Wednesday 24 August 2022

Lace hair nets

Although we usually think of lace as decorative and ornamental, lace machines are also used to make hair nets. Reading ‘Century of achievement’ the book celebrating the centenary of the Simon-May Nottingham lace company I was intrigued by the section on lace hair nets. When the piece was written in 1949 hair nets were obviously big business for the company. I was surprised how many different varieties of net styles were used – six at least from the illustrations ranging from the very delicate square net to one fairly solid diamond mesh. The range includes ‘fine quality hair nets, warp nets for day and night wear, sleeping caps, boudoir caps and rayon snoods’. 

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

Subversive doily project

Recently, I’ve been spending a lot of time writing papers and chapters for books so today it was a real treat to spend some time making bobbin lace in a shady spot in the garden. I’m still working on my subversive doily project which uses the form of the lace doily to comment on the domestic environment and women’s place in it. The doily I’m working on at the moment follows the same design as the previous one with text in the central circle embedded in a lattice of plaits and leaves, surrounded by a border of Eastern European style tape lace. I finished the central area a while ago, which involved a large number of lace bobbins, and have now moved on to the tape lace border where I’m only using six pairs of bobbins. Although I’m not using many bobbins, this style of lace does mean that I have to keep stopping to attach the work to the edge of the previous row by looping one of my working threads through a previously worked pin hole and the passing the other working thread through that loop, which does tend to slow the work down. However, this part of the work is much less complicated than the central area so it is quite relaxing to sit in the sun listening to a podcast and making the lace.

Thursday 4 August 2022

Advertising lace curtains as imitations of ‘real lace’


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.