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.