Wednesday, 7 June 2023

‘Economic’ lace curtains

I love the idea of these ‘economic’ lace curtains, which are advertised in a 1933 Lace Furnishings catalogue. They come in one piece with the valance heading, side curtains and tie backs all attached to each other and ready to hang. The catalogue emphasises that each ‘pair’ is woven in one piece, however it recommends that for cleaning the scallops should be tacked together every 6 inches so they can be dressed in the same way as ordinary curtains. They are 40 inches wide (approximately 1 metre) and 2.5 yards long (about 2.25 metres) so are made for a specific window size, although they could probably be slightly gathered to for a smaller window. Unfortunately the catalogue doesn’t have any prices and I assumed they were labelled ‘economic’ because they didn’t cost much to buy, but the write up says they are ‘most economical in use’ which I assume means that they required less maintenance than the usual window dressings made up of separate curtains, valance and tie backs. They are very pretty though and I would love to have them wafting in the breeze at my window.

Wednesday, 31 May 2023

Gimp outlining threads in lace


In lacemaking, gimp threads are used to outline areas of the design, to define and highlight them. The gimp is usually a slightly thicker thread than that used in the main body of the lace or it can be made up from a bunch of threads used together to make a thicker outline as you can see in the detail below.

In bobbin lacemaking the gimp is incorporated into the lace as the work progresses and you can see below how the threads are kept in place by twisting the bobbin threads either side of it.

Once the gimp thread has been worked around a circular shape for example it is overlapped for a small section, secured by twisted threads moving into the body of the lace and then cut off close to the work. In early machine-made lace the gimp was often added after the remainder of the lace had been made. This work was done by women couching the thicker thread on the surface of the lace around the main elements of the design. In later machine-made lace the gimp was incorporated into the work but for areas of lace where the gimp was not required the gimp thread was ‘floated’ behind the work without being incorporated into the lace and these floating threads were later trimmed by hand.

It seems a lot of work to add these additional threads but you only have to look at the reverse of a piece of lace (lower image) to see how the flat work is lifted by the addition of a slightly raised outlining thread on the surface in the image above.

Thursday, 25 May 2023

Lace bobbins decorated with wire and beads

Wire decorated lace bobbins are very attractive but the wire is liable to break and because of that few have survived, but this post shows three from my collection. The one on the left has had channels cut round it along its length and the central ones have been wound with brass wire. The silver coloured dots are made of pewter and in this case a hole would have been drilled through the bobbin from one side to the other and a small amount of hot pewter would have been inserted into the hole. This bobbin also has an interesting spangle that includes a button, which could have been a love token from an admirer. The central bobbin also has a section of inlaid brass wire wound round it but this time the wire in the diagonal cuts has been strung with tiny turquoise beads. The bobbin on the right is also decorated with wire and beads but this wire is not inlaid and the beads have been added at intervals to make the diagonal patterns. Although the wire is not inserted in a groove, the beads lie in channels that keep them in the diagonal orientation. Very few bobbins were decorated with beads in this way and many of those that were have not survived with their wire or beads intact. You often find bobbins with small drilled holes at the top and bottom of the shank showing where the wire was originally attached. I do think the diagonal bead pattern is very pretty but I don’t use this bobbin because of the risk of breaking the wire.

Monday, 8 May 2023

Lacemakers pins, fish bones and thorns


In his history of bobbin lace Thomas Wright records that early pins were being made in England in 1347, but pins made from brass wire were first made in about 1530. The 1543 Act for the ‘true making of pynnes’ limited the price of 1000 pins at no more than 6 shillings and 8 pence. Most pins used in England were imported from France until John Tilsby began making them in Gloucestershire in 1626 and the Pinmakers’ Corporation of London was established in 1636. The early brass pins made in England were made in two parts with a shank and twisted wire head that were joined by compression, however, the heads were not very secure and often came off. Pins with solid heads were not made until about 1835. Wright notes that many lacemakers added wax heads to some beads; red for a headside pin and green or gold for a footside pin. Other pins were decorated with the seeds of goose grass and were known as burrheads or ‘hariffe pins’. He also records (and includes photographs of) two pins with bone heads, shaped like small drums, inscribed with the names Ruth and Thomas in dots of colour in the same way as bone bobbins. T L Huetson, who also wrote about the history of lacemaking, claims that early lacemakers used fish bones and thorns in place of pins. As a lacemaker I find it highly unlikely that either would have been much use but he says he has some thorn pins that were given to him by an old lady who had been given them by a lacemaker many years before.

