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.