Wednesday 8 November 2023

Development of English bobbin laces


I’ve been carrying out more research into Miss Channer, who made and studied lace at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries, and she has some interesting ideas about the developments of the English handmade lace industry. She notes that in continental Europe most of the finest lace was made in convents, which provided a ready access to money and ability, in the form of cultured patrons and a resource of talented, hard-working, young women who could be taught how to make and design lace. In effect the convent took on the roles of ‘manufacturer, merchant, capitalist and instructor’. In contrast, with few convents, the English handmade lace industry had little capital or organisation. Teaching was undertaken by village lace schools which was variable and depended on the ability of the lace teacher, and design remained in the hands of a few families. Lace was generally made by villagers in their spare time to supplement their family income and bought by travelling lace buyers or local retailers. Miss Channer praises English lace designs and the dexterity of the lacemakers but laments the lack of organisation and that there were few places to learn design and little time for the lacemakers to concentrate on their work amid the other calls on their time.

She notes that most English bobbin laces were originally attempts to copy foreign styles that were adapted by the local lacemakers to produce lace styles that became typically English. She gives as examples Honiton pieced lace which was introduced to Devon from Flanders in 1662, French point ground lace introduced to Buckinghamshire, and Maltese guipure lace taken up in Bedfordshire in the second half of the 19th century. All these laces were developed and altered by the local lacemakers to produce the three distinct types of English laces known as Honiton, Bucks point and Bedfordshire. The image at the top shows a typical Bucks point lace with integral ground and outlining gimp thread, and the lower image is an example of Bedfordshire guipure lace.

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