Wednesday, 3 May 2023

Spiral decorated beads on lace bobbins


The spangles that are used to weight East Midlands lace bobbins are functional but also decorative and incorporate a variety of glass beads, several of which we’ve discussed before in this blog. The bottom bead in each of the spangles in the image above all have swirling patterns on them. Five are made using a marbling technique in which lines of contrasting glass are added once the body of the bead has been formed, then while the glass is still molten a thin wire is passed through the lines to distort them and form the swirling pattern. However, the bottom bead on the second bobbin from the top looks as if the dark decoration has been painted onto the surface with a brush. Many beads with swirling patterns, such as the bottom bead on the second bobbin on the right, were called ‘evil eye beads’ as the snake-like shape of the spiral was thought to avert the evil eye. The head of the snake began at the top of the bead near the hole and spiralled round to taper into a tail into the hole at the bottom of the bead. Many people mistakenly think that the beads on a lace bobbin are used to identify it and define its function but that is not the case; all of the bobbins are interchangeable. It seems that East Midlands lacemakers just liked decorative beads on their spangles in the same way as they enjoyed decorative lace bobbins on their pillows.

Wednesday, 26 April 2023

Crochet filet lace

Filet lace was originally made in the sixteenth century mainly for ecclesiastical use by making a base net, using a netting technique, and then skilfully embroidering it with a form of darning to incorporate the design. It underwent a revival in the early twentieth century and at that stage was being made in a variety of ways. It could be made in the traditional way or more rapidly by working the darning onto machine-made net, or even more rapidly by making the entire piece by machine. However it also became a popular hobby and many ladies magazines included instructions for making the net and working the darning stitches.

As this style of lace became popular, many of these magazines also included instructions for making ‘filet lace’ using crochet techniques and this is the way the tablecloth edging in the main image was made.

Crochet is made with a hook and thread and the stitches are a combination of chain stitches that can be combined to form columns, which can be spaced to form a solid fabric or, as in this case, are separated to form a lace. As with so many types of lace, one technique is being used to imitate another that is fashionable at the time.

Wednesday, 19 April 2023

Renaissance lace designs


This lovely lace design comes from the collection of patterns compiled  by Federico Vinciolo, a leading Venetian lace designer, in the sixteenth century. The first edition of the book was published in Paris and dedicated to Catherine de Medici who was Queen of France at that time. These designs were very popular and the book was reprinted at least 17 times between 1587 and 1658. There may also have been earlier editions, but 1587 was the date of the version first printed in Paris. This pattern is designed to be worked in cutwork and would form the edge of a cuff, collar, ruff or handkerchief. It is thought that ladies would tear out sheets of patterns to use themselves and would also send them to their needlewomen for working. The entire design would have been worked by removing threads from a base material and then securing the remaining threads using tiny buttonhole stitches. The needlewoman would also use free needlelace to work the picot edgings and some of the filling stitches. The number of times the book was reprinted indicates how useful it was to the sixteenth century needlewoman and how popular the designs were.

