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 cachĂ© 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.

Wednesday, 21 April 2021

‘Me too’ bobbin lace mat

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

Pat Earnshaw’s lace research


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

Brussels lace


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

Early 16 century lace ruffs


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

Queen Adelaide 1837 lace bobbin

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

Lace made from human hair


I’ve been looking at 16th 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

Renaissance patterns for filet lace


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

Needle run Limerick style lace curtains

I bought this pair of dainty lace curtains at a busy market and wasn’t sure at the time whether they were machine or hand made lace. Clearly the curtains themselves were hand made as they were small cafĂ© curtain, with small hand-stitched brass rings at the top and seemed to have been cut down from a larger piece of lace. At first glance I thought they were made of machine lace because of the repetitive patterns, the solid cloth stitch and the amount of detail involved in the motifs. However on closer inspection I was delighted to find that the lace motifs had been needle run on to the net by hand in a technique similar to Limerick lace. 


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

Early twentieth century lace roller blinds


A slight change of direction today with a focus on roller blinds rather than curtains. The Samuel Peach catalogue for 1904 has several pages devoted to roller blinds, which they made to order from plain holland or linen. The greatest width available was 60 inches and the greatest length 90 inches, although the addition of a lace trim could be used to make them slightly longer. A variety of laces are available to add as trims to the end of the blind or include as insertions, although the impression is that only one insertion is included for the price given. There are several types of embroidered lace trims, one of which is 9 inches wide, although most seem about half that size. Other choices are machine lace, imitation cluny, corded applique and real guipure d’art. Two designs of ‘real Cluny lace’ are available as matching trims and insertions in fairly simple Torchon style patterns. Another matching duo of trim and insertion are made in ‘hand-worked corded lace’ which looks as if it’s a Russian style tape lace. Six Duchesse roller blinds are advertised which have embroidery worked directly into the fabric. These are promoted as ‘the newest and most artistic window blinds yet introduced’ and do seem to be both attractive and good value. For all the blinds, colonial customers are assured that the company takes great care in packing and despatching which suggests they had a wide overseas market. 

Wednesday, 17 February 2021

White wedding veils

Wedding veils have been in and out of fashion for the last two hundred years or so in Britain. The traditional white wedding with full veil is an upper class Victorian invention, before then most people just wore their best clothes for the ceremony. In the 1860s brides wore their veils hanging behind their heads with a wreath of orange blossom keeping it in place. In 1863 when Princess Alexandra married the Prince of Wales she wore a white dress and veil as did her eight bridesmaids. By the 1870s some brides came into the church with their veils over their faces and by the end of the nineteenth century it was only the bride who wore a veil, the bridesmaids wore hats or bonnets. In the 1900s fashions changed again and many brides wore hats rather than veils. If veils were worn they tended to be only waist length and hung down the back. Fashions became simpler during the first world war and veils became less elaborate. In the 1920s those brides who wore veils had them low down on the forehead in a style that mimicked the fashionable cloche hats of the period. Many brides wore veils that had become family heirlooms, for example when Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyons married the future George VI in 1923 she wore a veil loaned to her by Queen Mary. Princess Marina who married the Duke of Kent in 1934 wore her veil with a diamond tiara rather than flowers which started a craze for headdresses made of glass or paste. An indication of how royal bridal fashions have always influenced the wedding customs and dress of the general public.

Wednesday, 10 February 2021

Some unusual lace bobbin spangles

Spangles are the circles of beads attached to the end of English East Midlands lace bobbins to add weight and thus provide tension on the thread and also to stop the bobbin rolling on the lace pillow. I’ve written before about the most common type of spangles, composed of six square cut glass beads with a larger central bead and often two smaller beads at either side of the bobbin shank (see blog of October 2020). This time I thought I’d show you a few more unusual spangles. Two of those in the image above have buttons as the centrepiece of the spangle, which were probably of sentimental value to the original owner. Another incorporates a seashell which could have been given to the lacemaker by a sailor in the family or collected on a very rare trip to the seaside. The wooden bobbin contains a large decorated cylindrical bead and two carved smaller beads, interestingly I have seen similar large cylindrical beads in the collection of ‘trade beads for Central Africa’ at the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford. The bobbin below that has a good collection of glass beads and a silver coin dated 1837. The final bobbin in this image has a birdcage spangle where a ‘cage’ of beads has been made around a much larger bead by threading smaller beads on to wire and wrapping them round the large bead. These tiny beads were called ‘seed’ beads and are also the type of bead used to make striver pins (see my blog of September 2020).

Wednesday, 3 February 2021

Russian tape lace style mat

I’m making great progress on my Russian tape lace style mat, which is part of my series of subversive mats. Having made the centre with the text in a mixture of Bedfordshire and tape lace I’ve now started on the surrounding pattern, which is flowing very well. However, I’m learning all sorts of new techniques. Working with seven pairs of bobbins definitely has advantages as there’s no need to move sections of bobbins out of the way to tackle separate parts of the design. This style of lace does involve a lot of sewings though, which I’ve never been particularly good at and my bobbins are not designed for sewings, although the loops to sew into are quite large in this pattern which makes it easier. As with any lace pattern you have to think ahead and work certain areas before others but I’m becoming converted to the idea of working the central areas of crossed leaves without four plait crossings. Surprisingly, working leaves with a temporary pin supporting them and joining with a sewing works very well – I thought they would unravel with so little support but they haven’t so far! Also working the central area and then adding the half stitch tape round the outside means you don’t have to keep adding and removing pairs. I’ve also found that what I would describe as a ninepin edging is much easier using only two pairs and joining everything with sewings. I’m really enjoying this lace and learning a new way of working is quite eye opening!

Wednesday, 27 January 2021

Wire-bound lace bobbins

I thought writing about wired lace bobbins would be a simple task but I found it difficult to determine who had made these. I think the most likely candidate is one of the Haskin family, most probably David Haskin who was born in 1819 although they could be the work of his nephew Robert. As usual most of my information about identifying bobbin makers comes from the Springett’s book Success to the lace pillow. Their image of the typical head and tail of David Haskins bobbins was what finally confirmed my identification. Many of his bobbins were decorated with brass wire like these and the grooves always ran in a left handed spiral direction. His wooden bobbins often had a distinct collar like the one in the image although interestingly his bone bobbins did not and many of them are quite fine, narrow and delicate and would have been suitable for fine Bucks lace patterns that required a lot of bobbins on the pillow. It is remarkable that so many wire-bound bobbins still exist in their original state (although you can also find them with grooves and holes where wire would have been wound, but missing the wire) suggesting that the wire was well attached and secured into the holes drilled for the purpose. It just shows what excellent craftsmen the Haskin family were.

Wednesday, 20 January 2021

Black lace sold by Samuel Peach in 1904


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

Black lace veils

I made this series of black lace veils as part of a study into nineteenth century gothic literature. They are all made from a double layer of fine black net gathered from a bunch of artificial black flowers at the crown, which hides a hair comb that can be used to secure them to the head. The lace in the image above was inspired by Bram Stoker’s Dracula 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.