South Africa, India, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the West Indies and China. They assure their customers that the goods are well packed in oilcloth to sustain the rigours of the journey. One of the things I find most interesting is their special parcels for particular households and occasions. For example there are parcels for those getting married or travelling to the colonies, which contain all that is needed to furnish a home with curtains and linens, depending on the climate and the grandeur of the home. I’ve been looking at their black lace parcels this week and the one for ten shillings has caught my eye. It contains 6 yards of wide Chantilly lace, 6 yards of narrow Chantilly lace, 6 yards of black Spanish lace, described as very elegant and of serviceable quality, 6 yards of narrow black edging lace, two lengths of fine net and a black lace collarette in fancy silk and braid work. The catalogue suggests that this parcel of lace is suitable for mantles, costumes etc by which it means the capes and blouses which were fashionable at the time. It was clearly a bargain but ten shillings (50 p) in 1904 was worth a lot more than it is today!
Wednesday, 13 January 2021
and incorporates fangs and drops of blood, which are a lovely glowing ruby red in candlelight.
‘Belladonna’ is another veil in the series, this time inspired by the idea of a mourning veil which could have been worn by a gothic heroine such as Lady Audley in Mary Elizabeth Braddon’s Lady Audley’s secret. The design of the lace trim is based on the leaves and berries of the poisonous deadly nightshade plant (Atropa belladonna) with a hint of gold suggesting that the widow’s state may not be wholly unexpected or unwanted.
‘Creeping dread’ doesn’t include any lace but instead has a trim of black silk paper and iridescent black beads like tiny insects that appear to be creeping up the veil and smothering it. The ‘Gothic veil’ includes some black lace but again it has been smothered by black silk paper that threatens to engulf it and the entire veil. These black veils, and a series of white ones also inspired by gothic literature, have been exhibited in several places including the Knitting and Stitching Show and the Living lace exhibition in Bruges.