Wednesday, 12 April 2023

More smugglers’ tales from the world of lace


Last time we heard about lace smuggled into England in coffins, this time we have tales of lace being smuggled across borders by dogs. In the early nineteenth century there was a great demand for Belgian lace in France and one way to get lace across the border without paying customs duty was by using dogs. The dog would be kept at a home in France where it was well looked after then taken to Belgium where it was badly treated. Once the dog had thinned down, lace was wrapped round its body and it was then covered with the skin of a larger animal. As soon as it was set free it would make its way back to France to the home where it had been well looked after and the lace was unwrapped. However, once the French government discovered this method of flouting the law a reward of 3 francs was offered for every dog captured and sadly between 1820 and 1836 over 40 thousand dogs were captured and destroyed. It seems a rather strange method of transporting delicate white lace to me so I’m sure the dogs were carefully selected. I know our dog would have been distracted by rabbits, waded through dirty puddles and rolled in mud before any lace would have been delivered!

Friday, 7 April 2023

Draught for a Nottingham lace curtain


This is a draught, or lace pattern, for a Nottingham curtain machine. It includes all the coded instructions that the card puncher required to punch the jacquard cards that instructed the machine. This draught would have been made by a draughtsman whose job was to convert the pattern produced by the designer into these coded instructions on graph paper. It is printed with the name Edwards and Richardson, and tells us that they were designers and draughtsmen in Nottingham. Many of the larger lace companies designed and draughted their own patterns but it seems that Edwards and Richardson specialised in designing and draughting for a range of companies and did not actually make any lace themselves. The squares on the draught are coded red, green and blue and these colours usually indicated back spool ties, Swiss ties and combination ties, respectively, although there was no fixed system and manufacturers chose their own colour code. 

As well as the coloured squares the draught also includes information on the quality of the lace, 12 point in this case which is a medium to fine lace. It also marks the pattern repeat with two extravagant capital letter Rs and tells us that the type of lace is filet and combination. This type of lace curtain, mimicking filet lace of an earlier century, has the appearance of a square grid with blocks of solid work forming the pattern and was popular in the late 1920s.  

Wednesday, 29 March 2023

Needlelace edging

This beautiful little edging is made entirely with a needle and thread using a technique based on a variation of buttonhole stitches. It always amazes me that some of the most beautiful lace began its life as a simple reel of thread and it is the ingenuity of the lacemaker, using nothing but her hands and a needle, that transforms it into such a fine and delicate fabric. The pattern for this lace would have been drawn on a firm piece of card which would have been attached to a thick piece of supporting fabric and could then have been worked in the hand or attached to a firmer base such as a lace pillow. The shape of the pattern would have been couched down first using a thick outlining thread, tacked down through all the layers. The buttonhole filling stitches would then have been worked between the couched threads in a finer working thread. Once the main areas had been worked, the filling net stitches round the flower would have been worked and final embellishments such as the spots on the net would have been added.

Once the entire lace was completed the tacking stitches used to secure the original outline would be cut between the pattern and the backing so that the lace could be removed from the pattern. This design could have been worked by several lacemakers specialising in different parts of the work with some concentrating on the main motif or the outside edge while others assembled the separate pieces and added the net filling. I’m pleased to see that this lace has clearly been well loved as its original footside is missing and it has been reattached to a machine-made edging for reuse, showing that all the hard work that went into its construction was appreciated.

Friday, 24 March 2023

Smuggling lace in coffins


In the eighteenth century, French and Belgian lace was so greatly prized and expensive that the British government imposed an import tax on it. Generally, whenever taxes are imposed people try to avoid them by whatever means they can and smuggling was the easiest way to avoid the tax on lace. One of the ways of doing this was by claiming that a relative had died on the continent and that their body needed to be transported back to England for a funeral. The coffin would be buried in the churchyard accompanied by a solemn service and weeping mourners, but in the night the mourners would return and dig up the coffin to retrieve the valuable lace it contained. In many cases there was no body at all, but even if there was, the coffin allowed plenty of space for a good quantity of lace. 1n 1732, when Bishop Atterbury died in France and his body was returned to Westminster Abbey for burial, the High Sherriff of Westminster found French lace valued at £6000 hidden in the coffin with the body. In response to all this smuggling, Customs Officers became more efficient and by the middle of the century all coffins coming from the continent had to be opened and inspected. This unsurprisingly led to a sudden decrease in the continental death rate. However the new regulations caused some unfortunate moments. When the Duke of Devonshire died in France In 1764 and his body was repatriated the coffin was opened despite the protests of his relatives and the body was poked with a stick to ensure it was not a bundle of lace. Understandably the family were very indignant especially as no lace was found.

