Friday 30 September 2022

Chemical, Swiss or burnt out lace


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

Dyed lace bobbins

I haven’t seen many dyed lace bobbins, whether this is because the dye has faded or because not many were dyed in the first place I don’t know. The Springett’s who have done most of the research on lace bobbins suggest that many of the dyes used in the nineteenth century faded in sunlight, which is why the necks are often a brighter colour than the shanks of the bobbin. Although the red bobbin on the right looks so bright you might think it has been dyed using a chemical dye it was probably coloured using cochineal, a dye derived from crushed Mexican insects and used in Mesoamerica since the second century BCE. The paler red bobbin was probably also dyed with cochineal. A chemical dye was probably used for the green bobbin, in this case copper arsenate. The bobbin on the left may have been coloured with a dye made from the chippings of the Central American logwood tree boiled in water. The bands might have been made by turning the dyed bobbin on the lathe to remove the colour in defined areas, but this bobbin also has two small holes, one at the top and the other at the bottom of the shank suggesting it may have had some bands of fine wire wrapped round it originally forming the bands. The Springett’s also report having seen yellow and mauve bobbins but in my experience the red and green ones are the most common.

Wednesday 14 September 2022

Lace connections

Connect is the prompt for today’s textile challenge so I thought I’d write about a couple of ways in which lace is connected both to other lace and fabric. The aim of most traditional lacemakers is to attach lace to a fabric with the tiniest stitches and in the neatest way possible, in fact books have been written on the subject of attaching lace as invisibly as possible. This blog is going to look at two alternative ways of connecting lace. The first is the illustrated above in a detail from my series The marriage bond looking at the work of Amy Atkin, the first female Nottingham machine lace designer, who had to give up work on marriage. I have deliberately made the connection between the lace and the fabric as obvious as possible by using tacking stitches in red thread to highlight the fact that the lace is not secure. In the same way that Amy’s career, and that of many other women at the time, could be ripped away in an instant.

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

My inspiration for research and practice


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 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. TEXTILE 2022 (published online January 2022)

Quarini C. Neo-Victorianism, feminism and lace: Amy Atkin’s place at the dinner table. TEXTILE 2021 19(4): 433-453

Quarini C. Unravelling the Battle of Britain lace panel. TEXTILE 2020; 18(1): 24-38

Saturday 3 September 2022

Hamlet lace curtain panel

I saw this beautiful lace curtain panel depicting scenes from Shakespeare’s play Hamlet in the ‘Lace in the city of lace’ exhibition in Nottingham in 2015. It is machine lace and was made by the Nottingham lace company Simon-May & Co in the late nineteenth century. It was loaned to the exhibition by Malcolm Baker who worked for the company for many years and told me that this panel had been made and exhibited at an international exhibition in the 1870s. Huge decorative panels like these were made by several of the large lace curtain manufacturers at this time to demonstrate their skills and form the centrepieces for their stands at international exhibitions. Most of them follow the same design format with a central panel flanked by narrower columns of images on each side, although this one is unusual in repeating some of the side vignettes. Literary themes were popular, in fact at the 2015 exhibition I also saw a lovely panel based on the story of Don Quixote, also made by Simon-May & Co, which won a medal at the 1876 international exhibition in Philadelphia.