These lace trims were made in the 1960s on the Levers lace machine but they all have their origins in nineteenth century handmade lace. That is probably not surprising as a large part of the training for machine lace designers included copying old lace patterns and designing lace that appeared handmade. The fine little trim at the top resembles Buckinghamshire baby lace, a simple pattern that was one of the first a bobbin lacemaker would learn. The dainty black lace resembles Chantilly lace, a fine French handmade lace with an open net background and a design outlined with a thicker gimp thread. The two lower laces also resemble old Buckinghamshire bobbin lace designs, the upper one is similar to the sheep’s head pattern, another fairly simple handmade lace that a beginner would learn, and the lower one resembles floral lace, which was a much more complicated type of bobbin lace. Examples of these types of old bobbin lace patterns were kept by machine lace manufacturers in design portfolios specifically to inspire their designers and it’s interesting to see that these old designs were still inspiring lace in the second half of the twentieth century.
Thursday 22 December 2022
Friday 16 December 2022
The draught also includes information on the fineness of the lace, in this case 10 point which is a medium gauge, and the quality (54) which is a measure of how many complete motions of the machine were required to make 3 inches of lace. I love the way this pattern incorporates stylised swags and draping at the bottom which would have required some skill on the part of the draughtsman to convert from design into instructions for the machine. I also like the spotted net between the main design at the bottom and the flowers at the heading which could have been expanded by repeating that section to make curtains of varying lengths. All in all a versatile and very pretty lace curtain.
Thursday 8 December 2022
Wednesday 30 November 2022
Wednesday 2 November 2022
Wednesday 26 October 2022
If you follow this blog you will remember that I recently received some samples of machine made lace from the 1970s designed for the lingerie industry. They also illustrate some interesting production methods used by the machine lace producers. For example, the image above gives an idea of how scalloped edged lace trims would have been made in one piece of lace with open net areas linking the two pieces, which would have been cut away once the lace came off the loom to separate the two scalloped edges, thus allowing the lacemakers to produce many strips of lace all together and save production time. The image below shows some strips of lace made in a similar way, linked together by joining threads which would have been pulled out once the lace was finished leaving the ribbons of lace.
The pretty black lace below was made on the Levers lace machine. It has a fine background pattern and an outlining thicker gimp thread highlighting some of the motifs.
The heavier black thread would have been used to outline one motif and then been allowed to run loosely down the side of the lace pattern until it was required for the next motif, which meant that the loops of loose thread had to be cut and trimmed once the lace left the machine. Both sides of this lace also show remnants of the threads that joined it to the other strips it was made with.
These two pieces of lace have picot edgings on both sides, but the white piece still retains a thin thread along its righthand side which was used to help form the picots and as a joining thread between this strip of lace and the one next to it. Many of the joining threads between the strips of lace were designed to be pulled out quite easily but some types had to be removed by heat treatment using a tool like a soldering iron and others had to be cut with trimmers. Much of this work was carried out by women working at home on a piece-work system.
Wednesday 19 October 2022
I need a small portable lace project to take on a trip I’m making and I thought tatting would be the ideal thing as it’s easy to pick up and put down and the equipment is quite small to carry about. I haven’t done any tatting for a while so I’ve been back to the instruction books to remind me how to make the double stitch that is a feature of the work. The image above is the edge of a little doily I bought years ago at The Lace Guild which shows the distinctive rings and loops that are used to make the patterns that are joined together as the work progresses by looping through the picots made at intervals between the double stitches.
I found tatting difficult to learn from a book as the secret to the technique is the transfer of loops from one thread to the other – you’ll know what I mean if you’ve tried it! The written instructions for this always tell you to make the first half of the double stitch by looping the thread round your fingers then passing the shuttle thread through the loop and then pulling the thread taut with a sharp jerk – in my experience this always ends with a knot on the thread not a loop. The secret is not a sharp jerk but a slight and careful pull to transfer the loop. It is much easier to learn with two colours of thread so you can see the transfer and also if a friend shows you how to do it. I was lucky enough to have such a friend who showed me how to tat on a long flight to the USA, which also means I always associate tatting with travel so to take some on a trip seems very appropriate!
