Tuesday 24 October 2023

Miss Channer’s research into pricking lace grounds


Miss Catherine Channer was a lacemaker, teacher and researcher who was actively involved in the revival of the English East Midlands lace industry in the nineteenth century. As well as teaching lace, as part of the revival, she collected lace patterns and recorded information from older lacemakers with a view to preserving the history of the lace trade. Reading about her work recently I came across her ideas about the origins of some East Midlands laces. She considered that most of the designs had been brought to the area by lacemakers from Flanders and had since merely been altered and adapted by the local designers. She reports that when she asked some old designers in Buckinghamshire and Northamptonshire how they pricked the grounds (the patterns for the background net) of their patterns, they replied that they used the ‘cards’. She asked what these cards were and was shown some white cards pricked with holes in the correct placement for working point ground (the simplest net background also known as Lille ground); with different cards for different sized meshes. She asked where the cards had come from and was told “We’ve always had them”. She suggests that the cards had been brought from Flanders by the original lacemakers. Miss Channer was impressed by the accuracy of the cards and after analysing them discovered how to prick the ground on graph paper for the benefit of designers who did not have access to the cards. She explains how to do this in her 1928 book ‘Practical lacemaking’ and explains how to use the pricking for point and honeycomb grounds (both shown in the lace in the image above) as well as kat stitch. I think this shows not only that Miss Channer was a remarkable woman but also the importance of a researcher knowing the craft she is studying and therefore realising the importance of her discoveries.   

Friday 20 October 2023

Spelling on inscribed lace bobbins


The spelling on many inscribed lace bobbins is phonetic which is not really surprising as the lacemakers who bought the bobbins and the bobbin makers who made them may have had little formal education. It was not until 1880 that school attendance, in England, was made compulsory for those aged 5-10 years old. T L Huetson, the historian and bobbin collector notes that the dates on the inscribed bobbins in his collection range from 1797 to 1879; well before the start of compulsory education. Bobbin makers would have learned how to spell the simple phrases on common bobbins such as Dear Mother, I love you, and common Christian names but even then I have seen Louisa spelled as Lueza and Charlotte as Charlot. Certainly phrases like those in the bobbins in the image would have been more complicated. However, even with their inventive spelling ‘Wright my altard true love’ [write my altered true love] and ‘Love dont be falces’ [Love don’t be false] convey the message the lacemaker intended. As do ‘Absent makes the hart groe fonder’ [Absence makes the heart grow fonder] and ‘My hart hakes for you’ [My heart aches for you]. Falces or falcs for false, and hart for heart were common alternative spellings throughout the period. Research by the Springetts suggests that the man known as Bobbin Brown of Cranfield, who was working in the 1840s and into the 1860s, was a poor speller and indeed the two bobbins illustrating this post are his work, however they concede that although his spelling was poor his lettering was very neat.

Friday 13 October 2023

Medallion braid crochet lace


This lace is a mixture of machine-made braid and handmade crochet and was popular in the early twentieth century as a hobby lace. In the piece of lace in the image the braid actually makes up quite a substantial part of the design and the crochet is used to fill the central area of the flower, join the gaps between the flowers, and make a picot edging around the edge of the complete doily.

Therese de Dillmont gives instructions in her Encyclopedia of needlework for making this type of lace and the illustration gives a better idea of how the outer picot edge would have looked when the doily was first made. Also, the piece in the book uses a continuous tape of the medallion braid, which would have made the work quicker, while the maker of the doily has cut the braid and joined it in separate rings to make the individual flowers.

However, I think she probably worked in this way so she could make the flowers individually and then join them all together at the end of the project and finally complete the lace by working an outer crochet edging all the way round the doily.

Friday 6 October 2023

Chinese handmade lace


Browsing a copy of The lace and embroidery review recently I discovered that there had been an extensive network of handmade lace workers in China in the 1920s. According to an article in the 1926 edition of the magazine, the lace trade began in 1895 when Christian mission schools were set up in Chefoo and the surrounding area of Shantung to give girls a basic education and teach them lacemaking so they could earn their own living. By 1926, in the eastern part of Shantung 300,000 girls and women were earning a living by making bobbin lace.

The lace and embroidery review was quarterly magazine, which was published in the USA, aimed at buyers of lace, embroidery and trimmings. Most of the articles and advertisements are from American companies but several European lace firms also advertise in them. The Alfred Kohlberg company of New York are regular advertisers promoting their Chinese laces. As well as premises in Shanghai the company also has representatives in Swatow, Chefoo and Wusih and they advertise a variety of laces including torchon, filet, Irish crochet, Point Venise, Cluny, hand embroidered net, and Binche lace. They highlight that their lace is ‘Made entirely by hand by Kwantung girls and women whose ancestors have been needleworkers for 4000 years.’ In another advertisement they promote Chinese crochet by unashamedly explaining that if they were paying their workers American unionized wages the cost per yard of lace would be $108.22 but the actual cost is a only few cents. They note that it takes the same number of hours’ work to make a yard of fine crochet lace as it does to make a Ford automobile. The advertisement concludes with the words ‘What will happen if the unions win, we prefer not to contemplate’. I do not know if this refers to the Chinese workers wanting to set up unions or the US unions appealing against unfair competition but it does seem that the workers on both sides are being exploited by the middlemen. A later advertisement notes that ‘Civil war and the anti-foreign boycott in Swatow have stopped all production of Irish lace’. However the Alfred Kohlberg company assure their clients that they still have stocks of most types of lace, but buyers are required to buy edgings and insertions and they will not fulfil orders for only one type of lace. In the years after 1926 there are fewer adverts for Chinese lace so it seems that the events in China led to a reduction in the export trade in handmade lace.