Wednesday, 15 March 2023

How was old handmade lace kept so clean?


I was asked recently how lace was kept so clean and pristine in the past, I didn’t have an answer but thought it was an interesting question so I’ve done a little bit of research. Until the early nineteenth century most lace was handmade using linen thread which comes from the long outside fibres of the flax plant. When separated from the plant, linen threads are smooth, but they can become damaged during spinning, lacemaking or storage, leading to breakage in these weak areas. Linen threads absorb water during washing, which can cause ruptures at the damaged areas so old lace would have had to be handled carefully. Soaking lace can release soluble dirt caught between lace fibres but often some type of soap is also required. The best type of soap is saponin which can be obtained from the soapwort plant (Saponaria) by steeping its roots in water to make a soapy liquid. Its advantages are that it only forms a slight lather (which has to be rinsed away after washing), it cleans well without having to agitate the lace, and it doesn’t form a scum with hard water. Once the lace had been washed and rinsed it would have been laid on a flat surface, without wringing it out or squeezing it, and gently teased back into shape before being left to dry. I must emphasise that this is how lace would have been washed in the past. If you are considering cleaning old lace today please bear in mind the wise words of lace expert, Pat Earnshaw, who notes that ‘cleaning old lace is likely to change it, probably in an irreversible way’ – you have been warned!

Wednesday, 8 March 2023

Cheeky lace bobbins


‘I love the boys’ boldly states the lace bobbin in the centre of this group. The owner clearly knew her own mind as did the owner of ‘I wants a husband’ on the left, while ‘Kiss me quick’ on the right could have been what the lacemaker wanted or a request from a cheeky young man. While many lace bobbins are inscribed with romantic sentiments about true love and friendship some, such as these, are more forward and direct. However many of the lacemakers who owned these bobbins obviously experienced disapproval from others in their village, encouraging them to acquire bobbins such as ‘If I love the boys that is nothing to nobody’ and ‘If I love a lad in Ravenstone that is nothing to nobody’. Unfortunately for the lacemaker her love of the boys and ‘the lad in Ravenstone’ in particular, rather than being ‘nothing to nobody’ was probably of great interest to everyone and the topic of local gossip for months! I like to think that her bobbin allowed her to express her own views and encouraged her while she worked at her lace pillow.

Thursday, 2 March 2023

Magga Dan Antarctic expedition lace panel


This lace panel celebrates the Commonwealth Trans Antarctic expedition in 1957-1958, which was led by Sir Vivian Fuchs and Sir Edmund Hillary. The Magga Dan was the ship that transported the expedition, it was built in Denmark (hence the Dan part of its name which means Danish) and has a special type of hull designed to withstand crushing in the ice of the Antarctic. During this expedition Fuchs became the first person to cross the Antarctic, covering 2200 miles in 99 days. The lace panel was made by the Nottingham lace manufacturer Steibel and Co in 1957 and depicts scenes from the expedition including the ship, icebergs, the aurora borealis, penguins, the explorers and some huskies. It was made on the curtain lace machine using cotton thread and has been coloured after weaving using stencils and coloured dyes.

Thursday, 23 February 2023

Lace making in the workhouse


Any kind of work in the workhouse sounds grim but I hope the lacemakers at least enjoyed somewhere to sit and a bit of peace although the lighting was probably bad and ruined their eyesight. Thomas Wright in his survey of the Buckinghamshire lacemakers includes some information about the Olney workhouse. Work was not optional and all inmates had to do something for their keep. Often men were employed breaking stones or doing other hard physical work and the records show that although spinning was the original employment for women the policy changed after 1720 and from then onwards they had to make bobbin lace instead. All the strips of lace were sealed at the end while they were on the pillow to stop anyone cutting any off and they were sold for the benefit of the parish. The workhouse regulations noted that anyone stealing or cutting off the lace seal would be severely punished. The Olney workhouse accounts showed that selling bobbin lace produced an income of about £30 per annum but that had to be offset by the costs of thread and equipment. Lacemaking was not well paid at the best of times and having to make it in the workhouse must have been quite disheartening.  