Wednesday 12 October 2022
These dainty white edgings are all laces that could be used to trim any type of lingerie. The two at the top both mimic traditional Buckinghamshire handmade bobbin lace styles and could be used to edge women’s or girls’ underwear. The lower three samples are all elasticated but are a little too narrow to be straps so were probably used as trims on vests and knickers attached to fabrics that needed to be flexible. All these laces were made on the Raschels lace machine apart from the black lace which was made on the Levers machine. This difference in production methods is also an interesting thread that I’ll blog about another time. Who would have thought that a bundle of lace off cuts from the market would prove to be so interesting.
Wednesday 5 October 2022
Lappets are long strips of lace or fine embroidery that were attached to women’s headwear and generally fell down onto the shoulders. As a writer in 1849 noted ‘lappets give grace, lightness and elegance to the whole costume’. A pair of lappets was usually attached to the back or sides of a cap but they could also be fixed to a bonnet or hat. They were fashionable for a long time during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and during that time their size, shape and positioning changed as fashions altered. For example a one time it was fashionable to pin the lappets on top of the cap and at others tie them under the chin. I have found it impossible to find an image of someone wearing lappets, which seems odd as they were such an ubiquitous style for so long, but Heather Toomer in her book on white embroidery suggests that this is because they were generally used for formal wear and most portraits depict informal settings. Pairs of lappets are found in many museum collections generally as separate strips of lace because they are so beautiful and when the fashion for them eventually ended it was possible to remove them from the cap and store them easily, therefore many have survived. Some have also been repurposed as scarves and dress decoration. Several were displayed in the Great Exhibition of 1851 including some in black Chantilly lace and others in blonde lace made of white silk thread as well as lappets of silk and gold from Caen. In the Paris Exhibition of 1867 lappets of Brussels needlepoint lace were exhibited. That they were made in many different styles of lace, were fashionable for so long and have been kept and donated to museums means they are a great source of information for lace researchers.
Friday 30 September 2022
Chemical lace is basically embroidery on a sacrificial background that is removed once the lace is made. The lace in the image here would have been embroidered using the Schiffli machine which was developed at the end of the nineteenth century in Switzerland, hence its alternative name. There were various ways of removing the backing fabric once the lace was completed and Pat Earnshaw records several patents from the 1880s and 1890s describing different techniques. The two main methods are a chemical one in which the lace is embroidered on a cellulose material that is chemically removed or a carbonised method in which the lace is heated so the background becomes brittle and is then removed by brushing. The design here comes from a catalogue by Christian Stoll a company that was famous for this type of lace in the early 1900s.
Wednesday 21 September 2022
Wednesday 14 September 2022
The other connection also links to women in the machine lace trade as it shows how ribbon laces were made on the machines in one piece all joined together. A close look at the image will reveal the thin draw thread running between the lines of lace which had to be pulled out to separate them. This work was usually done by women at home as piece work. They were not well paid but as the draw thread was waste, and could not be used by the manufacturers, at least the women could keep it and use it themselves. This reflects the use of the red thread in The marriage bond which could also be drawn out in one swift movement and reused.
Wednesday 7 September 2022
I’m taking part in the Seam Collective annual September Textile Love challenge again this year and today’s prompt is inspiration/influence so I thought I’d write a bit more about what inspires my research and practice. My research falls into two main areas, the history, manufacture and design of lace on one side and domesticity and women’s history on the other. I often combine the two with practice, for example my recent body of work ‘The marriage bond’ (detail above) looking at the life and designs of Amy Atkin, the first female Nottingham lace designer who had to give up paid work on marriage. It is made up of four dinner mats, in a reference to Judy Chicago’s feminist installation ‘The dinner party’, each has text from the marriage service and a lace design inspired by Amy’s archive of lace designs tacked in place indicating that the lace like her career could be torn away in an instant.
