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.