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.