Wednesday 28 June 2023

Teaching boys in lace schools

 In the early nineteenth century, many boys, as well as girls, in the villages of the English county of Buckinghamshire went to lace schools. This was not really a school as we know it – more like a sweat shop - as the children learnt very little apart from how to make bobbin lace, which was sold at the end of the month to the local lace dealer. The children had to attend for 10 to 12 hours every day except Sunday, and were allowed a half day off on Saturday. Their parents paid the teacher a fee ranging from 2 to 6 pennies a week, but all teachers charged more for boys because they were less clean, careful and obedient than the girls. According to Thomas Wright, who interviewed many Bucks lacemakers for his history of lacemaking, another disadvantage, from the teacher’s point of view, was that boys’ smocks were thicker than the girls’ clothes and also covered their necks and shoulders so smacking them as a punishment was less effective than it was with the girls. Many of the boys hated the lace school and there are reports of one throwing his lace pillow down a well, another throwing his into a duck pond and one running away to sea – which seems a very drastic solution! They generally left as soon as they could, to work in the fields. However, many men never forgot how to make lace and one lacemaker told Wright that when she was a small girl and went to bed too tired to finish her lace, her father would often return from work and make a few extra inches of lace on her lace pillow, for her to find in the morning. The second half of the nineteenth century saw the demise of lace schools. The Workshop Act of 1867 forbade the employment of children under 8 years and those aged 8-13 could only work half time. The Education Act of 1871 also brought in compulsory education for children, although lace making continued to be taught as part of the curriculum in lacemaking areas.   

Wednesday 21 June 2023

Domestic trauma: textile responses to confinement, coercion and control


This is the title of a paper I wrote for a special issue of the journal Textile Cloth and Culture focusing on textiles and trauma. Textiles often bear witness to trauma. This may be as forensic evidence or as documents of record made by the traumatised or their loved ones, to ensure that traumatic events are not forgotten. In this paper I concentrate on domestic trauma in particular confinement, coercion and control in the home, all of which increased during the lockdowns resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic. Textiles can be an alternative form of discourse for those without access to mainstream media. One example I quote is Elizabeth Parker’s nineteenth-century cross-stitch sampler, now in the V&A Museum, recording her abuse by her employer. Other examples are the arpilleras made by women in Peru affected by domestic violence. I also reference contemporary work such as 35 I cant’s by Alison Lowry and Jayne Cherry and of course my own practice-based research using net curtains such as Whispering and Marking time. The paper does end on a encouraging note as it also discusses textile based initiatives that help victims of domestic abuse. If you are interested in reading more there are some free copies available from the publisher

Wednesday 14 June 2023

Flowers in tape lace


This pretty lace edging is made from a combination of purchased machine-made lace tapes and crochet and was a very popular technique for home lacemakers in the early twentieth century. Many needlework magazines included patterns for this type of lace and a variety of lace tapes were made and sold for the purpose.

These tapes come from an illustration in Therese de Dillmont’s needlework encyclopaedia and show a few of the styles available. The tapes were tacked down onto the backing fabric following the pattern and joined either by needlelace or, as in this case, crochet work. Then when the pieces were all secured to each other the tacking thread was removed and the lace could be removed in one piece.

Both the pieces illustrated here were made using tapes made up of a series of joined leaf shapes. In the main image the tapes have been angled to form petals but in this piece the tapes have been used to form a circle enclosing a larger crochet design. Both are very pretty and were probably made by the same person (they were given to me by a friend and came from the same source). I particularly like the floral one with the little crochet frill overlapping the fabric.

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.