Other recent practice-based research includes ‘Marking time’ which is part of a series considering domestic abuse, in particular the coercion and control that is often an unspoken aspect of abuse as it leaves no bruises. My current practice-based research project is a series of handmade lace doilies incorporating text that considers the constraints of domesticity on women’s lives. Much of my ‘subversive stitching’ is also inspired by the way nineteenth century gothic writers expressed their radical ideas about women within fiction thus making it socially acceptable, and which inspired me to subvert domestic crafts, in a similar way, to convey a subtle feminist message.
As someone who enjoys gothic fiction it will be no surprise to discover that although I am interested in all aspects of lace, my particular interests are veils, net curtains and lace panels. I spend much of my time researching lace curtains, how they were made, the different styles in fashion at certain times and the designers who made them. A couple of years ago, I was delighted to be commissioned to carry out research into the Battle of Britain lace panel and its designer Harry Cross, research which led to a practice-based response and is still continuing as more of his archive has come to light.
If you are interested in seeing more of my work there are plenty of images on my website www.carolquarini.com and I’ve also written some papers for Textile: Journal of Cloth and Culture about some of this research.
Quarini C. Domestic trauma: textile responses to confinement, coercion and control. 2022 (published online January 2022)
Quarini C. Neo-Victorianism, feminism and lace: Amy Atkin’s place at the dinner table. 2021 19(4): 433-453
Quarini C. Unravelling the Battle of Britain lace panel. TEXTILE 2020; 18(1): 24-38
Saturday 3 September 2022
Wednesday 24 August 2022
The illustrations suggest that some have a tie that runs under the chin to secure them and others are slip on varieties. They also produce ‘triangular setting nets’ for hairdressers, presumably for the customer to wear while their hair was set and dried in curlers. They were all made in the company’s Long Eaton factory near Nottingham on Leavers lace machines in rayon, cotton or silk and were sold under evocative trade names such as Clingdon, Smartset and Will ‘o wisp. Hair nets were one of the few types of lace permitted to be made during the second world war, when thread was scarce and manpower reduced and women required hair nets to work in factories. The book notes that during the war rayon was used for most hair nets but a gradual return to pure silk threads was underway in 1949.
Thursday 11 August 2022
Thursday 4 August 2022
At the turn of the nineteenth century even those selling lace curtain were advertising them as ‘imitations of real lace’ and ‘very artistic reproductions of real lace’. The image comes from a catalogue produced by the department store Whiteleys in about 1910 describing some Nottingham lace curtains. The curtains are sold in pairs and cost 9/11 for a pair measuring 4 yards by 72 inches, so quite a sizeable amount of lace. The claim to be an imitation of real lace is obviously a marketing ploy to suggest the curtains are similar to handmade lace, which was experiencing a revival at the time thanks to the philanthropic efforts of various groups particularly in England, France and Belgium. However the only link to ‘real lace’ seems to be in the design the outer border of which is based on renaissance needlelace motifs.
The second image from the same catalogue claims to be ‘reproduction cluny lace’. Cluny lace was a fairly solid bobbin lace with pattern areas linked by plaits and leaves rather like English Bedfordshire lace. This pattern does include some areas that look like leaves but the swags and ribbon shapes seem quite alien to cluny lace so this may just be early advertising blurb.
The final image is labelled a ‘facsimile of old darned knitting’. Why anyone would want old darned knitting at their windows is a mystery to me, but this copywriter obviously thought it would appeal to someone. The central area does look a bit like a blanket made from crochet squares so perhaps that is what inspired the design.
Although these curtains have been labelled by the person assembling the catalogue who probably knew little about lace (or knitting!), I find it dispiriting that machine lace curtains aren’t being advertised as a marvel of industrial ingenuity but rather as copies of ‘real lace’. They clearly aren’t genuine copies of handmade lace so why not appreciate the design and manufacturing effort that has gone into them.
