Wednesday 29 June 2022

Copying lace styles


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

Imitation lace – one late 19 century view


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

Early twentieth century filet lace


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

Nineteenth century English lace schools


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.