Wednesday, 15 February 2023

Lace designs by Marcel Tuquet


Marcel Tuquet was a prolific lace designer working at the end of the nineteenth century. His designs are generally floral and incorporate a more decorative band at the side which also runs along the bottom of the lace.

A notice I’ve seen from The London Gazette of 1890 records that he and Marcel Boudard were partners in a lace curtain design business in Nottingham. They not only designed lace but are also recorded as the owners of a patent for a double action jacquard (the mechanism by which pattern was applied to the lace machines). They were not the inventors of the jacquard system but had obviously patented a modification to the system that was already in general use. The purpose of the notice in the London Gazette was to dissolve their partnership. This seems to have been an amicable split, with Tuquet taking on the lace design part of the business and Boudard the manufacturing side.

The designs in the images here were all made later in Marcel Tuquet’s career when he supplied lace curtain designs to the Christian Stoll company of Plauen, which produced design inspiration folders for the European lace industry. Whether he had relocated to Plauen by then (approximately 1900) or remained in Nottingham but sent his designs abroad I have yet to find out.

Thursday, 9 February 2023

Limerick run lace fillings


One of the beautiful features of Limerick run lace is the lovely filling stitches that are used to add shading and depth to the main designs. This delicate little curtain includes several flower and leaf motifs interspersed with individual flower heads. This type of lace is made by embroidering machine made net, held taught within a frame, using a needle and thread. The main design is outlined in three strands of thread and the filling stitches are then worked inside those areas.

These three leaves are filled with tent stitch; a series of diagonal stitches worked across the underlying lace net. The leaf on the right has been worked at a different angle to the other two, giving a different appearance to the leaf.

Cobweb stitch has been used to fill these three leaves. This is made by zigzagging the thread to form a shape like the crenellations on a castle wall. If the rows of stitches are worked as a mirror image of each other, as they have been here, the finished work gives the appearance of a series of tiny holes.

The final three leaves have been filled with a variation on tent stitch in which the main stitch is elongated and an extra small stitch made between each of the main stitches. The three filling stitches described here just reveal a sample of the many filling stitches that can be used and give an idea of the range of effects that can be produced in this lovely lace.

Wednesday, 1 February 2023

Paper trail lace veil


Tess of the Durbervilles by Thomas Hardy was the inspiration for this veil. It references the note that Tess wrote to Angel Clare on the eve of their marriage telling him about her past, in case that knowledge would cause him to change his mind. Unfortunately he did not find the note and it is only after their marriage that Tess realises this and confesses her chequered past to him, whereupon he rejects her. The disintegrating paper in the veil represents the hidden note as well as the hidden secrets and shows how vulnerable and fragile marriage can be. Although the veil is delicate and beautiful it hides within its folds decay and vulnerability and hints at the future, as the threads of the story unwind, leading eventually to Tess’s trial and unhappy end.

Wednesday, 25 January 2023

Amy Atkin lace table mats research

Amy Atkin was the first female Nottingham machine lace designer, however, like many other women of her time, she relinquished paid work on marriage which always seemed to me a great waste of talent. Reflecting on her life and work I decided to carry out some practice-based research focusing on the domestic constraints she and other contemporary female designers faced at the beginning of the twentieth century. I studied the archive of her beautiful designs in the Collection of the Nottingham City Museums and decided to base my response on table mats incorporating lace in a reference to Judy Chicago’s use of place settings in her famous feminist work ‘The dinner party’.