Wednesday 27 July 2022
As you can see from this image the piece is basically a strip of Torchon lace worked in thin separate sections all linked at some point but allowing quite a range of twisting and movement. I like the effect especially as it shows off the open nature of the lace and will keep playing about with the theme when I get a bit more time.
Wednesday 20 July 2022
I’ve been reading about the revival of Venetian style needlepoint laces throughout Europe during the 1880s as part of my research into ‘imitation’ laces. These heavier more structured laces became fashionable as trimmings on clothing at this time. This led to lacemakers copying examples of seventeenth century laces but also in many cases remodelling actual pieces of old seventeenth century lace. Belgian lacemakers famed for the expertise of their needlelace copied many of these seventeenth century designs so skilfully that it is thought some Venetian merchants ordered the lace and sold it for high prices to visitors to Venice as genuine seventeenth century work. It is very difficult to distinguish it from the original lace although one tell-tale sign is the use of cotton thread instead of the original linen thread as cotton thread was not used for lace making until the 1830s. However, hand lacemakers soon had competition in the form of chemical lace made by embroidering patterns on to a sacrificial backing material which was then chemically removed and which superficially imitated the more solid Venetian styles very well. The lace in the image is a modern interpretation of needlepoint lace.
Wednesday 13 July 2022
These shoulder coverings were all popular at different times during the 19 century and in many cases it is difficult to classify them. Scarves and stoles look very similar as do pelerines, fichus, berthas and collars depending on their width and when they were made. The examples here all come from the lovely ‘Lace in fashion’ exhibition which is currently on display at Wardown House Museum in Luton. Not only do they show the range of different fashions they also show how lace changed during the century from the entirely handworked, such as the fichu made in Bedfordshire Maltese lace, to a beautiful black machine lace collar.
There is a lovely wide Duchess collar of mixed Brussels bobbin and needle lace showing how the two types of handmade lace were traditionally combined and the image shows a detail of a beautiful dress including both types of Brussels lace applied to a machine lace background showing how handmade and machine lace were often combined. There is also a fichu combining pillow lace with machine lace as well as scarves with Honiton bobbin lace applied to machine made net. Several of the other collars have a machine net basis including a Limerick lace collar and another tamboured shawl. Other Irish laces popular in the second half of the 19 century are also represented with a Carrickmacross applique lace bertha, and an Irish crochet collar. I was also interested to see some examples of ‘imitation’ lace following on from my recent blog posts. The exhibition includes two Chantilly lace shawls one handmade and the other machine made; difficult to tell apart without close inspection as would have been the case when they were worn. There is also a chemical lace pelerine worked in the style of Irish crochet and a late 19 century collar worked in the style of 17 century lace, so lots of copying and convergence going on. If you want to see more you will have to visit the exhibition which includes much more lace than the few pieces I’ve described here and is well worth a visit. It is open until 11 September.
Wednesday 6 July 2022
Wednesday 29 June 2022
Having seen ‘imitation lace’ being described in my late 19 century needlework dictionary as a type of tape lace (see last week’s post) I was interested to see how Pat Earnshaw defined it. She wisely does not use the term imitation lace but does discuss copying and convergence in her book on the identification and care of bobbin and needle laces. She suggests seven possible permutations of copying, starting with ‘same time; different area; different technique’ in which she includes all the machine lace copies of different handmade lace techniques, such as machine-made Chantilly lace. Chantilly lace is the fine black lace seen in the image above and the handmade and machine-made versions are often difficult to tell apart. Initially I thought the example above was machine made because of the way the outlining has been done but on closer examination I found the lace had been made in fine strips, later joined together, which is a feature of handmade Chantilly lace.
