Thursday 22 December 2022

Machine lace imitating handmade designs


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.       

Friday 16 December 2022

Draught for a machine lace curtain

This pattern holds the information needed to produce a lace curtain on the Nottingham lace curtain machine. This image shows the bottom half of the design and the one below shows the heading. The designer would have produced the original design and then passed that to the draughtsman who would have converted it into this series of tiny colour-coded squares. This draught would then have been passed to the card puncher who would have followed these instructions to punch out the jacquard cards that operated the threads on the machine. The squares are painted red, green or blue or left blank according to the thread movements. There was no standard system for the colours but in general red indicated back spool ties, green represented Swiss ties and blue represented combination ties.

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

Tawdry: St Audrey’s lace

To describe something as tawdry means it is worthless, vulgar, cheap or gaudy and it is a corruption of the term St Audrey’s lace. St Audrey was named Etheldrida when she was born in the seventh century. She was the daughter of the king of East Anglia and married the king of Northumbria so had a wealthy life, however, she renounced both her royal life and her husband and became a nun and ultimately a saint. She died in the year 679 with a throat tumour, which she considered God’s punishment for her love of necklaces when she was young. Her name was simplified to Audrey and she became the patron saint of Ely where an annual fair was held in her memory on the 17 October. Trinkets including cheap jewellery and a style of necklace known as St Audrey’s lace, which seems to have been a silk ribbon or string rather than a specific type of lace, were sold to the pilgrims. The term St Audrey’s lace became corrupted to tawdry lace and by the seventeenth century tawdry was used to describe anything cheap and vulgar.