The lace panels are my designs inspired by Amy’s archive and are worked in needle run lace on machine net; hers would have been produced on levers lace machines. The lace is merely tacked in place indicating that it could be removed at any time, much like the careers of these talented women, and each mat is embroidered with wording from the marriage ceremony ‘for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer’ highlighting the changes in women’s circumstances on marriage. If you are interested in reading more about the project I’ve written a paper about it in Textile the Journal of Cloth and Culture which is available through the following link

Tuesday, 17 January 2023

Love lace bobbins


These lace bobbins all celebrate love. One just has the word love inscribed on it another has My and then a heart symbol, and the third also has a heart symbol preceded by Toms (Toms love). They are all quite plain in their style of decoration and each has a spangle made up of traditional square cut glass beads and they are obviously made by the same hand. I’ve had trouble deciding who made them though because they could be the work of Jesse or James Compton or David Haskins all of whom occasionally used this style of bold lettering although it wasn’t their typical style. I eventually decided against David Haskins as the necks of the bobbins are longer than his usual work and the attachments for the spangles are not as defined as his typical bobbins. Also he tends to bracket his lettering with a single circle of colour at top and bottom unlike the two circles in all of these bobbins. Once I’d eliminated him I had to decide between the two Comptons who tend to use the same style of lettering and colours. Jesse was working in the early part of the nineteenth century and his bobbins are generally much slimmer and smaller than these ones, mainly because most lacemakers were making fine Bucks point lace at that time. His son James tends to make larger bobbins (like those here) to accommodate the thicker thread and larger pillows used for Bedfordshire lace, which was being made towards the end of the century. What clinched my decision to attribute them to James was a photograph in the Springett’s book ‘Success to the lace pillow’ which shows one of James’ bobbins with a heart symbol that is very similar to those on these bobbins.

Wednesday, 11 January 2023

Floral images in the Battle of Britain lace panel


The original Battle of Britain commemorative lace panel was made by the Nottingham lace company Dobson and Browne just after the second world war. The designer Harry Cross incorporated several floral images into the work including those representing the four countries of the United Kingdom and the floral emblems of the Commonwealth countries whose airmen took part in the battle. In 2016 I was commissioned to produce a contemporary response to the Battle of Britain panel and as part of that work I produced a needlerun lace panel incorporating the same floral images as used by Harry Cross. The images here are both of my response to the original panel.

Unlike Harry Cross, I confined my botanical images to the central panel of the triptych and interlinked them to wind up the right side of the net background in contrast to the aircraft sweeping down from the left. You can see most of them in the image above including the rose of England, the thistle of Scotland, the daffodil for Wales and the shamrock for Northern Ireland. There is also protea for South Africa, wattle for Australia, a fern leaf for New Zealand, and a maple leaf for Canada. Harry Cross also included a tudor rose and oak leaves, which I did not incorporate in my panel, as well as acorns and wheatears, respectively signifying regrowth and the time of year at which the battle took place, which I also included in my lace.

Thursday, 5 January 2023

Machine made Chantilly lace?


This beautiful piece of Chantilly lace was probably made on a lace machine. It is often hard to distinguish handmade and machine made Chantilly but there are certain aspects that suggest it was machine made. First of all the feel of the lace when you pick it up, handmade lace usually feels softer than the machine type, which can feel quite hard. The two edges of the lace are also indicators of how it was made. In this case the picot edging on the scalloped side does seem to be made of threads that come out from the main lace work, rather than a separate addition, which suggests the piece is handmade but the straight footside on the other edge is a strip of machine-made lace indicating that the whole piece is machine made. The way the threads move from the ground net stitches into the cloth stitches of the pattern suggest it is handmade. However, the way the circles in the lace have been outlined in a continuous gimp thread running from one to another indicates that it is machine made. In handmade lace these circles would have been worked separately and the ends of the gimp secured in the lace rather than being trimmed off afterwards, which appears to be the case here. As you can see it can be difficult to make a decision but, on balance, this piece seems to be machine made. However when it was worn it would have been almost impossible to distinguish how it was made without examining it carefully. The skill of the machine lacemakers in making lace that is difficult to distinguish from handmade lace was the main reason for the demise of the handmade bobbin lace trade in the late nineteenth century.