Under ‘same time; different area; same technique’ Pat mentions the convergence between Bedfordshire lace and Maltese lace, as well as that between Honiton and Brussels laces (image above). In ‘different time; different area; same technique’ she includes the raised needlelaces of the 17 century, which were copied in the 19 century for sale and exhibition as well as for the domestic lacemaker as we saw in my previous post about imitation lace. There were also laces in the category ‘different time; different area; different technique’ such as the 16 century reticella designs that were copied in the 19 century using the Schiffli machine. I think Pat Earnshaw has confirmed my original scepticism about the label ‘imitation lace’. Most laces seem to be influenced by ideas and techniques from other places, and as Pat suggests sometimes this is copying and sometimes convergence. However it was always with the aim of selling more lace to the consumer, by keeping up with fashions and making the lace more cost effectively.
Tuesday 21 June 2022
I was amused by an entry in my 1882 Dictionary of needlework on imitation lace, as surely that is a description that could apply to most types of lace. However, it seems that the focus of the entry is those types of lace made from machine-made braids and handmade fillings that were popular with the domestic audience who would have been reading the Dictionary. The book gives five examples of different ways the technique can be used and the end results are very effective considering the simplicity of the materials. The imitation Venetian lace in the image above is a simplified version of Venetian gros point; an elaborate needlelace that was made in the seventeenth century. To make the lace you have to trace the design on to calico then tack down machine-made, half inch wide, cloth braid, doubling it where necessary and smoothing it round the curves – by no means an easy task! Then run a fine cord all the way round the edge of the design. When that is done, the open parts of the pattern can be filled in with needlelace stitches of your choice and the main elements of the pattern are then joined together by buttonhole bars. Finally, you have to work buttonhole stitch over the raised cord, all the way round the design in the same way as the original Venetian lace. You can further embellish this raised cordonnet by working a lace edging along its length if you like. The lace can then be removed from its calico backing.
Another example is an imitation Honiton lace. For this one, three types of braid are required; a straight one for the edge and two types of braid made up of continuous leaf shapes, one of half stitch leaves and the other of cloth stitch leaves. The lace is made on a calico foundation as above and you start by tacking down the foundation line of braid at the top. Then the half stitch leaf braid is tacked in place, up and down, just touching the upper braid, to make a zigzag edge. The cloth stitch leaf braid is then laid over the half stitch one, in the same way to make a zigzag, filling the gaps. However, for this one, every other cloth leaf is folded over to make it look like a leaf stalk. Another straight braid is laid under the pattern and the leaf pattern repeated using just half stitch leaves. Where the braids touch they have to be sewn together and bars added to join the sections together. The instructions blithely suggest sewing ‘an ornamental lace edging to the lower edge of the pattern’. This piece certainly seems easier to work than the imitation Venetian lace, but all the designs assume the reader has a detailed knowledge of needlelace stitches and the skill to carry them out with little instruction.
Wednesday 15 June 2022
I’m delighted with my latest purchase – an early twentieth century booklet about filet lace which explains how to make it and use it around the home and in clothing. Filet lace was a popular female hobby at the time as were a number of other needlecrafts. This booklet is number 66 in a series of practical needlecraft journals. Most of them assume quite a high level of competence from their readers and this one is no different, although it does recommend a further booklet in the series if the reader requires more help with making the foundation net.
Filet lace is made using two techniques. First the background net is made with a shuttle and it is then ‘darned’ with a needle and thread to make the pattern. However, it was possible to buy readymade net which must have been a boon to many lacemakers because ensuring evenly spaced net is a skill and if not done well can ruin the entire piece of lace.
Filet lace was mainly used for decorating household linen as shown in the section of a bedspread above, which combines filet lace squares with a type of embroidery called broderie anglaise. The booklet also suggests several collars, edgings and insertions for blouses and you can see an example of the front cover of the magazine.
