Thursday 27 July 2023

Lace and poetry

I was reading a book about the textile artist Gerhardt Knodel and was intrigued by the quotations in the book, including one of my favourites, T S Eliot’s Burnt Norton which begins ‘Time present and time past are both perhaps present in time future’. Much of Knodel’s work is ethereal even though it is often on a large scale and I will write more about him another day. I also like to reference poetry and literature in my work and the image shows part of a triptych I made inspired by W B Yeats’ He wishes for the cloths of heaven. It’s such a lovely poem and quite short so I’ll repeat it here: 

Had I the heavens' embroidered cloths
Enwrought with golden and silver light
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light
I would spread the cloths under your feet
But I, being poor, have only my dreams
I have spread my dreams under your feet
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams

As you can guess the image is of the blue cloth of night. The lace is free bobbin lace and it's embedded in dyed silk paper fibres to give the impression of yearning for love and finding a space for dreaming.

Thursday 20 July 2023

‘Jack Alive’ inscribed lace bobbins


I was always led to believe that lace bobbins inscribed ‘Jack alive’, like the one in the image, were produced to celebrate the return of a sailor who everyone thought had been drowned at sea. The story was that a ship would be reported lost at sea and all on board would be presumed dead, then months later the young sailor would return to his village, everyone would be delighted and inscribe bobbins to celebrate his return. T L Huetson in his book Lace and bobbins says he has seen too many of these bobbins to justify the theory that they were made for this unusual occurrence. I agree with him. Surely if a young man who had been presumed dead returned to the village the bobbins would have included his name rather than use the generic term ‘Jack’ for a sailor. Huetson suggests that ‘Jack alive’ might have been a common Victorian expression whose meaning we have lost. Well, after some research online, and thanks to The Gale Review, I have discovered that ‘Jack’s Alive’ was a Victorian game, which is described in George Arnold’s 1858 book The sociable or one thousand and one home amusements. Everyone playing the game sits in a circle. A small stick is lit in the fire then blown out leaving sparks. The stick is passed from one person to another round the circle each one saying ‘Jack’s alive’ as he passes it on. The player holding the stick when the final spark dies has to have a moustache painted on their face with the charred stick or pay a forfeit instead. It sounds a lively game, and there are several lace bobbins inscribed with music hall catch phrases, so we know lacemakers enjoyed having popular sayings on their lace pillow, but whether this was the meaning of Jack alive we don’t know for sure.

Wednesday 12 July 2023

Guipure d’Art

I looked up guipure lace in an encyclopaedia from 1882 this week and was surprised to find that the entry covered 16 pages and dealt with a range of laces I wasn’t expecting, which just shows how lace terms vary over the years. I thought I would focus on the entry for guipure d’art which seemed to me very like what we call filet lace today. Like filet work this lace begins with the formation of a net base which is secured on a wire frame, ensuring that the net is held taught and the squares are drawn out to their full extent. The net is then embellished using various embroidery stitches to form the pattern. Simple darning is used to fill individual squares or to form a line of solid work as can be seen on the right in the image above. Other stitches such as point d’esprit (interlinked and reversed blanket stitches) or point tiellage (an open twisted cross stitch) can be used to form a lighter filling stitch. Solid leaves, triangles and circles can also be worked by close weaving over thread outlines.

This work was obviously popular for the amateur lacemaker in the 1880 as the instructions assume a level of competence. However patterns for this type of work are also found in Federico Vinciolo’s book of Renaissance patterns for lace and embroidery published in 1587, which as you can see in the image, clearly show the variety of stitches to be worked. This type of lace has therefore been made for centuries although given different names at different times.  

Wednesday 5 July 2023

Brise-bise lace curtains


These pretty brise-bise lace curtains come from a 1904 Peach & Sons catalogue. The Nottingham lace manufacturer produced regular catalogues advertising their lace products including curtains, tablecloths, bedspreads, and other household lace as well as lace clothing, collars and handkerchiefs. Brise-bise curtains were becoming popular at that time and were made to hang across the lower part of the window from a rod or wire. These ones have small brass rings on the top through which the rod can be slotted but others have a channel woven across the top of the curtain for the same purpose. Also advertised with the curtains are newly patented ‘bracketless’ rods for casement or brise-bise curtains. The advert emphasises that they require no cutting and no brackets are required for fixing; they are made of polished brass and come in a range of sizes. The curtains in the image are made in two sizes (26 x 34 or 34 x 36 inches, width x depth) and cost per pair 1/3 for the smaller size and 1/6 for the larger ones. Other, cheaper brise-bise curtains were made from continuous lengths of lace (generally 26 inches deep) and were sold by the yard. The name brise-bise comes from the French briser meaning to break and bise a light cold wind, which I like to think results in the curtains wafting gently in the breeze rather than being buffeted by a gale.