Tuesday 26 April 2022

Lace tells

Lace tells are the songs, or chants, that children in the lace schools would sing as they made their lace. They were designed to keep the children focused on their work and to keep up the pace of lacemaking. Many of them were linked to the number of pins, and therefore the amount of lace, each child had worked. An example is the Buckinghamshire tell which begins ‘Knock, knock at your door. Who’s there? It’s me. Come in. Does your little dog bite? Yes. How many teeth has it? Six, seven next time, eight when I call again’. The children then had to remain silent while they worked eight pins of their pattern. This quiet period was known as a ‘glum’ and the children competed with each other to be the first to call out ‘My glum’s done’. Some other counting tells included a forfeit for any child who broke the silence of the glum. Another Buckinghamshire method of counting called ‘All round the town’ required each child to call out the name of a householder in the village every time they put up a pin. Other tells recount quite lurid tales of murder and mayhem, one of which ends ‘Shall I be so when I am dead?’ to which the answer is ‘Yes, you’ll be so when you are dead’ after which all the children pretend to be frightened and cry ‘Oh!’. I’m sure that singing the lace tells made the day pass more quickly for the children and encouraged them to work more efficiently. They remind me of the rhymes and games we now play with children on a long car journey to help pass the time.   

Wednesday 20 April 2022

Chantilly lace

Chantilly lace is a very fine black bobbin lace characterised by its light, airy appearance, subtle shading and outlining threads. It was originally made in about 1840 in Chantilly, a small town in northern France. The town had been known for its blonde lace but as fashions changed the lacemakers started to use grenadine, a black silk thread, for their work. It became popular and by 1850 other towns in France and Belgium were also making Chantilly style lace. The delicacy of the fine black lace was shown to advantage draped over the large crinoline skirts of the time, but it was also used for parasols, gloves, lappets, veils, flounces and edgings. These large pieces were made by a team of lacemakers each working one section of the design, which would then be joined to the next part using a stitch known as point de raccroc. This technique is so subtle that it is usually extremely difficult to find the seam although it also forms a weak point in the lace which sometimes unravels. Using teams of workers in this way allowed the lacemakers to compete with the rapidly developing machine-made laces. The jury report from the 1851 Great Exhibition praises the design and workmanship of the handmade Chantilly lace exhibited but notes that machine lace imitations are ‘admirable’ and the ‘price is 75 per cent’. The Chantilly lacemakers survived by maintaining the quality and designs of their work and marketing their lace as a luxury product. However, at the 1889 Paris exhibition Chantilly lace was described as ‘more of an art than an industry’. By 1904 a report about the lace industry noted that Chantilly lace was no longer being made commercially. 

Wednesday 13 April 2022

Nottingham lace curtains

This beautiful example of a lace curtain was made on the Nottingham lace curtain machine, which was also used, despite its name, to produce other furnishing lace such as tablecloths and bedspreads. The machine was invented in Nottingham in 1846 by John Livesey to make large pieces of patterned lace. It differed from other lace machines by working the bobbin threads across two warps instead of across all the warp threads. This method of working makes a fabric made up of a series of square meshes which gives this type of lace its distinctive appearance. Although beautiful patterns can be made using the lace curtain machine, the early curtains made in this way were prone to unravelling along the length of the bobbin threads. Following adjustments made to the mechanism to reduce this tendency, lace curtain manufacturers were at pains to point out in their advertisements that their lace curtains were durable during use and when they were laundered. However, as you can see from the lace in the image, these old curtains do become weaker along the bobbin lengths as they age. 

Wednesday 6 April 2022

Broken hearts on the lace pillow


These two nineteenth century lace bobbins have a sad tale to tell. The one on the left is inscribed with the words ‘Love don’t forsake me’ and the thinner one on the right says ‘A kiss from my true love will ease a wounded heart’. We don’t know the story behind them but someone has been upset in love and is trying to remedy the situation. Were these bobbins a gift to the lacemaker from her boyfriend upset that she had broken off their relationship or were they bought by the lacemaker to console herself after a boyfriend had moved on? ‘Love don’t forsake me’ could also be a plea from a lacemaker to a young man not to leave the village to improve his lot or join the armed forces. The neat lettering and yellow and red rings on each side of this bobbin suggest that it was made by William ‘Bobbin’ Brown of Cranfield in the mid nineteenth century. The thinner bobbin with its tight spiral message looks like the work of Jesse Compton and was probably made slightly earlier, in the 1830s. Both bobbins are still in use today even though the romances they commemorate may not have lasted.