Tuesday 7 June 2022
Lace schools were generally held in a room in the teacher’s house and little was learned apart from lacemaking. The teacher charged a small fee of about 4 or 5 pence per week for each child – often slightly more for boys because they were naughtier and not as biddable as the girls! Children started at the lace school at 5 years of age and remained as pupils until they were about 14, but the boys often left earlier to work in the fields. The day was long, starting at 6 in the morning in the summer and 8 in the winter, and the children had to produce a set amount of lace every day. Every 4 or 5 weeks the lace buyer came to the village to buy lace from the adults working at home and the children at the school. Known as ‘cut off day’ the children were often allowed the afternoon off from lacemaking once the lace had been sold. By 1880 most of the lace schools had closed. One reason for this was the 1867 Workshop Act which prohibited the employment of children under 8 years of age and allowed only part time work for those aged between 8 and 13. Education was also made compulsory in 1871 and all children had to go to school for at least part of the day to become literate and numerate. Lacemaking was still taught in schools in the lacemaking areas but as part of the normal curriculum rather than as a trade or money-making activity.
Wednesday 25 May 2022
Netting is made from a continuous thread wound on a netting needle and the knotted loops are made, starting from a foundation loop attached to a cushion, round a stick to ensure all the loops in the row are the same size. Skill is required to keep the work even as the knots are hard to undo once they are made! The basic net structure can be varied to make different patterns including star netting, looped netting or fringes, and it can also be embellished with beads. Once the net has been made it can be embroidered in the same way as drawn thread work or be used as the basis for filet lace. What seems like a simple technique can actually be made in many decorative forms and shapes.
Wednesday 18 May 2022
The spangle is the ring of beads attached to the end of English East Midlands bobbins to give them weight and ensure they lie flat on the pillow. They are generally made up of six square cut beads (three each side) with a larger bead at the base, although there are many variations. The larger bead is often more ornamental than the others and those in the image all have added dots of glass. The one on the second right is a confetti bead which was made by adding small chippings of brightly coloured glass to the surface of the bead as it was being made just before it solidified. The large green bead seems to have had the white dots added after it was made as they are slightly raised. The bead at the top is known as an eye bead as it has a series of dots on top of each other, loosely resembling an eye. The most famous of these types of bead is the Kitty Fisher eye bead, which is made of grey glass with small red and blue spots inside larger white spots, supposedly representing the beautiful face of the actress. These dotted beads may have been made locally or purchased from travelling salesmen as many beads were made commercially for trade in Africa and would also have been available for lacemakers to buy (see my blog post of 24 September 2021).
Wednesday 11 May 2022
Apart from being a beautiful painting this is the draught, or coded instructions, required for a curtain made on the Nottingham lace curtain machine. A draughtsman would have painted it by hand following the original design drawn up by the designer. The draughtsman therefore had to be artistic and also know about the workings of the lace machine in order to translate the design into a workable pattern. This draught would then have been passed to the card puncher who would follow its instructions to produce the sets of jacquard cards needed to work the pattern on the lace machine. In general, red squares indicate back spool ties and green indicate Swiss ties, although there is no standard colour code and some manufacturers used different colours. This draught also has handwritten instructions along the length of the pattern describing among other things the width of the entire piece of lace (360 inches) and the type of lace (two gait Swiss). It also tells us that this is a 10 point lace which means that it is of medium fineness. I think these lace draughts are beautiful but the fact that they carry so much coded information makes them even more special.
Wednesday 4 May 2022
The patterns for these lovely curtains appear in a booklet of filet lace from the early twentieth century. In the index they are labelled as a store curtain and matching brise-bise curtains in the style of Louis XVI. They could have been used on the same window with the store curtain hung on the upper part and the brise-bise curtains hung against the lower panes or they could have been used separately. Brise-bise curtains are what we know as café curtains and only cover the lower half of a window.
The instructions for making the curtains, which are all in French, suggest that the lace should be worked in blocks of 1 centimetre. The dimensions given are 141 blocks for the store curtain and 85 x 55 for the smaller ones. I assume from looking at the pattern that the measurement given for the store curtain is the width. This booklet gives no instructions for working the filet lace but another volume I have, from the same time, shows how to make the background net and work the stitches so I think the expectation was that the lacemaker would know how to do both.